Monday, December 24, 2007

Team Dioscuri and Celestial Sports....

After watching the moon move the last few nights from above Orion's right shoulder to his left one, and the proximity of Mars to the moon in Gemini, I began playing with my planetarium program, watching their motions. Time skip is a wonderful toy!

I noticed there was a convergence of three culturally symbolic representations. Just fun stuff (no, this is not astrology). The moon, which symbolizes the feminine - rebirth and love, Mars as the god of war but also of fertility. Two opposites (love and war) and the common giving of life. The third was not so obvious and cannot not be seen (but *is* there) other than on a planetarium program when the moon is present - The gegenschein - the anti-solar point, with is dark penumbra and darker still umbra - which could represent the dark opposite of the brilliant (life giving) sun.

The planetarium program I am using (The Sky) shows all three essentially converging last night. I wonder how often that happens? But, it sure is easy to understand how our ancestors told stories about the sky as these personified (but real to them) characters moved overhead.

As such, last night I let my imagination see the moon as a celestial soccer ball. Go ahead and laugh. Last night Castor had the ball on his foot. Tonight, he kicks it up to Pollux - The Twins - mythologically, one living, one dead, and switching places "daily" (rebirth, fertility). What have The Twins done with Mars? That's where the planetarium program was its most fun.... Mars came into Gemini earlier this year, and recently was "throw back" - kicked backwards (from our point of view) like a Hackey Sack - into retrograde. Last night its retrograde path converged it with the moon and anti-solar point. Mars will continue in retrograde, and the moon will make its its familiar rounds. Mars will reach the horns of the bull, when it will be "headed" in the opposite direction. The nearly 1st quarter moon and Mars will again converge directly between The Twins (the opposites) in the western sky at about midnight on April 12, 2008, than 1/2 degree apart (but no anti-solar coincidence this time).

Nekked-eye sky and planetarium fun.... astronomy for when the moon is bright.

I suppose tomorrow morning, there will be lots of kids getting soccer balls and hackey sacks...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Winter's Day

Yes... in a deep, and dark, December...

But I was not alone.

Last night I was joined at Henry Coe State Park east of Morgan Hill California by Mark Johnston and Andrew Pierce for a "short" night of relatively dark sky observing. I've certainly seen darker nights, but as winter arrives and reduces our chances to get away, any night observing will do. So, we three took the opportunity and stayed until our work lives dictated we leave at midnight. First, there was a huge display of the Zodiacal Light. I mentioned it, and Andy immediately agreed, well to the south of the Milky Way and along the ecliptic. A huge triangular display. Nice! We were off to a good start.

The stats. Temps dropped to near freezing during the night. Expecting it to be cold, I had three layers of thermals under my street clothes, fleece pullover and heavy jacket. I have to laugh, as it reminds me of years ago when I was so bundled up I couldn't bend down to put the scope away without first removing several layers! Last night, even with the chemical toe and hand warmers, those parts were chilled. But, at least we in the bay area can get to our observing (brighter regular) sites in the winter compared to you folks in the Sierra foothills!

Well, it was cold - about 10:30 Mark called out 34 degrees with a nice low 57% R.H. There was essentially no wind, seeing was very good, with some occasional moments of excellent and average. Transparency was varied between excellent and average. What moisture there was in the air was freezing out and settling in a haze over the valleys. Our three telescopes were my 18" f/4.5 Obsession, a 14.5" Teleport, and a C11.

The only difficulty I had was with Megastar and The Sky. I had installed a new hard drive on my laptop, and the programs were not finding the Guide Star Catalog, so I was operating with a lot fewer stars in my laptop's eyepiece fields. The commands and everything else were foreign as well, so I need to somehow transfer settings from my desktop system to the laptop for the next session. This unexpected "challenge" did slow me down a bit - and caused some serious "sounds of consternation" at times. But, because I had laid out my target list in a logical star-hop, it at least made moving from one target to the next easier. I'd say, all in all, the three of us enjoyed the night.

Here are my observations. You can see the initial list at

Comet Holmes
I am concluding this is a great comet. It is easily naked eye, brighter and larger than Double Cluster nearby. A 20mm eyepiece shows a sharply defined bow shock, ill defined and very indistinct back (ESE) edge. Many dozens of field stars show through. The inner coma is very large and elongated with bright knot (no stellar or distinct core) nearly at western end of a long bright streak. The streak must be a dim tail, and its nucleus is a slight brightening toward but not all the way to the western edge of the bright inner streak. Panning around, it is actually shocking to find this all surrounded by very large dim haze overflowing the 47' field of view. From the front of the nucleus "streak" to the leading edge of the comet is about 18'. To N is 35', S is 23', overall core to back is 50'+. Awesome comet!

Abell 3 Cas. PN 60" 18.2P 02 12 06 64 09 03 SH2-189 PK13+2.1
Very faint disk occasionally with 12mm, SSW of bright star and before dimmer star. Using OIII. Averted only.

N0896 Cas. BN 21.0' 02 26 40 62 05 00
Very nice low surface brightness nebula, brighter section separated to the W and smaller than larger part with star on south extremity. Other nebula to north, with hints of nebulosity all over the place. Large section is elongated N/S and about 18'x7'. The other smaller section is irregular. OIII with 12mm.

Sh2-190 Cas. BN 96"x80" 02 32 48 61 30 00 LBN 654 IC 1805 Bright patch in prior observation may be Tombaugh 4, OC, and has very dim long channel of nebulosity extending from it mostly N to a section about 20', which then runs E/W at a bright field star to near very dim Berk 65 (does not touch it). It would be easy to spend hours in this region tracing nebulosity.

NGC 1027 Cas. OC 20.0' 6.7 02 42 36 61 35 42
Very nice rich cluster with many dozens of stars. One star much brighter than others, wide magnitude range. In rich star field.

Sh2-193 Cas. BN 2.0' 02 47 40 61 58 33
Sh2-192 Cas. BN 1.0' 02 47 18 61 57 58
Sh2-194 Cas. BN 2.0' 02 47 23 61 55 00
All three are very small faint glows possibly involved with very dim stars.

Sh2-198 Cas. BN 9.0' 02 50 01 59 42 00
Nice nebulous glow around and involving semicircle of 8 star opened on the ENE. Seen at 103x w/o filter. OIII and more mag does not work.

Sh2-197 Cas. GX 5.8'x1.7' 02 41 55 59 36 15 Maffei 2
Maybe at best. Just a dim slightly elongated haze ESE of GSC 3712:163

Sh2-195 Cas. BN 3.0'x1.0' 02 40 04 59 37 02
Subtle, running N/S appears like brush stroke, very dim haze.

Sh2-191 Cas. GX 3.4'x1.7' 11.4 02 36 18 59 39 19 Maffei 1
Obvious at 103x and 194x as haze with several stars overlaying it. Maybe 10'x3' elongated mostly E/W.

NGC 884 Per. OC 29.0' 6.1 02 22 20 57 08 00
NGC 869 Per. OC 29.0' 5.3 02 19 04 57 08 06
Naked eye, the double cluster appears almost as a figure 8, 2 lobes.

M34 Per. OC 35.0' 5.2 02 42 08 42 45 00 NGC 1039
Large, bright, coarse open cluster with three distinct parallel chains defining it running primarily NW/SE.

Abell 4 Per. PN 20.0" 16.7P 02 45 23 42 33 03 PK144-15.1
Direct vision with 12mm and OIII. May have central star. With 7mm and no filter can hold easily averted, no central star. Pretty chain of stars identify location.

NGC 891 And. GX 14.3'x2.4' 10.8 02 22 33 42 21 03
Long thin ghostly edge on galaxy with obvious dust lane. Wonderful view with the 12mm.

AGC 347 And. GXCL 56' 13.3 02 25 48 41 52 00
Viewed about 8 of the group. Conditions deteriorated, seeing at high power was a problem.

N1003 Per. GX 5.5'x1.8' 12.0B 02 39 16 40 52 22
Moderately bright, spindle, tapered ends, 3x1 E/W slightly brighter core, star offset to W of center involved.

NGC 1023 Per. GX 8.7'x2.3' 10.4 02 40 24 39 03 46
Very pretty classic spiral galaxy, very elongated, maybe 7'x2.5', hints of spiral structure, bright core with stellar nucleus. Oriented E/W.

N1058 Per. GX 3.0'x2.7' 11.8B 02 43 30 37 20 30
Roundish, dim central core, star involved offset to W, maybe disrupted galaxy with knot on the S. Odd looking galaxy, but fairly bright.

NGC 752 And. OC 49.0' 5.7 01 57 48 37 51 00
Huge coarse open cluster with one star brighter than the rest, many fairly bright stars of same magnitude, then third group of similar but dimmer mag. Very nice view - overflows eyepiece fields, large and obvious in finders.

N0890 Tri GX 2.7'x1.8' 12.2B 02 22 01 33 15 47
Bright nearly stellar nucleus surrounded by elongated bright core/disk. Core appears slightly offset from extended E/W outer dimmer disk. About 3'x1.7'.

By the time I'd finished, I was cold and tired. But after nearly six hours of observing, it is no surprise. The drive down the mountain and home was easy - by 1 a.m. I was out. The alarm clock went off far to early, but even in my precognizant haze, I knew I'd had a great time. This time of year, you've got to get it when you can.

Let's hope for some breaks in the weather for next month's new moon cycle. I may work more on the December list, but I also have a new list waiting for January, top right on this page.

Clear skies.


Sunday, December 2, 2007


This blog begins a new phase in my involvement in amateur astronomy. I've had a great time so far.

I rejoined the hobby in 1993 with a 10" Coulter Dobsonian as my first telescope. I enjoyed seeing Comet Schumacher-Levy 9 break up and slam into Jupiter in July 1994 - surprising everyone with how readily the "black eyes" on the planet could be seen. They took months to dissipate! Then Comet Hyukutake put on a spectacular show, with its tenuous turquoise blue tail extending at least 60 degrees across the sky. Comet Hale-Bopp was next (here's a good report), and keep in mind, this is all within the first few years for me in the hobby. Hale-Bopp put on an amazing show - using my 10" Dob I could watch material spiraling out of the comet's nucleus, in real time. Amazing!

I also was fortunate to initiate a few things that continue, pretty much without my involvement now, to provide fun for others in the hobby. The first was The Astronomy Connection (TAC), an online community of amateur astronomers in the greater San Francisco bay area.

I also began an event initially known as the Mount Lassen Star Party, which resulted from feeling too rushed and crowded on a club trip to Yosemite. Over the years hundreds of other amateur astronomers came to Mount Lassen, generally in July and August. Some years were so popular we went both months. At that point we learned about an abandoned airport runway nearby in the community of Shingletown, and after eight years at Lassen, we moved to the airport. The event grew even larger. After five years there, a group of us decided to look for darker skies and a better site. At first we returned to Lassen, which was a "coming home" of sorts - we had an excellent time. And now, we've incorportated and will be hosting the Golden State Star Party (GSSP) near the town of Adin California - between Burney and Alturas. I'm very happy to see this continue now in its 15th year!

I also took the advice of a few friends, Jim Bartolini and Doug Hudgins, and tried taking a group to Lake San Antonio, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. This turned out so well that I organized "CalStar" - which is a nickname for California Star Party. CalStar is now run by the San Jose Astronomical Association (SJAA), and is entering its 9th year in 2008. The SJAA will have more about CalStar.

I've also run several astronomy ventures, including manufacturing telescopes. But of all this, the most enjoyment I've had in all the years I've been involved, was having my daughter take an deep interest in observing. I wrote several short articles about her, and a few were published in Sky and Telescope Magazine. But the biggest thrill of all was the magazine falling in love with a photo of her, and putting it on their publication's cover in September of 2000.

I've also changed in my observing interests over the years. I find now that most of what I observe are challenge targets, and enjoy the company of some of the best observers around. But with this blog, I'll not only concentrate on my own observing, but offer a place for all levels of observers to participate. So, each month I will publish an observing list that contains targets that will appeal to all levels of deep sky observer. You can see the December 2007 list to the upper right of this blog page. Other months will appear prior to the 3rd quarter moon weekend each month. I'll post my own observing reports from my lists, you're welcome to post your's, or discuss the contents of any replies. Also, feel free to use the observing lists, publish them (just please give me credit) in club newsletters, or wherever - it all helps make astronomy available to others.

I would love to travel to several star parties in 2008. A list of potential trips is to the right on this page. I always welcome company. Perhaps we can put together some group astro-road trips - - - the more the merrier!

Let the fun begin....

Mark Wagner

Sunday, November 4, 2007


No fog.

What a relief.

In fact, bone dry!

Turning off highway 152 at Dinosaur Point road at sunset yesterday, I looked down toward the dam and central valley, worried about what seemed a fairly thick haze. Was that moisture already beginning the thicken up? I had fleeting thoughts of turning back and heading to Coe, but curiosity and a fun road to speed down won out. It had been years since I'd gone to Dino, and arriving - seeing dozens of cars and scopes set up - reminded me of old times. I'd chance the haze.

I set up next to Cichanski and Kingsley, with Wright and Schuerman as my other neighbor. Across from me was Cone and Bartolini. Good company. After dark, I took a walk around, meeting several first time TAC star party attendees, nice to see some husbands and wives, parents and kids, out together. All in all, I counted 28 telescopes set up. Like I said, heck of a turnout. Oh, welcome to Ramesh and Anuraag, Chris and Barbara, who were among the newcomers...

Of course, the headliner for the evening was Comet 17/P Homles. What a difference a dark sky and aperture makes! Even before astronomical twilight, in my 18" f/4.5 Dob, the 20 Nagler gave a spectacular view of a very bright nucleus, embedded in a halo that took up most of the field of view. One edge of the comet was sharp and well defined, the other edge was diffuse and ragged. This was the first time I'd seen the comet other than in town through my 10" scope. Again, what a difference. Another interesting view of it was in Marek's 18" f/4.5 Dob, with (IIRC) a 9 Nagler and Comet (Swan) Filter. The much larger dim outer envelope of the comet became readily apparent, extending about one coma distance further out. But the best view was through a pair of 12X IS binoculars that David Kingsley brought over to me. We both noted how easy it was to see the dim outer halo in the binos. Surprise! I suggested that in the big Dobs, there was so much light throughput that the bright central halo was so intense, it totally overwhelmed the dimmer outer portion. Much like looking at Barnard's Galaxy in a big light bucket - when binoculars or a finder show it much more easily. Also of interest is that this normally 17th magnitude comet was showing its coma at 1X magnification!

It was really about as much a social evening as an observing session. So, I didn't push it. Half my time was spent walking around and talking with others, and the other half.... well, here is what I saw, from my November observing list ( ). My favorites were Abell 2, NGC 225, M76, M103 and AGC 262.

NGC 40 Cep PN 70'x60" 10.7 00 13 00 72 31 19
With a 20 Nagler, the disc was visible with a bright central star. No filter. With the 12 Nagler, shells become visible. A bright inner shell around the star, darker shell surrounding it, then bright edge to outer shell. No filter. In a 7 Nagler, the eastern outer edges of outer shell show brightening. The 7 Nagler with NPB filter reveals a dim star on the southeast edge of the outer shell, and darkens the darker middle shell.

Abell 86 Cep PN 63.0" 16.7 00 01 30 70 42 30
7 Nagler with OIII. Very faint arc may be southern edge. Large. Extremely fleeting, likely AI.

N7762 Cep OC 11.0' 10.2 23 49 54 68 01 00
About 12' size and extended somewhat NW/SE. Many dim stars with knotty central concentration of stars.

Abell 83 Cas PN 47.0" 17.6 23 46 46 54 44 38
Oblong glow, if viewed at all. Dim stars involved. 7 Nagler with NPB.

Abell 82 Cas PN 94.0" 15.2 23 45 47 57 03 56
Slightly elongated N/S, even glow, bright star involved with dim star just to its N also embedded. Averted with 7 Nagler and NPB filter.

NGC 7789 Cas OC 15.0' 6.7 23 57 26 56 43 14
Many hundreds of stars all approx same mag, 18'x15' elongated N/S. Dark lanes form circle just inside the perimeter and through the center, like a negative of the Veil Nebula.

Abell 2 Cas PN 36.0" 16.3 00 45 34 57 57 35
Easy! Located right off Eta Cass. NPB filer at 100X, round. 294X, slightly elongated N/S, somewhat annular, brighter eastern edge.

NGC 129 Cas OC 21.0' 6.5 00 29 54 60 13 00 4 bright stars overlay a deceivingly large cluster of haze stars. Bright star in field.

NGC 136 Cas OC 1.2' 00 31 31 61 30 36
Fun open cluster! Tight grouping of many dim stars and haze that at first may be mistaken as a galaxy. With 12 Nagler the cluster is much larger, extending to WSW and N, with a bright knot of stars forming the eastern boundary.

NGC 225 Cas OC 12.0' 7.0 00 43 30 61 47 00
In the 20 Nagler - large and coarse, maybe 20 bright stars spread out with hints of nebulosity between them. Using 12 Nagler with Ultrablock reveals nebulous glows around many of the stars. Fun view!

NGC 381 Cas OC 6.0' 9.3 01 08 18 61 35 00
Dim and coarse, maybe 13 stars of similar mag overlaying haze, stars of similar mag close by make this cluster somewhat indistinct.

M103 Cas OR 6.0' 7.4 01 33 22 60 39 30
12 Nagler gives a stunning view of two chains of 7 to 10 stars each, arcing away from each other running NE/SW, with three bright stars crossing fairly evenly spread NW/SE, center star is distinctly red and adds a lot of character to the cluster.

M76 Per PN 167" 12.2 01 42 19 5134 45
With a 20 Nagler, appears almost rectangular in its brighter inner NE/SW "boxy" section with dim outer halo to the NW/SE. In a 7 Nagler, the northeast lobe is slightly larger than the southwest one, which has a bright flat edge. A possible dim star is embedded in northeast lobe. The outer halo extends from the NE lobe arcing out to W. The SW lobe has similar but dimmer arc extending to the SE. Similar appearance to a barred spiral galaxy with very thick bar (sans core) and arcing arms.

NGC 185 Cas GX 11.9'x10.1' 10.1 00 38 57 48 20 14
Large elliptical galaxy with bright non-stellar core, evenly diffuses, extended somewhat E/W.

NGC 278 And GX 2.2'x2.2' 11.5 00 52 04 47 33 00
Large, diffuse, extended slightly S of E/W. Has a nearly stellar core in a central condensation. All w/ 20 Nagler. 12 Nagler shows mottling in SW and NE extensions. Galaxy actually appears to arc toward the south!

M 110 And GX 21.9'x10.9' 8.9 00 40 22 41 41 22
About 20'x8', N/S elongation. Diffuse arms, brightening gradually to a bright core with almost dim stellar nucleus.

M31 And GX 192'x62.2' 4.4 00 42 44 41 16 08
Enormous extension, amazing in dark sky, well beyond the bright section of its disk. Two black dust lanes define northern boundary and wrap around western edge, at which NGC 206 appears as a large brightening, lanes arc around western edge to the southern side, which seems to engulf M32. BTW.... thanks to Bill Cone for the nice view of M31's globular G1 and the bright little UGC galaxy next to it.

M32 And GX 8.7'x6.4' 9.0 00 42 41 40 51 56
With a 20 Nagler, the galaxy appears round, with intensely bright stellar core, Some possible inner elongation NE/SW.

N0206 And Knot 4.0'x2.5' 00 40 32 40 44 31
See M31.

AGC 262 And GXCL 100.8' 13.3 01 52 48 36 08 00
Awesome field. 13 galaxies in the field of a 12 Nagler. I'll return to this cluster, in darker skies....

More to come, next weekend...

Clear skies...

Mark ps - Thanks Albert, for your diligent work at reopening this observing site. Hope you're enjoying Oz....

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Comet night at Houge Park

It was a public night at Houge Park, and the star of the show was Comet 17P / Holmes....

I arrived early and joined some of the SJAA board members in the meeting hall. They were dealing with special club business, which I sat in on until I lost interest. I went out in the dimming light to set up my 10" f/5.7 CPT. I had mistakenly left my Cheshire at home, but that provided another opportunity to see how the CPT held collimation after being collapsed for transportation and set up again. In the western glow Jupiter appeared, allowing alignment of my finders. Although somewhat swimmy at low power and low in the sky, the planet's disk was clear and fairly crisp. Glancing at it without paying much attention, three of its moon were obvious, with one of them out of line with the other two.

I looked around and saw Vega up high. Once it was in the finder I moved to Epsilon Lyrae - also easily visible in the finder. Both components wer just split with my 19 Panoptic. With the 7 Nagler the separation between the nearly perpendicular pairs of stars was great. There was a bit of atmospheric scintillation, but the saying "you could drive a truck between them" applied. The scope passed the collimation test :-)

I began looking to the east and picked out Cassiopeia, allowing a quick hop to Mirfak. Even before dark I could see the comet. I hadn't seen it since early in the week and indeed the size of the coma had grown tremendously. In the Panoptic, it filled a huge portion of the field of view. To my eye, it really hadn't dimmed much, even given the expansion of the coma. What really surprised me was how a once tiny 17th magnitude ball of ice was now an obviously fuzzy star to the unaided eye.

Once it was dark, the public began to arrive. I was a bit surprised that more telescopes were not there, my guess is maybe eight, maybe a few more. But from the TAC list several familiar names were present. Rob Hawley, running the event for the SJAA, Rich Neuschaefer was also officially representing the club. Dan Wright, with his SCT and binoviewers. Great as always to see Phil Chambers - the comet views through his 12X IS binocular was amazing - I actually think the comet is now best as a binocular object. It was also my first opportunity to meet the effervescent Greg "Mr. Margarita" Claytor too. Greg, keep that blender in your car! I also thought I saw JVN's van arrive, but I didn't see him...

During the evening I tried observing several deep sky targets. On another forum I was asked about NGC 404, someone said they were unable to see it in their 12" Dob. I tried over and over, and finally gave in to being skunked. I was surprised, as I've seen it numerous times from in town. But during the night the reason became apparent. M13 and M15 were dim. M31 showed only its bright core and M32, not a hint of the dark lanes. Even M57 was muted down. The Milky Way was visible, but only if you really knew where to look. I think the Clear Sky Clock last night was off, when it came to transparency.

The public was really a lot of fun. One man had come by during twilight, thinking I was setting up some odd sort of tennis ball cannon. When he realized it was a telescope he said he'd be back after dark. He returned with his 5-1/2 year old daughter. She was looking through the telescope at the comet, and when I began describing its parts. She stopped me and said she was learning about astronomy, and comets, in school. She knew about the nucleus and coma! Amazing and precocious! Later, it seemed a horde of teen girls was approaching us, but it turned out to be a Girl Scout troop - 8 and 9 year olds, and this very nice mommies. They were in for a treat, as they had no idea about the comet. Lots of great questions, but mostly from the inquisitive moms.

During the night I had been avoiding listening to the radio, not wanting to know the score of the Sharks / Kings game. I was recording it for when I got home. I left Houge at 10 pm, as my feet had gotten cold (if you're going to Dino tonight, that's a word of warning). Got home, watched the game, and was very glad I'd gone to Houge Park instead.

Tonight off to Dinosaur Point. Looks like a good crowd. And the skies sure look like they're going to be about as good as possible for TAC's return. See you there...

Thursday, October 25, 2007


After the comet cleared the tree branches, at 10:50 p.m., I took a good look.

It is somewhat brighter, and a bit bigger. I don't think it has increased a lot in size, but some. With a 7mm Nagler in the 10" f/5.7 CPT, I was running 207X and the overall comet took about a quarter of the field of view. That would put it at 6 arcminutes. I also looked with a 12 Nagler giving 120X.

The brighter portion of the comet is still around 2 arcminutes. The nucleus is a bright golden yellow stellar point, offset slightly SSW. A bright yellow/cream colored fan of ejecta extends SSW from the nucleus. At times I felt the southern edge of the fan would show some movement, as if a pinpoint of brightening was occurring - extending into the edge of the fan, and perhaps feeding the fan itself.

Around the nucleus and ejecta fan was a bright circular glow, more pronounced on the fan side. Outside that was a darkened ring, which on the fan side was mostly interrupted. This darkened ring was enclosed by a bright soft outer ring, and that defined the end of the "bright" portion of the comet. If not for the fan and bright inner glow, the bright outer ring would have made the view as annular, maybe it could still be called that though. The darker part inside the bright outer ring appeared to be gray tinged with red to me.

Beginning at the outside edge of the bright outer ring, a very dim glow extended away from the comet. It appeared to extend an additional 2 arcminutes around the bright "outer" ring. The dim glow was easier to view at 120X than at 207X.

I hope this comet is still putting on a show in a few more days. It would be great to see it under dark skies.

More tomorrow... this is a really unusual comet!

More Comet Holmes 17P

Just came in from observing the comet in a 10" f/5;7 with a 7mm Nagler. The nucleus is very bright, nothing competes with it in the field of view. Somewhat yellow/cream colored. The inner coma fans out to the WSE, tight. The outer halo is slightly elongated NW to SE, approx, from memory. Very unusual comet! I agree with the size, estimated at 1.5' to 2.0'. If I didn't know what it was, I'd guess this was a very bright planetary nebula with an off-center central star.

I had to laugh, after doing a bit of fixing of my finder base today on the scope, I had to use the nearly full moon to align. But it works fine now. But once the fix was done, the finder aligned correctly and kept the comet centered. Smart move preparing for tonight! Simple fix, a screw head was too "tall" and throwing everything off.

I haven't seen a comet's coma like this since Hale-Bopp. I suggest we all watch this guy closely over the next week. Hale-Bopp, back in '93 or so, when the coma was incredibly distinct, was throwing off all kinds of ejecta spinakers - you could watch them spiraling off the nucleus real-time. Wouldn't that be a treat!


Sunday, October 7, 2007

A Social Night At Coe

Title translated: observing was not very good. But there was a very good turnout, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Do I regret going? Not at all. The drive up the mountain, past Anderson Lake Reservoir at sunset, which enhances the reds of fall, is excellent. I thought I was taking it slow, but kept hearing my gear moving around in the back of the truck, at each turn. When I arrived, Turley and Cichanski were already there, at the southeast end of the lot, along with newcomer Elizabeth, a recent transplant from D.C. Mark Johnston was in his usual spot in the center of the lot, and one other observer was parked along the eastern perimeter just to my south. Some other vehicles were there, day hikers celebrating Coe's Tarantula Festival. The day hikers were gone shortly before twilight ended.

Sunset was gorgeous. Very clear skies, with golden orange over the black silhouette of the coastal mountains. More observers arrived, and by dark there must have been 15 of us, with a few stragglers arriving after dark. There were a number of first timers to Coe in the group, who unfortunately picked one of the worst night there I can recall for transparency (other than getting fogged out) in a very long time. It was actually deceiving as well before astronomical dark the Milky Way was horizon to horizon, the star clouds in Sag and Cyg showing off nicley, and the offramp heading to Oph was obvious. We thought we were in for a great night. But soon after dark the muck starting to lay in, high. Before long, the light domes of San Jose and Gilroy were blotting out the west and south. The east looked okay, but in my 18" f/4.5 Dob I could tell, showing Stephan's Quintet to others, that the transparency was way down. Just a roll of the dice, and last night it came up snake eyes.

The most fun I had, other than visiting with the TACos present, was showing eye candy to a camper who hiked from his campsite near the park headquarters (we could see his flashlight on the trail coming toward us). He was very interested... objects included decent views of M57, M15, The Veil Nebula, NGC 7008, The Double Cluster, M31 - pointing out its dust lanes, along with M32 and M110, The Blue Snowball (not blue at all last night), NGC 246, NGC 253, and M33 (enhancing NGC 604 with a UHC). Someone asked me to show Stephan's Quintet, and with the 7 Nagler (294x) we could break out all five components, but it was not a view to write home about.

Other than the eye candy and special requests, and yakking it up, I worked on the southern crumbs of my September observing list...

N7171 Aqr GX 2.6'x1.5' 12.9 22 01 01 -13 06 09
Dim, diffuse, elongated mostly e/w, slight brightening in core region otherwise even brightness throughout. Bright star 15' N, size of galaxy is about 3'x1.5'.

N7184 Aqr GX 6.0'x1.3' 11.7 22 02 39 -20 48 50
Extended edge on galaxy, mostly wwsw/eene. Pinpoint stellar core in brighter condensed central area. Approx 7'x2'. Star at eastern extremity of galaxy.

M30 Cap GC 12.0' 6.9 21 40 22 -23 10 45
Smaller Messier globular, approx 10' and uneven core. Core is rather tight and uneven. Stars in 2 chains trailing out to the N with more dim stars trailing to the E.

Arp 110 Aqr GX 1.0'x0.6' 15.9 22 54 09 -15 14 09
Possibly very fleeting view of dim patch elongated nnw/sse, but no definite sighting or any detail.

N7392 Aqr GX 2.1'x1.2' 12.6 22 51 46 -20 36 25
Elongated, brighter central region, no noticeable core. WNW/ESE about 2x1.

N7377 Aqr GX 2.9'x2.4' 12.1 22 47 47 -22 18 42
Round, about 3' diameter, brighter core about 1'.

Arp 93 Aqr GX 2.3'x1.3' 12.8 22 28 38 -24 50 27
Double galaxy, just the cores show as object is in the muck. Cores are obvious. Western galaxy has brighter core, both have dim halos and are virtually touching.

I think my favorite view was of the last target, Arp 93. The total longshot is Arp 110, which I figure there is no way I saw, but decided to track down the location and pretend. I wrote down my "impression" which was severely fleeting. I did not look at the P.A. of the lumpy darkness last night on the computer, but, interestingly, as I write this OR I called it up both in The Sky (which was crashing like crazy again last night) and Megastar. They show two very different P.A.s!

Speaking of Arps, since I'm observing quite a number of them on my monthly lists, I've begun reading a book Ray Cash sent me, entitled The Electric Sky, by Donald E. Scott, in which Halton Arp so far is featured quite regularly. Interesting reading....

All in all though, it was a fun night at Coe, and more fun coming at CalStar... hope to see you all there.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Observing at Plettstone Sept 2007

My daughter Mimi and I arrived late Friday afternoon at Michelle Stone's beautiful home outside the historic Gold Rush town of Bear Valley, just north of Mariposa on California's Highway 49 in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range's western foothills, to enjoy a few days together exploring views of Yosemite Valley, the local history and a surprisingly good dark and transparent sky. Everything worked out wonderfully, and I will begin this report by thanking Michelle for her many years of friendship and her (and Paul Plett's) graciousness as our host. I arrived home at noon today, Sunday, tired and very satisfied.

I'll provide something of a historical travelogue to start, but if you're interested instead only in the night time observations, skip down a few paragraphs to the ****

For those who have never been to the area, Bear Valley was a center of placer mining from 1849 into the 1850's, and most notably the headquarters of the famous/infamous General John C. Fremont. Just to the north of Bear Valley, with a commanding view of the deep valley to the north out to Coulterville, Fremont built a fort to protect his mine holdings from claims jumpers. You can see the view here:

The famous/infamous California "bandito" Joaquin Murieta was known to practice his trade in the area around Bear Valley (as well as near Dinosaur Point, another TAC observing site at Pacheco Pass on highway 152). But John Fremont, he ended up selling his holdings in and around Bear Valley for $6 million, a nice tidy sum for its day.

During our stay, we spent an afternoon as well in Yosemite Valley, having driven the "long way", past where Fremont's fort was, though Coulterville (a quaint Gold Rush town), up to highway 120, and in an entrance I'd never been through. It had been eight years since I'd been there, and it just keeps growing more spectacular. The drive back via highway 140 along the Merced River was equally enjoyable. It was a wonderful day trip.

I'll finish the travel section mentioning again the drive back. Instead of going back through Mariposa, which is how we arrived, I took Mimi through Hornitos, to Cathy's Valley, Merced, etc. on the ride home. But back to Hornitos. We took a slow drive through. The sleepy town was another hotbed in the gold rush. Old brick facades still line the road (we were the only car on it).... one of them had a historic landmark plaque stating the building was the original store of one Domenico Ghirardelli, who on that spot began what is now a world famous chocolate company based in our own bay area. And to add more astronomy flavor to the chocolate story, one of Domenico's closest social contacts was a wealthy bay area resident named James Lick. Brings it close to home, and ties the personalities of the time together, doesn't it?


Of my astronomical observations, I'll say the conditions were quite good; both nights were comfortable, nearly t-shirt weather, with surprisingly good skies, steadiness was very acceptable most of the time with moments that were sub-par, but with a bit of waiting, things always improved. Transparency was very good, especially considering the fires in the state at the time. I was amazed to log a highly probably view of the difficult planetary nebula Abell 80, and picking off all seven member of Hickson 94. I was observing from my September list at:

All observations are with my 18" f/4.5 Dob.

Here are the objects I observed, and my raw notes (NGCXXX = H400 list, NXXXX = H400-II list):

Abell 81    Cep    PN    32"    14.8    22 42 25    80 26 28
100X no filter! Very cool! To the W by 5' of bright star. Mostly round, annular, mottled, possible brighter edges to NW/W and SE.
N7129    Cep    OC    4.3'    9.3    21 45 12    65 46 23
7129 is faint and round with hints of neb. LBN 497 is very distinct and bright and may be NGC7133, 12' to the EENS. LBN 497 is involved in several brightest stars in the field. Nice view.
NGC 7142    Cep    OC    4.3"    9.3    21 45 12    65 46 23
Very close to LBN 497, this very noticeable OC is about 14' x 8' elongated NW/SE, with a distinct leading edge to the WSW. Many dim stars with the three brightest defining its eastern length.
N7139    Cep    PN    77.0"    13.3    21 46 08    63 47 31
Large and dim, but visible direct vision and without filter. With OIII and 12mm, round and mottled but not annular, central star very occasionally visible, possibly an extended halo to SSE and NNW. Guessing 2' diameter.
Abell 75    Cep    PN    56.0"    17    21 26 23    62 53 33
Visible unfiltered at 102X as a faint glow that could be mitaken as neb among some fraint field stars about 14' SSW of a distinct arc of 5 stars, bright of which points to the planetary. At 171X with OIII appears to have hints of annularity and perhaps an embedded star in the eastern portion. OIII dramatically improves view. With OIII at 294X, appears diffuse and about 2-3' in diameter, dimming evenly from a barely visible central star.
NGC 7160    Cep    OC    7.0"    6.1    21 53 48    62 36 00
Easy to identify the brightest pair of stars in the cluster, aligned NNW/SSE. Perhaps 30 or more stars NW/SE, with hints of nebulosity around the brightest center stars.
N7354    Cep    PN    36.0"    12.9    22 40 20    61 17 06
Small very bright planetary at 117X without filter. At 294X maybe 30', slightly annular, no central star. OIII at 280X shows clear small annulariety and possible very dim extensions WWNW/EESE.
NGC 7380    Lac    OC    12.0'    7.2    22 47 00    58 06 00
Roughly triangular shaped cluster with one apex leading to the W, the base a chain of stars clearly defining the eastern edge, many stars of similar magnitude. Nebula is seen in cluster without filters, but shows marked enhancement with fitlers. Nice cluster, with all sides being about 12' long.
Abell 79    Lac    PN    120.0"x90.0"    15.8    22 26 17    59 49 40
At 171X with OIII only the southern arc shows, running from E to W. Dim field stars to the E and W may make this object appear larger than it is. Maybe 3' in overall curved length.
N7245    Lac    OC    5.0'    9.2    22 15 08    54 20 00
Small tight group of many stars off tip of chain of four bright ones that fill the width of a low power field of view. Most all are same magnitude, except for the one bright one from the chain. Noticably brighter than rich Milky Way field, but not significantly brighter.
Abell 80    Lac    PN    2.7'x2.0'    15.2    23 34 45    52 26 12
Negative observation. Second night, with UHC and 171x, a slight brightening occasionally - from SAO 3983:310 go to SAO 3983: 190, then S same distance, then about 3' mostly E. Looking 3rd time, glow to E is extending N of star, as is glow now visible to W, looking at 293X with OIII filter. Look at spectral classes of stars in the edges of planetary to see how they would respond to film.
NGC 7296    Lac    OC    4.0'    9.7    22 27 57    52 18 58
Small, somewhat insignificant, not very interesting.perhaps 2 arcs of 5 stars each facing away from each other.
NGC 7243    Lac    OC    21.0'    6.4    22 15 18    49 53 00
Large, spread out, extended nne/ssw, not all that notable.
NGC 7209    Lac    OC    24.0"    7.7    22 05 12    46 30 00
Large, coarse, about 24 stars in a 24' area.
Abell 77    Cep    PN    76.0"x49"    16.4    21 32 10    55 52 44
Very threshold object at 171X with OIII and averted vision. Perhaps elongated.e/w. Medium size?
NGC 7128    Cyg    OC    3.1"    9.1    21 44 00    53 43 00
Nice group! Six stars in almost a Pisces configuration, one member, the SSE is brightest and most colorful.
NGC 7086    Cyg    OC    9.0"    8.4    21 30 30    51 35 00
Well condensed cluster, somewhat squarish, brighter stars to the center, a bit swiss cheesey with a few areas void of stars, several dozen stars.
M39    Aur    OC    21.0'    6.4    21 37 42    48 27 00
Perhaps 24 bright stars in a large coarse cluster.
N7082    Cyg    OC    24.0'    7    21 29 24    47 05 00
Fairly indistinct, in very rich Milky Way field. Lots of dim stars, with some background mottling that may be nebulosity. Dark lanes throughout the area.
NGC 7331    Peg    GX    14.5'x3.7'    9.4    22 37 04    34 25 00
Bright core, bright extensions on arms, about 14' x 3'. Tilted spiral, WWNW/EESE. Three companions visible on N side of galaxy.
HCG 92    Peg    GXCL    2.3'x2.1'    13.2    22 36 03    33 56 54
At 294X all five show. Three in along an E/W line, with two of them nearly merged and leading the third one, the other two are dimmer, one to the N, one to the S. Nice view.
NGC 7217    Peg    GX    3.9'x3.2'    11    22 07 52    31 21 33
Nice galaxy with very bright very stellar core. Could be mistaken for a planetary nebula if not studied carefully, or an unresolved globular if not for the bright stellar core. At 193X the core takes on a brighter small central area with the stellar center embedded. About 4' diameter and nearly circular. Perhaps slight elong SW/NE.
Abell 78    Vul    PN    13.8'    12.2    21 16 52    24 08 52
Not visible without OIII. At 193X dim glow 2'x2.5' NNE/SSW with a star offset inside to SE.
Arp 278    Peg    GX    1.7'x0.7'    14.4    22 19 26    22 29 53
Two galaxies at 171X appear almost as one but with two cores, NW/SE orientation. Cores are not much brighter than galaxies. Galaxies are bracketed by two nearly equal magnitude field stars. Galaxy to S is a bit brighter with tiny stellar core. 293X galaxies appear nearly connected, as if there is a slightly black "pinching" between them, and the dimmer N galaxy shows a very tiny intermittent stellar core with averted vision.
AGC 2666    Peg    GXCL    78.4'    13.8    23 50 54    27 08 00
Logged CGCG477-23, 477-21, MGC 4-56-23, KUG4-2348-269, MCG 4-56-19, NGC 7756, NGC 7768, NGC 7766, NGC 7767. All at 294X.
Arp 99    Peg    GX    1.3'x1.2'    13.2    23 15 16    18 57 41
All five visible. Three are bright and easy, two of which are spirals, perhaps face on, third is nearly edge on and long. Other two, the CGCG at mag 15.2 is difficult, at mag 16 the NGC galaxy is visually brighter. Nice group with fun range of difficulty.
Arp 170    Peg    GX    1.0'x0.6'    14.3    23 17 12    18 42 03
Awesome and extremely challenging group. Brightest 3 have 2 that break out well off a double star, with the third showing as a very faint glow moving the eye around with averted. A fourth member is visible (all now averted) taking single star through double, and out. Three others visible toward and near double star in line with three brightest galaxies - but this double is above original doulbe. Two of final three galaxies are merged, but too large to be a single galaxy according to their cataloged sizes.
Arp 212    Peg    GX    1.5'x1.3'    12.8    23 20 30    17 13 33
Evenly bright halo, with a brighter tight core, averted at high power shows occasional dim stellar core.
Arp 13    Peg    GX    2.5'x1.2'    11.6    23 00 03    15 58 50
Bright galaxy approx 2.5' x 1.2' with brighter core condensed to stellar point with averted. Extended mostly E/W.
AGC 2593    Peg    GXCL    28'    15.1    23 24 30    14 38 00
Only galaxies visible in cluster are NGC 7649 and IC1487, both nondescript, brighter one shows some elliptical shape but in an undetermined orientation.
Arp 150    Peg    GX    0.8'x0.5'    14.9    23 19 30    09 30 28
NGC 7609 is elongated E/W and very small, moderately bright. MCG 1-59-48 is seperated out and obvious. MCG 1-59-46 is visually almost attached to the NGC, but with averted vision at high power (294X) is can be distinguished, just off the S edge. Other MCG is to the SE.
Arp 298    Peg    GX    1.4'x1.0'    13    23 03 15    08 52 27
NGC 7649 extended WNW/ESE with 1.4' x .8' with intense stellar core and dim but distinct halo. Dim star involved in E edge of halo. IC 5283 dim and large without features, elonated in same direction as NGC, about same size, 1.2' to N of NGC. Nice contrast of two different galaxies.

Monday, August 13, 2007

My "Joe Friday" Observing Report

This report contains "just the facts".... I'm attempting to avoid anything overly figurative....

This past Friday and Saturday nights I joined a small group of TAC (htttp:// observers at two different observing sites in far northeast California. This section of the state is known for its wide empty spaces. We observed in sight of Mount Shasta, from private properties in the towns of Fall River Mills, and Adin. Friday at Fall River Mills was at the property of bay area amateur astronomy icons Denni and Kevin Medlock, builders owners of the 30" Challenger telescope at Fremont Peak Observatory (, and long time "movers and shakers" in most notably at Chabot Space And Science Center and the Amateur Telescope Maker's Workshop ( Group 70 (

At the Medlock's property we set up on the western edge of a five acre field, and joined other guests who were attending a weekend long Perseid party. The BBQ fired up, and we all enjoyed a delicious dinner and each other's company as twilight set in. Later that evening I and another attendee did a star count in the Finnish Triangle number 6 (

We both reached the same magnitude we had the month prior at Bumpass Hell parking lot at 8200 feet on Mount Lassen, 7.1 and 6.5. My target list ws the the one I had compiled for the August issue of the SJAA's newsletter Ephemeris. It provided a nice variety of objects pres with varying degrees of challenge. I'll post my observations after the descriptive narrative.

Of particular note during that evening was a spectacular Perseid bolide. It dropped quickly from about 40 degrees elevation to the southern horizon, intensely bright, illuminating everything as if someone briefly switched on a klieg light, then turned brilliant yellow green, changing to a florescent orange just as it broke into pieces as it disappeared behind a mountain to our south.

Welcome to Perseid weekend!

The next day was spent relaxing after a nice breakfast, until it was time to head east, to Adin.

Adin is 100 miles east of Redding, and about 60 miles west of Alturas. It is a town of 500, living at the east end of what is known as The Big Valley, which runs for many tens of miles north and south up to Tule Lake and the Oregon border. The region is dominated by the stratovolcano Mount Shasta to the west. Our hosts offered us use of a huge empty plateau on their property, with outstanding horizons for 360 degree.

We joined the owners in their home for a wonderful dinner that included filet mignon from their own grass fed beef cattle, as well as local vegetables, delicious homemade deserts, and assorted wines. Our hosts were extremely wonderful and gracious people who I owe my gratitude for their hospitality, and giving me an excellent night of observing.

That night, I did a careful count of the Finnish Triangle 6, twice, and got 48 and 49 stars, easily giving me the best limiting magnitude I've ever obtained by counting. The "dome of the night" extended unabated to the horizons in every direction. The Milky Way was not just sugary, but as one other observer noted, it took on a distinct three dimensional quality. About the only place I've seen such a deep and dimensional sky was two years ago at 6000 feet in the Andes of Chile. This was the darkest site I've been to in California, and I plan to return.

Both nights, we ended our observing sessions at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday night was special too, as our host family joined us at the observing site, where we enjoyed stories about astronomy and life in the wild and unknown country of far north eastern California, while watching the Perseids.

Next morning, I crawled out of the tent at dawn, the sky still dark enough for stars to cover the sky, but bright enough for land features to again be visible. I stood there, barefoot, no shirt, in my jeans. In the brisk morning air, facing west, the enormous Big Valley spread out at my feet, I enjoyed the stunning emptiness as Perseids flashed over my head and disappeared over the Big Mountain to the west. Mount Shasta was memorably described by the poet Joaquin Miller: "Lonely as God, and white as a winter moon, Mount Shasta starts up sudden and solitary from the heart of the great black forests of Northern California." The mountain continues to be a place of spiritual importance to several Native American tribes.. The view that morning was truly magical.

It was a very memorable view with which to finish the observing trip.

Again, my thanks to our hosts at both locations for making this such a wonderful weekend. We'll see you again!

Here are my astronomical observations with my 18" f/4.5 Obsession Telescope...

- Just the facts (mam) -

N7023 Cep. BN 14.0' 21 01 36 68 10 00
Star offset to W of brighter circular glow. Dinner glow, almost detached extends to west of star, and brightens with averted vision. No filter. 190X.

NGC 7142 Cep. OC 4.3' 9.3 21 45 12 66 46 23
Rich dim cluster even mags with very dim haze interspersed. LBN 497 very obvios glow without filter, around 4 stars, 4th one comes in averted. Filter degrades view. Area is repleat with dim nebulosity.

N7129 Cep. OC/BN 8.0' 11.5 21 42 00 66 05 00
Rich dim cluster even mags with very dim haze interspersed. LBN 497 very obvios glow without filter, around 4 stars, 4th one comes in averted. Filter degrades view. Area is repleat with dim nebulosity.

N7139 Cep. PN 77.0" 13.3 21 46 08 63 47 31
UHC enhances this round PN, which appears annular without filter, and mottled with filter at 190x. At 290x dim stars at sw and e edges of pn, which appears uneven with somewhat jagged edges.

Abell 75 Cep. PN 56" 17 21 26 23 62 53 33
Moderately small, dim, diffuse, bifurcated dark lane running sw/ne, elongated same direction, star embedded just E of center. East edge is brighter.

NGC 6939 Cep. OC 7.0' 7.8 20 31 31 60 39 14
Large highly resolved open cluster with many bright members.

NGC 6946 Cep. GX 11.6'x9.8' 9.6 20 34 52 60 09 15
Large arm sweeping south, knot In arm NW of the core. Nice in FOV with OC to N.

Abell 73 Cep. PN 73.0" 17.4 20 56 26 57 26 00
Wow! Large, elongated N/S with only the brigher E/W edges showing, no visibility of N/S portions, center is darker. Take up 20% of FOV in 12 Nagler.

Abell 77 Cep. PN 76"x49" 16.4 21 32 10 55 52 42
Large, with stars embedded all around the glowing edges, slightly elongated e/w with bright knot on star on SSE edge. Best view is 12 Nagler with UHC - bright knot is the planetary - elongated e/w.

NGC 7008 Cyg PN 86" 13.3 21 00 33 54 32 32
Bright, coma shaped pn with bright knot to N, open to E, two bright stars at S end of curve. What may be a central star is obvious embedded in dark central part of the open section. Dim star at w edge just ahead of the pn, darker lane from center through w section almost break pn in half, creating brighter wwnw knot. Kind of a Flame Neb feeling.

NGC 7128 Cyg OC 3.1' 9.7 21 44 00 53 43 00
Small, condensed, many stars, pentagon of brighter stars in larger dimmer triangle. Nice view due to this being a tight group.

NGC 7086 Cyg OC 9.0' 8.4 21 30 30 51 35 00
Fairly large with wide range of magnitudes, in rich area of MW.

N7031 Cyg OC 15.0' 9.1 21 06 52 50 51 00
Small handful of stars that constitute no more than an asterism.

M39 Cyg OC 31.0' 4.6 21 32 12 48 27 00
Beautiful eyepiece full of bight stars. Coarse, no more than a dozen or so stars, all bight, with rich MW field of dim stars as background.

N7067 Cyg OC 3.0' 9.7 21 24 12 48 01 00
Small, dim haze, few bright stars overlay lots of tiny hazy stars

N6991 Cyg OC 25.0' 20 54 54 47 25 00
Very sparse and large haze of stars barely distinguishable from MW.

Abell 71 Cyg PN 2.6' 15.2 20 32 23 47 20 56
Very difficult to distinguish from background, especially due to stars overlaying target. Dim haze in correct position.

N7082 Cyg OC 24.0' 7.2 21 29 24 47 05 00
This rich OC is in a thick MW field, which hides it well. There are several bright components aligned linearly mostly N/S.

NGC 7062 Cyg OC 6.0' 8.3 21 23 28 46 23 03
Small, about 6' with a few brighter members around the perimeter, many dimmer members (dozens) in center,

N6997 Cyg OC 8.0' 10 20 56 30 44 39 00
Large, coarse, relatively sparse cluster with few bright members.

NGC 7000 Cyg BN 120.0' 20 58 00 44 20 00
Very large, dark lanes extremely prominent and well defined. Extremely extensive - covering areas I've never previously seen.

NGC 6866 Cyg OC 10.0' 7.6 20 03 55 44 09 36
In rich MW field, elong n/s with lots of dark lanes around cluster. Really stretched out.

NGC 7044 Cyg OC 5.0' 12 21 13 09 42 29 44
Very nice about 5'x4' sw/ne, all stars about even mag. Appealing dimmer cluster.

NGC 6910 Cyg OC 7.0' 7.4 20 23 06 40 47 00
About a dozen stars stretched out in a slightly curved line E/W with brt star on E end and brt star to S outside line, curving to N. Nice fun view.

M29 Cyg OC 6.0' 6.6 20 24 00 38 30 06
Two small arcs of stars facing away from each other running E to W with one solitary star centered between.

N6888 Cyg BN 18'x8' 20 12 01 38 23 00
Very well defined elongated N/S with only E edge ill defined. Bright knot inside N edge. Very fine object

N6857 Cyg BN 38.0" 11.4 20 00 46 33 31 32
PN is obvious but uneven glow, fan shaped to SW from central star.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

How To Feel Letdown on a Good Night

I had not planned on observing at Houge Park last night. An early moon rise combined with a two night observing trip to the darkest corner of California next weekend had me planning an evening at home, reading, writing, or in front of the tube (possibly subjected to a parade of HGTV fix it or design shows). An evening or two spent together is always a good thing. But as soon as the question "Isn't there a Houge Park tonight" was asked, I was out packing astro gear into the car.

I haven't been much of a regular at Houge the past few years. There was a time I went twice monthly, for years. Now it feels more like twice yearly. But it does give me the opportunity to take out my 10" f./5.7 CPT, and it is great fun to pack the scope, mount, eyepiece case and step stool in the passenger seat of the Miata. It is one of those rare opportunities to witness an actual blivet. But it works...

It was a very pleasant evening, warm temps and a clear sky. Jupiter was first, high to the south. I viewed it progressively with my 20mm Nagler (72x), 12 Nagler (121x) and 7 Nagler (207x). I showed surprisingly nice color, distinct ochre bands standing out well, and some hints of a large festoon would occasionally snap in, in the somewhat soft seeing. Best views were through the 12mm, but it is way too fun pump up the mag and wait for the seeing. A number of visitors were around, several waiting outside as spouses sat in on the SJAA lecture (learning about different types of telescopes) - mostly women and younger children. They too enjoyed peeking at Jupiter. I always enjoy watching children twisting their heads around, trying to figure out how to look in the eyepiece. It is also funny to ask them if the see the object - Jupiter, The Ring Nebula, etc,. and usually they answer "yes" even if you can see, clearly, there is no way they can with their head twisted so off-axis! But it is fun, and that's what we're there for. Serious fun.

There was a good turnout - must have been a dozen or more telescopes, and earlier on plenty of public. As the sky darkened, the show began. The curious public had a great time, and some beginning observers, trying out their telescopes, also were clearly enjoying themselves. Made me think of my first experiences at Houge Park, maybe 17 years ago, and how amazed I was and excited at what I could see.

But I also could not get over how bright the sky seemed! Even with the Milky Way showing, which it clearly was last night, the sky lacked so much detail, I was having difficulty star hopping and kept wondering what the problem was. Then I realized, it *is* a good night at Houge, but I also felt let down! The problem was my frame of reference, as my prior night out doing astronomy was at Bumpass Hell parking lot at 8,000 feet on Mount Lassen! What a huge difference... the same shock hits me every year.

I had brought my Edmonds Mag 6 Star Atlas, but found it unnecessary. I spent the evening showing off highlight objects that I've viewed hundreds of times. They included The Ring Nebula, Alberio, M13, The Double Double, M15, M22, M8, Izar, M11, M17, and The Blinking Planetary. The best views were of M8 with a UHC filter - the nebula was very apparent and nicely contrasted with the open cluster, M13 was at zenith and put on a good show, and the double stars were pretty cool. M15 was disappointing, kind of low in the muck, it looked dull and small.

I spent a good deal of time describing to the visitors what each object was - what stage of the stellar life-cycle was represented in the particular view, distances, ages, the concept of light years, etc. There were lots of good questions, about the views, and about my telescope!

The end of the evening was punctuated by an intensely bright meteor, screaming from north to south - perhaps an early Perseid. Oh, speaking of streaking objects, we also had a nice pass of the ISS earlier in the evening. Comparing the two celestial streakers, I'll take the meteor, any day...

It was a very enjoyable evening. At moon-up I packed the scope and other gear into the car, and took a final look at the sky. I realized how much I liked Houge Park, but also that I now spend my time at darker sites. Plettstone, Lassen, Willow Springs, all good dark places. I don't even frequent Coe or Montebello much any more... the hobby has over the years added a new element - the road trip - to dark skies.

Next weekend, it will be checking out a new observing site, six hours away in the darkest far reaches of California... where the only light will be from the Milky Way, and Perseids.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Warm nights at the Peak

It was one of those observing sessions that keep you going through the slow times when your enthusiasm is low. The combination of shirt-sleeve night temperature, fog, friends, transparency and dark kept me up until almost sunrise.

The day began with a rush to get down to Fremont Peak. It was clear outside and the air in my part of the San Francisco bay area was still. It looked like a perfect Saturday morning. All the talk on our mailing list (TAC at - urce/TAC) had convinced everyone to head to the Peak early to claim an observing spot. This was the weekend of the annual AANC (Astronomy Association of Northern California) Star-B-Q, which historically brings out everyone and anyone, be they armchair ob servers, club officials, devoted deep-sky, lunar observers and more. It is the annual mob scene where the regulars know the other regulars and everyone else eats, visits and otherwise parties, all the while looking around wondering who everyone else is.

So, fighting the mid-day traffic on highway 101, I headed down to the Peak at 11:45 a.m.

It was one of those drives. Motorcyclists weaving between cars, changing lanes to gain five feet advantage on their destination, slow drivers trying to figure out how to get to the outlet mall shopping center in Gilroy, people gawking at a car pulled ove r for a flat tire change. On the way up San Juan Canyon Road, where it crests the ridgeline before the sharpest turns demand your attention, I was looking at a thin fog layer, thinking how it would be great if the light-blanket would cover the cities.

Turkey vultures and hawks were riding thermals just off the ridge line to my right, when a large bird tapped on my peripheral vision to my left. A quick glance, to be sure I saw the next turn, and I caught a glimpse of, hey... what is that? The Salinas air show was in progress. I'd forgotten. Perhaps that contributed to the number of lame drivers. But, back to the big bird. It was no bird. It initially looked like one of the old "flying wings" that I remember being shown on early television during my childhood. Look at the road. Another glance for the wing. Listen to that SOUND! It passed over me. Where was it. I suddenly realized I was not seeing a flying wing... the right angles of the triangular silhouette gave away the fact that I was seeing a Stealth B2 bomber in flight over Fremont Peak. I could barely keep my eyes on the road.

The drive seemed to take forever, but strangely I made great time. I guess I was in a hurry to sit in the hot sun and secure a good location for the night.

Pulling into the observing area, all the preferred spots were already gone, and I thought I was early. What time did these crazies get up there?

I parked in the middle of the lot and saved spots for two friends.

Soon, the lot is near capacity. I can only guess that we had perhaps 25 telescopes, many being large aperture Dobs. Others included LX-200's from 8 to 12 inches, an AstroPhysics 180, a Traveler, a JMI NGT18, Celestron CG11, Meade 8" SCT, 6" equatorially mounted Newtonian, and many other interesting pieces of equipment.

A few of us walked over to where the Star-B-Q was to take place. It was 4:15 p.m. now, and we expected crowds. The place was nearly empty. Where was everyone?

As soon as the food hit the grills, people began showing up. What a delicious meal. I ate far too much, and with a couple cold beers to wash everything down, I wondered if I'd be sleeping instead of observing that night. The raffle was lots of fun. I've won my share in the past, and it was fun to see some of my friends get some goodies. The grand prize was a Herald-Bobroff AstroAtlas donated by Crazy Ed Optical.

After waddling back to the observing site, we found it jammed with cars. It was far and away the most crowded observing location in the park, since it is a rarity to have car headlights ruin your night vision. The biggest drawback at the southwest lot is the peak of Fremont Peak coming up into the bottom of Sagitarrius' Teapot, but the rest of the sky can be wonderful from there. A few weeks ago, some of us tried the old Coulter Row area in the park, but the main park road passes in front of the observing area, and traffic can be heavy until quite late. So, everyone was crammed in tightly, which actually made for an intimate atmosphere among the large number of people at our location.

Just after sunset, we had the great experience of seeing Venus brightly shining above the layered low-level cloud/fog over the Pacific Ocean. Below to the right of the bright planet was the dimmer pinpoint called Mercury. In the east, Jupiter was rising. To the southwest Mars and Spica made a striking pair just a few degrees apart. Antares, Arcturus, Vega, Deneb, Altair, all shown, marking the height of the summer season we all look so forward to each year.

The best night of the year, for temperature and seeing was about to play out like a grand and well rehearsed symphony.

As twilight dimmed, my friend Alan and I took up our quest of Sir William's objects, the Herschels. We've worked much of the current early evening sky, with the notable exception of Ursa Major. Heck, the Big Bear is always up, right? Wrong. Pointed nose down to the west, much of the beast's forepaws were descending into the underworld, and would soon be available only as weary-eyed object for all-niter observing sessions in pre-dawn. Alan's laptop computer was running Bisque's top end Sky program, and showed our first object to be a monster galaxy in comparison to many of the little dim puffballs we've become adept at hopping to.

If galaxy hunting were equated to fishing, the first views of non-Messiers in Ursa Major would be keepers. Before deciding it was just to deep in the dust to continue, we hooked seven very nice, large, bright galaxies. My favorite was NGC3983, a face-on spiral with a dimmer close companion, somewhat of a small version of the Whirlpool. But, it soon occurred to us we'd again waited too late into the season, and our bear hunting would need to wait until we could put more targets in our crosshairs.

Off to the west, the fog played hide and seek with the lights of the coastal towns. The chimneys of the Moss Landing power plant popped in and out of view, along with the twinkling of residential lighting while their owners sat transfixed by 120 channels of nearly identical programming on their televisions. I felt happy to be where I was, among friends in the southwest lot at Fremont Peak, under the grandest show one could find, the sky.

Looking east, Delphinus was riding high, heading for the zenith. We had one object left. That usually signals a really tough target. Why else would anyone leave just a single target in a constellation unfound? Soon, the galaxy NGC6956 shown easily. How could I have missed this one before? Now, Delphinus joined a growing list of completed constellations. What would Alan and I do once Sir William's quest was satisfied?

Well, no time for that. The seeing seemed quite good, their was food, beer, wine, good conversation, banter, needling all punctuated by squeals of delight (no poetic license taken here, some people literally were squealing!) by a high number of early Perseid meteors. What a show!

Now, Pegasus was poking its nose and front legs over the trees. Peg is another treasure-chest of galaxies. We'd worked the area for two years, at Fremont Peak and Mt. Lassen, but still more booty lay unclaimed.

All objects remaining in the constellation were listed at mag 14 or dimmer, according the freeware program NGP (New General Program) which I'd used to construct our observing list. True to their billing, many of these were challenges in both the 14.5" f /5.6 I was using, and Alan's 18" f/4.5 Obsession. The toughest nut to crack was NGC7468, which took quite some time to locate and confirm. NGC7691 eluded us. Others were not where I was sure they should be, which is incredibly frustrating. But, in the end, all but one galaxy was in the "confirmed" column.

Much fun in working lists, like the Hershels, is in the other objects that show up in the same field or just a short hop away. Along with star patterns, these other objects are used to confirm the main target. It is amazing how acute one's skills can become when working in this manner. A few of the targets were as dim as mag 14.7 (2) and 14.9 (1).

The night prior, I had taken my wife and daughter to see the movie "Contact." I found it very enjoyable, with just an occasional oversight, but in the big picture, it was an excellent experience. I found myself looking at the night sky, peering at the galaxies, and wondering....

In this vein, one object, not of note for its own beauty, or surrounding star fields, or anything unique, struck me as special. I don't know why. It was the mag 14.9 galaxy UGC12860. This little smudge just would not leave me alone, yet, it was sooooo difficult to see . It was just near the edge of the field when viewing NGC7385. In fact, there were a total of four galaxies in the field. But this UGC, it was a ghost. At first, it was not there. The stars were right, so I was quite sure I should see it if conditions were near optimal, but it was not there! Then, Alan said "come here and look". A few inches extra aperture and, no, well, yes! No. It was there and gone. Then, yes, averted I was holding it. Look at it, a thin slash of light, not white, not gray. It looked almost golden to me. Or maybe, red. It was a transitory experience, blinking in and out. I thought about radio signals from space, and how difficult they might be to find. I thought about how on other nights, the small galactic gem of our universe I was now viewing would certainly not reveal itself. But, it *was* there.

Now, at 3:30 a.m., the coastal cities were muted under a nice blanket of fog. The city lights, illuminating the underside of the fog, and my vantage point high above, produced a view similar to the soft glow of distant galaxies, separated by areas of empty darkness. But I knew that although hidden, they were connected, and teeming with life. The fog and a nice temperature inversion had given a handful of people in the bay area a great night.

As weariness and other contributors to the night's enjoyment bore in on me, I decided to try the Veil Nebula. I do not own a filter, so did not expect much. So, over to 52 Cygni I went. What a sight, the ribbon of nebulae was bright and thick! I could hardly believe the ease with which I viewed it. Over to the rest of this complex of nebula, there was structure as I have only seen on good nights with an OIII or UHC filter.

Weary, I joined ten or so other observers, now sitting in their chairs in a large circle, under the dark and open night sky, watching for Perseids. We talked until 4:30 a.m. and decided that Orion's belt, now above the horizon, would soon be followed by the sun. The night was ending.

It was a great night. It was one of those nights you think back on and savor in the dead of winter, or when wind or clouds drive you home. It was the sort of night that sticks in your memory and keeps us coming back for more.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Houge Park, SJAA's new idea, and Telescope Loaner Program

I went to Houge Park last night, taking out my 10" f/5.7 CPT. There was a nice turnout of scopes. My daughter Mimi joined me there. We showed the public several nice views - M57, M27, Alberio, Epsilon Lyra, M5, M15, M11, Gamma Delphinus, among others. Pleasant evening and well attended. It was nice to see Marek, Turley, Steve Sergeant, Charlie Wicks, Daniel S, Heather, Dr. Robert Armstrong, Mike Koop, Jerry Elmer and Rob Hawley there.

Koop was coming around and noting who was in attendance manning telescopes. I hadn't seen anyone doing that for the SJAA since Paul Barton used to up at Fremont Peak, maybe ten years ago. So I asked Mike why he was doing it. Turns out the SJAA is running a drawing based on who is out supporting their public nights at Houge. What a nice idea! Last time the prize was a Karkoschka Star Atlas. This is an innovative idea, I think Mike's. I'd never run into anything like this before.

So, I'll put in a plug for the SJAA. Its a very good organization, putting on public observing events, offering interesting speakers at the monthly general meetings (next month is slide & equipment night - maybe I'll come talk about observing in Chile), taking astronomy into the south bay schools, and hosting CalStar. They have a wonderful loaner telescope program - like a library - club members have a large selection of telescopes that can be "checked out" for a month or so (or more?) at a time. Nice way for beginners to get hands on experience with different types of scopes before spending their money. And club dues are a deal - $15 a year, although insurance is driving the price up to $20 effective 8/1/05 (still a deal!). Sign up now at, save $5, get access to the loaner telescopes - and enjoy supporting a great community minded organization.

Nice going SJAA - I hadn't been to a Houge star party in a long time. It was a lot of fun.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

GSSP 2007 - Where The Myth Began

There is something special for me about Mount Lassen. I've always loved the observing sites there that I've been to. Watching the colors fade to black on the side of Lassen Peak from the Devastated Area or seeing the sky glow electric behind Brokeoff Mountain's silhouetted spikes to the west, while the last light dances over Lassen Peak's frozen lava plugs - red and brown, until all fades to black. As one show ends, another begins...

The skies are what we come for. The seemingly never fail to amaze. The navigational stars used by our seafaring ancestors are first. Then, dozens of less famous ones begin to pepper above. It is tantalizing. Soon, hints of the Milky Way begin appearing, and before you know it, the sky is filled with more stars and lanes of black than you could possibly remember from the prior year's trip. It is always amazing. I've heard long time observers talk about becoming jaded, after years of this, but I don't know how. To me, it is the embodiment of the word "transcendence" ... as it really does transport one from the daily routine of our existences back home, into the realm of things few men and women know - - - and we return home with stories that enrich and inspire. We do, in a literal sense, take our place, in our own way, among the Heroes of Myth when we, like ancient seafaring adventurers, navigate the unknown and return home with fantastic stories that seem, to those left behind, amazing - beyond possibility. Those who undertake these journeys literally stand apart from others.

If you stood atop the volcano with us, where the sky seems to sweep you up and cast shadows under your heels, you're enriched, in possession of knowledge to share with others, so they too might choose to expand their world, beyond the limits of their "civilized" lives. Like the adventurous seafarers navigating by the stars we see today.

Congratulations, to all who journeyed far this past new moon. Tell your friends... our stories are what help make the world a larger place and encourage others to share what we do.

This year is the first year I just observed, and didn't take notes. But the views are with me. Here is what I recall of the experience.

After arriving at Lost Creek Campground we decided to make it a short night by observing from The Devastated Area. It is a five minute car ride from camp, and is excellent for those who want to stay at lower elevation (6,000 feet approx), don't want a longer drive back, or expect to turn in before 1 a.m. I knew I'd be tired, and so did about 30 other attendees. my daughter Mimi and I used some of the monthly lists I put together for the SJAA Ephemeris. She was using my 18" f/4.5 Obsession Dob.

Mimi hadn't been observing since last year, at Calstar, but immediately she began landing on targets. I am always amazed at her ability to look at a chart, starhop and pinpoint the same spot in the sky. She is simply uncanny. She worked on the primary targets on the list. The first was NGC 6340, a bright galaxy in Draco. She moved on to NGC 6543, the Cats Eye Nebula.also in Draco.

The Cats Eye was showing some excellent detail at 294X. The central star was blazing away, surrounded by a black torus. Around that was an intensely bright silver-white ring which was very well defined on the inner and outer edge, with a very faint oblong halo surround it. Quite a sight. Next she moved on to NGC 6229 in Hercules. This bright globular cluster has two mag 8 stars close by to its west. Nice view. From there, on to M92, as we went north to south in the sky. M92 was, of course, glorious. More centrally concentrated than nearby M13, this showed the difference between a Messier globular and the prior target. There is really no comparison.

M13 was ablaze at Lassen. My collimation was good, the stars pinpoints, and it appeared thousands of them swarmed the eyepiece. Mimi was having a ball. We looked for NGC 6207, which is so bright at Lassen you'd think it was a Messier, and little mag 15 galaxy IC4617 sat off the point of the parallelogram - easy to see. What a place!

During the night, Richard Navarrete and I used a 100mm binocular and 101mm refractor, checking out mostly Barnard dark nebulae. We also walked around quite a bit jabbering with others as excited as we were at being under such a great sky. The hours flew by. I also spent time talking about the future of the star party with Dan Wright, who is an excellent counterpoint to my views much of the time. So, I was having fun.

Mimi moved on to four other globular clusters during the night. NGC 6426 in Ophiuchus, a dim one for sure, but no doubt about it at Lassen. M 10 and M 12, showing their similar sizes but distinct differences, and finally M14. She was a treat to watch during the night. Imagine what a pleasure it is to see your child (she's not a kid at 19 though) sharing your hobby enthusiastically, at a place like Lassen. But its easy for her, as she's been going for probably 12 years. She tells me Lassen feels like home to her.

That was Wednesday night. We headed back to camp around 2:30, tired from the day.

The next three nights we observed at Lassen Peak twice, finishing up at the jewel of observing sites, IMO, in California, Bumpass Hell parking lot.

Thursday night at Lassen Peak, there were some tourists. A friend of Mimi's was there with her mother, and a couple from Colorado. I gave them a tour of highlight objects, and showed them how to use a telescope. This went on for probably two hours. When the public is there, reach out. What I learned over those two hours was the seeing at that parking lot, previously a big unknown, was excellent. I think the view of the night for me was Navarrete's TV-101 looking at Barnard 85, which are the dark lanes in the Triffid Nebula. The Triffid is an outstanding object, or course. But at the Peak lot, the dark lanes were so clearly defined, their edges appeared literally etched into the glow of the bright nebula. Hands down, the best view of this object I've ever had. I'd return to Lassen just for that view!

What I observed the next few nights were objects solely on Steve Gottlieb's "Off The Deep End - 10 Challenging Observing Projects" list. And what could be better than to have Steve set up next to me the last two night, at the Peak and Bumpass! At times I would describe what I was seeing.... if he got excited and came over, I'd know I found it. On the other hand, I knew when I was wrong, as he'd just be quiet. It didn't take long to decipher the code!

I went through all the Sharpless HII Regions. My favorites were:

Sh-2-105, the Crescent Nebula. Detail galore. The section crossing through the Wolf-Rayet star extended clearly all the way across. Knots were all over the nebula. Yeah, the Veil is a great object, but at Lassen, I always feel the Crescent somehow steals its thunder. Perhaps because I can get good views of the Veil elsewhere.

Sh-2-108, or IC138 - the nebulae surrounding Gamma Cygni. What a blast! There was tons of thick ropey twisted stuff all over the place. I'd *never* seen it before - and the area it covers it tremendous. Put *this* on your list for next year *right now*. Again, this view is worth the price of admission by itself!

Finally, in the Sharpless objects, I enjoyed the picking out the gentle arch Sh-2-157 in Cassiopeia, and finding it literally no more than an eyepiece field away from a highly detailed Sh-2-162 - aka The Bubble Nebula.

The Sharpless objects provided a lot of challenge and pleasure. Lassen was the right sky to make it all work. I'll be heading back to some place hopefully even darker next month for more such pleasurable "abuse" ;-)

I had also worked on some Palomar Globulars. Palomar 9 is easy. Check it out in *any* size scope, pretty much.

Palomar 5 though, is a challenge. I did detect it, which is about the best I can say. What I loved though was Mimi working on this one with Steve Gottlieb, on his scope. She *clearly* saw it, describing in with detail only 19 year old eyes could pick up. I think Steve was surprised when she asked about a glow, or knot, off the star the cluster appears centered behind - and Steve replied it is probably the core of the cluster! Way to go kid!

With Steve, and on various objects Richard Navarrete and Alvin Huey, here are other objects I observed:

Shakhabazians 16 and 166. 166 was the most fun, as I did not have any idea of how the seven galaxies lay across the field of view. Next day, Paul Alsing showed me a printed image, and I had been dead on. Lots of fun!

On 16, we picked out some extra galaxies in the field. This target is also listed as Arp 330, should you want an easier reference. Arp 330 consists of a linear chain of five galaxies in the MCG ranging from mag 14.8 to 15.6 (and one with no mag). We also observed three other MAC galaxies, one to the west and two to the south of the chain, ranging in magnitude from 15.5 to 16.5. Thanks to Alvin for the views on this group!

I went after Seyfert's Sextet. This is a group of six tiny galaxies in a compact field. I was disappointed as said so out loud when I only saw four of them. Fortunately, Mr. Gottleib was next to me and immediately perked up, saying "you see a forth member? That's very good!" I went from sullen to ecstatic immediately! Mag 16.5 was not a barrier....

I'll finish up by just listing some of the challenging objects that rounded out my Lassen observing trip....

Arp 112
Arp 84
Arp 91
Arp 86
Arp 293
Abell 262 (galaxy cluster)
Abell 347 (galaxy cluster)
Hercules GXCL
Abell 84 (planetary)
Abell 65 "
Abell 61 "
Abell 39 "
Sh-2-68 "
Sh-2-71 "
EGB-1 "

The Arps were all interesting, and were the last objects observed from 8200 feet high at Bumpass on Sunday morning as the sky was brightening. The Abell clusters were very rich, too rich to really fully explore. The planetaries, well, they deserve Bill Cone's creative description of "an enticing journey into the Zen of greater minimalism".

From start to finish the trip was an outstanding success. As has been said for years among friends, it is "all about observing". But in other ways, it is far more than that. It is a personal exploration, pushing yourself to your limit, going new places, enjoying - knowing - that you have not just read or heard about these amazing sights few others have witnessed, but in the most personal of sense, you've gone on the journey yourself, and, brought back the stories to share with others.

The journey continues next year. I'm inviting all readers to join in...

Your friend and fellow traveler in dark sky adventures,

Monday, July 16, 2007

Comet VZ13

I certainly could be wrong, but looking at it from Lassen Peak in an 18" f/4.5 at 103X I felt the spread of the coma was distinctly showing more flow out in one direction. I didn't actually sweep along in that direction to see if I could detect any tail, but felt there was at least part of, or a beginning of one. I thought the comet was just simply a big bright fuzzball. Looked once or twice, that was enough with so many dim targets within reach from that observing site. Wish I'd thought to look at the comet when the galaxy was in the same field....

Friday, June 22, 2007

Houge Park

We had a nice time at Houge Park last night. I had not been there in many months, and found it refreshing to share views and talk astronomy with friends and definitely with the public.

I brought my 10" f/5.7 CPT. I was set up next to a 6" Astro-Physics, an 8" SCT, 10" Orion Dob, 22x100 binoculars, a nice short refractor on an alt-az mount, and various other telescopes that I didn't visit line up further south on the sidewalk. I actually moved my scope off the sidewalk and onto the grass, as the concrete easily transmitted footsteps of people walking by into the OTA, and the grass was very good at damping out the problem. The result were superb view of features such as the Traesneker Rilles, fine and sinuous in very sharp detail, at both 120 and 206X. First timer's views proved to be transfixing - disbelief in many cases that there were so many holes on the moon, and how easy it was to see very fine detail!

Saturn and Jupiter were less pleasing, with softer seeing lower to the horizons. Even so, the public enjoyed just being able to view them.

Deep sky targets and double stars were fun. I was showing the classic Alberio, and the nice gold pair Alpha Herculis. The Double Double (Epsilon Lyrae) was splitting very nicely - some scintillation at over 200X, but still a very clean split. Deep sky targets included M13 and M92, both showing fine pinpoint stars and dense cores - quite good views for in town on a moon night. The Ring Nebula was clearly evident. M80 was a fuzzball (poor seeing down low), but I had fun showing off the Blinking Planetary, describing what caused the "puff" of haze around the star. There were many interested people.

People also seemed to be fascinated by Phil Chambers' Planetary TV show - the 8" SCT displaying Jupiter and Saturn on a Mac laptop via a webcam. Rich's refractor was a show, everyone loves to look through a "real" telescope (argh matey... it even looks like a real telescope)....

By 11:30 I was packed up and on my way home. The CPT was retracted, half its "in use" size, stowed away in its bag. My base collapsed, on top of large Doskosil eyepiece case - everything fit easily into the passenger seat of the Miata. I smiled pulling out - a man and his gear, all in a little two-seater sports car, heading home after a nice short night out....

It was a fun night....

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Making Lemonade at Michelle's....

I spent three nights observing at Michelle Stone's and Paul Plett's property outside Mariposa this new moon. All three nights had excellent conditions, with great transparency each night and seeing improving from good Thursday to excellent last two night. We had a big turnout, with a dozen bay area observers making the drive. Fun group observing together... Jardine, Highe, Al-Mansour, Dillon, LaFlamme, Santangeli, Crilly, Hawley, Cash, Ozer, Stone and your's truly. This felt like the opening of the 2007 summer observing season. And it sure felt like summer! Thursday the thermometer showed 102 degrees, dropping to a low of 72 overnight. T-shirt and sandals observing! And during the day, relaxing with the group indoors enjoying each other's company in the air conditioning! Temperatures moderated a bit over the three days, and Saturday night's low of 62 degrees felt cool and comfortable.

My plan was to spend the three nights attempting to finish about 120 objects I had not observed in the Herschel Catalog. But while setting up I discovered my printed list had been left on my desk back home. Virgo and the H2500 will have to wait another season. I was bummed - what a lemon! But then I remembered I had two good observing lists on my laptop, in Excels, one for June and another for July. Time to make some lemonade! I'd been submitting the list to the SJAA Ephemeris and pointing to them on a web-page via TAC (but not observing them!). The lists take a 2 hour window of RA rising in the east at astronomical dark, and contain targets ranging from eye candy to severely challenged, and all sorts of goodies in between. So, there would be plenty of variety, which keeps this boy happy. Here is the list I worked from for the three nights at Michelle's:

July's is:

The first night we had a great time, Michelle, Rashad, Albert and I, hunting down components of one of my list's first targets, Hickson 84. This is a challenging target, but others during the three nights were undoubtedly more so. I found two components of the Hickson 84 with my 18" f/4.5, then Rashad got interested. In his 16" f/4.5 he found it, and said he saw a third member. That got Albert involved. Albert put it in his 16" and found a fourth member! Michelle jumped in too, finding it in her new 16". We kept trading views. It was astonishing... the A component is mag 15.4, and was easy. Soon I saw the B component, and knew it was a good night, as B is at mag 16.5 (but its small size helps its surface brightness), Rashad's find was the C component, at a mere mag 16.2. What was surprising was Albert coming up with the D component, a tiny 0.3'x0.2' intermittent glimmer at mag 17.2. Try as we might, we could not separate the E component out from A, or bring in component F. But it was sure fun trying, and describing to each other what we were seeing.

For anyone interested in my observations over the three nights (I passed out and slept for half of the second night), here below is what I saw. I did not complete the end of the June list, which is almost exclusively globulars in the southern Milky Way, but I didn't push myself at all over the three nights. The last few observations (non-observations) may be faulty, as sleep dep had taken its toll and was staggering me by then. I figure maybe three hours of real sleep each of the first two nights....

Thanks to Michelle and Paul for their wonderful hospitality and support of our astronomy community....

Oh.... and not to forget, the views of the Veil and Crescent Nebulae, in exquisite seeing and transparency on Friday night, which came close Huxley's cleansing of "The Doors of Perception" or Krishna's revelation to Arjuna, mind boggling in their beauty (and detail). The views were of such clarity that it bordered on the religious...

June 2007 observing list notes (followed by a post-observing description):

Target Type Size Mag R.A. Dec.

AGC2256 GXCL 56.0' 15.3 17 03 42 78 43 00
UGC 10726 is most obvious of 4 dim galaxies. NGC 6331 is next, mcg13-12-17 next by brt star, mcg 13-12-20 most difficult. Nice field.

HCG 84 GXCL 0.7'x0.4' 15.4 16 44 22 77 50 20
Hickson 84A and B visible. A is just E of dim star which is offset alone in triangle of brighter stars, B is directly to its north, and comes in after watching a while.. Later, several observers picked up the C and D components.

Arp 38 GX 2.5'x2.1' 12.3 17 29 37 75 42 18
Possible spiral, brighter core, roundish Maybe elongated nw/se, chain of three brt stars also ne/se to the e of galaxy. The Sky calls it a globular!

N6340 GC 3.2'x2.9' 11.9 17 10 24 72 18 16
Bright round galaxy with bright core that diffuses out evenly. Core is tiny stellar. Large galaxy IC 251 visible to north. And IC 254 to NE

Arp 81 GX 2.0'x0.7' 13.6 18 12 55 68 21 49
Appear interacting - about same size and e/w and nnw/sse.

NGC 6543 PN 1.0'x0.4' 8.8 17 58 15 66 38 05
Central star easily visible, elongated sw/ne, egg shaped, Fainter envelope appears more pronounced to east. NGC 6552 visible easily in same 7mm field, elongated e/w and same size as pn. IC 4677 very difficult due to brightness of pn and only about 10% view.

Arp 30 GX 1.5'x1.0' 14.5 17 22 43 62 09 56
Surprising pair. One is bright and elongated with a relatively bright star involved. The other large diffuse and dim.

Arp 124 GX 2.2'x0.6' 13.9 17 18 41 60 36 31
Pair of bright stars in a row to the west point at this small bright pair of galaxies. The NGC is notably brighter, both seem canted in same direction.

Arp 293 GX 1.5'x1.4' 14.1 16 58 31 58 56 16
Wonderful asterism of pairs of stars point directly at this pair of canted elongated galaxies that are very close and at about 80 degrees to each other. Almost identical. Three other galaxies visible close by.

Arp 310 GX 0.5'x0.3' 15.9 17 27 24 58 31 01
Easy close pair, one toward S is brighter and elongated e/w with a bowing to the s. Other is indistinct in shape, dimmer and possibly some extrusion toward brighter galaxy. Bow in brighter may be due to dust along dimmer edge.

N6155 GX 1.3'x0.8' 13.2 16 28 08 48 22 01
Part of a "fish hook" of stars. Bright and compact, Bright and perhaps tilted spiral canted nw/se? Difficult to get good detail.

NGC 6229 GC 4.5' 9.4 16 46 58 47 31 40
Bright globular cluster, tight core, bright inner dense area dropping to about 1/2 intensity about halfway out, then off to stragglers in even diffusion around entire cluster.

M92 GC 14.0' 6.5 17 17 07 43 08 11
Estimated at 12' diameter with small but well populated core. Several bright members overlay and extend somewhat beyond the core. Bright stings of stars overlay a more sparse outer halo, in almost "chain-arms" of stars, some extending straight out, others in long curves. Most notable arc is on north side extending back east.

N6239 GX 3.3'x1.2' 12.9 16 50 05 44 44 22
Three pair of stars at alternating angles make this easy to identify. To south of galaxy. Galaxy elongated without dramatic core - pretty even with longitudinal brightening along its entire major e/w axis, perhaps a bit brighter in the western half.

AGC 2199 GXCL 89.6' 13.9 16 28 46 39 31 00
Centered on bright NGC 6166, a total of 14 galaxies were visible in a 12 arc minute area!

NGC 6207 GX 3.3'x1.7' 11.9 16 43 04 36 49 56
This galaxy would be more well known if it wasn't overshadowed by M13. Long, elongated, clearly a lenticular spiral, is that a star overlaying the core or an intensely bright core? Disk seems brighter to the south, or maybe bisected with a dark lane? Ends seem splayed. Next to M13 and IC4617 4617 visible easily.

M13 GC 20' 5.8 16 41 41 36 27 37
Large dense core, inner 3.5' is intense but not so much so that it overwhelms the mass of stars surrounding it. Streamers flow out of the larger core asymmetrically mostly to the W and S, curving back making the globular look as if it is moving to the E with a "wind" blowing by it. Overall size is about 24' with center offset to E.

HCG 82 GXCL 0.8'x0.5' 15.3 16 28 27 32 50 47
Four galaxies in a parallelogram with two brightest to W and separated by about 2.5'. Brightest to SW, next is NW, then maybe 8' to E is second pair, brightest is SE, all three oriented mostly ne/sw elongations, with fourth appearing almost stellar on the NE end.

Abell 46 PN 60.0" 15.6 18 31 18 26 56 11
Notable triangle of three mag 8 - 9 stars point to pn. Round, faint, requires OIII to be more than a hint. Dim with OIII but possible brightening along W and S edges, with possible bright intrusion from SW toward center of neb.

N6181 GX 2.5'x1.1' 12.5 16 32 21 19 49 29
Oriented n/s, tiny stellar nucleus with elongated core surrounded by dimmer elongated halo.

HCG 81 GXCL 0.5'x0.3' 17 16 18 36 12 48 11
UGC 10319 visible but extremely dim, Hickson B is possible but fleeting lumpy darkness, lumpy darkness may include 2 other galaxies but no distinct sighting.

N6106 GX 2.5'x1.3' 12.9 16 18 47 07 24 40
Elongated galaxy with condensed but not stellar core, nnw/sse.

HCG 83 GXCL 0.2'x0.2' 16.4 16 35 36 06 15 55
Possibly sighted A and B. WWSW direction between the galaxies.

Abell 43 PN 78.0"x72.0" 14.7 17 53 32 10 37 25
Large and mostly round with some slight elongation wwnw/eese, possible star involved on north side, opaque but slightly annular. Seen w/o filter at 100x, 190x with OIII is definite.

NGC 6633 OC 27.0' 4.6 18 27 13 06 30 37
Bright OC broken into mainly three clumps, two smaller ones bracketing the large bright center section. Unusual shape.

NGC 6426 GC 4.2' 10.9 17 44 54 03 10 13
Dim, moderately concentrated globular, fairly large, borders on resolving, possibly a few stars resolve.

N6070 GX 3.5'x1.8' 12.5 16 09 58 00 42 31
Large, fairly bright, mottled galaxy sw/ne orientation, about 2x1, possibly brighter in SW

M12 GC 16' 6.1 16 47 14 -01 56 52
Large and well resolved, core is slightly brighter than outer shell of stars which extend unevenly in almost a cross or star shape ne/sw and nw/se. Branch of stars running e/w to the south of the main body, along with a chain to the n, give this cluster overall somewhat of a square appearance.

M10 GC 20' 6.6 16 57 09 -04 05 58
Large bright well defined core takes up most of the body of this glob. Distinct streamers of stars extend outward in several directions, giving this glob a larger appearance than M12. One area of stars S seem detached from the rest of the glob. Another detached area is in closer to the SW.

M14 GC 11.0' 7.6 17 37 36 -03 14 45
Dim compared to two prior globulars, but very distinct. Stars resolve with many even magnitudes. Seems to extend more nw/se, with more stars to e of center. Most of glob is occupied by the core. Nice object.

Abell 42 PN 60.0" 17.8 17 31 29 -08 19 09
Extremely fleeting feeling of dim glow with elongation wwsw/eene. Giggling scope helps. 190x with OIII. No distinct shape, maybe less than 10% view if at all.

NGC 6517 GC 4.0' 10.1 18 01 50 -08 57 32
Obvious although not very bright. Very small nearly stellar nucleus in brighter inner core, dim outer halo, unresolved.

Abell 45 PN 4.8' 18 30 16 -11 35 36
Very very faint glow with OIII and averted vision using 12mm. Very indistinct, but possibly a brighter western edge that appears as an arced strand. Relatively large.

M107 GC 13.0' 13 16 32 31 -13 03 13
Well resolved globular with distinct core of even mag and possibly extended more e/w. Core is about 1/4 the diameter of the entire main ball of the cluster. Large asymmetric bunching of stars to the west of the core running n/s in two groups, another clump extending E from the core. Very nice cluster.

Abell 41 PN 18.0" 17.2 17 29 02 -15 13 07
Extremely extremely faint with a dim star about 3.5' to N, small, maybe elongated with brightening on the nw section. Took extended watching to start seeing. Faint to the point of it being an impression of observing it.

Abell 44 PN 60.0"x48.0" 17.4 18 30 11 -16 25 44
Small, about 1', mostly round but perhaps slight elongation e/w, brighter nw edge or perhaps just seemingly so due to star or multiple stars embedded in that edge. Longer views result in more confirmed observation. Done with 12 Nagler and OIII. With 7mm elongation is slightly n of w, 3x2, with star embedded in wwnw end and wnw as well.

NGC 6645 OC 10.0' 8.5 18 32 36 -16 53
Very nearby Abell 44, very rich, striking, moderately large, has ring of stars to the NE of the center of the cluster that surround an empty "hole". Cluster seems to extend in a WSW/ENE cant.

N6507 OC 6.0' 9.6 17 59 36 -17 23 00
Couple dozen brighter stars in sparse rather poor cluster, but many dim haze components, elongated 11' x 7' n/s

NGC 6356 GC 8.2' 10 17 23 35 -17 48 47
Bright globular cluster with brightest part of core slightly offset to the nnw in the center of the cluster. Even diffusion of diminishing brightness. Core is 1/3 the size of the cluster, which resolves.

M9 GC 12.0' 7.8 17 19 11 -18 30 59
Brighter and larger core than prior object, although overall the globular is not much larger. Core is uneven and ragged, but much more distinctly resolved than prior globular.

M23 OC 27.0' 5.5 17 56 54 -19 01 00
Bright, coarse, many stars of similar magnitude, maybe 40' in size, chain of stars running n/s in the center.

NGC 6342 GC 4.4' 9.5 17 21 10 -19 35 14
Small, rather dim, unresolved, core has nucleus that is nearly stellar. Even distribution outward except seeming empty notch on eastern side.

NGC 6440 GC 4.4' 9.3 17 48 52 -20 21 34
Tiny stellar core, unresolved, small, distinct break in mags between core and extended portion of the cluster. NGC 6445 nice planetary in same 12mm FOV, w/7mm annular and extended 3x2 n/s with seeming flat ends on the n and s, which are easily the brightest edges. Thick "walls".

Abell 40 PN 29.0" 16.8 16 48 34 -21 00 51
Negative observation. Sky brightness too much due to proximity of Jupiter.

NGC 6568 OC 12.0' 8.6 18 12 48 -21 35 00
Fairly large, coarse, but many very dim "haze" components. Two chains at center form two C shapes back to back.

NGC 6583 OC 4.0' 10 18 50 15 -22 08 38
Pacman shape due to dark section on nne quadrant. Many dim components, smaller than prior open cluster.

NGC 6235 GC 5.0' 8.9 16 53 25 -22 10 38
Jupiter too close! No observation.

NGC 6287 GC 4.8' 9.3 17 05 09 -22 42 29
Small, dim but not difficult, partially resolved, seems triangular with apex to west.

Upon leaving Michelle's, I turned right toward the small hamlet of Hornitos instead of my usual route home via the Mount Bullion Cutoff. What a treat of a drive! From Michelle's, the mountain climbs toward the west and then gives a great view of ranch lands and the eastern central valley. The road curves down the mountain's western flank to follow a seasonal stream, awash in river rock and greenery. Ranches, some big, some small, fill the valley, which after an intersection (one direction toward highway 99, the other to Cathys Valley) takes you into Hornitos. This is the remnant of a gold rush town. Old walls of mud and adobe still stand. Behind a modern school house (small) is the old one room school, looking proper in its whitewash and steeple bell. The real find for me though, which caused me to stop in the road to read the sign, was an old era building, which had been a store, owned and run by one Mr. D. Ghiradelli, who became a wealthy member of San Francisco society. One of Ghiradelli's friends at the time was a piano maker, whom I believe lived in Chile or Argentina for a while perfecting his craft. Later, the piano maker would come to California, during the gold rush, to become friends with Ghiradelli... the piano maker's name was James Lick.

You never know when you'll observe something good!