Sunday, November 30, 2008

Munching Cosmic Brownies At Coe

I can't remember the last time I was at Coe. I suppose I was there some time earlier this year, but it has been a while. When I arrived at the overlfow lot the gate was locked, so I drove to park headquarters and soon had Ranger Bonnie unlocking it, and letting me in. Richard Navarrete joined me there, and eventually maybe a dozen other observers were parked around the perimeter of the lot. It was a treat to see Richard Ozer there. I also hadn't seen Kevin Roberts or Mark Brada for a while, as well as Greg Claytor, his (TAC lurker buddy) with a Highe-type scope, and Matthew Marcus. "Dan" (didn't catch the last name), Mike Delaney, Chris Kelly and his food raiding dogs (hey... great dogs, but they raided the KFC remnants from inside my truck - think Bumpass' Hounds in Christmas Story!), Peter K, Jeff Weiss, and others were there too. We really had a good group, and quite a social observing evening. Folks from down the hill and in the campgrounds joined us after dark to look through our scopes and learn about the sky and our see some of our neighborhood in it. There are certainly a few new observing converts among them - good questions, wide ranging discussions (water table, fishing, GSSP, astro-clubs, literature, philosophy and joking) on a warm and clear late November night. What a treat.

The skies began very mushy. I didn't look, but heard comments about Jupiter being plain ugly. Stars were fat. The sky glow from San Jose was up high, and you could see the moisture content out there. Transparency was noticeably down, and my 18" f/4.5 scope was barely breaking into the mid mag-14's. As such, a lot of the targets on my observing list were just silly to try for. I thought about the skies at Willow Springs the prior weekend, and, while last night was an okay (average) night at Coe, I found myself missing the darker location. The trade-off was proximity, I could easily drive home afterward and enjoy waking in my own bed.

Even though the transparency and steadiness began as a double-whammy, the seeing improved dramatically as the night wore on. But, the lower transparency put me off my list for sure, and I spent much of the night doing public outreach and looking at brighter, familiar targets I hadn't seen in a while, and just hanging out with the buds.

Of the "tougher stuff" I chased down:

A component of Hickson 1 - UGC 248 in 12mm and 7mm. Elongated, averted.

Arp 65 - which is part of the NGC 83 group I observed the prior week (had at least 25 galaxies) - Nice field in 7mm - NGCs 80, 83, 91, 93, 96, 86 and 79.

Arp 249 - UGC 12891 - 7mm - small, dim, averted, elong N/S with dim star involved or stellar core.

I also observed:

NGC 23 - 7mm - small galaxy elong N/S with star involved on SE. Other galaxy to W is dimmer and elong E/W.

NGC 129 - Nice triangular open cluster in field dominated by 6th mag star to S. Triangle opens to the N.

NGC 136 - 12mm - small, dim, rich, round.

That was it for my list.

There was actually something of a "party" atmosphere going on by about 10 p.m. The group had gathered around the two 18" scopes (mine and Richard's) and we were sharing eyepieces, views, Mexican Coffee (a few of us, limited supply) and the Cosmic Brownies I brought along. Here... put your mind at ease...

Mmmm... mmmmm!

It turned into something of an eye candy ... or, actually, let's stick with the "Cosmic Brownie" kind of night at Coe...

I was showing M31 and its satellites to the visitors using Ozer's 35 Panoptic. People were easily able to see all three galaxies in a single field, in relation to each other - distinct differences in size and shape. Cool. We showed the Double Cluster, which sparkled. M45 still overflowed the field, but was spectacular. From there I showed M15, to contrast young open clusters with ancient ones and to talk about distances. M37 in Auriga with the cool red star at its center. On to M42 - which our guests not surprisingly fell in love with. We even showed M1 to give an example of a supernova remnant, along with synchrotron radiation scientist Marcus discussing for our company what was actually taking place *in* the object. Fascinating. And fun. Who'd ever guess that amateur astronomy could be such a group participation activity!

Later, after the company took off, I began poking around at a few other interesting objects. I began on M82, which was very sharp in the 12mm Nagler, looking like it had two big chop marks in it with chunks missing from the galaxy. One comment was that it looked like it was almost cut in half.

I peeked at M81, and convinced myself I was seeing some outer sweep of the spiral arms.

Decided to try something I hadn't looked at in a long time, since the seeing was now excellent. Off to NGC 2371/72 in Gemini. Nice bi-lobed protoplanetary. At 294x with the 7mm Nagler and NPB filter, the SSW lobe was clearly circular and brighter than the "trailing" ENE lobe, which also appeared circular, but larger. Between the two was a dim stretch of filament that seemed brighter on its N edge, although with averted vision filled in to something of a bar.

Oh, reminds me, I tried that target after having an excellent view of M76 with the 7mm and NPB filter.

I kept the NPB in an moved on to a showpiece planetary - NGC 2392 - aka the Clown or Eskimo. This object stole the show as far as planetaries for the evening. With the 7mm in,the central star stood out well, alone in a torus of black, surrounded by a sharply defined neon-glowing ring. The contrast and clarity of this view was as good as I've ever seen. Surrounding the neon ring was the soft slightly elongated "puff" of outer envelope. Several of us kept taking in this view. When its working, get it while you can!

Moved back to Orion and (NPB and 7mm in) went through M78 and the associated NGC emission nebulae that form the larger complex. Richard Ozer and I were picking them out. Then (for the heck of it) I decided to cross the line (inside Orion's torso above his belt) to try for UGC 3331 (negative observation) and on to another emission nebula, IC 426. We didn't really buy into seeing it while we were there, but looking at its shape today (using The Sky) and the DSS image, I am certain we were picking out the brighter/denser portion trailing off a bright field star. Woo hoo - redemption!

After that, I began looking for something more off the beaten path, and noticed that Sirius was now reasonably high. That meant NGC 2359 was up. This target is a large area of nebulosity illuminated by a Wolf Rayet star - in a shape that reminded someone of a Norse Helmet. And so it was named Thor's Helmet. Again, with the NPB in and a 12mm Nagler, this object showed great extent and variety in density. If you get a good night, you should spend a little time there. Under the right conditions, this one is a hidden gem.

I think we finished up on the Rosette Nebula, which showed thick, almost pasty patches, and put me in the season's spirit. The 18 was doing great, but by then it was past 1 a.m., and that was the Witching Hour for me. My bed sounded good. It had been actually a very rewarding night, unexpectedly, given what the sky looked like early on. Instead of a "butt-busting" observing session, it was more kicked back at Coe. A relaxed, social, and as it turned out, very good night, even with a brighter than normal sky. And, surprisingly, I didn't even put on a jacket or hat (although I had layers of thermals on). Amazing, for the last weekend in November.

Let's hope for a repeat in December. If it sounds to you like this was fun, it was. Come out next time... I'll bring the brownies...

Monday, November 24, 2008


Those folks who ventured out to Willow Springs had an excellent night of observing this last Saturday. Our group was split over two locations, Bob Ayers' property atop the hill at 3,000 feet, and Kevin Ritschel's in the valley at 2,200 feet. I was with Steve Gottlieb, Bob Jardine, Bill Cone, David Cooper and Elisabeth Oppenheimer at Kevin's.

As dark set in, I bundled up in multiple layers expecting a very cold night. That never really materialized, temps were reasonable all night, chilling a bit after midnight. The sky stayed quite clear throughout the observing session, although seeing was at times mediocre. Still, it was dark and transparent, and a treat for this time of year. A good gauge of the night was seeing the gegenshein between the Hyades and the Pleiades. Hopefully conditions will improve from the current forecast for late this week and warrant another trip out on Saturday.

At dark I decided to throw out my plans and have a relaxed night observing. It began in a very social manner, no "hard core" list-busting - just relaxed, visiting with friends. It was like the old argument about whether it "tastes great" or is "less filling". How can you lose? I just wanted to take it easy, and "sip a cold one" on a late November night with friends. I hadn't seen Bill in a long time, and I can't recall the last time David and I were set up next to each other. I did observe a handful of targets on my November list... and, later at night teamed up with Steve to break up a few big galaxy clusters...

Observing-LITE... with an 18" Dob...

I began with NGC 40, a great planetary nebula near the Cepheus-Cassiopeia border. With my 7mm Nagler (294x) it showed two bright edges - at the east and west, appeared almost circular and slightly annular, with a bright central star. After Bill mentioned it, I noticed a warmish tone to envelope. When looking carefully, the annular appearance was most pronounced toward the outer edge of the envelope, and near the brighter edges.

I moved on to NGC 7762, a surprisingly interesting open cluster on the Herschel 400-II list, easily located next to a mag 5 star in eastern Cepheus. With a 20mm Nagler (103x) it showed as a very pretty open cluster with several dozen bright stars strewn across a long stretch of dimmer cluster members. The cluster is distinct, and almost rectangular in a mostly nw/se direction. I compared it to a small version of "naked-eye" Milky Way but in a single cluster and eyepiece. Worth a visit. Note a few linear strings of stars in the cluster.

I skipped a few items on my list, deciding instead to focus on targets I thought would either be interesting, or easy. Goodbye to most of the Sharpless stuff. Adios insane Abell Planetary that was seen once 10% of the time in a 24" scope! If I want pain, there's always the upcoming SJAA board meeting! ;-)

I next tried convincing Bill we could see Sh2-171 in my 10x80 finder. He said no, I said yes. BTW... for Navarrete (since he asked me to check it out), I liked Steve's Stellarvue finder a lot more than the archaeological relic I'm using! Here's what I came up with on the target: Visible just north of quadrangle of bright stars, as a large asymmetric glow. The northern edge has a noticeable right triangle of stars in a tight grouping. In a 20mm eyepiece there is a very distinct contrast difference from one side to the other, running N/S next to the triangle. Looking at the DSS image ( ) the triangle of stars is just to the right of center.

Abell 2 is a dim planetary nebula in such an easy to hop to location, anyone with interest in trying it should. Check it out - right on a constellation "figure" line in Cassiopeia and just west of the notable double star Eta Cass... its position is made to order. In my 12mm Nagler, I picked it up without a filter as a dim roundish glow, using averted vision. With the 7mm and OIII - round without much differentiation, potentially some annularity.

This next one is contestable. Go ahead, nay-sayers, sling your arrows. Sh2-176 is a very dim and large planetary. See these images ( ). Here are my notes: 20mm OIII suspected, with 12mm and OIII filaments appear and disappear with averted, - arc along the NW edge, knot in the SW edge. OK... so I did a toughie.

Another dim planetary? Well, its not all *that* dim.... Abell 82 is located in Cassiopeia very near the beautiful open cluster NGC 7789. What a great contrast in objects between the two! Visit both when in the area. With my 12mm and OIII the Abell was visible dimly as fairly large uneven glow with, with an easy to pick out central star. My sense is that the western half of the planetary was the most visible.

With that, I was through with planetaries for the night. What a relief, on to easy targets - Arp 112 in Pegasus! With a 7mm I resolved two galaxies of almost equal magnitude, the eastern-most (NGC 7806) with a NE/SW elongation, other (NGC 7805) is mostly N/S. 7805 has mag 12 star overlaying and appearing to be a stellar nucleus. What a nice pair!

Arp 113 is awesome looking, on paper (or in a planetarium program). Check it out. With the 7mm eyepiece I could pick out 7 galaxies in tight group dim group. Clumpy. The group is dominated (can you say that for dim galaxies?) by NGCs 70, 71 and 72. Seeing was marginal at the time, so that's all there is to this one.

Arp 46? OMG, another Arp. Where is the easy stuff? 7mm - UGC 12665 obvious as large amorphous glow, UGC 12667 is significantly dimmer and amorphous. Alvin Huey had observed these in a larger aperture, and higher power, and noted there is an "A" companion (which he did not detect)... but I don't see it in Megastar or The Sky... anyway, 12667 was in and out with averted vision.

Argh.... another Arp! Arp 86 is in Pegasus and is not too tough. With a 7mm 7753 shows spiral structure with possible bar e/w (heh.... just looked at the DSS image, yeah!), NGC 7752 is small elongated glow. 7753 is big and bright.... go for it!

In order to flog myself even more thoroughly, I moved away from the Arps, and moved on to Hickson 99. UGC 12899 is the brightest member of five in this group, at mag 14.7. In my 7mm only the A and B (UGC 12897 and UGC 12899) were visible. With enough "watching" I felt a B had notch possibly showing, which would be the C component at mag 15.7.

I also observed two rich galaxy clusters with Steve, Abell 400 in Cetus and the NGC 80 group Andromeda. We would locate the brightest member of the cluster, and work in distinct directions off it, pulling in IC, CGCG and MAC galaxies down to the mid mag 16 range. 16's were well within reach, once we went dimmer, things got tough quickly. I estimate we pulled in close to 30 members of Abell 400, and 25 targets in the NGC 80 group. I'll let Steve chronicle exactly what we saw, I decided to just enjoy the trip and leave the note-taking to the most experienced hands. Observing like this with such a capable observer is always a treat.

Lastly, I'll note a few other targets that were fun in my scope and others.

I had a rockin view of The Horsehead Nebula in my 18" with the 12 Nagler and an H-Beta filter. Black notches don't get any darker or more distinct. The contrast difference on along the edge of IC 434 was very dramatic.

We had a very interesting view of the Sculptor Dwarf Galaxy in Steve's 18", I think pretty much everyone looked at it - this target was large and shown itself as an elongated brightening that was not much more than a change in contrast - but it was there.

Bill Cone called me over to look at Burbidge's Chain off of the big galaxy NGC 247. We pulled in 3 members. Second time I've seen this group. Bill also had nice views of Neptune and its big moon Triton - nice color - similar to the color we saw viewing the Saturn Nebula in Capricornus (coincidentally, the constellation in which Neptune was discovered!).

David Smith was set up with his 6" f/7 Astrophysics refractor pulling in great views of large objects like the entire sweep of M42 (and M43, and The Running Man, and NGC 1981.... awesome!) and the hands-down best view I've had of the California Nebula in a 2.7 degree field!

It was also a lot of fun to have the enthusiastic Elisabeth sharing views, and wowing herself over the great skies and how well targets were popping out in the 8" Dob she was using.

The one thing that was as it always is, was Jardine. The man is an observing monster, a photon munching machine. Other than when he was looking through Steve's scope at The Sculptor Dwarf (and were you guys looking at the WLM too?)... you wouldn't ever know he was there... glued to his eyepiece throughout the evening.

It was a great night. And if I had to choose, tastes great won. It was not a less filling evening, I was very full by the end! So much for Observing-LITE.

Thanks to all my friends who made it so much fun... and Kevin... thanks again for being such a generous host. I hope Dobzilla feels better soon. Feed the beast!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Wide Gaps

I was at the SJAA's Houge Park star party Friday night. I arrived early, and by dark was joined by perhaps a dozen others with their telescopes. What was immediately obvious was excellent seeing. I can't recall a night of steadier skies at Houge.

I was using my 10" f/5.7 CPT Dob. The Royce full thickness mirror was giving highly detailed views of, in particular, la luna - in a very crisp waxing gibbous phase. Rilles were sharp edged knife cuts etched into the surface. Some were black, short, deep slices, others running "with the grain" appeared as lite lines running long distance into and out the back sides of mountain ranges. Big craters like Clavius with small ones inside, and even smaller craterlets in bunches around those. It was spectacular seeing. It looked like there wasn't a breath of air on the moon, or between it and my us.

Some people were looking at Jupiter, bit it was low, and the best that could be said of it was given its altitude, it didn't look bad, and was even showing some nice atmospheric refraction!

The public turned out in good numbers. Kids with parents, college students, return visitors, all sorts. One young guy, Johnny, 7-1/2 years old did not want to leave. I had let him move my telescope and track things down using the optical and unit finders. No better way to get a kid interested than to let them do it. Mom and dad stood by rather nervously, as Johnny pushed the scope around. I was reassuring, but you could see, especially dad, hoping the boy wouldn't tip it over. Johnny left saying he wanted a telescope, and I told them about the SJAA's loaner program. Mom and dad also told me about a great few nights they'd had in Modoc county, what the sky looked like. I told them about GSSP...

One of the other telltale signs of what the night was like was a contrail. It crossed the sky mostly west to east, almost grazing the moon. Not only did the trail hold together from one end to the other, but you could easily see the individual trails within it, one end to the other. Can you say "steady"?

In addition to the rock solid skies, was excellent transparency. I was a Houge a few weeks ago, when there was no moon present. But last night, even with a fairly big moon up, deep sky targets were outperforming what I'd seen two weeks ago. M31 and M32 were easy. The Blinking Planetary proved popular with those who could get it to do its trick. M15 broke up wonderfully. The ET Cluster was a good test of people imagination (some people got'em, others.... well...). It was also fun to show off some double stars....

Eta Cass's companion was ruddy copper. What a color! I heard a friend talking about Gamma Andromedae - great color contrast too - yellow and blue. I started popping some really tight doubles - you just could not throw enough power at these - every one I tried gave back wide gaps. Mack truck like wide. A few people started talking cosmology - the Big Bang - "before" the Big Bang, oscillating universes, speaking authoritatively too - like God planted the answers in their heads! I was enjoying it. They got onto the color of stars and the amateur astronomers began to quiz the curious visitors on which stars were hotter, would live longer, etc. They were showing colored doubles during this lesson.

So, I got my scope back from Johnny, and pointed it to Gamma Arietis, and let them guess which was hotter, and what was there before the stars.

There were wide gaps in their answers. It was a wide gap kind of night....

It might be a while before there's another like it...


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Location, location, location...

I didn't expect to, but I got out to observe both nights this new moon weekend.... sometimes things seem to just work out...


I arrived at Houge Park in San Jose as the sun was setting. Venus and Jupiter greeted me along with Jim Van Nuland and Paul Mancuso. It felt good to be out, setting up my 10" f/5.7 Dobsonian. I enjoy the scope, it has a great mirror and is not too fast, reducing coma, darkening the background for nice contrast, and giving decent magnification. The SJAA star parties at Houge are public events, and this night, comfortable and clear, had a heavy turnout in amateur astronomers and visitors. I was busy almost constantly.

I was set up next to Pete Santangeli and his 16" f/4.5 Albertoscope, Daniel Stefanescu with a 10" f/4.7, and Kevin Roberts with an Orion 10" f/4.7. There was some haze, cutting the transparency, but seeing was very steady. I was having fun with the public, showing them views of The Blue Snowball (NGC 7662), M31 without much contrast (the dust lanes were almost gone), and its companion M32, M15 at various magnifications, M27 - The Dumbbell - which was a knockout with a UHC filter, Eta Cassiopeia to show off the nice contrast between a carbon star and a yellow main sequence star, and the fun open cluster NGC 457 - aka The ET Cluster. I also took various requests. The best was the Pleiades (M45), which was a real showpiece. I had begun observing around 7:30 p.m. and was on the road home by 10:00 p.m. It was also great to see Phil Chambers and Rich Neuschaefer there. Houge Park can be a lot of fun. A short trip to a reasonable in town observing location. The skies at Houge are actually dark, relatively speaking, for an in town location. My backyard stinks, for an in town location. Its all about location.... "location, location, location"....


I met Richard Navarrete at the turnoff to Henry Coe State Park, our usual observing rendevoux for local sites. Conditions were tough on the freeway, lots of Saturday afternoon traffic as Indian summer seemed to have everyone heading out of town. That all changed after passing south of Hollister on Highway 25. The more we drove, the fewer other vehicles we encountered. Soon after passing the last community of Tres Pinos, and turning left at the the New Idria Mine historic landmark at Paicines, we were truly on the road less travelled, heading for Panoche Pass. This is an old rural route between the northern Salinas Valley and California's great central valley. Our destination was Willow Springs, off the pavement on Antelope Creek Road. The adventure really begins there, the entrance to Kevin Ritschel's Deep Sky Ranch and home of Dobzilla, the 33+" telescope (a socpe that makes all initiates shake, in shock and awe). Willow Springs has rightfully acquired a reputation as the best deep sky site in the general San Francisco bay area. It is a great location. Nothing is safe from Dobzilla.

A short unpack and setup followed by a cold Tecate, Kevin asked if we wanted to see the other property up the hill owned by Rudy. It is another potential observing location at Willow Springs. The ride was nice, vistas from atop the hill of the valley below... and the aroma of vinegar weed pungently filling the air. Temps were perfect, and it was great to be out where the only sounds were horses and birds. It felt like a perfect summer day.

By dinner, Steve Gottlieb had arrived, followed at sunset by Mark Johnston. Our setups were four 18 inchers, and Dobzilla. As the night passed, I counted 41 stars in the Finnish Triangle "6" - the eastern portion of Pegasus. Translated, my eyes got to magnitude 7.2. We also had a clear no-mistake-about-it view of the Gegenschein, below Aries and above the head of Cetus. It was so pronounced, we all agreed to avoid observing in the bright patch.

I also want to mention a few views I had through Dobzilla. The Horsehead Nebula was striking, its black shape easily distinguished.... a large area totally devoid of any light. This was only at about 40 degrees above the horizon. The other notable I saw was the outer envelope of the Ring Nebula... brightening and extending away from the fluorescing brightness of commonplace oval shape perpendicular to the major axis of the object. The glow was quite noticeable. That's a first for me.

I began my observing session in earnest around 7:30 p.m. and finished at 3:00 a.m. Seeing was quite steady, temps were cool but with a few layers, comfortable. I complained the transparency was off, but my star count, even throwing out ten stars (just for example), my limiting magnitude would be 6.9. Maybe I've gotten jaded, that sky is not too shabby. Location, location, location. Kevin and Dobzilla have the location...

The next morning, we were on the road by 9 a.m. and I was home at 10:30 a.m. The drive was beautiful. Thanks to Kevin for his generosity in inviting us out. I'm glad I went, next weekend is not looking promising. Take your opportunities when you get them!

Here is the observing list I worked from:

Here are the objects I saw in my telescope at Willow Springs. My personal favorites were NGC 663, M103, Sh2-188, AGC 262, and the NGC 499 area. There were lots of good views this night....

NGC 637 CAS OC 3.5' 8.2 01 43 04 64 02 12
173X - 5 stars in arc with many very dim background stars. Stands out well in field.

NGC 559 CAS OC 4.4' 9.5 01 29 30 63 18 00
296X - Very rich cluster with many dim components. Irregular shape WSW/ENE with pair of bright stars at ESE boundary. Very nice distinctive open cluster.

Sh2-186 CAS BN 1.0' 01 08 51 63 07 37
104X - Perhaps a roundish very dim occasional glow, much like an averted vision threshold galaxy. About 14' N of a double. Sometimes it seems a very dim star is embedded. Using OIII.

NGC 654 CAS OC 5.0' 6.5 01 44 00 61 53 00
104X - Smallish, roundish, medium density. Bright yellow star closeby to SE.

Sh2-187 CAS BN 2.0' 01 23 07 61 51 43
173X - With OIII - perhaps a very dim roundish glow, occasional, to the S of the line described between the point of W pointing right triangle of stars and 1st bright star to the W.

NGC 381 CAS OC 6.0' 9.3 01 08 18 61 35 00
104X - Large, amorphous, most stars very dim background, in rich field. Gives a feeling of being rectangular shape, especially along the western edge.

NGC 663 CAS OC 16.0' 7.1 01 46 17 61 13 06
104X - Large, coarse, many stars of widely ranging magnitudes. Splashy, fun open cluster.

NGC 659 CAS OC 4.0' 7.9 01 44 24 60 40 12
173X - Maybe a dozen brighter stars over many dim ones, but not spectacular. Even brighter stars are not very bright. Need higher power to remove very bright star at edge of field in order to see hazy nature of the cluster's dimmer components.

M103 CAS OC 6.0' 7.4 01 33 22 60 39 30
173X - Beautiful cluster, almost with appearance of an isosceles triangle, apex at N is a double star, with a red star mid-point along the E leg. Splashy dense grouping of stars fills the triangle and overspills its borders. Must see!

NGC 436 CAS OC 5.0' 8.8 01 15 58 58 49 00
173X - Small, sparse, tight group with handful of brightish stars over small splash of dimmer one interspersed. Three bright stars at the E end running NE to SW.

Sh2-188 CAS PN 9.0' 01 30 30 58 23 30
104X - Woohoo! Gently curving arc E/W off the middle of a long chain of stars strechting N/S. Subtle but definite with OIII or NPB. Extending W of the chain of stars.

NGC 457 CAS OC 13.0' 6.4 01 19 33 58 17 24
104X - Spectacular cluster dominated by two bright stars, one yellow and brighter, the other to its SW and white, with a chain of multiple stars extending prominently NW/SE through a fairly dense region of dimmer stars spreading widely NE/SE. A nice bright carbon/coppery star is at the NE periphery of the cluster.

NGC 651 PER PN 167.0" 12.2P 01 42 19 51 34 35
296X - Northwest lobe of M76, Irregular shape but somewhat rectangular WNW/ESE. Has dim extension wrapping out to west and then south toward southern lobe. Quite bright, but not as bright as southern lobe.

NGC 650 PER PN 167.0" 12.2P 01 42 19 51 34 35
296X - Southeastern lobe of M76 appears more condensed, smaller and brighter than the northwestern lob, same rectangular appearance and orientation, but the extension to the east is more pronounced, further out the the east before curving back to the north. Both lobes connected by dimmer filament.

NGC 752 AND OC 49.0' 5.7 01 57 48 37 51 00 104X - Very large, perhaps 50', coarse with many bright stars of similar magnitude, reminiscent of the Beehive.

AGC 262 AND GXCL 100.8' 13.3 01 52 48 36 08 00
296X - 20 galaxies in quick sweep including NGC 708, NGC 703, NGC 705, NGC 704, CGCG 522-33, MAC 0152-3608A, CGCG522-45, NGC 710, NGC 717, NGC 714, CGCG 522-44, UGC 1350, UGC 1344, UGC 1347, UGC 1338, UGC 1339, CGCG 522-30, NGC 700, MCG 6-5-24, MCG 6-5-21, UGC 1319. Great field, you can wander off into obscurity here.

NGC 404 AND GX 3.4'x3.4' 11.2B 01 09 28 35 42 08
104X - Medium sized ecliptical galaxy with a bright nearly stellar core, makes nice combination with very bright orangish Beta Andromedae.

HCG 10 AND GX4 3.6'x1.3' 12.3V 01 26 21 34 42 23
173X - All four components show easily. NGC 529, NGC 536, NGC 531, and even dimmest - NGC 542 - shows elongation and was held with direct vision.

NGC 513 AND GX 0.9'x0.6' 13.9P 01 24 26 33 47 59
296X - Small, dim stellar nucleus, elongated E/W 2x1.

NGC 499 PSC GX 1.8'x1.2' 12.1V 01 23 11 33 27 36
103X - Part of nice field of galaxies surrounding pretty double star SAO 54647, NGC 495, NGC 499, NGC 501, and NGC 503, NGC 508, NGC 507, NGC 504, NGC 494, IC 1687, MCG 5-4-48, NGC 483, IC 1679, MCG 5-4-26, IC 1682, IC 1680, CGCG 502-43. Fun field, easy to traverse.

NGC 410 PSC GX 2.4'x1.7' 12.5B 01 10 58 33 09 06
296X - Area shows NGC 410, NGC 414, NGC 407, CGCG 501-119, IC 1636, IC 1638. Nice easy to hop field.

NGC 604 TRI BN 1.5' 01 34 32 30 47 02
296X - Bright HII region of M33, irregular, dark intrusions on N and S sides, N side has dim extension.

M33 TRI GX 65.6'x38.0' 6.3B 01 33 50 30 39 37
103X - Bright core gradually diffusing out to two major arms. One arm sweeps from S to W, other from N to E. E arm has NGC 604 HII region displaying prominently. Another HII not as prominent is due W of core but outside of main arm and core.

NGC 672 TRI GX 7.5'x2.3' 11.5B 01 47 54 27 25 59
173X - In same field as IC 1727. NGC 672 is brighter but slightly smaller. Both are large galaxies. Offset slightly less than perpendicular to each other. Cigars. CGCG 672-17 is highly averted due to involvement with dim star which overlays the galaxy. IC 1731 nearby is next to mini Corona Borealis, outside and averted only. MCG 4-5-16 is averted only in the middle of the arc of the Corona. You "gotta" look at this "Corona" asterism in the eyepiece - it is striking.

NGC 772 ARI GX 7.2'x4.2' 11.1B 01 59 19 19 00 13
296X - Dim nearly stellar nucleus in a relatively bright small core, galaxy is ecliptical and large elongated NW/SE. NGC 770 clearly noticable closeby to the SSE approx 7 minutes. UGC 1445 is a threshold object with averted to the W of NGC 772.

M74 PSC GX 10.5'x9.5' 10.0B 01 36 41 15 47 00
173X - Has a dim, small non-stellar nucleus in a rapidly diffusing core. Most of galaxy is a dim face on spiral disk. With work, there appears possibly to be two spiral arms, very dim, from the N arcing to the E, and S arcing to the W. Large galaxy.

NGC 660 PSC GX 8.3'x3.1' 12.0B 01 43 02 13 38 39
296X - Large, elongated, and mottled. NNE/SSE orientation, 6' or so, possible dark lane. UGC 1195 clearly seen, UGC 1211 suspected averted.

The last thing I looked at is something I rarely take time to study. M42. What a huge treat after this session. This object gives you religion. Mind blowing, breath taking, sculpted, three dimensional. Hues of red and green, The deep blacks of the dark nebulae in M42 are astonishing. What a view... ... ... location, location, location....

Sunday, September 28, 2008

CalStar 2008 - It doesn't get much better.

This year's CalStar was without questions one of the best. Kind of a throwback to the old days in some respects. It was easily the most laid-back CalStar I've been to in many years. All the prep had been well planned out and attended to by Rob Hawley, who organized and coordinated the event for the SJAA. But, beyond the advance work, there was little if anything "official" about the event. Old school CalStar. The group was with very few exceptions considerate and well behaved, only once did a park visitor drive through the observing site at night, and nobody pulled a "Sterngold" and freak out... and only once did I notice someone leave during the night. Very well behaved group, most of whom I assume are long time CalStar attendees and know the etiquette.

It was a blessing in disguise this year that we did not have a caterer, as yellow jackets were attracted to anything edible. A big BBQ of chicken and beef would have resulted in a huge attack of the "meat bees". Chez Dan even had problems due to the flying critters, a few people getting bit. Dan and friends persevered regardless. I enjoyed the fresh brewed Kona coffee, others the scrambled eggs, pancakes, OJ, sausage, fruit and who knows what else the menu offered. Awesome job again by Dan.

Temps were hot during the day, as usual. Canopies offered a respite, but nothing worked better then heading to the Redondo Vista campground and showering down after the heat peaked around 4 pm.

Very refreshing.

Nights were pleasant early on, requiring layers only late in the evening. Skies were the best I've seen them in years. On the "official" nights for the event Thursday and Saturday had some softness to the seeing, with Friday later in the evening being exceptional.

Even the morning temps were cooperative, staying cool enough that I was able to sack out in my truck until around 9:30 a.m. each day. Getting some decent sleep makes a huge difference at this sort of event. However, as I write this I do feel fatigue.

I don't think there was a single cloud any of the three nights.

The largest scopes were some 25" Obsessions, at least two I saw, Paul Alsing's and Jon Ruyle's, both coming to the event from the San Diego area. Lots of aperture there though. Plenty of first time attendees as well. It was a fun mix. Nothing better than hearing "noobs" getting excited at the sort of views a darker sky affords, seeing their gear show its capabilities.

I was set up between Richard Ozer, Richard Navarrete (two Richards made things difficult at times.... "no, the other Richard"...) Pete Santangeli and Paul Sterngold, with Bill Porte, Marsha Robinson and Alvin Huey nearby. People were spread all over the place, like small astro-enclaves. Again, it was very fun.

I suppose the best things I saw in the scope were some of the toughies. Abell Planetaries, Palomar 12, suspecting Palomar 13, the big arm on NGC 7479. Alvin convinced me to try Shahkbazian 317, which broke into two distinct and perhaps three galaxies, and at other times just a long linear glow. The galaxy trios were lots of fun, as they invariably turned into galaxy hopping beyond the listed targets.

I also enjoyed looking through Alvin's 22" Dob, as he'd come by whenever he had something interesting. Alvin is without doubt another astro-animal. Sterngold was having fun too, doing visual, having turned away from the dark side. Wonderful to hear Paul and Pete working on objects together like Navarette and I often do.

I'm sure that was going on all over the field.

I had plenty of visitors during the night, too. Like the hornets and their attraction to anything edible, I had an attractant as well... I'd offer up my Mexican Coffee during the night, and it seemed quite popular. Friends from all over the field would stop by....

Thanks again to Rob Hawley for his work in organizing the event again this year. It was great - had (IMO) just the right atmosphere, and couldn't have turned out better. Thanks again to Dan Wright, for his generous community building "Chez Dan" breakfasts. I know he enjoys doing it, but it is obvious that it is the enjoyment of others that's the real reward. Dan, Rob, good job.

Oh, and not to forget Jeff Gortatowski for bringing me some of his wife's outstanding chocolate chip cookies. They were the perfect late night snack on the last night...

Below is a list of what I observed, aside from eye candy that were targets of opportunity. I was using an 18" f/4.5 Obsession. Friday night I did a star count in Finnish Triangle 6 (Pegasus) and got 53 stars. If anyone has any questions, let me know.

Those of you who attended CalStar '08 know how much fun and how good it was. Those who didn't make the short trip, you missed out. Make sure to attend next year...

Clear skies,


Abell 78 Cyg PN 2.0'x1.7' 16.0P 21 35 29 31 41 44
9/25 12mm NPB, dim haze around a star. Averted vision only.

NGC 7217 Peg GX 3.9'x3.2' 11.0B 22 07 52 31 21 33
9/25 12mm round galaxy, large, bright, bright core with nearly stellar nucleus.

Mu Cyg Double 1.4 4.8/6.1 21 44 00 28 45
Tight double, nearly same color and nearly same magnitude.

Abell 74 Vul PN 13.8' 12.2P 21 16 52 24 08 52
9/25 20mm NW edge is an arc, E edge has a small glowing area.

N7177 Peg GX 3.1'x2.0' 12.0B 22 00 41 17 44 18
9/25 - bright core elong NNE/WSW offset to elongated arms E/W. Core seems almost stellar but split.

Arp 169 Peg GX 0.6' 14.6P 21 14 45 13 50 46
Picked out two brightest easily, third was iffy.

N7042 Peg GX 2.0'x1.7' 12.8P 21 13 45 13 34 31
9/25 7mm slightly elong e/w with brighter core taking up most of galaxy, hint of stellar nucleus.

M15 Peg GC 18.0' 6.3 21 29 58 12 10 01
9/25 12mm, intense very bright small core, with small highly populated area, falling off quickly to sparse stringers.

N7156 Peg GX 1.6'x1.3' 13.1B 21 54 33 02 56 34
9/25 12mm, round without detail.

M2 Aqr CG 16.0' 6.6 21 33 27 -00 49 12
9/26 - 12mm , dense core slightly offset nw in busy central area. More stars to N than SW.

S 2838 Aqr Double 17.6 6.3/9.1 21 54 36 -03 18
9/26 12mm, nice easy split of gold and blue/gray pair.

HCG 89 Aqr GX4 0.9'x0.5' 15.4B 21 20 01 -03 55 19
9/26 7mm - A, B and C seen, B first, then A. C is most difficult.

N7171 Aqr GX 2.6'x1.5' 12.9B 22 01 01 -13 16 09
9/26 7mm, ne/sw elongations 3.5x1, dim star at SE end, very dim small core and mottling to SE of core.

N7184 Aqr GX 6.0'x1.4' 11.7B 22 02 39 -20 48 50
9/26 7mm, great galaxy, elong 8'x2' mostly wsw/ene with 2' bright core and dim stellar nucleus. Extensions dim out evenly.

Arp 325 Aqr GX 0.3'x0.3' 16.0 22 06 21 -21 04 07
9/26 7mm and 5mm radian, pair sometimes splits with 7, stays split with 5. Nice little dim pair!

Palomar 12 Cap GC 2.9' 11.7 21 46 38 -21 15 03
9/26 7mm, approx 3' diameter, granular with some stars resolving. Next to tight group of three stars pointing at the glob.

M30 Cap GC 12.0' 6.9 21 40 22 -23 10 45
9/26 20mm, nice tight glob with two distinct streamers of stars to the N and a detached part of cluster to the E.

Abell 81 Cep PN 32.0" 14.8P 22 42 25 80 26 28
9/26 7mm 1' or more in size, annular with brighter sw edge, center is not clear.

N7354 Cep PN 36.0" 12.9P 22 40 20 61 17 06
9/26 7mm, round, bright, mottled with possible annularity.. With NPB shows more hints of mottling or annularity, and a dimmer extended but close envelope on N side.

N7419 Cep OC 6.0' 13.0 22 54 19 60 48 47
9/26 12mm, elong n/s with bright star on n end. About 20 stars mostly same mag, over many dimmer members. Nice shape, stands out well as a distinct small cluster.

NGC 7510 Cep OC 4.0' 7.9 23 11 04 60 34 08
9/26 20mm, nice wedge of fairly bright stars mostly e/w, very obvious.

NGC 7380 Cep OC 12.0' 7.2 22 47 00 58 06 00
9/26 20mm, nice large wedge open to W with bent chain of stars on S edge - hard edge. Nebulosity throughout cluster and extending out to W, especially strong on S edge around middle stars in chain. W/ NPB filter, nebulosity is triangular throughout cluster, extending beyond to the W but with a distinct gap opening and widening to the N.

Abell 79 Lac PN 120"x90" 15.8P 22 26 17 54 49 40
9/26 12mm, NPB, faint, smallish, round, possibly annular, mostly averted with moments of direct vision. Not difficult.

Abell 80 Lac PN 2.7'x2.0' 15.2P 22 34 46 52 26 12
9/26 12mm OIII - entire disk of PN comes in dimly, averted. Annular but with distinct edges. Stars involved in Dim stars involved, in w and s edges of disk.

NGC 7296 Lac OC 4.0' 9.7 22 27 57 52 18 56
9/27 20mm, two chains of stars, three or more in each chain running parallel over dim haze.

U12064a/b/c Lac GX 0.7'x0.6' 14.5B 22 31.3 39 24 00
9/27 12mm, 100% with averted 12064, 12073, 12075.

N7445/46/49 And GX 0.7'x0.2' 15.6 22 59.7 39 06 00
9/27 12mm, all three members visible although dim. UGC 12298 also in field.

N7263/4/5 Lac GX 0.7'x0.4' 15.5P 22 22.4 36 12 00
9/27 12mm, 7264 is dimmest of four including 7263, 7265 and U12007. Nice field.

N7273/4/6 Lac GX 0.9'x0.5' 14.7 22 24.2 36 06 00
9/27 20mm, all three easily visible. Center one has tight double to wnw, closer galaxy to S, futher to N in 12mm.

NGC 7331 Peg GX 14.5'x3.7' 9.4V 22 37 04 34 25 00
9/27 12mm, 16x3, stellar core with bright elongated core. Arm exend out into increasingly dim points. Arms extend N/S. Core area appears wider on E side of nucleus. 7mm shows possible dark intrusion or swirl to N of core on W side.

Arp 319 Peg GX 2.3'x2.1' 13.2B 22 36 03 33 58 33
9/27 7mm, all six components visible.

N7270/71/75 Peg Trio 0.9'x0.5' 14.9P 22 23.6 32 24 00
9/27 7mm, 7270 is easy, other two pop in at higher power.

N7457 Peg GX 4.3'x2.3' 12.1B 23 00 59 30 08 41
9/27 7mm, large, dim stellar nucleus, dim core, exended NW/SE,.

Arp 278 Peg GX 1.7'x0.7' 14.4 22 19 26 29 23 53
9/27 7mm, very dim, indistinct, appear to be interacting. Elong wnw/ese.

N7463/64/65 Peg Trio 2.2'x1.8' 12.6V 23 02 01 15 57 53
9/27 7mm 7464 wsw/ese, 2 others are round, all three lie w/e. All bright.

Arp 13 Peg GX 2.5'x1.2' 11.6V 23 00 03 15 58 50
9/27 12mm, elong N/S with a very dim but pinpoint stellar core. Large and bright.

Pal 13 Peg GC 0.7' 13.8 23 06 34 12 46 19
9/27 7mm, WNW of a dim double star. Barely a haze with averted. Maybe 50% observation.

NGC 7479 Peg GX 4.3'x3.1' 11.6B 23 04 56 12 19 60
9/27 7mm, large bright barred spiral with primanent core. Bar extends N/S with arm extending around to W from S end most distinct, other end less distinct, but both seem to curve all the way around galaxy. Prominent large core without bright nucleus. Great object.

shkh 317 9/26 7mm, 2 and possibly three of the group observed. Mostly a linear glow below double star.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Summer Observing At Its Best at Houge Park

I honestly can't remember the last time I went to Houge Park for an SJAA public star party prior to last night. But it proved well worth it.

I brought out my 10" f/5.7 CPT, and at sunset was enjoying excellent views of the moon and Jupiter. Although I didn't pump up the magnification beyond the 120X my 12 Nagler gave, the detail even at that modest power was very pleasing. I think my 10" along with Daniel Stepanescu's were the biggest scopes, with various refactors ranging from about 6" down, and a few small Cats and JVN's equatorially mounted Optical Craftsman rounding out the instruments. I don't think I looked through one other scope!

Probably the most fun I had with the public was a 6-3/4 year old girl who fell in love with the views of Jupiter. Her mom couldn't tear her away from my scope. I taught her how to move the Dob, and keep the planet centered. Little tugs toward her... she was having a blast.

I also showed M31 and M32, both were obvious, M15, M92, M13 and Alberio. M13 and M92 kind of stole the show for unusual objects - most everyone else far as I could tell were showing Jupiter. The globs broke up nicely at 120X, but were dimmed enough at that mag that the views at 72X (20 Nagler) really showed them off - more in context - not very resolved, but also much more obvious.

As usual I had fun testing the public on Alberio, seeing the variations in people's color perception. Nearly everyone last night saw the colors "correctly". Sometimes you get someone that is way off. People asked interesting questions about the double, are they a true binary or just an optical alignment? How far away are they, etc. If they stuck around for a minute, I'd ask them which star of the pair should have a longer life, telling them its a science quiz, but common sense will provide the answer. Most people got it right after thinking about it a bit.

A couple other "observations" about last night. While I didn't see the Milky Way, I didn't really look for it all that intently. It was not obvious in Sagittarius, or Cygnus. But the skies were pretty good, if I can see M31 in the scope easily, its one of the better nights at Houge. The temps last night were amazing. I was wearing a thin tank top. Sandals would have been fine. For an in-town star party, this was summer observing at its best at Houge Park. Two things I don't like at Houge though - there are new "security" lights on one of the neighborhood houses, right where the driveway is - and I mean lights. Maybe 8 of the, on the roofline of that home, so bright they cast dark shadows all. I don't recall that from before. Way overkill, and unshielded. I's sure that with such a display, nobody will steal that house! I also find the sidewalk at Houge transmits way too much vibration. I solved that one though by simply moving my scope onto the lawn.

It was a fun night. I called it quits kind of early, about 10:15, as the public participation was waning. But it was certainly a rewarding experience. It always is. And it was good to see friends there like Daniel, Chambers, Van Nuland, Rob Hawley and Mark Johnston. I should go there more often.

Monday, September 1, 2008

"Mariposa" - from the Cocoon

Michelle Stone and Paul Plett hosted a wonderful star party for a large number of friends at their "Plettstone" home in Mariposa County, near Yosemite National Park. A few newer faces were becoming fixtures in the group, and combined with the old friends the feeling was reminiscent of old days in the southwest lot at Fremont Peak, at the height of TAC's early exuberant days. Thanks to Michelle and Paul for such a great time.

I observed on Friday and Saturday nights, finishing around 2:45 a.m. each night. Friday was shorts, sandals and tank top all night. Saturday cooled down a bit, requiring jeans, shoes and a light polartec shirt by late in the evening. Sunup came too soon each morning, but the comraderie helped make the fatigue disappear. I enjoyed the outdoor shower on Saturday, a perfect way to cool down during the heat.

I think the sky was brighter than some of the other times I'd observed there, but the transparency, especially on Saturday night, was excellent.

Without doubt, for me the observing highlight of the trip was an outstanding detailed view of IC 5146 / Sh2-125, the Cocoon Nebula.

Here are my observations - double stars, Herschel 400 (NGCXXXX), Herschel 400-II (NXXXX), Arp catalog, and Sharpless HII/Bright Nebulae (Sh2-XXX). The entire list can be found at:

I had a great time... here is what I saw....

Beta Cep Double 13.3 3.2/7.9 21 28 42 70 34
I began the night on Beta Cephei, a nice double with 13.3 separation, an easy split even at les than 100x. The primary was a nice blue/white and the companion a distinct red/orange.

Sh2-136 Cep BN 5.0' 21 16 05 68 15 11 Two and one half degrees south-southwest sits the small bright nebula Sh2-136. Don t let the description bright nebula fool you, this is a difficult object. I suspected it as a dim glow surrounding SAO 4461:645, and the DSS image appears to confirm the observation. My note says With the NPB filter it appears round and centered on a star. Better without the filter and seems to extend to northwest. Averted vision required, nebula disappears with direct vision.

N7129 Cep OC 8.0' 11.5 21 42 00 66 05 00
I moved 3.13 degrees ESE to the open cluster N7129. It is a very nice nebula surrounding three equally bright stars, and a fourth very dim star embedded in a knot of nebulosity, forming almost a parallelogram. The brightest areas of the nebula are around N and S stars. Check out the DSS image on this one, as it gives an idea of how thoroughly the nebula is involved in the nice small cluster. NGC 7142 Cep OC 4.3' 9.3 21 45 12 65 46 23
Only 33 arcminutes to the south-southeast is another small open cluster NGC 7142. It is an amorphous group of stars stretched out mostly to southeast and southwest. Particularly notable is a nice open arc of stars extending to the west. This object has many stars of nearly the same magnitude. Overall, this is a really nice open cluster, that stands out well.

Xi Cep Double 7.7 4.4/6.5 22 03 56 64 38
Off to Xi Cephei, a nice double with two distinctly different magnitudes and easy to split at low power (100x). Primary is yellow, companion is gold. The separation is 7.7 arcminutes, with mags of 4.4 and 6.5. Find it by moving in the same direction as before an additional 2.2 degrees. Easy stuff!

N7139 Cep PN 77.0" 13.3P 21 46 08 63 47 41
Move just over 2 degrees west-southwest to find the surprising planetary nebula N7139. It is large and dim. Initially I thought it was a big round galaxy. It has indistinct edges, a brighter southern edge, which gives it somewhat of an annular feeling. There is a dim star involved in SE edge.

Abell 75 Cep PN 56.0" 17.0P 21 26 23 62 53 33
I moved 2.2 degrees again west-southwest to Abell 75, better known as NGC 7076. At 293x it responds best to OIII. It is visible without a filter, but its envelope improves with OIII. It ma be elongated east-west, and with a brighter eastern edge, giving impression of annularity. Two stars involved, central star is brighter than one toward western edge. I had help observing this target by the young eyes of Elisabeth Oppenheimer, who stopped by to ask a few questions. Thanks for the help Elisabeth!

NGC 7160 Cep OC 7.0' 6.1 21 53 48 62 36 00
Three degrees to the east is the open cluster NGC 7160. It contains two bright stars are set in two curved chains each opening to their south east. I found it difficult to determine the extent of this cluster beyond the chains.

S 2780 Cep Double 1.0 6.0/7.0 22 11 42 59 59
A fairly big hop of 3.22 degrees to the west southwest gets you to the double star Struve 2780. It is easier though to come off of Alpha Cephei and use an optical finder to locate this mag 6.0/7.0 pair. It is a tight double at 1 arcsecond! It was an impressive split at 293X! The pair were just about equal brightness, but it was in somewhat soft seeing.

15 Cep Double 11.1 6.7/11.4 22 03 54 59 49
Moving back east almost exactly six degrees gets you to 15 Cephei. This is a wide double at 11.1 arcminute separation, and widely differing magnitudes at 6.7 and 11.4. It is certainly and easy split at low power, and big different in magnitudes is obvious.

B366 Cep DN 10.0' 3 21 40 03 59 34
>From there I hopped to Barnard 366, three degrees east. Some Barnards are interesting, this one was not in that category. It is in an easy location, very near Mu Cephei. It is simply a not very remarkable dark area, although, there is mottling involved.

Struve 690 Cep Double 19.5 4.1/12.3 21 43 30 58 47
Struve 690 is Herschel s garnet star. I failed to look at it as a double, but it is. It has a wide separation of 19.5 arcminutes, and a very wide difference in magnitude from mag 4.1 to 12.3. What it is remarkable for is its rich color. I think everyone expects this, a carbon star to be deep blood red, but it never appears that way. It is what I would call infused with orange/bronze. It is one of the most colorful stars I ve ever observed.

S 2816 Cep Double 11.7 5.6/7.7 21 39 00 57 29
Make sure to visit the beautiful tripe star Struve 2816, one and a half degrees south. This is a very pretty triple, two dimmer blue stars flanking a yellow/gold mag 5.7 star.

Abell 77 Cep PN 76.0"x 49.0" 16.4P 21 32 10 55 5242
Next I hopped just under 2 degrees south-southwest. I used Mu Cephei then picked out mag 5.7 SAO 33626 as a yardstick to get to mag 6.1 SAO 33458, and from there to the field containing Abell 77 (aka PK97+3.1 or Sh2-128). All I could detect was some slight brightening but very indistinct with OIII and averted vision. Over time I felt there were a few areas of mottling or slightly brighter haze. The object had very indistinct edges.

Struve 2840 Cep Double 18.8 5.5/7.3 21h 52.0m 55 48
Just over three degrees east the double star Struve 2840 was visible at mag 5.5. It is an easy hop from mag 3.4 Zeta Cephei to mag 5.5 SAO 33990, then on a line to mag 5.7 13 Cephei and next to the target. This is an easy low power split of an unequal pair of white stars.

Sh2-127 Cyg BN 1.0' 21 28 41.9 54 37 15
Heading back west three and a half degrees you re in the neighborhood of Sh2-127. This little nebula is at best a very small hazy spot with averted only. Even then, there are many very dim stars involved in the brightest section, about 3 minutes north-northeast of dim star, so confirming that you are seeing nebula and not a tight grouping of dim stars is tricky. I used a VHT filter to help bring out the glow.

NGC 7128 Cyg OC 3.1' 9.7 21 44 00 53 43 00
On to NGC 7128, a nice small open cluster a bit over 2 degrees mostly west. There are about 12 stars in the group with many dimmer ones forming a haze. The southeastern-most star in the cluster is obviously red.

NGC 7086 Cyg OC 9.0' 8.4 21 30 30 51 35 00
Three degrees west-southwest is the open cluster NGC 7086, Large, splashy, it contains many stars of similar magnitude. It is amazing to compare the variety in appearances of open clusters!

M39 Cyg OC 31.0' 4.6 21 32 12 48 27 00
A three degree hop generally south, and a peek in the optical finder, puts you right on M39. And there is no doubt about it. It is large, very coarse, and roughly the 12 brightest stars dominate the field. Again, the variety in opens could not be more apparent!

N7067 Cyg OC 3.0' 9.7 21 24 12 48 01 00
A degree and a half mostly west of M39 lands you on N7067. It is a nice small open cluster with about 5 stars of equal mag being the brightest, about a dozen dimmer ones interspersed , then many very dim stars as a haze in the background. They appear to form a rough triangle with the southern tip defined by one of the brightest stars. Some dim nebulosity appears to be involved, but seemingly missing in center of cluster and could be just dim stars in the background.

Sh2-125 Cyg BN 8.8' 21 53 05 47 16 18
Sitting five degrees east is another Sharpless bright nebula. This one is designated Sh2-125, but is better known as the Cocoon Nebula (IC 5146). I ve had a number of successful observations in the past, but mostly just some mottling in the area, maybe a distinct shape that let me know I was indeed picking out some detail. But this night s observation was one for the books. I used an H-Beta filter and was treated to an obvious large and mostly circular glow. Two bright stars were involved, the brightest on southwest edge of the object, the other roughly in its center. The north-northwest edge appeared to be a brighter section, and there was some mottling around the central star giving a feeling of annularity. Over time I began to also suspect more extension of the object to the east-northeast. This was hands-down the best view I ve ever observed of the Cocoon.

N7082 Cyg OC 24.0' 7.2 21 29 24 47 05 00
Hard to believe an open cluster can be a more difficult observation than the Cocoon, but here s such a case. N7082 is in an easy location to identify, four degrees west (man, I did way too much hopping around this month!), but because it sits in such a rich Milky Way field, it effectively disappears into it. I know I saw it, but don t ask me to describe it in any more detail!

NGC 7209 Lac OC 24.0' 7.7 22 05 12 46 30 00
Arrgh! Sorry, I definitely need to better arrange these objects! Back (again way too much hopping) six degrees east is NGC 7209, now in Lacerta. It is a very nice open cluster with many stars of very similar magnitudes, surrounded by four bright stars, three of near equal brightness, forth is brightest. Nice setting, almost like a gem set in a ring.

NGC 7062 Cyg OC 6.0' 8.3 21 23 28 46 23 03
Even with all the back and forth hopping, I did get to know these areas pretty well. A lot of unnecessary work though. Live and learn. Back again, nine degrees west to NGC 7062 in Cygnus. This open cluster features five stars in nearly a pentagram surrounding haze of many much dimmer stars. Of special note is a beautiful, near perfect chain of five stars outside the cluster, in exquisite steps from brightest to dimmest, east to west. Worth the big hop!

B156 Cyg DN 8.0' 3 21 33 59 45 35
B155 Cyg DN 13.0' 3 21 32 08 44 58
Probably the easiest location of the night goes to Barnard 156 in Cygnus, located on the 4th magnitude star Rho-Cygni. This is a black area, totally devoid of any other stars. Very nearby is Barnard 155, which is clearly a large dark void in a rich star field. Both these objects showed best in a TeleVue 101 brought by Richard Navarrete.

Sh2-123 Cyg BN 13.0' 21 42 05 44 32 24
An easy star hop from the two Barnards was Sh2-123, which appeared as a large amorphous glow around and involved in star chain running N/S to the W of two bright stars seperated widely. Neb extends in Y to W of star chain. Subtle is an overstatement.

NGC 7044 Cyg OC 5.0' 12.0 21 13 09 42 29 44
Just under two degrees east-southeast is the fun open cluster NGC 7044. It contains very dim stars of all about same magnitude. With some study, it looks like starfish! In the 12mm eyepiece there is a well populated central area, and spokes or arms extending away in perhaps six directions. Separated from the main cluster to the west is a nice arc of star with many dim ones behind them The arc begins to the southwest, extends obviously west, then arcs back to east but not as far back as the main cluster. This is a fun view.

Sh2-113 Cyg BN 15.0' 21 20 30 38 05 29
I finished the trip attempting Sh2-113 in Cygnus. With my 12mm eyepiece I pulled in one small bright knot, and was centering the object when all the stars suddenly dimmed out. A cloud had moved in, and the sky looked like it was going to continue having broken clouds for some time. This target is worth a return trip, the knot was obvious, but, perhaps I was glimpsing a dim galaxy in the field. I ll have to check again .

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Seeing stars in two very different clusters....

I had a few other interesting experiences at Bumpass Hell parking lot on Mount Lassen last week that I had not yet related.

Last year, at the same location, Steve Gottlieb and my daughter Mimi were looking at Palomar 5 in Steve's 18" Starmaster. Both Mimi and Steve were seeing it. I could not convince myself I saw it. Mimi described it, Steve said he thought she might be seeing the core of the faint globular. I was impressed.

This year Bob Jardine had a great and convincing view of Pal 5 in his 17.5" Dob. He asked me to take a look. Bob described a wide triangle of stars that nearly filled the high power field of view. One pair had a dimmer star midway between them. Just outside the triangle and near but to the side of the dim star, I could detect a definite faint glow with averted vision. I could hold it averted. I have to admit being pretty excited about it, after the disappointment of the prior year, and being shown up so badly by my daughter (and her then 19 year old eyes). But, topping of the sighting, as I sat and soaked in the view, I was getting twinkling in the glow! Stars! I almost fell over. I can't tell you how many years I'd tried for Pal 5 at Lassen. This was a great view!

OK. Cluster number two. This one is not so difficult to observe. In fact, it is a naked eye cluster, one any Messier hound has observed. M7 is a noticeable glow, even from many in-town locations. Up at Lassen, it is literally an "in your face" bright blob, to the unaided eye. I know I mentioned how many naked-eye Messier objects there were at Lassen this trip. M7 is, I bet, the brightest of them. So, I'm standing there admiring it, I doubt it was even fully dark yet, and suddenly, I see stars in it. I mean *stars* - twinkling in and out! I had to do a double, then triple-take to be sure I wasn't having sulpher fume induced hallucinations! But there they were, no doubt about it. Not the "stare at it and hold 'em" sort of stars, but moving the eye around, they'd pop in and out. I can't remember ever seeing that in any "telescopic" cluster before. Anyone else? Checking it using "The Sky"... ten of the cluster's stars range from mag 5.6 to 6.4, most of them mag 6.0 or 6.1. Think about it too... that puppy is relatively low to the horizon. I was, and still am, amazed.

Boy, its fun what a trip the prior week gives you a "memory buzz" like this! :-)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Mt. Lassen - Going Dark at 7.5

I had not initially planned on going to Mount Lassen this year.

With GSSP starting its first year in Adin, it looked as if a string of at least fifteen consecutive years of personal astronomy at the park was coming to an end. I had no problem leaving it behind, given the promise of the new star party. My observing buddy Richard was unable to attend, and, last minute, asked my thoughts on going to Lassen in late July when he could go. My daughter had been the most disappointed about not going to Lassen, and work prevented her from attending GSSP as well. She has grown from a young child into young adulthood, spending time every summer at the park. When Richard made the suggestion I jumped on it, calling my daughter who immediately said yes. So, we reserved campsites and announced on our local astronomy mailing list our intention to return again to Lassen at the end of July.

In the ensuing days and weeks fires broke out all over the state, threatening both GSSP and the planned trip to Lassen. I had mentioned our plans to a number of people who kept checking conditions both for GSSP as well as Lassen, and fortunately, both somehow worked out, even though the fires kept things (literally) up in the air until the last minute....

Not everyone who planned to attend made it. But we ended up with Richard Navarrete, Steve Gottlieb, Greg LaFlamme, Bob Jardine, Scott Baker and Greg Claytor, along with me, my daughter Mimi and her boyfriend Brian. Good group. Actually, two individual groups unknowingly making simultaneous identical plans.

Driving up from the bay area the skies were hazing up near Vacaville, and the closer we got to Redding, the worse things looked. The smoke thickened continually until we were climbing highway 44 toward the park, when blue began replacing the ochers and grays. Soon blue was everywhere. Lassen was in the clear.

In the park there was road work between Dersch Meadows and Bumpass Hell, which included our campsite at Summit Lake South, so we had delays and were required to wait for a pilot car to caravan us through. Delays were the rule in the park this trip, with a few exceptions.

My days were spent relaxing in camp, sipping Coronas, reading, cleaning gear, visiting with friends and laughing. It was great to again be there with other observers, and of course my daughter (and her boyfriend too). The string remains unbroken. The Nelms Star Party continues.

After dinner the first night (chili cheese dogs - woof!), Richard, Mimi, Brian and I headed to the Bumpass Hell parking lot. Richard and I had ridden up from the bay area together, with two 18" Obsessions, a 10" f/5 Dob and a TV 101 (as well as all our camping gear) packed into my Suburban. When we arrived at the lot, smoke was to our west, and soon blew in overhead blotting out the sky. We set up anyway, and just after dark the smoke dropped and we had very clear, very dark steady and transparent skies.

About the sky.... I usually brew up some Mexican Coffee to drink while observing. This consists of 3 parts strong coffee, 1 part Cuervo Gold tequila, two Equal sweeteners, and melt some whipped cream into it. After the first jolt, it somewhat takes on the flavor of cocoa. But it is a lot more relaxing. I've done many star counts and observing sessions after enjoying part of a thermos of this brew. I've gotten as deep as mag 7.2 or 7.3 the best nights at Bumpass over the years. This trip though, I decided to forgo the concoction.

I was pleasantly surprised to find my visual acuity improved significantly. In Finnish Triangle 6, the eastern portion of Pegasus, my first count was 57 stars. I was astonished. It didn't look that dark. So, I recounted. After reaching 50 and realizing I had a lot of area remaining, I stopped. Mag 7.5. I just shook my head. There I was at Lassen, "going dark" at 7.5.

I would repeat the count the next night, and reached a much higher total. 49 stars is mag 7.5, that's as dim as the triangle calibrates. Observers with SQM meters were getting readings up to 21.80.

M13 was bright, naked eye. Lots of Messiers were there, unaided.

No more Mexican Coffee, while observing....

The best night of the three was Wednesday - darkest, clearest, extremely steady seeing, and warm. Great conditions at over 8200 feet elevation - the best easy to get to location in California for outstanding transparency. And, a magical place - especially twilight, when looking out to the south, over the gaping remains of Mt. Tehama's gigantic ancient caldera. What a view to have as our daytime views fade, and and countless stars begin to cover the sky....

A few asides about this year at Lassen. The park was very quiet. At Manzanita Lake, the parking lots midday Thursday were essentially empty. There were no lines at the showers, and we spent an hour in the shade in front of the store eating great ice cream and talking with a park volunteer. Maybe 8 people came by. At the observing site, we saw maybe a dozen people after we arrived over our three days there. A young couple from Portland returned after dark to look through our telescopes. The woman looked at M51 through Richard's scope, and immediately noted the spiral arms. I then asked her if she understood what she was seeing overhead, in our own galaxy, as she looked at the Milky Way streaming overhead. After a bit of explanation relating it to M51's spirals, she blurted out "Mark.... you're blowing my mind!"

Yes, it is a mind-blowing experience...

If the Messier and Herschel catalogs are the mainstream of observing for the mass of deep sky observers, the "holy river" per se, the estuary beyond holds the more unknown, unexplored sights. This trip, I concentrated on those objects, sailing under and past the Howrah Bridge, downstream to dip my toes in, where the river meets the sea. It wasn't my initial intent, but somehow, that's how things turned out. Mind blowing....

Here are my observing notes. All observations are with an 18" f/4.5 Dob. I spent a lot of time per object, as many were very challenging. Negative observations, of which there were a few, are not listed. I also took time to relax, chat with other observers, exchange stories, peek through other scopes (in particular Steve's), and enjoy the ride. Thanks to everyone who was there and made it such a fun experience.

Abell 71 Cyg PN 2.6' 15.2P 20 32 23 47 20 55
7/31/08 103X OIII, PK 85+4.1, Sh2-116. Very easy star hop from Deneb along the line to naked eye double star Omega Cygni. Large, very faint, even brightness, star at N edge and one inside give feeling of brighter side.

N6888 Cyg BN 18.0'x8.0' 20 12 01 38 23 00
8/1/08 174X NPB, Sh2-105, Crescent Nebula. Located almost a third the distance along a line from Gamma to Eta Cygni. The views of this object each year at Lassen replace the past ones as "the best" and this year was no exception. The fine wisps of nebulousity interior to the egg shaped shell, especially inside the thick bottom band, was amazing. Detail could be picked out all the way across from one side, through the Wolf-Rayet progenitor star, to the other side of the shell. This is a great object at Lassen, where it is in the same class as the Veil Nebula for visual beauty.

N6894 Cyg PN 60.0" 14.4P 20 16 24 30 33 51
8/1/08 174X NPB, PK 69-2.1. I use the stars 39 and 41 Cygni to form a right angle for hopping to this nice planetary. It is a ring with a very dark annular center, slightly elongated WSW/ENE. With the filter, the ring is almost a neon in bright intensity. 294X shows stars embedded in the inner edge of ring, a brighter one on w edge, dimmer on s edge.

NGC 6905 Del PN 72"x37" 11.9P 20 22 23 20 06 16
7/31/08 174X NPB, PK 61-9.1. Use Sagitta as an arrow to point to the mag 5.7 star SAO 88664 in order to get into the right neighborhood for this planetary. Bright round, and with a mottled interior on main shell, surrounded by N/S elongated dimmer shell, bracketed by two stars with N being brighter. Interior appears chaotic.

Abell 59 Sag PN 86" 17.2P 19 18 40 19 34 26
7/30/08 174X NPB, PK 53+3.1. A bit trickier location, I imagine a line from Albireo to Zeta Aquilae, to locate two pair of barely naked eye stars (including 1 Vulpeculae) which are a jumping off point for this very dim planetary. Barely visible with NPB, I was only able to glimpse the western edge and very occasionally eastern edge. Relatively large.

Abell 52 Aql PN 37" 16.5P 19 04 32 17 57 08
7/30/08 294X NPB, PK 50+5.1. From mag 3.3 Delta Aquilae to mag 3.0 Zeta, extend beyond to a pair of mid-mag 5 stars in identical orientation. If your skies are dark enough you can see a wider pair of mag 6 stars just to the east, which bracket the planetary. With the filter, I could "possibly" pick out a very large annular ring, with a very dark center.

Abell 72 Del PN 2.0'x1.8' 14.6P 20 50 02 13 33 29
7/31/08 174X OIII, PK 59-18.1. Easy location if you can identify the two mag 5 stars 16 and 17 Delphini, just over a degree apart and orientated N/S. The planetary is about 1.25 degrees due west of of star 17. The object is large, dim, round, and has stars involved. While faint, the edges seem slightly brighter than center.

NGC 6781 Aql PN 1.8' 11.8P 19 18 28 06 32 15
8/1/08 294X NPB, PK 42-2.1. Located about one third the distance from Delta to Zeta Aquilae, this is a round, bright, fairly large planetary with hints of annularity. Easy to locate and surprising!

Abell 53 Aql PN 31" 16.9P 19 06 46 06 23 50
7/30/08 174X NPB, PK 40-0.1. Another easy location! Start at Delta Aquilae, hop to mag 5.6 22 Aquilae then the same distance again to 5.2 19 Aquilae. Just off that star you'll find this very dim planetary. It appears mostly round, but slightly elongated E/W, with a brighter NW edge. There is no annularity, having even brightness except for NW edge.

Abell 67 Cap PN 67.0" 16.0P 19 58 27 03 03 00
7/31/08 174X OIII, PK 43-13.1. A bit trickier to hop to, I go from Delta to Eta Aquilae, make a slightly obtuse angle north, just over a third the distance between those two stars. The planetary is a dim large faint ring with dark center. Its southern edge is the most pronounced, and contains a bright star in eastern edge.

Abell 56 Aql PN 3.3'x2.7' 15.5P 19 13 06 02 52 49
7/30/08 174X NPB, PK 37-3.2. No problem hopping to this one, as it is just over 30 arcminutes slightly north of due west from mag 5.1 21 Aquilae. Now, this one is truly very dim - nothing more than slight difference in contrast, elongated N/W 3x2. There are some stars embedded, and it has an even surface brightness.

Abell 55 Aql PN 50" 15.4P 19 10 25 -02 20 25
7/30/08 174X, PK 33-5.1. I start at mag 3.4 Lambda Aquilae then hop to the naked-eye mag 5.4 identical pair 14 and 15 Aquilae, which I use as a "measure". I measure about three times that distance "above" 15 to find the location. Fortunately this is a bright Abell planetary. It is slightly elongated SW/NE, has a brighter center, undefined edges, large.

HCG 88 Aqr GX4 2.0'x0.7' 14.1B 20 52 35 -05 42 38
7/31/08 294X. Easy star hop! Start with Delta Aquilae, to Eta, Theta, the continue in the same line to mag 4.4 3 Aquarii and then to the cool double 4/5 Aquarii at mags 5.5/5.99. This double will be in the same wide field view as the Hickson. This group of four galaxies is comprised of NGCs 6978, 6977, 6976 and 6975. What stands out is a nice linear trio, the first three, two at mag 14.1 and one at 14.8. These three were easy, direct vision targets, equally spaced and apparently similar shape. The 4th member was off to the WSW, and dimmest at mag 15.8, showing convincingly with averted vision.

Abell 49 Sct PN 35" 16.7P 18 53 28 -06 28 35
8/1/08 174X OIII, PK 27-3.1. You'll have no trouble getting to this one. Start a M11, The Wild Duck cluster, and you're a wide-field view away. The trouble starts though trying to pull this one in. It was very faint with views only about 50% of the time. Usually I saw only the NE quarter of the planetary, but occasionally entire disk would show. Steve looked and noted that in same field is PK 27-3.2 which is a stellar planetary that blinks with OIII - we did it, what an interesting pair - blink, or you'll miss it!

Abell 70 Aql PN 42.0" 14.3P 20 31 33 -07 05 18
7/31/08 294X, PK 38-25.1. Very easy without a filter, this target is round, annular, and marked by the mag 16.0 galaxy MAC 2031-0705 shining through edge of planetary creating appearance of bright hard edge.

Abell 45 Sct PN 4.8' 18 30 16 -11 36 56
8/1/08 174X OIII, PK 20-0.1. Again located between two naked-eye stars, SAO 161632 at mag 5.1 and SAO 161415 at mag 5.7. This is a rich Milky Way star field, and all I could get was a suspected arc elongated E/W section. The field is to identify due to bright mag 8.8 star just north of the target.

HCG 87 Cap GX4 1.5'x0.3' 15.3B 20 48 14 -19 50 57
7/31/08 294X, MCG -3-53-5. From Beta 2 Capricorni hop to 15-Upsilon Capricorni, then not quite half again that distance beyond, to get to the target area. Once there, I easily saw the A&B components, elongated and nearly round. The challenge was component C, which I strongly suspected once with almost sure sighting, then several had marginal suspected. Jiggling scope helped. Dim stars away from obvious double can be mistaken for C, but are too far away.

Abell 66 Sag PN 4.5' 14.9P 19 57 31 -21 36 37
7/31/08 103X OIII, PK 19-23.1. From the handle of the Teapot, mag 3.3 Tau Sagittarii, hop ENE to the naked-eye double 51 and 52 Sagittarii, then the same line to where mag 6.0 SAO 188829 would intersect it at a right angle. This planetary is at that location, large and dim, and with averted vision only. The surface brightness is even across object, and somewhat hard at the edges. It sits south of pair of E/W stars, but more off easternmost. Several dim stars glimmer in and out occasionally, but one bright one is just inside NNE edge. Nice object with patience.

Monday, July 7, 2008

ER: GSSP 2008

ER is for Experience Report, although today I feel like a trip to the "ER" could be in order. I'm fuzzy headed, sun-browned, fully soaked in distant photons, and fatigue still has a firm hold on me.

But, I thought I'd share some impressions. Not my usual style report with a detailed listing of targets and descriptions of what I saw, but instead, what it was like *at* the GSSP, and about next year....

- Exceeding Expectations -

Everyone goes primarily for the skies. Each night condition progressively improved. Saturday, although (blessedly) cloudy all day, cleared out shortly after astronomical dark, giving us a very dark and transparent sky. Without resorting to the use of "squirrel meters - SQMs, I can say the only thing standing between us and the sort of dazzling skies I saw last year during the site survey, was some smoke haze. Still, it was so transparent that on Saturday night, as I was observing with Steve Gottlieb on his 18" Dob, his custom printed charts were not deep enough for what we were picking out, most notably in Abell 2256 (centered on NGC 6331). We had to fire up my laptop and use MegaStar to confirm or place dim galaxies that were at the threshold. I'm sure Steve will go into the details. But I believe if the skies go deeper than what Steve prepares for, we're doing pretty good.

- Pre-Party Party -

Several of the organizers were fortunate enough to take off last Monday, meet at a motel in Redding, and go out for dinner and drinks. We thought getting within two hours of the observing site a wise choice, and it worked so well I'm sure we'll do it that way for upcoming GSSPs. We had a great time, partying at Chevy's across the street from the motel. After that, it was an early night for everyone with a big job ahead of us on Tuesday.

- My Neighborhood -

The organizers decided to situate themselves in a group, at the center crossroads of the observing site. This would make it easy for attendees to find us if needed. I set up my 10x20 canopy, and shaded my tent and other camping gear under it. I had around me Alvin Huey, Steve Gottlieb (direct neighbors), Ken Archuletta, Ted Hupper and John Hoey, Paul Alsing, Jeff Gortatowski, Charlie and Susan Wicks, Jane Smith, Randy Muller, Ed Smith, Jim Bartolini, Evan Garber, and the across the north/south road was Rich Girard, Bob Jardine, Marsha Robinson, Peter McKone, Richard Ozer, Pete Santangeli and Dan Wright. Nothing like having so many of your friends around for a multi-day star party!

- Yea, Though I Walk Through The Valley Of Shadow Of -

The Dobs.... I felt small and almost insignificant with my 18" Obsession. Our little "corner lot" had a 30", two 25's, a 22" and 2 20's. I was reintroduced to the concept of humility. The last night I found it totally unnecessary to uncover my little telescope!

- Community Within And Around -

I was tremendously impressed with what a fine, considerate, helpful group amateur astronomers are. Everybody was friendly, cooperative, and understanding. When our shower truck was called away to support the firefighters, the GSSP's backup, which we though we'd never need but should plan anyway, worked great. The Beiber High School showers were very welcome, and got us out into that town, whereas if the truck was available, most of the traffic would have been into Adin. Still, the folks at Adin Supply were welcoming and gracious, and if you didn't realize it, they catered our Friday night dinner. I was pleased to hear that they saw significant benefit from our visit. I also *thoroughly* enjoyed the Albaugh family's "Ranch Days" event on Saturday. Those who went (and you *all* should) were treated to displays of products we all use daily that are supplied by rancher/farmers like the Albaughs. There was a man named "Buck" who was teaching how to rope a steer - with some horns attached to a small bale of hay about ten feet away - he called it the dummy, but after I had trouble "ropin" it, and a seven year old local walked up and showed everyone how to do it, I felt like the dummy (and enjoyed it!). It was very nice of the Albaughs and neighbors to create a GSSP brand! The Frosty Acres brand will be on the GSSP web-site soon, but the one they made for us was used to burn into about a 10 inch diameter piece of log we cut individually with a long lumber saw. What fun! Outside were sheep being escorted around by some neighborhood girls, and around back a man with a beautiful horse. Talking to him, I had to have him repeat what he told me about his family. His eldest child is 37 years old, youngest grandchild is 16, and youngest child is 2. Amazing! He may have set a record for widest age spread between children, short of perhaps some biblical stories....

I also had a very special treat this year. Turns out my observing buddy Richard Navarrete was unable to attend and sold his meal tickets to a local woman in the Adin area. We met, and she ended up hanging out with our group - Charlie and Susan, Jeff G, etc. I learned that her property has a lot of geothermal on it, and she had built a hot-spring fed outdoor shower. So, the last three days, while my friends would trek down to Beiber High School to shower, I'd be treated to that great hot spring water, with views of the big valley as my shower "walls". I'd first fallen in love with outdoor showers at Michelle Stone's which has one that is creek fed. Thanks again "Z" for the hospitality.

The most outstanding aspect of the community "around" us though, was our wonderful hosts, and their friends. Warm, welcoming people who you immediately feel a kinship to, and know you've found "the genuine article". From Barbara "mom" Albaugh to Becky, Helen and their friends, the women are beautiful, intelligent and healthy looking - the life there unquestionably agrees with them. Dale Albaugh, the patriarch, has lived in Adin since 1937, and along with sons Aaron and Andy, combine a sophistication and true "rugged" western look that is a piece of American heritage lost to many of us. What a treat to have been there, with these people, over 4th of July!

- Omnivorously Speaking -

The human species is successful in large part due to the fact that we are garbage disposals. We eat almost anything! But being modern and somewhat civilized, we have specialized and developed highly selective preferences. My meat preference became more refined last August at the Albaugh's dinner table, when I first tasted the Frosty Acres brand of gourmet grass-fed beef. Awesome stuff! Did you participate in the Saturday night BBQ at GSSP this year? That's it. I took an order form and am looking at ordering direct. I *highly* recommend it, and encourage others to order as well. Its no fresher or better, and supports our host! Here - - seriously, check it out, and tell your friends. This is a find!

- Organizer Notes, What I Would Do Differently -

One thing I love about our organizers is that we're all looking to improve our experiences - those who organize, attendees, our hosts, and the community. I know the Albaughs are looking already at new things to offer and show us for next year. The citizenry of The Big Valley now sees who we, their guests, are. That will help us all, locals and visitors, next year. But from a "star party" perspective, there are a few things I will be recommending, as a first time through at a new location, you learn. So here are some suggestions:

Speed limits. The only dust we had on-site was from vehicular traffic, especially along the long road running north south bordered by the bathrooms. We need a speed limit no faster than walking. That will go a huge way in controlling dust. If you noticed, even with the strong afternoon breezes, dust did not kick up. It was only cars, trucks and RVs "churning" it by driving too fast. Hey, what's the rush anyway, right? Slow down!

Grass length. With warm weather, we all would prefer to be in shorts and sandals. But that heritage wheat grass can be tough on the legs. It was upwards of 12 inches long this year. We expected it would be mowed, but the Albaugh's felt it was not too long, and left it. Live and learn, everyone's intentions were good. Next year a shorter grass would be helpful.

Porta-Potties. So many people camped by the hospitality tents, that the two handicapped units we had there were overused. Next year, they should be more even dispersed. And more porta-potties overall.

Hospitality Tents. More of them - expand the size. Move them centrally along the western edge of the star party.

Light Attenuation. While the local lighting on the horizon was mostly a non-issue when we are concentrating at the eyepiece, we can reduce it by having the RVs line up north south along the west side of the main road. This was our original plan, but the RVs surprised us by congregating en-masse to the north. By having them line up, not only would they provide additional light shielding, but those folks would be closer to the rest of the observers on the field, which would be nice.

Activities. Kites, we have a great venue for kite flying. A natural activity there. We should encourage responsible kite flying. We also found people interested in the Scrabble games going on near my campsite. We might have daily round-robin Scrabble games. More speakers, something that people seem to enjoy, so let's do more. Movies - - - something many star parties offer if we get skunked one or more nights - we can do them in the hospitality tent. Other suggestions? Ideas are certainly welcome.

I guess that's about it, for experiences and ideas. Oh, wait...

No more California wildfires! Mid-June to mid-July is usually pretty good for avoiding them. This year was a huge fluke, but fortunately we had a good backup plan for showers. In all likelihood we won't have fires next June, which means the shower truck won't be called into service for the CDF. That will make it an even easier event to attend.

And, without the fires, you all who were there Saturday night, enjoying a spectacular Milky Way, will be treated to an even more amazing sky.

I'm already looking forward to it, and I'm still tired from this year's event...

What will I remember the most out of it all?

That we had Four Nights of Peace and Starlight, on that farm in Adin...

What was your experience there?

Clear skies,


ps - One more aspect that needs to be noted. The Big Valley on Sunday morning, with much less haze than prior days, again because an awesome view. The huge bluff our star party is set on is dwarfed by the expansiveness of the area. I can't wait until my friends and fellow observers see it at its best....


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Willow Springs - Who Needs Sleep? (Bring on Adin)...

It was a very good night at Willow Springs. Thanks to Kevin Ritschel for inviting us down. Our group this trip consisted of Greg LaFlamme, Steve Gottlieb, Kevin and me. 15", 18", 18" and 33.25". Greg and Steve were getting SQM of 21.6. Seeing down low varied from average to poor, up high, a bit below average to very good. Early in the evening the 3-1/2 day old moon was scintillating at under 200X, but there was plenty of detail to be seen. Saturn looked nice, but would not take much power. Thin clouds seemed to sit over the mountains to our west, but never did intrude on our observing. No dew, temps bottomed out at 48F around 4 a.m. Even though temps were moderate, everyone had on varying degrees of warm clothes. I made the mistake of not changing out my thin cotton "monkey" socks for warm ones, and regardless of the other warm clothes, I was chilled much of the night. I guess I was too involved in chasing targets to bother fixing the problem.

Conversation was good, its a fun group. After reading Bill Drelling's comments about color in the bright summer nebulae in the southern sky, there was discussion about color perception as it applies to viewing astronomical targets... both the physiological effects, and how the brain sees "what it wants to see" so to speak. It becomes somewhat a philosophical discussion, really. But, in the 33, several of us agreed that while we can't say we perceived "reds" in the Swan or Lagoon, the tones seemed warm. The cool green tones were obvious in the gray filament of each target. Man, can that scope bring out detail!

Thanks to Greg, for brewing up the great French Roast, both early in the evening, and again this morning.

Before listing the targets I found with my scope (I won't describe those other showed me in their gear), a bit about the trip there and back. The more I travel this route, the more enamored I become with the quiet untraveled back roads of California. For years, I saw people refer to this area, notably John Pierce mentioning what a great motorcycle ride it is, but never really considered going. Lightly traveled, each successive turn off the prior highway strips away another layer of the urban life I live in downtown San Jose. At one point, the American music stations all fade, and it feels almost like a short trip south of the border, listening to the Salsa and Country Mexican stations, y no habla ingles, nada. The river cut valley, hills so clear and sharply contrast against the blue sky, it looks like they've been razor cut. It took me an hour thirty five to arrive, where I found Steve and Greg outside their cars just a hundred yards from Kevin's property. It was a great way to start an observing trip.

The drive back this morning was via a bit different route. Instead of taking the 156 back to San Juan Bautista then 101, I followed 25 through Hollister, and was home in an hour twenty five minutes. A short drive for great dark skies. Sleep dep is catching up... I've had about 3-1/2 hours sleep, but it was well worth it.

Here's what I saw.... in a relaxed and convivial observing session (the moon didn't set until 11:30 pm).... my telescope is an 18" f/4.5 Obsession, all eyepieces mentioned are Tele Vue Naglers. No alcohol, no smokes, just an eye to the sky... Mr. Natural.


Arp 185 UMi GX 3.0'x2.4' 11.8B 16 32 38 78 11 56
12mm - very bright stellar nucleus, elongated oval with apparent streak through major axis NNW/SSE. 7mm shows brighter possible on SSE side, hint of spiral arm on NNW side, stars embedded just SSE of nucleus. No larger core, only very bright nucleus.

HCG 84 UMi GX6 0.7'x0.4' 15.4B 16 44 22 77 50 20
HGC 84A, B, C all obvious although dim, in 7mm.

Arp 293 Dra GX 1.5'x1.4' 14.1P 16 58 31 58 56 13
12mm - NGC 6285 and NGC 6286, both barely visible with different orientations, 6826 is brighter, elongated, NNE/SSW, 6825 is smaller, dimmer and almost E/W. Both galaxies have dim elongated cores slightly brighter than the extensions.

N6155 Her GX 1.3'x0.8' 13.2P 16 26 08 48 22 01
7mm - fairly bright, amorphous, rather tattered looking like its disturbed. Elongated N/S but brighter central elongation seems slightly offset NNW/SSE. Central elongation appears to be large portion of galaxy, only a bit of dim extension around it. Stellar core is only occasionally very dimly visible.

NGC 6229 Her GC 4.5' 9.4 16 46 48 47 31 40
7mm - bright globular resolves well but not to the core. Core is 1/4 to 1/3rd diameter of obvious extended object, which appears to be more populated to the west, but also extended more NNW/SSE. Very nice glob.

N6239 Her GX 3.3'x1.2' 12.9B 16 50 05 42 44 22
7mm - odd galaxy. Elong WSW/ESE with strong concentration along major axis, but apparent dark intrusion on s side or mottling, possible disturbed galaxy. No hint of nucleus..

AGC 2197 Her GXCL 89.6' 13.9 16 28 12 40 54 00
Incredibly rich cluster. 29 galaxies logged.

N6166 Her GX 2.2'x1.5' 12.8B 16 28 38 39 33 05
7mm - faint but obvious. Little in the way of detail, elongated, no central concentration, but elong WSW/ENE, possible spiral arms, stubby off ends, WSW end to S, ENE to N.

AGC 2199 Her GXCL 89.6' 13.9 16 28 36 39 31 00
7mm - 18 members including NGC 6166 viewed. Obvious ones are 6166, and MCG 7-34-50, others are dim as 16.5.

NGC 6207 Her GX 3.3'x1.7' 12.2B 16 43 04 36 49 56
7mm - extended N/S with bright stellar core. Quite bright. With time, galaxy extends in width and shows hints of spiral structure.

HCG 82 Her GX4 0.9'x0.7' 14.6B 16 28 22 32 50 58
All four seen with 7mm. Dimmest is only averted and intermittent. Interesting alignment, two pairs, each pair in nearly the same orientation.

M13 GC 20.0' 5.8 16 41 41 36 27 37
Gorgeous with 12mm, looks asymmetric. Elongated N/S with more stars to W than E. Resolves to the core. Big sweeping chain of stars extends out to S from the propeller.

Abell 39 Her PN 2.9' 13.7P 16 27 33 27 54 33
Very interesting, seen at low power easily, at higher power it virtually disappears. Use OIII filter.

N6181 Her GX 2.5'x1.1' 12.5B 16 32 21 19 49 29
7mm - mostly N/S and more extended off the core to the N. Averted greatly increases the outer envelope. Bright core, but appears to be mottled with some dark intrusions. With averted, core has occasional stellar nucleus, and spiral swirls forming envelope around brighter core. Nice galaxy.

HCG 81 Her GX4 0.5'x0.3' 17 16 18 13 12 48 11 7mm - very faint glow elongated NE/SW, very occasionally another glow to its north. Only averted. Easy location.

Can't wait for the big 4th of July observing bash....

Buenos noches...

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sat May 3, 2008. Losing Ten Inches Ain't Fun!

Last Saturday Richard Navarrete convinced me to ignore my instincts, and meet him at Henry Coe State Park with our 18" Dobs. The plan was to see how it went, prepare to stay the night, but be ready to bail out if conditions were poor.

Well, they were. Driving down 101 looking toward Fremont Peak from around the Coyote Valley, well, there was no Fremont Peak. A low mucky haze covered everything. If I didn't know better, I'd swear we were back in fire season, it looked like we were smoked out. I arrived at Coe before Richard, and was pleased to see Jim Collins there. Hadn't seen him in ages, as he had moved to Chico a year back. Good to see you Jim! At the time, a stiff wind was a worry. It was chilly too. And, did I say it was mucky looking? Well, it was mucky looking. Richard arrived, his usual upbeat self. I had a hard time remaining glum about the prospects.

Sunset was spectacular. It was then that I realized a good observing night is a great thing, but even getting out and seeing a view like that sunset was worth the drive. I was feeling good again. Thanks Richard! I hope those reading this looked at the photo Richard posted on the TAC Flickr account, quite good, giving a nice feel for what it was like there.

Reading the other observing reports that have come in, the few of them, its clear that it wasn't, clear. The only place that oddly did well was Fremont Peak - and there's Jamie popping his buttons about it. Phooey Jamie. I'm happy for you, and Rich, and my long lost bud Rod, but it didn't help me feel better ;-) When I read your report, I could only think of one of my favorite lines in "Oh Brother Where Art Thou" - - - when Clooney can't get his Dapper Dan, and tells the store owner that his place is some sort of geographical oddity - its 2 weeks from everywhere! Well, that was Fremont Peak I guess. The oddity of observing sites last Saturday - a good one! I do see Steve got in some good observing too. Well, not me.

As Richard stated, our 18's were more like 8's out there. For sure, losing ten inches ain't fun. What frustration! But I did log some targets, and had fun with the rest of the gang there. Hawley had brought a new imaging gizmo, which looked quite slick. I met Marcel and Janet (is that right, Janet?). Scott Baker was fun to be set up by. He took my imaging ribbing right in stride. Anyway, all in all, it was fun, even with the frustration. We packed up and headed home about 12:30. Enough rest to enjoy the Lakers game and not enjoy the Sharks game (marathon) on Sunday.

By the way, Richard and I took a short hike to pay our fees at the ranger station at Coe. Very nice little hike. A few wildflower, mosses, lichens, all sorts of cool stuff to look at, and a bit of exercise. Try it next time!

Here are the few raw notes I logged from Saturday. You'll get the idea:

N5585 Uma GX 6.1'x3.8' 11.2B 14 19 47 56 43 45
Very large, very dim, elongated n/s. No detail in bad sky.

N5443 Uma GX 3.2'x1.2' 13.1P 14 02 11 55 48 56
Nice elongated galaxy ne/sw, appears mottled or ragged, almost as if there is a double core, 7mm, poor transparency. Actual core is large, fat, and has hint of stellar nucleus.

N5485 Uma GX 2.4'x1.8' 11.4V 14 07 11 55 00 05
Round galaxy, fairly small, dim halo with smallish brighter core and dim stellar nucleus, 12mm. With 7mm, hints of elongation n/s and some mottling, possible spiral structure noted to N of core.

NGC 5473 Uma GX 2.3'x1.8' 12.4B 14 04 43 54 53 35
Round disk of a possible small face on spiral, dim halo, small brighter core with bright stellar nucleus popping in averted.

N5687 Boo GX 2.4'x1.6' 12.6B 14 34 52 54 28 35
Small, elongated wwnw/eese, dim, brightish core, potentially a dim stellar nucleus. Nice galaxy with foreground stars embedded in leading edge.

NGC 5474 Uma GX 4.7'x4.7' 11.3B 14 05 01 53 39 38
Roundish or slightly irregular, mottled appearance, little to no detail? Offset core?

After a while, I began losing interest. Fortunately, Judy (Julie?) asked me to show her some constellations. Scott had a green laser (woooo!) that he lent me, so I was off and running, drawing lines in the sky. Hawley came over saying he was shooting wide-field where I had just begun to move too, so I put gave the laser back and we moved to the eyepiece.

M13 was way muted, but Julie and Marcel enjoyed it anyway. Same for M92. The one surprise of the night was M51, with a 12 Nagler, up high. Decent detail.

I think that's what I closed the night with. I don't know if others stayed much later, but the Clear Sky "Charts" indicated a worsening of transparency around 1 a.m., and I just wasn't into seeing how correct it might be.

Looking forward to next time. I can only get better, and I'd dearly love those ten inches back!