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....