Sunday, March 29, 2009

Patience Pays...

It turned out great at Willow Springs Saturday night. It sure didn't look that way early on though. A few of us met for dinner at Jardine's in San Juan Bautista at 5, and by the time we arrived at the observing site, it seemed the best part of the trip might be the dinner together. The sky was a combination of 75% cloud cover, crisscrossed by fat contrails in several directions. Some great sun dogs, talk about the Gegenschein (and galacti-gegenschein), our solar direction through space, and GSSP were among topics that passed the time as we watched, hopefully, for conditions to improve. There was also talk about bailing out at midnight if conditions did not improve dramatically.

Some time around 10 p.m., as we were talking, I looked up at Ursa Major and thought it and Leo were looking suspiciously clear. I headed for the eyepiece. So did another observer or two. Soon we were all at it, and continued uninterrupted until after 2:30, when I turned in. Transparency may have been compromised a bit, and a breeze after midnight was chilling, but it paid off, and I think all had a very good night.

Highlights for me had to be galaxy-hopping the limits of perception in AGC 1213 and AGC 1185, logging 25 and 15 galaxies in each, respectively, nearly all in single eyepiece fields (although I magged up and indeed did hop in the clusters). Two other objects were very notable - Omega Centauri in a 12.5" f/5 Dob - pinpoint stars throughout the glob, and M51 in an 18"f/4.5 showing just tremendous detail.

It was a good night. I woke to a chill wind from the west blowing low scud a few hundred feet over our heads. The drive home through the wild unknown country, CD playing old favorites, winding roads and spring's vibrant colors, all capped off the trip perfectly.

Thanks to Kevin and Bob for the generous invitations. Looks like everyone had a good night, if they waited. Patience pays.


Here are my observing notes....

Arp 217 UMA GX 3.1'x2.4' 10.8 10 38 46 53 30 16 NGC 3310
18" 7mm - large, round, very occasionally a pinpoint bright stellar nucleus, large bright core offset west in a much larger dim halo. Unusual appearance, almost mottled across core.

N3583 UMA GX 2.8'x1.8' 11.1 11 14 10 48 19 06
18" 12mm - fairly bight and elongated 3'x2' WNW/ESE. Dim stella core.

NGC 3198 UMA GX 9.0'x3.2' 11.0 1019 54 45 33 09
18" 12mm - large, 9'x3', elongated SW/NE. Core is slightly brighter than extensions. Appears odd, like its disrupted or mottled, uneven looking.

N3319 UMA GX 6.2'x3.4' 11.1 10 39 09 41 41 14
18" 12mm - long and thin, dim due to poor transparency. 4'x1' NNE/SSW.

Arp 148 UMA GX 0.6'x0.5' 15.4 11 04 00 40 51 00 MCG+07-23-019
18" 7mm - very dim, averted only, elongated slightly WSW/ENE. Dim pinpoint stellar nucleus pops in and out.

NGC 3294 LMN GX 2.6'x1.2' 11.4 10 36 18 37 19 30
18" 12mm - elongated and bright, 3'x2' WNW/ESE. Kind of chaotic appearance, Slightly brighter middle. Possibly an arm extending from E around to N then 'W. Dark intrusion on both N and S sides of galaxy.

Arp 206 LMN GX 6.8'x1.5' 11.3 10 52 31 36 37 12 NGC 3432
18" 12mm - very elongated 7'x1' SW/NE. NE section appears brighter than fading SW portion. Slightly brighter nucleus, maybe warped, or has some dark intrusions.

Arp 206 LMN GX 0.9'x0.7' 17.0 10 52 17 36 35 34 UGC 05983
18" 7mm - negative observation.

Arp 270 LMN GX 3.1'x1.2' 12.2 10 49 56 32 58 58 NGC 3396
18" 7mm - SW/NE 2'x1' pinpoint bright core and mottled. Interacting with 3395. Core, is 1'x1' and brighter than the extended disk.

Arp 270 LMN GX 2.1'x1.2' 12.1 10 49 49 32 58 58 NGC 3395
18" 7mm - E/W 2'x1' spindle, dim but very bright nucleus.

N3430 LMN GX 4.0'x2.2' 11.6 10 52 11 32 56 59
18" 7mm - 3'x2' NE/SW appears to be classic spiral galaxy tilted toward us. Slightly brighter nucleus.

N3424 LMN GX 2.8'x0.8' 12.4 10 51 46 32 53 59
18" 7mm - elongated 2'x1', appears disrupted, uneven brightness, brighter areas pop in and out like sprites.

NGC 3621 HYD GX 5.0'x2.0' 10.5 11 18 18 32 48 49
18" 7mm - Large, bright, 6'x2.5', N/S classic looking spiral, even brightness but has a dim stellar nucleus surrounded tightly by a slightly brighter core. Fun find.

Arp 267 LMN GX 2.0'x1.2' 14.7 10 36 42 31 32 51 UGC 05764
18" 7mm - oriented ENE/WSW but very very dim, averted only occasionally, slightly brighter middle.

Arp 107 LMN GX 1.9'x1.2' 14.6 10 52 18 30 03 25 UGC 05984
18" 7mm - barely visible averted only 10% of time.

Arp 21 LMN GX 0.8'x0.7' 14.7 11 04 58 30 01 37 CGCG 155-056
18' 7MM - round, dim, possible dim stellar core or star overlaying galaxy. Maybe elongated E/W but very difficult to tell. MCG 5-26-48 visible nearby.

N3254 LMN GX 5.0'x1.6' 11.7 10 29 19 29 29 30
18' 7mm - Nice edge on 6'x1.5' WSW/ENE with a bright core 1.5'x.8', bright stellar nucleus.

AGC 1213 UMA GXCL 22.4' 14.5 11 16 30 29 15 00
18" 7mm - excellent cluster. 25 galaxies logged down to mag 16 using Megastar. Easy asterism near brightest UGC in group.

Arp 105 UMa GX 0.7'x0.7' 14.7 11 11 12 28 41 46 UGC 06224
18" 7mm dim and part of next target.

AGC 1185 UMa GXCL 28.0' 14.3 11 10 48 28 40 00
18" 7mm - excellent cluster, while most galaxies are 15 - 16 mag, there are a few brighter to work off. Prettiest section is five galaxies in a chain off of NGC 3550. Total of 15 galaxies observed in group.

Arp 105 UMa GX 0.8'x0.8' 14.3 11 11 13 28 41 46 NGC 3561
See above.

NGC 3277 LMN GX 1.1'x0.9' 12.0 10 32 54 28 30 43
18" 7mm - round, bright, 2.5'x2.5' dim halo with 0.5'x0.5' bright core and a sharp fairly bright pinpoint stellar nucleus.

NGC 3245 LMN GX 1.8'x0.9' 11.2 10 27 18 28 30 27
18" 7mm - NW/SE orientation, 4'x2.5' elongation, dusty, bright core is small and possibly offset in disk, with a very small stellar nucleus.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Digging Celestial Bones at Dinosaur Point

I took off for Dinosaur Point around 6:30 p.m., stopping once in Morgan Hell for for fuel (from the pump, and convenience store). The drive this time of year is one of my favorites - the vibrant greens of the hills, yellow of the new wild mustard fields, views horses, lakes and the jagged mountains south of winding two lane highway 152 heading toward Pacheco Pass. Very pretty drive, even if only for the drive itself. By the time I arrived the sun was down and a half dozen or so other observers were already set up. Three or four more would arrive after me, some under cover of dark (but we know who you are....).

Quick collimation of my 18" Dob, and time to enjoy the late twilight. A question came up about the Zodiacal Light, which is at its best this month and again in September. And sure enough, it was bright an broad in the west, reaching up to intersect the Milky Way - nearly perpendicular to it. There was no mistaking the ZL this night.

I spent most of the night at my own telescope, but did manage to peek through a neighbor's 13" f/4.4 at some interesting objects. I took a relaxed approach, not pushing for numbers, but instead enjoying each view, trying to tease out detail in the brighter targets, and in other cases just attempting to glimpse an occasional apparition at the threshold of vision. Here is the list I used:

Although the seeing softened later in the evening, I had several faves for the night. The view in the 13" of "four galaxies in one field" as my neighbor described it, which turned out to be the incredibly glamorous Hickson 68. The chaos of M97 and M108 in my scope, and sipping a light drink at the celestial bar in NGC 3359.

After a very enjoyable evening, I put away my paleoastronomy tools and was soon flying down the empty highway home. A good night digging the sky. In bed by 2:30 a.m.

Thanks to George for the chocolate, Al for the cookies, Mark for the collimator, Greg for the chuckles, and Albert the gatekeeper. Here are my observing notes for the night:

Arp 181 DRA GX 1.6'x1.1' 13.1 10 28 16 79 48 49 NGC 3212
Arp 181 DRA GX 1.1'x1.1' 13.0 10 28 41 79 48 49 NGC 3215
18" 7mm N3215 is mostly N/S dim, slightly bright core with hints of stellar pinpont nucleus averted. N3212 maybe slightly brighter, slightly brighter center (like 3215), no nucleus, mostly E/W. Star just W of 3215.

Arp 156 DRA GX 1.3'x0.7' 15.0 10 42 38 77 29 41 UGC 05814
18" 7mm - small, roundish, very dim with averted, has a brighter core, but only slightly. Pinpoint stellar nucleus occasionally pops in.

N3516 UMA GX 1.7'x1.3' 11.7 11 06 47 72 34 07
18" 7mm very bright core, Seyfert galaxy, elongated 3x2 NE/SW. Surprising little galaxy,.

HCG 049A UMA GX 0.4'x0.2' 15.2 10 56 41 67 11 07 PGC 32899 CGCG 314-001
18" 7mm - viewed A component without question averted at least 75% of time. Small, surprisingly bright when viewed.

N3359 UMA GX 7.2'x4.4' 10.6 10 46 36 63 13 28
18'" 12mm - large fairly bright possible barred spiral, elongated N/S, core is slightly brighter.

HCG 045A UMA GX 1.3'x0.4' 14.9 10 19 13 59 07 51 PGC 30153 UGC 05564
18" 7 mm - dim, elongated and smallish, oriented slightly N of E/W, bisecting a pair of equal magnitude stars, equal distances nearby to the N and S. Averted only.

NGC 3610 UMA GX 1.3'x1.0' 11.2 11 18 24 58 47 12
18" 7mm - surprisingly large given the first impression. Extended halo WNW/ESE is oval, bright almost bar seems to extend out along the major axis from a very bright nearly stellar core, giving impression of Seyfert galaxy. "Bar" may actually be some tight inner spiral close to but S of the nucleus.

M 108 UMA GX 8.0'x1.0' 10.0 11 11 30 58 40 19 NGC 3556
18" 12mm - elongated 9'x3', bright star overlays center of galaxy. Galaxy appears mottled, ragged, has a distinct bright knot in the western section, possible brighter central area or knot to E of the bright star, overall orientation in WNW/ESE.

N3225 UMA GX 2.0'x1.0' 12.6 10 25 10 58 09 00
18' 7mm - 2'x1' NW/SE, fairly even brightness across object, occasional averted feeling of very dim stellar core.

NGC 3613 UMA GX 1.6'x0.8' 11.2 11 18 48 58 00 01
18" 7mm - Large elongated 3'x1' with extended dim halo E/W that shows signs of mottling. Brighter central region is tight around stellar nucleus. Inner core appears swirled as if showing spiral structure. Inner core area is intense, elongated approx 1'x0.6'. Nice, interesting galaxy.

Arp 24 UMA GX 1.6'x1.5' 12.6 10 54 36 56 59 16 NGC 3445
18" 7mm - Arp 24, NGC 3445 mostly round fairly bright oval without any distinct features - elongated E/W, MCG 10-16-24 appears to be in contact, as somewhat of an extension NW.
Arp 24 UMA GX 0.5'x0.1' 12.8 10 54 45 56 59 16 UGC 06021
Mislabeled? Should this be the MCG?

M 97 UMA PN 3.4'x3.3' 9.9 11 14 56 55 01 09 NGC 3587
18" 7mm NPB - large, bright, very chaotic interior with two darkened areas that give a bipolar appearance. Very tight exterior shell is smooth in appearance. MCG 9-19-14 visible intermittently averted.

Arp 233 UMA GX 1.0'x0.9' 13.4 10 32 32 54 24 30 UGC 05720
18" 7mm - very small, roundish disk surrounding a stellar core. Appears to be other galaxies to the WNW.

Arp 205 UMA GX 5.7'x1.8' 12.0 10 54 39 54 18 24 NGC 3448
18'" 7mm - fairly bright elongated WSW/ESE about 5'x1', gradual brightening to core, UGC 6016 seems almost equally bright off the NE end of the NGC. No detail.

Monday, March 23, 2009

All Things Being Equal - Naked Eye Astronomy

I was watching Venus Friday night. I didn't realize the huge dive toward the horizon it had taken in the past week. I recall coming home around 8 pm a few times during the week, the past several months, and seeing Venus high and bright. Friday night at Houge Park we were looking for it in early twilight. I was looking high, but Paul Mancuso said its getting very low. I was totally surprised at how low it was, and how much dimmer it had gotten.

Speaking of naked-eye astronomy, at that star party Friday night (Houge Park), I blew it and forgot the mount for my Dob. I was pretty unhappy at myself, but Mancuso suggested I just mooch photons, and enjoy myself. Resigned to it, I soon found I was having a great time with the public, just talking about the constellations, deep sky objects in them, their mythology. Borrowing a laser pointer made it pretty easy.

After I got home, I realized I hadn't done anything like that in eons. Made me think of ancients doing naked eye astronomy - like at Stonehenge, but without Druids. Coincidentally, Friday was the Vernal Equinox... and all things being equal, naked eye astronomy was absolutely lots of fun.