Saturday, May 23, 2009

Return to Blue Canyon

This new moon, I decided to get away from the usual observing sites I've gone to over the years, mostly in the south bay, and try the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento for a change. Just for something different. So I packed up the truck and headed out mid-day Thursday. A quick drive to Roseville, late lunch with Randy Muller in Roseville, then off to meet Marsha Robinson for a kids event in Rocklin, followed by a quick drive to Auburn. I spent a pleasant Friday working, via the Internet, a nice dinner, and then the airport at Blue Canyon.
The airport sits just east of highway 80 at 5,000 feet, on the way to Lake Tahoe. The Sacramento Valley Astronomical Society (SVAS) uses the site for its monthly star parties, has an observatory there, as do a select few old timers to the place. While it has a significant light dome to the west from Sacramento, the elevation and good horizons make this a fine place to observe, just slightly over half an hour drive from Marsha's home. Turns out last time I'd observed at Blue Canyon was over ten years ago, on an weekend with my daughter split between the Fiddletown site, and the SVAS's annual Star-B-Q. Here is that report:

some familiar and interesting names in there!

Early Friday evening, before heading out to observe, I reviewed my old notes from the Herschel 2500 in order to see what I had left. I did this because Marsha told me she had about 200 targets left to observe on that list, and I thought why not return to my long ago abandoned 2500-quest. After transcribing numbers from my paper logbook to an Excel, I found 114 entries remained, of which I had undoubtedly observed a number but did not note them. So, the 2500, old style, would be my goal. Old style observing for me is "search and destroy" astronomy - no note taking, just find it and move on. What this does is train you to be very proficient at star hopping (rapid fire), and learn to pick out quite dim targets in low power fields (about 100X). It had been perhaps ten years since I've observed that way. Turns out, the change of pace if kind of fun, almost liberating compared to slogging through detailed note taking. Its the "speed-dating" of observing - shallow, but fun.

Joining us at Blue Canyon were Alvin Huey and his home-built 22", and a few possible SVAS members who were observing and camping overnight to attend Saturday's club event. As darkness set in, Alvin and I looked for some dim stars around Ursa Minor to see what our limiting mags were. We both picked out a mag 6.7 star just inside the dipper - not bad, since the sky was not yet at it darkest.

Even before it was its darkest, I was already chasing targets. I hit a mag 14 galaxy as soon as the mag 5.1 star SAO 7522 in Ursa Minor was visible direct vision, to hop from to the target. It portended a very good night. And it was... although the seeing was off, transparency was excellent.

Since I was doing search and destroy observing, I do not have detailed notes to share. I do have the NGC numbers. Of the 114 remaining of the 2500, I logged 29 new ones... and that is over a shortened observing session, as high clouds began encroaching from the west shortly after midnight. By one I was pretty much done - as the high stuff covered the spring time areas where my remaining targets were. I satisfied myself with eye-candy for a while - the Ink Spot, M22, M11, Crescent Nebula, Veil Nebula... etc.

What I can say about the 2500 list, which includes the Herschel 400 and 400-II subsets, is it is a tremendously varied list, as far as challenges. The targets I observed were all galaxies (no surprise, the spring is galaxy season in the rich depths of Leo, Virgo, Coma Berenices and Canes Venatici). Some of the targets were big and bright, some were in large clumps of galaxies - including my favorite Abell Galaxy Cluster; AGC 1367, "lonely" isolated ones, and those that are best described as apparitions - fleeting sometimes views that tease your vision.

Today, after finishing this report, I'm going to query my blog-site's search feature for the remaining H2500 objects on my list, and see where I stand. This has been a long term project, with stretches of years between working on it. Thanks to Marsha for inadvertently getting me back on it.

Off to IHOP tonight, to cast a wider net in darker skies, and observe with more good friends... here are the targets I logged last night...

Clear skies,


NGC 3523
NGC 3848
NGC 3860b
NGC 3917
NGC 3931
NGC 3961
NGC 3976
NGC 4045
NGC 4087
NGC 4128
NGC 4145
NGC 4159
NGC 4277
NGC 4303
NGC 4331
NGC 4326
NGC 4333
NGC 4436
NGC 4363
NGC 4392
NGC 4453
NGC 4519
NGC 4538
NGC 4572
NGC 4583
NGC 4588
NGC 4655
NGC 4707
NGC 4704

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