Friday, August 28, 2009

Date Night at Houge Park

Friday August 28th was an public star party night for the San Jose Astronomical Association. I had arrived late, after dark, having run from an Aikido training in order to support the event. As I was setting up my telescope, people were coming by asking to look through it, asking questions about it, and generally being inquisitive. I hurriedly finished the set up and began showing views of the moon and Jupiter...

Both targets were nice, lots of detail, steady enough seeing to allow decent higher power magnification. It is always fun seeing children, sometimes not even tall enough to see into the eyepiece (I bring a ladder for the shortest attendees) get their first real views of a world beyond the earth. The moon is especially good for them, as craters, rilles, mare, and mountains are very easy to see in great detail. Even Jupiter provided detail the youngest could discern... cloud bands and moons... It is a great experience for them, for me, and their parents.

I had been expecting a guest, a woman I had a few e-mail contacts with on She seemed quite nice by e-mail and had expressed interest in the sky, so I invited her to come out. I thought it a decent relaxed place in a public setting for a first meeting. So there I was, showing whatever to whoever, and I see appearing out of the dark, a face I'd seen before. It was Cat (Catherine), from Match. It was only then, that the realization hit me, I was on a "date" (sort of) at Houge Park, with a bunch of my friends around. In my comfort zone, but not feeling all that comfortable!

Cat turned out to be great... fun, intelligent, inquisitive, playful, and was certainly getting plenty of attention from the nearly exclusive male make-up of the SJAA. If women want to meet science guys, with something of a nerdy cant (in some cases, major), I realized this is the place!

So, I found myself relaxing into the experience, and began to show Cat a few things. She wanted to learn some constellations and see a nebula, but this was not the night for dim extended objects - the next Houge Park event on a 3rd quarter moon would be much better for that.

I began by showing (after the moon and Jupiter - the dogs and ponies of the night), I put the scope (10" Dob) on Alberio. This is where I soon learned that my "date" was quite bright. I asked about the color of the stars, and what they meant in terms of their longevity. This gal nailed it. Really, a first. I was astonished (been doing this for about 15 years). I smiled. She wanted to know where the star was, so I borrowed a green laser pointer and outlined Cygnus, and the location of the pretty double.

I showed a few more constellations - Pegasus, Lyra, Corona Borealis, the Teapot in Sagittarius. I thought maybe we had a new observer, as her vision was quite good. So, I turned back to the scope and hit M15. The view was very good, considering the ambient light pollution and first quarter moon was still up. I showed it to a young couple who had joined us....

If fact, and undoubtedly due to Cat's presence, a number of amateur astronomers had gathered around... The couple looked at M15, and then Cat did. I talked about how ancient the stars in it are, how they are first generation stars comprised essentially of only hydrogen, their age, about stellar evolution...

It led to others joining in, a PhD physicist who teaches locally going into details about supernovae, and where new elements are created, and eventually about our "real" connection to the stars.

While the talking was going on, I would move the scope to new targets. Eta Cassiopeia, the pretty yellow and copper double star, M31, which despite the moonlight was showing its core along with its satellite galaxy M32.

During all this, Cat was sitting on the tailgate of my truck, clearly enjoying herself around the other attendees... and participating in the discussions.

As things wound down, she said it was time to call it a night. For me too. She took off, I packed up and I left as well. I thought about what a fun time I'd had. Date night at Houge turned out very well....

Sunday, August 23, 2009

No Need For Speed

Friday night at Plettstone was a great get together of friends that rarely get the chance to spend time with each other. I had not seen Michelle Stone in a year. Hard to believe. I think the same goes for Rashad Al-Mansour. Albert Highe reminded me that we'd seen each other at CalStar and Dinosaur Point, and I thanked him for correctly pointing out the deficiencies in my memory! I probably had not seen Carter Scholz in that long, and know I'd only met Dan Foy a handful of times previously, at most. It was a great group. Fortunately for us, the skies help up all night, and I think we all got in our fill 'o photons. I spent quite a bit of time just visiting, so my observing "count" was well down, but a big count is no longer part of my observing routine, if it happens it happens, but odds are I'm going to be taking my time now, teasing out any detail I can in some of the deeper stuff out there, and sharing views with my friends. It is very relaxing, and fun. Below, I am posting my unchecked raw observing notes. I have no idea of how accurate they are in terms of what to have expected. I am just posting my impressions.

Saturday morning I woke early, and saw scattered clouds increasing from the south. By the time Richard, Rashad and I took off together for Glacier Point in Yosemite, the sky was gone. Where the temps

in and around Mariposa had been in the high 90's the day before, temps were as low as the mid-60's up high in Yosemite. The views were gorgeous. It is as magical an experience to be there as it is to look at the wonders through an eyepiece. Upon returning, we found some of the gang gone, along with the sky. Richard Ozer had shown up, surprisingly. We had a nice pot luck BBQ with Michelle and Paul. After dinner I packed up the truck, only to find the last of the observing crew pulling up the driveway.... first timer Olga S. We took her in, introduced her to Michelle, and hit the road for home. I hear Olga was heading to Yosemite too, so I'm sure she was in for a grand treat, in addition to meeting Michelle.

The drive home was uneventful. On the other hand, the trip to Plettstone found me getting pulled over by the CHP on highway 156 just west of Casa de Fruita (before the 152 junction)... doing 69 in a 55. Amazingly, I talked my way out of the speeding ticket. It is even more amazing, since I didn't have proof of insurance (which is what he ended up writing the "fix it" ticket for - no fine if I fix it). I thanked the officer, and asked him to adjust my side-view mirror before I pulled out. He did, and wished me well. What a pleasant fellow!

Yes, it was a really good weekend....

For some fun, have a look at Richard Navarrete's video observing report from the trip. Its very well done!

Here are the targets I went after, and the raw notes...

Sh 2-113 Cyg BN 15 21 20 48 38 05 29

18" 20mm - small almost triangular area of nebulosity involving approximately 6 dim stars, points are W, NE and SE.

Abell 78 Cyg PN 113"x88" 13.4 21 35 29 31 41 45 PK 81-14.1 = PN G081.2-14.9

12mm NPB, very dim, mostly round, stars embedded, possibly annular, small with central star?

Abell 74 Vul PN 871"x791" 15.8 21 16 52 24 08 51 PK 72-17.1 = PN G072.7-17.1

12mm UHC very dim , galaxy MCG 4-50-4 misplotted in The Sky, should be closer to flat triangle of stars. Galaxy with 7mm, Planetary w/35 Panoptic responds differently to OIII and UHC. Star in middle with UHC is bright, dims out almost totally with OIII compared to other stars in field. UHC shows dim arc with dark lane, with OIII just a large mottled area.

Abell 72 Del PN 134"x121" 12.7 20 50 02 13 33 28 PK 59-18.1 = PN G059.7-18.7

7mm OIII does not respond with UHC. Large, dim rounds, western edge shows best, possible brighter spots in W and S.

Abell 76 Aqr PN 0.4x0.2 21 30 03 -02 48 32 PK 5-036.1 = PGC 85185
No image available: 7mm OIII round, even brightness across the disk, central star. Dim.
*Note, this is listed as a ring galaxy, which I learned after returning from the trip.

Hickson 89 Aqr GX4 0.9'x0.6' 14.4 21 20 01 -03 55 20 MCG -01-54-012 66570

5mm Navarrete scope on platform. 89D occasional split off C, others not that difficult.

Hickson 78 Dra GX4 1.4'x0.6' 14.9 15 47 16 68 13 14 UGC 10057

7mm - definite sighting 2 galaxies dim but certain direct vision, preceding is NW/SE elongation with a tiny stellar nucleus and is smaller than the trailing galaxy, which is larger, almost even in surface brightness, E/W, averted gives very occasional glimpse of stellar nucleus.

Photos and drawings are culled from sources publicly available on the Internet - usually linked to the original. Star party photo
Copyright (C) 2008 by Randy Muller.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Observing Distant Fires (Holy Smokes!)

Richard Navarrete, Elisabeth Oppenheimer and I all met Saturday afternoon in Mogran Hill for a trip to Deep Sky Ranch at Willow Springs. Conditions were uncertain, as the Lockheed fire in Bonny Doon, up in the Santa Cruz Mountains was covering the south bay in a thick smoky haze.... In Morgan Hill, it smelled like BBQ. A quick trip to San Juan Bautista for dinner at Jardines, then down through the wilds east of Paicines, and we were relaxing at the ranch, sipping cool beers in the shade... the only sounds around being the cats, a few horses, Magpies flying around, and Scrub Jays eating unripened fruit off the nearby trees. The hills were golden, and tinged with the yellow-green of tarweed. Temps were comfortable, a cool breeze blew through along with some relaxed, enjoyable conversation. Our hosts were away at an eclectic party in Santa Cruz, and returned after dark... what a treat to have such friends... my thanks to them for their hospitality and generosity. Thank you, Kevin.

We set up our telescopes at sunset... the sky showing some haze to our south and east... and a layer of orange/red glop in the west, all indicating that the smoke indeed would be a factor for us. Just how much depended on the whims of the winds...

I think we got lucky. During the night we were observing targets to about mag 17.2 in the 18" telescopes. When our host arrived home, out came the monster, Dobzilla. I have no idea what limit it was hitting. I was busy working on targets I'd compiled for the evening, Richard was hunting Hickson Galaxy Clusters. Elisabeth, who brought a 4.25" Starblast spent much of the evening in initiation on the big Dob. I would chuckle at times, when Kevin's voice would warn from high up on the ladder, that it was just too dangerous to do. Kevin's twelve foot ladder is about two feet to short!

Aside from the objects below, which were on my list, a few views are worth noting as they were simply spectacular...

M31 in Richard's 18" with a 35 Panoptic showed extensions of its spiral arms way out beyond what I consider even good views. Tenuous thin gauze, the sheerest of silk, fading out behind the foreground of stars, and into the background deep space beyond. The dark lanes were pronounced to the point of being black swaths with etched edges, sharp as you'd see in a master pen and ink rendition, or a woodcut. M110 and M32 were beacons.

To finish off the night, as the earthshine side of the moon rose over the mountains to the east , I noticed Cetus was up high, and suggested the planetary NGC 246 for the big
scope. The first view was without a filter, and I do not know the magnification or eyepiece, but it nearly filled the field. It showed its gray form and embedded stars easily, and hinted at the amazing detail we'd soon view when a filter was added. With the filter, the structure in the shell was reminiscent of some fine views of the Crescent Nebula. Parts were thick and ropey, one end appeared to be "broken open" like a cracked egg. The view was mesmerizing.

Here are my observations. Most of these were very difficult objects... the last one was quite special.

Sh 2-136 Cep BN 5 21 16 29 68 15 12
18" 12mm NPB, distinct but dim triangular glow extending west from, and involving stars GSC 4461:645 and GSC 4461:1453.

Abell 75 Cep PN 67"x47" 14.5 21 26 23 62 53 33 PK 101+8.1 = NGC 7076 = PN G101.8+08.7
18" 12mm easily picked up with NPB filter, 7mm shows slight elongation N/S with star embedded in slightly brighter E section. Planetary appears mottled or possibly slightly annular.

vdB 142 Cep RN/DN 15 21 36 42 57 30 00 the "Elephant's Trunk"
18" 20mm - large elongated dark lane running WWSW/EENE, with glowing edge especially along the S edge along star forming region. UHC filter. Very near the nice triple and double stars Struve 2819 and 2813.

Sh 2-131 Cep BN 170 21 39 00 57 29 10 IC 1396
18" 20mm - scan very large are full of nebulosity

Abell 73 Cep PN 80"x66" 17 20 56 27 57 26 03 PK 95+7.1 = PN G095.2+07.8
18" 12mm UHC- large, elongated slightly N/S, E and W edges show more than N/S, annular, only edges show. Very dim. Dim star inside E edge of shell, brighter star just outside E edge of shell.

Abell 77 Cep PN 67"x50" 14 21 32 10 55 52 43 PK 97+3.1 = Sh 2-128 = PN G097.5+03.1 = LBN 443
18" 12mm UHC - smallish, elongated N/S slightly, can only hold parts of the object, seems brighter on N and S edges, perhaps mostly even brightness across disk.

Sh 2-127 Cyg BN 2 21 28 41 54 37 14
18" 20mm - large area of dim nebulosity between and involved in stars extending mostly E/W, like a river, non-uniform, mottled with dark areas embedded. Subtle.

Sh 2-120 Cyg BN 1 21 03 46 49 52 51
18" 12mm - obvious rectangular brightness with extensions off the corners. In area of rich nebulosity.

Sh 2-121 Cyg BN 1 21 05 12 49 38 59
18" 12mm - very large region of faint nebulosity in rich Milky Way field - dark lanes running through. Sh2 must be a photographic object to separate it from other nebulosity. Very near prior target.

Sh 2-123 Cyg BN 13 21 42 22 44 32 25
18" 20mm - large rectangle, almost square, of nebulosity in rich Milky Way, with many stars embedded - surrounded by dark lanes.

CRL 2688 Cyg PPN 24"x6" 21 02 18 36 42 00
18" 7mm 2x Barlow - elongated N/S with a dark lane separating two nearly equal sized lobes. N lobe is significantly brighter, and shows at times a stellar point embedded. S lobe is nearly equal in size, but significantly dimmer. Entire object is surrounded by oblong faint shell. PK 80-6.1 - Northern lobe is elongated at 824x - more clearly than the S lobe.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Short But Good Night at Houge Park

I arrived at Houge Park in San Jose from Aikido, for the SJAA's in-town public star party as twilight was setting in. I quickly collimated my 10" f/5.7 Dob, it was almost dead on and required almost no effort. How nice!

The turnout was good, in terms of both telescopes and visitors. Of course, most scopes were aimed at the moon, which was getting larger by the minute, well past first quarter. I showed it briefly, noting a good view of the fully lit Alpine Valley, some great Mare ringed by sharp mountains, some nice large craters showing with ejecta rays, but soon decided to offer views of targets less obvious.

I began with Alberio. The colors were quite vivid tonight. I was showing it at 120x. I'd ask people the usual questions; what colors do you see, and which of the two stars should live (last) longer? Its always good for conversation, gets them thinking.... helps bring astronomy "to earth".

I moved to Epsilon Lyrae, the Double Double. It was splitting at 120x, but people were having difficulty really seeing it cleanly. I went to the 7mm and, at 207x the views were excellent; the stars separated into four very clean points. Again, people were amazed. They'd look at the "pair" in my 9x60 finder, then again in the eyepiece. The seeing was fantastic.

A quick trip over to the Ring Nebula, which was fairly washed at 120x out in the bright moonlight, and I decided it was either a moon night, or one for good double stars.

That said, my next target was M3, which I picked up in the finder next to a bright star. The view was actually quite good at 120x, even though it was nothing like the great view it can be, again due to the moonlight. But, it was obvious, and if you took a moment at the eyepiece, it was obvious that the "haze" was actually a great buzz of stars. Nice view. People "got it".

After that, another nice double. I headed to Izar in Bootes. At 207x it was a nice split, with its obvious magnitude differences, and striking colors. I stayed there for a while, as people would look, move the scope, ask questions about how I made it, and how it worked.

By 11 pm, the atmosphere had condensed, and clouds were quickly erasing the sky. It was getting chilly too... so time to pack up, head home, have a glass of wine and think about the next time out.

All in all, it was a fun night, and a great start to a full weekend.