Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wet Behind The Ears - Dewy night at Willow Springs

A small group of observers took the opportunity to go to Willow Springs last Saturday night, There had been plenty of indecision leading, as a large bank of clouds lay to the west, on the heels of the rain we had Friday. The jet stream forecast pointed the problem to the southeast directly at Willow, but the visual and IR weather loops an east-west trajectory with the southern edge skirting the south bay. I met Olga at the usual Morgan Hill Chevron rendezvous and caravaned south. The sun had already set and twilight silhouetted the black hills to the west against florescent golds, oranges and a deepening electric blue. The Belt of Venus was already well up in the east. An hour later we arrived Willow, followed closely by Greg and Marko. The air was a chilled 38 degrees, sunset a dying ember. The only light was from the stars, Jupiter and crescent moon.

Soon our host Kevin emerged, dragging out Dobzilla, his 33" Dob. I had my 18" f/4.5 Obsession, Greg a 22" f/3.6 and Marko an 18" f/3.7 . I shared my telescope with Olga, who has proven to be a good observer and very proficient star-hopper, in spite of still being wet behind the ears. Even well before the moon set there were some great views. Greg showed The Veil in the 22, and we had fun poking around with his 77mm binoculars, looking at wide field targets.

After dark Kevin shared a mind boggling view of the Dumbbell Nebula in the 33".

At low power and with a filter, its distinct apple-core shape was very apparent, containing what appeared to be strings of filamentary material. The outer edges were clearly defined, in a large oval, but with extra "puffs" of ejecta outward of the main shell, at right angles to the major axis of the apple-core. Easily one of the best views I've had of the target. We'd run back and forth, scope to scope, grabbing views, but most of the night was spent in pursuit of dry optics. The only master of the seas that night was Marko, who's dew setup kept him out of the drink. We talked about dew prevention a bit, and I related that I've only been really dewed out a handful of times in all the years I've been going out. But this high on the the "bad" scale of those nights. All night long, the views would bloat, then fade to empty fields. My secondary and eyepieces were hit bad. The combination of dew and masacara are a deadly combination.

But the night was still a lot of fun. In the background, there was plenty of chatter, and Kevin's selection of music, eclectic, ranging from beautiful flamenco guitar to lullabies in foreign languages, to old cowboy tunes from the American West. I think my favorites were The Streets of Laredo, Red River Valley, and Happy Trails, which I would have loved hearing as the last song of the night. It occurred to me how ingrained in me those songs of the old west were - back to my earliest childhood memories. But to my observing partner they were as foreign and new as most of the objects we were observing. I enjoyed the old songs, and new songs, along with the old views, and new views.

By the end of the night, we were picking out bright targets just for fun. M42, M37, M38, M36, M35, M46/47, The Eskimo (bloated and dulled by dew), a teasing taste of Thor's Helmet, then off to the Mexican Jumping Star in NGC 2362. The star would not jump much though... I think the telescope was frozen. W pointed low toward Canis Major, it just kept dropping down... unbalanced from the weight of the frozen ice sheet of dew on the shroud.

In the morning, I looked over at Marko's scope, and chuckled at the ring of obliterated footprints surrounding it, too many to count, marking his mostly circular travels during the night. A small distance walked, but such a great distance traveled.

Packing up my gear, I lazily daydreamed of a bigger scope, wondering just what I could might see. Its a fun dream. I dream it a lot.

It had been a very wet night. Yet even with the cold and dew, it was a fun. It was good to be out again, with friends, under the dark sky. Thanks Kevin, for the hospitality.

Here are our other observations from the night. Happy trails...

NGC514 Psc GX 4.2'x2.7' 12.2B 01 24 03 +12 55 03
12mm - amorphous, some central condensation, no detail. Large, dim.

N524 Psc GX 2.7' 11.3B 01 24 48 +09 32 00
Viewed NGC 524, along with NGC 518, NGC 516, NGC 509, NGC 532 and NGC 525 all in the same field. Most had to be teased out, due to conditions.

HCG5 Psc Hickson 0.9'x0.7' 14.9B 00 38 54 +07 03 46 NGC 190
Observed A, B and C components. Very surprising, conditions are apparently varying.

AGC 0076 Psc GX 28.0' 15.0 00 39 48 +06 46 00 IC 1565
Located very close to Hickson 5. Only picked up IC 1565 and IC 1566.

N486/90/92 Psc GX Trio 0.4' 15.5 01 22 06 +05 24 00
This trio was a very dim smudgy grouping that would not break into individual galaxies.

N48 Psc GX 1.4'x0.9' 14.4P 01 21 48 +05 15 00
Fighting very dewy conditions, picked up round glows of NGC 49, NGC 51, NGC 48 and IC 1534.

Arp157 Psc GX 4.5'x1.8' 12.2B 01 24 35 +03 47 00 NGC 0520
OK view. With 7mm a bright knot on the NNW end, with a spread appearance, almost fan-like, at the SSE end. Long and thin.

Arp227 Psc GX 7.0'x6.2' 12.4B 01 20 06 +03 25 00 NGC 0474
3 nice galaxies in a group. NGC 470 and NGC 474 very close together, with 470 appearing noticeably fainter. NGC 467 is the smallest of the three and about 10' E of 470.

NGC428 Cet GX 4.1'x3.1' 11.9B 01 12 55 +00 58 54
Entire galaxy appears chaotic. Large, with a N/S oval shape and fairly even brightness across surface.

HGC7 Cet GX 2.2'x0.8' 13.4B 00 39 13 +00 51 49 NGC 0192
Perhaps the most pleasing view of the night was teasing out this wonderful foursome of galaxies. This is a bright Hickson. NGC 201 is the largest of the group and stands alone, with the other three smaller galaxies grouped into a small tight arc.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Winter's Return to Willow Springs

Saturday conditions were not very promising, early in the day. Dark bottomed clouds filled the sky, with only occasional patches of blue showing through, and a chill was in the air. The forecast was for clear skies in the evening, and indeed, shortly after arriving at Willow Springs, blue sky began spreading and the clouds were dissipating as they moved southward.

The group this trip comprised of Steve Gottlieb, Greg LaFlamme, both whom preceded me in arriving, followed by Tony Hurtado, Richard Navarrete and Mark Johnston. Along with my 18" f/4.5 Dob, the others, in order were, 18", 22", 18", 18" and 18". Our host, Kevin Reitschel, hauled out Dobzilla, his 33.4" titan. As we all worked on collimating our scopes, the sun was setting through cloud banks in the west, spraying the sky with orange and gold rays. By the time it was dark, we had an almost entirely clear sky, and would enjoy a fine night of deep sky observing under almost ideal conditions, save for some diminished transparency, and temps that dropped into the mid 20's. We were all prepared for cold, and my fingertips were the only part of me to feel winter's return to Willow Springs.

I observed from about 6:30 p.m. until after 1 a.m., and woke in the morning to fresh crisp air, and sounds of horses in the field and birds warming themselves in the branches of nearby trees. The hillsides were were tinged red with thin cover... and I packed to leave, enjoying the stillness, sights and sounds, as the others awoke.

Soon, I was on my way, leaving Willow Springs to follow the winding two-lane J1, back toward a very different world.

This month I changed what is included in my observing list to add some interest for an observing friend - limiting it to 60 targets, varying from "eye candy" to my usual more challenging ones.

Here are the objects I observed from that list, with my unedited notes:

N559 Cas OC 4.4' 9.5 01 29 30 +63 18 00
20mm - rich but many dim stars. Brighter pair in cluster close together E/W with a nice dim chain arcing to the north. Pretty. Actually fairly large. Arc of stars trail off E end of cluster, which has a few dozen brighter stars overlaying numerous dim hazy stars.

N381 Cas OC 6.0' 9.3 01 08 18 +61 35 00
20mm - poor large cluster near two bright stars, brightest star is appox 18' E of cluster. Approximately 20 brighter stars overlaying many dimmer haze stars. Coarse.

N129 Cas OC 21' 6.5 00 29 54 +60 14 00
20mm - beautiful field - brightest star to S and pretty colored arc of stars to E leading to outlying bright star. Cluster comprised of about half dozen brighter stars overlying a V shaped wedge of dimmer stars opening from the south and expanding to the N. Entire cluster appears to have haze involved, which may be nebulosity.

N436 Cas OC 5.0' 8.8 01 15 30 +58 49 00
20mm - pretty and condensed. Brightest members form chains to W and N from center. Dimmer members of cluster extend widely N and S. Nice arced chain of stars 23' W.

N457 Cas OC 13.0' 6.4 01 19 06 +58 20 00
20mm - large rich cluster with 2 bright stars dominating SE edge. Chain of stars crosses cluster from SE to NW. Custer appears coarse initially, but is rich in dim stars. Extends 10' SE/NW and 24' SW/NE.

Abell 2 Cas PN 33"x29" 14.5 00 45 36 +57 57 24 PK 122-4.1 = PN G122.1-04.9
12mm NPB filter - small but obvious, nearly direct vision. Slightly elongated NE/SW, possible slightly annularity. 5mm hints at annularity, and stars embedded in N, W and S edges.

Sh 2-184 Cas BN 28.0'x21.0' 00 52 50 +56 36 37 N0281
20mm - no filter, nebula is visible easily, extending E and W of an easy double star… more obvious to the E and SE. Very large area of nebulosity. With Ulutrablock, nebulosity is very distinct and wide, extending most noticeably SE/NW, with extension also S to W along the southern edge. Other dim nebulosity throughout the region. Very rich nebula.

N185 Cas GX 11.9'x10.1' 10.1B 00 39 00 +48 20 00
12mm - large mostly elliptical, slight extension mostly E/W (slightly SW), dim extensions and gradually brightening, evenly, to a fairly bright non-stellar core. Approximately 11'x3.4'
N278 Cas GX 2.2'x2.2' 11.5B 00 52 06 +47 33 00
7mm - small and bright. Very bright small core with a dim stellar center. Possible arms curled tightly around core form a dimmer halo.

M32 And GX 8.8'x6.5' 9.0B 00 42 41 +41 51 00
7mm - large and bright, slightly extended E/W with a stellar core and tight torus also elongated E/W around the nucleus.

M110 And GX 21.9'x10.9' 8.9B 00 40 24 +41 41 00

12mm - spectacular, elongated NNW/SSE, lens shaped core mostly N/S, Fill half field or about 14'. Very underrated.
NGC206 And C+N 4.2x1.5 00 40 31 +40 44 22
12mm - could easily be mistaken for a dim galaxy overlaying the edge of M31. Elongated WSW/ENE and separated from M31 by a dark lane to the S. Very nice target.

N404 And GX 3.4'x3.4' 11.2B 01 09 24 +35 43 00
7mm - use high power get orange/gold Beta Andromodae out of field. Small tight core with dim stellar nucleus. Core diminishes rapidly in brightness to an even brightness out to edge. May have tight spirals.

HGC10 And Hickson 3.6'x1.3' 12.3V 01 26 21 +34 42 14 NGC 0536
7mm - all 4 visible. Three are easily there - NGC 536, NGC 529 and NGC 531. Eventually NGC 542 comes in and can be held. All appear elongated.

N407/10/14 Psc GX Trio 2.3'x0.6' 14.3P 01 11 00 +33 12 00

12mm - NCG 407 - small slash elongated N/S, NGC 410 - elliptical elongated SW/NE with bright core and even brightness in halo., largest and brightest of trio. Stellar core. NGC 414 - small round and very little halo around a stellar nucleus.

N392/94/97 Psc GX Trio 1.2'x1.0' 13.7B 01 08 24 +33 06 00
7mm - NGC 394 slight elongate mostly N/S with stellar core, NGC 392 - brightest of trio mostly round with tight core and bright stellar nucleus, NGC 397 - small and slightly elongated N/S with even brightness and no nucleus - dimmest of the trio.

N447/49/51 Psc GX Trio 2.8'x2.1' 14.0V 01 16 12 +33 06 00
7mm - NGC 447, NGC 449, NGC 451 - all three small, no detail, and dim. NGC 449 and NGC 451 are a challenge due to proximity of bright star nearby. NGC 447 is marked in error in The Sky (planetarium software) as having a very bright star nearby.

Arp331 Psc GX 1.4'x0.9' 12.8V 01 07 24 +32 24 00 NGC 0383
12mm - NGC 383 anchors a beautiful long string of 9 NGC galaxies in a chain. Arp 331 included (NGC 379).

M33 Tri GX 65.6'x38.0' 6.3B 01 33 54 +30 39 00
20mm - huge and bright, showing lots of detail. Bright core with a dim fuzzy nucleus, star overlaying core - core elongated mostly WSW/ENE. Core shows sweep of arms starting - nice! 2 giant arms sweep S and W, N and E. Large HII to the NE glaring. 2 other HII to the w of the core, another to the SW.

NGC315 Psc GX 3.2'x2.2' 12.2B 00 57 48 +30 21 09
12mm - 315 is very bright, elongated WSW/ESE with an elongated elliptical core and stellar nucleus, with dim extensions. NGC 311 is somewhat ESE/WNW, small and no definition. NGC 318 is dim, small, off star to its NW, Very small, nearly stellar, tiny dim stellar nucleus.

N311/15/18 Psc GX Trio 1.8'x0.8' 14.0B 00 57 48 +30 18 00
See above.

N252/58/60 And GX Trio 1.5'x1.0' 13.4P 00 48 00 +27 36 00
12mm - NGC 252 is pretty round with a dim stellar nucleus in a small round core surrounded by a dim halo. Brightest in group of 3. NGC 260 is quite dim, an indistinct haze slightly elongated N/S and about same size as NGC 252. NGC 258 required 7mm to confirm no find. Just beyond limit for night.

Arp282 And GX 2.6'x0.8' 13.2 00 36 52 +23 59 00 NGC 0169
7mm - interesting field due to two bright stars each with a pair of bright and dim galaxies off them. NGC 169 is obvious as a slash e/w with a tiny puff of IC1559 off its S edge. NGC 160 is larger, fatter, dimmer and SW/NE, with very occasional hint of UGC 354 to it NW. Fun field due to symmetry.

HCG8 And Hickson 0.5'x0.3' 15.2B 00 49 34 +23 34 42 MCG +04-03-008
7mm - amazingly, all 4 components came in! Several of us observed this group in our own telescopes.
NGC514 Psc GX 4.2'x2.7' 12.2B 01 24 03 +12 55 03
12mm - amorphous, some central condensation, no detail. Large, dim.