Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Good Night For Winter

Getting out twice in a week, observing, is a rarity. Having had modest success at Dinosaur Point on Saturday night, when the weather forecast showed a good opportunity on Tuesday, four TACos jumped on it and met at Willow Springs. The rationale was simple. One, it could rain for the next two months. Two, the satellite imagery was favorable, even though skies at 3:30 p.m. were mucky and not encouraging. I had a running conversation with Richard Navarrete during the afternoon, and it came down to this simple statement: "I'd hate to go and get skunked, but I'd hate worse not going and hearing it was a good night".

Our arrival was after dark, but within 45 minutes, including some equipment repair (Richard's
equatorial platform battery was dead), we were underway.

I have to say, the drive to Willow in the dark is a different animal than I'm accustomed to dealing with. Driving south through Gilroy, then Hollister, is typical night "city" driving. But once I passed through the hamlet of Tres Pinos, it felt like I was on a road to nowhere. Twists, turns, occasional oncoming headlights... it was as if the road was a ribbon of safety and nothing else existed. I listened to an astronomy podcast about advanced civilizations, and learned about theorized Dyson Spheres, as I arrived.

Things worked out quite well. There was dewing, but it was minimal. The sky cleared, I was hearing SQM reading in the mid 21's. Decent transparency... not the best, but workable. I think the highlights of the night were seeing Greg LaFlamme again, before his departure to Arizona, enjoying some of Marko Johnston's humor, watching our host Kevin Ritschel buzz around toying with a 12" Synta driven Dob, and looking at views of some tough Hickson Clusters of Galaxies with Richard. Greg had one of the bet views of The Ghost Of Jupiter in his scope I've ever seen. I need more power! Also, and this is always one of the most mesmerizing things to look at when you get a great view, M51 was stunning. A view like that is what makes people look in wonder, realizing what they are seeing is real, and mindlessly far away, even though it is a "close" object. Mind numbing, mind expanding...

I suppose we were at it until about 2 a.m., when I laid down in my sleeping bag, and watched as,
"overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out."

In the morning, there were signs of dew...

and sights of transition between winter and spring...

We were all glad to have had the opportunity to observe, and enjoy each others comradarie and company.

A quick packing job and we were on our way...
back to the daily routine, and life on planet earth.

All above shots are done via iPhone. Wish I could say the same for those below!

Here are my observing notes...

Equipment was an 18" f/4.5 undriven Dobsonian, and three Nagler eyepieces, 20mm, 12mm and 7mm, Rigel Quickfinder, and The Sky planetarium software (as a chart). The only filter I used was an NPB.

N 2541 Lyn GX 6.3x3.2 11.8 08 14 40 +49 03 43
20mm 18" - large, elongated 4x2 NW/SE, no core, gradually brightening to the center.

Arp 6 GX 1.7'x1.5' 12.3 08 13 14 +45 59 00 NGC 2537
12mm 18" - small, mostly round with slight elongation NW/SE, bright, no discernible core, bright throughout. IC2233 in same field, with 7mm long dim slash 6x1 N/S with star embedded in N end.

N 2493 Lyn GX 1.9x1.9 12 08 00 23 +39 49 49
7mm - 18" - small, very bright core with stellar nucleus, dimmer outer halo extended 3x2 SW/NE. N2495 and CGCG 207-17 both visible to NE.

Arp 143 GX 1.2'x0.8' 13.2 07 46 53 +39 01 00 NGC 2444 and NGC 2445
7mm - 18" - almost identical galaxies, N/S, dim halos each with bright stellar cores. Galaxy to N is a bit brighter. Both small in angular size.

NGC 2419 Lyx GC 1.7 11.5 07 38 60 +38 53 00
7mm - 18" - mottled but bright globular, averted gives hints of resolution. This object is the farthest globular cluster from us, in our own galaxy.

N 2415 Lyn GX 0.9x0.9 12.4 07 36 56 +35 14 32
7mm 18" - small round galaxy with moderately bright core, no nucleus, dim halo.

N2373/75/79 Gem Trio 10.1 13.7:13.6:13.5 07 27 24 +33 48 00
7mm 18" - all three show with averted vision. Pair are mostly N/S, took work before they started to show.

N2385/88/89 Gem Trio 7.7 14.2:13.7:12.9 07 29 06 +33 48 00
20mm 18" - all three show up easily. 7mm shows all three have stellar nuclei, and appear elongated N/S.

NGC 2372 NGC 2371 Gem PN 47x43 9.5 07 25 36 +29 30 00
7mm 18" - nice bi-lobed proto-planetary with pinpoint progenitor star obvious. Both lobes bright, W lobe is brighter and more condensed, E lobe appears larger but dimmer. E lobe aslo has bright condensed center. Appears there is a larger dim oval envelope surrounding entire object. W lobe has a blue-green tint, without filters.

Arp 82 GX 2.5'x1.2' 12.8 08 11 13 +25 12 00 NGC 2535 NGC 2536
12mm 18" - dimmer member of pair is SE of larger and brighter one. Larger member appears elongated N/S, dimmer has tiny stellar core and is perhaps linear inside envelope.

NGC 2420 Gem OC 7 10.2 07 38 24 +21 34 00
12mm 18" - horseshoe of bright stars opening to W, with a tail of stars off the SE end of the closed part of the horseshoe. About 8 stars in the horseshoe, with 4 in the arced tail, opening to the W. Many dim stars fill in and through the brighter components. Very obvious cluster, elongated E/W. CGCG 1117-59 and 60 show up barely as dim elongated smudges with 7mm.

NGC 2392 Gem PN 47x43 9.35 07 29 12 +20 55 00
7mm 18" - bright pinpoint central star is surrounded by a very tight black ring, with a brightish second ring that is mottled and elongated slightly N/S. Outside is a large dimmer ring that is uneven in brightness, perhaps just some mottling. Good view. No color. Photo credit NASA

Arp 165 GX 1.8' 12.2 07 36 37 +17 53 00 NGC 2418
7mm 18'" - very small with a condensed core, stellar nucleus, elongation seems to vary with averted vision, NW/SE, but changes, so may be disrupted.

Abell 21 Gem PN 744"x509" 10.2 07 29 02 +13 15 13 PK 205+14.1 = PN G205.1+14.2 = YM 29 = Sh 2-274 = Medusa Nebula
20mm 18" - large, dim, using NPB filter. 12mm - elongated NNW/SSE and mottled, almost a dark ring inside the border, with an uneven edge to the entire outer area. Easy target. Photo credit NASA

N2510/11/13 CMi Trio 5.6 13.4:14.1:11.6 08 02 30 +09 24 00
7mm 18" - NGCs all show, although sky is not good in this direction. 2513 is faint but obvious, other pair are very faint indistinct small smudges.

All four of the next targets are unconfirmed, although the first is pretty assured. I include them only as impressions, what I felt I was catching glimpses of. The mind is a funny thing when looking for threshold targets.

Abell 24 CMi PN 265"x180" 13.9 07 51 37 +03 00 21 PK 217+14.1 = PN G217.1+14.7
12mm 18" - large, no filter, elongated N/S, central star dim but obvious, stars embedded throughout, but bright ones on S edge. Mottled, brighter eastern edge. Photo credit Martin Germano

Abell 22 CMi PN 105"x68" 07 36 07 +02 42 28 PK 215+11.1 = K 1-11 = PN G215.6+11.1
12mm 18" - NPB, large oval elongated NNE/SSW, very indistinct, perhaps a bit of brightening on NE and E edge. Hint of annularity. Photo credit Stathis Kafalis

Abell 20 CMi PN 65" 14.7 07 22 57 +01 45 37 PK 214+7.1 = PN G214.9+07.8
12mm 18" - NPB, medium sized and very dim, round with possible N/S slight elongation, even brightness across object, maybe central star with other stars involved on N and S edges - inside edges.
Photo credit Stathis Kafalis

Abell 25 Mon PN 150"x145" 08 06 46 -02 52 35 PK 224+15.1 = K 1-13 = PN G224.3+15.3
12mm 18" - NPB, elongated a bit N/S, even brightness across, central star, sharp edge especially along NE edge or along entire E side. Star is either central,or on N edge, hard to tell. Photo credit Stathis Kafalis

M048 HYD OC 54 5.5 08 13 48 -05 48 00 NGC 2548
20mm 18" - large, bright, coarse, dispersed. Lots of chains.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Starlight's Return

It has been a long winter, waiting for observing opportunities. I hear the word El Nino kicked around by locals, and for those of us who spend time hunting out ancient star light, that name is synonymous with "frustration". My last legitimate time out observing away from the limited magnitudes of city skies was November, but for other friends, September or longer. So, even though El Nino gave us what otherwise would have been "stay home" skies, the prospect of any sky at all resulted in a big turnout

The observing site was Dinosaur Point parking lot, a large paved parking lot used by boaters at the San Luis Reservoir along Highway 152, between Hollister and Los Banos. Special permission has been obtained by members of The Astronomy Connection (TAC) to use the site for astronomical observing, but requires advance notice, and no overnight camping. Of the closer sites to the San Francisco south bay, it is the darkest, but subject to wind and fog at times, due to the local geography. When its good, it is justifiably the best choice. And it is the easiest drive. The drive this time of year features green hills and fields full of brilliant wild mustard plants in vibrant yellow bloom. Worth the trip just for the drive, to break the cabin fever.

The night turned out to be short, and about an even mix of observing and socializing. I observed a handful of deep sky objects. There were a few remarkable views through other telescopes worth mentioning. The Orion Nebula in Greg LaFlamme's 22" Dob had subtle red and blue/green hues. Reds in the arms, and back around M43, the cooler tones in and around the Trapezium. Mars in Julien Lecomte's 12.5" Meade Lightbridge showed a brilliant sharp edged white polar cap, ruddy ochre tone with lots of dark markings mostly in the hemisphere opposite the white cap. Great view. Saturn in David Cooper's 6" AP refractor was stunning in its crisp detail, in spite of heavy dewing (later during the evening) creating a bright glow around the target. Those three views alone, along with seeing so many people out enjoying them self, were enough to make it a worthwhile evening. But I did some observing too (although not a lot). Photo credit

Here are my observing notes - short, as I was dodging clouds and fighting dew for most of the night. You can't always get what you want... but it was the first time out for 2010, so no complaints. I was back home by 12:30 a.m.

Arp 25 Cep
GX 2.8'x2.7' 11.4 07 27 13 +85 45 00 NGC 2276
12mm 18" - large and diffuse, almost lost in glow of bright star close by to west, but enough separation. No distinct detail, no nucleus, round.

Arp 114 Cep
GX 2.8'x2.0' 12.1 07 32 20 +85 42 00 NGC 2300
12mm 18" - shares field with N2300 much brighter and approximately 20' east. Bright core with pinpoint dim nucleus occupying most of the visual extent, with a dim thin halo surrounding the core. 7mm seems to extend outer halo giving appearance of extended face on spiral galaxy. Excellent deep field area for another night!

Arp 9 Cam
GX 3.0'x1.8' 11.9 08 14 59 +73 34 00 NGC 2523
7mm 18" - small core brighter than outer disc, hints at face on spiral. Occasional glimpses of pinpoint nucleus embedded. Outer halo dimmer than core, but distinct. Can hold with direct vision. Galaxy just kept asking for more power!

N 2366 Cam
GX+KNT 8.1x3.3 11.1 07 28 55 +69 12 57
12mm 18" - dim galaxy elongated mostly N/S, with N end very dim and bright knot tow S end. N end is diffuse and chaotic. Galaxy appears broken (void) between N and S ends. Bright knot is small and has a pinpoint nucleus. A dimmer knot is close by the N knot, to its SSW.

NGC 2403 Cam
GX 16.8x10 8.9 07 36 48 +65 36 00
7mm 18" - large and diffuse galaxy, chaotic. Distinct core seems featureless, but large, has star at SW edge. Arms seem to be knots, broken off from core, most distinct one is to the NE. Another knot to S with star embedded, another to N of core and closer. Dim diffuse arm seems to extend around and beyond N knot. Another dim knot seems to be to the N off of three stars extended W of galactic core. Nice galaxy! Drawing is from

N 2500 Lyn
GX 2.9x2.6 11.6 08 01 53 +50 44 15
12mm 18" - large, mostly round, slight N/S elongation. Featureless, but slight brightening toward center. Fairly low surface brightness.

Arp 165 Gem
GX 1.8' 12.2 07 36 37 +17 53 00 NGC 2418
7mm 18'" - very small with a condensed core, stellar nucleus, elongation seems to vary with averted vision, NW/SE but changes, so maybe disrupted.

NGC 2395 Gem
OC 12 9.4 07 27 12 +13 35 00
20mm 18" - large, scattered, 16 brighter members over many dim ones, elongated E/W and thicker in middle, forming almost a parallelogram..