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..

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