Monday, August 5, 2013

Bright Night Targets at Houge Park

Last night I taught a beginner astronomy class for the SJAA at Houge Park. After the class, I went outside and joined the public star party, using my 10" f/5.7 Dob. The idea was to show some of the constellations I'd described in the class, and show a few of the objects within them. Hercules, Ophiuchus, Serpens Cauda and Sagittarius.Green laser to outline the constellations. The green laser worked wonderfullyfor that - the sky, with some significant moisture content (things were getting pretty dewy) was brighter than the really good nights at Houge - it was nearly impossible to see the Milky Way other than as an imagined brightening higher up, through Cygnus mostly. But the bright stars that make up our recognized constellation figures showed decently enough.

M11 - The Wild Duck Cluster

I had forgottenthat I also had listed a few items in the club's newsletter - and some of the attendees were coming up and asking to see them in the telescope.NGC 7662 - The Blue Snowball - forget it. Way to bright down low in Andromeda. M11 - The Wild Duck, in Scutum... well... where the heck was Scutum in that muck? I had to pull out a chart to guess at the approximate location - but fortunately I landed right on the target. Interesting, finding people saying they saw the object, after it had drifted out of the field! I made sure to call them back, and have a good look. It is really a nice sight, and showed decently in the less than ideal conditions.

I had described and shown photos and drawings during class of M8 and M22 in Sagittarius. M8 showed well with a UHC filter - the glow and bright knotted sections of nebulosity were obvious, and the associated open cluster adding to the aesthetic. M22 looked washed out. Kind of disappointing, but it was there, and that was about as good as it got.

Eta Cassiopeia
Globular Cluster M15
I took people on a tour of three double stars - which are easy on less-than-ideal nights. The obvious Albireo - bright and colorful. Then over to theEpsilon Lyrae, the Double Double - splitting nicely at high power. Everyone enjoyed that - and asked the usual question - "How many miles between them?" I dunno. A few arc-seconds? :-) Then I jumped over to Eta Cassiopeia, in order to show the copper penny. I love Eta Cass, what a great color.

There were long lines of people, and a good turnout of volunteers with telescopes. I am sure they were showing Saturn - even with it dropping down into the muck now. I finished up with a comparison of some globular clusters - M13, M92, and M15. Because of its highly condensed core of stars, M15 really showed the best. M13 and M92 required some "work" to see - and you certainly could resolve them, but I think it was too much for first timers to really "get it" when trying to see those dimly in the conditions. M15 on the other hand had that tight bright knot of deep core stars, and seemed to work well.

The one thing I would loved to have shown, but the conditions didn't allow, was the steam coming from the spout of the Teapot. I had describe that in class as well, but the real thing will have to wait for another night. So it goes, in amateur astronomy!

Sure had a fun time. Lots of interested beginners, and families with their kids.

Nights are getting longer, and weather is going to change. Get out and enjoy the sky, while you can.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Close Site And Short Nite (Only A Northern Sky)

When one is handed a lemon.....

Well, I had planned on a full three nights at CalStar this year, but circumstances dictated otherwise.  In retrospect, probably a good thing.  I'm not up to 110 degree heat, as a survivor of the infamous Shingletown Star Party bake-a-thon (is that place still there after the fires?) many of us recall.  So, on Saturday I looked at the options of closer (but brighter) observing sites, and eventually settled on joining the Santa Cruz Astronomy Club at Bonny Doon Airport in 40 minutes from my home south of Aptos.  It had been a nice day on the coast, with dinner on the Municipal Wharf,  followed by the quick drive past ocean and redwoods to the observing site.

Arriving at sunset, I found a few other observers present.  John Pierce, Ron Yelton, Bill Seiler, a newbie woman named Terri, and off in the dark distance... Dean.  I quickly removed my 18" Obsession from the back of the Fit, set it up on my Equatorial Platform, collimated, aligned finders, got my laptop and battery set up on a collapsible table... pork rinds and water in place, and before you could say "hey... there's the Milky Way", I was observing.

Bonny Doon is great for its convenience to those of us on the coast.  I had considered Coe, but it was twice the drive, and I thought the skies only marginally better.  I'd really be interested in determining a mag-limit difference between the places on average nights.  I do know that when the fog is in, over Santa Cruz, BD can be dark.  But last night there was significant glow to the south over Santa Cruz, and to the northeast over San Jose.  The Milky Way never showed the sugary granularity we so enjoy on the best nights.  But... 40 minute drive, wide open sky.... I'm not complaining.  In fact, thanks to the SCAC for making this available!

So, all that said, I will report that I observed until about 12:15 a.m., and concentrated on part of the 140+ targets I had identified for the three nights of CalStar (no, I didn't expect to observe them all).  I worked only a northern sky - curious what I could see from this location.  I was pleasantly surprised!

I had commented to Dean, who is traversing the Herschel 400-II, that my days (and I suspect his) of logging 50 objects a night, are done.  These tend to be tough, but doable, requiring exercising the eye and patience, and swapping eyepieces and filters.  My telescope is an 18" f/4.5 Obsession, I track using an Equatorial Platform.  Finders are a Rigel Quickfinder and ancient Celestron 10x70.  All filter views were using an NPB.  Eyepieces were all Nagler type II - 20mm/103x, 12mm/171x and 7mm/294x.  Total observing time was on the order of 3-1/2 hours.

When I was driving home afterward, the fog was coming in... and at 10 a.m. here, as I write this, it is still in.  Fog means, dark skies.

For those interested in Bonny Doon

Next month, on new moon, I plan on joining the SJAA at Coe, and help out at that club's Half Messier Marathon.  Sounds like fun. 

Here are the dozen targets I tracked down last night...

Abell 81 PK 117+18.1 = IC 1454 = PN G117.5+18.9    22 42 25.0    80 26 32    34"x31"    14.4    Cep
7mm NPB - Easily visible, annular with averted vision, thick ring elongated E/W.  Noticeable without a filter.


Abell 86 PK 118+8.2 = PN G118.7+08.2    00 01 31.2    70 42 29    70"        Cep
12mm NPB - Suspected large annular, or perhaps just a large part of the edge but not complete - mostly the thick western 2/3rds.  With time, haze shows.


NGC 7023    21h 01'    68° 00'    8        Cep
12mm NPB - Nebulosity most noticeable surrounding mag 7.3 SAO19158.  Surrounding area shows much dim nebulosity, and bright knot surrounding 3 dim stars about 34 arcminutes west of bright star.


 NGC 7129    21h 41'    65° 50    2    9.3    Cep      
7mm -NPB - Ended up looking at very nearby NGC 7133 - much more interesting. Containes three IC objects, and four distinct glows.  Three brightest are surrounding stars, fourth glow has a very dim star involved and is identified as LBN 497.  Very pleasing view.


S 170    23h 59'    64° 23    20        Cas      
12mm NPB - Nebulosity is involved dimly throughout region mostly involving three stars of nearly equal magnitude, and a fourth dimmer star much removed to the south, out of line in what otherwise would form a parallelogram.  The north eastern star is most involved, with the brightest and most extensive glow.


 Abell 6     PK 136+4.1 = PN G136.1+04.9    02 58 41.9    64 30     188"x174"    15    Cas
12mm NPB - Fairly large undifferentiated glow, very dim stars involved, and occasional knottiness.


Abell 3 PK 131+2.1 = Sh 2-189 = PN G131.5+02.6    02 12 06.6    64 09     60"    16    Cas
20mm NPB - Only suspected a glow.  12mm NPB glow appears to involve several dim stars, but no detail.  7mm NPB reveals the suspected glow as three dim stars, but these are involved in a half arc of nebulosity extending from those three stars to the west, then around to a one dim star to the south.  Appears planetary may be annular with a missing eastern edge.


Abell 75 PK 101+8.1 = NGC 7076 = PN G101.8+08.7    21 26 23.6    62 53     67"x47"    14.5    Cep
20mm NPB - Easily visible with averted vision as a mostly round glow.  With 7mm NPB, appears mostly round but eastern half is much brighter and more well defined.  Somewhat annular and with a thin but complete western "strand" that completes the disk.


NGC 7538    23h 12'    61° 13    7        Cep    Sh2-158  
7mm NPB - Nice glow around a pair of brighter stars, at first appears to just be localized to the stars, but with averted vision more and brighter nebulosity appears throught the region immediately to the NNE.  Suspected much larger plume to the E of the bright area and curving around to the S, as if mirroring the N but much more dimly.


NGC 7635    23h 18'    60° 55    8        Cas    sh2-162  
20mm NPB - Easily visible especially around SAO20575.  Extends noticably NE/SE across the bright star, and away to the SE in a large dim glow.  7mm defines area SE of brighter area as the Bubble, a fairly even mostly round glow somewhat elongated NE/SW, with several dim stars involved.  Mostly even brightness across Bubble, but with a less well defined ESE edge.


NGC 7380    22h 45'    57° 45    20    7.2    Cep      
20mm NPB - Nice open cluster with nebulosity.  Glow encompasses entire cluster, with nicely defined eastern edge, a line of stars running N/S.  A lesser chain defines the N edge of the nebulosity, which appears mostly triangular in its brightest section.  A dimmer section, also large, appears to be brokien off to the south, as if separated by a dark lane.  Nice object.


Abell 2 PK 122-4.1 = PN G122.1-04.9    00 45 36    57 57.    33"x29"    14.5    Cas
12MM NPB - Easy location and easy to see.  This small round glow is 7 arc minutes south of mag 8.3 SAO21680.  With 7mm and NPB, it appears at times annular and elongated slightly NE/SW.  This is a farily obvious Abell planetary.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Grand View of the Ancients

I'd been talking about a trip like this for maybe a dozen years.  Always put off by the distance.  Then a group of friends, led by Steve Gottlieb and Paul Alsing, decided to do it.  Paul has been numerous times, Steve, not since the 90's.  The destination, Grandview Campground at 8600 feet on the western flank of White Mountain.  Driving time estimated at 8 hours, but with stops and Yosemite traffic, closer to 9,

The weather forecasts were not very promising, and I was very reluctant.  But I had convinced my buddy Richard Navarrete that this was the best opportunity I could think of, to do it, and even with my thinking of backing out, he was in.  How could I not go?

So, at 10 a.m. on Wednesday August 15th, I found myself on the road, 18" scope, observing and camping gear, all packed into a little Honda Fit.  The drive was long, up till I got into the eastern reaches of Yosemite, heading for Tioga Pass.  Then the drive became pleasurable - with unmatched scenery - all the way to the campsite on White Mountain.

White Mountain is a great place to observe.  The fact that it had been a finalist for locating the Keck Telescope, and you know there is dark, and steady seeing.  And in addition, there lived up top, the oldest living things in North America - the Bristlecone Pine.  I had always wanted to see them.

So, soon I was unpacked, and camp set up.

At the end of this narrative, I'll list a few of the targets I observed through the telescope.  Ancient light.  But the weather indeed turned out to be pretty poor for observing, so that time was limited.  But, the trip was great anyway - the views of the ancients in the Patriarch Grove, and the scenery at 11,000 feet on the dirt road leading to it, was easily worth the 18 hours driving over three days and two sleepless nights.

Here are a few photos...

Upon arrival, I found this was indeed a very astronomy friendly campground!
  There was no problem with room for our campsites or astronomy gear.

We certainly had some memorable views. heading up to the Bristlecones

 This view is east into the Great Basin

This view is west, toward the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada

It is a moonscape at 11,000 feet.

But the trees, anywhere from 15 to 45 feet tall, and incredibly beautiful....
 Made every minute of the drive...

 ...worthwhile.  Never have I seen anything like it!

 Even the drive back home, along highway 395, was spectacular!

But we came for astronomy.  Here, to augment the views of the ancient trees, are reports of some ancient light I took in as well... all observations (raw notes) are using an 18" f/4.5 Dobsonian, all eyepieces are Naglers.  I had a great time, as limited as it was for observing.

Abell 68    Vul    PN    40"x37"    15.2    20 00 10    +21 42 58    PK 60-4.1 = PN G060.0-04.3  
7mm uhc-very slight glow, maybe only one edge away from dim chain of 4 stars, toward brighter one.  Very faint and intermittent.  With NPB, shows better and closer to brighter star, possibly annular with brighter edge toward bright star.

N 6852    Aql    Paul's Picks    28.0"    12.8P    20 00 39    +01 43 41    
Easy to locate, visible as hazy small smudge in 20mm.  7mm no filter reveals dim but certain disk, with hints of annularity.  With NBP filter annularity is striking.  Nebula is nearly round and situated between two very closeby stars.  Dimmer of two stars mauy be involved in very dim elongated extension of nebula.

Sh 2-099    Cyg    BN    5    3    20 00 50    +33 29 34        Problem locating on Megastar, shows Sh2-81.  Check it out!

N 6857    Cyg    EN    1.0x1.0        20 01 47    +33 31 38        With NPB and 7mm, planetary is very bright and obvious..Sh2-100 shows nicely without a filter and at lower power (20mm and 12mm).

NGC 6866    Cyg    OC    6    9    20 03 54    +44 00 00        20mm - scattered, broken cluster of several dozen stars, seemingly stretched in an elongated shape, but with a condensation in the middle.  Many nearly the same magnitude.  Takes up about 23 arc minutes by 5.

NGC 6882    Vul    OC        5.5    20 11 54    +26 33 00        20mm - combination of two clusters, 6822 and 6885.  Very large rich groups, with great magnitude reanges, and strewn over large area.  Overflows 20 Nagler field.

NGC 6885    Vul    OC    20    9.1    20 11 54    +26 29 00        20mm - combination of two clusters, 6822 and 6885.  Very large rich groups, with great magnitude ranges, and strewn over large area.  Overflows 20 Nagler field.

 N 6894    Cyg    PN    44"    12.5    20 16 23    +30 33 55        7mm and NPB, bright, ragged appearance, mostly round, brighter along inner edge of ring, and in two opposite sides.

Sh 2-104        BN    7    2    20 17 44    +36 44 40        20mm and NPB shows nice tight group of stars in Dolidze 5 along with lots of nebulosity surrounding the group, and spread throughout the area around brighter stars.  Worth a visit! IC4996?