Tuesday night, February 27th, was an unexpected delight. I traveled up to Fiddletown to do some observing with Randy Muller and Jim Ster. I arrived at 6pm, met the new neighbor next door to the site, and got busy setting up my 17.5" Dob and 15x70 binoculars and bino mount. Since I decided to go at the last minute I forgot a few things, such as my observing list and step ladder. Thanks to the nice neighbor, who offered to let me borrow a step ladder, I was able to use my scope at the zenith. Thanks to my observing partners, Orion Deep Map and my digital setting circles, I still had a great night.
The observing site is at about 2500' elevation with and is fairly dark. There is a small light dome to the west. Seeing was good, with the sixth star in the Trapezium occasionally peeking out at me early in the evening. The seeing deteriorated for awhile but then improved again as the night progressed. There was a slight breeze that came and went as through the night. Temperatures were in the low 40's. The evening was dew free, unusual for late February.
I focused on the planets and some bright Messier objects as I waited for the moon to set. I also have a habit of looking for some fainter objects when the moon is out, just to kill time. Tonight I choose NGC891, a 10th magnitude galaxy in Andromeda, as my target. Although it was only 35 degrees from the 4.5 day old moon, it was beautiful, albeit faint. I decided not to look for the nearby quasar 3C66a.
Randy and Jim showed up a little after 8pm and the fun began. I enjoy observing with other dedicated tac-sac'ers because I always learn something. Randy showed me the the richly colored double, ES 2625 (aka HD 58712), which he "discovered" using his 10" Dob from his backyard in Roseville.
A little later Randy made a hoot and announced that he had found NGC2419 in his scope, aka the Intergalactic Wanderer or the Interloper, a globular cluster in Lynx which is the most distant globular cluster in our galaxy. It was an impressive sight, especially as I learned more about it. It is located about 300,000 light years away (considerably further than the Magellanic Clouds which are visible from the southern hemisphere) and is probably an intergalactic wander passing through our galaxy, hence the name. It is fairly bright, (mag. 10.4), and fairly large (4'). It contains no stars brighter than mag. 17, and cannot be resolved visually in amateur scopes. If it were the same distance from us as Omega Centauri it would almost be as bright as that huge cluster!
Jim was busy grinding through 3 pages of his Herschel 400 objects using his 12" LX-200. Among the many cool things Jim found was a wonderful little group of galaxies in Virgo. This galaxy field is between and around NGC 4261 and NGC 4281. It is located about one degree north west of M61. Although Jim said he could see three bright galaxies when he first looked at this group in his scope, I found a couple of more when I took a look at it in mine. Jim likened this group to M81/M82 in Ursa Major for sheer beauty.
This was the first chance I have had since I built my scope last summer to see the winter galaxies. I spent most of the evening swimming around the galaxies in Leo and Virgo. At one point I going to drown! There are so many of those pesky galaxies in these areas that it makes it hard to see anything else.
Later I pointed my scope at M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, in Ursa Major which showed lots of spiral structure as did M61 in Virgo. M64, the Blackeye Galaxy, in Coma Berenices, looked like a spiral pastry with a piece missing near the center.
At Randy's suggestion, I swung my scope back to Virgo and we ending the evening with a tour of Markarian's Chain. This awesome string of galaxies is located between M84 and M88. At one point in the tour we were able to count 9 galaxies in the field of view!
Although we all wanted to stay till dawn, we reluctantly packed up and left a little after 2am. Even though I felt a little sleep deprived on the following day, it was worth it. We had taken a chance on a clear Tuesday evening and won big time. It was a fabulous February night at Fiddletown.
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