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Observation Report
Fiddletown, Sunday, October 7, 2001

by: Jane Smith

Fiddletown, CA - Sunday, October 7th, 2001, 7:30-10PM
Approximate Elevation: ~4300 ft.
38.47840 N, 120.84479 W
Temperature: 59 degrees F, no appreciable wind
Skies: occasional clouds, seeing 7/10, transparency 8/10, mag. 6.3
Equipment: 12.5" Dob, 30mm WideScan, 19mm Panoptic, 10m Radian, 6mm Celestron Ultima, 2x Barlow


The night of October 7th didn't promise to be the best of nights as far as observing conditions go, but I decided to take a chance based on favorable sky reports from Wunderground, AccuWeather, and Starcast. All were reporting some degree of sky clarity, and anything was better than sitting at home. As Shneor says, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained". So I ventured.

The sky looked absolutely disgusting when we arrived, and it grew progressively worse as darkness approached. However, we maintained our optimism and hoped that things would improve. Art finally decided to give it up around 7pm and that cinched it. The sky instantly improved and grew steadily better. By 8pm we were looking at large swaths of clear sky at zenith, to the north and east. The south never did clear, but we were ecstatic at the prospects of some quality observing in other directions. The temperature was near perfect, sweater-weather for sure, and we didn't have to contend with critters jumping on our mirrors or in our vehicles.

Aside from the deer that Shneor "kissed" on the way in, we didn't see much in the way of any local fauna. We were visited briefly by one of the new residents, a large black Great Dane, but he maintained a safe distance, no doubt from past unfavorable responses from other amateur astronomers. I couldn't help but think that, had it not been for the sound of my munching on carrots and the smell of Bruce's chili, he would have lost interest entirely. There was no sign of the cat although I did hear something scratching on the outhouse later in the evening.

We began by congratulating ourselves for having the fortitude and optimism to show up, despite what appeared to many to be a "bust" night. After that we proceeded to the business at hand. Shneor and I spent some time looking at M31 while comparing our two 30mm WideScan eyepieces, purchased 1.5 years apart. There was no noticeable difference, but it was an interesting experiment just the same, and M31 looked magnificent with the dust lane clearly visible. M33 just made it in the FOV which is always fun. Next we compared my 6mm Celestron Ultima to his 7mm University Optics orthoscopic. This time there was a visible difference with the orthoscopic showing much more contrast than my C.U. If you can tolerate the narrower FOVs, these U.O. orthoscopics are great bargains at only $60 or so each. For those of you who like to go "faint fuzzy" hunting these EPs may be perfect for you.

The middle part of the evening was spent cruising from favorite to favorite: M13, M57, M13, <27, M92, M15, etc. I shadowed Shneor for a while, trotting to and from his scope to take a look, and then running back to mine to see if I could find what he'd been looking at. Most of it was easy stuff, but I did get to see the Helix for the first time. Shneor had it in his scope and called me over for a look. I was amazed how large it was, and was further shocked when I noticed that it was the 30mm WideScan that he had in the focuser. What a GIANT object. I found it in my 12.5" but without an O3 filter so I could make out very little if any structure. It looked like a huge, white, opaque, blob. But Shneor brought the OIII over and then detail popped out immediately. The darker inner portion was quite evident and I could easily make out the donut shape. I was even able to see darker and lighter shades in the nebulous portions. This is an object to WOW people with if nothing but for the sheer size of it.

Eventually Shneor announced that we only had an hour left so things quieted down quickly as we all went off to do our own thing. I decided to spend some time playing with high magnification. I haven't done much at high mag because it's too hard to keep things in the FOV without a platform (I certainly admire people who do this on a regular basis!), but I followed M92 around at 600x for a while and eventually grew weary of the chase. Besides, globulars are at their best when seen in their entirety. It was then off to another cloudless patch of sky. Given that zenith was clear, I ended up in Cygnus for the rest of the evening. I paid visits to a well-known troublemaker's favorite open clusters, M29 and M39. And if you don't mind my saying, for the life of me I don't see what this particular person who owns an 18" StarMaster finds so appealing about these two blobs of stars... oh well, different strokes for different folks ;) Following the clusters I went hunting for a small planetary that Bruce had shown us earlier in the evening, NGC7026. I think I found it. However, I didn't have my good chart with me so had difficulty confirming if I really found it or not. I'll come back to this another night. Then I cruised back and forth across the Milky Way enjoying the sheer beauty of the sky until it was time to catch up on my paperwork. I finished just as the moon peeked over the horizon. A quick breakdown and I was zooming for home and bed as UC doesn't recognize Columbus Day and I had to rollout at 6am.

All in all it was a great evening. And hearing the "coffee-grinder" sounds coming from Bruce's LX-200 reminded me of absent friends and made it seem like old times.

Jane Smith

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