Never let it said that one can't "will" the skies clear. Despite awful weather forecasts and ever-present clouds throughout the day, Jim Ster and I were gifted with near-perfect conditions last night at BC. Jim decided to forego bringing his telescope given that skies were an unknown and that expediency was a concern, but he grabbed his EP case, hopped in my truck, and off we went. Following a brief stop at In-and-Out Burgers for what has to be the "gourmet" of fast-food, we arrived at BC around 6:30pm.
Technical data Date/Time: November 9, 2001, 6:30pm to 1am Location: ~35 miles west of Truckee near I-80 Temperature: Low 40's, no wind Elevation: 5200' Instrument: 12.5" dob with dsc's and 12x60 binoculars Oculars: 31, 17, 12, 9, 4.8 Naglers, 5x Powermate, 2x Barlow and Paracorr Seeing: varied from 6-9 Magnitude: 6.5+ Transparency: 8+
We started the night by using Polaris and alpha-CAS to align my new Sky Commander, then punched in M31 to test my alignment. Andromeda was huge. The dust lane stretched from one side of Jim's 31mm to the other. It was spectacular. Sometimes I forget what a giant object this galaxy really is. Later in the evening when it reached zenith, Andromeda was not only naked eye, but I could actually make out the elongated shape of the galaxy.
Next, we screwed the OIII filter into the 31mm to take a quick look at both portions of the Veil. The sheer beauty of this object never ceases to amaze me. I admit that I favor the western portion, commonly referred to as the "Witch's Broom" (NGC6290) over the "Waterfall" arc (NGC 6992-5) in the east. Cygni 52 blows me away every time I see it blazing through the ivory satin-ribbon nebulosity of the "broom"... clearly one of the prettiest sights in the sky. The Veil is always worth the time it takes to hunt it down.
We then moved to a planetary list which I downloaded from the web earlier, the "ARVAL Catalog of Bright Planetary Nebulas". Unfortunately this list was ordered in RA rather than constellation which made it somewhat awkward to use. I also had a copy of Steve Gottlieb's DeepMap 600 which I think is a far superior format.
The first planetary was M27, the Dumbell Nebula in Vulpecula. Using Jim's OIII filter in the 31mm again, the nebula showed large and bright, widening at each end and narrowing at the middle. It had a "fluffy", almost textured look. The central star may have been visible but I was so taken with the rest of the object that I forgot to look for it.
Onward to M57, the Ring Nebula in Lyra. A favorite object, we spent a lot of time here. The ring structure was clearly visible and observing the darker central core so readily, we were encouraged to boost magnification in hopes of catching a glimpse of the elusive mag 13.9 central star. At 330x, using the 4.8 Nagler, Jim thought he could just make it out. I wasn't so lucky. This was one of the few instances where I couldn't see anything. Usually my imagination can always eek out something, as Randy Muller will no doubt be happy to confirm :) Still, despite my failure at the central star, it's always fun to spend time with the Ring.
Next was the Blue Snowball, NGC7662 in Andromeda. Big n'bright, round n'blue, this is always a rewarding object and an easy target for the more novice planetary hunter. When I first started observing, this was the first object in which I could detect color. I remember marveling at how blue it was, and how pretty. I suspect that's why I now favor planetary nebula... different, interesting and colorful too. What else does a woman of fashion look for?
We then zoomed through several other PNs on the list, many to which I plan to return when my platform arrives and I can take a long leisurely look at high magnification. Most of these were at mag 10+ and needed higher magnification to really show. Among them were: NGC 1514 in Taurus, NGC 1501 and 3568 in Camelopardalis, NGC 6905 in DelFEEnus, NGC 7009 Saturn Nebula in Aquarius, NGC 7026, 7027, and 7008 in Cygnus.
Finally, we moved to the big gas giants which were beckoning from the east. The seeing was rock-solid at this time so we quickly boosted magnification to 500+. The views were incredible showing lots of detail and color in both Jupiter and Saturn. The Cassini division looked like a thick, black magic marker had been traced around the planet. On Jupiter, the red spot was clearly evident with burnt orange irregular streaks circling the planet. But what amazed me most was how steady and how clear the images were. I don't think I've seen them so crisp. Both Jim and I agonized over trying to keep Saturn in the EP at 1000x for a better look, but with little success. This is where tracking really pays off and the primary reason I'm itching for my platform to arrive.
By this time Orion was high in the sky and it was time to take my first look at M42. I wasn't disappointed. After a quick recollimation, we could each easily see 6 stars in the Trapezium. Both Jim and I thought we saw a 7th wink in and out, but I never got a solid enough look to be really sure.
We ended the evening sitting on the tailgate, munching on cookie wafers, and watching what appeared to be early Leonids drop out of the sickle. Jim counted upwards of 18 during the evening, some quite spectacular. If this was any indication of what we can expect next week, it promises to be quite a show.
We packed it in about 1am and headed down the hill. About 1/2 way home we saw the clouds rolling in and realized that in another hour the skies would be gone. Talk about good timing!
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