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Observation Report
Fiddletown, Saturday, April 21, 2001

First Light
by: Jane Smith

Saturday, April 21, 2001, dusk to 2:00am
12.5" Newtonian Reflector
Mostly clear sky with an occasional cloud passing by
Humidity: 96+% - extremely heavy dew
Sky quality: I'll leave this to one of the more experienced observers as I have yet to develop an ability to judge the quality of seeing, transparancy, etc.

I followed Randy Muller in to the Fiddletown observing site from the Pokerville Market in Plymouth. After setting up, Randy spend some time showing me the finer points of collimating a newtonian. It's amazing what one can learn by watching someone who really knows what they are doing. I actually think I am capable of doing a fair job now. Thank you Randy!

There were 6 of us: Allan, Randy, Steve G., Dennis Beckley, Ray Cash and myself. Shneor and Alvin apparently decided to check out a new sight about 35 miles south of Fiddletown, more than likely the Stockton club's observing site.

For the first several hours I acquainted myself with my new telescope, mostly looking at Alcor/Mizar, the famous double in Ursa Major, while I evaluated eyepieces and practiced applying what I saw on my charts to what I was seeing in the eyepiece. Once I had decided which EPs I liked best, I proceeded on to bagging my first Messier Object.

Since I was already in Ursa Major, I scanned Chart #2 in my Sky Chart 2000 to see what was around. I noticed that M108 and M97 were the general vicinity and decided that the Owl Nebula would be my first Messier Object. Surging ahead with confidence, I looked through the Quickfinder and aimed where I thought it would be. I had a Televue 32mm Plossl(50x) in the focuser which afforded me quite a large chunk of sky. I didn't hit it the first time, but after moving around a bit it popped into view, a big fuzzy circle. I wasn't entirely certain if I had actaully found the Owl Nebula so had Randy confirm it for me. Sure enough, I had found it. My confidence soared and I was immensely pleased. I was beginning to think this was going to be a sinch. HA HA, little did I know! I switched to a 10mm Radian for a closer look. After staring at it for several minutes I thought I could make out one of the eyes intermittently. I will try this one again when my eye becomes more trained. A quick note in my observing journal and I was off to Messier Object number two.

M108, Galaxy in Ursa Major, was fairly simple to locate as well. Had I had a 40mm eyepiece in I think I could have gotten both M97 and M108 in the same FOV. As it was, I had to look for it. This proved to be valuable lesson as I had not (and still have not)become accustommed to moving the telescope in such as way as to achieve the desired direction. I think this is partly because what I am observing in the EP is upside-down from what I'm seeing on the chart (yes?). Never-the-less, I finally found M108, a beautiful, elongated galaxy which appeared quite bright and edge-on. At this point Randy found it in his 18" as well, at 80x. We compared views and I marveled at the differenece another 5+ inches of glass can make. At one point I thought I saw a bright central core, but Randy said that it was a star in the foreground. A quick check in my Star Atlas Companion confirmed that he knew his stuff, that there is indeed a foreground star which is nearly centered on this galaxy.

I next scooted over to Canes Venatici to have a look at M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy. The prospect of seeing this very famous face-on galaxy was incredibly exciting as over the years I've seen literally hundreds of pictures of it. After a quick glance at the chart, I aimed MEL to where I thought it would be. Alas, after about a half hour of looking I still couldn't find it. Randy came over to offer some assistance at which point he discovered that my secondary had dewed up. Alan quickly offered his trusty blow-dryer and in no time at all I was off again in search of the elusive spiral. Alan finally had to bail me out at which point I realized that I had misjudged the distance in the sky from what I was seeing in the chart. I hope this tends to be only a "novice" error and that eventually I'll acquire a better sense of distance. Starhopping is not as easy as all the books I've read makes it sound! The Whirlpool Galaxy turned out to be everything I expected it to be. It was huge and bright and the spiral structure was clearly evident through the 10mm Radian. A beautiful object.

After this I was feeling quite brave, so decided to hop over to Hercules which had risen in the western sky, and have a look at this globular cluster I'd heard so much about, M13. I had at this point gained a healthy respect for the difficulty of judging distance from a chart, so took a much closer look at damp page. After orienting what I was seeing in the sky with what I was seeing on the chart, I decided on the place to look and pointed MEL. VOILA, I was right on the spot this time. The globular popped out instantly. I was AGOG... what an incredibly pretty object, all blue and soft looking through the 19mm Panoptic. I put in the 10mm Radian and the stars on the outer perimeter clearly resolved. It was huge and very bright and the prettiest thing I had seen all evening. No wonder everyone raves about M13. A definite MUST for the newbie.

By this time everyone was getting fed up with battling all the dew so we started packing up to go home. As I waited for Randy to finish so I could follow him out, I drifted over to Alan's beautiful 18" work of art to have a look. He quickly honed in on M57, the Ring Nebula in Lyra, and once again I marvelled at the difference a few extra inches in a mirror can make.

We pulled out about 2:40am and headed for home. On the way back to Davis I made one final observation.... the freeway sure looks funny without a bunch of cars on it :)

Here is a short list of things which I learned from my first long observing session with my new telescope:

  1. Never forget the bug spray.
  2. Lamminated sky charts don't get soggy.
  3. Never leave home without your blow dryer.
  4. Collimation is a lesson in humility.
  5. One never has too many pockets.
  6. A large bladder capacity comes in handy.
  7. Reading glasses ARE a major pain.
  8. A flashlight makes a handy necklace.
  9. Never under estimate the elusiveness of a stellar object.
  10. A pen will always roll off a table.
  11. Rummaging around in someone elses little black bag is more fun than Christmas.

Till next time....
Jane

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