I spent Sunday night up at Fiddletown with Ken and Katy Sablinsky, and Ray Cash who stayed over from the previous night. Sky conditions were variable; the dew was heavy and annoying but not as much of a nuisance as reported Saturday night. My books and cases got a little wet, but I never had to defog the secondary on my 12.5" f6 Astrosystems/Swayze dob.
At ~8:50 we watched a cool ISS/shuttle pass, from NW to SE and passing just to the SW of the zenith. Heavens-Above predicted it would reach around mag -1.5, but there was a bright specular reflection while near the zenith that I think pushed it briefly closer to -3. I was able to track it in my scope at 47x (40mm Konig), and clearly made out the uneven "H" profile of the station/shuttle combo. This was also visible (barely) in 9x63 binos. I think the bright reflection was coming off the shuttle, but couldn't be sure.
Sky conditions at end of twilight were poor, with high cirrus clouds and generally wet air, but this moved quickly out to the East as darkness deepened. I revisited some galaxies in Leo that I had glimpsed in the Short Tube 80 last month...in the 12.5" much more detail was visible even though I don't think transparency was quite as good. I concentrated on the brighter galaxies, getting a good look at the spiral arms in M65 and decent views of the arms of M96 and the barred "Theta" shape of M95. I also spent some time on the little trio around M105, which has become one of my favorite galaxy groups...the loose spiral shape of the smallest member was apparent at powers of 162x and 217x (12 and 9mm Naglers). The fainter galaxy group in the sickle of Leo, centered on NGC3190, also showed up nicely; at 217x the dark bar in 3190 and hints of spiral structure in the two fainter members were both apparent.
Between 11 and midnight the sky turned very poor as some more high altitude moisture moved in, lowering limiting magnitude to about 5 and practically raining dew. Ray packed up his CCD gear, to protect his delicate electronics from the insidious wetness and to save his energy for another try Monday night. Ken, who also made the trip mostly for imaging, soldiered on with his alignment, focusing and centering routines. I took a break to tease him a little about the time he spent with such chores, while munching a Pop Tart he had kindly provided. Our persistence was rewarded as the skies cleared again after midnight. I toured some bright favorites (Ms 5, 13, 81, 82, 101, 51, and the usual suspects) then turned toward Canes Venatici for some more exotic fare.
Over the past year I'd downloded some info on Arp galaxies from Jim Shields' website and elsewhere, and have been enjoying hunting them down. The brighter Arps tend to provide interesting viewing, a welcome departure from the plethora of similar elliptical galaxies that populate much of Virgo and elsewhere. A few of the most spectacular Arps reside in little Canes Venatici; M51 is certtainly the most famous. Another Arp object in CVn, NGC4631, is a huge and exciting edge on galaxy that revealed substantial internal dust, and a fatter, looser, less tapered shape than the "classic" edge ons (eg NGC4565 and 891). Its little companion galaxy was also apparent. At the edge of the same field in the 40mm Konig was NGC4656, the Hockey Stick Galaxy. If you're not familiar with this one, check it out in a 12" or larger scope....the moniker is right on the money and it's one of my favorites. There are many more interesting galaxies in CVn, which has to be one of the more underrated constellations for the deep sky observer.
Before surrenduring to Orpheus I turned my attention to Mars, which made a fairly poor showing low in the South at about 3AM. This morning Ken told me he'd stayed up to greet the dawn, had captured some nice images of M101, and that not only had it been darkest before the dawn (as often is the case) but that most of the dew had dried up as well.
If you'd like to check out Jim Shield's stuff on Arps (and much more excellent observing info!) click: http://redshift.home.pipeline.com/
Clear skies to all of you!
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