The forecast for Monitor Pass at 9 a.m. Saturday was for clear skies, and according to Starcast, it would be in the "best viewing" area until at least 6 a.m. Sunday. I set off a bit before 3 p.m. Monitor Pass is about 150 miles from my home in Davis, California, but it took 2 hours and 40 minutes to get there, much of which on Highway 50 and 89 was as 40 mph. Monitor Pass is at an elevation of about 8,300 feet.
I was the second person to arrive at the site. There's an excellent South horizon, and very good horizons otherwise. There are some ridges that block out skyglow from South Lake Tahoe, and another that blocks out most of the skyglow from Carson Valley in Nevada. But it was disappointing to find scattered high clouds in the area.
By dusk, we had five telescopes, Gregg's 25", Bruce's 20", my 18", Rich's 9.25" SCT and Mike's 80mm refractor. We also had some local residents attending to enjoy the viewing.
The crescent moon provided some early views before dipping behing a ridge. The high clouds appeared to dissipate gradually, and in some areas of the sky the seeing was outstanding. However, although the air was still for the most part, it was obvious that there was significant turbulence above, as the stars twinkled. Transparency was excellent, for most of the night.
We enjoyed excellent early views of M51, which was impressive in Gregg's 25", especially at high power, low as it was in the sky. For the earlier part of the evening, we concentrated on showpiece objects: the Ring, the Swan, the Eagle, the Lagoon, the Trifid, the Dumbbell, the Crescent, M13, M92, M15, M2, M22, the Veil, NGC 6960, M81/82, and M31/32/110. etc., with views in all 3 dobs drawing exclamations of "wow!" "beautiful" from our guests. The viewing was generally very good.
Most of our guests left by 11:30 or so (as best I can recall), and we began moving to other objects. We noticed that no one was taking notes, and wished we had at least a tape recorder...
I decided to take advantage of the excellent Souther sky and began with NGC147, a pale more or less hand-shaped galaxy. I moved to NGC253, which showed incredidble detail including a couple of dust lanes, and also held up well at high power. (I finally decided to use my Paracorr, and kept my 13mm Nagler with it all night, giving 182x.) From there, just a short hop to NGC248, a grainy globular, then to NGC150. Though it was very low in the sky, I nevertheless obtained a very nice view of NGC55, pretty large and bright for an object just a few degrees above the horizon, but could not find NGC300. Moving to a different part of the sky, I observed M74, a great view showing the spiral arms, then M77.
In the meantime, of course, Gregg and Bruce were observing other DSOs (can't recall now which they were, but there were many), while Rich and Mike's telescopes concentrated mostly on Jupiter and Saturn (as best I recall). Naturally, we shared views throughout the night. The seeing, by the way, varied from excellent to mediocre. Though the temperature was in the low 30s and one or two telescopes or secondariues dewed up a bit, there was an occasional warm wind (at least 20, maybe even 30, degrees warmer) from the North, which caused very poor seeing when it hit. (M13 was naked-eye some of the time, though)
Looked at M57 again, boosted the power up to 430x or so, and Rich and I saw the central star pop in and out of visibility. Then turned to the cluster of galaxies in Perseus, about a degree East of Algol (NGC1275 is the brightest member) and saw a group of 7 galaxies. By this time Orion was pretty high up, so I looked at M42 with my 30mm Widescan II. Some of the nebulosity looked distinctly pinkish ("warm") in contrast to the green of the rest of the nebula. In Gregg's 25", the pinkish color mas more distinct. Checked out M76, got the dumbbell (hourglass, anyway) shape, looked very good at 182x with a filter.
By this time, the Big Dipper was up again, and I looked at the Owl (M97) and M108, but got a better view in Gregg's 25", as the Owl's "eyes" were quite clear with an Ultrablock filter. As it was 3:30 by now, I finally looked at Jupiter and Saturn. Saw 6, possibly 7, of Saturn's satellites, and some banding, but there was too much turbulence for detail. (BTW, some folks had been following the transit of one of Jupite's moons, and had been following the Great Red Spot all night.)
By now it was 4 and we were beat - so the three of us who were left sacked out. All in all, a darn good night.
I know I've left out quite a bit, the result of no notes and reliance on just one memory. Oh, well.
The site we were at is available only from July - September (maybe October if the snows hold off), but it's a great site.
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