Band of Brothers

The Brothers Star Party normally takes place in September, after the more-famous Oregon Star Party but before the clouds of autumn close off the sky for those of us who spend our nighttime hours reaching into the Universe beyond our planet.  This year, however, OSP is later on the calendar in order to coincide with the August 21 solar eclipse, and Brothers was moved (perhaps not only for this reason) into the July new-Moon week.

BSP takes place just west of the “town” of Brothers, which is actually an unincorporated area with nearly zero population and very little activity, day or night. The star party is situated a couple of miles south of Highway 20, in a dusty high desert region near a prehistoric dry riverbed; whereas OSP is covered with rock, making it very difficult to anchor one’s ground cover, tents, or equipment, the BSP site is soft and covered with crumbled pumice. By my guess, it was probably 70% pumice and 30% dried jackrabbit shit.

I’d been able to pack better than I had for OSP the previous year, and managed to get both main scopes in the van in addition to my 70mm Pronto and a twin mattress. My plan was to spend the first two nights at Brothers using the 18″ to track down Hickson and Shakhbazian galaxy groups, various and assorted galaxy trios and flat galaxies, and a few very difficult globular star clusters. The third night was to be spent with my own 12.5″ scope, hunting down globulars and planetary nebulae; the final night was going to be reserved for the Pronto and my 11 x 80 binoculars, browsing the Milky Way and sweeping up dark and bright nebulae.

I arrived at the site on Thursday afternoon, having overshot the gate to the site and having had to turn around after (finally) programming my GPS to take me to the exact spot. The off-road driving was smooth and easy to drive on, until I hit the electric “fence” that crossed the road at a right-angle turn–I didn’t notice the single wire that crossed the road at windshield level, and had no idea what to do about it until the rancher whose property bordered the BSP site drove past and kindly let me through. He’d been wondering what the campers and tents at the site were doing there, and in exchange for an answer he showed me how to unhook the electric wire if I needed to leave or enter the site.

I was in a bit of a foul mood as I pulled up among the other four or five vehicles at the site, having wasted time trying to find the place (the star-party sign had been too small to see from the road, even though I’d been looking for it, and no-one had warned me about the electric fence). That mood simmered down after I found a space to park and began to unload my gear: 18″ scope, 12.5″ scope (Bob the Dob, now with functioning tracking platform), Pronto, and various and sundry other bits (table, chairs, book-and-small-gear trunk, etc.). This time, I’d set a tarp down tight on the ground to minimize the blowing of dust onto the scopes and gear; only a few patches of scrub-brush or sage resisted my efforts to make my personal site perfectly flat.

As it turned out, I had parked next to Thomas from Grant’s Pass, a member of my tribe from OSP 2016. Thomas had quite a camp: a pickup truck with cap (where he was sleeping); a trailer for his gear, which he had detached and left about eight feet behind the truck; a canopy bridging the space between truck and trailer; and a set of “solar panel” tarps/shades, each made of a multitude of silvery strands woven together, so that the wind could blow through them while reflecting away the Sun’s heat. Thomas recognized me right away, and came over to talk as I was finishing my setup.

To the other side of my van (the side where I’d set up) was a motor home owned by a fellow named Norman, and we sat in his shade for about an hour while waiting for the Sun to fade and the warm day to turn cooler. I’d be sleeping in the van, with a couple of tarps and a canopy Jerry had loaned me as shade.  Thursday was to be the coolest day of the four, but I’d slept in the van before at OSP and had survived the heat–I even had a comfortable mattress to sleep on this time. I had no trees for shade this time, though, and it would definitely make a difference.

 

IMG_2140

Half of a panorama of the Brothers site, facing east, with my van and Norman’s camper.

A number of the other attendees stopped by to check out my scopes as the sunset advanced: there was another Thomas there, an older gent with a long grey Dumbledorish beard (I recognized him from the BSP website, holding a sign displaying the site’s coordinates); his wife was there with him. There were also Robert and his wife; they and bearded Thomas and his wife were parked a little farther east at the site, and I’d passed them on the way in. There was another vehicle parked west of (Grant’s Pass/OSP) Thomas, but I didn’t meet its owner. Amusingly, there were as many Porta-Potties at the site as there were observers–we could each pretty much claim one for ourselves.

The sky was slightly cruddy with cirrus as it got dark; I rated the transparency at about a 4/10–a bit of a disappointment after a 3-1/2 hour drive, but I suspected successive nights would be progressively better. Two things were nonetheless already apparent as day faded into night: the BSP site was indeed extremely dark, and (as I’d already gone to my heavy winter coat) it was going to be very chilly at night here in the desert. I’d prepared for the cold and anticipated the darkness, having prepared an observing list designed to maximize the grey-zone (Bortle 2) skies.

I got to work quickly—unlike at OSP 2016, where it had taken a few hours to get moving. I had memorized the position of M9 earlier in the summer, having searched for it with Randy B at Eureka Ridge, and added this cluster to my usual retinue of falling-twilight objects: Jupiter, Saturn, M80 (usually my first deep-sky target in summer, given its high surface brightness), M4, M5, M13, M11, and M 10 and M12, the latter two of which I’d also memorized the positions of.  Sunset these nights had been approximately at 8:45, and by the time I’d worked through the list of twilight objects (hitting some of the bright summer nebulae—M8, M20, M17, M16, M57, M27, the Veil Nebula—along the way), it was usually dark enough to start on my observing plan.

I spent a chunk of each night letting others look through the 18″—it was the biggest mirror and tallest scope at the site the first night, although its aperture was superseded the second night. I’d just found Shakhbazian 16 in Draco–somewhat to my surprise–when bearded Thomas stopped by, so we compared notes on the group; by the time he came down from the ladder, he’d spotted one of the elusive six galaxies in Shk 16, although he acknowledged that his eyesight wasn’t what it had once been.

Shk 16 was the only target I recorded notes on the first night–as with OSP the year before, I ran out of steam a bit early, even though I stayed up until 3 AM in the 40˚ temps.

BROTHERS STAR PARTY

7/20-21/17

43˚ 47’ 55” N, 120˚ 39’ 0” W
MOON: 27 days (10% illumination); rose at 4:05 AM
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 5; Milky Way bright but lacking in detail
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.5
WEATHER CONDITIONS: 80s falling to low 40s; light dew late, air still

Others present: 8

Notes with EAS 18” f/5.5 Dob

11:46
Shakhbazian 16 (Dra): very faint—couple of very faint glows S and slightly P a 10th-mag star—picking up two fairly close together, one farther S—should be six, but only getting larger ones—trail away toward 14th-mag star to S—bright star is part of a triangle that extends not quite halfway across field to P and N side of field—now three glows visible—one between but F previous two—galaxies separable

By the time I crawled onto the mattress and closed up the van for the night, I was pretty damned cold. Even though I’d “prepared” for it, I hadn’t really—I’d spent more time planning my observing lists and packing telescope gear than I did warm clothes. I threw a couple of blankets on and slept in both of my jackets, adding my winter coat as a third blanket.

***

Day Two started about 7:30, when the van had warmed noticeably. I ditched the two jackets, checked my phone for the time—surprisingly, I got terrific reception and Internet there at the site; we discovered a batch of cell towers on a “nearby” mountain which were likely the reason for this. I then went back to sleep for a couple more hours until the van was hot, then rolled down the front windows and opened the back vents on the van, adding a breeze from my portable fan to circulate the air. I woke up with a low-level headache that stayed with me for much of the day, and I spent the day in the van, watching the strong breeze spin the scopes in slow circles, eating various dried meats and fruit, and generally living in a van down by the long-dry river.

 

If OSP has a classic revival-meeting atmosphere—complete with tents and speakers and events and raffles—BSP is more like a yoga retreat. There were no events, no formal organization; Pat, the organizer, stopped by at dusk to note that I was the only pre-registered attendee at the site, and wondered where the others were. The only event at BSP was observing. I spent less time socializing at BSP for some reason, although I spent a good chunk of the second evening over at Thomas’ camp, talking about work and travel.

As I was moving some of my gear around, to minimize the effects of both Sun and wind, I noticed a rather large moth anchored tightly to the tripod of my Pronto. As it didn’t fly away when I moved the tripod, I put the tripod in the van’s shade and left the moth to his/her own devices. I also chose not to set up Jerry’s canopy—the wind was gusting hard enough at times that I didn’t want to risk the canopy getting damaged. Had it been mine, I might’ve gone ahead, but I wasn’t going to have someone else’s property get exposed to the unfavorable elements if I could avoid it.

IMG_2142

Mothra, a two-day visitor to my Pronto tripod.

I noticed that the site had gotten more populous throughout the day—two more vehicles had pulled in to my east, and another two to my west. To the west were Warren and Rod; Warren was a fellow CloudyNights member, and came armed with a 12″ Zhumell dob, while Rod came to BSP in a motor home that probably cost as much as my house and was  observing with a gorgeous 20″ f/3 (or so; I never asked) Dob whose frame was made entirely of scarlet, silver, and gold hand-machined aluminum. Rod wanted a scope short enough that his wife could observe through it without needing a ladder when it was pointed at the zenith. It was one of the most beautiful telescopes I’ve ever seen.

(I should note that I generally feel about telescopes the way most people feel about sports cars; while cars do nothing for me, I find a gorgeous scope as drool-worthy as most guys would find [for example] an Aston Martin.)

To my east was Ted J, a Bay-area observer who usually observed at Pinnacles National Park in California; he’d come to BSP at the behest of a couple of other observers, Dave and Cal, who were parked just east of him. Ted had (IIRC) an 8″ Dob, and had included the star party as part of a trip north. He’d attended the Golden State Star Party the month before—I had intended to go to GSSP, but finances and time had made doing so a poor choice this year.  Ted and Warren would both stop by during the night, taking looks through the 12.5″ and 18″ scopes at various targets.

The second night was more productive, with better transparency. I even broke out the sketch kit to make a couple of sketches as a memorial to two of the more-exotic objects I swept up (having returned to Shk 16 specifically to get its appearance down on paper).

7/20-21/17

43˚ 47’ 55” N, 120˚ 39’ 0” W
MOON: 28 days (4% illumination); rose at 5:07 AM
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 6-7; haze kept low on horizon; Milky Way moderately detailed
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: upper 80s falling to mid 40s; light dew late, some breeze until midnight

Others present: 16 (inc. Thomas, Peggy, Thomas, Rod, Cal, Ted, Warren)

All notes with EAS 18” f/5.5 Dob

10:50
NGCs 5714, 5717, 5722 (Boo)—5714: very thin galaxy with two stars just N of it—elongated S slightly P-N slightly F—2.5’ x 0.25’—not much central brightening or nucleus—to N of 5714 and slightly F by 1’ is an 11th-mag star; due F that star by 0.5’ is a 13th-mag star—S slightly P galaxy by 3’ is another 13th-mag star—P and slightly N of galaxy by 3’ is another 13th-mag star—F 5714 and N a bit are two more galaxies—5722 is most distant from 5714—closer one [5717] is brighter—roundish—stellar nucleus—fairly obvious central brightening—elongated a little bit—0.75’ x 0.5’—elongated SP-NF but hard to tell—pretty faint—about 5’ from center of 5714—5722: F and very slightly S of 5717 by 3’—much more difficult—much smaller—obvious stellar nucleus—very compact—0.3’ round at best—poorly-defined—easy to see but hard to get a “fix” on—N slightly P of 5722 by 6’ is a pair of 13.5-mag stars; one closer to galaxy is a tiny bit fainter; stars separated by 0.4’—with 5714 centered, a 10th-mag star is 13’ S of galaxy—N of 5714 by 9’ is a 12th-mag star

11:19
NGCs 6120, 6119, 6122 (CrB)—6120: much the brightest of group—maybe 0.75’ tops—roundish—has a brighter central core but no real visible nucleus—NP by 2.5’ is 6119: most difficult of trio—no more than 0.3’ round—no central concentration but a very faint star (16th-mag?) in contact with it on SP edge—NF by 2’ is a 15th-mag star—SP 6120 is a pair of stars, brighter of which is due P the fainter; brighter is 2.25’ SP 6120 and is 11th-mag; fainter is F that one by 1’ and is 14th-mag—P and N of 6120 by 14’ is a 9th-mag star—F 6120 by 5’ is 6122: edge-on thin streak—elongated N very slightly P-S very slighty F—hint of a nucleus popping into view on occasion—1.0’ x 0.25’—2.25’ F and very slightly S is a 16th-mag star—threshold star due N of galaxy by 3’—field dominated by a number of bright stars (7th/8th-mags) P and N of galaxy group on edge of field

12:40
Hickson 82 (Her): not the most difficult of Hicksons I’ve seen—galaxies between two bright stars; star to SP of group is 7th-mag; other is NF galaxies and 9th-mag; two stars separated by 20’—two of galaxies about halfway between the two stars—P-most galaxy slightly brighter; NF that galaxy is third component; fourth component of group not seen at this magnification—galaxy to SF [6163] appears elongated P-F—has a brighter core—not more than 0.75’ x 0.4’—6161: slightly brighter than other two—separated from 6163 by 2.75’—brighter core—very slightly elongated SP-NF?—0.5’ x 0.25’—possible substellar nucleus—6161 best defined of group—6162: F and slightly N of 6163 by 1’—much more diffuse—not much concentration

1:04
Hickson 55 (Dra): spectacularly difficult!—group is elongated SP-NF—very difficult to tell—1.25’ long?—very faint—averted necessary to hold—0.125’ wide?—one distinct glow, no real separation—does look a bit brighter in middle as if brightest galaxy in middle—brief flash of separation on N end as if one galaxy separable—P group is a trio of stars in an isosceles triangle with two added fainter stars—SP star (farthest S of three) is brightest at 11th-mag; other two at 12th and 13th mags with dimmest in middle of triangle—long side of triangle is 9’—galaxies are 7’ NF that 11th-mag star—with 10mm Delos: hints of separation—tiny flash of stellar nucleus to one of galaxies, as faint as can get—SF group by 3’ is a 14th-mag star 

 

Hick55BSP

Hickson 55, as seen with the 18″ f/5.5 scope at 178x. All five galaxies are crunched together in that tiny, faint streak above center. Preceding side is indicated by the arrow.

Shakh16BSP

Shakhbazian 16, as seen with the 18″ f/5.5 scope at 178x. The three brightest galaxies are seen here; three more lie closer to the bright star and one more between the galaxy to the lower right and the star closest to it. Preceding side is indicated by the arrow.

The second night was slightly warmer than the first, but I was still thoroughly chilled by 3 AM when I crawled back into the van. It had been a great observing night quality-wise, if not as much quantity-wise. Hickson 55 had made the whole trip worth it, to say nothing of the other targets.

***

Day Three was more of the same, but even more so: windier, hotter, clearer. I awoke early to gusting winds, and as I’d intended to spend the evening using the 12.5″ scope, I took the 18″ down, stowing the truss poles under my observing table and the secondary cage on the passenger seat of the van. It had already lost a strip of the secondary-cage flocking, which had blown loose and folded up on itself, so it was better to break the whole thing down than to leave it exposed to the wind. I also noticed tiny footprints on much of my gear, perhaps from a chipmunk or something slightly larger. (I had heard little footsteps on my tarp the first night, although those sounded heavier than a mere chipmunk.)

I went back into the van—still surprisingly cool to stay in during the punishing days–and went through my copy of the interstellarum Deep-Sky Atlas (previously reviewed here) looking for globular clusters and planetary nebulae (and a few other objects) to comprise a list for the evening. Among them were AL3, a globular I’d never heard of, square in the Sagittarius Milky Way “steam”, Abell 39, a gorgeous round planetary in Hercules, Sharpless 2-71, an odd planetary in Aquila, and Hickson 86, a group of faint galaxies in extreme eastern Sagittarius. Thomas had given me a mirrored mylar tarp to use as a sun shield on the side of the van, and between the portable fan, the mylar tarp, and my still-cool supply of water, I wasn’t at all uncomfortable lying in the van under the blazing desert sun.

The wind grew particularly violent, waking me up from a quick doze. It took me several minutes to react after it died down; a quick look out the van window nearly made me ill.

Bob the Dob had blown off of its tracking platform and was lying on the ground beyond the edge of the tarp. I had wrapped the scope with an old duvet cover to keep it protected from the sun, but the cover had given it more surface for the wind to act against. Normally, I would pull the scope’s shroud down to let the wind pass through the truss poles, but the cover had made this a moot point, and the wind had simply tipped the whole assembly over. The tracking platform lay on the tarp, the moving top section tipped over onto the base.

A brief inspection relieved my concern over the condition of the 12.5″. The primary mirror was fine, despite the mirror cover having fallen off. The scope had landed on its Telrad finder, which was broken (a look would indicate that the reticle had been knocked loose and would possibly be repairable). I would find, when collimating the scope that evening, that the secondary mirror was loose on its rotational axis, and collimation would prove difficult—I had dealt with this problem before, and it was surmountable with patience.

I lifted the scope back into its rocker box, took off the duvet cover, lowered the shroud, and bungeed the scope to my trunk of books and tools in order to prevent it from moving too much. All that was left was to wait for dark to see if there was any unseen damage. My Milky Way browsing night with the Pronto might have come a night early. (Thomas would later tell me that a dust devil had come through; my site must’ve gotten the brunt of it.)

IMG_2146

Full twilight panorama of BSP, with Bob the Dob near center, Ted’s car to right, and Rod’s motor home to left. The Three Sisters mountains, still snow-covered, can just be seen in the far distance just to the right of the road.

As night encroached, I discovered the collimation issue (and that the primary was way off collimation-wise), and another I wouldn’t be able to diagnose: the dew heater for the secondary mirror was no longer working. Perhaps the battery had died, as I had left it on the entire day before, Given the knock the scope had taken, though, I suspect that there’s a more-serious problem with the heater. (I haven’t yet checked.)

Getting the secondary collimated was tricky, but it stayed well-collimated the whole night; in fact, some of the views that night were among the sharpest I’ve had through the scope. And the night was clearly shaping up to be stunning.

As twilight faded, Ted stopped by. We marveled at the clarity and three-dimensionality of the Milky Way, especially in the area around Cygnus; Le Gentil 3, the dark nebula “behind” Deneb, was Coal Sack-like, and the stars in Cygnus seemed to have a depth that I’d never seen before, as if their relative distances could be gauged simply with a naked-eye view. We took a long look at the Fetus Nebula, NGC 7008, which lay in the midst of LG3 and was superb even without a filter, then poked around the giant North America Nebula complex for a while before Ted went back to his scope and I started on my list.

Abell 39 was the first target, and was surprisingly easy with a UHC filter; it was better in the UHC than in the OIII, counter to expectations.

7/20-21/17

43˚ 47’ 55” N, 120˚ 39’ 0” W
MOON: 29 days (1% illumination); rose at 6:15 AM
SEEING: 8
TRANSPARENCY: 8; Milky Way bright and detailed into Ophiuchus; Cygnus Milky Way brilliant and 3-dimensional
SQM: not checked
NELM: 7+
WEATHER CONDITIONS: upper 80s falling to mid 40s; light dew late, some breeze until midnight

Others present: 16 (inc. Thomas, Peggy, Thomas, Rod, Cal, Ted, Warren)

All notes with 12.5” Dob (Bob the Dob)

One of my best-ever nights of observing in terms of production of difficult targets.

10:48
Abell 39 (Her): NF a large diamond of 8th and 9th-mag stars—UHC does better job on nebula than OIII?—nebula 2.5’ diameter—using 24mm SWA and UHC (best combination?)—pretty round—SF by 14’ is a 10th-mag star—hints of annularity in 14mm that vanish at 24mm—just a broad glow like Helix Neb in 24mm—no central star visible even at higher powers (didn’t see even w/o filter)—surprised that UHC better than OIII—on P edge may be a threshold star or stellaring—interesting field of stars of various brightnesses—to N of nebula is a pair that may be a wide-separated double of equal mags (edge of field, 30’ from nebula)—to NP and SF are faint (13th/14th-mags?) stars 6’ each from edge of nebula

11:18
NGC 6563 (Sgr): “Southern Ring Nebula”—very fine planetary—very low in sky—0.75’—round—annularity only suspected in 14mm—P nebula are two bright stars; one (8th-mag) 18’ due P; other brighter  (7th-mag) 15’ P slightly N—S of nebula by 13’ is another 8th-mag star—S slightly F nebula by 6’ is a faint double; hard to split, 11th and 12th mags—1.25’ NP from center of nebula is 11th-mag star—F nebula by 8’ is an 11th-mag star—in middle of diamond of 13th/14th-mag stars

NGC 6563 was a very difficult observation, with the scope pointed near the horizon and the observer not wanting to sit in the pumice-dirt; the southerly declination of the nebula required some awkward contortions of my neck and shoulders to look into the eyepiece while sitting on my chair (which was adjusted to its lowest position).

11:54
AL 3 (Sgr): didn’t even know about this one until earlier in the afternoon—much easier than expected—direct-vision object—N of an upside-down dipper-shaped asterism by 3.5’—globular may be granular; may also have field stars overlaying it—1.25’—small triangle of 14th/14.5-mag stars NF cluster—two 8th-mag stars form almost-equilateral triangle with cluster; F slightly N and SF cluster;  almost equidistant at 16’ from globular—globular at P point of triangle; opposite side to F side of field—several stars from 14th-mag and lower around S edge of cluster; including one star P and one F of cluster

12:05
NGCs 6440, 6445 (Sgr)—6440: SP 6445—in a line of four equally-bright (12.5-mag) stars—line extends NP-SF—star closest to globular a bit F of line—bright—pretty highly concentrated—core region 0.75’, whole globular 2.0’—CC 4?—10th mag—faint (15th-mag) star SP globular by 2’—2.25’ NP globular is one of 12.5-mag stars; NP that star by 5.5’ is another of the 12.5-mag stars; SF globular by 4.5’ is another of the 12.5-mag stars; SF that one by 3’ is last of those 12.5-mag stars—6445: N slightly F 6440 by 22’—even at low mag, not round—elongated NP-SF—has to NP tip by 0.5’ a 12.5-mag star—no central star visible—0.75’ x 0.5’—S very slightly F by 0.5’ from edge of planetary is a 13th-mag star—P slightly S by 2’ is a 14.5-mag star—planetary is therefore in long non-hypotenuse side of right triangle of stars—due F nebula by 5’ is a 8th-mag star that has a 14th-mag star due S by 0.75’—nebula certainly annular, but there may also be hints of “bridge” between two lobes—outer edges slightly fuzzy—N edge is brightest part of nebula

NGC 6440 has long had a peculiar significance to me; it was the object I observed during a moment of astronomical moksha—a moment when, with my 8″ scope back in Cincinnati, Pink Floyd’s “Coming Back to Life” had come on the radio and everything but the globular cluster had ceased to exist. It was almost a religious moment, a moment of transcendence that forged a bond between me and the Universe, in which I knew that the Universe had chosen me to observe it in depth. NGC 6440 is not a particularly impressive cluster, but it will always have that significance, a reminder of the spiritual experience that comes with making contact with the wider universe of which our planet has sprung.

12:30
NGC 6629 (Sgr): expecting something bigger?—nebula very small but pretty obviously not stellar, maybe 15”—well-defined central region in OIII—fringy outer region that’s quite small—no central star seen, but central area of nebula very bright—cool nebula—no color noted—without filter, nebula is easy once found with filter—NP a large diamond of 10th/11th/12th-mags—nebula NP 10th-mag star by 2’—NP nebula by 4’ is a 12th-mag star—due N of nebula by 8’ is a 8th-mag star—N slightly F nebula by 5’ is a 14th-mag star—P and slightly S of nebula by 12’ is an 11th-mag star

1:53
Hickson 86 (Sgr): not easy—galaxies P a triangle of 10th-12th-mag stars—wedge shape that points toward galaxies—to SP on edge of field is another triangle that’s very skinny and points toward galaxies, also of 10th/11th/12th-mags—a number of galaxies in field, some hovering around a 11th-mag star that is pointed to by triangle to SP; those galaxies are just F that star; N of that star by 5’ is the Hickson cluster—consists of a couple small contacting glows almost due N of that 11th-mag star—galaxies very ghostly; number of galaxies hard to tell as seeing varies—almost impossible to define any of these galaxies—“main” group or pair about 0.75’—P that group by 5’ is the brighter (12th-mag) of a double star; 14th-mag companion SP the brighter by 15”—galaxies visible but tough to discern any details

2:27
Sh 2-71 (Aql): TriAtlas and Sky Safari had incorrect position—nebula quite bright with an OIII filter—quite impressive—2.0’ x 1.0’ [elongation direction?]—central star fairly obvious even with filter—nebula is in a lopsided diamond of 8th to 11th-mag stars—brightest star in diamond is to S slightly P end—diamond 8’ major axis—nebula toward F end, nearer to stars in minor axis (minor axis 3’)—nebula is very diffuse—doesn’t have much definition or edges—interior brightening is irregular, especially on S side—nebula has uniform background haze and some internal mottling that’s brighter over top of haze—14’ SP is a 7th-mag star—nebula somewhat visible without filter; central star even more obvious

3:02
Abell 70 (Aql): very faint, round—OIII necessary to see it—not really picking up annularity—F the nebula by 3’ is a 12th-mag star—almost due P by 8’ is a 10th-mag star—NF by 6’ is a double star; brighter component (11th-mag) has a dimmer (14th-mag) NP by 0.5’—nebula has well-defined edges—0.75’ round—details not easy to winnow out—galaxy on N edge not visible—nebula visible without filter once located with OIII—no central star visible—maybe a star in contact on N edge but not galaxy?

By the time I finished observing this night—one of my best-ever in terms of quality of observations—I was elated. Despite the cold, despite not having had a decent amount of sleep over the past three days, I could’ve kept observing until dawn. I looked around the sky: not only were the Pleiades well-risen by this point, Venus looked like the light from an oncoming train, a painfully-brilliant silver-blue glare low in the northeast. The autumn sky, my favorite quarter of the night, had crept up on me; given the awful observing conditions that had dominated the past two autumns, this might be one of my best times to observe the Celestial Oceans (the water-themed constellations of the fall).

But Abell 70 had been a good target to end on. I had decided a bit earlier in the evening that I was going to make this my last night at Brothers for this year; the forecast for Sunday night was not promising, and my brain was pretty full after the past three nights.

***

I reluctantly packed up the next morning, but I wasn’t the only one—many (if not most) of the others were heading out as well, spurred by the poor forecast and the need to work Monday. (I was off for Monday anyway.) I said my goodbyes and exchanged media contacts with Thomas and Ted—Thomas cut the tag off one of his silvery canopy-shades so that I could look it up online; Ted and I had a light discussion of my Miskatonic University t-shirt and the Jack Chick parody that featured Cthulhu (“Who Will Be Eaten First?”).

Repacking the van went exactly as packing it had, with everything in its same place. My moth, which had disappeared for a day, had returned to its spot on the Pronto tripod, and needed to be shooed away. I was impressed by how easily my personal observing spot had disappeared, leaving not a trace except for some slightly-flattened scrub-plants. Having awakened at about 9 AM, I was on the road by 12.

Leaving behind the Brothers Star Party had a sense of finality. With being in Carbondale for the August new-Moon phase, it’s likely I won’t get any deep-sky observing in until September and—given the horrid weather conditions of Willamette Valley autumns, it’s possible that even September may be a wash. Should that be the case, I might not get to observe until April 2018, when the autumn/winter clouds finally break… in which case it will be a long, dreary hibernation from seeing into the Universe beyond us.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

One thought on “Band of Brothers

  1. Pingback: Van or Astro-Van? | The Unfrozen Caveman Astronomer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s