Van or Astro-Van?

Among all of the telescopes, eyepieces, star charts, chairs, portable power tanks, dew-prevention heaters, and other paraphernalia associated with an observing session, one item stands apart and is often taken for granted: a useful vehicle that can carry all of one’s stuff (and junk) to and from an observing site, often over rugged terrain and rough, unmaintained roads. No astronomy gear gets as much use outside of the hobby; nothing is as important to the overall American way of life as the independence brought by having reliable transportation.

And so it was that the news that the Caveman-Mobile was going to be totaled out after a minor fender-bender came as a huge disappointment. It wasn’t just that I could haul multiple scopes and other folderol to places that once would’ve been labelled “Here be tygers”; it was that I’ve come to be used to having the ability to travel at a moment’s notice. (Did you think we hunted mammoths on foot?)

The Moon-dark phase of July coincided with this unfortunate development. Mrs. Caveman and I had put more than a thousand miles on the CM during our geology trip around the state’s interior during the first week of the month; the CM went into the shop and was declared a loss on July 9th. Until that point, however, I put the poor vehicle through our usual round of dark-sky offroading.

I. When last I wrote, I noted that the summer provided me with a choice: continue working on spring Herschel galaxies despite their being in a highly-diminished state (due to being so far past the meridian); work on Herschel objects in the Milky Way (open and globular clusters, planetary and emission nebulae); or skip working on the Herschels for a while and trot out the 18″ EAS scope to explore more off-the-beaten-path objects. I spent the Moon-dark phase doing the latter two, and this first night of what would be a very long run was spent with the 18″ and a list I’d compiled from various Astronomical League lists, the Deep Sky Forum Object of the Week threads, and Alvin Huey’s wonderful observing guides (available here).

And yet I spent the night extremely frustrated. The 18″ is a fine scope, but it’s far less user-friendly than Bob the Dob, and it suffers from a poor mirror coating which leaves the mirror reflecting considerably less light than it should. While it’s nice to have the extra aperture and (supposedly) extra light grasp, I often found myself disappointed with the experience of using the scope. (In fairness, much of this wasn’t the scope’s fault but was mine.) It didn’t help that conditions were much softer than expected, or that there was considerable dew present.

7/6/18-7/7/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 24 days (36% illumination); rose at 1:40 AM
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6
SQM: 21.4
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; air still, considerable dew

Others present: RA, JA (John, RA’s father), SF, JO

Nonetheless, I stuck it out. From my list, I observed the NGC 5419 group, Hickson 72, the loose, faint globular cluster NGC 5466, and the super-thin flat galaxy UGC 9000; all of these targets were located in the rapidly-setting constellation of Boötes the Herdsman. Disappointed as I was, I took no notes during the session—of these targets, only NGC 5466  afforded a good-enough view to warrant committing to audio, and I had already recorded it in the 12.5″ way back at the Giant City State Park wildlife reclamation meadow in 2014. (That’s certainly no reason not to take notes again, of course.)

So I spent time wandering among many of the showpiece objects of the sky, sharing the views with the other observers (Jerry, Steve F [from my OSP tribe], Robert A and his father John) and reminding myself that the ten days ahead looked to be quite promising for observing. We went through the usual suspects: M80, M4, M9, M10, M12, M14, M51, M101, M13, M5, M15, The Veil/Lagoon/Trifid nebulae, the fine double star Alpha Herculis (which refused to focus sharply, despite collimation being pretty-well on target), and three visible planets—Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. (Mars looked surprisingly fine, given the scope’s optics, the planet’s low declination, and the dust storm engulfing the planet’s surface). And with the Moon about to rise, I remembered to swing over and pick up Comet Giacobini-Zinner, which presented a fine apparition.

It was an inauspicious beginning to what would prove an exceptional week-plus stretch of observing.

II. We reconvened the next night at Eagle’s Ridge, as the transparency and seeing forecasts were better than at Eureka. As it was a decent-sized group of observers, we parked and observed from the road junction rather than our usual spot on the spur road.  I chose to bring Bob the Dob this time, and my observing list included some actual Herschel objects (labeled below with an [H]) mixed with a number of non-Herschel targets, including several globular clusters I hadn’t yet observed (I’ve gotten almost all of those visible in a 12.5″ scope from mid-northern latitudes, and would gather several others during the course of this run.)

I took fewer notes during this run—certainly fewer than my epic swing through the Virgo Cluster the year before—and spent more time looking at the showpieces in between hunts for those objects I hadn’t seen. I felt less duty-bound to stick to my Herschel plan than usual, although I also spent several nights putting off wading into the ranks of the Herschel open clusters that spattered the arms of the galaxy with young stars. For many reasons, the open clusters held less appeal than the remainder of the objects. (How wrong I would of course be.)

7/7/18-7/8/18

EAGLE’S RIDGE
MOON: 25 days (26% illumination); rose at 2:10 AM
SEEING: 8
TRANSPARENCY: 8
SQM: 21.5
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; air still, minimal dew

Others present: JO, Bill M, Bob M, FS, AG

10:53
(H) NGC 6058 (Her): It’s still a bit twilighty or not totally dark, but I’m going to proceed anyway. This is a small round planetary nebula that presents an almost galaxy-like aspect; it’s about 0.3′ in diameter, with a small outer halo and a “core” region that encompasses the inner 2/3 of its diameter. This inner region is quite bright and makes it difficult to ascertain if there’s a central star visible. I suspect that the central star is visible and quite bright amid the brightness of the nebula’s interior. [For whatever reason, I appear to have not tried a UHC or O-III filter on the nebula.] The nebula lies in the middle of a ‘Y’ asterism whose stem stretches S and whose branches lead NF and NP the nebula; 5′ to the NP is a 9.5-magnitude star, 6′ to the NF is a 9th-magnitude star, and 3.5′ S of the nebula is an 11th-magnitude star. Other stars in the field include a 13th-magnitude star 2.5′ F very slightly S of the nebula, another 13th-magnitude star S very slightly F the nebula by 4′, an 11.5-magnitude star S very slightly P that previous star by 3′, and a 9.5-magnitude star 3.5′ S very slightly P the 11.5-magnitude star by 3.5′.

I also spent some time ferreting out Abell 39, the large, perfectly-round planetary in Hercules that I first observed at the Brothers Star Party a year before. I’d taken notes on it then (“Band of Brothers”), so I didn’t do it again this time; I should take notes on every object I observe regardless of whether or not I’ve seen them before, but I haven’t yet developed that discipline.

I also had Mrs. Caveman pick me up some black fabric to use as an observing hood, having used one at Jerry’s house to do some solar observing. It’s long been recommended to use the hood when observing extremely faint objects; it cuts out stray light and reflection from the ground enough to provide extra contrast in the eyepiece. For a number of objects during this run, it may have made the difference between seeing them and missing them entirely.

11:55
IC 1257 (Oph): This is one of the toughest globular clusters I’ve observed (and there would certainly be a few more before this dark run ended); it’s as or more difficult than some of the Palomars. This one is no more than 13th magnitude, and barely visible with direct vision even though I’m using an observing hood here. The cluster is no more than 0.75′ in diameter and nothing more than a small fuzzy glow; no resolution is possible and it’s too difficult to get an estimate of its concentration class. Yet it’s most definitely in the eyepiece! The cluster is 14′ N of an 8.5-magnitude star, and about halfway between (and a tiny bit N) of two 11.5-magnitude stars, one P and one F the cluster. It’s slightly closer to the star to the F side; it’s 6.5′ from the star to the P side and 6′ from the star to the F. The 11.5-magnitude star to the P side is at the center of a very tiny ‘y’ (lowercase) pattern; NF that star by 2.25′ is a 14th-magnitude star; there’s a 15th-magnitude star S slightly P the 11.5-magnitude star by 1′, and a 14th-mg star F the 11.5-magnitude star by 1.75′. S of the globular by 4′, and SF by 4.75′, are two 14th-magnitude stars; there are also 14th-magnitude stars NF and F slightly N of the cluster. The 8.5-magnitude star S of the cluster has an 11.5-magnitude star NP it by 3′ and an 11.5-magnitude star SF it by 6′.

12:48
Haute Provence 1 (Oph): not nearly as tough as IC 1257, but not at all easy; I can’t believe this one has been rated for 8-inch scopes in the iDSA. This globular shows as a weak, misty patch of light in both the 14mm ES and the 10mm Delos, even under the hood. It’s very slightly over 1.0′ in diameter, but too faint to try to get a Shapley-Sawyer class—I suspect this one to be on the low end of the scale, given its very even illumination. A 6′ long arc of three stars to the N of the cluster extends NP-SF; the brightest of these is 9.5-magnitude and is on the SF end of the arc, while the other two in the arc are of 11th-magnitude. A much smaller arc of three bends around the N end of the cluster; these are all 12th-magnitude. There’s also a line of three stars S of the cluster by 7′. F the cluster by 7′ is a 10th-magnitude star. An 8.5-magnitude star lies 17′ S slightly P the cluster, and a 9th-magnitude star is 3′ S of the 8.5-magnitude star.

1:12
Abell 43 (Oph): Staying under the observing hood here, given that it’s helped quite a bit with the past couple of objects. This planetary isn’t super easy, but I did manage to spot it without a filter when I swept the area. It’s only about 1.25′ diameter—not “huge” like Abell 39 was earlier. My O-III filter darkens the field and throws it out of focus so much as to be barely usable, but with the filter in the 14mm ES, I can hold the nebula steadily in direct vision. The filter makes the central star nearly invisible, although the star is roughly 11th-magnitude. Switching to 10mm Delos+filter, hints of annularity can be seen amid the roughly-circular halo. On the F edge of the nebula there appears to be a very very faint, threshold-level star that’s impossible to hold steadily (this was found without the filter and disappeared with the filter in; SkySafari lists the star as magnitude 13.3, but it seems much fainter than that). The nebula is between a 9th-magnitude star 3.75′ to the NP and an 11.5-magnitude star 3′ to the SF; there’s another 11.5-magnitude star SF that second star by 1.5′. These three stars form a triangle with a third vertex 11′ SP the 9th-magnitude star (the two stars to the SF of the nebula serve as one vertex). The edges of this triangle run NP the nebula to SP, NP to SF, and SP-SF the nebula; the nebula is along the NP-SF edge. N of the nebula by 2.5′ is a 12th-magnitude star. On the F edge of the field, 18′ from the nebula, is a pair/double of 10th-magnitude stars separated by 0.3′. N of the nebula by 20′ is the brightest star (8th-magnitude) in the field, which has a 10th-magnitude star 1.75′ S of it.

1:43
(H) NGC 6629 (Sgr): Quite a bit smaller than the other planetaries I’ve observed this evening; the O-III filter makes little difference other than to increase the contrast and annihilate the rest of the field. This nebula is only about 15″ across, with a brighter 9″ inner region. The central star is extremely faint with the filter and not much brighter without it; I have a very hard time holding it steady. S slightly F the nebula by 2′ is a 10th-magnitude star; due N of the nebula by 7′ is an 8th-magnitude star. There’s another 8th-magnitude star 20′ SF the nebula. 14′ SF the nebula is a 9th-magnitude star. 2.25′ N slightly P the nebula is an 11.5-magnitude star; there’s a 12.5-magnitude star 2′ NP the nebula that might be a close double.

III. The next night, we were out on the spur road, which branches northeast from the Eagle’s Ridge road junction. The Moon had yet to hit New, but we were already on our third night of observing for the cycle. I’d bought a couple of cans of fluorescent chartreuse spray paint with which to mark the potholes on Eagle’s Rest Road; some of these would be axle-breakers if they an unsuspecting driver hit them on the road, and I had made up my mind that none of us would be the victim. However, despite the promise of day-glo yellow, the paint showed up on the black road surface as a medium (and uselessly-dark) green. Best-laid plans and all that. I ended up using up one can of the paint (and a week’s supply of curse words) and taking the other back to Lowe’s, where I picked up a couple of cans of white spray paint designed for road surfaces and athletic fields; I have yet to have the opportunity to use them.

I’d left early to make sure I got the pothole-painting done with time to get to the top of the Ridge, and I ended up being the first one up by about fifteen minutes. There was a slight haze of forest-fire smoke visible low in the sky; we’d been lucky fire-wise so far this summer, and this was still only a minor issue compared to past years. Still, the SQM reading on the night was somewhat less impressive than usual for the spur.

There was also the matter of a traditional summer problem, one we hadn’t often had issue with observing here in Oregon: mosquitoes. This might have been the first time I felt compelled to go for the DEET at Eagle’s Ridge, but it didn’t take long to do so. The worst aspect of DEET is that it’s so destructive to plastic and optical coatings; it’s necessary to make sure one’s hands are free of the stuff when picking up gear, and even more necessary to avoid bumping DEET-covered skin into eyepiece lenses. I’ve read numerous reports about picaridin-based repellents and their being free of DEET’s many disadvantages, and I plan to invest in the stuff before our next outing. (The mosquitoes would be even worse at Champion Saddle a few nights later.)

A bigger problem reared its head as I was setting up. My Powertank, a 12-volt battery replete with charging and power outputs of various sorts, refused to turn on when I set up my dew-prevention rig. No amount of finagling would get it going. Without it, I’d be at the mercy of eyepiece-fogging and the threat of my secondary dewing over. Fortunately, Jerry happened to have a spare 12-volt that he was willing to let me use for the session. Even more fortunately, he’d worked on Powertanks before and knew how to fix them (if it was indeed fixable). He suggested checking it to make sure it had actually charged (and that the charger wasn’t dead), and then he would take it apart to see what the issue was.

We had with us both John (Robert’s dad), who was at Eureka Ridge the first night of the run, and Janet W, on her first observing session with us. Janet drove an electric Fiat 500 with a 90-mile range, but was worried about the last half-mile up to the Ridge and its effect on her battery (understandably so). So she parked at the beginning of the gravel stretch and got a ride from Jerry the rest of the way up the mountain.

One of my primary targets this night—missed the night before—was the globular cluster pair NGC 6558 and NGC 6569. I’d observed them numerous times before, often in the same eyepiece field, but I had somehow never taken notes on them. This was a mystery to me, because I (mistakenly) believed they were both Herschel objects. (As it turned out, only 6569 was a Herschel; in any case, they were globulars within range of my scope that I’d never done notes for.) I would again fail to get these two; they’re in the middle of Sagittarius’ “teapot spout,” and this part of the constellation only spends a short amount of time above the mountain ridge to the south of Eagle’s Ridge. By the time they cleared both the ridge and the couple of trees that just happened to be in my way this particular night, I was too preoccupied to swing back to pick them up.

My first target of the night was another that I was sure was a Herschel and turned out not to be. This too would be a continuing theme during the run.

7/8/18-7/9/18

EAGLE’S RIDGE SPUR ROAD (43° 48′ 17.9496” N, 122° 42′ 45.6912” W)
MOON: 26 days (16% illumination); rose at 2:45 AM
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.4
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: some smoke from forest fires; occasional hazy clouds low in E/SE; temps falling to mid 40s; air still, considerable dew (secondary dewed over completely)

Others present: JO, RA, JA (John, RA’s father), JW (Janet)

10:50
NGC 6210 (Her): I’ve observed this PN several times over the years, starting with my C-8 from my Cincinnati backyard, but only on that occasion did I take notes on it—I’m mystified why I haven’t seriously gotten to it before. It’s a decent-sized, very bright planetary, with a 20″ inner region and a few arcsec of “fringe” around it (for a total of about 26″). Without a filter, the nebula has a very pale bluish cast to it. The brightness of the inner region makes it difficult to pick out the central star, and I can’t say with certainty that I’m seeing it. 9′ SF the nebula is one of three 7th-magnitude stars in the vicinity; the other two are S very slightly P the nebula by 18′ and P slightly S of the nebula by 23′ (so just outside the P edge of the field with the nebula centered). NF to F very slightly N of the nebula is a small triangle consisting of a 9.5-magnitude star and two 12th-magnitude stars; the S-most 12th-magnitude star is the closest of the three to the nebula, at 2.5′ distance NF the nebula, while the 9.5-magnitude star is 4.75′ F somewhat N and the other 12th-magnitude star is about 6′ NF. The longest side of the triangle (with both 12th-magnitude stars) faces NP.

11:26
NGC 6240 (Oph): This odd little galaxy is also known as VV 617; it’s actually a merger of two galaxies, appearing as one object. A super-bright infrared source, this galaxy was featured on the Astronomy Picture of the Day site in June 2009 (https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap090618.html) and was the Object of the Week on the Deep Sky Forum for May 11, 2014. I first observed it and took notes on it in late June 2016. It’s a difficult but fairly obvious streak not really well-served by this aperture and magnification, but still well within the grasp of the 12.5″ scope. The galaxy is 1.0′ x 0.67′ (at its widest, e.g. the S end) and oriented S very slightly P-N very slightly F. Greg Crinklaw nicknamed this galaxy “The Rumpled Starfish,” but it doesn’t really give any but a vaguely-triangular shape. The halo is moderately-well defined, and there’s a slight bit of central brightening along its length. There’s no visible nucleus (not surprising, given the disruption occurring within the galaxy). Faint stars imeediately surround the galaxy: there’s a 14th-magnitude star to the N and a 14.5-magnitude star to the south, each 1.75′ from the galaxy; a 14th-magnitude star is also just outside the halo to the F side. 7′ due S of the galaxy is a 9.5-magnitude star, while a 10.5-magnitude star lies 10′ F the galaxy. SP that 10.5-magnitude star is a pair of stars, 11.5- and 12th-magnitude; the brighter of the two is S of the fainter by 1′. P and somewhat S of the galaxy by 6.5′ is the brightest (11.5-magnitude) vertex of a very small triangle; this is the closest of the vertices to the galaxy, with the other two (both 14th-magnitude) P and SP the 11.5-magnitude star.

12:21
Abell 55 (Aql): This quite-difficult planetary is completely invisible without a filter, and very faint even with my old Lumicon O-III. Jerry’s NPB filter does a much better job, revealing a 45″ x 30″ glow, elongated P-F. No central star is visible, and the nebula appears to have no real annularity to it, just a largely-even glow; the P side of the nebula seems slightly brighter than the F side [this is perhaps due to the two stars embedded in the P side of the nebula, which were not otherwise seen ]. A 10th-magnitude star lies 6′ S of the nebula. 9′ N v slightly F the nebula is a 10.5-magnitude star that has a 12th-magnitude star F slightly S of it by 3.25′. On the SF edge of the field is an 8th-magnitude star. Outide the field, 25′ P very slightly N of the nebula, is a 6th-magnitude star.

It was about this point that Jerry tracked down the asteroid 4/Vesta, which had just given a terrific apparition during its June opposition. Still slightly visible to the naked eye, the asteroid lurked near the globular cluster M9 in Ophiuchus, and presented an impressively-bright image in Jerry’s trackball scope. Not having seen many asteroids (of which I was aware, anyway), I made sure to get a good look at this one. Then it was back to the deep sky:

1:17
Palomar 10 (Sge): After years of talking about hunting this globular, and a few half-hearted attempts, my first serious attempt at Palomar 10 is a success. (I have to admit I was a bit surprised to see it; Jerry confirmed that it was there, however.) The cluster is difficult but definite, just on the line between direct vision and needing averted to catch it. Averted vision does considerably improve the view. It’s a very diffuse, misty 2′ glow, much too faint to derive any value for concentration class and otherwise devoid of any real detail in a crowded Milky Way field. On the cluster’s F edge is a 13.5-magnitude star. S of the cluster and running roughly P-F is a long train of stars: SF the cluster by 8.5′ is a 10.5-magnitude star; an 11th-magnitude star is 7.5′ S very slightly F the cluster; this 11th-mag star has a 13th-magnitude star SP it by 0.5′. Also in this train is a very small isosceles triangle, SP the cluster by 12′; the N-most vertex of the triangle is 10th-magnitude; P very slightly S of this 10th-magnitude is another of the same brightness, and from this second star 0.75′ S very slightly F is a 13th-magnitude star. Still in this train: SP the cluster by 5′ is the brightest (at 12th-magnitude) and S-most vertex of another long, thin triangle; the other two stars are 13.5-magnitude. The brightest star in the field is an 8th-magnitude star 17′ N of the cluster. There’s also a 9th-magnitude star 18′ N somewhat F the cluster.

I don’t recall why I stepped away from my scope; it might have been to check a chart, to put something on my observing table, or simply to stretch. In any event, I looked over toward the Scorpius/Ophiuchus/Sagittarius boundary region just in time to catch a spectacular meteor fireball streaking through that part of the sky, perfectly parallel with the mountain ridge to the south. Even though it lasted for several seconds, I didn’t have the brainpower to process what it was and shout an alert to my fellow observers before it disappeared. Having seen the great Leonid storm of 1998, I can still rank this as one of the best meteors I’ve ever seen.

But onward:

2:02
(H) NGC 6818 (Sgr): From a difficult object to a really easy one. The Little Gem Nebula was also a DSF Object of the Week (just this July 1st), and is another object I’d seen numerous times (usually in conjunction with observing Barnard’s Galaxy, NGC 6822, just to the S). Having returned Jerry’s NPB filter and still grumbling about my O-III, I’ve decided to use my UHC on this nebula instead. It doesn’t need much of a filter; it’s very bright and obvious, with a distinctive pale blue color. The nebula is 0.3′ and roundish; other, better observers have noted it to be slightly elongated, although the DSF thread notes that this might be more obvious in an O-III (which I’m not using). With the UHC, there’s not much change from the unfiltered view aside form an increase in contrast; there’s perhaps a bit of outer halo better visible in the filter than without, maybe a bit of irregularity in the overall surface brightness, and the F side might be a tiny bit brighter than the rest of the nebula with the filter. No annularity is visible in either view. The nebula is bounded to the NP, F, and SP sides by faint stars: 0.3′ NP is a 13.5-magnitude stars, and the other two stars are of 14th magnitude. SF the nebula is the brightest (9.5 magnitude) of a faint diamond of stars whose major axis is 2.5′ and whose minor axis is 1.75′; this 9.5-magnitude star is 9′ SF the nebula, and is the farthest of the four stars from the nebula. P the nebula by 15′ is the brightest star in the field, a 7.5-magnitude beacon. S of the nebula by 22′ is a 9th-magnitude star; also S of the nebula, by 16′, is a faint line of stars stretching roughly P-F; the star at the F end is the brightest of this group at 13th-magnitude; the other two are 13.5-magnitude, and all are spaced about 0.5′ apart.

2:45
Abell 65 (Sgr): Another DSF Object of the Week, this one from June 3rd. This one is quite low in the sky and pretty difficult; it’s not visible without the UHC filter. It’s a diffuse, almost featureless 3.0′ x 1.5′ glow, elongated NP-SF, with no central star visible. At each end of the major axis is a 13th-magnitude star. Two asterisms dominate the field: a miniature Big Dipper P the nebula and a capital ‘Y’ pattern F the nebula. The mini-Dipper consists of five stars (mostly 10th-magnitude), with the bowl of the Dipper closest to the nebula and pointing S; the Dipper’s handle arcs away N slightly P. A long trail of much fainter stars runs N-ward from the end of the Dipper’s handle, and this extends the length of the Dipper out to about 20′. P the star at the end of the handle by 6′ is a 9th-magnitude star. The ‘Y’ asterism is also made mostly of 10th/10.5-magnitude stars, although the star in the middle of the ‘Y’ is 11.5 magnitude. The ‘Y’ runs roughly parallel to the Dipper, with the stem pointing NP and the two forks facing S and SF. The brightest star in the field lies 17′ S slightly F the nebula, and is 9th magnitude; there’s an 8.5-magnitude star just outside the NF edge of the field (23′ from the nebula).

3:15
(H) NGC 6804 (Aql): This is quite an impressive planetary nebula, especially after several really faint objects. It actually looks a bit like a small spiral galaxy, in terms of brightness profile. It’s 1.0′ x 0.75′, elongated SP-NF, with well-defined edges. With the UHC filter, there looks to be a slightly-brighter inner rim inside the edge of the nebula’s smooth disk. There are several stars across the nebula’s face—at least three—and one of them is likely the central star, but it’s hard to tell and none looks perfectly centered. [A bright satellite cuts through the field here.] The brightest star amid the nebula is a 13-magnitude star on the NF edge of the disk. The nebula sits at the intersection of a ‘T’-shaped pattern (or the P-most edge of a triangle, if you prefer); 6′ SF is an 8.5-magnitude star, and this has another 8.5-mag star due N by 5′; this second star has a 10th-magnitude star to the NP side. 5′ NP the nebula is a 9th-magnitude star, while there’s a 9.5-magnitude star SP the nebula by 13′. The brightest star in the field is 7th magnitude and sits 11′ NF the nebula.

The mountainside gave us a short reprieve from the Moonrise, during which I caught my last two objects. Even with moonglow taking over the eastern sky, I’d managed an Abell planetary down low in the sky. Eventually, though, the Moon cleared the mountainside and the Milky Way began to lose its sharpness. With clear skies scheduled for the rest of the week, there was no regret in leaving after six hours, no worry that objects missed would have to wait until next year.

IV. The fourth night of the run found the Caveman-Mobile in the shop, and we’d already been given the bad news. Mrs. Caveman was rather despondent, as she had been looking forward to having the van paid off and being free of a car payment after November. It would all work to our benefit, of course, but at this point we didn’t yet know that; as it turned out, we were able to buy the van back with the understanding that it was considered salvage. This would give us an opportunity to get a new, smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicle for town driving while retaining the Caveman-Mobile for telescope hauling.

Without available wheels for the 9th, however, I hitched a ride with Dan B up to Eureka Ridge. Although Dan had plenty of room for another telescope in his truck, I took only my trusty old 11 x 80 Celestron binoculars, which I hadn’t used in years. The opportunity to work up and down the Milky Way with binos was one I’d been neglecting for a while; I’d planned to use them at Brothers in 2017, and got hooked instead on using the scopes I took with me. (I had used them at the Oregon Star Party in 2016, but only as a warm-up to a night with the 18″ scope.) Tonight, Dan had his 11″ SCT and Jerry (with Kathy and Dan R on board) would be bringing the 20″ TriDob, so I felt comfortable not bringing along a scope—a telescope also necessitates bringing along an eyepiece case, charts, a chair, a table, etc. etc. etc. Going light once in a while was a very good thing.

Tonight, it was a Very Good Thing. Although the Milky Way seemed to be “softer” and less-glittery than at Eagle’s Ridge (or even on other occasions at Eureka), the Milky Way’s dark dust clouds seemed to be a tangible entity of their own, one with more detail than I’d ever seen, even on superior nights. The Great Galactic Dark Horse in southern Ophiuchus wasn’t just something in pictures; it was actually something there in the sky in its entirety. Barnard’s ‘E’ in Aquila could be easily picked out as a small black spot near Tarazed (Gamma Aquilae), and Le Gentil 3 (near Deneb) was an inky, starless blot amid the dazzling Cygnus star-clouds. The Great Rift itself, stretching from Cygnus down into Ophiuchus, looked like the galaxy had been ripped asunder to reveal the blackest of voids beyond. Even the veins of darkness that led toward Antares from Ophiuchus, so striking in photographs, were faintly traceable on the sky and obvious in the binoculars. With the binoculars, too, dozens (if not more than a hundred) of other, smaller dark nebulae burst into view like hatching Cthulhu-spawn: The Snake Nebula, the Coalminer’s Lungs (in the Small Sagittarius Starcloud), those dark squiggles that wrap around the Scutum Starcloud… I lost track of them all, but swept back and forth throughout the Milky Way, oblivious to what the other observers were looking at. (I did eventually use the TriDob to explore the NGC 6723/Corona Australis region of light and dark nebulae, and for a peek at Minkowski’s Butterfly, a target on my own list.) It was as fulfilling a night as any with a full-fledged telescope, and one much-needed after spending the year tracking down smaller quarry.

7/9/18-7/10/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 27 days (8% illumination); rose at 1:40 AM
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.4
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; air still, considerable dew

Others present: JO, KO, Dan B, Dan R

V.  I had to have a break from observing at some point during the run, and others evidently felt the same way; we all stayed home the night of the 10th/11th. When we reconvened, it was at the Eagle’s Ridge spur road. I had both the Caveman-Mobile and considerable energy back, and Jerry would also have my Powertank back (having fixed the broken switch that had caused all of the problems).

I opened the night with Minkowski’s Butterfly, which we’d looked at during the last Eureka trip, but I also had an alarm set for the NGC 6558/6569 pair, to catch them at transit. I wasn’t going to miss them again. Many of my other targets ended up being open clusters, a class of object of which I’d only scratched the surface.

7/11/18-7/12/18

EAGLE’S RIDGE SPUR ROAD (43° 48′ 17.9496” N, 122° 42′ 45.6912” W)
MOON: New
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.6
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 40s; air still, moderate dew

Others present: JO

12:18
Minkowski 2-9 (Oph): This is Minkowski’s Butterfly, a tiny but obviously bilobed planetary; in the 14mm ES, it’s a very thin streak with a brighter middle (but no visible central star). The nebula is elongated N-S and is no larger than 0.3′ x 0.125′. Even using the 6mm Radian (262x, 0.2˚ TFOV) and the UHC doesn’t do much more than make the middle of the nebula (where the central star would be) seem a little bit wider and enhance the overall contrast. As with Palomar 10, I’m actually a little bit surprised the nebula is this… easy in the 12.5″ scope; we’d observed it the night before in the 20″ TriDob and it didn’t look that much more impressive than it does here. To the S slightly P the nebula is a 10.5-magnitude star that’s the N-most vertex of a small, thin parallelogram: S very slightly F that vertex by 0.67′ is a 13.5-magnitude star; SP the first star by 1.75′ is a 12th-magnitude star; S very slightly P this last star by 0.25′ is a 14th-magnitude star. NP the nebula by 8′ is an 11th-magnitude star. N of the nebula by 3.5′ is a 13.5-magnitude star, and there’s another 13.5-magnitude star SP the nebula by 2′. 2.75′ NP the nebula is a 15th-magnitude star, and N very very slightly P the nebula by 15′ is a 10th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is 10th magnitude and is P the nebula by 15′.

12:25
(-, H) NGCs 6558, 6569 (Sgr): These two globulars have somehow eluded my taking notes on them (and thus counting them as “seen,” despite my having observed them multiple times before) since I began the two AL Herschel lists four years ago. NGC 6558 is pretty unconcentrated, its central region not that much brighter than its halo; the overall brightness contour of the cluster is pretty smooth, and it doesn’t quite reach granularity. The cluster is about 1.5′, although it might be slightly elongated N-S (or there may be some cluster stars on the verge of resolution on those ends that make the cluster appear elongated). There are certainly several faint field stars (or cluster members) to the S, just on or slightly beyond the edge of the halo. The cluster itself is inside a small trapezoid of 13th-magnitude stars: one due P, one NF, one N, and one S slightly P the cluster. Due N of the cluster by 14′ is an 8th-magnitude star; with that star on the edge of the field, another 8th-magnitude star can be seen 23′ due S of the cluster (this star is beyond the edge of the field when the cluster is centered). 4′ NP the cluster is a pair of 11th-magnitude stars separated by 1′ and oriented NF-SP each other. NGC 6569 is just outside the edge of the 42˚ field with 6558 on the opposite (F) edge (so about 43′ from 6558). It’s considerably brighter, slightly larger, but only slightly more concentrated than 6558. As with its neighbor to the P side, it’s stubbornly unresolved, although it seems closer to being resolved than does 6558. The halo seems more “ragged” on the NF and slightly more extended toward the SF. One cluster star (could be a field star) lies F slightly S of center on the periphery. S and SF the cluster is a small triangle of brighter stars, including the brightest in the field (7.5 magnitude, S of the cluster by 8.5′); N slightly F that star by 4′ is a 10.5-magnitude star, and 5.25′ F very slightly N of the 7.5-magnitude star is an 11th-magnitude star. SF the cluster by 2.5′ is a 12th-magnitude star. SP the cluster by 1.5′ is a 12th-magnitude star, and further SP is an 8.5-magnitude star 17′ from the cluster.

12:45
(H) NGC 6568 (Sgr): This open cluster requires sitting on the ground to observe. It’s a pretty large cluster of about 60 stars, fairly detached from the Milky Way; there’s not much doubt that it’s a cohesive entity. The majority of the stars are in the 11th/12th-magnitude range, with some stars fainter but almost none brighter than that. The whole spans about 12′ x 8′, but the dominant feature of the cluster is an 8′ x 4′ ‘S’-shaped pattern at the N end of the cluster and oriented P-F. This ‘S’ is unmistakable once seen. The majority of the cluster’s faintest stars seem gathered along the middle of the ‘S’. There’s also a N-S running line of 12th/14th-magnitude stars on the P side of the cluster; this line is about 15′ long, and is separated from the cluster by an 18′ x 5′ strip of dark nebulosity that runs parallel to the line of stars. With the ‘S’ centered in the field, the brightest star in the field (6th-magnitude 14 Sgr) lies 21′ to the F slightly S edge of the field; this star is slightly yellowish and has a 12th-magnitude star P very very slightly N by 1.25′. N slightly F the ‘S’ by 20′ is an 8.5-magnitude star [at the moment, there’s also a very slowly moving satellite crossing the cluster from P to F]. Between the ‘S’ and 14 Sgr, 8.5′ from the center of the ‘S’ is a small knot of stars just on the edge of visibility with an unresolved appearance; this knot is 0.67′ in diameter and has several faint stars resolved in it.

1:13
(H) NGC 6604 (SerCau): Asterism? Cluster? It looks like the former, although it’s been proven to be the latter. This cluster is a grouping of 5 or 6 main stars no more than about 2.75′ across. The Milky Way is quite thick in this area, and the cluster isn’t that well detached from it. Also detracting from the cluster’s identity is the fact that the member stars are of quite mixed magnitudes: the brightest of the cluster’s stars is 8th magnitude; this star is flanked to the N very slightly F (by 0.67′) and the P very slightly N (by 1′) by two 9.5-magnitude stars; the star to the P very slightly N of the lucida has an 11th-magnitude star to the NP, and this 11th-magnitude star itself has a 12th-magnitude star to the NP by 0.25′. These five make up the main body of the cluster, although there is some unresolved starglow among the five that might be part of the cluster or could be general Milky Way glow. The cluster is bounded by two 8.5-magnitude stars: one to the NF by 12′ and one to the S v slightly P by 17′. 5′ S of the cluster and stretching 5′ to the SP is an arc of dark nebulosity that is quite opaque but best observed in averted vision. NP the cluster by 12′ is an interesting double star; the 9.5-magnitude primary is 9″ NP the 12th-magnitude secondary.

1:41
(H) NGC 6633 (Oph): Certainly one of the brighter open clusters I’m liable to run across doing the Herschel lists. This one counts perhaps a hundred stars in a 35′ circle; most of these are 7th/8th magnitude, although a number of scattered fainter stars in the field may also belong to the cluster. The main body of the cluster forms an Eiffel Tower-shape that stretches from the SP to the NF of the field. This Eiffel pattern has an “arm” of ten stars that arcs off from near the middle of the F side to the NF and then to the SF of the main pattern. A third portion of the cluster lies P very slightly S of the Eiffel pattern, containing 13 stars of which the brightest is 8th magnitude and lies in the NF of that separate clump; a line of five fainter stars trails from this clump toward the SP, giving this part of the cluster the appearance of a lacrosse stick (with the fainter stars being the handle and the brighter clump being the netting). In the central and northern parts of the cluster, along the Eiffel Tower, are two blobs of dark nebulosity: an 8′ x 4.5′ chunk toward the cluster’s middle, elongated SP-NF, and a larger, bowling pin shaped one (15′ x 5.75′ at widest, e.g. on the NF end) that runs parallel to the first. The larger of these dust blobs is not quite as opaque as the smaller. There’s also a separate chunk of dark nebulosity between the P edge of the Eiffel Tower and the “lacrosse stick”, most visible near the handle of the stick. There’s a 6th-magnitude star on the SF edge of the field that’s the brightest in the field, and there’s a double star on the F edge whose primary is NP the secondary by 20″ [magnitudes??].

1:58
(H) NGC 6645 (Sgr): This is a fantastic and underappreciated cluster! It’s immediately identifiable as a cluster, being pretty well detached from the surrounding Milky Way. The cluster is a large spray of stars, perhaps more than a hundred, most of them in the 11th/13th-magnitude range. The most obvious feature of the cluster is a circular void at its center, 3.5′ across, and ringed with a good number of 11th– and 12th-magnitude stars; the void itself is inside a “Hercules keystone”-type trapezoid of which all four corners are multiple stars: the star to the S is a triple; to the SF is a double; to the NF is a very unequal double (of a 13th-magnitude star and a threshold star); and to the NP is a dim double. There are also doubles on the P and F edges of the central void. The cluster branches N, SP, and NF from the void. The NF branch is dominated by a trio of brighter stars, but otherwise this branch is the weakest of the three; it terminates near an 8.5-magnitude star. The SP branch contains most of the stars and much of the unresolved background glow; it’s also the longest arm at 10′. The N branch is 5.5′ long. The whole cluster looks like a Greek letter lambda (λ), with the top of the letter being the SP arm, or perhaps a distorted mantel clock. Off to the NF end there is a large trapezoid of 7th/8th/10th-magnitude stars. N very slightly F the cluster by 19′ from the central void is the brightest star in the field, which is 7th magnitude and yellowish-white. Just on the F edge of the field (21′ from the cluster) is a 9th-magnitude star.

2:15
NGC 6649 (Sct): temps have definitely gotten cooler within the last half hour. This is a small compact cluster which I mistakenly thought to be a Herschel and had apparently thrown into my observing list under that mistaken assumption. Not a problem, though, as this is a very interesting little cluster. It’s a small (6′ x 5.5′) pentagon with 5′ extensions that stretch to the SF and SP; it looks for all the world like a starry, miniature state of Alaska. The cluster contains perhaps fifty stars and much unresolved starglow within the pentagon, and appears to be encircled by dark nebulosity given that there’s very little of note in the field beyond the cluster’s periphery (and we’re in Scutum, so the field should be very rich). The brightest star in the cluster is an 11th-magnitude star on the SP corner of the pentagon; the second-brightest is 12th magnitude and on the SF corner. Beyond the cluster, there’s an interesting double 17′ SP the cluster lucida; the 12th-magnitude secondary is 20″ P the 9th-magnitude primary. 20′ SF the cluster lucida is an 8.5-magnitude star.

VI. We were back at Eureka again the next night. Although the skies there are rarely as crisp as they are at Eagle’s Ridge (in part due to the latter’s higher elevation), the dew forecast at Eureka and the shorter drive had greater appeal than the more-difficult drive to Eagle’s Ridge. Having done the latter drive several times recently, it was no loss to avoid it this time.

And yet the skies were a bit murkier than the predicted forecast. It was hard not to second-guess the decision, although of the four of us present I think we all were leaning toward Eureka anyway. Amid the sky-haze, we did get a fine display of anti-crepuscular rays to start the evening off, and the conditions eventually ended up being pretty decent.

IMG_2984

IMG_2985

Anti-crepuscular rays, July 12th 2018. These rays are largely parallel but appear (due to linear perspective) to converge at the anti-solar point (the point opposite the Sun in the sky). These are rarer than crepuscular rays.

 

 

And so we “went to work.”

7/12/18-7/13/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: New
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6
SQM: 21.3
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; air still, considerable dew

Others present: JO, Dan B, Jeff P

11:02
NGC 6256 (Sco): It’s probably a bit too early in the evening for this one, as the sky isn’t 100% dark yet, but here we are. Another one of those unaccountably-missed NGC globulars I’ve been trying to catch up on. This one definitely doesn’t fit into JO’s “Big, Bold, Bright, & Beautiful” category—it’s quite difficult for an NGC globular, maybe among the top ten most difficult NGC globulars. It’s quite an odd one, too, elongated P-F, 1.75′ x 1.5′. There’s not even a hint of granularity possible, nor any particular central concentration to note (forget about getting a Shapley-Sawyer class!); it’s just an evenly-illuminated glow, somewhat akin to a Palomar cluster. The cluster is in the middle of the long side of a triangle of 12th-magnitude stars: one each 3.75′ from the N and S of the cluster, and one 4′ F very slightly N. P the cluster is a group of 12th/13th-magnitude stars, consisting of a small right triangle and a 7′-long N-S line of four stars. The hypotenuse of the right triangle is 3′ long and the triangle precedes the line of stars by 2.5-3′; triangle and line together look a bit like a miniature Coathanger. The right-angle vertex of the triangle is the farthest of the group from the cluster (10′ P slightly N). The brightest star in the field is 9th magnitude and is 19′ S of the cluster.

11:20
(H) NGC 6451 (Sco): The oddly-named Tom Thumb Cluster is pretty impressive, actually. Its basic pattern is diamond-shaped, with a 6′ major axis extending NP-SF and a 5′ minor axis running S very slightly P-N very slightly F. The majority of the stars and unresolved cluster glow run along the minor axis, especially from the star at the end of the minor axis S very slightly F to an 11th-magnitude star; the fainter stars and cluster glow run in a zig-zag between those two stars. The star at the SF end of the major axis is a very close double [details??]. NF the main body of the cluster is a group of four in a very tight triangle with an extra star SF the star at the S vertex. This is a very attractive cluster, quite well detached from the Milky Way, quite rich, with a magnitude range from 11th magnitude and fainter, down past the limit of resolution. The region around the cluster is somewhat barren of faint stars or Milky Way glow, with a few 11th-magnitude stars around but little else (certainly not much that’s fainter). 11′ S slightly P the cluster is either another cluster or a detached clump of Milky Way; it’s 2.5′ diameter and has a scatter of 13th/14th-magnitude stars over some unresolved background glow. A couple of more-obvious stars are on the P side of this clump and a few on the NF edge. SP this clump is a 7′-long line of seven stars ranging from 11th-14th magnitude and running NP-SF. A prominent double star lies just on the S edge of the field; this has a 7th-magnitude primary and a slightly-ornage 8.5-magnitude secondary S of the primary by 12″. This double star is the brightest star in the field.

11:43
(H) NGC 6624 (Sgr): Another globular that I missed during my survey, and a Herschel to boot. This cluster, unlike NGC 6256, is quite bright, reasonably large, and fairly concentrated—it’s not unlike a smaller, fainter M80. The cluster is 2.25′ diameter and perhaps a CC of 4. It has a small but bright core region, 0.5′ across, that isn’t resolved; and the halo is nicely granular. NGC 6624 is in the middle of a triangle of 11th/11.5-magnitude stars, the closest of which is due P the center of the cluster by 1.75′ (this star may actually be double). Another 11th-magnitude star is SP the cluster by 3.25′, and there’s an 11.5-magnitude star 2′ F very slightly S of the cluster. There are also two chains of stars that lead NF from the cluster: the first includes the cluster itself and has two 10th-magnitude stars in it (one 4.5′ NF the cluster and the other 3.25′ NF that star); 1.25′ N very slightly P the first of the 10th-magnitude stars is a 12.5-magnitude star. The other chain begins 7′ N slightly P the cluster, with a 10th-magnitude star; 2′ N very slightly F that star is an 11th-magnitude star, and N very slightly F that star by 5′ is another 11th-magnitude star which is 13′ N of the globular; this second 11th-magnitude star is also the brightest in a triple (or small group), with a 12.5-magnitude companion 0.3′ P very slightly N and a 13.5-magnitude star 0.67′ SF the 11th-magnitude star.

1:20
(H) NGC 6894 (Cyg): Having frittered away a long stretch unsuccessfully looking for the Sharpless nebulae in Sagitta (the TriAtlas has them in the wrong positions!), I’ve found this lovely and underappreciated planetary nebula quite easily. It’s very obvious even without a filter, a smoothish glow with hints of annularity but no central star visible. The N edge seems a bit brighter than the rest. The nebula is 0.75′ in diameter with the O-III filter in, and the filter really makes it pop, heightening the sense of annularity and making the edge of the nebula seem distinctly brighter than the interior. The nebula sits in the middle of a ‘Y’-shaped pattern of brightish stars with one due N, one to the SF, and a small triangle to the P somewhat S: the star to the N is 9th magnitude and 7.5′ from the nebula, the star to the SF is 10th magnitude and 6′ from the nebula. The small triangle that makes up the other point in the ‘Y’ consists of a 9.5-magnitude star 7.5′ SP the nebula, which is the closest to the nebula and the F-most vertex of the triangle); the other two vertices are a 9.5-magnitude star 2′ N slightly P the first 9.5-mag star and a 12th-magnitude star 3′ due P the first 9.5-magnitude star. There’s also a wedge- or ‘V’-pattern of five stars N slightly P the nebula; the brightest star in this smaller pattern is at the joint of the ‘V’ and is 14′ N slightly P the nebula. The ‘V’ points toward the P edge of the field, and its sides (angled SP-NF and N-S) are both 2.5′ long. Two 8th-magnitude stars are tied for brightest in field: one SF the nebula by 21′ and the other P very slightly N of the nebula by 17′.

VII. Friday night (the 13th, naturally) found us doing an outreach gig just outside Springfield, Eugene’s “twin city.” This took place at the Dorris Ranch, a historical site and nature park that’s on the National Register of Historic Places. We had done public star parties there the last several years; even Mrs. Caveman had been involved with these in the past, but she was too worn out from work to be goaded into it this year.

The star party went well—there were perhaps forty attendees and a half-dozen or so telescopes. Being just outside of the city, the skies weren’t very good, but they were enough to show the planets and a few of the showpiece summer objects (M13, M11, M57, M27, etc.). Driving home, though, I ended up on the wrong end of a police car’s flashers.

“Evening, sir. Have you been drinking?”

“No, officer–just doing astronomy.”

“Astronomy. That’s a new one.”

I thought I was toast. As it turned out, astronomy must’ve been a decent-enough excuse, as he handed me back my license and insurance card and drove off without waiting for me to go (I assume “late Friday night” + “not knowing where I was going” must’ve seemed a bit suspicious to start, but not very serious.)

I’d been waiting for Saturday night for a while—we had been planning an excursion to Champion Saddle, the club’s third, darkest, and most-distant observing site, for a few weeks. Mrs. Caveman and I had stumbled across the site early in our tenure in Oregon, but that was by day; I’d never been there at night. I planned and packed for this excursion as if it was the Oregon Star Party itself, despite it being a one-night session.

The first mistake I made was being too amped up for it. As with OSP and Brothers, I was building up an expectation that would somehow have to be a letdown; without enough sleep (mistake number two), the adrenaline crash of driving to such a dark site would mean getting tired really fast. And this is, of course, what happened.

Mistake number three was bringing the 18″ scope and not the workhorse Bob the Dob. The clunkier scope, much harder to wheel around and view through, proved to be too much for a tired caveman to work with, especially given the ridiculously-faint targets that I’d filled my evening’s observing list with (mistake number four). Many of the objects were flat galaxies, Arp peculiar galaxies, Palomar and Terzan globulars, and the like—a list designed for large apertures and dark skies.

We arrived just at sunset, having stopped in the nearest small town (Dorena) to visit a friend of Jerry’s who was offering his yard up as a potential observing site. The mosquitoes were a problem from the moment we got out of our vehicles; the sound of buzzing—sometimes in harmonic fifths—is pervasive throughout the one recording I made. So DEET it was.

 

IMG_2989

Panorama from Champion Saddle, complete with astronomers taking panoramas of Champion Saddle.

The horizons at Champion Saddle were better than at Eagle’s Ridge, although the east and north/northwest were compromised by mountains. Yet as the sky began to darken, it was clear that this was an epic observing site, and should have been an epic observing session. The Milky Way became not just visible quickly, but detailed; stars almost seemed to turn on rather than gradually appear.

But I was tired already. Coming at the end of a long stretch of observing nights, and requiring a lot more concentration on the long, twisty drive out, the experience of preparing and getting here was already a bit too much. By midnight, I had struck out on almost all of the targets on my list that were post-meridian, and I was starting to lose parts of the Milky Way to the horizon as well. (I think the exception was UGC 9780, a flat galaxy in Boötes, although I didn’t take notes on it.) It was probably a good thing I was set up at the far end of the group, as I was grumbling and swearing enough to harsh the entire group’s mellow. (Shades of the run’s first night, at Eureka, with the 18″ scope.)

7/14/18-7/15/18

CHAMPION SADDLE (N43° 34.714, W 122° 38.026)
MOON: 2 days (4% illumination); set at 10:23 PM
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.7
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 60s; air still, no dew; vicious mosquitoes

Others present: JO, RA, AG

Observation : 18″ f/5.5 Dobsonian, 14mm ES 82˚ and 10mm Delos eyepieces (178x, 0.5˚ TFOV; 250x, 0.3˚ TFOV)

I stopped what I was doing, settling onto my chair and taking a few minutes to stare at the Milky Way. Although the dark nebulae weren’t as spectacular as on that night at Eureka—the Dark Horse was still visible, but not quite as clearly here—the glimmer of countless stars along the Milky Way itself was simply breathtaking. It didn’t look real. Star clouds could’ve been real clouds, as tangible and close as they looked. I felt a shiver of awe. Not even OSP or Brothers had skies like this. With the exception of a light dome to the north-northwest, the sky looked the way it might’ve looked when my Australopithicene brethren stalked the East African Rift Valley. The visible planets shone with a cold, unflinching light, clearly foreground objects set against the stage tapestry of the galaxy’s spiral arms.

This momentary reset helped me to settle down, and I searched through my list for an object near the meridian on which to focus my energies. The one I chose had been a bête noire for years, and it took several checks against the entry in Alvin Huey’s superb globular-cluster guide to verify the field. And there it was:

12:31
Arp 2 (Sgr): Having failed to find any of the other difficult targets I’ve set myself for this occasion, I’ve managed to eke out a win here, in my four-millionth attempt at this nasty little globular. It’s way down to the limit of the 18″ scope’s altitude motion and exceedingly faint, but most definitely there (if mostly an averted-vision object). Not much more than a brutal 2′ haze that’s hard to hold steady. In the 10mm Delos, the cluster is harder to pick out but easier to hold once found. No concentration is discernable. There are several faint field stars near the cluster’s periphery and the field itself is crowded with stars of a wide range of magnitudes. On the S side of the field, stretching from the P side of the field to S of the cluster to the SF side of the field is a large arc of stars; the arc begins at a 10th-magnitude star 13′ P the cluster and sweeps S-ward, through many 11th/12th-magnitude stars, including a small “sub-arc” of five stars 12′ S very slightly F the cluster, the middle star of which has another of equal magnitude to the N slightly P by 0.75′. Another arc lies NP and N of the cluster; this one only has three stars, but it frames the cluster, and at its NF end is a small isosceles triangle of four 13th-magnitude stars (the extra star is in the middle of the long edge of the triangle, which is the N edge. [size of triangle?]

Although buoyed by conquering this particular demon, I stayed away from most of the rest of the fool’s list I’d made; instead, I turned the 18″ scope toward as many of the eye-candy objects of summer that I could. Each was stunning, no matter how many times I’d seen them. M8, M20, M13, M15, M16, M17, the Veil Nebula, M10/12/14/9 in Ophiuchus, even NGC 7479 in Pegasus… the dark skies and larger aperture made them each seem like new objects I’d never seen. M20 (the Trifid Nebula) in particular took on an added measure of brilliance beyond any of my previous observations, the dark lanes three-dimensional in front of the rose-flower shape of the hydrogen emission nebulosity, the multiple star at the nebula’s center shining brightly through and the reflection nebulosity to the north a cloud of easy cirrus.

Jerry packed up first, as he had a (highly-publicized!) solar star party to conduct at Alton Baker Park early Sunday afternoon—and just that quickly, the night at Champion Saddle was over. Robert (and Alan, who had hitched a ride with Robert) followed shortly after Jerry. Despite the cosmic splendor, I had no hesitation in packing up as well; Robert helped me wrangle the big scope’s heavy mirror/rocker box combo into the back of the Caveman-Mobile before leaving, and I stowed the rest of the gear around it with a semblance of order.

The drive home was the most uncomfortable 100 minutes I’ve ever spent at the wheel. I went through a can of Dr. Pepper in about ten minutes, trying to get enough caffeine in my system to not fall asleep on the treacherous and winding highway around Dorena Lake, with the sky brightening quickly and traffic increasing with the daylight. Much of the drive occurred somewhere on the knife-edge between sleep and primal survival instinct, threatening the former with every passing mile. But when I needed stroke of good luck, I got one—Isolda, my GPS, led me into an out-of-the-way neighborhood somewhere beyond Lowell, necessitating a lot of backtracking to get back to the highway; we had set the GPS preferences to “include backroads” during our geology expedition weeks earlier, and I hadn’t changed it back. The upshot was that I spent quite a lot of time cursing at the GPS, the roads, and traffic in general, and the adrenaline from this self-inflicted burst of road rage kept me just alert enough to finish the drive and swear I’d never do it again without sleeping for several hours beforehand.

VIII. I didn’t want to end the July run on a down note. Sunday was out; I was asleep Sunday night before 10:00, and had refused to entertain the notion of observing that night no matter what the forecast (or the cajoling of fellow observers) held. I promised Mrs. Caveman that I would be done with the July run Tuesday night, regardless, and the Moon would be an intrusive presence by that point anyway. So when Dan B suggested a trip to Eureka Monday night, I planned for it to be July’s last hurrah.

Moonset was scheduled for 11:35; I arrived at Eureka at about 8:30. Dan followed shortly, his daughter and her friend in tow. Although I still had my summer Herschel list to work from, I spent time with a number of other objects as well—including a couple of open clusters that I mistakenly had marked as Herschels on the laminated pages of Sky Atlas 2000.0. With a trip to Hawaii scheduled for two days later, Dan wasn’t planning to stay as long as usual, and having spent nine nights out of eleven doing astronomy, I understood perfectly well.

7/16/18-7/17/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 4 days (18% illuminated); set at 11:35 PM
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6 (predicted 8); MW bulges into M9/Dark Horse region and toward Beta Lyrae
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 60s; quite breezy, some dew

Others present: Dan B, Ruby, Jasmine

11:41
NGC 6337 (Sco): The Cheerio Nebula. Quite difficult at the moment, as it’s down really low in the sky—I’m sitting on the ground—and the transparency down here sucks. I found the nebula without a filter, catching it with averted vision as it swept into the field. Even with a UHC filter, the annulus is still difficult, as the center isn’t dark enough, although averted-plus-filter does reveal traces of annularity (especially along the N edge). The nebula is about 45″ across. I know that there are multiple stars across the center but they’re unresolved without the filter and invisible with it. There is a 12th-mag star visible 0.5′ from the outside S edge of the nebula’s halo; the nebula is inside a small diamond of stars that includes this star, a 10th-magnitude star SF the nebula by 3.5′, a 12th-magnitude star F slightly N of the nebula by 2′, and another 12th-magnitude star NP the nebula by 2.5′. P slightly N of the nebula by 9′ is the S-most of a pair of 10th-magnitude stars, with the second NP the first by 1.5′. S and P the nebula is an arc of three 10th-magnitude stars: one to the P slightly S of the nebula by 5′, one due SP the nebula by 6.5′, and one due S of the nebula by 9′. The field’s brightest star is the primary of a double/pair that is N of the nebula by 18′; it has a 10th-magnitude companion due S by 30″.

12:17
(H) NGC 6755 (Aql): This is quite a fascinating open cluster, full of smaller clumps of stars. It’s reasonably-well detached from the Aquila Milky Way, and quite rich; there are perhaps eighty stars here, plus a fair amount of unresolved starglow present. The brighter cluster stars are in the 10.5-magnitude range and range down past the edge of resolution. The cluster proper is bounded inside a triangle of 10th- and 10.5-mgnitude stars with a 10th-mag star to the P, a 10.5-magnitude star to the N and a 10.5-magnitude star F; the long side of the triangle runs P-F. Along the F side of the triangle is a line of brighter stars that connet the F and N vertices, but the other two sides of the triangle are less defined. The cluster consists of three individual clumps, each of which could have its own catalogue number. The N-most clump (#1) stretches 6.5′ x 2.5′ SP-NF and has an 11th-magnitude star on its N edge; this clump contains two smaller clumps: a 1′ diameter “sub-clump” (1A) on the SP end and a larger sub-clump (1B) on the NF end of the main clump, with a gap of about 1.25′ between the two sub-clumps. The smaller (SP) sub-clump has a 12th-magnitude star on the N slightly F end that is the N vertex of a very small triangle around which this sub-clump is visible; this sub-clump contains six stars and some unresolved glow. The larger (1B) sub-clump is pentagonal, with its major axis running SP-NF. South of clump #1 is another two-part clump, with one sub-clump to the P (2A) and one to the F (2B… or not). 2A is the brighter portion here and is trapezoidal in shape, with a 10.5-magnitude star at the P tip of the trapezoid; this sub-clump is 2.25′ in diameter and has seven visible and a host of unresolved stars. There’s a gap between 2A and 2B to the F very slightly N. 2B is also trapezoidal, about 2.25′ x 1.75′. The SP vertex of the trapezoid is actually a very small group in itself, while the NF vertex is a double star. Most of the other stars in 2B are in the 13th/14th-magnitude range. 4′ due S of the space between 2A and 2B is main clump 3, the smallest of the three clumps in NGC 6755 at 0.67′ diameter. This clump has a small square of 14th-magnitude stars superimposed over the top of it, and not much of this clump is resolvable. This clump is just outside of the cluster’s “bordering triangle,” to the S, while both parts of clump #2 are just on the S side of the triangle.

12:33
(H) NGC 6756 (Aql): This cluster is only 32′ NF NGC 6755, and is also a small unresolved clump of stars. My first thought was that I’d actually swept over NGC 6760, the brightest of Aquila’s three globular clusters, as NGC 6756 presents a globular-like face, with a brighter knot of stars on the NF side seeming rather like a core, and it’s highly detached from the Milky Way background. Averted vision brings out many background stars amid the starry haze. There are perhaps 30 stars tightly packed into this 3.5′ diameter cluster, representing a fairly-broad range of magnitudes. Aside from the knot on the NF side, the cluster’s most-prominent feature is an arc that runs S of the knot from SP-SF; the brightest star in this arc is 13th magnitude and is SF the knot by 1.75′. SF the cluster by 11′ is a 9th-magnitude star. NP the cluster by 14′ is the brighter of a pair, the brighter being 11th magnitude and the fainter (P the brighter by 0.5′) being 12th-magnitude; this pair forms the joint of a ‘V’-shaped asterism that branches N slightly F and NF from the brighter of the pair. 4′ N of the cluster is another double/pair, the primary of which is 12.5 magnitude and the secondary (due P by 0.3′)of which is 14th magnitude. NF the cluster is a large lowercase ‘y’ pattern of twelve stars, the majority of which are 10th/11th magnitude; the ‘y’ stretches from SF-NP in the field and also to due N, and with the SF-NP branch 15′ long and the N branch 6′ long. An 8.5-magnitude star—the brightest in the field—lies SP the cluster by 15′.

1:00
NGC 6738 (Aql): This is a large cluster amid what looks to be a tangle of dark nebulae, the most prominent of which runs parallel to the F side of the triangle. The cluster is pretty obviously an entity unto itself, with some sixty stars ranging from 7.5 magnitude down to magnitude 13. A 7.5-magnitude star on the SF end of the cluster is the lucida. The F side of the triangle is defined by eight stars in a 30′ line up to an 8th-magnitude star that is the N vertex of the triangle; P slightly S of that star by 17′ is a pair that forms the third vertex, with the pair consisting of a 10th-magnitude star and a 12.5-magnitude star that’s 0.67′ SF the brighter. Along the NP edge of the triangle is a pattern that consist of a small isosceles triangle with fainter stars bounding it to the P and SF. A jagged line of nine stars runs across the cluster’s middle from P to F; the P-most trio are outside the edge of the triangle, the remaining six inside (patterned 3-2-3-1, with the ‘1’ being a 9th-magnitude star on the F edge of the cluster).

1:16
NGC 6709 (Aql): Another triangular cluster; another one I mistakenly thought was a Herschel object. This one is smaller than 6738: 11′ on the S and P sides and 13′ on the F side (which runs NP-SF). It’s also quite obviously a singular entity, with 75 stars ranging from 9th magnitude to 14th. One 9th-magnitude star is the SP vertex of the triangle; another is paired with a 9.5-magnitude star (the brighter star 0.67′ SP the fainter. This pair is part of the SF vertex of the triangle, which is a triangle unto itself: the star on the SF tip of this tiny triangle is also a double/pair of 10th– and 12th-magnitude stars, with the fainter SP the brighter by 0.25′; the 9th/9.5-magnitude pair is due P this double by 1.25′. (This smaller triangle is the cluster’s most-obvious feature.) The NP vertex of the “main” triangle is 10.5 magnitude. Along the F edge of the triangle, 4′ from the 9th/9.5 magnitude pair, is a knot of stars running SP-NF; this is 5.5′ x 2.75′ and contains the largest concentration of unresolved stars in NGC 6709. On the SP and due P of the cluster are small knots of dark nebulosity that are pretty obvious. The cluster also has several chains of stars, including one that runs parallel with the P side of the triangle, on the inside of the triangle. There’s also a small knot of stars 16′ SF the cluster; this contains 8 stars.

1:40
(H) NGC 6824 (Cyg): Not the brightest of galaxies, but there aren’t that many in Cygnus anyway. This one is small but pretty obvious, 1.0′ x 0.67′ and elongated SP-NF. It has a diffuse halo with a slightly-brighter small core and a stellar nucleus that requires averted vision for a decent view. A 14th-magnitude star lies just outide the halo to the S, about 0.67′ S of the galaxy’s nucleus. There’s a bright double/pair 4′ due N, 9th– and 12th-magnitude companions separated by 15″. NF the galaxy by 2′ is a 14.5-magnitude star with a 12.5-magnitude star to the NP; these form an obvious triangle with the star just S of the galaxy’s halo. SP the galaxy by 13′ is a 9th-magnitude star, with another 9th-magnitude star S very slightly P by 3.5′. S slightly F the galaxy by 19′ is the brighter of a pair consisting of 7.5- and 10th-magnitude stars, with the fainter 0.67′ S very slightly P the brighter. F very very slightly N of the galaxy by 18′ is an 8th-magnitude star which is the NP vertex of a triangle; SF that star by 7.5′ is a 9th-magnitude star, and S of the 8th-magnitude star by 12′ is a 9th-magnitude star.

2:03
(H) NGC 6802 (Vul): A superb cluster that lies off the F end of the famous Coathanger. The bluish 6th-magnitude star at the F end of the Coathanger is in fact visible just on the P end of the field, 20′ P the cluster. NGC 6802 is one of the nicer NGC clusters, a well-detached and –defined 6′ x 2.5′ spray of no less than a hundred stars elongated N-S. The stars in NGC 6802 are mostly faint or just beyond resolution; the visible stars are mostly 13th-15th magnitude and the brighter ones seem to have congregated toward the N end of the cluster. The cluster is bounded to the NP and NF by double stars/pairs; 7′ NP the cluster’s NP corner is a 9.5-magnitude star with a 10th-magnitude star 1′ P very slightly S of it, and 6′ NF the NF corner of the cluster is a 10.5- and 11.5-magnitude duo with the fainter P very slightly S of the brighter by 0.67′. Due N of the cluster by 5′ is a 12th-magnitude star. S very very slightly F by 10′ from the cluster is a 10th-magnitude star. SF the cluster by 14′ is the brighter of a 9.5/12.5-magnitude pair with the fainter NF the brighter by 0.67′; there’s a 14th-magnitude star N very slightly P the 9.5-magnitude star by the same distance.

With NGC 6802, I closed the book on observing in July (at least as of this writing; with the Moon Full on the 27th, it’s unlikely I’d be coaxed back out until August). I did do two more nights of outreach during the month, both with my newly-refurbished 13.1″ Coulter Odyssey. My adjustable observing chair is in dire need of repair, and the Coulter still needs some work to make it as functional as it once was, so these projects will likely take up the rest of my astronomy time for the month (along with logging all of the July observations).

It had been an epic month of observing, easily the equivalent of a week at one of the major star parties where nothing but astronomy seemed possible. All but one or two nights this month had been clear (at least so far; the forecast shows nothing but sun and heat through early August). I hadn’t observed the huge numbers of objects that I’d done some past months, but the variety and quality of the observations made up for it, and some of the objects I’d seen had been on my list for years. And if August is as good as July, I’ll be out observing wherever the Caveman-Mobile takes me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Past, As Prologue

With a bit of spare time this week, I’ve been sifting through my observing notes from past years, making sure that everything’s up-to-date and in order. And having recently given a talk on the Astronomical League’s observing programs, I’ve also been a bit nostalgic for the earlier days of my observing, when I started on the Herschel lists and plowed on through the globular cluster program in a single season. (In retrospect, I should’ve done that one more slowly and enjoyed it more—although I would’ve missed out on a lot of the more-southerly globulars after moving to Oregon.)

One thing that I realized was that many of my notes on those early objects, primitive as those notes were, never made it here to the site. So here they are, providing a glimpse into the early stages of my “notetaking proper.”

I do miss observing at Giant City and at Crab Orchard, the two spots we used in AASI. The parking lot at Giant City State Park—soon to be inundated with eclipse-chasers—was ringed with trees, but these functioned as much to limit the extensive light pollution from Carbondale and the surrounding towns as they did to block our access to the horizons (because, really, that low to the horizon the sky was always mucky anyway). But it was twenty minutes from home, and easy to drive from after an all-night session… of which I did several in the shadow of the visitors’ center. We had used Giant City before, pre-Blagojevich, when the park had someone willing to work evenings so that AASI could host public events in the lot; I had also done my first real set of observing notes in the meadow on the park’s southern end (a.k.a. Tickville). And although Crab Orchard’s wildlife-viewing loop was right in the middle of the Carbondale-Marion conurbation (if a bit south), it was nearly-perfect from an ergonomic standpoint: flat, clear terrain on which to set up, and views right down to the horizon from the northeast to southwest. I found Omega Centauri there in those yellow-zone skies, and the Milky Way was occasionally a striking sight, despite being only half as bright as at Giant City. (Which is itself just a fraction as stunning as here at Eagle’s Ridge.) My best shot at the Messier Marathon took place at the loop, with Fred Isberner and I catching 87 of the 110 Messiers between hours of clouds and one horrific battle between two large, loud predators just beyond the treeline from our observing spot.

A few side notes on these notes: in my first session there, I snapped up NGC 6118, often considered the most difficult of the Herschel 400; given that the sky was impressive that night, I made a concerted effort to go for this spiral galaxy in Serpens Caput, for fear of not getting a better shot (hah!).

The week of June 30-July 5 was one of my most productive, as I did much of my work on the AL globular-cluster program that week, scouring the southern horizon for clusters in and below the coils of Scorpius and the northern reaches of Corona Australis… neither region of which I could reach here around Eugene. It was also the week that I began carrying a spare van key in my wallet, as I locked myself out of the van (with my phone in the van), and only the timely arrival of the awesome Len Wenzel enabled me (and Bob Morefield) to rush home and get the spare (with my house key also in the van!). That was not an easy one to live down. The last two weeks of the month continued the great fortune astronomy-wise. By the time July was over, I had caught 40 of the 50 globulars I needed for the AL’s globular-observing program. It was a good thing, too—August was completely clouded and rained out, and it wasn’t until September that I was able to finish the program; I didn’t formally complete it until November.

Those were good days; that July was one of the best months of observing I’ve ever had, due to the cooler, less-humid weather and the lack of clouds. I observed around the Moon, utilizing three of the four weeks of the month to observe and avoiding the ten days around Full. And my notes had greater focus then on the object I was observing, less on the star field around said object. Less verbiage. More rock, less talk.

But enough….

 

6/30/14

GIANT CITY VISITOR CENTER PARKING LOT
MOON: absent (3 days, already set)
SEEING: 5
TRANSPARENCY: 6
NELM: 5.7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: windy, lightning to south, not humid

with RM

9:49
NGC 6144 (Sco)— 14mm— 3-4’— touching 11th mag star— fairly diffuse like 5466—CC 10?—mag 10— star touching is part of a line with 10th and 8th mags— slightly granular on bground haze— a little more granular w averted, a couple of stars in crescent shape around edge

10:13
NGC 5053 (Com)—as faint as on 6/3, slightly more obvious, w averted, 6’ diam—sprinkling of quite faint stars w averted moving scope makes 2 or 3 vis with direct—not much concentration–CC 12?–almost too tenuous to estimatemag.11, probably less

10:26
NGC 5694 (Hya)—little, no more than 2’ diam— at end of line with two stars— almost stellar core, small halo, almost has nucleus—no indiv stars visible in cluster— small triangle of brighter stars to S— w/averted still 2’, not much improvement—tightly concentrated, CC 5?—mag 10?

10:37
NGC 5466 (Boo)— 8-9’, like 5897—lot of faint stars, low concentration—CC 11?—noticed immediately with direct—30 stars with direct—not quite round, caved in on preceding–mag 10/11?

11:18
NGC 6118 (Ser)—not impossible—vF, diffuse glow—3’ x 1.5’—v Bright star off to F side, small isoc triangle of 11-12 mag stars to S of galaxy—quite elongated, faint, suprisingly large—not a lot of sweeping needed—Alvin + Tri—averted:slightly brighter core, ever-so, nothing of outer edge—trickles into background space

 

7/3/14

CRAB ORCHARD WILDLIFE VIEWING LOOP
MOON: 6 days, still present at beginning
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6
NELM: 5.4
WEATHER CONDITIONS: v. damp (humid); ground fog as departing

with RM and HT

10:01
NGC 5824 (Lupus)—M80-ish—bright (mag. 9)—almost stellar “core”—v small, 2’ diam, high concentration (CC 3?)—not much in way of halo—w/averted, maybe 1-2 uncertain stars across face—to N a pair of 10th/11th and 13th mag stars, if cluster on S edge of field, bright star to N

10:07
NGC 5986 (Lupus)—much larger, more diffuse, brighter than 5824—mag 8?—low concentration (CC 8?)—5’ diam—1 quite bright star to F side—averted brings out several stars across face—bright field star off edge at 2:00 and another at 7:00 on edge—quite mottled with averted—only a few cluster stars with direct vision

10:37
Iridium 12 in Cygnus  mag -2.3

 

7/4/14-7/5/14

CRAB ORCHARD WILDLIFE VIEWING LOOP
MOON: 7 days, still present at beginning
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 4-6
NELM: 5.3 faint MW, not much detail in Rift, not much definition over by M7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: v. damp (humid); ground fog as departing

with LW and his friends (Jeff & Tammy??)

10:42
NGC 6139 (Sco)—about 3’ diam—sky v. poor this low—mag 11?–looks almost like elliptical galaxy or core of spiral — no stars visible—only a couple of field stars—CC hard to tell, maybe 4?—only a few degrees above horizon at this point

11:02
NGC 6325 (Oph )—not one of easier/more impressive globs—about 3’ diam—no brightening at all w/direct, slight bit of central brightening with averted—CC v. difficult, maybe 6?—no stars visible at all—faint, tenuous haze—in field with some indistinct dark neb?, but background fairly sparse—easy to pass over—maybe 11 mag?

11:12
NGC 6369 (Oph) Little Ghost—v bright planetary, no filter, swept up super easily—about half an arcminute maj axis—seems to be annular (traces of)— no cent star—bright ring with tiny bit of fringe halo—slightly oblong in P-F direction—forms tip of almost equal triangle with 10th/11th stars—seeing not good enough for higher power

11:29
NGC 6401 (Oph)—2’ diam—bright star in middle/stellar nucleus—w/averted, hints of granularity—reasonably bright (mag 9), easily seen—w/averted almost like double nucleus/two bright stars in middle—not much resolution—CC 8?

11:39
NGC 5986 (Lup, redux)—even better, very granular—few visible in averted, one bright—cluster lower in sky—5’—slightly squashed on P side, bright star on F, NF side

12:11
NGC 6380 (Sco)—spot easy to find, cluster not—cluster is 2’??—very diffuse, CC impossible to tell—barely visible above background—only slightly more visible w/averted— bright (8th mag) star to P side of field—globular just on edge of perception around 11th mag star—star is just off S edge of globular—globular is just a haze, very difficult, perhaps 13th mag

12:21
NGC 6441 (Sco) right off by 10’ from g Sco—really bright, mag 8—like M80 brightness (seems)—4-3’—large core—small sprinkling of halo stars—remarkably smooth gradientwise—not much gran—light falls away smooth like elliptical galaxy; guessing at CC 4—bright star off P edge by 4’—“bright, impressive tableau”—no real resolution even w/averted

12:36
NGC 6453 (Sco)—off M7—3’—11th mag—stars vis with direct—granular—8-9 stars w averted—brighter section of core forms cresecent—not round—core slightly like Ringtail Gal—moderately concentrated (CC 6-7?)—very interesting

12:54
NGC 6541 (CrA)—nice bright glob (8th mag), v low—4’—set in bright scalene triangle—has outliers to 6-7’—well resolved—numerous stars (15 at least with averted, bunch with direct)—presents triangular aspect—reasonably bright field star to F side—wedge shape of field stars pointing to NF side—v loose concentration (CC 8)

NGC 6496 (Sco)—can’t say I saw—p. negligible—found correct field—don’t know that I saw globular

1:09
NGC 6388 (Sco)—just above horizon—2.5-3’—faint halo surround brighter core—hard to focus on so low in sky—smooth gradient; high concentration, CC 3?—little bit granular—10th mag star to N side—almost off-center nucleus star toward P side, pretty faint—fairly bright glob; mag 8?

1:16
NGC 6118 (Oph, redux)—just after security—glow 4 x 3’—using junky pattern on Tri to bright star, just S of bright star—small triangle off to S,F side—galaxy fairly uniform, v. faint tonight (well past meridian—def there with direct—pA?—slight (ever so-) bit of central brightening

1:30
NGCs 6928, 6930; Delphinus trio (Del)—two glows visible, both v. tough—each about 1’, two in contact—thrid not visible clearly?—6928/30—never have found wo Tri—v. fleeting, but brightens w seeing 1 x 2’ total, two tiny cores—no real central brightening—stellar nucleus in P galaxy only fleeting—hard to separate—“that’s a bitch”

1:58
NGC 6907 (Cap)—24mm (stupid)—one of those “not sure at first”—about 2 x 1’?—funky spade-shaped asterism off to F side—brighter w/averted—not much central brightening—sketchworthy—w averted 2.5 x 1.5’?—fades gradually into background–no stellar nucleus—10th mag star to following by 2-3’

 

7/18/14

CRAB ORCHARD WILDLIFE VIEWING LOOP
MOON: Last Quarter, absent until 12:21
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6-7 (horizons 5)
NELM: 5.6
WEATHER CONDITIONS: v. damp (humid); ground fog as departing

With RM and LW

Locked keys in van

11:57
NGC 6535 (Ser)—faint glow about 4-3’—11th mag—averted shows 7 stars visible, two-three quite bright on P side even w direct—loose cluster, maybe CC 10—rich field—several 7th/8th stars in field

 

7/19/14

CRAB ORCHARD WILDLIFE VIEWING LOOP
MOON: 22 days, absent
SEEING: 4-5
TRANSPARENCY: 5-6, variable
NELM: 5.3, MW not well visible through Sagitta/Vulp. Star clouds still obvious
WEATHER CONDITIONS: v. damp (humid); ground fog as departing

With HT

10:52
NGC 6355 (Oph)—on edge of tadpole-shaped asterism (P side)—4-3’ diam—resembles a comet—halo stretches to about 4’—inner 3’ is considerably brighter—averted doesnt help much for size—stellar point toward center—no indiv stars at all—CC 5-6?—not quite round—with averted, double “core”?—core elongated to N-S—halo not particularly round but rounder than core

11:17
NGC 6304 (Oph)—considerably smaller than M62 (starhopped from; why no notes?)—3-4’—has definite graininess—4’ with averted—mag 9—core seems almost triangular—averted makes this more apparent—doesnt have stellar “nucleus”—nested in triangle of 9th/10th stars—bright pair (wide double?) toward S F of field—on better night, resolution?— CC 4-5? —more power would resolve some stars?—Seeing v. soft

11:23
NGC 6316 (Oph)—2’—to SF side is a 10th/11th field star 1-2’ from cluster—smaller considerably than 6304—with averted halo stretches anothe arcminute 3-3.5’ (more like 3’)—double gradient—core makes up 50% of face—not much grain, pretty smooth glo even w/ averted—rounder than 6304—pair of faint field stars (10, 11) to P side; 11th (12th?) 1’ from halo of cluster, 10th is 3’ from cluster)—smooth, not much granularity even averted—like M80 in small refractor—CC 5?—maybe 8th mag?

11:43
NGC 6293 (Oph)—starhopped to from previous—brightest, best resolved of recent group (mag 8)—to P side of zigzag of 10th/11th stars—about 5‘ with halo—inner 2’ much more concentrated/brighter—loose cluster—with averted 10 stars in cluster, inc. one 5’ from center, right on N F edge of halo—field star to S F 7’ from cluster center—“M15 style”—CC 5?—bright core, halo falls away pretty rapidly

11:52
M19 (Oph)—far and away brightest this evening, mag 7—extends to 7’—elongated N-S v. apparently—inner 4’ make up brighter core, no nuclear “point” like M15—8 x 7’—to N side are two brightest stars in cluster—bright field star S P by 10’—to S F side 8/9 mag field star—fairly evenly distributed across face, pretty well resolved—CC 7-8

 

7/21/14

CRAB ORCHARD WILDLIFE VIEWING LOOP
MOON: 24 days, absent 
SEEING: 5 (improved considerably, to 6/7)
TRANSPARENCY: 5 (horizons 4) MW very indistinct, Great Rift difficult
NELM: 5.4
WEATHER CONDITIONS: v. damp (humid); ground fog caused early end to session

with RM and HT

9:48
M107 (Oph)—nicely resolved—in trapezoid shape of stars—8’-7’—not completely dark yet—14mm—three distinct layers of brightness—interior 5’—couple of brighter stars (13th) across face—cluster 8th mag—fairly loose—CC 8—sitting insquashed trapezoid of 9th-10th stars—averted gets 20+ stars—wedge shape of brighter stars poiunting N across face—not sharp central concentration like M15

10:08
Me 2-1 (Lib)—one of smallest PN looked at—just off short side of rt. triangle of 8-10th mag stars—almost stellar (15”) but slightly fuzzy—easy to hop to w TriA—found w/o filter—OIII brightens neb a fair bit—reasonably sharply defined edges—no detectable color—visile w/direct—no central star—about 10th mag?—quite bright—in 6mm Radian, w/OIII, completely lost target—w/6mm and no filter, slightly diffuse edges—UHC w/14mm better than OIII—maybe 10”?—may have seen core/nucleus of IC 4538 as a “star” in the field; tried to confirm but seeing wasn’t good enough

10:57
NGC 6572 (Oph) Harry says blue—greener to me in 14mm—10” (?) and bright w/o filter—at tip of “smashed Ursa Major” asterism—nebula off “nose” of asterism—bowl of “dipper” to F side of neb.—w/OIII looks fuzzy around edges, like condensation on optics—w/o filter, fairly sharp on edges—filter blows this out, as if edges are “cottony”—not as green as Saturn Neb—OOTW on DSF—other two stars are 8’ to F side—neb too small in 14mm to show as anything but not-quite-stellar

11:31
NGC 6426 (Oph)—brutally nasty glob—v.v. weak, indistinct glow—sky at zenith a bit better—one of toughest NGC globulars—2-3’ diam, maybe 4’ w/averted—difficult even w/averted—no stars at all, no graininess—halfway and a bit preceding long edge of rt.triangle made of 9-10th stars—jiggling scope makes it more visible—as bad as 5053—12th mag—doesn’t look quite round, but too faint to judge exact shape—CC impossible to tell; cluster barely visible

11:49
NGC 6717 (Palomar 9) (Sgr) —4’ S P from Nu Sgt—cluster is about 1.5’ diam—mag 9—almost looks like a trio of stars with haze/neb around them—doesn’t look much like glob—definitely three bright “condensations”, one to NP, one to NF, one S on face of cluster, rather than indiv stars—averted doesn’t change this—averted gives extra fringe of halo—odd looking glob—CC 9

 

7/24-25/14

GIANT CITY STATE PARK VISITOR CENTER PARKING LOT
MOON: 27 days, absent 
SEEING: 7 (4 at horizon)
TRANSPARENCY: 7 (horizons 6) MW very brilliant and detailed; temporary cirrus influx
NELM: 6.1
WEATHER CONDITIONS: good; temps in 70s, somewhat humid
many sporadic meteors

With RM

10:15
NGC 6791 (Lyr)—proverbial patch of unresolved haze with couple of stars sprinkled on top—14mm—caught between bands of thick cirrus—cluster is 10’—a number of brights stars atop—cluster haze visible with direct on/off (cirrus)—hard to tell concentration—reasonably well detached, V rich—wouldn’t have noticed right away—crowded field

10:49
NGC 6760 (Aql)—just grainy, near resolution—about 4-5’ with direct, 5’ with averted—averted hints at resolution—core 80% of diameter—looks moderate concentration—8 CC?—11th star to NF side just out of edge of halo by 2’?—fainter star (13th) to NP edge—mag 9-10—satellite through field—field has ring of brighter stars to N edge of FOV, grouped in pairs

11:09
NGC 6749 (Aql)—just on threshold of direct—just barely there, 13-14th mag?—better seeing than before—V tough—3’ diam?—has rhombus shape of faint (10-11th) stars overlaid across it—globular CC??? too faint to say—just coming and going—2 on averted scale—sometimes visible w/direct—“definitely there”—more than suspected—2 parallel arcs of 3 stars each on each side making up rhombus—moving scope makes glob definite—no definition, just a glow

11:23
NGC 6642 (Sgr)—S of M22—small (2.5-3’) glob—nicely resolved—pretty well resolved—grainy all around—core not quite centered— 5’ N is 10th star—core small compared to halo—two gradients—averted shows many stars across field—center has bright condensation—CC 4-5—8th mag—nice glob—slightly triangular—almost has nucleus—F side flatter—opposite vertex in middle of P side—field littered with stars—to S is asterism (triangle inside line)

11:58
NGC 6638 (Sgr)—more diffuse than previous, but not by much—well grainy—good resolution into tiny stars—bright core, no stellar nucleus—mag 8—core 75% of face—quite concentrated (CC 4)—SP side has one star brighter than other in cluster—with 6mm Radian, cluster is very much more resolved (poor seeing that low)—easily overlooked by prox to M22—4’ in 6mm—brightest part of cluster to NF side—slight elongation of core in NP-SF direction

12:08
NGC 6723 (Sgr)—V large, V well resolved—8-9 CC—lots of little stars visible even low to horizon—10th mag on edge of halo just to NF side—cluster 7-8’—well resolved across face—words fail with globs like this—7th mag—too many stars to count, at least 100—inner 80% makes up core which has a couple of “dark or “star-poor” spots in it—averted really brightens, but does not increase size

rest of Eps Cor Aus region—wow—whole area covered with visible nebulosity—lots of backgrd glow—cometary nebula (6729) visible through treetop—to S of one of bright star pairs in nebulosity—equal brightness double to S, also one to N [wrapped in 6726/7]—nebula has dim starry tip [R CrA]—losing into tree—nebula 4-5’ long trails away from star at tip to star at SF side [T CrA]—almost looks like galaxy???—giving short shrift to region in description due to loss in treetops

12:23
NGC 6907 (Cap) redux—much more obvious than at CO (14mm this time)—still finding w/trowel asterism—elongated NP-SF slightly, PA 30˚???—fairly bright—definitely wouldve noticed in passing—to FS side is 10th star—galaxy has brighter core that’s 66% of size—halo extends slightly NF [this is spiral arm NGC 6908], not perfectly uniform, core not perfectly centered—looks like spiral—every now and then a flicker of a stellar core—V obvious in averted—to SP is faint double star about 6’ from P edge of galaxy—to SP (1:00 from double by 3-4’) is another 11-12th star

12:46
NGCs 6928, 6930; Delphinus trio—6mm Radian—larger (6928) galaxy elongated N-S—2’—fainter (6930) in contact to F side, has stellar nucleus [seeing sloppy]—definitely 2 objects—longer G doesn’t have stellar nucleus—3rd galaxy (27) not visible

12:56
NGC 6934 (Del)—bright (8th mag), well-resolved—lots of stars with averted—CC 7—has bright star (9th) to P side—core only 50%—lots of little stars across face—small line of stars on N side of core—5’, inc. halo

1:10
NGC 7006 (Del)—long search—tiny, V concentrated—CC 2-3—not much halo—core 90% of cluster—fairly bright, esp for distance from us (9th mag?)—little more halo with focus—core becomes 80% with averted—2-2.5’—to P side, by 3’, faint double—to F and N sides by 4’, faint individual stars (12-13th), so inside a triangle—several 7-8 field stars, esp. around edges of FOV

1:57
IC 5148/50 (Gru)—w/UHC (better than OIII?)—found with 24mm SWA—14mm best view—5’ diam—to S edge a bright field star touching edge—averted extends to 6’—V round—suspected annularity; ring thick—V low in sky—to F side is a bit of brightening of ring—w/OIII, biggest brightening is on P side [?!]—no central star with or w/o filter—definitely annular w/averted—ring 2-3’ thick, opening V small—with OIII, star at S edge is within nebula [not really]

2:06
M30 (Cap)—beautiful!!—M15 style (stellar nucleus)—7th mag—8-9’ across, halo spread out, comes to blazing center—CC 5—two distinct chains of stars leading from center to N —chain from center due N has four stars—other chain off to edge of core also has four stars—two outliers on NF side—cluster squashed along S side, halo compressed on S side, core not at center—10’ to P side is 7th-8th star—cluster V well resolved around edges—halo spectacular—jellyfish-like with chains

2:30
WLM (Cet)—really coming and going—visible mostly as slight brightening of background—V large (15’ long)—oval running almost N-S—on S end is 11th-12th field star touching glow—most visible by rocking scope [V low in sky!!]—tough to hold in direct—12’-15’, 15’ in averted?—to P side by 9-10’ of star at S end is another brighter star—another star off N end, one 7-8’ to P side of N end star—shape hard to determine—rectangular??—not quite to middle of P side is slight starlike brightening, P a line between N-S stars—can’t tell what brightening is (too faint)—v slow satellite going through N side of field—evenly distributed glow—VVV faint—12-15’ x 4’ wide at widest—hard to tell dimensions

3:08
NGC 7026 (Cyg)—fuzzy star in 14mm with no filter—in 6mm w OIII, v bright—3/4’—10th star directly F by 1’—nebula core has two equally bright segments in halo to NP-SF—whole envelope extends well beyond core—no color—fuzzy edges—no central star visible—found w/o filter

Also observed M4, 6144, M80, Veil, 6118, M22, M28, 7479, Stephan’s Quintet

 

7/27-28/14

GIANT CITY STATE PARK VISITOR CENTER PARKING LOT
MOON: 1 day, absent 
SEEING: 7 (5 at horizon)—improved to 8 around midnight
TRANSPARENCY: 8 (horizons 6) MW very brilliant and detailed; bulge into Ophiuchus obvious; M13 visible w/averted, N.A. Nebula visible
NELM: 6.3
WEATHER CONDITIONS: excellent; temps in 70s-60s, very low humidity (no dew), much lightning (heat lightning or distant to S?); wind gusting for two hrs prior to midnight
many sporadic meteors—some Delta Aquariids?

With JR and FI

10:43
M10 [actually M12] (Oph)—7-8’—V loosely concent—has streak of stars spilling out toward N—averted expands halo to 8-9’—glob inside triangle of 8-9th mag stars—CC 9-10—on N edge of triangle—chain of stars from center to N—glob is squarish w/averted—core more concentrated toward S edge—core about 60% of diam—halo extends more to N—many small stars arranged in pairs in broad flattened ’S’ shape N-S—N end of ’S’ to P side, S end to F side—glob 8th mag?

10:53
M12 [actually M10] (Oph)—little more concentrated than M10—looks like fainter M13 with chains and arcs—7th mag—one bright star to SF side (maybe cluster member?)—chains stretch directly P-F—w/averted, rest of halo fills in—10’ diam, 11’ w averted—to P side of edge of halo, faint double star, also same to N and F sides—region around periphery littered w very close pairs—two arcs (like parentheses) lead from S side of cluster—core 80%, but lots of stragglers—14’ with stragglers—too many stars to count—CC 7-8?—several bright field stars toward edge of field— a wide triangle of 7-9th mags halfway between cluster and edge to F side

[Accidentally got M10 and M12 reversed; descriptions should be switched]

11:09
NGCs 6522, 6528 (Sgr)—22 larger of two, almost double size—3’—two clusters separated by 23’?—btween them is wedge-shape pointing due S—22 brighter, granular—9th mag—one cluster star to F side of core by 1’—core is 50%—quite small cluster—averted makes 4’?—7th mag field star 15’ to N—CC 8—doesn’t have stellar nucleus—granular on edges—averted brings a couple stars around periphery?

-28—smaller, more diffuse—2’—10th mag—to S by 5-6’ faint pair (12-13th)—to SP, 13th mag, maybe cluster member about 1/2’ from core of cluster—hints at resolution—almost looks like refection neb with granular edges—CC 6?

11:41
Terzan 7 (Sgr)—brutally faint (14th mag???)—small kite-shaped asterism of 7-9th stars, two brightest to NF—off S side of kite is pair of 12-13 mags spaced about 5’—something between those and just to N—barely detectable—2-3 [3] on averted v scale—about 2-3’??—not visible w/direct, but definite—position hard to hold—N of two stars—no CC possible—windy—lightning to SE—80% positive it’s there—easier than I thought?????—w/6mm, better look at field—wind playing havoc holding scope steady—“three and then two”

12:06-12:18
Palomar 8 (Sgr) —starhopped to, found w/direct vision—in crowded field—diffuse glow; 12th mag?—fairly loose concentration—to S edge, embedded just in halo (not that there’s a real halo)—very faint (13th) star—off to F edge is another of similar brightness—easy visible cluster—holdable w direct—brighter than some NGCs—many faint field stars around cluster—3.5’-4’?—impossible to tell CC—w/averted almost wants to seem on edge of being granular, esp. on P side—quite large glob—looks like F-side star may be v. close pair—brightest star in field to SF by 12’, 8-9 mag—had JR confirm—in 6mm Radian star to F side is double/pair—star on P side may be double

12:47
NGC 6822 (Sgr)—dim amorphuous glow—number of stellar points across face—12’ x 6’ elongated N-S—found in 24mm, where it was easier—to P side there is dim pair (12-13th?) on edge—to F side, a little pentagon of which brighter stars are on F side of galaxy, just on halo—in 14mm, became tougher, of course—in 24mm, considerably brighter—to S edge, unusual angled ‘E’-shaped asterism, used for finding—seeing haze that extends way to F side that shouldn’t exist, toward bright pair (8th) of stars—w/UHC, brightening of a couple of spots on P side—also on N P—3-4 little “areas”—also a couple well off F side—galaxy still visible in UHC

1:13
M72 (Aqr)—bright little glow, 8th mag—4-5’—lots of little stellar points—core 60% of cluster—pretty loose—CC 7-8—to NF side, there is 12-13 mag field star about 1’ from halo—to N is pair of stars separated by 3-4’, 11th mag, one 3’ from cluster’s edge, other 3’ from that—pair of bright (10th and 11th) field stars to F side—slow-moving satellite in field—meteor through field—about 7’ away on P side, a pair of stars sep. by 7’, the one to S is double/pair—lots of tiny star points

2:31
NGC 7492 (Aqr)—after long search—about 4-5’—about halfway between pair of 11-12 stars, one to NP, other to SF—another v faint star to F side—no resolution, no central brightening—CC… 10?—fainter than Pal 8?—v. faint, even averted doesn’t help much—12th mag?—maybe 5’ in averted

2:54
Jones 1 (Peg)—enormous—at least 5’ on major axis, not quite round—nebula is definitely bi-lobed, pair of broken arcs—extending long-wise 5 x 4’—rocking field helps— arcs on N-S sides—looks like stoma on plant—w/averted, annularity is stronger—10th mag star to N side—really tough to tell—

3:03
Hickson 92 (Peg)—4 glows—using 6 Radian—largest of glows is one to farthest preceding—seems to have star involved—stellar nucleus or star?—1 x 3/4’—one to farthest P does have stellar nucleus—about 3/4 x 1/2’—two v. involved with each other, 3’ from brightest, to NF—definitely double nucleus—whole envelope is 3’ x 2’, double nucleus (directly S?)—to S, almost touching field star, is fifth glow

3:37
NGC 7015 (Equ)—elongated 3:2, about 2’ x 1.3’—to NF side, faint pair—to N, field star 11-12 mag?—uniform halo—core lumpy—core is 80%—pretty obvious, moderately bright—about 8’ to SP, 8th mag star

 

 

Headlong Toward Autumn

The end of August was supposed to bring the Brothers Star Party with it, but things didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, the weather forecast seemed to be telling us to find alternative vacation plans, and we did: two nights in Portland (for Mrs. Caveman and Cave-Offspring to see Malala Yusufzai, and to attend the superb production of The Lion King as it swung through the Pacific Northwest), then two in Seattle spending time with two of our best friends from our Illinois days.  Even as the forecast for Brothers improved, I ended up not having any regrets about skipping it.

The previous week saw a number of us in EAS heading out to Eureka Ridge for a few clear nights, dodging the Moonrise as best as we could.  These nights gave me a chance to make some more headway catching the few NGC globulars I hadn’t taken notes on, as well as digging further into the Astronomical League’s Planetary Nebula observing program. The skies both nights I went out weren’t perfect, but they were certainly good enough. I had knocked together a list of objects (five per constellation) for Brothers, but that would mostly have to wait, minus the objects I scavenged off of it.

I still haven’t gotten the EAS 18″ scope fixed, but Bob the (12.5″) Dob works pretty damned well by itself.

 

8/24-8/25/16

EUREKA RIDGE

MOON: 22 days (Last Quarter), rose at 12:07 AM

SEEING: 6

TRANSPARENCY: 7

SQM: not checked

NELM: not checked

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 60s, little dew; strong winds above, occasional gusts at ground level

Others present: JO, OG, FS

 

9:36

NGC 6342 (Oph): small, about 2.0′ across—slightly granular—middle 1.5′ is brighter core—comes to fairly abrupt edge—two main brightness gradients—just S is a 12th mag star just off edge of halo—with cluster centered, to NP and SP sides there are bright stars—one to NP is brightest, 6th mag—bright SP star is a pair, brighter of which is 8th mag, dimmer is 10th—due following cluster is another brighter star,  8th mag star which has a 12.5-mag companion star preceding it by 1.5’—closer in are two more stars preceding cluster by 10′ NP and SP—star to SP is 11th mag, star to NP is 11.5 mag—really bright star is on edge of field, much closer is the other pair NP and SP—NF cluster is a squiggle-pattern of stars—[satellite through field]—cluster is about 6 CC [actually 4]—medium concentration—doesn’t resolve—in averted there are a couple of brighter stars on edge of core, but they don’t “pop”—cluster could be mistaken for elliptical galaxy aside from granulation—in averted, on NF side, between edge of core and edge of halo is one distinct threshold star

 

9:49

NGC 6356 (Oph): hop skip and jump N of 6342—much larger—3′ core, halo extends to about 3.5’—to P side and slightly N by 18′ is an 8th mag star—due S by 10′ is a 10th mag star—these are brightest stars in field—attractive field in Milky Way—cluster not quite granular, more powdery around edges—to P side, especially in averted, looks like a few stars on edge of halo outside resolution—pretty tight globular, maybe CC 4 [actually 2]—considerably brighter than 6342, maybe 9th mag—easy-to-look-at object—in middle of smattering of stars on N side running almost all the way across field from brightest star, a string of mostly 10th/11th stars that run most of way across field, not quite straight—overlooked object!

 

10:29

IC 4593 (Her): White-Eyed Pea—found w/14mm, walked over it—in field of very interesting double star which caught my attention—very very small planetary, a couple of ” across—in 10mm a little fuzzier, easier to see—looks like central star is visible, with a fringe of nebulosity around it—to NP side by 7′ is a 9th mag star—double star is SF nebula by 12’—double has 11th and 13th mag components, separated by 15″, about size of nebula—couple of other brightish stars (11th/12th mag) in field, about 12′ and 15′ SF nebula—w/UHC: definitely brightens nebula, which becomes considerably larger, outer fringe much more visible—about 18″ across with 10mm—no real discernable shape beyond roundish—nebula now brightest object in field with UHC—definitely non-stellar, fuzzy—w/OIII: very similar to UHC view, hard to tell difference other than sky darker in OIII—seeing too poor for 6mm Radian view

 

10:50

NGC 6814 (Aql): face-on spiral, and looks like one (14mm)—galaxy is 2.25′ diameter—no stellar nucleus even in averted—dim core that’s quite small—on NP edge of halo is a 13th mag star—to SF edge of halo, off by about 1′ from halo is 14th mag star—to NF edge is threshold star that comes and goes with seeing—galaxy in middle of diamond pattern of 13th mag and dimmer stars that’s 5.5′ on its major axis, which is extended NP-SF—galaxy in rich field—NP galaxy by 9′ is a 9th mag star—galaxy has “face-on” brightness profile—halo slightly extended to N, but not S, so doesn’t look symmetrical—core seems off-center to S because of extension—may be star involved in halo just N of core, probably not nucleus—in averted, star on F side of halo makes galaxy look “stretched” in that direction

 

11:17

NGC 6772 (Aql): found in 14mm with no filter—not a hint of central star—due F nebula by 18′ is 8th mag star—P and slightly N by 9′ is 10th mag star—planetary dim but obvious w/no filter—1.5-2′ across—averted hints at some annularity—in averted, P side slightly brighter than F side—w/OIII: nebula definitely brighter on P edge—not quite round, extended to N—a little flatter on F edge—definitely a darker void in middle, a bit toward S side—not circular, but hard to define shape—has brighter structure that doesn’t go all the way to edge, and faint edge that drops away into background—inner region is brighter but not well defined—w/UHC: nebula not as bright as in OIII, and structure is more subtle—dark region in nebula still visible, but inner structure not as detailed—still getting idea that nebula extended to N—less-detailed view, but better than unfiltered view—nebula better defined on edge of inner region, but not as much as in OIII—(11:36) in 10mm, not much more detail than in 14mm—w/UHC: a bit more pronounced annularity, ring itself may be thick—still seeing extension to N slightly P edge of nebula—in averted annularity a little bit more prominent, but irregular—darkness in interior irregular-shaped—w/OIII: brighter but view is otherwise quite similar—definitely some sort of irregular annularity

 

12:01

NGC 7013 (Cyg): galaxy near Veil Nebula—fairly bright—small, just over 1.0′ x 0.75’—to N edge is 10th mag star, 2′ from edge of galaxy—to P edge of galaxy by 1.5′ is 13th mag star—to SF edge of galaxy by 2′ is 13th mag star—w/averted has almost stellar nucleus—bright core—elongated N-S—fairly rich Cygnus field—lots of 10th/11th mag stars—galaxy in little triangle—not an overly impressive galaxy, but brightest in Cygnus Milky Way

 

The next night was a continuation, with the Moon rising slightly later in the morning:

 

8/25-8/26/16

EUREKA RIDGE

MOON: 23 days (43%), rose at 12:54 AM

SEEING: 6

TRANSPARENCY: 6

SQM: not checked

NELM: not checked

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 60s, little dew; strong winds above, occasional gusts at ground level

 

Others present: JO, OG, BH

 

9:47

NGC 6366 (Oph): very large, very diffuse globular—in field with 5th-mag star—globular is 5-6′ diameter—very loose—CC 10, maybe 11—on P side, a pair of bright stars separated by 4’—N-most of pair is 10th mag, S-most 11th mag—on S edge of cluster’s halo, separated by 1′, is pair of 12th mag stars—to NF side by 2′ outside of halo is another 12th mag star—cluster has just a slight bit of central brightening, need to get naked-eye star out of field to see—in averted, cluster is granular—couple of cluster stars just on threshold of vision—line of brighter cluster stars is elongated NF-SP—huge cluster, very difficult and faint—almost like NGC 5897 but dimmer—impressive in size—due F on edge of outer periphery is a 14th mag star

 

10:07

NGC 6235 (Oph): result of long search w/o finder—3.5′ diameter, not round—elongated PNP-FSF—almost triangular shape—inside isosceles triangle of 12th mag stars—long side of triangle is 8′, two other sides 6’—long side oriented almost due P-F—other star is almost due N of cluster—cluster is diffuse—core makes up about 90%, so halo is just fringe—inner 1.0′ has scattering of threshold stars across it—CC 8 [actually 10]?—just on P and F edges of field are two brightest stars—star on P edge is 9th mag, star on F edge is 8th mag—core is irregular shaped, stretched N-S a bit inside halo—in averted, one brighter star in middle of core

 

10:54

NGC 6544 (Sgr): moderately-bright, loose globular—oblong—satellite tumbling through it—elongated NP-SF across core—about 3′ across in m.a.—core about 2.5′ x 2.0’—in loop of 11th-14th mag stars—to SF by 9′ is 10th mag star—granular, especially in averted—has a smattering of stars across middle, maybe 10 stars in averted—just on verge of resolution—CC 8 [actually 5; all over the map with these]?—pretty loose, pretty diffuse—overall catchy globular—SF by 20′ is big double star of 11th mag components separated by about 1’—very faint satellite moving very slowly N-S through field

 

11:02

NGC 6553 (Sgr): super-diffuse globular—powdery looking—4.5′ across—on SF side of field is 9th mag star—globular very powdery, very fine—on NP edge of cluster is a 12th mag star just on edge, maybe just inside halo—fairly loose concentration, CC 8 [actually 11]—in averted, looks like trying to break up into resolution—more spacious “feel” to concentration, like space between stars almost visible—pretty round cluster, maybe slightly elongated NP-SF a tiny bit

 

11:29

NGC 6781 (Aql): large planetary—2.0′ across—no central star—looks somewhat annular, S edge is brighter—central “hole” seems to be to N slightly F edge, off center—pretty round, one of rounder planetaries—almost due S by 18′ is 9th mag star—almost due F by 20′ is 10th mag star, these are two brightest in field—a number of other fainter stars in field—w/UHC: impression of annularity still valid—S edge is brighter, N edge more diffuse—annularity more concentrated toward N side—w/OIII: aside from having more contrast, not doing much better than UHC—annularity harder to detect in OIII than in UHC (11:48): in 10mm: nebula has threshold star just on N edge that wasn’t visible in 14mm—star really comes and goes—circular shape has well-defined edge, but has a few-arcsec thick halo around outside that’s diffuse/fuzzy–w/UHC: threshold star dissapeared—annularity more obvious than in 14mm—nebula seems more circular, although annularity still off-center

 

As with the previous night, the rise of the Moon cut our observing short.

This ended August’s observing–I had begun the month at OSP and ended it back where I really belonged.  It also ended the summer’s observing; with New Moon week already over as I write this, and a busy work schedule for September, it will be until near the month’s end before I can do any serious deep-sky work again. By that point, Scorpius, Ophiuchus, and the early-summer constellations will be well on their way out, and the rich galaxy fields of the autumn will be working their west toward the meridian.  This was always my favorite time to observe in the Midwest.  It remains to be seen how autumn’s stargazing will turn out here in the Pacific Northwest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Debutante’s Star Party

The first thing you notice about the Oregon Star Party is the dust.

You notice it when pulling into the site—driving up the winding gravel road through the Ochoco National Forest, and turning into the flat, gravelly clearing that hosts this darkest of all American star parties. The dust is everywhere, a fine reddish-brown coating on the dark-brown rocks, on the vehicles that preceded me to the star party, on any surface to which the wind could adhere it. The dust, the rocks… the site could pass for the surface of Mars were it not for the ubiquitous sagebrush and the stands of coniferous trees that sprang forth here and there among the trailers and telescopes.

And there were telescopes and trailers and motor homes in mass quantities: acres of them, tightly packed like passengers on a bullet train, close enough that many owners overlapped their canopies with each other, creating shady corridors floored with whatever coverings (astroturf, canvas, blue plastic tarp) could be staked down to keep the dust from being stirred up.

I wandered into this assemblage with nothing but my van full of food, water, and astronomy gear. I had enough food for a month, carefully screened to provide a full lactose-free diet for as long as I needed it, and cases of water and Gatorade (in addition to the requisite five gallons of water mandated by the National Forest Service for taking care of potential forest fires; I also had a fire shovel and an axe for those eventualities).

Scope-wise, I had only the EAS 18″ Dobsonian and my 11 x 80mm binoculars. I had had to make haste in order to get to the OSP before the 8:00 PM gate-closing—the Caveman-Mobile had been in the shop until 1:00, getting its AC unit and transmission fixed, and it was a five-hour drive to OSP—and I hadn’t packed everything well in the hour I had given myself to load the van. This meant that my 12.5″ Dob (Bob the Dob), my loyal and trusty companion, had to stay home. If I’d had another hour to Tetris through the van loading, I could’ve gotten both scopes in. Having only one scope would, of course, bite me in the ass during the week of OSP.

The drive was uneventful—always a good thing. I’d brought along a range of CDs that hearkened back to my early days of astronomy (Rush, the Led Zeppelin box set, some Steve Tibbetts, some Yes, John McLaughlin’s Shakti, etc.) but wound up listening to George Carlin most of the way. My computer printer had died, so I was unable to print out driving directions; I had to rely on GPS (not recommended by the OSP organizers, although it would’ve been fine) and an iPad with the directions downloaded. As it turned out, I didn’t need either for the last, complicated hour of the drive, as I got in on a caravan led by the food truck that served the star party. Recognizing it as such, I simply followed it through the forest roads to the site. We pulled in just after 7 PM.

Finding a place to set up was a bit more complicated. The woman at the gate referred me to one end of the site (“that’s the social part of the site”), although I did spend time looking for the other EAS regulars—I knew most of them weren’t coming in until Thursday, but wanted to see if I recognized anyone. Bill “Dr.Lapser” Basham was already there, but I didn’t see him until a couple of days later. I opted for the “social end” of the site, which, it turned out, was a lot quieter than the place where EAS would eventually set up.

There was a lot of room down on the northeast corner of the site. I parked the van in an open spot near a grove of trees and unloaded the scope hurriedly so that it could get acclimated to the falling temperatures. In my haste, though, I hadn’t thought about the positioning of the van—in which I would be sleeping—or the fact that I had placed the scope (and my equipment table) behind the van so that I wouldn’t be able to move the van at all without first moving the massive scope. (I had gotten the scope out of the van by myself, which was a really dumb thing to do—the mirror box weighs well over 90 lbs.) All in the name of observing all night the first night.

While waiting for sunset, I met with the folks on “my” end of OSP: Don from Astoria, a member of the Rose City Astronomers (of Portland), who brought a decent-sized refractor, a Lunt solar scope, and a 12.5″ Dob; and Thomas from Grants Pass, with a 10″ Dob, binoculars, and some photographic gear. On the other side of Thomas’ tent and vehicle were Star and Erwin (?), a hippie couple with a small child–they had come to OSP for the experience, rather than doing their own astronomy.

The second thing you notice about the Oregon Star Party is the summer Milky Way.

The Milky Way began to appear well before the sky was dark. It would have been easy to mistake it for a band of clouds, or an airplane contrail, if one didn’t already know where it should appear and that the Milky Way was an unforgettable sight at OSP. And as twilight began to fade, the spiral form (as seen from inside) of our galaxy stretched, lace-like, across the sky, horizon-to-horizon, filling the expanse from the Galactic Center in Sagittarius all the way northeast through Perseus, barely visible above the horizon, with a gauzy mesh of unresolved stars and the dark tracery of silicate dust and organic matter that split the glowing band of Milky Way into fragments, clouds, and arcs.

No matter how many times one sees the Milky Way in such dark-sky spendor, it remains one of the most breathtaking sights on the planet. It’s so rare to see our home galaxy this clearly—so few land-bound sites offer as dark a view—that it’s possible to understand why humanity has become so arrogant: there’s nothing in nature that can crush one’s ego into insignificance quite as thoroughly as witnessing the panoply of out vast galaxy wheeling above. The !Kung people of the Kalahari Desert consider the Milky Way to be the Backbone of Night, holding up the vault of the sky; the ancient Japanese considered it a Celestial River. Yet neither of these imaginitive myths (nor any other from around the world) hints at the galaxy’s true nature, and all attempt to shoehorn its magnificence into an easily-digestible anthropomorphic concept, rather than grasping at what it really is. To stand under the full splendor of the Milky Way is to feel infinitesimal, to transcend human constructs of religion and myth, and to be aware of the true vastness of the universe.

I sat on my observing chair for quite some time, taking in the view. The telescope sat idle for a long while. When I did finally press the scope into action, it was for a pathetic short time, cursory glances at only a few showcase objects (plus the first object on the OSP Advanced Observing Program, the interacting galaxy pair Markarian 691 in Serpens [NGCs 5994/5996]). I took no notes on it. Rather, I felt extremely small and a bit depressed. I was here at OSP and had no energy, or had all the energy taken out of me by the long day it had been: gathering my cargo in one place, getting the final touches on some of the gear I had cobbled together, getting the van fixed, tearing back home, loading up the van, and getting on the road with just enough time to get here before the gate closed, with no time to make sure I’d brought everything I needed. And it was more than chilly now; I’d had to put on my cold-weather gear already the first night.

I was wiped out, exhausted from the day, and crawled into the back of the van before 1 AM to sleep. Hopefully the weather would hold out well for the week—it was forecast to—and I wouldn’t care about bailing out early the first night. Still plenty of time to observe what I needed to.

***

I awoke the next day at 10:30, with the van heating up in the direct sun and with my winter coat still on. It had actually been a decent night’s sleep despite all the negatives working against it. But there was my unfortunate lack of forethought regarding the placement of the van to contend with—there was no shelter from the Sun, and as I didn’t bring a tent, the best I could do for sleeping was to rig a blue tarp with zip ties and hang it, curtain-like, from the clothing hooks in the van (finding a few extra places in the van where such hooks weren’t available). This proved to be perfectly adequate for changing clothes and darkening the van enough to sleep, coupled with a reflective sun-shade in the front windshield, although it did nothing to make the van actually cooler to sleep in. Rolling down the front windows and opening the vents only helped to a degree—fortunately, the first few days of the star party were relatively mild (in the mid 80s).

I also discovered, upon exiting the van, that I had new neighbors on the left; Jesse and her son Octavo had taken the space between me and Thomas. Jesse had degrees in philosophy and landscaping—they were at OSP because of Octavo’s interest in astrophotography, though, and he had an array of cameras and tracking mounts with him.

I walked around the site for a while, looking for others from EAS but also getting a feel for the hugeness of the OSP gathering. It was impossible to really tell how many were there; the site spread out too far, and I’m not sure I ever even saw the whole thing. Many of the vehicles and tents had been slipped between trees—something to remember for next time.   Those who were packed in nearly on top of each other were congregated in an area near the amenities tents and trucks, at a spot where the OSP road forked. Astrophotographers had gathered just east of that point, and their area was marked as “ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY: SEVERE LIGHT RESTRICTIONS.” As if there weren’t severe light restrictions throughout; Rules 1-5 at OSP basically read “No white light of any kind after dark.”

There were talks of many sorts at the Activities tent, along with activities for kids. (There was a fair number of kids there, and a lot of dogs as well; I saw border collies, German sheperds, a greyhound, a bunch of smaller dogs, and a really derpy Corgi that should’ve been named Stimpy given its permanent facial expression.) Most of the talks concerned either astrophotography or next August’s solar eclipse (as OSP will be very near the centerline). Not being overly interested in astrophotography and having become burned out on eclipse-related stuff, I skipped the talks pretty much altogether.

I got back to the van and worked on my observing plan for the evening, then went back to sleep with the van windows open. It was surprisingly comfortable, although it involved a great deal of rearranging of food containers, coolers, and clothing buckets to make it so. The observing plan culled about sixty objects from my database of 700, and included a variety of types: Arp galaxies, flat galaxies, galaxy clusters and groups (including a number of Hicksons), a few Sharpless nebulae, some Abell planetaries, and some faint non-NGC globular clusters.

I woke up again at about 6:30. After some rations of beef jerky, apples, a banana, and some peanut butter filled pretzels, I spent the time until sunset getting my gear ready and talking with the other members of what became my OSP tribe down at our little out-of-the-way corner of the star party.

As night fell, I kept with my usual routine: collimate the scope, then observe planets and bright Messier objects while waiting for the sky to fully darken. This usually consisted of Saturn, Mars, M4, M80, M5, M10, M12, M14, M13 (the Hercules Globular), M 11 (the Wild Duck Cluster), M15, M17 (the Swan Nebula), M20 (the Trifid Nebula), and M8 (the Lagoon Nebula). I shared these views with anyone who came by—usually Octavo (who hadn’t gotten to look through a scope that required a ladder before), Jesse, and Thomas; Don had his own observing agenda, although he did come over for a few objects—he especially was interested in seeing the central star of the Ring Nebula, although we never did catch it. (I suspect because the nebulosity was too bright under the superb OSP skies.) Star and Erwin and their daughter also took a few looks at the “early” objects.

Once the scope had largely cooled to ambient and the twilight had faded to true darkness, I went to work on my list. A fair number of the objects eluded me—not surprising, given the difficulty level I was working on. Many of the targets I had chosen were more suited for 20-inch-plus scopes, but I also noticed that the sky transparency was not quite as good as I was expecting—the galaxies and clusters I was looking for, and those that I was already familiar with, had less “pop” than they should have. Nonetheless, I was able to pick up a number of objects I wouldn’t have acquired at a lesser site or with a smaller scope.

My notes from OSP are, unfortunately, a lot fewer than I’d intended. My phone battery dwindles very quickly these days, and although I did have means to charge it (a AA battery > USB charger and a Celestron power tank, whose ability to repeatedly charge phone and iPad I was uncertain of), I was still unsure of how the phone would hold up. So I limited my notes to objects that would best fulfill my observing-list criteria, and came away with a lot less than I’d hoped. Next time, I know—this time out at OSP was to be a huge learning experience regarding facilities and equipment.

My first targets off the list included Shakhbazian 166, an intriguing galaxy chain in Ursa Minor, and Hickson 72, a difficult galaxy group in Boötes. My first notes, however, were on Zwicky’s Triplet, an interacting trio of galaxies in Hercules:

 

8/3-8/4/16 

OREGON STAR PARTY

MOON: 1 day old (1% illuminated), set at 9:01 PM

SEEING: 6

TRANSPARENCY: 7

SQM: not taken

NELM: not checked; certainly over 7.0

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid 40s, little dew; slight breeze

 Others present: too many others to count 

 

12:06

Arp 103 (Zwicky’s Triplet; Her): NP NGC 6241 by about 18′–consists of two major components, one of which is double, and the more S of the two main components is halfway between two 11th-mag stars—consists of a larger object maybe 1.0′ across, very round, very slight central concentration—to just P slightly S of that, separated by only a couple of arcseconds is much much smaller and fainter object—N of those two, very close to one of 11th mag stars, is second component, almost blur together in 14mm—separation between that one and pair is about 3’—this final component visible mainly in averted in 14mm, better visibility in 10mm—in 10mm, second component almost touching star—NP that star by 3′ is another star of almost equal magnitude—looking at brighter component of Arp 103, separation between components much more apparent, brightest one about twice the size of smaller, and third component about 0.75 times the size of brightest one

 

It’s important to know that my sizes and distances may have still been scaled for the same eyepiece (the 14mm ES 82-degree Nagler clone) in my 12.5″ Discovery—having become accustomed to the scale of that eyepiece with the 12.5″, it was difficult to break the habit of referring to sizes and distances in that combination of gear. In the 12.5″, that eyepiece yields a 42′-wide field at 112x, while in the 18″ it yields a 30′ field and 178x. It should theoretically be easier to scale things to the 30′-wide field than to the 42′-wide field, but habit is habit.

Being (unduly) rather pleased with myself for tracking down Zwicky’s Triplet, I turned the scope toward the not-quite-at-the-meridian constellation Aquila, which holds one of my long-time nemeses, the mercurial globular cluster Palomar 11. I had attempted Pal 11 numerous times with numerous scopes and from numerous sites of various light-pollution levels, but surely the 18″ scope at OSP would be enough to grab this one. And so it was:

 

12:45

Palomar 11 (Aql): at long last—14mm—cluster is large, very diffuse, looks like it has a sprinkling of stars over it—in averted at east a couple across middle of cluster—to P side and slightly N of cluster is an 8th mag star—due N of cluster is a pair of 12th/13th mags—due F is a pair of 12th-mag stars spaced about 3′ apart—cluster is about 3′ across—sprinkling of very faint stars, N-S group of stars slightly brighter—about 3′ S of cluster is 13th-mag star—almost a triangle with long side N-S and other vertex P—just a tiny bit of not-quite-granularity, hints that there might be some granularity in averted

 

I then spent some time along the Milky Way, digging out Aquila’s other two globular clusters, NGC 6749 and 6760 (the former of which is quite difficult, but I had seen both before from Giant City). Up the Milky Way, I didn’t manage to catch the two Sharpless nebulae in Sagitta and Vulpecula that were on my list (Sh2-84 and Sh2-88), both of which I should’ve been able to get, all things considered. (I didn’t try as hard as I should’ve, not wanting to deal with nebula filters on top of the ladder. A weak excuse.) I also checked out the magnificent Veil Nebula (a requirement in the summer) before dipping down into Capricornus for M30 and Palomar 12. Why I didn’t attempt Palomar 10 while in Sagitta I don’t know, as it was on my list.

One thing that’s immediately noticeable during OSP nights is that, no matter how many tiny red LEDs can be seen around the fields, there’s almost complete silence. I had expected more socializing and verbal camaraderie among the gathered observers, but the quiet was almost unsettling—it was possible to be among 500+ people and feel like one is completely detached from humanity. An interesting feeling, not totally unexpected, but still somewhat startling to notice at 1 AM.

I moved into Aquarius from Capricornus, stopping at the huge Helix Nebula before working over to M72, M73 (a Y-shaped asterism near M72), NGC 7009 (The Saturn Nebula, bright green with its ring-like ansae easy in the 18″), and up to Hickson 88, which I had previously seen in the 12.5″. Oddly, this charming galaxy quartet avoided detection despite considerable time sweeping the area—I knew exactly where it should’ve been, but it just didn’t show. A victim of the transparency, perhaps.

I did manage a very marginal sighting of the Aquarius Dwarf Galaxy after quite some time—not a good enough view to consider it sighted, or to take notes, but I’m reasonably confident I picked it up.

From there, it was off to the NGC 6962 group, which I’d also had on my radar for some time:

 

2:54

NGC 6962 group (Aqr): 6962 and 6964 are two brightest—6962 about 1.5′ in diameter, has a large core maybe 1.0′ diameter—not much in way of a stellar nucleus—6964 just under 1.0′, elongated NP-SF slightly—has 12th mag star off F edge—those two separated by 3’—12′ N of 6962 is 12th-mag star—SP that star by 1′ is NGC 6967 : about 1.5′ across—doesn’t have a lot of central concentration—NP 6962/6964 pair is extremely faint galaxy [NGC 6961]about 5′ from 6962—really coming and going—NGC 6965?—hard to tell size—5′ NP that galaxy is an edge-on galaxy [NGC 6959] about 1.5′ x 0.75′ NF-SP—S the edge-on is a small scalene triangle of 12th/13th-mag stars—NF 6964 by 8′ is a pair of 13th-mag stars separated by 3′ and between them may be another galaxy, with a star superimposed on it, maybe two very close together, may be fuzz between/behind those stars [actually only field stars, no galaxy]

 

I definitely need to take new notes on this one, as I’m not satisfied with the accuracy of these.

As I was in Aquarius, I hopped over to nearby Cetus to steal some photons from the WLM system, a.k.a. the Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte dwarf galaxy, a member of the Milky Way’s own retinue of galactic satellites. I had seen this Leichtenstein-shaped galaxy, little more than a faint glow, in the 12.5″ scope on several previous occasions, but it had more presence here in the larger scope and darker skies. I couldn’t make out the brightest of its globular clusters, which was supposedly visible in scopes of the 18″ class, although I didn’t quite give it the attention it deserved.

Then I was off to Pegasus, and NGC 7479, NGC 7331, and Stephan’s Quintet. But I did notice that conditions were declining, and a look toward the eastern horizon indicated why—morning twilight was already starting to take over from the too-brief night. I kept observing until the sky was too washed-out for hunting down fainter objects, then started packing up my gear (leaving the telescope set up but covering the mirrors).

I now had a dilemma: quiet hours at OSP were from 3 AM to 10:30 AM. But to get into my van to sleep would require opening and shutting the doors a couple of times (getting all my smaller gear inside as well), and I didn’t want to disturb my neighbors. So I waited until the first signs of life on this end of OSP—about 7 AM—before crawling into the van to recover from the night.

***

Wednesday was largely a repeat of Tuesday, schedule-wise. I got a few hours of sleep early and went back to sleep by about 3 PM. In between, more conversation with my tribe (during which they told me not to worry about waking them up by slamming van doors), including some spectacular views of the Sun through Don’s Lunt solar scope, a 60mm with extra double-etalon stack. It was the best view I’ve ever had of our local star, with a half-dozen tremendous prominences and numerous black filaments snaking across the surface, all in crisp detail. For the first time, I felt compelled to get a solar scope.

I was coming back from brushing my teeth—it was easier to do so over the ridge in front of the van, as it was possible to spit in the woods in private without being too vulgar—when a voice beckoned me.

“Hey, Eugene!” (Not my name, of course, but I could recognize the use of my affiliation as an identifier.)

I recognized the speaker, vaguely at first: it was Steve F, EAS member and part of the “Jerry’s Garage” telescope-building group; he had brought his violin to one of our workshop sessions, and he and Mike C had played some appealing folk music while we painted and glued telescope components together. (Steve preferred Django Reinhardt/Hot Club-style jazz.) He had gotten in to OSP that morning, and after driving around, had found only me of the group. As there was space on my right-hand side (between my spot and Don’s), Steve pulled in and set his camp up there. He was a welcome addition to the group, being a “social captain” sort, and helped tie the lot of us together.

The night was clear again, and warmer than the two previous nights—temps only fell to the mid 50s. As I was poking through Sagittarius, however, waiting for twilight to end, I managed to push the big scope down past its lowest altitude; the altitude stops didn’t prevent it from going down lower than it should. I knew this was trouble—the scope had come off of the Teflon pads the altitude bearings rode upon, and wouldn’t move back up in altitude. Crap. I managed to wrestle the heavy mirror box back onto the Teflon, but when I attempted to push the scope upward, I heard a snap. Double crap. The front two inches of bearing surface—Formica—had sheared off one of the bearings.

I had broken the club’s flagship scope. Visions of leaving OSP and returning to Eugene to fetch Bob the Dob (or just staying home in shame) wandered around my early-hominid skull for a full minute before I got up the nerve to fully inspect the damage.

Fortunately, the rest of the bearing surface was still securely attached. Even better, the other altitude bearing was fine. The scope was still usable, provided I stayed above a certain altitude and the rough sans-Formica bearing surface didn’t end up on the Teflon bearing pad. Cue sigh of relief, although I dreaded telling Jerry about what I’d done.

After looks at the usual nightfall suspects, I intended to go back into my list from Tuesday. However, I was interrupted as I started the star-hop from M5 to where Palomar 5 sat in southern Serpens Caput.

“Hey—this is that monster scope! Come over here, guys!”

One of the drawbacks to having a large scope at a star party is the attention it draws. This usually wouldn’t be a problem; the 18″ wasn’t even close to the biggest scope at OSP, and I actually enjoyed showing astronomical objects to people. However, while there were much more impressive scopes here, the 18″ was the biggest scope at this end of the star party, and so attracted more attention than it would’ve had I been parked in OSP’s main drag. I fully expected people to stop for a look, as Star and Erwin had, and that was fine. But there was something incredibly rude about the way this group barged in on me, especially because they didn’t ask if they were interrupting what I was doing, and the way that waited around for me to show them object after object for a full ninety minutes increasingly got on my nerves. Meanwhile, Palomar 5 sank lower and lower toward the trees. I showed off multiple examples of each major type of deep-sky object, climbing up and down the ladder to reposition the object in the eyepiece for each of the faceless demanders. By the time they left—finally saying “thank you”—Pal 5 was in the trees and I was fuming. I wanted to shout

rovlta9

but held my tongue, gritted my teeth, and went back to work.

I spent the first part of the night in Delphinus, catching NGC 7006 (one of the most distant Milky Way globulars), NGC 6934 (one of the more underrated globulars), NGC 6905 (the Blue Flash Nebula), and the Delphinus galaxy trio (NGCs 6927, 6928, and 6930). I had observed all of these multiple times, although I hadn’t seen all three of the trio before; NGC 6927 was tremendously elusive on the previous occasions, but was quite obvious here.

I also went back to Palomar 11, getting another look at this dim globular glow.

With the altitude bearing broken, I could forget doing the OSP advanced observing challenge; the scope wouldn’t go low enough to catch NGC 253 in Sculptor, which I was counting on to complete the list (the challenge here was to detect to galaxy’s barred-spiral shape and its attendant dwarf galaxy). I wasn’t sure I really wanted to do the list at first, despite having started on it, but there was no way I could finish it now. I couldn’t even track down Burbidge’s Chain, a string of tiny galaxies attendant to the large spiral NGC 247 and one of my long sought-for wish list targets. There was no end to the objects I could track down with the scope, but I was still disappointed at being unable to mine the lower southern reaches of the sky.

Back up to Pegasus, and the familiar NGC 7479. The galaxy was less the target here; instead, it was the leaping-off point for star-hopping to Palomar 13, another super-faint globular and one I had first spied with a 17.5″ scope from the late, lamented Star Hill Inn back in 1999. I spent 20 minutes hunting for the globular on this night, but just couldn’t winnow it out of the background sky. I had slightly better luck with UGC 12281, a super-thin “flat” spiral galaxy I had first heard of on the Deep Sky Forum (deepskyforum.com); this galaxy was barely visible, even with averted vision, but I’m pretty sure I caught several glimpses of it against the somewhat less-than-dark background sky.

Even better were the Taffy Galaxies, UGCs 12914 and 12915, also in Pegasus:

 

8/4-8/5/16

OREGON STAR PARTY

MOON: 2 days old (4% illuminated), set at 9:34 PM

SEEING: 7

TRANSPARENCY: 7

SQM: not taken

NELM: not checked

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid 50s, little to moderate dew; slight breeze

Others present: too many others to count

 

1:42

UGCs 12914, 12915 (Taffy Galaxies; Peg): with galaxies centered, a 7th-mag star to P edge and slightly N of field—galaxies are oriented NP-SF—one to P side is brighter—little bit of central brightening—about 1.0′ long by 0.75′ —by ¾’ SF has a 13th-mag star—galaxy to F side about 0.75′ long by 0.5’—star off to S edge is part of a long isosceles triangle of 13th-mag stars, other two are NF galaxies—at 14mm, galaxies are slightly curled toward each other on S ends, not easy to tell (may be a memory from photographs rather than actually seen)—kind-of parenthetical looking—about halfway and a little N between galaxies and bright star on edge is 11th or 12th-mag star

 

I observed for another hour, although what I went after I don’t quite recall. Perhaps it was fatigue from the all-nighter the night before, or perhaps I was a bit devoid of inspiration. In any case, I was the last one standing in my corner of OSP as I covered up the scope and crawled back inside the van, less concerned this time about the van doors waking anyone up.

***

What to say about Thursday? It followed much the same pleasant pattern as Wednesday. Steve had gone to the TeleVue tent to borrow an eyepiece (simply hand over your driver’s license and you could borrow any TV eyepiece they had) and was showing off the 24mm Panoptic he had gotten from them—he would later buy one to go with his 10″ Dob. I considered borrowing an 8mm Delos, or an Ethos (100˚ AFOV!) of any focal length, but chose instead to stay with what I brought. I used my 10mm Delos a fair amount, although not quite as much as I likely will with the 12.5″ Dob (where I don’t have to worry about traipsing up and down a ladder with eyepieces). I need to build an eyepiece rack that can fit atop the ladder that came with the 18″ scope.

I noted with some curiosity that my (well-attested) fear of ladders didn’t apply to this particular ladder—or else it didn’t apply at night. Perhaps the reward of photons was enough to get me to the top of a ladder in the dark, or perhaps not seeing my surroundings well suppressed that fear. I’m sure that the half-steps that had been installed in the ladder helped, because it was possible to find the perfect height more easily, without having to bend awkwardly—and perhaps dangerously—to peer into the eyepiece. In any event, I was willing to go up the ladder even with it tilting somewhat precariously, far more than I ever would if having to paint or clean something in full daylight.

Nightfall brought with it an unwanted quantity on Thursday—clouds.

The clouds weren’t a huge problem—more an annoyance that kept part of the sky unusable but seemed to leave the rest of the sky alone. Seeing them silhouetted against the Milky Way was a bit disorienting; the blackness of the clouds seemed to create new, drifting dark nebulae along the starry course of the galaxy’s spiral arms. In fact, I’d never been anywhere where the clouds at night were pitch-black and seen only in silhouette against the night sky. Not even the Ozarks, on our two trips there, had dark enough skies that cloud and sky had such contrast.

Fortunately, the clouds stayed mostly to the east and southeast, so once an object rose above them, it was possible to observe it at length, rather than having to skip all over the sky, seeking objects that appeared in sucker holes.

The first part of the night was spent with my 11 x 80 binoculars, rather than with the scope. Binoculars are ideal for wide fields and extended objects (the Pleiades, the Andromeda Galaxy, etc.), but are particularly good for dark nebulae—an object type in abundance along the summer Milky Way. For the first time, I was able to trace out much of the Great Galactic Dark Horse in Ophiuchus and the dark vanes that surrounded the Scutum Star Cloud, as well as the profusion of dust clouds swirling around northern Sagittarius. Barnard’s E, a pair of dark nebulae near Altair in Aquila, stood out boldly against the unresolved glow of the Milky Way near the Great Rift. Amazing stuff, none of which could be visible where the Milky Way couldn’t be seen… like Cincinnati, where my journey along this road had started.

I took no notes this particular night, quite stupidly. Having determined that I could get an 80% charge on my phone with the battery charger on a set of four AA batteries, and that I’d made barely a dent with the charge on the iPad, I could well afford to take more notes than I had been. So why I didn’t do so I had no idea, particularly given that I observed a lot of objects that deserved to have notes taken.

I spent much of the night in Pegasus, Cetus, Pisces, and Andromeda. I struck out on Palomar 13 again (damnit), but managed to get a decent look at IC 1613, the Local Group dwarf in Cetus that’s so unpredictable in its visibility. With his borrowed 24mm Panoptic, Steve was interested in tracking down Uranus and Neptune, so I broke out Sky Safari on the iPad and hunted the two ice giants down; Steve used my Telrad to zero in on these two planets and soon enough had each of them in his 10″ scope.

The other Cetus dwarf Local Group galaxy—the Cetus Dwarf—also proved too elusive. I clearly need more persistence on these Local Group objects. But I did sweep up the much easier NGC 185, NGC 147, and NGC 278 in Cassiopeia, the former two being among the Local Group retinue. Ditto for IC 10, a much-fainter Local Group dwarf in a richer area of the Cassiopeia Milky Way. (Somehow, I forgot to search for Maffei I and Maffei II, highly obscured galaxies near Perseus’ Double Cluster; I’d seen Maffei I several times, but it was always fun to track it down.)

I spent quite a while in the Pegasus I Galaxy Cluster, on the Pegasus-Pisces border. Here I picked up a dozen small galaxy glows stretched over a couple of eyepiece fields; I must’ve taken an hour on this group alone. I wish I’d sketched it, or at least taken notes. (I even had my sketching equipment with me, but it would take more motivation to do the job correctly than I was evidently willing to summon.) From there, it was a hop up to the NGC 467/470/474 trio and NGC 520 (the Honeysuckle Galaxy), all in Pisces.

I also checked out the huge edge-on spiral NGC 891 in Andromeda. This one stretched nearly half of the field in the 14mm eyepiece, a huge needle of a galaxy with its dark dust lane unmistakable against the galaxy’s lambent glow. (Octavo and Steve both considered this one of the coolest objects they saw during the week.) Also tres cool was nearby galaxy cluster Abell 347, which I had first explored at Eagle’s Rest; here, I picked up nine galaxies with relative ease, not even including the much-smaller edge-on spiral NGC 898, very near NGC 891.

Two other excellent groups that I hadn’t observed before were down in Pisces: the NGC 128 and NGC 200 groups.

NGC 128 is an odd lenticular galaxy with a rectangular core and long, wispy “tails” (the edges of the galaxy’s disk) that curl slightly. It was surprisingly bright and over an arcminute long. Flanking 128 on either side was a much-smaller elliptical galaxy (NGCs 127 and 130), and NGCs 125 and 126 also appeared in this interesting and impressive field. A really cool sight.

Larger and even more impressive was the NGC 200 group, a few degrees to the east. This group comprises a dozen NGC galaxies aligned roughly north-south in a 1˚-long chain, a truly impressive sight spanning two fields of the 14mm eyepiece. I swept up every one of the galaxies in this group that was labeled on the TriAtlas chart of the region—an easy group worthy of further study.

I crashed out at about 3 AM, regretting my lack of notetaking but well-pleased with the quantity and quality of the sights I had seen.

***

Friday was a bit different—I had my obligatory 10-11 AM wakeup, then talked to the tribe for a while; But after some socializing and going over my list once again—adding a few objects and crossing off those I had taken notes on or merely seen—I went up to the “junction” to try to find the EAS tribe.

It didn’t take long. I bumped into Randy coming back from the shower tent, and he directed me down the main road. I heard recorder music just past the astrophotography area, and knew that Randy’s daughter Kristen was there; she’s a member of the Eugene Recorder Choir, and evidently the folks she was with were also. They had a huge RV parked there, with Orion (the club’s scope that we had built as a group project) set up nearby, and I recognized Kristen’s 14″ Orion Dob on the equatorial platform that we had designed and built in recent workshops.

Across the road, I found Jerry and Kathy, Mel B and his wife Barb, and Frank S, with his VW Minibus. They had a tent up with an EAS banner in front of it. Group or club banners weren’t plentiful, but there were several of them visible (most noteworthy: the Vatican Observatory) throughout the OSP grounds.

The EAS group had gotten in fairly late Thursday evening. Their traditional spot was next to a tree stump marked “Rob’s Tree Stump,” the significance of which I’m still not sure, but it served as a landmark along the road for EAS to gather. I didn’t know this at the time, but I was content where I was and didn’t really plan to move my site.

After spending some time with the EAS crew, I went back to my end of OSP for a while, in part to get ready for Mel’s telescope walkabout, an OSP tradition in which Mel leads the assemblage around the grounds to look at homebuilt projects that had been put together since the previous OSP. I may have fallen asleep for a bit while waiting.

The walkabout was enjoyable, if a bit hotter and sunnier that I would’ve liked. Temperatures had been gradually getting warmer throughout the week, and we had broken into the upper 80s by this point, with the Sun a remorseless and relentless presence.

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Sky & Telescope contributor Howard Banich with his all-aluminum and plastic 28″ f3.8. Banich is about 6′ 7″, for reference. Astoundingly, he built this in his garage.

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The dual-drive mechanism for Banich’s scope; this enables it to track in both right ascension and declination. An exceptional piece of work.

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Tensegrity telescopes, in which the cables (made from bowstring) provide all of the strength; the tent-poles only keep the secondary cage aligned. I don’t recall the name of the builder (in the Foreign Legion hat).

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This particular scope, an 8″, weighs about 20 pounds with mirror, and can fit into a suitcase.

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Showing the collapsed scope.

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An excellent 10″ binocular scope, with mirror cells made from 5-gallon buckets. Collimated from the front. Inter-pupil distance can be adjusted by rotating the secondary cages. This scope sits on a homebuilt tracking platform very much like the ones built by EAS, which provides about an hour of tracking before needing a reset.

IMG_1840

An old converted 16″ Meade Lightbridge scope, with tube cutouts to lighten the weight and a home-brew base. The scope belongs to the gentleman in the tie-dyed shirt, who holds the scope’s remote control unit in his hand. This scope is completely automated, and will track all night, in addition to fast slewing to targets.

The walkabout ended by the EAS canopy, with Jerry and Randy discussing the building of Orion and the equatorial platforms with the crowd.

As I was leaving the walkabout, one of the volunteers (an older Indian gentleman who could have been a classic religious guru, with white flowing hair and a beard) stopped me to chat briefly and look at my shirt–one that I had bought 11 years ago at the Very Large Array, with the caption “The Universe Expanded Out of Nothingness 14 Billion Years Ago—and all I got were 15 trillion interconnected cells, a self-aware consciousness, and this lousy t-shirt.” He was very pleased with this caption, grinning broadly at it and grabbing a clipboard so that he could copy it down.

The walkabout took about an hour and a half, and as it was ending, we noticed an unwanted intruder: a bank of clouds building to the south. These were not the scattered, fluffy clouds from the night before; these were dark, dense, and very obviously rain-laden. The forecast had called for clouds in the afternoon and early evening, breaking up in time for sunset, but these looked to be more than a few hours’ worth.

And they were. By the time sunset rolled around, the clouds were still rolling in. To the east, there was an impressive lightning storm happening, one far enough away that we could appreciate it without much fear of it affecting us beyond obscuring our Universe.

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The view of the incoming storm, which hit about 50 miles east of OSP. Lightning was impressive behind and above the copse of trees on the left.

Steve, Don, Thomas, Octavo, Jesse and I sat around watching the lightning and chatting, until we were joined by an OSP volunteer named Dana. Dana had a walkie-talkie over which we could hear weather updates; he told us that the revised forecast was calling for the clouds to break by 10:00. Over the course of our discussion, it came out that Dana had graduated from SIU in the late 60s, and knew of its party-school rep—this led to us talking about the strange connection between SIU and UO via Animal House (filmed at UO, but based on a frat at SIU), among other things. Meanwhile, Thomas and Octavo set up their cameras for time-lapse photos of the storm, hoping to catch lightning on a computer chip.

10:00 came and went. The clouds just kept rolling in. Dana went back to his rounds of the OSP site, spurred on by our humorous threats regarding “his” failed prediction of the clouds dispersing. Several of the others turned in for the night. I wandered up to see what the EAS crew was doing.

Nothing, as it turned out. Aside from the strains of recorder music coming from the huge RV, there was no real sign of the group. I waited for a few minutes and then went back to my van. No rain had been forecast, at least for the OSP site, so I crawled into the van and left the scope set up (albeit partially covered with a canvas tarp and pointed low to avoid wind gusts), as it had been throughout the week. I set my alarm for 1:00 AM and set to work on the crossword compendium I’d been working through. I don’t know what time I turned the lights off.

1:00 came quickly. I pulled some of the curtain-tarp aside and checked the sky: still cloudy. I reset the alarm for 2:30 and went back to sleep.

2:30 also came quickly, with the same result. With only an hour before morning twilight, I told myself a night off from observing wouldn’t be a bad thing and went back to sleep.

***

Saturday dawned still somewhat cloudy. There was some blue sky, but not enough to have been useful for observing, especially given that it would’ve come just before twilight broke.

I felt better having had a full night’s sleep. When I was younger, this wouldn’t have bothered me; I could have observed every clear minute of the star party and been perfectly fine for more. On the downhill side of 40, though, four hours’ sleep a night only goes so far, even with afternoon naps.

Although OSP didn’t technically end until tomorrow—still one night to go!—an exodus was already taking place. Jesse and Octavo were packing up; Steve had already stowed all his gear in his car and was saying goodbyes, and Don was closing up shop as well. For various reasons, people were heading home.

Up at the EAS encampment, there was now space, as Frank had left as well. I sat around with Bill, Mel, Barb, Jerry, Kathy, and Kristen for a while, talking about various things (next year’s OSP [which I would be missing to go to Carbondale for the eclipse], the merits of Sky Safari and the TriAtlas, EAS in general, and more that I don’t recall). By 2:00, it was time for the OSP group photo, and although many attendees had already left—not just my tribe at the end of the road—several of us opted to get in the picture anyway. (I’m not sure why they waited until Saturday for the photo, to be honest.)

We gathered in an empty area near the fork in the road, about 200 of us, standing in the hot Sun. The Indian gentleman who had been so amused by my shirt the day before sang a song while the photographer readied his camera—I was sure the song wasn’t a ghazal, but didn’t know what kind it was, and he only described it as a song of blessing (I think I heard Shiva mentioned, but couldn’t be sure; I wasn’t even sure if the song was in Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, or which of the hundreds of Indian languages it might’ve been—I should have asked.)

After the picture came the door prizes. Mel had given us his and Barb’s tickets and Frank’s, as well as a couple of others whose origins I didn’t know; he didn’t feel the need to win anything. Having always had bad luck at prize drawings, I wasn’t overly optimistic.

Prizes for OSP volunteers were first, then prizes for the kids in attendance. The kids’ prizes were pretty good; there were several telescopes and some nice drones (a number of larger drones were flying around the site Friday night during the distant storm). I hoped that there would be drones available for the adults, although I didn’t actually need one. I commented that the guy doing the door prize drawings (I think it was OSP Vice President Jim Todd) was very quick with his banter and quite funny, both as a result of natural gift and a lot of practice.

One young lady won a package of star-patterned duct tape and glow-in-the-dark stars, which ended up being something of a lesser reward compared to the other prizes. By the end of the drawings, though, the grand prize was still yet to be won—a Celestron telescope, the specifics of which I couldn’t see on the box—and all of the kids present had won something already. With no tickets left for the finale, the crowd began chanting for the girl with the duct tape to get the grand prize. And so she did.

The adult prizes were impressive: several eyepieces (A Nagler, a 5mm ES 92-degree, and a couple of others I don’t recall), a couple of equipment cases, some binoculars, several Amazon gift certificates, a number of telescopes, and some books. (No drones, although they had one box seemingly containing one that, in the small print, turned out to be a computer “drone simulator.” Talk about a lame concept—and the crowd pretty much agreed with that assessment.) The prizes were raffled off in groups: eyepieces and binoculars, then gift certificates, then miscellany (some magazine subscriptions, a personal planetarium, the drone simulator, etc.), then books and scopes.

One of the books was Albert Highe’s Engineering, Design, and Construction of Portable Newtonian Telescopes. Jerry muttered “Kinda like to have that one,” and we nodded (the EAS tribe stood or sat as a group on the perimeter of the tent where the prizes were being drawn). But they didn’t call his number. They did call Kathy’s, though, so Jerry got the book anyway!

The next book was a huge coffee-table type, donated by the guy who did the nightly introductory constellation talks. The book, Giles Sparrow’s Cosmos: A Field Guide, was quite huge, and the MC noted that anyone winning that book had to show proof of ownership of a large coffee table. It certainly looked impressive from where I was standing.

I got to look at the book up close, though, because I won it.

The last of the scopes to be given away had been donated by EAS. Traditionally, there had been an 8″ Orion Dob as the grand prize, but the previous couple of years had seen the scope’s donor not providing one anymore. So Jerry had taken up a collection form EAS members to make sure there was such a scope to give away; he and Kathy had planned to pay for most of it, but enough EAS members had kicked in that the cost was well distributed. We had also given one of the 8″ Dobs away at the Dexter Star Party, our yearly one-night public star party at Dexter State Park, the weekend before OSP.

After the door prizes, there was a heightening of the OSP exodus, as a number of participants only had stuck around long enough to see what they might have won. The EAS tribe went back to their canopy. I left the book with Randy and his girlfriend while I went back to my van; with space open by the EAS tribe, I intended to spend the last night at OSP with the group I was a natural part of. Steve had helped me break the 18″ down and get it into the van; with most of “my” tribe gone from the end of the road, I was more OK with moving than I would’ve been the night before. I did apologize to Thomas for abandoning my site—he was the only one of the group left, and I apologize to him again for moving to more-familiar stomping grounds and leaving him pretty much by himself.

Setting the scope up again gave me a chance to re-attach the secondary cage to the truss poles—this was the weak link in the chain of stability of this scope, and the cause of some of the collimation problems I’d had (the shifting of the secondary misaligned the optical axis). So I took extra care in reattaching the secondary cage, and it paid off in the more-stable views I had the last night of OSP.

Although clouds continued to plague the south and southeast regions of the sky, Saturday night was one of the better nights of observing I did at OSP. In addition to better collimation, I was just “dialed in” a bit better than I had been. Maybe it was the presence of my regular people. Mel was set up nearby, showing legendary mirror-maker Steve Swayze portions of the integrated flux nebula through his 6″ f/2.8 scope. On the other side of Mel’s setup were Jerry and Kathy and their 12″ binoscope; across the road, Randy was using Orion, the club’s home-brewed scope, and his daughter Kristen using her 14″ Dob. I avoided bothering them on the night, as I didn’t want to disrupt anyone’s own projects.

I started—once again—with Palomar 5, once the sky was sufficiently dark. (Or as dark as it could be with frequent flashes of lightning to the southeast.) The distant globular once again eluded me, despite having Alvin Huey’s globular guide for getting the exact position. There were a few moments in which I felt I could detect something, but they didn’t add up to what I would consider a successful sighting. Other globulars were better: NGC 6366 and IC 1257 in Ophiuchus (the latter quite difficult!), then the NGC 6517/NGC 6539/Palomar 7 chain from Ophiuchus into Serpens Cauda. I was still disappointed at being unable to scavenge the fainter globulars around M55 (Terzan 7, Terzan 8, and Arp 2), as well as Sagittarius’ Hickson group (Hickson 86) due to the scope’s bearing being damaged, but there were enough other things to look for.

I also took time to track down one of the flat galaxies on my list, UGC 11093, in Ophiuchus’ shoulder:

 

8/6-8/7/16

OREGON STAR PARTY

MOON: 4 days old (16% illuminated), set at 10:03 PM

SEEING: 6

TRANSPARENCY: 7

SQM: not taken

NELM: not checked

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid 50s, no dew; slight breeze, lightning and clouds in low east and southeast

Others present: JO, KO, RB, KP, Mel B

 

11:08

UGC 11093 (Oph): a member of FG catalogue—very very faint thin streak more visible in averted—about 2.0′ long, razor-thin, well less than 0.5′ wide—running SP-NF—has a brightish (12th/13th-mag) star superimposed right across middle, making it hard to see galaxy—star is bottom of kite-shaped asterism that is almost due F that star—four stars on opposite edge, three are much brighter—star to S edge is brightest of diamond—with galaxy situated in middle of field, there is a smattering of very bright stars including one of 8th mag 2/3 of the way to the edge of field and F galaxy—series of bright stars on P edge of field—really interesting, tough find

 

Kristen stopped by the 18″ as I was exploring the Lacerta Milky Way, hunting down a series of galaxy groups in the southern reaches of the constellation. We checked out the NGC 7240/7242 group just south of brightish 1 Lacertae, then swept southeast toward NGC 7265 and the NGC 7274 trio. Kristen was intrigued at being able to pick out these fairly faint little galaxies floating among the rich starfields in Lacerta, and it was gratifying that I was able to show them to her; she’d put her own scope to bed for the night, having had some mechanical issues with its collimation. We also got a good look at nearby NGC 7008, the Fetus (or Starchild) Nebula, a bright planetary with fascinating internal structure, and one of the best planetaries in the whole sky.

She was also patient enough to wait while I tracked down the NGC 80 group in Andromeda, a densely-populated clump of galaxies on the Andromeda/Pisces/Pegasus border. We noted (IIRC) ten of the galaxies in this group, which really needs a good view with notes taken on it. I’ll definitely return to this one. We also checked out my favorite galaxy chain, the NGC 383 “Duck Flight” group (my nickname) in extreme northern Pisces, the large edge-on spiral NGC 7640 in Andromeda, near the Blue Snowball planetary nebula (NGC 7662), NGC 404 (“The Ghost of Mirach” galaxy), the gorgeous equal-magnitude double star Gamma Arietis (my favorite autumn double star), the great globular M15, and the large bright barred spiral galaxy NGC 7479. I had never seen NGC 7640 before, and would later find it in Orion, the club scope, for Randy.

Kristen thanked me and went back to over to Orion and Randy; Jerry came by a few minutes later. I showed him NGC 7460 and the NGC 80 group, then we looked at M30 and hunted down Palomar 12, very nearby M30. We had observed Palomar 12 before at Eureka Ridge, but it was more difficult here—a fact we attributed to poor transparency. Jerry commented that the skies at OSP this year were sub-par for the site—he had checked the SQM reading Thursday night and had gotten a mediocre 21.3 average on his readings, which was below what we often got at Eureka Ridge.

After some more discussion, of the 18″ scope and of the OSP skies, Jerry went back to his own scope. I went back into my list and dug out a pair of targets that were intriguing but a fair distance removed from my usual galaxies: the pair of dim reflection nebulae around the naked-eye star Gamma Cassiopiae, IC 59 and IC 63. Sweeping north and east of the star, the two nebulae were surprisingly apparent even at the medium power I was using. I should’ve examined the field with a lower-power, wider-field eyepiece, but was satisfied with the view I’d gotten already.

I had also acquired another curious onlooker, a guy named Jonathan who had his own plot closer to the OSP entrance, but was intrigued by the massive 18″ scope. (There was a 42″ across the road, with its huge mirror made of seven fused panes of shower-door glass, but the scope was set away from the gravel road and not obvious to anyone walking along the road; and being f/5, the EAS 18″ scope is quite an imposing presence, and much longer than a typical 18″.) Jonathan was just looking to see something in one of the bigger scopes, so I showed him M15 and NGC 7479, as they were easy to find and in convenient position in the sky. He also asked to see Uranus, so after consulting Sky Safari, I managed to get the ice giant planet in the field. Having seen Uranus a couple of times at OSP, I was still surprised at how obvious its non-stellar disk was amid the starfield, and by how bright a shade of blue it was.

Jonathan then wandered off, apparently satisfied with what he’d seen. As it was getting late, and I had to leave fairly early in the morning to get home by 3 PM—Mrs. Caveman’s deadline, as she needed the van Sunday afternoon for a university function—I resolved to chase only one more target, the galaxy group around the star 1 Arietis.

I had seen this group before as well, but never this good; this time, with greater aperture, I was able to spot not just the six NGC objects in this group, but also IC 167, which I hadn’t seen before.

Randy and his girlfriend Annette stopped over to help me cover the big scope with a tarp; with the weather somewhat iffy, I didn’t want to risk it getting rained on. I went back to their side of the road for a few minutes, helping to track down Uranus in the 14.7″ Dob. While doing so, we caught one of the brighter of the 200 or so brightish meteors that I’d seen over the course of the week.

And with that, my observing from the 2016 Oregon Star Party came to an end. Despite having only seen a fraction of my intended targets—and taken notes on only a few—it had been a successful first major star party for me, and I knew how to make future ones (including the Brothers Star Party at the end of August/beginning of September) even better.

***

Packing up the next morning went quickly. Randy helped me load the scope; it took about an hour to situate everything, and I was on the road before 10 AM for the five-hour trip home.

It will be two years before I can get back to OSP, but I’ll have my notes and plenty of leftover dust to hold me over until then.

 

 

 

 

The Week That Was

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Barnard 86 (the Ink Spot Nebula) and the star cluster NGC 6520. B86 is composed of grains of silicate dust and organic matter, and is of the type of nebula from which clusters of stars–like NGC 6520–are eventually born. Image courtesy European Southern Observatory.

The last week of June brought with it the Third Quarter Moon and an unprecedented run of clear nights. Starting with June 25th, members of EAS went out to Eureka Ridge 8 of 9 nights; I made it 6 of those 9, using the more mediocre nights to catch up on much needed rest (and taking one night off due to work the next morning).  I even hitched a ride with Jerry one night, as Mrs. Caveman was off taking the offspring to Portland on her way to Japan and needed the van.

I spent much of the week working on the Herschel 400 and Herschel II lists; each has 400 objects taken from William Herschel’s 2500 or so deep-sky discoveries.  The 400 list is, more or less, the highlights of Herschel’s 2500, while the Herschel II collects (ostensibly, anyway) the second-tier 400.  There is a Herschel III, but it hasn’t formally been acknowledged by the Astronomical League as of yet. The Herschel 400/II lists contain objects bright enough that I wouldn’t want to “waste” the uber-dark skies at the Oregon Star Party observing them, when I can do it from Eureka Ridge or Eagle’s Ridge nearby.  The better to save OSP for targets requiring the darkest possible conditions.

Due to the sheer number of objects I observed this week, I’m not going to dress up my notes in the more prose-y style I used in the previous entry; I’ll do so in later entries, but there’s just too much here to afford that kind of time.  Here, they’re straight-from-the-transcription field notes, with some extra background material thrown in.

A note about the format I use on all of these notes, the prosier ones and the stripped-down version: eyepiece directions are north (N), south (S), west (P[receding]), and E (F[ollowing]).  The reason for this is that telescopes change the orientation of the cardinal directions, depending on the scope and the use of a diagonal mirror. Preceding indicates the direction that objects drift through the field, due to the Earth’s rotation, and is easier to note while observing than saying West; Following is the opposite side of the field, the side from which new stars and objects enter. North and south are reversed in a telescope, but can be misidentified easily based on the orientation of the telescope field. In a polar-aligned equatorially-mounted telescope, south is at top and north at bottom; in an alt-az Dobsonian scope like the ones I usually use, north and south always have to be determined by nudging the telescope toward Polaris, the North Star.  It’s more complicated than it seems.

In addition, the notations [ ‘ ] and [ ” ] don’t mean feet and inches here unless used to describe a telescope–they denote arcminutes and arcseconds, respectively. An arcminute is 1/60th of a degree; an arcsecond is 1/60th of an arcminute. The Moon covers roughly 1/2 of a degree, i.e. 30 arcminutes.  Estimating the size of galaxies and star clusters that are only a couple of arcminutes across is fidgety work, and less accurate than I’d prefer; it requires knowing the exact size of an eyepiece field and subdividing it to a reasonable measure of accuracy.  I can do it fairly well with my 14mm Explore Scientific 82˚ eyepiece, which has a field 0.7-degrees wide, or 42’, and a magnification of 112x.  In other eyepieces, it’s more of a crapshoot, as I don’t always remember to change scale when taking notes with a different eyepiece (or, as I discovered, using a different telescope).

Observing this week was cut short by Moonrise, clouds, or exhaustion–usually Moonrise.

6/25-6/26/16

EUREKA RIDGE

MOON: 22 days (61%), rose at 12:26 AM

SEEING: 6

TRANSPARENCY: 7

SQM: 20.77 (11:30); 21.5 (12:00)

NELM: not checked

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 60s, no dew; windy, but did not affect ground-level conditions much

Others present: JO, KO, CW, RB, AG (Alan), PH, PH’s brother

11:24

NGC 5426/5427 (Vir): 5427 is larger of two by quite a ways—about 3.5’ across, pretty round—very diffuse, no central concentration in direct, little bit of core in averted—probably face-on spiral—maybe a bit of texture visible in halo—below (S) it is 5426 [got mixed-up and called both 5427]—elongated almost due N-S—2.5’-3.0’ long by 1.5-2.0’ wide—very very faint star between two galaxies, may be partly in halo of 5426—5426 has some central concentration—a little core, possibly sub-stellar nucleus in averted—not many bright stars in field, brightest (9th mag) is to NF side by about 25’—area directly around galaxies in 10’ radius almost barren of stars

11:39

NGC 5221/5222/5230 (Vir): not easy, tougher than expected—5221: elongated pretty much P-F—about 1.25’ long by 0.75’ wide—really surprisingly faint—some central concentration—in averted, may have slightly-brighter core, not by much—S of 5221 by 8’ is 5222: elongated more N-S—2.25’ x 1.5’—definitely has stellar nucleus and slight core brightening—on S edge of halo is threshold star—about halfway between and slightly P of 5221/5222 is a 13th-mag star—due F 5222 by 8’ is 12th-mag star—following previous 12th-mag star by 6’ is 5230 (due F 5222): 2.5’ round—very diffuse—has some central concentration, which makes up most of diameter—tiny fringe of halo, then central concentration/core, no real nucleus to speak of; very amorphous—all three galaxies are fairly marginal objects—F and slightly N of 5230 by 10’ is 9th-mag star—when 5222/21 are centered, on NP edge of field is 7th/8th-mag star, brightest in field

12:26

NGC 5838/5841/5846/5846A/5850/5845/5839/5869 (Vir): following 110 Vir—5838: bright galaxy—halo kinda elongated NF-SP, 3.5’ x 2.0’, but halo dim—core very bright—core makes up brightest component by far (0.5’ across and round), no stellar nuc—to S slightly F by 9′ 5838 is 8th mag star, star has 12th-mag companion separated by 2’—with galaxy centered, to SP edge to field is 8th mag star (23’ from galaxy)—F 5838 by 27’ and slightly N is NGC 5841: nowhere near as bright as -38—about 0.75’ across—slightly elongated NP-SF—very much P-F, slightly tilted—tiny central brightening—tough tough galaxy at this magnification—core/nucleus almost resembles field star—SF of 5841 by 30’ is a quartet of galaxies, brightest of which is NGC 5846: quite bright, diffuse, almost looks like double galaxy—2.5-3.0’ across—halo fairly thin, core very large—no stellar nucleus—pretty round—to SF part of halo either v. dim star or companion galaxy—may be another galaxy [NGC 5846A]—F that pair and slightly N is another galaxy (5850)—about 1.0’ across—much dimmer—elongated slightly P-F—has bright core, no stellar nucleus—F and slightly N previous pair of galaxies by 9’—line of three stars halfway between pair and 5850—stars not evenly spaced—stars about 10th/11th/12th mag—P and S of pair by 7-8’ is another galaxy (5845): round, small (0.75’)—brightish stellar nucleus—due NP pair by 9’ is 9th mag star—SP 5845 by 10’ is another galaxy (5839)—0.75’—has 10th-11th mag star S by 4’—has slightly brighter core—no stellar nucleus?—core looks like field star at first glance—5869: 2.25’ diameter—round—brighter core—averted shows no stellar nucleus—in middle of diamond of three 10th mag stars and a 12th mag star—12th mag star is NP corner of diamond—galaxy may have substellar nucleus in averted [losing detail; Moon rising]—to NP side of galaxy by 10’ is a 9th-mag star—companion galaxy (-68) not seen

***

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Above: a sunset panorama from Eureka Ridge, from northwest (top) to northeast (bottom).

 

The next night we were again back out by 9 PM, in time to set up before dark.  With sunset near 9 PM, it still took until after 11 PM before skies were dark enough to actually observe any but the brighter deep-sky objects (usually globular star clusters) and the planets; we used views of Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn to check our collimation and alignment of finders, as well as to note the seeing and the amount to which our mirrors needed to adapt to the falling temperatures.  All three planets have been spectacular this summer: Jupiter with its striking cloud belts, dancing Galilean satellites, and shadows of said satellites on the tops of the planet’s clouds; Mars with its white polar ice caps and dark surface albedo features, resembling landforms; Saturn with its stunning rings and retinue of tiny moons, with subtle cloud belts of its own.

We also observed tiny, dim Pluto these several nights; the ninth planet (HA!) passed just south of the bright star Pi Sagittarii on the evening of the 26th, making it slightly easier to find. It’s quite surprising how much Pluto moves against the background sky in the course of one night, and was interesting to track for the first few nights of the observing run.

This second night found me tackling globular clusters early, before proceeding to galaxies. I must have found very few new galaxies, as I took no notes on them.  I did, however, catch the elusive microquasar SS 433, an object that had been on my list for a long, long time.

6/26-6/27/16

EUREKA RIDGE

MOON: 23 days (Last Quarter), rose at 12:57 AM

SEEING: 7

TRANSPARENCY: 8

SQM: 21.4

NELM: not checked

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 60s, little to moderate dew; slight breeze

Others present: JO, RB, KP (Kristen)

11:00

NGC 6356 (Oph): globular, nice change of pace—really bright, 9th mag? maybe 10th?—5-6’ across—almost powdery on periphery—core is about 4’—maybe 3 gradients—CC 7? [2!]—due S is 9th mag star about 12’ away, part of tiny triangle—due P by 16-17’ is 7th-mag star—not sure why I missed this one when doing AL GC program

11:05

NGC 6342 (Oph): well S of 6356—3’ across—granular in averted—not well concentrated—has brighter inner region—CC 9 [4!]—to S and a bit P is 11th-mag star, 15’ from cluster halo—brightest star in field is 7th mag star to NP by 18’—F cluster by 24’ is 9th-mag star—P and just N of cluster by 22’ is  pair of 9th/10 mag stars separated by 5’—F and slightly N of cluster by 14’ is pair of 11th/12th mag stars separated by 3’

12:27

SS 433 (Aql): 6mm Radian: putting micro in microquasar—flickering in and out—greater than 14th magnitude—just off SF end of tiny diamond of stars—star on NF end is brightest (11.5 mag)—major axis of diamond is about 1’—SS 433 is off S tip of diamond—minor axis of diamond [0.4?] due P-F—SS 433 is major-axis of diamond to SF tip of diamond—not much to look at, but amazing to know what it is

By the time Jerry and I finished looking at SS 433, the Moon had risen.

The next night, I caught a ride with Jerry to Eureka Ridge, as I had no vehicle for the evening. Jerry brought the 20″ TriDob with him; I brought my 70mm TeleVue Pronto, rather than trying to stuff Bob the Dob into Jerry’s car with the TriDob.

What the Pronto lacks in aperture for deep-sky work, it more than makes up for in sweeping Milky Way vistas.  The enormous field of view the Pronto gives–almost four degrees with a 40mm Plössl eyepiece!–allows such sights as capturing the entire extent of the Veil Nebula in a single field, framing both the Eagle Nebula and the Swan Nebula together in a single field; and sweeping up the many lanes and clouds of dark dust along the Milky Way’s spiral form.  No large Dobsonian can provide these sights, which require such a huge field of view.  Yet the Pronto also fared well on smaller objects–with the 14mm Explore in the diagonal, the Dumbbell Nebula (M27) floated among the stars of Vulpecula in such a 3D view that Jerry said it might’ve been the best view of the nebula he’d ever had.

 

6/27-6/28/16

EUREKA RIDGE

MOON: 24 days (38%), rose at 1:30 AM

SEEING: 7

TRANSPARENCY: 8

SQM: 21.4

NELM: not checked

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 60s, little dew; slight breeze

Others present: JO, RB, AG

 

I took no notes on this night, preferring the casual approach afforded by the Pronto and the simple folding chair I brought along.  Although I wasn’t really able to pursue the Herschel lists, the night had its own astronomical rewards.

I had to work the next day, hunting and gathering and scoring exams. Mrs. Caveman returned from Portland mid-afternoon, and after my work shift and discussion of the offspring’s departure for Japan, I decided to bail on a fourth consecutive night of observing. As I recall, most of the other observers also bailed on the night, the better to catch up on sleep and return the next night ready to go.

***

Wednesday was incredibly productive: 12 objects I hadn’t taken notes on before, and only two of which I’d previously observed. (This naturally doesn’t count those objects observed waiting for twilight to fade, or some of the showpieces I would observe between groups of very faint objects.  Among these showpieces were M17, M22, M5, M13, M4, M80, M8, and M20.) The two I had observed previously were NGC 6520 and Barnard 86, the Ink Spot Nebula.  I was interested primarily in catching the nearby globular cluster Djorgovski 2, but struck out on this one–it would take another night and a larger scope to pull this one out of the background sky.  As it was, the NGC 6520/B86 pairing is so stunning that I didn’t mind too much not catching Djo2.

I managed to sweep up all of the Herschel II objects in Libra before the constellation began its descent for the year; I hadn’t been able to do so with some of the earlier-Spring constellations, but I could at least close the book on Libra.

6/29-6/30/16

EUREKA RIDGE

MOON: 26 days (18%), rose at 2:42 AM

SEEING: 5

TRANSPARENCY: 6

SQM: 21.4

NELM: not checked

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 60s, moderate dew; slight breeze

Others present: JO, RB

11:21

NGC 5595/97 (Lib): both very diffuse—larger of two [5595] is to P and slightly N—about 2.5’ diameter, fairly roundish—has kind of irregular shape to slight central concentraion, which makes up majority of diameter—elongated core N-S—following that by 6-7’ is other galaxy [5597] —half the size, even more diffuse—in averted just a hint of nucleus—about 1.5’, slightly elongated N-S—still a bit twilighty—bright satellite through field—to SP by 9’ of larger galaxy is 9th mag star— N of each galaxy by 8’ is a 10th mag star—halfway between those stars is 11th mag star—galaxies and 10th mag stars form rectangle—N and slightly P larger galaxy by 18’ is another 9th mag star

11:38

NGC 5605 (Lib)—not at all obvious—elongated SP-NF—about 2.0’ x 1.5’—very very diffuse—(fogged eyepiece)—in averted, no visible core, slight central brightening of nucleus—to F edge of halo maybe tiny threshold star coming and going in averted—7th mag star 15’ SF galaxy; 12th mag companion to NF by 1.5’—galaxy set in isosceles triangle of stars; long sides about 10’—star to SP side of triangle is 10th mag—star to NF 9th mag—star to FNF is 12th mag—would have passed over galaxy without knowing where to look—not overly obvious but not horribly difficult

11:51

NGC 5728/5716 (Lib)—galaxies down here not impressive—5728: satellite went through core of galaxy—elongated N-S—about 2.5’ x 1.25’—has some subtle central brightening—substellar nucleus in averted—smallish core—5’ S is 10th mag star at end of arc of three 10th mag stars going P-F—5’ N slightly F galaxy is 11th mag star—almost due P galaxy by 10’ is a 9.5 mag star—several threshold stars within framework of other stars closer to galaxy—galaxy definitely has brighter nucleus—core tapers slightly to S—back to 9.5 mag star to P side of galaxy: hopping from that, SP that star (another satellite through field) by 20’ is 5716—just on edge of galaxy is line of three 12th mag stars—galaxy is dim, unconcentrated—about 1.75’ in diameter—no central concentration—to N and angled NP-SF is line of 12th mag stars—two to F following side of line are spaced 1’ apart and are just on edge of galaxy’s halo—galaxy just a cottony fuzz—easy to overlook

12:07

NGC 5812 (Lib)—surely elliptical—1.5’, very round—definite central brightening—visible core region, substellar nucleus—core looks irregular or elongated—in nondescript field—25’ to F side of galaxy and slightly S is 7th mag star, maybe 8th, brightest thing in field—to NF side of galaxy by 8’ is little equilateral triangle of stars; N-most and F star is brightest at 11th mag—S edge of triangle has three 12th/13th mag stars in it—NP by 8’ of galaxy is 11th mag star—SP by 15’ is another 8th/9th mag star

12:20

NGC 5861/5858 (Lib): 5861: really diffuse but very large—3.75’ x 2.5’—elongated NP-SF—not much central brightening at all—S of galaxy by 3’ is 11th star—NF by 12’ is 8th mag star—another 8th mag star SF galaxy by 18’—galaxy much more obvious that previous galaxies—supposed to be another galaxy [5858] N of 5861, but not sure I see it—just barely: N of 5861 by 15’—has 12th mag star touching on N side—quite small, visible mostly in averted or by rocking scope—maybe 0.75’ —no real central concentration—very much a threshold object [this may not be 5858—distance from 5861 too great; SG notes 5858 as “fairly bright, very small”, May this be IC 1091?]

12:35

NGC 5878 (Lib): field dominated by pair of 7th/8th mag stars—one is NP galaxy by 18’, the other NF galaxy by 9’, form a right triangle with galaxy—seeing fluctuating—galaxy fairly obvious—elongated NP-SF—2.5’ x 1.0’—looks like inclined spiral—has small brighter core—extent of galaxy, especially to SF edge, looks almost like there’s dimmer part of halo, like dark lane crossing perpendicular to plane of galaxy—quite nice galaxy, especially considering most previous ones—NF by 6’ is 10th star, N slightly F galaxy by 3’ is 11th mag star—4’ to NP of galaxy is 11th mag star

1:09

NGCs 6540, 6520, Barnard 86 (Sgr): 6540: non-globular-looking globular—about 1.5’, but not round, almost linear looking—extended P-F—grainy—has 12th and 13th mag star N of cluster by 1’—averted makes it a little more round—v. unusual looking globular—pair of 8th mag stars to P side, N and S by 12’—cluster forms isosceles triangle with pair—moving back P brings to NGC 6520/Barnard 86—6520: rich little cluster—central part is 4-5’ across—pretty detached from Milky Way—quartet of bright stars that run across bottom of cluster, two in central region of cluster, one almost in middle, one on P edge, one off F edge by 4’, one off P edge by 6’*—about 15 obvious stars and then a bunch of threshold stars that pop in averted—looks more like globular than 6540—three brightness gradients (quartet of brighter stars, then group of 12th/13th mag stars, rest fade into background haze)—B 86: elongated N-S—about 7.0’ x 9.0’—P side is darker—tendril of nebula runs along S side of 6520, but is less opaque than main part—to NP edge is 7th mag star—P edge of nebula has three other 11th mag stars that run along P edge, defining it—on N central side of B86 is 12th mag star just about on N edge—nebula like rounded triangle—*between that star and cluster is another patch of dark nebulosity that’s 4’ round, less opaque than rest of nebula—[spent several minutes searching for Djorgovski 2 with no luck]

1:37

NGC 6240 (Oph): seeing crappy at the moment—galaxy is faint—1.0’ x 0.7’, elongated N-S—just to F side on edge of halo is 13th mag star—13th mag stars due N and S—tiny bit of central brightening—averted brings out bit of halo, maybe to 1.25’ major axis—would’ve swept over without knowing where it was—galaxy inside check-mark shape of stars 30’ long—front part of check is 9’ long, almost like Nike swoosh—9th mag star at long end is brightest of check-mark stars—tough little galaxy, not easy in this aperture or magnification

***

We reconvened at Eureka Ridge the next evening–actually, the same evening, only later.  This time, though, I had somewhat heavier “artillery” to observe through.

The Eugene Astronomical Society has a telescope lending system; anyone in good standing in the group can borrow a telescope for three months, and can continue to keep that scope until and unless someone else requests it after that three months.  The 14.7″ Dob we’d built is a part of that lending program (Randy currently has it). So is the 18″ f/5 Dob-monster currently sitting in my garage, which I “checked out” of the club’s inventory the afternoon of June 30th.

The scope is considerably bigger than Bob the Dob, and requires a ladder to observe anything more northerly than Sagittarius’ teapot spout as seen from Eureka.  Fortunately, a ladder is included in the borrowing–along with a Telrad, an 8 x 50 finder, and a quartet of eyepieces–most notably, 19mm and 35mm TeleVue Panoptics.  And so, with great help from Jerry (and from Frank, who’d originally built the scope), the scope was assembled, collimated, and left to cool as night fell on Eureka Ridge.

Observing with a large Dobsonian is a different prospect than observing with a smaller scope, doubly so when a ladder is needed.  Although it’s possible to aim the scope from ground level, looking through the Telrad, moving the giant 18″ from up on a ladder is much more difficult; it’s not as smooth as Bob the Dob, and that, coupled with my insufficient amount of sleep, made me impatient when having to search for objects.  I gave up somewhat quickly on Abell 2065, the Corona Borealis Galaxy Cluster, the central galaxies of which I’d already observed in Jerry’s Trackball and the 20″ TriDob, and I gave less attention than I should have to Abell 2151, the Hercules Galaxy Cluster.  Both clusters are on the Oregon Star Party advanced observing list, and although I’d wanted to refamiliarize myself with them prior to OSP, I just wasn’t in the mood to stand on a ladder and sweep for them that particular night at Eureka. Even though my ancestors had still been tree-dwellers, we Australopithecines hadn’t given up on this ground-dwelling thing, and we weren’t yet ready to climb ladders or abandon the comfortably-solid ground for any length of time.

Other targets lower in the sky got better shrift.  I had spent some time the last few nights casually looking for the obscure globular ESO 452-11, east of Tau Scorpii, but hadn’t really concentrated on it.  This night, with Scorpius on the meridian, I had the opportunity and the aperture to track it down.

 

6/30-7/1/16

EUREKA RIDGE

MOON: 27 days (18%), rose at 3:25 AM

SEEING: 7

TRANSPARENCY: 7

SQM: 21.4

NELM: not checked

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 60s, little to moderate dew; slight breeze

Others present: JO, KO, RB, FS, BH

Observed with EAS’ 18” f/5 Dobsonian. Observations using 14mm ES 82* (178x; TFOV 0.5*)

11:21

ESO 452-11 (Sco): just E of Tau Sco—absolutely tiny, just a little fuzz—0.75’ diameter—substellar point in middle—off to P side is another threshold star, substellar point in middle may also be threshold star, both bracketing cluster glow—both stars are less than 0.5’ apart—P cluster and slightly S is pair of 11th mag stars—twilight still not finished—to F and S is another triangle of stars, 9th and 10th mags—to NP cluster by 15’ is 8th mag star

 

I also went back to NGC 6520 and the Ink Spot to find Djorgovski 2, and, lo and behold, the extra aperture made the sighting easy once I had the right spot:

 

11:55

Djorgovski 2 (Sgr): finally!—almost in middle (slightly N) of Hercules-keystone-shaped asterism, which has brightest star to S and shortest side to NP of cluster—cluster is just about 2’ across and very diffuse—no way to check CC—with cluster centered in field, bright star N of Ink Spot lies just on F edge of field—cluster 13th mag? —no stars visible in cluster—in averted to P and very slightly S of halo is threshold star coming in and out of view

 

Now that I know how to find Djo 2, I’m guessing that I can find it in Bob the Dob.

But there were other objects that I managed, even up on the ladder.  The two most notable were Hickson 72 in Boötes, a good test for the aperture, and the marvelously-named Shakhbazian 166, a chain of tiny, eye-bleedingly faint galaxies next to Eta Ursae Minoris.  Both clusters of galaxies were fascinating to observe, and I regret not taking notes on them, or at least not going after them with the 6mm Radian to prise out what detail could be gleaned from them.

I kept feet on the ground with many targets, observing M 4, M80, M22, M25, and M28 from my observing chair, then using a two-step ladder to catch M5.  Globular clusters become exponentially more remarkable in larger apertures, and nothing can compare to seeing these brilliant examples of the class in such a large scope.  (I also observed the great M13 from the ladder; it was well worth the climb.)

The post-midnight hours saw our group dwindle to a quartet, and though I was just beginning to feel comfortable with the 18″, I was also starting to feel serious fatigue. My last handful of objects for the night included my favorite globular, M15 in Pegasus, and two other Pegasus sights: the barred spiral galaxy NGC 7479 (which looks a bit like Superman’s ‘S’ symbol, one spiral arm plainly obvious and extended, the other dimmer and shorter) and, another target I’d been after for some time, the edge-on super-flat galaxy UGC 12881, a phantom of a sliver of a galaxy that had been the featured Object of the Week over at the Deep Sky Forum a couple of years ago and had been an obsession ever since.  It was a marginal sighting, likely to be bettered under the darker skies of OSP when the galaxy would be closer to the meridian, but it would do for now.

Randy and I got the 18″ loaded into the Caveman-Mobile and were the last two to leave the site.  It was a tough drive home; had we been at Eagle’s Ridge, twice as far from home, I’m not sure I would’ve made it in one piece.  As it was, I don’t remember much of the last fifteen minutes of driving.

***

Scope 3IMG_3332

The next night, Mrs. Caveman and I took the 18″ scope to a pre-4th of July party on the outskirts of town. We hadn’t realized the party wasn’t on the 4th, and found this out too late to bring food; as the host (our real estate agent) had asked us to bring a telescope, I thought that hauling the 18″ would make up for the fact that we hadn’t brought any food. As it turned out, it more than made up for any food we might have scrounged up to take.  There were about 30 people at the party, and the astonishment they expressed at the sight of the monster scope was reward enough.

The agent’s property included a large field (seen in the above photos) that had the occasional deer sprinting through, and was stable enough ground that I was more comfortable scaling the ladder to the eyepiece.  We still stayed lower to the ground  when possible, checking out the three visible planets (Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn) to the delight of those present–especially the lad who spent much of his waking time daydreaming about Mars and reading up on Curiosity and the other Mars missions.

We did scale the ladder or the stepstool for other sights: M13, M5, M11, M17, and M51. The skies from the agent’s house were surprisingly good–about the equivalent of those at Crab Orchard in southern Illinois–and the Milky Way had a fair amount of detail.  I’d have been well pleased to call that area my own stomping ground.

A number of folks there at the party were suitably impressed with what they’d seen.  A job well done.

***

The final night of this observing run was July 3rd, again at Eureka. This time, I brought Bob the Dob, still my mainstay no matter what other gear I have. Given the occasional wind gusts that sprang up, it was a fortuitous choice; Dobsonians being prone to becoming wind vanes in gusty conditions, and the larger ones especially so, it would’ve been chaos to use the 18″.  The shorter 12.5″ avoided the wind for the most part, with only a few ground-level gusts being a problem.

One other aspect of using the 12.5″ was of benefit–I’m familiar with it enough that it’s almost an extension of my own eyes.  I know how it’s going to move, and exactly how much pressure to use to get it where I need to go.  Much as the extra 5.5″ of aperture could be useful on any quarry, the 12.5″ was the scope that I needed for this last night’s quarry… more of the Herschel objects.

It was another very productive night.  Jerry and Kathy were there, as was their neighbor John (a doctor; it didn’t occur to me until I got home that I should’ve called him The Night Tripper) and Randy, again using the 14.7″ scope EAS had built.  Once darkness had fallen, and with the usual twilight targets (M80, et al) out of the way, we all settled into our own projects and our own individual universes.

7/3-7/4/16

EUREKA RIDGE

MOON: 29 days (1%), rose at 6:06 AM

SEEING: 7

TRANSPARENCY: 7

SQM: not taken

NELM: not checked

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 50s, little dew; occasional wind gusts

Others present: JO, KO, RB, John

11:17

NGC 6235 (Oph): largish—about 4’ diameter—partially resolved, very granular—cluster has to SP-NF is orientation of brightest part of cluster’s core—8-9 CC—inset in isosceles triangle of 11th mag stars—long side of triangle is about 12’, other sides about 9’—off to due F edge of field, about 22’ from cluster is an 8th mag star—little very unequal triple is to SP of cluster by 14’—9th mag star is brightest of that triple—to SF by about 15’ from cluster is 10th mag star—to NF edge of cluster is a 13-14th mag star just inside edge of halo—the P edge of cluster looks a little flattened—in averted a sprinkling of stars visible over core, about 8 or 9 stars—in averted one star to SP edge of core, maybe 14th mag, that pops in and out

11:35

NGC 6284 (Oph): 4’ diameter—central 2’ is core—powdery on edges—in averted looks granular—fairly loose, CC 7—to F side by 1.5’ is little diamond of 13th-14th mag stars, major axis N-S—about 18’ P cluster is bright pair of stars (double?) separated by 5’ oriented NP-SF; SF star closest to cluster—F cluster and slightly N is an 8th mag star about 22’ from cluster—SF cluster by 22’ is arc of three unevenly spaced stars—cluster is pretty round—just wants to be resolved in averted—in direct just powdery

12:29

NGCs 5614/5589/5590 (Boo): SF of A Boo—supposedly double galaxy with -15, but -15 not at all visible—galaxy inside little almost equi triangle—two bright stars in triangle about 8th mag, third (closest to galaxy) 10th mag—galaxy 4’ P the dim star—two brighter to P side of galaxy, NP and SP—galaxy is 2.5’—definitely gives glimpses in averted of second galaxy, but need more mag—inner region that’s 0.25’ across—hint of stellar nucleus—to N slightly P edge by 17’ is 10th mag star—to SF side of galaxy by 23’ is 10th mag star—two stars P galaxy, preceding them by 25’ is 10th mag star—another 10th star NP that one by 20’ and then F that star is pair of galaxies [NGCs 5589/5590]—one of galaxies [5589] F and slightly N, about 8’ from final star—very diffuse—small, 1.5’—not a lot of concentration, just a bit—not quite stellar nucleus, just barely visible—from that galaxy 7’ to SF (due F star by 12’) is second galaxy [5590]—brighter and larger—2.0’ across—has brighter core region—no nucleus but small bright core

12:40

NGC 5533 (Boo)—in same field as A Boo—P and slighty S A Boo—large, 3.0’ halo— bright core elongated almost P-F—hint of nucleus, uncertain—about 25’ from A—about halfway between galaxy and A is equal-mag (11th mag) double, separated by 3’—these form the S end of isosceles triangle of 10th mag stars—triangle about 15’ on long side, about 10’ on two short sides—pair is 18’ due F galaxy—in averted galaxy elongated P-F side—3.75’ x 2.0’ halo in averted

12:52

NGC 5996 (SerCap): not impressive galaxy—1.0’ across—almost round—elongated a bit N-S—in zigzag line with double star of 11th and 12th mag components to N slightly F side—to NP by 18’ is 8th mag star—double about 2.5’ N of galaxy—other two stars in zigzag are 11th mag star SF by 5’ and 10th mag star SF by 8’—brightest star around galaxy is 6th mag yellowish star 30’ almost due F galaxy

Somehow, I missed NGC 5994, interacting with NGC 5996. This pair, also known as Markarian 690, is one of the targets for the OSP advanced observing program.  A bad mistake on my part.

By this time, the air had turned considerably cold; I went for my heavy winter coat, despite wearing a sweatshirt and a polar fleece jacket already.  Astronomy can be a surprisingly physical hobby–putting together heavy equipment, doing calisthenics to reach an eyepiece that’s in an awkward position–but is mostly fairly sedentary, and the usual advice is to dress as if the temperature is going to be twenty degrees colder than the forecast suggests.  This is usually good practice.

For various reasons, though, everyone left but me and Randy.  I wasn’t sure how long I planned to stay out, but managed to constantly find enough reasons to keep observing.

1:05

NGC 5970 (SerCap): in interesting field—galaxy is fairly large—3.0’—has large (1.5’) brighter core but no nucleus—core is elongated P-F—bright star (8th mag) to NF side by 7’—8’ to P slightly N side of galaxy is 11th mag star and 10’ F slightly S galaxy is 10th mag star—to S of galaxy is pair of 11th and 10th stars about 6’ apart; 11th mag star is S just slightly P galaxy by 7’; 10th mag star is S very slightly F by 10’—to N is line of 12th/13th mag stars stretched almost due P-F by 5’ from galaxy

1:33

NGC 6070 (SerCap): large, about 4.5’ x 2.0’—elongated P-F—galaxy flanked P and F by 14th mag stars just on edge of halo—galaxy has brighter, irregular-shaped core not always distinguishyable from halo, edges indistinct—N and very slightly F center of galaxy by 11’ is an 8th mag star—galaxy sits inside triangle with that star and 11th mag stars SP by 7’ and SF by 4’—N of bright star by 8’ and slightly P is small triangle of 9th and 10th mag stars—no nucleus to galaxy visible—obviously inclined spiral, though

2:17

NGC 7217 (Peg): definitely bright, round—2.25’ across—has brighter core about 0.75’ across—hint of quasi-stellar nucleus in averted—galaxy set in trapezoid of 10th mag stars—trapezoid is about 18’ on long side and 9’ on short side—galaxy is closest to star on NF point of trapezoid—about 5’ from star—SP galaxy by 6’ is tiny clump of stars, 11th and 12th mags—nice galaxy, probably elliptical

2:48

NGCs 7448/7463/7465 (Peg): 7448: elongated—visible tiny stellar nucleus in averted—in between two stars that are part of an arc of four—galaxy 2.5’ in halo, elongated N-ish-S-ish—brighter core slightly off-center to S—core is 1.5’ long—two stars bracketing it, closer is due F galaxy by 4.5’ and is 11th mag—7’ to P side of galaxy is 12th mag star—halfway between galaxy and P star is very faint double of 13th and 14th mags, separated by 0.25’—star to F side forms large equilateral triangle 30’ on side—star to S is brightest at 8th mag; star F about 9th mag, about 34’ F galaxy—from that star is pair of smaller galaxies—one to NF by 4’ [7463] is very diffuse—elongated P-F—about 1.5’ long x 0.75’ —not much central brightening—kind of ghostly streak—4’ F that galaxy is slightly brighter one [7465]—obvious sub-stellar nucleus—bright central core—dim halo—halo not well seen due to core—1.0’ x 0.75’—NF 7465 by 8’ is line of 13th mag stars elongated NP-SF—SF 7465 by 14’ is 9th mag star—NF 7465 by 23’ is 7th mag star

Somewhere among these objects we also spent a fair time walking through getting to NGC 6905, the Blue Flash Nebula in Delphinus–not a difficult object to see, but tricky to find in a low-power eyepiece in a crowded Milky Way field.

And that was the week-plus observing run after Third-Quarter Moon.  It was fortunate that it had been so clear; I ended up getting sick the next day and being too run down to take advantage of the New Moon-dark, and the past several nights have been cloudy or downright rainy.  The long run here also was good preparation for the next three months of star parties I’m planning on–OSP, Brothers Star Party (near Brothers, OR, August 31-September 5) and the Autumn Camp Delaney Star Party (near Coulee City, WA, September 28-October 2).

It may not count as “productivity” in most peoples’ books, but exploring a large chunk of the universe is a reward all its own.