Log, Mar 23, 2001

51 people. Week after week we have been unable to open our doors because of clouds, rain, sleet, and snow. Once again, a weather condition forced us to close - SUN! Yes indeed, sunrise forced us to close up shop but only after eleven hours of wonderful viewing. We managed to view 76 different deep space wonders including about 1/3 rd of the Messier Objects. We also held a lecture on the nature of Black Holes and had at least six or seven star hopping sessions going. As a special treat some twenty of us went out in the shelter of the dome to look up at γ Leonis (the bright star in the curve of Leo's backward question mark). As we watched, within seconds of each other, two brilliant Iridium Satellites flashed as they passed the star - probably achieving close to the first magnitude in both cases. Those of us who stayed to the very end actually saw another Iridium (we think) in the early morning twilight.

I guess I'm going to have to 'fess up. During the first part of the evening, I didn't view much of anything through our big telescope. I was leading star parties and later giving the Black Hole talk which seemed to go quite well. Doug and Joe, and shortly later Dave, Sarah and Barry ran the dome while Art, Marcie and I were in the Nature Center for the Black Hole talk. We were supposed to see the Viginid's Meteors last night. Well we saw a few. I sat in a big lawn chair waiting for the fireworks. This is the first time in my life I can say that I watched a Meteor Draught. Wouldn't you know it, the one shower I wanted to see last night was a empty as the sky was of rain clouds.

Some of our friends from Massachusetts couldn't believe that our weather was great. They said we must be crazy because it was snow flurries up there. Well the night was quite warm and beautiful. While they skies were not absolutely the best we've seen (roughly a 3.8 to a 4.0 on the extrapolation of the Bortle index) they were clear and moderately dark. We had our biggest problem to the north where the snow clouds that covered eastern Massachusetts were brightly lit by the large cities up there.

Our first targets were the gas giants of Jupiter (and four moons) along with Saturn (and five of its moons). As is usually the case, we went on to the great stellar nursery M42 [Great Nebula in Orion] with its wonderful new stars in the Trapezium. Doug sent us on to ε Canis Majoris, σ Orionis and HD56578 (a colorful double star). We started a slew of globular clusters: M41, M46 (with its embedded planetary nebula NGC2438), M47, M50, M93, M37, M36, and M38 (which has a sort of a W shape). The first break was a switch to M1 [Crab Nebula - a supernova remnant in Taurus]. We went onto the popular Eskimo Nebula [NGC-2392 - also called the Clown Nebula]. When we turned to the great barred spiral M51, it was stunning. The detail was all but text book in quality.

We continued with M81 and M82, NGC3077, and the Sombrero [M104]. Doug went a grouping of stars which he called the StarGate. It consisted of two isosceles triangles with the much smaller central triangle turned so that its sharp point pointed at the center of the larger triangles short side. Quite spectacular and I wish I had its coordinates to give to you. We split γ Virginis at about 508X. Our next object was the Ringtail Galaxy NGC4030.

You might think that this list was quite enough for a single night, but we hadn't even reached the half way period. As more and more folks began to call it a night, the hard core folks started to go into overdrive. We say the triplet of M65, M66 with NGC3628 in a single wide view eyepiece. On and on NGC3705, NGC3412, M105+NGC3264+NGC3289 [another fine triplet], M86, NGC4422+NGC4413, NGC4425, M84, NGC4388, NGC4461+NGC4463, M87, NGC4478+NGC4476, M100+M99+M98 [yet another triple view], M85+NGC4394, M58, M90, and NGC5897 [a very loose cluster].

Phew and we were still not through. Mars was up and it wasn't particularly good but we caught a glimpse of a tiny speck of light. We will check later to see if this speckle was Deimos, but our software does not have tables for Mars' two tiny moons. It was right near the globular cluster NGC6287. Our next target was Pluto. Pluto formed a loose quadrilateral near the somewhat brighter star BD-11 4258.

By now we realized we had all but started a Messier Marathon. Well, not all the constellations had been checked in time, but the summer and early fall constellations has risen high enough to be examined. We piled on M4, NGC6144, M80, M22, M8, M20, and M17. We left the summer skies and headed to Lyra which was overhead. As soon as M57 [the Ring Nebula] was centered, I could see the stellar remnant at the center in the 19mm Panoptic. Several other people saw it in either the 19mm or our 12mm eyepieces. Joe decided that before we left one of his personal favorites had to be seen - so up came M27 [Dumbbell Nebula]. It was wonderful. We displayed the magnificent globular cluster M5 next and as we watched the viewing came to an end as the Sun pushed nearer and nearer the horizon. Dawn dropped viewing quickly to first and second magnitude stars. It was after 5 AM and even the most fanatic of us realized that the night was over. We closed up and left. Before I was home, color had returned to the surroundings. I finished closing the garage door just in time for my wife to wake up to go to the YMCA for her morning workout. I cut that one close. I suspect Doug and Dave didn't make it home until the sun was fully out.


Our sighting of Deimos turns out to be its companion around Mars - Phobos. This is a first sighting of Mars innermost tiny moon at FDO. We used a technique which avoids dubious claims by having several members locate the object WITHOUT BEING TOLD WHERE TO LOOK. We confirmed the find with software (Carte du Ceil) which was not available in the dome but which Doug Stewart had at home. The conditions at 2:47 were less than ideal because air turbulence near the horizon was great. At 4:00 AM we still could see Phobos, but it has moved closer to Mars. Only the fact that Mars was higher in the sky let it remain visible.

We probably would have been able to see the somewhat dimmer Deimos which was farther from Mars if we had known where to look. Indeed we may have glimpsed it, but not officially because no one claimed it. Besides Phobos other first timers this week are; NGC3264, NGC3289, NGC3412, NGC3705, NGC4030, NGC4192 [M98], NGC4388, NGC4394, NGC4413, NGC4422, NGC4461, NGC4463, NGC4478, NGC5897, NGC6144, NGC6287, ε Canis Majoris, γ Virginis, BD-11 4258 and HD5657. Quite a haul!

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Mar 23, 2001
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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