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Log, Apr 13, 2001

43 people plus a Cub Scout Pack of unknown size. You know, it's not that the weathermen have been inaccurate with their forecasts over the past few months - it's just that as astronomers we haven't cared much for what they've been predicting! At Frosty Drew Observatory (as elsewhere in New England) we had just suffered though a stretch of fourteen clouded out Fridays out of the last eighteen, going back to early December. So when the forecast for clearing skies late yesterday began to sink in, scores of people jumped into their cars and headed down to Frosty Drew in Charlestown, RI.

There had been a lot of rain in southern RI over the past day, so Joe Hartley and I had to take our time opening the dome of the 16" LX200 - watching for that telltale drip-drip of water. Some folks were so eager to observe that they had arrived a good hour before sunset. This gave us the opportunity to share some basic background information with them and to show them Jupiter and Saturn in the 16" in broad daylight - something they all found quite amazing.

As darkness fell the sky had completely cleared and we were able to treat everyone, including a large group of cub scouts, to some decent views of the gas giants which are now fading fast in the western sky. The air was still damp and turbulent, so seeing wasn't great, but the "oohs" and `wows!" coming from the kids showed that their enthusiasm certainly wasn't dampened! This is one of the joys at Frosty Drew - introducing young folks to the wonders of the heavens. I was manning the scope for much of this time, and noticed several of the cubs coming back up onto the observing platform for second and third looks - budding young astronomers all!

Shortly after dark the wind really began to howl out of the Northwest, so those folks who set up their telescopes out in the yard (there were five of them last night) really took a beating! At least the air temperature was reasonable, not dropping off much until around midnight. We took a nice parting look at the great M42 and then swung the scope over to M104, the "Sombrero" galaxy in Virgo - always a fine sight in the 16". Next we looked at a relatively unfamiliar but bright Messier galaxy, M83 in Hydra. Due to its low declination, nearly -30 degrees, this is a difficult object to observe from New England. Last night it was only 18 degrees above the horizon as it crossed the meridian. We could see its basically rectangular shape, along with a bright core, but it looked very little like its photograph. We'll have to catch it again on a night with better transparency.

Looking eastward we enjoyed views of the globulars M13, M92 and NGC 6229 in Hercules and then pointed the scope nearly at the zenith for an excellent look at the marvelous M51 - the Whirlpool Galaxy. What a sight in the 16"! Detailed spiral arm structure practically jumped right out of the eyepiece. FDO's 16" LX200 is on an altazimuth mount, so observing at the zenith causes some unusual movements as you slew from one object to another - often the scope will have to turn all the way around the zenith, since it cannot pass through it. But this is a small price to pay for the space that the altazimuth mount saves in the dome, along with an eyepiece position that is almost always favorable to what it would be with an equatorial mounting.

Later on, just prior to the 1:25 AM moonrise, we checked out a handful of fine globulars in Ophiucus and Scorpius, as well as Mars - which is now 12" in diameter and beginning to show some detail. It's going to be a tough year for observing the red planet, however, due to the its far southern location, as seen from the northern USA..

The moon began to interfere seriously with our deep sky viewing by about 2:00 AM so we packed things in and were on our way out of the park by 2:30 - an early night by our standards! Hopefully we'll get some clear skies next weekend, when there'll be no interference from the moon at all.

The "Stargate" in Corvus, which is becoming a crowd favorite. The globulars we observed in Ophiucus were M9, M10 and M12. In Scorpius we also observed M4 and M80. M101 in Ursa Major and M102 in Draco were both quite impressive as they were near the zenith along with M51. We could actually pick up some spiral structure in M101 - which is really tough to do.

Barry continued his quest for observing tough doubles by successfully splitting Castor in his XT8 - despite severe vibrations caused by the howling wind. Ernie and Doug enjoyed some nice a wide field views of M51 and M44 in Ernie's 6" Rich Field Telescope [RFT].

As a final note, we managed to bag one more "previously unseen" Messier objects in the 16" LX200: the globular M9 in Ophiuchus. This leaves only M91 in Coma, M29 in Cygnus, M26 in Scutum, and M69 in Sagitarius.

-Doug Stewart

Thanks Doug for the Log Entry. Les

Leslie Coleman
Author:
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Apr 13, 2001
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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