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Log, Oct 5, 2001

30 people. Its strange but one person's disappointing sky is another person's wonder. Friday was such a night. The weather which has been parked over the East Coast for four days was on its last hours as cold air to the north moved towards the coast. All sorts of "seeing scale exist" - so on my personal scale where 0 is "Weather closed FDO", 1 means "all in all, I'd rather be home flossing my teeth" all the way up to 10 which is simply "as good as it gets, now or ever", I rated tonight in the middle - 5 "OK, but it really ain't great". The problem all night was moisture. Can you say "DEW" boys and girls? Of course, the big nasty rose just after 8 converting a sky full of the Milky Way Galaxy into just plain milky.

However, tonight was far from a wash out otherwise. Bob Pratt finally got a chance to return to FDO. His trade mark "red bucket" lamp was a welcome sight to those who haven't seen Bob for much too long. Les set up the Astroscan and let kids scan the Milky Way where they chose before he turned it on M31 for the adults. We had lots of regulars there as well - Joe, Art, Marcie, Steve, Doug, Ernie, and Tom could all be heard pointing out this and explaining that all night.

However, the most keenly awaited event of the night was the arrival of Steve Brandt's Meade LX200 12" telescope for it maiden trip at FDO. Steve has had it out at least once before for some seeing. In theory, the 12 inch is a one man scope. Probably true if that one person doesn't care what gets damaged, is as strong as Goliath, and has plenty of light to set things up. In practice, anyone setting up this behemoth ought to have a buddy or two around. The tripod could easily support a car without strain or buckling. The yoke and OTA may not be all that heavy, but they flop about with the "locks off". Imagine juggling three 50 pound bags of corn meal and you get an idea what a first time in the dark at FDO with the new scope was like. However, after a few "how come this don't fit in that" type puzzlements, the LX200 12" was aligned on two stars and off and running. It is a very nice machine there Steve! More than worth the "first time in the dark" confusions!

We covered our usual panalopy of sights in the sky. Mars was first (long before dark in fact). The polar cap was easy to see, but the rest of the planet has the blahs. With lots of people about we tackled a couple more planets Uranus and Neptune. Reports of moons around these gas giants turned out to be mainly background stars although a few reports of Triton may have been correct. I didn't see it but then "thems the breaks". A bunch of Messier objects, M11, M22, M2, M15 and M57 were next. By now, the big meany was bright in the East, and delicate diffuse nebulae were disappointing. Any week where M27 [Dumbbell] and much later M42 [Great Nebula in Orion] fought it out for the faintly coveted "Smudge of the Week Award" was not a notably good viewing night. However, M15 (at 60 degrees above the horizon) was quite crisp and sharp, and even M57 [Ring Nebula in Lyra] was acceptable.

Saturn rose early enough tonight that quite a few people got a chance to see it. A regular troop of people trudged between Steve's 12" and the Observatory's 16". Lots of eyepieces were tried on both. Steve's telescope faired very well against the larger telescope. With some combinations of eyepieces, it was the clear winner. I think that in the end we managed to bag five of Saturn's moons in BOTH telescopes [Titan {very easy}, Rhea, Dione, Tethys {easy} and Iapetus {a bit harder because it was so far out}].

We split a number of double stars. Frankly what with all the running to and fro I think we lost count. I know we tagged Rigil, Castor, Zeta Aquarii, several stars in Capricorn and so on. In most cases, we put both scopes on both stars to see how they looked. Much debate about clear separations and missing Airy rings (due to the increasingly unstable air). You know, the stuff that drives non-astronomers to utter distraction but is the life breath of those with stars in our eyes.

Jupiter now rises in Gemini, long after Saturn. At first we had a bright orangy-red fuzz ball, but as it climbed it improved. Jupiters moons were all doing their own thing and making quite a show. Callisto spent the evening moving across the face of Jupiter. Ganymede sat off by itself, but as the night wore on we were able to see a distinct disk in both the LX200 12" and 16". However, the very near eclipse of Europa by Io was the most interesting event. They actually were separated by 0.9 arcseconds at their closest, but neither telescope could split them at this minima. As they moved apart, we were able to see the image elongate and finally separate in both telescopes.

Yes we seared our eyeballs by looking at the big meany. We had a very unscientific plan tonight - looking here and there as we desired. Since we had no new comers at the time, most of us were rather blase about the Moon but it was nice.

All in all, not a great night optically but were had lots of excitement and lots of happy people. And that is really what it is all about. Looking forward to next week [sans Moon]. Think "cool stable clean dry air" three times hard each evening until then.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Oct 5, 2001
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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