Log, Oct 19, 2001

19 people. The night started out with high broken clouds. In the southwest, the Moon was a 12% crescent featuring Mare Crisium, Funerius, Petavius, Langrenus and Cleomedes. The plain of Mare Crisium showed ridges from successive lava flows far in the past. You can get a fairly good idea what was visible from the accompanying sketch.

As predicted an Iridium flare which appeared a little dimmer than we expected but for a longer duration showed up promptly at 6:59. At 7:32 the International Space Station made a pass from the northwest into Cassiopea before disappearing. The Earth's shadow on the ISS was very apparant. As the ISS passed into the penumbra it deepened to a dark sahde of read before popping out of sight halfway across Cassiopea. Since the sky wasn't particularly clear at this part of the night we concentrated on brighter objects. We looked at M52 (open cluster), M13 (the Great Cluster in Hercules) which was disappointing, M27 (the Dumbbell) which was nice and M71.

During the period early in the evening when the clouds were most caprecious, several young friends helped us by pointing the "star stick of science" (a small flashlight on a wand) at stars we could look at. Three year olds find this fascinating even if most older folk passed up the invitation. One young lady must have thought that she was near the beach because she took off her shoes and was walking around on the cold cement floors. She may have been ahead of her time as we shall see.

Ernie and Doug spent some time roaming open clusters in the Sagitta and Vulpecula. They also enjoyed the best resolution either of us had seen of M71, the globular in Sagitta - and this was prior to recollimating the 16"! The nearby Open Cluster Harvard 20 was difficult to distinguish against the rich Milky Way background.

NGC6823 is a loose but nice cluster which is surrounded by the nebulosity of NGC6820 - which they could not see even with the Oxy-III filter. The nebulosity is simply too large. NGC6882 although large was poor. It embeds NGC6885 and surrounds the bright star 20 Vulpeculae. At high power this is an interesting sight. Although the bright 20 Vul (mag. 5.9) is surrounded by a number of 12th and 13th magnitude stars, it is probably not a true cluster.

All during this time, folks arrived and became disheartened with the cloud cover. Even the staff began to give up and leave. By 10:30 we didn't have many folks left, and even the most optimistic staff people were making grumbling noises like "Lets call it a night". Then suddenly, the sky began to clear rapidly except far inland. By 11:15 it was good and after that it cleared to something like an 8 of 10 sky. We began to see detail in the Milky Way on the part which is thinest between Orion and Gemini.

Suddenly a group of us were lying on our back looking at M31 in Andromeda without eyes alone or binoculars. M31 was visible far beyond its core. In binoculars it looked like the photographs featured in magazines in dimensions although this "photo" lacked color and was "thinner" than magazine pictures. Even though I lay down on a quilted blanket, I'm not sure that this is an activity I'd recommend to someone who isn't a lot younger (perhaps 3?).

After a session with the Observatory's Questar, it was obvious that images were very stable. Joe and Doug (with Les holding a flashlight when a third pair of hands was needed) colluminated the 16". Over the last few months, temperture changes have loosened the set screws on the secondary mirror just enough to skew the iamge. Points of light were beginning to be blobs or comets. After an excellent collumination, the fixing of a queer noise in the declination bearing, and a fine alignment our 16" performed better that it has since early this year. What a joy!

We were now down to four diehards. Doug, Joe, Steve and Les. Following our increased security conciousness, the main gate was closed and locked at midnight, but we were just satrting. Our next major target was a comet "C/2000 WM LINEAR" about 110 million miles from Earth, at a faint magnitude 9.5. This comet would be invisible in most small telescopes and binoculars but it was clear as could be in the 16". Its tail was well formed and a straight wedge at least 25 times longer thna its fuzzy head.

We logged a fair number of additional Messier Objects. However, logging them became a bit of a problem because we had become fanatic about light pollution and turned off every bit of stray light including red indicator lamps on electronic equipment. Sky shine was bright enough so we didn't trip over each other, but more than a couple of times I mistook Steve for Doug or Doug for Joe. During this period we logged (or at least mentally logged) M37, M33, M50, a lovely cluster NGC7789, NGC2683 and the Eskimo. We had debates about the Eskimo. Doug could see the stars which marked the eyes. I couldn't. I could see the "nose" and the inner ring which is the Eskimo's face and the larger out ring which is his parka, but the eyes eluded me. M42, the Great Orion Nebula, was incredible. The Trapizium had 6 stars constantly visible with a seventh winking in and out. Details of the nebulosity was superb. Its been a while but this glory is back in season again. Hurrah!

You may have noticed a startling omission - no mention of planets. This is not an oversight but a climax. We bypassed Mars intentionally because the dust storm makes it a really boring object. However Jupiter and Saturn put on shows worthy of a long car ride. Jupiter underwent a double transit of the moons Io and Europa side by side, with their shadows preceeding them The Great Red Spot was back and brick red after a long period of being quite pallid. Ganymede was a precise disk with hints of color varaiations.

However, Saturn held our attention longest of anything tonight. It ddgreat moon Titan was a precise orange/brown disk. The rings had structure that rivaled the best I've seen. We got hints of the Encke Division. We never saw it long enough to claim certainty, but I suspect that we were seeing the real thing and not averted imagination. However it was the planet's surface and the rings which had the most detail. On the surface we could see V shaped bands at the equator and subtle lines near the tropics. The planet could be seen through the Cassini Division where the Ring went over the planet. We could make out structure and divisions on the great rings. However it was the Crepe Ring which stole the show. It was visible not only over the planet (fairly common) but as a clear ring all the way around.

Early Orionids streaked across the sky all night with several bright golden balls. We looked for the Northern Lights because the Sun has just had an X class flare (eXtreme) which is something that occurs very infrequently. Sunday and Monday are times when the Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) will interact with Earth's Magnetosphere. It could cause really major auroras tonight and Monady. If you are up, look to the northwest - you may just see them.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Oct 19, 2001
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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