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Log, Feb 15, 2002

5 people. Five people showed up. One to drop off some lovely photographs and to pick up her negatives, two to do some work on the PC and two came down to actually see something. This nice couple have a two year old whose grandmother came over to baby sit. Unfortunately the best we could show them was a fog bank which momentarily would thin enough to allow Jupiter, Sirius or the Moon to make a ghostly gray appearance. On our highly refined, ultra precise wild eyed guestimate I would place last night's sky at a meager 0.2 on our seeing scale of 0 to 10. Zero is tapeing your eyes shut while trying to see the stars from inside a tanning booth buried deep in a coal mine. Ten is metaphysical euphoria where you have to take precautions to avoid blinding yourself in the glare of fifth magnitude stars.

The PC has caught a case of the the mismatched DLLs [we think], which every PC owner dreads after installing a bit of new software. Nothing to do for it except reformat the disk and reload the operating system. Sigh! Les and Steve packed it away in Steve's car to be returned all spiffy and spritely in a day or two.

Saturday February 16, 2002. 2+2 people. There is a recently all too neglected tradition at FDO to occasionally schedule a Virtual Friday Night [VFN]. Unlike a true public Friday night, VFNs never occur or a Friday and they are not open to the public [with a soon to be mentioned exception]. VFNs real purpose is three fold - to give our staff members a chance to develop their own personal skills, to give them a chance to observe objects of little general interest and to give them a chance to use special equipment. Much as we love and are committed to the public these off regular hours events are critical to allow us unhampered time when we can practice without concern for the public. We limit VFNs to invitation only status among active staff and DO NOT advertise them via our web site. Indeed they frequently occur with scarcely any lead time like tonight when we switched a tentitively schedule 2/16/02 VFN a night early.

Only two of us could make the quick switch, Ernie and Les. A couple of others did not want to take a chance on a long drive in what seemed would be bad weather. Most simply could not change family schedules so quickly. Les arrived a little early and had the telescope up and pointed at the Moon when Ernie drove in. The weather was very clear and quite stable. The Moon was significantly bright, and there was a hint of moisture in the air, but because the temperature did not tumble until after 10 PM, no condensate clouds formed. Indeed the only real clouds arrived after we had closed and were driving home. make an appearance. All in all I'd rate the night between 5.5 and 7. Had the Moon been down most of this time, I might have been willing to say it was a 7 to 8 all night.

Two police stopped by. As always it makes me very happy to see that our dome and equipment are being watched over. We turned the telescope towards Jupiter and Saturn for them. They were very impressed.

We lacked the comfort of our security blanket - the PC with its large and easily accessed database of distant objects. Now Ernie and I have decades of experience swinging telescopes hither and yon to find this or that. So what's the problem? Well the Meade LX200 16" isn't exactly designed to do that with the same freedom as say Art's Dobs. For example, we can easily center a 4th magnitude star, but taking that star and a bit more than a degree north and a half degree east just isn't all that easy. So we resorted to computed the target's RA/Decl which worked just fine with the exception of one target which we couldn't find no matter what [NGC609]. [I suspect that the Moon was bleaching out a dim cluster. We didn't know how the object's magnitude.]

We saw NGC891 which is a very wide and narrow galaxy with a low surface contrast except near a small core. It filled most of our 26mm eyepiece. We got a surprize when we tried for NGC1579, NGC457 and NGC1479. The telescope suggested we try something else because they were too high and represented a danger to the eyepiece and diagonal. We looked at NGC663 which is really a lovely cluster we had not looked at before. It has several colored stars including a nice close double and a golden star in a field of generally blue stars.

We dropped the lower segment of the dome and looked at Jupiter and Saturn. We had not allowed enough time to get the dome trap door open so we missed the occultation of Ganymede. Jupiter was really excellent. Details in multiple bands could be seen. Even our visting policemen could make out details on their first look through a big telescope. Looking at Jupiter with a dark blue filter really helped isolate festoons.

However Saturn was to provide us with a real object lesson. No matter how good our seeing skills are, we can always improve. I'm a real believer in this. Whenever I have a chance I let my eye look at faint background stars. I really don't care which ones they are but after a while you suddenly realize that you can see faint stars steadily where before they often disappeared. Ernie had never seen the Crepe Ring in all his years at the eyepiece. A combination of other people's misinformation ["You can't see the Crepe Ring with less than such and such a huge telescope."] and the assumption that the Crepe Ring was transparent meant Ernie never saw it before. Actually, he probably saw it many times but didn't recognize it for what it was. In any case the Crepe Ring was clearly visible as a "gauze" on the surface of Saturn, even though you couldn't see it against the blackness of space. We also saw a very clear Cassini's Division. We tried for Encke's Division without success. Therein lies the other part of sucessful seeing technique improvement. Avoid wishful seeing. Otherwise you'll eventually get so sloppy in technique you'll miss lost of things that really are within your grasp. We tried Saturn in a variety of filters. Orange and Yellow allowed us to see details which were hard to see otherwise.

After urging by Doug over the last few days on the Internet, we turned our attention to Camelopardalis. The name comes from Camela [female camel] and Pardalis [female panther]. It really refers to a camel with the spots of a panther - which is a Giraffe not a Camel as many people think. Given that Camelopardalis has hardly anything easily seen, the spots most before of the "spots before your eyes" variety. I would recommend Kemble's Cascade (an asterism or a cluster as wish) composed of a long line of faint stars. Not much to the eye, but a nice object in a telescope or a pair of binoculars. We looked at Tombaugh's Cluster. Clyde Tombaugh was the discoverer of Pluto. Our third object in this area was Stock 23 which is a really nice open cluster. We had a number of unsucessful attempts to find very faint objects [DRAT it Moon!].

Here are the particulars of these objects:


STO 23 CLS 6.5 15 Σ385 CAM 03 2 .1 +5 56 4.4 -1.6 +0.1 -1.6 -12.8

TO 5 CLS 15 Σ385 CAM 03 2 .1 +5 56 4.4 +2.3 -0. +2.4 +18.7

BERK 10 CLS 12 36 CAM 03 4 .5 +65 31 4.7 -1.0 +1.0 -1.0 -10.1

KEMBLE CL* 180'L 36 CAM 03 4 .5 +65 31 4.7 +0. -2.4 +1.0 +08.5

TO 1 CLS 5 ο2 CMA 07 03.0 -23 48 3.0 -0.6 +3.3 -0.6 -02.7

TO 2 CLS 12.8 3 ο2 CMA 07 03.0 -23 48 3.0 +0.1 +2. +0.1 +00.3

STO = Stock TO = Tombaugh Berk = Berkeley

The RA and DEC adjacent to the P*CON column are for the stars in that column. To get the RA and Dec of the objects themselves, add the RAM column value to the star's RA and the DEC value next to the RFS column for the object's declination.

Our final attempt of the night was an all out assault on the Pup, Sirius's companion white dwarf tucked about 5 arcseconds away from the brightest extra solar object in the sky. The air was reasonably stable. For moments I was able to see a clear Airy disk around Sirius. We tried a variety of filters. We tried a deep red (the Pup is bluer than Sirius, so red filters dim Sirius more than the Pup). We tried a deep violet filter (because the violet end of the spectrum has a resoltion more than 70% better than the red end of the spectrum). We tried just about every size eyepiece with the 12mm and 19mm giving the best overall views. The 5mm and the 8mm simply bubbled too much and the 26mm through 40mm range simple included too much for a narrow split. Two nearby stars of almost exactly the same magnitude of the Pup [aided? hindered?] the search. They are BD-16_1598 5' and BD-16_1586 7" [arcminutes] from Sirius as opposed to the Pup's 5" [arcseconds]. The net of this is that both Ernie and Les could not split Sirius cleanly although we both a got a strong sensation that Sirius had a "bump" at about 10 o'clock in the field of view. We agreed that we didn't have enough to claim the Pup although this was the right location and we feel it may have been the Pup.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Feb 15, 2002
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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