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Log, Nov 1, 2002

28 people. After a passing thundershower that cleared the area by 7PM, the sky began to clear. We got a bit of viewing in and then it seemed to close in again but shortly after that the sky became very clear - somewhere between a 7 and an 8 on our scale of magnificent (10) to blotto (0). Ernie Evan had set up his four inch telescope before the second overcast, and was chatting with me when the sky cleared for good. We got a fair amount of good clear sky (although not terribly stable) viewing. Quite literally the best we have had for months on end. It was a pity that more serious astronomy buff chose to pass the night by.

I really didn't expect anything when I got there. A thunderstorm was just off shore and a cold rain with occasional wet flakes was coming down. I opened the Nature Center when a large group of Cub Scouts, moms, dads and brothers and sisters arrived. Art had told me about this group some weeks ago, but I had frankly forgotten they were coming. We got out of the storm, and I did about a forty minute song and dance in the NC talking about the new Pluto - like object out near the edge of the solar system, meteors (a great favorite of kids), walking in meteor craters (me), and about telescopes. One of the dads kept a weather eye out (literally) and when it cleared I asked for five minutes to open the Dome. Ooops. The storm had done something to the alarm system. It was ringing when I got there. I turned it off and called the security company but the Charlestown Police had been dispatched. I had a nice chat with the policeman who checked in on us. Actually I am very happy that they watch over us so well, but I wish the system hadn't unnecessarily called then out.

We did a star party outside with the gang of Cubs and then everyone got a chance to see me put the telescope together. We had been talking about how looking through a big telescope gives a view not much larger than looking through a straw and we had been talking about the Pleiades. So we looked at that cluster - or more correctly we looked at Maia and a few dim stars near by. I planned to switch to M31 after everyone had a chance at Maia when the brief second band of clouds came over and the Cubs went home.

This left the scope pretty much as the private property of Ernie and me. I don't like managing the scope with no one around and Ernie had to work in the morning so we got as much seeing in as possible before 11:30. Saturn was bright and when the air became stable as it did in periods, we could see Cassini's division but not Encke's gap. I counted five of the seven moons we frequently see. Titan was easy and so was Rhea. Thethys and Dione were almost as easy to seef. Mimas was right up against the Ring. Both Ernie and I could glimpse it but it wasn't easy. Hyperion simply wasn't in view.

We decided to familiarize ourselves with the region of the sky around the star that will be occulted tonight (Saturday) between 8 and 9 PM by an asteroid. Ernie was working from memory and knew the star by its Struve designation. Our software didn't recognize that name, but we quickly came to the conclusion that the only possible star was HD25202. Once we saw its RA and declination, the numbers clicked in Ernie's memory and were we comfortable we had it. We turned the scope to it and studied the star field. Ernie and I will try for it tonight. Wish us luck.

M42 was its usual spectacular self, but unstable air made any attempt to pick out the fifth and sixth stars of the Trapezium fruitless. I haven't looked at the Crab Nebula for more than two years (just lazy I guess), so I moved the scope there. The Crab looks wonderful in color pictures but as shades of dim gray on dimmer gray it is a ho-hummer. I turned to a "mysterious open cluster" - or so I told Ernie. Can't fool an old hand like Ernie with something as familiar as M35. It may be my favorite open cluster, Pleiades and Hyades not withstanding.

We turned to NGC1647 which is a very large but quite diffuse. It vaguely has the shape of a whisk broom. NGC2129 was our next target, a more compact open cluster. It has two prominent stars HD250290 and HD250289 which really stand out. Ernie and I began to talk about open clusters and I made the remark that an awful lot of NGC open clusters in the band of the Milky Way could just as easily be called background stars. However we persisted. Our next target was a small cluster near M35 called NGC2158. It makes my point. The two clusters run into each other. Why isn't NGC2158 simply called an "arm" of M35? Nearby is the very dim cluster IC2157. We finished our night of clustering with NGC2175, a so so in my estimation. We swung to the Eskimo planetary nebula (NGC2392) after unsuccessfully trying for several fainter planetaries. We made a concerted effort to locate NGC246, but for whatever reason we couldn't spot it. We even bracked it with a known star field to no avail.

This was the first reasonable night in a long time. I would have stayed until the wee hours but I do not like to be there alone. Hey there astronomical community, 16" scope, a warm Nature Center, hot coffee, dark skies, a moonless night and no hobgoblins. What more could you ask for? Come on down.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Nov 1, 2002
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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