Log, Dec 27, 2002

27 people. After a siege of rained out Friday nights we got a breather in the form of a intermittently totally clear and then partially cloudy night. There were always good areas for viewing and one marvelous performer - Saturn. More about Saturn shortly. The air was cold, but if you wore heavy clothing, it wasn't windy and it was possible to stay warm. So many folks decide on the spur of the moment to visit us but forget to dress as if they were starting on the Iditarod Dog Sled Race. Honestly folks, FDO get really chilly at night. I wear a thermal polypropylene suit from ankles to chin, a study pair of wind breaking pants, a vest and a Thinsolate overcoat. My feet are shod in heavy hiking boots with thick comfy socks. I wear gloves and carry over mittens. And - get this - I have another entire layer in the car just in case. I'm warm all night except my face and sometimes my hands when I'm handling equipment.

Lets get to the high point of the evening, Saturn. It reached its nearest point in 30 years ten days ago - but of course the following Friday rained. Tonight was our first chance to look at the ringed planet. Luckily, Saturn moves slowly and it was almost the same view as ten days ago. Better yet, Saturn is almost overhead (we have to open the top shutter to see it) and the air was very stable when people remembered to stay away from the area under the scope. It wasn't just stable air fanatics like me who noticed when someone walked under the scope, but everyone at the eyepiece when it happened. A clear crisp view suddenly would become blurry. However a moment later things cleared. Saturn put on a great show. We saw seven moons of Saturn. Six were close to the planet. The usually difficult Mimas was nearly ideally placed, near the end of the Ring and slightly below the visual path making it a clear if faint object. At the 12th magnitude, it has a real battle with brilliant Saturn so near by. Far away but much fainter Hyperion was a tiny pinprick but just where the software said it would be. Way out was Iapetus but easy to spot. Of course Titan was bright and everyone saw it, along with Rhea, Dione and Thethys. I didn't think about last and I'm kicking myself, but we actually had a chance to try for very distant and very dim (16th+ magnitude) Phoebe - the only potentially visible moon of Saturn which I haven't seen.

Saturn's rings improved all night and by midnight they were incredible. We were down to three folks, Art Guarino, a visitor named Richard and myself. We could easily see Cassini Division (in fact everyone could see it clearly circling the planet, the two great rings were almost too bright. The crepe ring was clearly visible, particularly where it passed in front of the ball of Saturn itself. However, the star performer was the Encke Division. Really, really tough but visible intermittently. Art and I had no problem picking it up, but Richard was unsure.

Jupiter was never high enough to escape the ill effects of a bank of scattered clouds which hugged the shoreline. I really think that these clouds were warm ocean water vapor condensing a few hundred feet above the water. We could see storm bands, and the four Galilean moons. Many people couldn't spot Io and Europa. Starting at 9:55 and lasting until 10:07, Europa passed in front of Io. I've included a diagram that shows what a ultra humongous big brother to the Hubble Space Telescope would have seen if it was directly over FDO at 10PM. On the ground we had to be content with a pair of bright lights merging.

We went after a cluster of Messier objects, M1 (right by Saturn), M35, M36, M37, and M42 and M43 (many time for each group of people). As always these were crowd pleasers. After 10:30 PM the air was so stable that anyone looking at the Trapezium in M42 could easily make out not only A, B, C and D but fainter E and F. I think I got a glimpse of G but I couldn't confirm the sighting.

The scope and the PC worked well together last night. Remarkably, the scope maintained a good two star alignment from way back in November. I was all set to align when I realized that I simply didn't need to do it. Why bother when going to something with a 25mm eyepiece placed the object in view. Not dead center but easily in view. The bad character last night was the Dome. The track and the motor desperately need to be aligned. It was jumping out of the track EVERYWHERE last night and simply not going back.

What a joy to have a good night. Clouds showed up but so did stable clear areas. I hope the upcoming year will be a clear sky and great viewing year for the Observatory and that you and yours will have a wonder filled New Year.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Dec 27, 2002
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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