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Log, Apr 18, 2003

6 people. Jackpot! Huzzah! At last, a night worthy of opening the Observatory. The weather forecast wasn't all the auspicious, with vague threats of assorted nastiness's, the Clear Sky Clock was only a little more cheerful with no thick clouds but a hazy strata. So so viewing. The Moon was due up between 10 and 11, and with 92% of it illuminated, we had a promise of a high glare night. Yet in spite of all these pitfalls, drawbacks and reasons to be wary, the night went well. One huge advantage we did have with the weather was a fairly even cooling. This in turn lead to long periods of very stable seeing, which I turned into a positive sessions with some long neglected friends - double stars.

I arrived very early, determined to do some housekeeping. A vacant building subjected to the miserable weather we have had can often need touching up. And so the Dome did. Nothing major but a good forty minutes of this, that and the other thing. I put the Dome through its paces and nary a glitch (although we had a brief stickiness later on). I woke up the electronics, confirming to the PC that indeed daylight was being saved. After weeks of inactivity, the alignment was at best mediocre. Doing an alignment in daylight is not practical so I decided to turn the scope towards Jupiter. While it didn't show up in the eyepiece, it was easily seen in the spotting scope. Jupiter and its four Galilean Moons were crisp and stable, albeit a bit bland in the daylight. I could make out seven zones on Jupiter and a definite disk on Ganymede. I tried to convince myself that I could see a disk for Io, Callisto and Europa but I finally decided I was seeing what I wished but not what was there.

Ernie arrived shortly after dusk. Fearful that bringing out his four inch scope would instantly doom the night, he decided to come inside. And a good thing as we shall see later. Ernie managed to score a first for him as we shall learn later. We tried to split Sirius from the pup without success. It has moved away enough to be splittable in 6" scopes but Sirius, low to the horizon was visibly twinkling.

We were looking at Betelgeuse (a byproduct of an attempt to get a better two star alignment which we accomplished) when a young couple arrived. She was a astronomy student at URI, and the young man had the same last name as me. We compared notes trying to see if we might be very distant cousins but came to no conclusion. We talked about Betelgeuse and looked at it through the scope. I moved over to M42 which was low in the sky. The Trapezium was crisp but the cloud structure was very low contrast. I heard a voice below me and there was Joe saying that believe or not, this was his first chance to see M42 this year. Easy enough to believe given the hideous luck we have had with the weather.

We turned back to Jupiter, and our guest from URI got the chance to watch an occultation of Io by the king of the planets. We previewed it on the computer so that everyone would know what to expect, she had the pleasure of being the person to actually see the disappearance and we chatted about how timing the moons' occultations lead Olaf Roemer to establish the first reasonable measure of the speed of light.

About this time we were joined by our six and final person of the evening - a fellow astronomer from Downeast. Given that this was already becoming our best night of 2003 [a distinction of little renown], it was too bad more folks didn't mosey on down to the Park.

Saturn was really lovely. It was crisp in the 19mm. Titan, Dione, Rhea, Iapetus, and Tethys were easily spotted. Mimas and Enceladus were too close to the rings for clear seeing. In the slight haze, the difference in contrast made them invisible. The Cassini Division was a crisp complete oval. Details of the rings were hard to spot in the low contrast conditions, but everything was very stable.

Our visitor from Maine asked to see globular clusters. He asked for a couple that were badly placed with respect the the dome's upper shutter. Joe and Ernie tried for M35. A sad disappointment in the low contrast conditions. However the Eskimo (NGC2392) was nice and even sustained a higher powered eyepiece.

Joe had to leave early, and the folks from URI called it a night. I suggested we try the Realm of the Galaxies before the Moon arrived. On the way over, I noticed that Vesta was well placed and I turned to it. Surprise, surprise this was Ernie's first confirmed sighting of an asteroid. He had seen one in a dense star field, but nothing like Vesta which at magnitude 6.2 was by far the brightest object in the field of view. We tried for M84 and M87. Well, they were there all right but paltry low level contrast made them Smudges of the Week candidates. We tried for M51, but the shutter interfered and we decided that bringing the upper segment down was a waste of time since the Moon was rising. Ernie and our guest from Maine decided to leave.

All alone, with to comfort me but a well aligned 16" telescope (and a set of polypropylene long johns). All's rights with the world. Now I ask myself, what can we look at on a stable, but low contrast night? Right - those little bitsy bright points of high contrast light we call stars! I spent the remainder of a long night doing something that I haven't done in far too long. I looked at stars - double stars, oddly colored stars, and some just plain stars. For almost the entire time I stayed within Virgo. While close to the Moon (which was in the adjacent constellation Libra), the stars of Libra were high and to the south away from other distractions. I'll simply list the notes I took:

HD119149 [82 Vir] very deep red star 5.0 magnitude

HD117675 [74 Vir] another very deep red star 4.7 magnitude

HD117848 [76 Vir] a golden, or perhaps yellow orange star 5.2 magnitude

HD117436 [72 Vir] a bit of a disappointment because I find the wide (30") 11.9 star

HD118024 double star, nearly touching, 7.9 & 8.4 magnitude

HD126868 [theta Vir] Clean split (5.1") of 4.8 & 9.3 magnitude

HD127168 very easy split (25") 7.1 & 11.1 magnitude

HD125184 6.5 & 10.9 magnitude (57") hard to spot 10.9 in bright background

HD125906 Find of the night!!!! Two IDENTICAL 6.82 magnitude stars. Same yellow white color 5.8" apart. Beautiful!

HD125818 7.2 & 12.7. Couldn't spot the 12.7 which was 37" away.

HD127119 This star is embedded (foreground) in NGC5634, a globular cluster. The cluster was all but invisible at a surface magnitude of about 10.

HD127352 7.7 & 7.8 magnitude. I suspect this was a spectroscopic double, or perhaps an eclipsing double. No separation is given. I couldn't split the stars.

HD126128 6.9 & 8.6 magnitude. At 6.2" this split with little difficulty. These are lovely white stars.

HD125608 7.3 & 9.9 At 1.5", I wasn't able to get black between the stars but the colors are very yellow and blue and it was distinctly blue on one side, yellow on the other.

HD126248 & HD126201 While not listed formally as a pair, this "alignment" double was actually closer that about have the stars I looked at tonight.

HD122408 [tau Vir] 4.3 & 9.5. At 81" degrees of separation, this very wide (and very nearby - 120 LY) pair of stars was hard to distinguish from normal background clutter. The 4.3 is a clear yellow and the 9.5 is the grayest star I've ever seen. Almos

HD124224 [CU Vir] The variable star (4.9-5.1) & the fainter star 11.9 took some spotting against the background at a wide separation of 60".

I finally broke down and decided to destroy my night vision. I swung the 16" over to the Moon with a 19mm eyepiece. Normally, I would use a 40 or a 54 mm eyepiece with visitors to give a wide view of the Moon, but I wanted to study detail along the terminator and was happy to give up a panorama for crisp detail. I think the star of the show was Langrenus although Mare Crisium and Cleomedes put up a good battle for second and third spots. Langrenus had the entire rim illuminated while the floor of the crater was in darkness. Mountains to sun ward cast shadows on the outer wall causing Langrenus to appear as an isolated ring of light with a brilliant dot of light in the central ejecta mass. Stunning. Mare Crisium is usually a great ho-hummer and I usually don't spend much time in the maria. However tonight the terminator split the plains about evenly and the illuminated part had the sun at a very low angle. This meant the undulations and rolling hills in the Mare appeared as "waves" in the lunar sea. What makes Cleomedes so pleasant is a perfect tiny crater immediately adjacent to the central ejecta mass. With the very low Sun angle, the shadow triangle of the ejecta mass looked like an arrow pointing at a tiny bullseye. Rima Petavius was a beautiful semicircle of light and shadow. Yes, even this jaded old observer can find beauty in the bigh bright thing in the night sky.

Well tonight was easily the best night this year, albeit a case of hangnails would manage to take third place. Objectively, I would only place the sky at a 3.5-4.0 on our over calibrated and totally subjective scale. However in relative terms to this year's abominable average, last night was literally - well stellar.

Leslie Coleman
Author:
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Apr 18, 2003
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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