Log, Nov 21, 2003

Joe reporting, 61 visitors (Les thinks at least a dozen scouts weren't counted early on). This was the night that made all the cloudy nights, telescope problems and other frustrations worth it.

A day that began as grey and damp turned into a spectacular night! I was running late thanks to a last minute task at work and traffic jams coming out of Providence, and was worried that I'd arrive to a large, miffed crowd waiting for me to open the observatory.

When I finally arrived at 7:20, I found that Les - Les! - had opened the dome at 6:30, got the telescope up and was in the midst of one of his trademark starhops, leading a sizable throng from star to star. He left shortly after my arrival, and I am not sure if I fully conveyed my gratitude for his presence last night.

Back in the dome, I found Art at the scope, giving person after person a look at Mars. It's hard to believe that only 3 months ago this planet was twice as large in diameter as it is now, evidence of the speed with which it's pulling away from us.

From Mars, we went to M2, so clear and crisp, looking like a pile of tiny diamonds on black velvet. Then it was off to the west to catch M57, the Ring Nebula, looking like a smoke ring perfectly puffed, then M27, the Dumbbell Nebula to compare the 2 different nebulae. After that, Albireo came into the eyepiece, the blue and yellow stars showing even more contrast in their colors than I remember.

Over to the west, I realized my favorite open cluster was well positioned, so it as off to M37 in Auriga. I love this because it's a dense collection of stars almost globular in appearance, with the happy coincidence of a slightly brighter, orange foreground star dead center in the cluster from our point of view. This star is not part of the actual cluster; it is closer to the Earth than the starts in the cluster and it is simply coincidence that we have this gorgeous jewel in the center providing contrast to the white stars in the cluster.

We then went to Saturn, and even though it was low on the horizon, it was still clear, if shaky, and always makes people gasp when they see it for the first time through a telescope.

The pointing accuracy of the scope was not very good at this time, with objects generally not coming into the eyepiece after a GOTO, due to our reliance on the scope holding its alignment after it's been parked. It was at this time that I decided to do a quick 2 star alignment on the scope using Capella and Betelgeuse. These stars do not have a great deal of angular distance between them, and it's recommended to use stars that are further apart, but they were both accessible with a minumum of moving of the scope and dome. It didn't seem to matter that they were not very far apart - after the alignment, the pointing of the scope was _perfect_ and remained that way all night long.

After the alignment, I tried the accuracy by going to M1, the Crab Nebula. This is an object that many people have heard of and have seen in pictures, and is invariably disappointing in the eyepiece for people familiar with these photographs. Faint and fuzzy, it nonetheness made me smile when the scope put it dead center in the eyepiece.

By now Orion was high enough to go to M42, the Great Orion Nebula. Compared to our washed out views in the last 2 weeks, tonight it took my breath away once again. We'd be back here throughout the night as it rose to show it off to new visitors.

We then tried for a few of the fainter objects to the south to try and take advantage of the dark night. The planetary nebula NGC1407 was faint, and near-invisible to people not used to looking for faint fuzzies. NGC1370 was next, even fainter than 1407, this tiny galaxy almost invisible to the inexperienced viewer. I went looking for the Fornax Galaxy cluster, but ended up at the obscure little galaxy NGC1297 instead.

With 3 little tiny fuzzies in a row, it was time to go to something a little brighter, so it was a swing to the north for M81 and M82. These were wonderful, looking so clear and lovely in the eyepiece. New visitors brought us back to the east for M42 and Saturn, so we stayed a little longer to get a view of the Eskimo Nebula.

By now, Andromeda had relinquished her position directly overhead, and was low enough to clear the top of the dome, so it was over to M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. Even though it is so large we cannot get more than half of it in the eyepiece at any one time, it was still spectacular! We then went to its companions, M32 and M110. We were able to get the core of M31 and M32 in the eyepiece at the same time, showing the contrast between these 2 galaxies. M110 was a positive letdown after these spectacular views.

M33 was next, but due to the ever-dampening atmosphere, was rather washed out. We finished up with NGC7662, the Blue Snowball Nebula. This lived up to its name, showing a definite blue hue.

By now the dampness had caused the people who had set up in the parking lot to be on their way home. Once again the dome had kept us dry and almost carefree, though we noticed drips from the dome throughout the night as the dew fell. When I was shutting down the scope, I noticed a few drops of w ater clinging to the bottom dew shield, and a look down the tube showed some trails of water running down the bottom of the shield, but the front corrector lens of the scope remained bone-dry.

By 12:30 we were packed up and on our way home, with the best night in months and months finally just a memory. Let's hope we've finally broken the chain, and that we have many more clear Friday nights soon.

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Nov 21, 2003
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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