Log, Dec 19, 2003

2 staff and no visitors. We are closing out the least satisfactory year Frosty Drew Observatory has ever had. Weather has been a major hindrance. We have only had 12 nights that were reasonably good. Another 10 nights we tried but basically were forced to close early. Between the weather, a few holidays and the telescope guidance problems in October, we were closed a record 31 Friday nights. Hopefully this siege of bad luck has lifted.

However, we actually opened this Friday in spite of no visitors. Joe and Les arrived around 6:30 to a fairly solid overcast with just a few zenith stars peeking through. We went into the warm confines of the Nature Center and chatted awaiting a possible break in the clouds. About an hour into the evening the warmer air above the ocean caused a clearing to the south. We would easily see most of Taurus and Orion and large parts of nearby constellations. The telescope came up fine and found Saturn reasonably well, just a tad off centered in the eyepiece.

After diddling with the computer to align its image with the eyepiece we started off trying to see which moons of Saturn were visible. Some of the moons were easy - Titan, Rhea, Dione and Enceladus. Iapetus could be found with a little patience. Tethys and Mimas should have been visible but there was enough moisture in the air that they were lost in the glare of the planet. The rings were clear. Since the rings are in the best position they will be for many many years, it was a treat to see them full on. Again the moisture prevent any attempt to locate Encke's Division, but Cassini's Division as well as banding on the planet's surface were clear. Far from Saturn and usually impossible to spot we made an attempt for Phoebe. It normally would have been hopeless, but tonight HD 283118 a tenth magnitude star was almost adjacent, giving us a very small field to search. Even so, 16th magnitude Phoebe eluded us.

We went next to the Christmas Tree Cluster NGC 2664 , also called the Cone Nebula. It was visible but looked much like the moisture that we had seen before. It was a low contrast object at best tonight. We went to Collinder 106, a small cluster just outside the Rosetta Nebula. . We noticed that it was not centered well, and Joe decided to perform a two star alignment. Even though we picked to nearby stars, the pointing improved considerably. Tracking remained excellent. Joe picked M35, one of his favorites, and the telescope plunked it down for us to see. By the time I got up however, clouds had reduced this gorgeous open cluster to a few bright stars.

We switched over to Orion and concentrated on M42 and M43, the Great Nebulae in Orion. We have come across many fascinating points about these two great stellar factories but one point which astounded me was the incredible rate at which they produce water - plain old garden variety H20. This isn't recycling water from steam or squeezing water from minerals but the creation of new oxygen from imbedded supernova, combined with primordial hydrogen to form first time ever new water. Care to guess how much water they produce? If you took every drop of water on Earth - all the oceans, rivers, ground water, ice, snow, rain, clouds and every bit of dampness, The Great Nebula has been producing this much brand new water every 24 minutes, day in and day out for uncounted millions of years. Sixty brand new Earth sized global oceans each and every day without ceasing. Kind of astounding wouldn't you say? Makes you wonder what all that water will become doesn't it?

By now the clouds were making more of a porthole than a window and Joe and Les decided that our nights viewing was past tense. We closed up and left shortly after 9.

Joe and I wish you a wonderful Holiday Season. We'll reopen January 9th weather permitting. In the meantime the Observatory will be closed the days after Christmas and New Years.

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Dec 19, 2003
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
Subscribe to Leslie Coleman's Log RSS Feed