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Log, Feb 13, 2004

12 people, (reported by Joe Hartley). If proof was ever needed that there are no grounds for triskaidekaphobia, last night can stand as a shining example. The skies were very clear and dark, and the temperature felt balmy at 39 degrees Fahrenheit. With Moonrise not until 12:33 AM, the night held great promise, and for once the promise was kept.

I arrived at 6:30 to find that Les had already opened the dome and had swung the scope over to Venus while he set things up. Oddly enough, he'd left the lights on in the dome as he set up, but that didn't hinder viewing of Venus in the least due to its brilliance.

The lights came down, and as we got our night vision, we started at M42, the great nebula in Orion. The hundreds of times I have seen this do not detract in my awe and joy of seeing this at all. It was simply spectacular, one of the best views I've ever seen of this.

We then jumped over to Saturn, and the night's clarity allowed us to use our higher powered eyepieces to bring out a stunning amount of detail. We were even lucky enough to catch glimpses of the faint Encke division in the outer ring pop into view from time to time.

Next was NGC2169, the "37" cluster that Ernie pointed out a few weeks back. From there it was down to IC418, a nice example of a planetary nebula in Lepus. We went even further down to M79, a globular cluster at the feet of Lepus, and then down even more until we looked at NGC1851 in the constellation Columba. This was extremely low on the horizon, and has only been observed once before in our scope, according to our logs.

From there it was into Eridanus and NGC 1600, the first of a number of galaxies that we'd see during the night. It showed a small bright core, and a haze around it.

Next was a low glimpse of Jupiter, my first of the year. 3 of the moons were visible, with Io hidden behind the disk of the planet. The disk of the planet shimmered in the atmosphere; we knew it would be better later in the evening.

Swinging to the north, which was darker than usual thanks to the clarity of the air, we looked at M81 and M82, the lovely pair of galaxies in Ursa Major. The bright, thin M82 was particularly nice, with the thick slash of darker matter across it very noticeable.

From there, Art suggested Alcor and Mizar, the wide double in the Big Dipper. The separation was huge in our scope! It was a short jump to M97, the Owl Nebula. This was a large fuzzy in the eyepiece, showing none of the structure some think of as eyes, thanks to the large amount of light pollution coming from the city.

From there, it was down to M51 below the Dipper in Canes Venatici. While visible, this was a faint ghost of itself thanks to its location in the light. A foray over to M63 was even more disappointing. Galaxies wash out quickly in areas with a bit of light.

Leo was getting higher and higher in the east, so we did a bit more galaxy hopping and viewed M65 and M66, even getting them both in the 40mm eyepiece. We upped that by one, getting 3 galaxies in the field at once with M105, NGC3384 and NGC3389 showing nicely.

We kept going back to Jupiter, our first views of the year getting better and better. A chance view at 8:42PM gave me that moment when Io ceased to seem to be connected to the planet and showed the black of separation. By 10:30, the distance had widened significantly due to Io's high orbital velocity. We then went to NGC3242, sometimes called the Ghost of Jupiter, since it appears as a blue smoke ball about the same size as Jupiter in the eyepiece.

As the last visitors prepared to leave, I swung over to M37, which was now low enough in the west to clear the top of the dome's shutter. I love this cluster, looking like a spangling of white diamonds across black velvet with one little ruby smack in the center.

After they left, Ernie and I continued on our quest to see the Pup, the binary companion to Sirius. The separation of the 2 stars is widening, and would be easy to split in our 16" scope except for the fact that Sirius' brilliance makes its much fainter companion especially difficult to see. We tried using an eyepiece with an occulting bar that Ernie fabricated (and which had been successful in viewing Phobos during the last Mars opposition but it was not to be.

It was midnight as we closed up, the temperature still a reasonable 36 degrees and the sky was still brilliant, ending the most satisfying night we've had in a long time.

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UPCOMING: Comet C/2002 T7 (LINEAR) is approaching us becoming brighter every day for the next 3 months, coming closest near the middle of May. It is currently visible only with a telescope at magnitude 7. The comet lies not far from brilliant Venus in the western sky after sunset. C/2002 T7 may reach the 1st magnitude star. But there is considerable uncertainty about brightness. Now is the best time for northern hemisphere observers to look, before the comet enters the southern hemisphere.

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I'd like to close out this week's log entry with an appeal for our friends. The number of active staff is at an all-time low at this time, making it difficult for us to ensure that we will be able to open on every clear Friday night, which is our goal.

If you've ever had a thought that you might like to be one of our volunteer docents helping to run our Friday night sessions, please drop me an email. The training is easy and fun, with only the desire to help required. We will teach you how easy it is to use the equipment, and an extensive knowledge of astronomy is NOT required. (I'm proof positive of that!)

Please feel free to email joe@frostydrew.org or les@frostydrew.org if you have any questions or are interested in learning more. Thanks!

Leslie Coleman
Author:
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Feb 13, 2004
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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