Log, Jun 11, 2004

31 people. Tonight started out as one of those awful holes in the clouds but lousy viewing but it transformed itself into something glorious. By 10:30, the sky was something that brought raves - dark, moonless, stable with deep clear contrasts between the star fields and the empty lanes in the Milky Way. For those who stayed late (and I do mean late), we had one of those nights we haven't had in at least a year - probably more. On our highly overly precise yet totally subjective scale I'd rate last night as an 8.5 to a 9 where 10 is utter perfection.

Out in the cul-de-sac Hank and Ernie had set up their telescopes. Hank often visits with his great 17" dobsonian. I don't have a list of what they tackled but they were industriously looking at something for hours on end. I did get a chance to look at a few things in both telescopes - something I always love to do.

Tonight was a night for old friends in the sky and new acquaintances. We targeted nine new objects (galaxies and planetary nebulae) as well as a couple of dozen old friends. The new boys on the block are noted with an asterisk. We started off with Jupiter and the four Galilean Moons. Tonight the moons were all on one side in a tight cluster looking something like an arrow head pointed at Jupiter. The crowd wanted to see more planets which effectively meant Mars or Saturn. While Mars was up, it is very small currently and would have looked like a red dot. Saturn nearby was nearly as bad. The rings were visible but because Saturn was in the sunset glow and very near the horizon, it danced and produced spurious colors of red, blue and orange.

Les tried to do a star party outside, but was frustrated by the remaining clouds. All he could manage was to point out a few bright stars as they dodged in and out of the clouds. Yet to the west, the sky was clearing. As soon as the sky above was clear we dashed inside hoping to use what might have been only a short break in the clouds to see something. What we chose was the magnificent Great Cluster in Hercules M13. It dazzled the eye with its internal star cloud producing myriads of small jewels. Joe pointed the telescope next at the equally famous Ring Nebula M57. Then Les suggested splitting the lovely topaz/sapphire star Albireo which he has claimed as his favorite. On to M4 looking at the line of bright stars which make this cluster identifiable. Nearby, just a bit to the side of the great reddish star Antares we looked at NGC6144.

In short order we looked at M107 (beautiful), the Sombrero (M104) and began to search up and down the Markian Chair of galaxies within the Virgo cluster. Two notable Markian galaxies we looked at were M86 and NGC4402. Moving the telescope just a tad, we went M87 Virgo A which is the huge central galaxy of this great cluster. We looked at the "Eyes: a pair of galaxies nearby NGC4438 and NGC4435. The globular cluster M53 which delimits Bernice's Hair (Coma Bernices) was next. When we went to M3, it was simply glorious. Even though Sagittarius was low in the sky we went after M8 (Lagoon) and M7. The Lagoon was fine but it was nothing short of spectacular when we installed the Oxygen III (O3) filter. It looked like an illuminated photograph rather than a view through an eyepiece. We also looked at the Omega Nebula (M17) with the O3 filter and it was similarly spectacular. The Trifid (M20) had its three great leaves clearly separated by dark lanes. The Eagle (M16) was another wonder we haven't seen as well in far too long.

For a change we went to something which was at best "so-so". M100 was rather drab. It is fairly bright (10th magnitude) but during the evening we saw 11th and even 12th magnitude objects which were better. M63 (Sunflower) was lovely. Some internal detail was visible. I tried to fool Joe by putting up the Owl (M97). Normally this is a bore because its indistinct edges trail off leaving you with the impression that you really didn't see much but tonight contrast was high and it was excellent. We were now up in the northwestern part of the sky and tackled some objects that we often overlook. M101 was quite bright as were M109 and M106. Since we were near the Big Dipper we decided to split Mizar. Mizar and its nearby visual partner Alcor are always a favorite of star parties. What is surprising is that the dimmer of the two stars that make up Mizar is actually brighter than Alcor.

Something that I always planned to do was ideally placed last night. We went after the "bowl full of galaxies" in the bowl of the Big Dipper. NGC4605* [10.9 magnitude] was rather pretty. NGC3690* [11.7] was very nice although we couldn't see what part of it was the overlapping galaxy IC694 [12.0]. NGC3642* [11.7], NGC3613* [11.8], and NGC3619* [12.5] were all easily seen and quite distinct. We tried for NGC2625 which is near NGC3619*. At magnitude 13.9, we simply couldn't spot it nor could we spot PGC176077 nearby at magnitude 14.5. The pair of galaxies NGC4485* [12.5] and NGC4490*[10.6] make a pretty pair in your eyepiece.

We had drifted out of the Big Dipper to the nearby Canes Venatici (Hunting Dogs). We looked at NGC4449* [10.0] which was very distinct and NGC4618* [11.5] was only a bit less clear. BY now both Joe and Les were getting a bit punch drunk. We split a few double stars and forgot to record them. We also listed a faint galaxy {NGC3953} which was in a part of the sky we were not looking into at this time of night (Leo). We both decided before we did something stupid and damaged the equipment that it was time to call it a night. Apparently Ernie and Hank had reached the same decision because outside we could hear them packing up and leaving. Even great nights need to come to an end.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Jun 11, 2004
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Leslie Coleman's Log
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