Log, Feb 11, 2005

15 people. What a wonderful night we had. The sky was one of the best in years, we got the equipment running in tip top shape, lots of old friends were there and we had some marvelous viewing. It was easily my personal best night in perhaps two years and I was absolutely bubbling over. I pretty sure that many others will agree.

I got there very early intending to download some software revisions onto the Dome's PC. However first I had to tackle the ice bounds path to the Nature Center and the Dome. The drifts of last week had partially thawed and refrozen in literal blocks of ice that varied from a few inches to well over three feet in thickness. No normal shovel would have broken these chunks of ice, but the Dome is equipped with an old fashioned coal furnace shovel with a long handle and a stout steel blade. I could ram the shovel under the ice, lean down on it with my body weight, lever up a chunk and finally discard shards that varied in size from a shovel full to some which were so big I could not lift them but was able to slide them aside. I really didn't have that far to shovel (say twenty feet) but even though I made a path only one shovel's width, it took me nearly 50 minutes.

Well I rushed into the Nature Center, set up my personal PC and the Dome's PC and transferred a great deal of material. I was rushed but wonder of wonders everything seemed to go well. Nick showed up and then shortly thereafter Keith. While I was finishing up in the Nature Center, Joe arrived and began to prepare for collimating the telescope. We hustled over to the dome to find the first of the night's visitors wafting. We explained we would not really be viewing until we got the mirrors perfectly realigned. Unlike last week, the collimation went very smoothly if not particularly rapidly. Each stage refined the alignment, until the disks in the out of focus eyepiece started to resemble perfect circles each concentric with the others. We used Rigel as a convenient bright star. Finally we put the eyepiece back in focus and we knew we had done extremely well. The star images we saw were nearly perfect points of light.

We started out with M42. Suddenly we knew that the night was going to be superior. The Trapezium (Theta Orionis) wasn't just four beautiful little jewels but SEVEN. We have often seen the E and the F stars when conditions were good but seeing the G star is very rare. Joe started shouting "Encke's Division". Well when we turned to Saturn, there was no sign of Encke's Division, but Cassini's Division and the Crepe Ring were easily seen completely around the planet. Markings were clear on the surface and we could pick up many moons. One visitor was surprised to see a "red star" near Saturn which we explained was no star at all but Titan. In close we could see Thetys, Dione, Enceladus and Rhea with ease and Mimas with just a little more patience. I spotted Iapetus but couldn't find Hyperion which is considerably dimmer than the others. A background star BD+221719 was lined up in the line of sight with the orbital plane and was easily mistaken for an 8th moon.

We tried to split Sirius from the Pup for the first of three times during the night. We got glimmers of a bulge at the correct place for the Pup but in honesty Ernie, Joe and I simply won't claim a true sighting. When Sirius was highest in the sky we tried again with similar result. Finally towards the end of the evening when thin clouds began to creep in we tried it again. At first Joe and I were ecstatic when we clearly saw a tiny faint dot just outside Sirius' image slightly out of focus (a trick for dispersing the star's great brilliance). I was dancing about when Joe mournfully said "The dot moves when you rotate the eyepiece." We were seeing a tiny spot on the glass' surface.

Outside, Nick had set up his new large binoculars. After looking at several other things, we looked at the Great Andromeda Galaxy. We immediately saw the central core, and I shouted to Joe that we could see the great outlying arms filling the entire field of view off the binoculars. Joe rushed out and was blown away, but Nick thought we were putting him on. We explained how to look for the full extent and suddenly for Nick, it was just a central blob but a huge beautiful object. Other things of beauty through various people's binoculars were Comet Machholtz and Praesepe. Over at the end of the snow blocked driveway one of friends had set up a 10" scope. I didn't have time to see what was being seen there but I hope things went well.

We managed to see NGC1788 which we had wanted to see last week before we had our collimation problems. Joe went to R Leporis (Hind's Crimson Star) which proves that stars have color if nothing else will. Not far away we went to NGC2394, NGC 2395, Collinder 132 and Collinder 140 which are all various forms of open clusters in Canis Major. Particularly the Collinders are rather loose in structure. We went to the beautiful open cluster NGC 2360 which is sometimes called the Open Box Cluster. If you are beginning to notice an awful lot of telescope pointing towards the south and east, well there was a method in our madness. It kept the terribly stiff wind at our back.

The Realm of the Galaxies was beginning to climb up to a viewable height by this time. While we normally feature the Coma, Leo and Virgo Super Cluster of Galaxies as our show pieces of the spring months, they first appear this time of year as the evening winds on. We had the galaxies M65 and M66 in the same eyepiece view. Actually it is possible to also fit NGC 6350 in the same eyepiece view at low power but this galaxy is very faint compared to the other two.

I moved over to M3. While not quite up to the superb standards of M15 (The Great Hercules Cluster) or the even more spectacular southern hemisphere Omega Cluster, it is a really fine clusters and was nothing sort of gorgeous tonight. I could see innumerable individual stars tonight. However M101 was equally blah. We awarded it the mildly coveted 'Smudge of the Week' Award. So far however, no one purporting to represent this Messier Object has stepped forward to claim the prize (a damaged $10 eyepiece that has been cluttering up our spare parts drawer). If M101 was a sorry mess, just the opposite was true of M51. The Whirlpool which is composed of M51 itself and its smaller galaxy NGC 5195 was true to its name. The structure of the two was very evident.

We looked at Mizar and Alcor to help some people see the pair of stars (which form a wide optical double) and the closer telescopic optical double (Mizar). Some of the larger binoculars were able to split Mizar as well.

We had Jupiter and the four Galilean moons were visible. From left to right they were Ganymede, Europa, Jupiter, Io and Callisto. While detail on Jupiter was visible, it was still too low in the sky for clear viewing. A great deal of turbulence was visible out over the Atlantic.

It was now getting rather late and many folks had called it a night. I think Joe and I might have hung on a bit longer except that clouds were beginning to cross the sky as temperatures dropped. So near midnight, we wrapped up what had been one of the nicest nights for a long while. I can't remember going home anywhere near as content as I was when I left the gates of Ninigret Park last night.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Feb 11, 2005
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Leslie Coleman's Log
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