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Log, Feb 18, 2005

22 people. The night started very early for Joe and I. The regularly scheduled meeting of the Frosty Drew Memorial Fund (of which the Nature Center and the Observatory are the functional parts) was held starting at 4 PM. Topics covered updating the by-laws, discussions of getting the Sky Theater underway and the search for replacement officers. The by-laws are basically satisfactory but the original by-laws do not reflect the Observatory and the simplified officer structure of the Board of Directors The Sky Theater is delayed primarily by a concern the Town of Charleston had that digging in Ninigret Park might unearth something from the days that the place was a Naval Air Training Station that would require expensive removal. Since the grounds of the Nature Center and the Observatory have already been dug up heavily, we feel this is not a real problem. Getting additional Board members and in particular replacements for the President, Secretary and Treasurer have been a concern since the prior President and Secretary's death, and the relocation of the Treasurer.

Joe and I were in the Dome by 6 PM. We decided to do a precise two star alignment to match our excellent collimation of last week. Now we have done a two star alignment literally dozens of times, but no matter how careful we were, it went wildly out of alignment (as much as 90 degrees). Then without warning, the telescope began to move around on its own. We dropped power immediately and began a search for the problem. Nothing serious. The DB9 cable from the base to the fork was loosely attached. Any motion caused the scope to think it was being instructed to do various things when we intended nothing. It also made entering star positions strictly a matter of chance. Once tightened, the scope and the sky were all happily in agreement. A simple set of commands and we could see anything we wanted given the limitations of a brightly lit night with the Moon directly over the Dome. We were soon joined by Keith and Nick and a large bunch of visitors for a winter's night.

Viewing wasn't as excellent as last week but still very good. In fact the principle problem was the illumination by the Moon. It tended to wash out some otherwise fine targets. For example M3 was a fuzzy ball tonight rather than thousands of tiny points of light like last week. Similarly M42 and M43 were slightly less sharp. The Trapezium showed 6 stars (A through F) but the G star which was visible last week simply didn't show. Saturn was very nice. Most people had no problem picking out Iapetus, Titan, Rhea and a background star that looked like a moon. Dionne, Tethys and Enceledus were just a little bit trickier. A couple of the sharper eyed folks could pick out Mimas near the rings and Hyperion which looked to be far to the south of the planet.

We started to knock off the Messier objects in the forties for no particular reason. We saw M41 (an open cluster), M42 and M43 (The Great Nebula in Orion), M44 (the Beehive or Praesepe cluster in Cancer), and eventually M45 (the Pleiades). M45 was in the north west and when we turned to it a bitterly cold gust of wind picked up the tarp we use to cover the scope and sent it flying about ala Aladdin's magic carpet.

We split Rigel (easily) and tried to split Sirius (with no success at all). Both images were remarkably steady for such a frigid blustery night but we simply did not have the seeing we had last week. Joe turned to M81 and M82 up in Ursa Major, and M64 in Coma. All were easily seen but the Moon washed out any detail. Similarly the Eskimo planetary nebula was only acceptable. Near the end of the night we turned to Jupiter. It was low on the horizon still. What magnificent colors - blue on one side, red on the other and every shade in between. Unfortunately all this meant was that we were seeing turbulence. At least the Galilean moons were visible.

Joe and I closed up between 11 and 11:15 when the temperature was 19 in the Dome and 16 outside. It was simply to cold to continue and we had been there since early afternoon.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Feb 18, 2005
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Leslie Coleman's Log
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