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Log, Mar 4, 2005

16 people. When I got to the dome I was faced with a block of ice the wedged the door shut. The shovel was inside, but by a lot of kicking and expletives deleted I managed to kick enough away that I could get the second door open. I got the shovel and made a narrow path to the road. Ernie arrived just as I started the path to the Nature Center and he took over shoveling until I got the scope up and running. We didn't actually finally chip away the block of ice completely until 10:30. Joe arrived to find me industriously rewiring the dome rotation and shutter opening motors. Nothing wrong except that I wanted to recover the ability to use remote controls which we lost when the VARIAC began to short out. Soon everything was running happily with less complexity that before.

We had just managed to get M42 in view, with the scope nicely collimated and the tracking well nigh perfect when the last of our quartet arrived - Keith. Keith is learning how to run the stuff so we practiced a bit. Joe and I tried to detect the Pup again (glimmers of a bulge but not a clear separation) when we noticed that Sirius was so bright that it cast a bright spot on the dome. We have seen this before with the Moon and Venus, but I think this was a first for Sirius. While I was watching Sirius, a satellite passed just a few arc seconds away. Later we saw another very bright satellite which Joe followed all the way towards the horizon over Providence. Given that the satellite never vanished in the Earth's shadow we guessed it must be a high orbit satellite. We could make out the E and F stars in the Trapezium, but not the G star. The F star was sometimes invisible in lower powers. So the seeing was good but not sensational.

We looked at a nice image of M79. M79 sometimes is simply a blob, but many of the stars in its gravitational field stood out. We the turned to a planetary nebula IC418. We turned to the galaxy M66. Usually this is a central blob and little else but we could make out the "lower" arm quite well with hints of the opposite arm. Since M65 is almost touching M66 we took a peek at it as well. When we turned to M96 we began to realize that the seeing was deteriorating. We went outside and moaned when we saw high level clouds were scudding across the sky. We could also see contrails which moved very rapidly but retained their shape. The log shows that we visited NGC2440, a planetary nebula in Puppis, but I simply don't remember looking at it.

M3 was just lovely. Earlier in the year, it was low on the horizon but by now it is very well placed by 10:30 or 11 PM. Literally thousands of 11, 12 and 13th magnitude stars float like a swarm about the core. M51 was fairly nice with definite arm structure and the bridge to its satellite galaxy. Saturn finally was well placed beyond the zenith where it spent most of the night. It was crisp and clean and a reminder of why we started in this hobby. Just before Les and Joe wrapped up at midnight, Joe turned to one of his personal favorite M37. M37 is listed as an open cluster but it is one of the densest open clusters in the sky. I don't know how many stars are in this cluster but there must by thousands visible in a huge telescope. We can see hundreds - very much like the swarm of stars near the Milky Way central fields. M37 appears to be hundreds of blue white stars with a single bright yellow star. Your eye is attracted to this star, not only because of its color contrast but because it is quite bright. While this star appears to be part of the cluster, it isn't. The cluster lies about 4500 light years from us while the yellow star is less than 265 light years away. It is simply a chance alignment. Joe correctly points out that one of the joys about M37 is that its field of stars forms numerous asterism (sort of little private constellations).

We wrapped up at almost exactly midnight. Another great evening at the Observatory in spite of less than totally perfect condition - dark except for an hour or so of high level clouds but not totally stable. The temperature had dropped from 32 when we arrived back into the upper teens. Cold but manageable without heavy winds.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Author:
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Mar 4, 2005
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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