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Log, Mar 18, 2005

15 people.

Note: Tonight's log entry created by Joe Hartley.

Les and I had been over at the Nature Center for an earlier meeting, so we were in plenty of time to get the scope fired up and aimed over at Mercury. One doesn't think of Mercury as a colorful planet, but there were sure a lot of colors when we looked - red on one side, blue on the other! The atmosphere acts as a prism, bending the light into colors, and since it's never far from the Sun, it's tough to see this planet at dusk without this light-bending. We did note a very nice crescent shape to it, looking to be about 40% illuminated.

As things got darker, we started with M42, the Orion nebula, for some early visitors, then began our attempts to catch a glimpse of the Pup, the companion star to Sirius. The Pup's a difficult target because Sirius is about 10,000x brighter than it. We once again failed to see it.

M3 was still low in the east when we swung to it the first time, and it seemed to be a grey fuzzy with only a few dozen individual stars. We'd swing over to it later in the night when it showed in all its glory, like a pile of tiny diamonds on black velvet.

We tried for the Owl Nebula (M97), which appeared as grey on grey - not its finest showing!

Les left at this point (taking the laser pointer with him, as I'd find out later!), and I was left with not a great number of targets, thanks to the bright Moon overhead, so I changed the dome configuration and opened the top shutter, allowing us to view things near the zenith. Doing this allowed us to get some stunning views of Saturn. Most folks were able to also pick up 4 of the 6 moons theoretically visible in the field of view, and I was able to pick up a fifth, but the dimmest of them, Mimas, was just not forthcoming.

We also had some great features on the Moon, and I wish that I'd made note of which craters we saw, but I didn't take notes - mea culpa!

Even with the Moon hampering things, we did a little galaxy hopping by Leo, catching M65 and the pair NGC 4435 and 4438 (also known as "The Eyes"). They were little grey fuzz balls, but still amazing to think about.

Jupiter was rising, and we swung to it just before 9. I saw what I thought was a shadow on the surface, even though it was still low enough to be very shaky through the atmosphere. I checked our software, and sure enough, a transit of Io was underway. As folks came in and out, we swung back and forth, watching the shadow make the crossing. Unfortunately, the view wasn't steady enough for me to see Io itself. By 10:20, the shadow had moved off the planet, and from 10:40 to 10:44, I watched Io create a bump on the edge of Jupiter's disk and pull itself free.

Things were buttoned up by 11 PM and I was rolling home.

-Joe Hartley

Leslie Coleman
Author:
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Mar 18, 2005
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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