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Log, Dec 29, 2006

18 people. I actually had my doubts about tonight but it turned out to be pretty good given the fact that we had a three quarters full Moon trying it hardest to wash the sky out. What more than made up for the Moon was the tranquility of the air. I was able to look at objects really close to the horizon with minimal distortion. Saturn was visible less than 5 degrees above the horizon between the trees, and the Ring Nebula was clear until it too entered the tree line in the north western hills.

I had plenty of time to do a good two star alignment. I found a shortcut which works beautifully. Ever since 1999 when we installed the telescope, I always started the alignment with the scope pointing due South and dead level with the horizon. Recently I reread the Meade documentation and discovered that while leveling the scope is required; pointing South is not required until the very final step (called "setting"). So I pointed at Rigel, and then went level. I started the alignment on Rigel and then finished it on Deneb. I did the "setting" step and hoped the alignment was adequate. In fact it was excellent. It centered Vega, M57, M37 (which is way around the sky) and then went back to Rigel without fail. Each was centered not only in the finder but in the main eyepiece as well.

We had two groups of people, a number of first timers and some young people who seemed to be doing some type of astronomy project. One young man was furiously writing down the names of objects in the scope and lots of the blather I spout nonstop by the rather poor light of the red lamp on the desk. It is small wonder that most amateur astronomers use a small recording device rather than written notes.

As Saturn rose, it became very clear. I could see Cassini's Division completely around the Rings with no breaks or fading. I could see surface markings which were faintly peach colored against a whiter than usual planet. Titan actually provided the tiniest of disks at higher power, but I found that lower powers provided a more pleasing view. I could see the Crepe Ring against the bulk of the planet. What was really astounding was how easily I could see the dimmer moons. I could just see Hyperion which at 14.1 magnitude is really dim. Iapetus at 10.9 was easily visible. Enceladus which was close to the glare of Saturn was tricky to see at 11.6. Rhea (9.6), Tethys (10.1) and Dione (10.3) were nearly in a line farther out but easily visible. Mimas at magnitude 12.6 was especially interesting and by far and away the most difficult to see. It went through an occultation by Saturn starting just before Saturn rose until about 9:30, so I couldn't see it at all then.

It skirted the Rings until after 11:30 making spotting it difficult. I got just a glimpse of Mimas about 11:20 just before I started to shut down for the night.

For the record we saw the Eskimo (it was only 24 degrees out!) and The Christmas Tree Cluster (of course!). We looked at M35, M36, M37, M42, M43, NGC1977, M57, Albireo, the Double Double (Epsilon Lyrae), split Rigel and Castor, and I spent a good deal of time trying to see the Pup. It is almost 8 arcseconds from Sirius and the air was very stable. I really thought I had a good chance as Sirius made the meridian but it was not to be.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Dec 29, 2006
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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