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Log, Jan 7, 2000

Saturday: Joe and Dave made a trip over to the observatory for a viewing session. They report that the weather closed in within an hour after sunset, severely limiting the seeing.

Wednesday: Joe and I made it over to the observatory last night to inaugurate the new University Optics 2" 25 mm Konig eyepiece on the 16" LX200. It was a beautifully clear night, though COLD! Stepping outside there was a good breeze, but inside the dome it was nice and still.

Boy, what a nice eyepiece the 25 mm Konig is! A nice wide field of view (better than the 1.25" 26 mm Meade Plossl) and a satisfying 163x magnification make it a pleasure to use. Views of Jupiter were great. Lots of banding on the planet, and Io was kind enough to transit for us last night. Its shadow was razor-sharp on the planet. Saturn was equally good. The Cassini Division looked like it had been cut with a razor, banding on the planet was clear and seven moons were clearly visible.

In M42, 6 stars jumped out of the Trapezium. The nebula was spectacular!

Taking advantage of the unusually good seeing, we dropped close to the horizon to view something rarely seen this far north - the Fornax galaxy cluster! It was just beautiful. As we panned around the area, galaxies appeared everywhere. The jewel was NGC1365. Larger than the rest, a hint of the spiral was apparent, even though it was only 9 degrees or so above the horizon. Also seen was the planetary nebula NGC1535 and the globular cluster NGC1851 in Columba (nice!). The hard find of the night went to Pallas, which was in Puppis only 10 degrees or so above the horizon, and among the bare tree branches.

I started a hunt for the lowest identifiable star. He final managed to reach HD73634 which is a very unremarkable star except for the fact that it was more than 5 degrees BELOW the horizon. The very cold clear air caused it to float just above the apparent horizon. Sweeping along for some more very low stars I came to a wonderful cluster of fuzzy stars - blues, oranges, reds and yellows. These star even blinked regularly! Oops, too low! A moment later I identified this configuration as the famous Christmas Bush, a constellation on the tip of Montauk Long Island. One star which might just have been visible except that it was firmly behind a dense pine tree was Canopus. Canopus is the second brightest star in the sky, just behind Sirius and NEVER visible at the latitude of our observatory. However, it might just have squeaked above the apparent horizon on this night.

It was cold, so we turned on the little electric space heater that sits in the kneehole of the desk, making a little warm zone around the computer station (at least when viewing towards the south).

Joe rotated everything 180 degrees to catch views of M81 and M82. The north is our problematic direction; there's a fair amount of light pollution that way (compounded by a big greenish light from a fixture on a pole by the bathhouse that we can't seem to get extinguished), so we rarely view in that direction, but these were great. M82 in particular kept drawing Joe back since quite a bit of detail was visible. Its mottled appearance is fascinating. Finally we went for M101, which was visible, though not spectacular due to the light pollution.

It was a great night - the type of night that you hope for after all the nights of fog and rain and poor seeing. The regular Friday session might get washed out this week (so says the weather guy), but we got our fix for the week.

Friday: 16 people. The evening started out with Joe getting to the dome very early to activate our voice actuated software. Our telescope/PC now talk to us and acts on commands which we give clearly enough to be understood. We have been testing a donated copy of Astronomer's Control Panel . We wish to send our thanks to Bob Denny at DC3 Dreams for sending us this copy!

Joe and I were very much surprised that they had the dome to themselves for several hours. Finally a member who has been away for a number of years Ernie Evans showed up with a series of targets he wished to see. He couldn't have picked a better night because he didn't have to share the telescope with any other visitors for a more than an hour. The targets Ernie wished to see were very high in the sky, so Joe and I dropped the trap door in the external shutter so we could reach the Zenith. Over the evening we managed to see the following list of targets:

NGC2237 and NGC2244 We looked at the Rosette nebula and cluster in nature and through OXYIII filters. We could clearly identify the dark lanes that adjoin the bright quadrilateral of stars in the central clear space.

NGC2438 and M46. M46 is a wonderful open cluster which almost looks like an opened up globular cluster. Right in its midst is the planetary nebula NGC2438. The use of natural light and OXYIII filters highlighted the cluster and the planetary nebula respectively.

We looked for the California nebula [NGC1499], the Horsehead nebula [IC434] and a diffuse nebula [NGC1491] with little success. These nebulae are dim hydrogen emission nebulae. Their dim red light require either photographic film or possibly a hydrogen beta filter [which we currently do not have].

We looked at several Messier objects M33 [Triangulum], M79 (a nice globular), M41, M47. Several time we went back to the beautiful cluster M37 and the spectacular supernova remnant M1 [Crab Nebula] in Taurus.

Just as Joe and I began to think our only visitor would be Ernie, several cars drove up with several people per car. Most of these folks stopped by on a whim once they saw the sky was clear after initial clouds dissipated. We displayed Jupiter (with the Red Spot transiting), the Galilean moons, Saturn and seven of its moon, the Great Nebula in Orion (M42) with six stars in the Trapezium. The detail on all these targets was really excellent. We tried a variety of filters with Jupiter to see if we could enhance the contrast. Red was very poor. Blue was quite good. A combination of yellow and blue filters was actually very poor. We could make out spectacular detail in M42.

Most of our visitors only stayed for a relatively short period. Coats which seem adequate leaving a heated house and entering a heated car, suddenly seem woefully inadequate in a circular dome which catches every breeze and creates a windstorm. After Ernie had left, Joe and I looked at a few targets in the southern horizon. Notable among these was NGC2280. It had been an interesting evening. We saw an eclectic mixture of old favorites and new targets.

One non-event was my totally unsuccessful attempt to see Canopus. This star was a bit more than 3 degrees below the horizon. But on Wednesday, the atmosphere's fisheye effect lifted stars as much as 5.6 degrees below the horizon into visibility. I hoped to glimpse this second brightest star in the sky but the air had only a very weak fisheye lens effect this evening.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Jan 7, 2000
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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