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Log, Feb 8, 2008

13 people. At 4 in the afternoon, Francine gave me a call saying that she guessed the evening was off since it was snowing in Providence. This came as a surprise to me because as I sat at the desk answering the phone call, I was in full sunshine. I considered putting up the Question Mark/Half Open Dome image on the website's main page but finally decided we would open and close just as soon if need be. My optimism bore fruit. It was a quite good night at FDO without clouds and moderate air stability. There was more than a usual amount of moisture in the air. By evening end, our cars had a substantial rime of ice covering the windshields. And to tell the truth, I was more than a bit anxious to warm up in the Nature Center before closing down.

Our first target was the Moon at a scant 8% illuminated crescent. Not only was it very pale and would not interfere with viewing but it was scheduled to set early. The sunlight bouncing off the Pacific Ocean illuminated the darkened night side of the Moon. By hiding the crescent behind the rim of the eyepiece to reduce the glare, it was quite possible to see all the major features of the Moon from the Mares to the larger craters. The effect is called the New Moon in the Old Moon's arms poetically.

Mars was resolutely hidden by the shutter at the top of the dome. We can't go that high up in any case without a good deal of removing and changing components on the scope because the eyepiece would hit the cross bar of the suspension yoke. Even after all this work, the eyepiece would not be well located for viewing. Saturn was nicely placed this evening. We could make out 5 or 6 (if your eyes could adjust for Saturn's glare) satellites. No sign of the Cassini division or the crepe ring were visible.

While we spent the early part of the evening looking at the Great Galaxy in Andromeda, most of the rest of the evening was spent in the stretch of the sky spanning Orion over to the Realm of the galaxies [the constellations of Leo, Coma Berenices and Virgo]. Orion has the spectacular Great Nebula with its star nursery but the whole area of the sky is loaded with fascinating objects. We could easily see many of the important galaxies in the Virgo Super Galactic Cluster (the heart of what I call the Realm of the Galaxies). We looked at M87 (the ultra huge galaxy that dominates our sector of the universe) and then tried for the members of the Markesian Chain - curve of galaxies shaped very much like the constellation Corona Borealis. This chain includes NGC 4477, 4473, 4461, the pair 4438 & 4435 [called the Eyes] and the two brightest members NGC 4406 [M86] and 4374 [M84].

We also looked at the Beehive [M44, Praesepe or NGC 2632] through the 54-mm eyepiece which is gorgeous. It is anchored by two small bright triangles that are about the same size. Also in cancer is M67 [NGC 2682] which was visible but not spectacular. We tried for the planetary nebula called Ellis 6 but try as I might I need glimpsed it nor did anyone else.

Well the seasons advance. Soon we'll be looking at the more easterly part of the Realm of the Galaxies including my favorite M104 [the Sombrero]. But I don't want to ignore M58, M60, M88, M89, M90, M91, M98, M99 or M100 before the season is gone. It was odd to see Orion getting ready to set as we left. It felt wintery enough but we are closer to the beginning of spring than the start of winter.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Author:
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Feb 8, 2008
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Leslie Coleman's Log
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