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Log, Mar 3, 2000

Monday and Tuesday: Sunspot activity is very high currently. Three major groups and more than a dozen small spots were easily visible through a Questar Solar Filter stopped down to about 40 mm. The changes in the groups over 16 hours is really surprising. These sketches were made by me:

Friday: 35 people. This was a strange night. Early in the evening, I arrived for some setting Sun shots of the Observatory. A few clouds were around but nothing unusual. Shortly after dark however a wide band of fairly dense clouds hung directly over the Dome. If we had been by ourselves, we might have given up right then but we had visitors from distant places and we decided to give it a shot. We tried for Jupiter and the Galilean Moons. They were visible but nothing great. Saturn showed some detail and an occasional moon but for the most part it was a pale ghost of itself.

The Great Nebula [M42] is usually fine, but the clouds absorbed all of its detail. The trapezium was visible, but neither E nor F could be seen. About this time, a break in the clouds to the south offered some hope for better viewing. We moved into the constellation of Puppis which is very seldom a target for northern viewers [unless they are doing a Messier Marathon]. Our next target was M41 in Canis Major. Unfortunately this favorite was partially obscured by clouds. Clouds also blocked any attempt to see the asteroid Pallas. We turned to M46 [open cluster] with its imbedded planetary nebula NGC2438. The planetary at 10.1 magnitude was clear and well defined. Just adjacent was M47 [open cluster] with the double variable star KQ Puppis. We swung over to Lepus and viewed M79 [globular cluster] with its fine imbedded double star HD35162. Back to Puppis for another globular - NGC2298.

In Leo we targeted three galaxies within a degree circle M65, M66 and NGC3628. I find this to be a mystery. How could Messier see M65 and M66 and miss the almost equally bright NGC3628? We tried for a true triplet of galaxies M105, NGC3384 and NGC3389. These galaxies are less the 11 arc minutes apart and easily visible in a single eyepiece view. Just below them we picked up M95 and M96 another galaxy pair. About this time, heavier clouds started to obscure everything so Joe, Art and I invited our cadre of interested viewers over to the Nature Center to warm up, have a hot drink if they wanted, talk astronomy and wait for the clouds to dissipate. At the cry of "The clouds are gone!" from Joe, we all traipsed back. Shortly thereafter, Allyson arrived with a number of her friends - some of whom had never really looked through a quality telescope.

We actually swung into high gear, moving into the galactic clusters in Leo, Virgo and Coma Bernices. As one of our members put it so elegantly "Jeez !There ain't enough room to swing a dead cat without hitting three or four galaxies!" Now as your logbook correspondent remembers, the notorious book "101 Uses for a Dead Cat" did not include swinging said dead cat amongst the galaxies in the sky. Apparently we have discovered yet another function for a deceased feline.

After our resumption in Leo, we saw NGC3338 and then went for the very close (7 arc minutes) triple of galaxies NGC3605, NGC3607, NGC3608. In case, any of you wonder what happened to NGC3606, it is below the horizon in Eriadinus. Nearby we tried the two dim/tiny NGC 3598 and NGC3599 - but the staff deemed them such poor targets that we didn't bother to stay on them. We tried NGC2667 and IC2411 in Cancer - a pair of very close galaxies at 14.9 and 15.2. What a surprise - this very dim pair was clearly visible. On to NGC2672 with its imbedded satellite galaxy NGC2673. Both were visible with careful use of averted vision. After so many very dim objects, Joe went to the big bright open cluster M67. I tied to split two doubles that promised to be fine viewing, but the air was just a bit too unstable to split close stars.

We went to Virgo again and looked at several galaxies within a very small area M84, M86 and the "Eyes" galaxy NGC4438 with NGC4435. M86 forms an isosceles triangle with M84 and NGC4388. Just a short hope from here is Virgo A [M87] with its close swarm of satellites NGC 4476, NGC4478, and the pair NGC4468A and NGC4468B. All five galaxies were clearly visible in a 32 mm eyepiece view. Just another short hop and we were looking at M90. M90 has a bump on its side- the galaxy IC3583. Continuing we hit M89. Still in Virgo, but bordering on Corvus, we turned to the famous Sombrero galaxy M104 with its magnificent dust lane along the rim of the galaxy. This was a truly spectacular sight. The dark lanes were very high contrast.

By now, we were down to Art, Joe and myself. It had been a long day for Art, but I and Joe were determined to make the most of the clear skies. Art headed home. I knew that my limits were fast approaching so I suggested that we close up between 1:30 and 2:00 AM. I headed over to the Nature Center for a cup of warm brown beverage while Joe bagged another five galaxies. NGC4782, NGC4783, NGC4699, NGC4697 and NGC4636. NGC4782 and NGC4783 are spectacular overlapping galaxies. By the time I returned, Joe was studying M61 - a large spiral . At first I couldn't see detail but as his dark adaptation returned he understood why Joe was so enthusiastic. Our next target was M49 with NGC4467 at 5 o'clock.

We were getting blasé by now, we ticked off M99 [Pinwheel], M100 with NGC4312, NGC4340 with NGC4350 [within 5 arc minutes of each other], M88, and M58 above it and to the left. Joe then turned the telescope onto a cross in the pointing software - the symbol of an asteroid. This was no common run of the mill asteroid but the queen of the asteroids - Ceres. At magnitude 7.1, Ceres was the brightest object in the field of view. To ensure that we hadn't mistaken a background star, we brought up the full Hubble Data Base to see the surrounding star field. There had been no mistake. The next target was the overlapping M60 galaxy with NGC4647. This was a bit of a surprise because it seemed brighter than its 9.9 magnitude would suggest.

Our final target for the night was the globular cluster M53. In spite of the zenith trap door obstructing a good third of the telescope, the image was crisp and many stars could be seen. In particular, I enjoyed the magnificent jewel like star GSC1454-0263 (13.5 magnitude). It is strange. For years, a 13th magnitude star would have been invisible to us with our 90 mm telescopes. Now the star was "magnificent" against the backdrop of a cluster.

We had just our most productive night ever at Frosty Drew in terms of objects viewed - ever. We had targeted over 60 objects of which 27 were Messier objects. Effectively we had run a quarter Messier Marathon without any intention of doing so. This in spite of the fact that fierce winds had closed the skies in the west, north and northeastern skies. Our new telescope has allowed us to cover more territory with a large winter crowd (35). We couldn't have covered a quarter as many objects if we were still manually targeting galaxies. Without the power of our 16" aperture, objects beyond the 12th magnitude would have been lost to the dampness. We were very pleased with the way things went.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Mar 3, 2000
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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