Log, Apr 17, 2009

55 people. What if they gave a mild evening with clear skies on a Friday night? Well, at least in Charlestown you'll get loads of people wanting to look through our telescope. We actually began viewing Saturn before the sky stopped being a nice blue. You could make out Saturn and Titan in the telescope from the very start before you could spot Saturn against the sky with your eye. Throughout the night, as the air grew more and more stable and darker, ever fainter Moons of Saturn became visible, initially as glimpses and later as stable images.

You can see a sketch of what we saw in the eyepiece Saturn last night. Saturn's surface wasn't featureless either. Almost everyone could see the shadow of the ring on the planet's surface. Shape eyed folks could see subtle bands of cream yellow against a slightly less creamy yellow background. Don't feel too bad if you missed them. They were sort of seeing a black cat in a deep cave at midnight level of shading differences. For a short period, a small noctilucent cloud became visible across the border from Serpens into Bootes. Noctilucent clouds are the highest [about 50 miles in the mesosphere] water-ice clouds on Earth. Usually they occur at high latitudes [about 50 degrees] but can be seen occasionally at lower latitudes. They are visible only while the Sun light can reach high elevations but not lower ones.

Spring is, of course, the time of the year when the great swarm of galaxies spanning Coma, Virgo and Leo are best viewed. So we spent a good deal of time looking at these objects. Yet before we went to them we visited two open clusters in Cancer. I turned to a personal favorite M67 before I turned to the much larger, brighter [naked eye visible] M44 [Praesepe or the Beehive] which is very nearby. Francine glanced at the telescope and assumed I had centered on the Beehive. Francine used to do a lot of her viewing from Providence where the faintness of M67 makes it a lack luster object. Last night it was a jewel chest scattered across black velvet.

Ernie came in after most of the folks had gone home with a list of targets. Ernie is the person in the parking lot with a nice 11" equatorially mounted scope. Ernie's scope has no problem reaching the zenith although the pole is tricky. The 16" alt-azimuth telescope reaches the pole easily but the zenith is hidden. We tried several of his candidates only to find they were behind the dome's shutter. However we did see quite a few interesting groups of galaxies. One pair of galaxies which I can never remember viewing before [NGC 4038 and 4039] supposedly look like "antennae" which gives the pair the name. To me they appear as a very round and chubby horseshoe with a ball at each end and a large fat bridge between them. In the scope they were a grey low contrast object very different from the spectacular images taken from huge telescopes in long period imaging sessions. We viewed NGC 4762 which is called the "Kite". As far as I am concerned, if it is a kite, then the kite is seen nearly edge on. It certainly is not a diamond shaped parallelogram.

We went over to an area of the sky that Joe Hartley called so closely packed to swing a dead cat - the Markarian Chain. One famous pair of galaxies in this chain is NGC 4438 and 4435 - more commonly known as the "Eyes". This chain has M58, M84, M86, M87, M89, M90, M99 either as part of the chain or so close by they are hard to avoid. On a clear night in the Spring who can resist M104 [Sombrero]. We didn't even try to resist. We tackled a grouping called Abell 1367 which has eight galaxies in it. I'm not sure I saw all eight but I am confident I saw five.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Apr 17, 2009
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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