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Log, Mar 31, 2000

86 people. Another spectacular night for FDO. The Moon wouldn't rise until 4:00 AM, so the glare that hampered us at the end of last week's session was not a problem. The weather couldn't have been better - very clear skies were had all night long. There wasn't a single cloud to be seen all evening!

I arrived early (as usual!) for a little maintenance. I repaired the 12 volt power supply that gave us trouble last week and brought the new dome shutter extension cable that I made. I also installed the new version of the Astronomer's Control Panel (ACP) donated by Bob Denny of DC3 Dreams. Thanks, Bob! One of its many uses is to provide voice control of the LX-200. It's not always practical when there's a crowd in the dome, but it's always impressive to show off with!

Just as I'd finished (and before I'd gotten to my dinner!), our first guests from Cub Pack 29, Narragansett started to arrive. I hastily finished my sandwich while Art took over at the eyepiece and his grandson Josh helped with crowd control. Fortunately, Bob had also arrived and had his 6" Newtonian set up so we had 2 scopes the visitors could look through.

Jupiter and Saturn were on tap for this first part of the evening. They are not visible for long beyond 8:00 PM at this time of year, and before they disappear until next fall, we try to get as much time with them as we can.

In this period Allyson also arrived, which helped tremendously as Pack 29 grew to its full size. We were also visited by Dave Hurdis and Bob Napier from Skyscrapers, the astronomy club located in Scituate. They are expecting a 16" LX-200 of their own next summer, and came to see our installation. It's always a pleasure to see these folks.

From our giant neighbors, we moved over to M42, the Orion Nebula. It's always a crowd pleaser. As suddenly as they'd arrived, Pack 29 left after everyone had gotten a chance to see M42. A smaller group was left while we viewed a few new favorites we've found in the past few months.

M46 and NGC2437 were first up. This beautiful cluster with a planetary nebula in the heart of it is always very nice. NGC2362 was next up. A triangular open cluster, there's a beautiful variable star (tau CMa) in it.

Next up was M104, the Sombrero galaxy. The dark lane was quite prominent. M68, a globular cluster in Hydra was next. It was nice, but only whetted our appetites for the globs we knew were coming later in the evening.

NCG3242, a planetary nebula sometimes called the Ghost Of Jupiter was next in the eyepiece. A round planetary with a fairly well defined edge, it is approximately the same size as Jupiter in the eyepiece, so it does live up to its name. (Many visitors are a bit confused by the names given to objects at times. Few people, for example, see a sombrero in M104.)

Next up was M64, the Black Eye galaxy on Coma Berenices, was next. This is a nice galaxy in the eyepiece, but the "black eye" is tough to see. Averted vision helps quite a bit. I saw it, but few others did. By now M3 was well positioned and we got a look at this excellent globular cluster. Globs are among my favorite objects to view, and judging by the reactions of most visitors, I'm not alone. People took their time with this, and it was worth it.

M99 was our next target. Galaxies, especially spirals like this viewed from above (or is it below?) can be difficult, since only averted vision and a bit of time at the eyepiece will reveal the delicate structures. We moved on to M84, M86 and NGC4388. These three galaxies fit comfortably in the field of our mid power eyepieces, and are always a treat for me. The Eyes (NGC4438 and 4435) were next. They're a nice pair, but the visitors were getting a bit bored with the faint fuzzies. On to some crowd-pleasers!

First was M13, looking as beautiful as ever. Next was M57, the Ring Nebula in Lyra. it was still a bit low and hadn't yet risen out of the glow of Charlestown, Wakefield and Narragansett to the east, but we still had a decent view of this smoke ring in space.

Next was the highlight of the evening for me, M5, a spectacular globular cluster in Serpens. As globular clusters go, M3 and M13 get more press, but M5 is one of the spectacular sights in the sky. It is not quite as tightly packed as the other two, but the wider spread makes this a jewel. the heart of the cluster is still densely packed with stars, looking like a pile of diamonds on black velvet.

By this time we were down to just a couple people, including Steve, our newest regular, and Debbie, our surprise late night visitor from Warwick It's too bad more people hadn't seen M5. Oh, well, there's always next week. M107 in Ophiuchus was next. I probably shouldn't have picked another globular after M5! This was pretty, but suffered in comparison.

We were right in the neighborhood, so Pluto was next. Not terribly exciting, but it was the third time I'd ever seen this elusive planet. Steve's seen it twice now (this week and last) and may be becoming jaded! Pluto is so faint and unremarkable, it's hard to convey the rarity of seeing it to a newcomer. With our scope, it's simply point, click, and view. It was not so long ago that finding Pluto required much patient star hopping and as large a telescope as you could find. At 13.8 magnitude, finding Pluto used to be a challenge many amateur astronomers could not succeed at simply because it's so faint. The 16" Lx-200 and SkyChart III make quick work now of finding this once elusive planet.

Next was NGC6309, the Box Nebula. Other than its close proximity to a nearby star, there's not much to distinguish this object. M10 and M12, both globular in Ophiuchus were next. Very pretty, but we'd seen a lot of globs this evening and pressed on.

Swinging around to the north, Steve and Debbie got their first peeks at M81 and M82. there are always great to see. The dark lane in M82 was quite prominent. Steve was very satisfied by this view - he commented that this was what he expected in a galaxy! M97, the Owl Nebula, was next. While large in the eyepiece, we didn't see much of the structure that gives this object its name. NGC2403 was next in the eyepiece, but this faint fuzzy didn't do much for us. It could be referred to as the Son of Smudge (see the log entry for March 24 for an explanation!).

We wrapped up with a last look in Lyra at M57. Despite its more favorable position, a variety of eyepieces and averted imagination, we could not make out even a hint of the elusive center star. This did not detract from our enjoyment of it, though. Finally, we made the short jump over to epsilon Lyrae, the famous Double Double, since Steve had missed it last week. Again, both components split into pairs nicely. A beautiful sight.

It was another week that found closing time coming after 2:00 AM for us. As we approach daylight savings time, this will probably become even more common for us. As we left the dome in darkness, it appeared that there were some clouds moving in low in the east, starting below Scorpius and running north through Cygnus. Wait a minute! That was no cloud bank, that was the Milky Way! It won't be long now before we leave the winter skies behind and have the summer stars in our eyes.

These clear Friday evenings we've had are a nice change from February, when we didn't have a single Friday session! It's certainly been a lot of fun.

-Joe Hartley

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Mar 31, 2000
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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