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Log, Apr 7, 2000

[While Les travels the west (hopefully with a scope in the luggage!), Joe handles the log tasks for the week.]

Friday: 6 people. The odd mix of clouds with a few clear patches made this evening more of a teaser than anything else. What clear open spots there were would vanish in the 30 seconds it took to swing the scope to them. Most folks didn't bother trying to come out, and one could hardly blame them!

Nevertheless, we managed to log 15 objects in the 2+ hours we were open. First up (before it set!) was the Moon. Only a few days old, a beautiful crescent was seen with some lovely mare visible. To the naked eye, the rest of the Moon's disk was faintly visible, illuminated by sunlight reflecting off the Earth! This phenomenon is referred to as "the old Moon in the new Moon's arms."

M42 was next for a pair of visitors that dropped by as the Moon was setting. This showpiece will not be visible for much longer, especially now that Daylight Savings Time has kicked in!

Next in the eyepiece was M35, a nice open cluster in Gemini. This kept hiding behind the clouds, so we went a little higher to NGC2392, the Eskimo Nebula. The staff that was still around to see this still fail to see the eskimo face in this nebula. Even so, it's still a nice example of a planetary nebula.

Planetary nebulae got their name from their appearance when first seen by astronomers in the late 18th century. It was about that time that Herschel discovered the planet Uranus, which appears as a small greenish disk. Since this type of nebula looked similar to the new planet in the telescopes of the day, astronomers called them planetary nebulae. These objects have nothing at all to do with planets, but somehow the name has stuck all this time.

The next object we looked at really illustrated the resemblance of planetary nebulae to real planets; NGC3242 is sometimes called "the Ghost of Jupiter," and it's easy to see why. It has almost the same size and shape as Jupiter in the telescope, but has a fuzzy edge, like a specter.

Next was a highlight of the evening for me. NGC3115, the Spindle Galaxy in Hydra has a fairly well defined shape that really stands out with a bit of careful observation.

We then turned to NGC3166/3169, a pair of galaxies on the border of Sextans and Leo. These were partially obscured by the haze, so no structure was seen. In an attempt to get a better view of multiple galaxies in the same field of view, we turned first to the grouping M105/NGC3384/NGC3389 and then to M95/M96, all in Leo. the clouds were making things difficult for us at this point, and one needed to be patient to wait for a brief glimpse of either of these groupings.

Just before we called it a night, we turned to Ceres, an asteroid which is currently found in Virgo. It was difficult to find among the clouds, but we had a little help from this week's "smudge," the galaxy NCG4237. At magnitude 12.6, this was barely visible in the eyepiece, and in fact was only spotted by moving the scope around a little bit, at which point the observer realized that the smudge was traveling with the stars. Once identified, it made locating Ceres easier.

Let's hope for better weather next week!

-Joe Hartley

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