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Log, May 5, 2000

12 people. People started arriving about 7:30 when the sky showed signs of clearing, but as soon as one clouds disappated another would boil up. Unstable warm damp air from the north condensed as soon as it hit cold maritime air. We told visitors that we expected it would clear by 9:30 to 10 if the off shore breeze was adequate. I doubt our early visitors believed me but this is just what happened. Several people said they would be back but on another night. Too bad, they missed a pretty good night.

This was the night that Joe went north to tell our upstate counterpart Skyscrapers a little about Frosty Drew Observatory. In April Dave Hurdis President of Skyscrapers asked Joe to speak. So Joe didn't arrive at FDO until after 10 PM, wherein lies the story which follows.

While demostrating the Meade LX200 16" while the clouds were up, somehow I managed to send conflicting directions through the PC software and the on-board computer. Effectively, I convinced the software that the sky had taken a 18 degree twisting sumersault. Everything was out of whack. The remedy is well known, you simply turn the computer software off, turn the telescope off without storing information, turn the telescope back on and do what is called a two star alignment. Easy, except the dagnabbity clouds wouldn't let me identify stars correctly. I managed to mistake Minkelian for Cappella because Menkelian was clear and Cappella obscured. Finally, two gaps in the clouds let us get a good alignment, aA good 45 minutes after what should have been a 5 minute job.

We had thin haze, but the sky was very stable. The Sombrero was fine, but M13 was outstanding. The bright outlier stars were jewels that put diamonds to shame. The smaller M92 suffered by contrast, but M5 was almost as spectacular, even though it is more compact than M13. Having had so much luck with big globular clusters, we tried for NGC5634. Not much, so we gave it the not much coveted Smudge of the Week Award.

Last week when we were limited to binoculars in the far north we had decided to look at HD117[200/201], a double double this week with the 16". We could just barely split 201 but 200 remained firmly single to the eye. We looked at NCG536[3/4] which are a pair of galaxies. 3 was fairly easy to see but 4 could only be glimpsed. This was odd because our charts say they are about equal in brightness. We looked at an optical double HD124[159/117]. Optical doubles are stars which are not gravitationally bound, but line of sight aligned.

A wave of sillyness hit us. While I was viewing a light (a boat?) on the southern horizon, Dave who was acting as a spotter warned me that fog was drifting in. The fog was Joe with a big piece of cardboard. Well, I got Dave back a bit later. While he was looking at another light I stuck the "The Star Stick of Science" in front of the main objective. The "Star Stick" is nothing except a small flashlight bulb in a frosted globe on a long pole. We use it to point out constellations. Dave was sure he had seen a brilliant meteor.

We moved onto the Ring Nebula M57. We tried most of the eyepieces in our collection. Using the 5mm we magnified M57 to over 800 diameters. It was huge, filling our eyepiece with a wall to wall image. Joe and I glimpsed the central neutron star, a very difficult target. We tried the other end of our eyepieces - the huge 56mm at about 70 diamters. The image was small but very concentrated. Ultimately, we decided the 48mm eyepiece made the central star easiest to see.

We rounded out the night with the open cluster NGC6811 and tried for the large diffuse nebula called the Pelican in Cephus. Strangely, the Pelican was not visible - oops the clouds were back. So we called it a night a bit after 1:30PM.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Author:
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
May 5, 2000
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Leslie Coleman's Log
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