Log, Jun 23, 2000

49 people. The night started out as acceptable and turned into something memorable. As soon as it was dark enough, Joe turned the scope onto the Ring Nebula [M57] while Les waved the Star Stick of Science madly at the constellations talking his usual non-stop cahtter about this, that, the other thing and more. [In case any of you don't know the aforementioned Star Stick of Science, it is a a small flashlight on the end of a five foot bamboo shoot that Les taped togethers to point out the constellations.]

Les got at the controls and turned to a globular cluster which was never mentioned before in our logbook - M56. We looked at Alberio [golden orange and saphire blue] with enough space between them to park a pickup truck [Well, truth be known, it would have to be one of those mini pickup trucks from Asia]. Spica was its usual dazzling self. I'm not exactly sure why we turned there but I think a guest asked for it.

When we turned to the Dumbbell Nebula [M27] we could clearly see seven or eight stars illuminating it from the far side. Most of the time the Dumbbell appears opaque but not tonight. We went on to M39 and then tried for the Cocoon Nebula [IC5146] - our one and only disapointment. We just could not see it. We suspect that we need a filter for it, possibly our Hydrogen Beta filter we hope will arrive soon. After trying for much too long to find the Coccon we examined NGC7082 a nearby open clusters and NGC7048 a planetary nebula just a bit farther on.

Tired of pussy footing around the hoi polloi, we set our sights on one of the grandest sights in the sky, the Lagoon Nebula [M8]. Almost overlapping it is the open cluster NGC6530. What a sight. Everyone from first time to those of us with thousnads of hours at the eyepiece saw a host of details: dark lanes, side alleys, bright avenues and brilliant billows of gas. If this had been the only thing I saw all night, I would have had a good night but there was more to come.

After checking the alignment by swinging to Deneb (ouch, it is too darn bright in the 16"), we moved on to M54. Although M54 is not very distinquished visually compared to the Great Cluster in Hercules [M13], M54's role as a globular cluster torn away from the Sagittarius Galaxy as that Galaxy is being devoured by the Milky Way makes it very exciting indeed.

Then we went on to M22. M22 is a globular cluster which is opened up into a starbusrt of pin pricks of lights. Hundreds, no, thousands of tiny scintillations teased us to take minutes at the eyepiece while grumbling could be heard for those waiting. It was wonderful!

I had some urgent business to attend to early the next morning so with much disatisfaction I told my friends I had to leave. From here on out, Joe continues our saga.

After a few minutes on M28, another globular in Sagittarius, we swung over to M20, the Trifid Nebula. We were presented with one of the best views any of us had ever seen of this sight. The dark lanes that split the nebula into 3 parts were quite obvious, and the multiple star in the center, HD164492, was easily split into two components. Burham's lists 6 components to this star, but we did not try to resolve any more.

M55 was next, as another comparison of globular clusters in Sagittarius. This was rather small, and did not present nearly as many stars as M28.

We then swung the scope to the north, where we picked up M51, the Whirlpool galaxy, and its companion, NGC5195. Despite the rising moon, a bit of structure could be seen. We moved on to M101, the Pinwheel Galaxy, which also revealed a bit of its structure with some averted vision.

From there it was on to M81 and M82. The dark lane in M82 was visible, and M81 was rather bright, though no structure was seen.

From there it was back to the south to snag the visible planets Neptune, Uranus and Pluto. None were at their best due to the moon having risen even higher. The moon was the next target, thanks to the request of a lovely young lady who was having the time of her life! We spent a while on the moon while the Nature Center was locked up for the night.

It was just after 2:00 AM and we were ready to pack up when Dave remembered that the comet LINEAR C/1999 S4 had risen and should be high enough to be seen. Les had already entered the orbital elements of the comet into SkyChart III, but when we slewed over to the area of the sky where it should have been, it was not to be found. I started a systematic search of the area, and before too long, we had found it!!!

The comet was not where it should have been based on the orbit calculated by SkyChart III, which was R.A.=02h25m02.09s and decl.=+39o37'58.3". My best guess at its real location of the comet's head is R.A.=02h23m58.08s and decl.=+39o31'18.0". Dave and I spent quite a bit of time observing the comet, and I sketched out the comet and star field to help us determine exactly where it was in the sky. This task was greatly aided by SkyChart III! I'd have had much less success in determining the comet's position without it. We attempted to find the comet in my 11x70 binoculars, but had no luck, probably due to the moonglow. As Dave and I attempted to locate the comet's position by comparing the fields in the scope's finder and the binoculars, we were assisted by a helpful satellite that passed through both fields while we were both at the eyepieces! This helped us correlate the view in the binoculars with the finder's view, which is flipped both left-to-right and up-and-down. We were sure we had the right field in the binoculars, but the comet just wasn't visible. Based on comparisons to other stars in the field, I'd guess the comet's magnitude to be about 8, +/- .2

Dave and I were struck by the coincidence that two stars, GSC2835-1051 and GSC2835-1047, appeared to anchor the ends of the tail like attendants holding a bride's train. The comet was quite a lovely sight. While predictions that it will achieve a magnitude of 5.0 are being revised downward, it's likely to be a favorite target for scopes and binoculars at FDO throughout the summer.

It was 3:10 AM when we finally closed up and left for home. A planned session with the CCD didn't happen because of a steady stream of visitors all night - exactly the type of postponement we like! As I drove home, I could see Jupiter and Saturn rising towards the northeast. It crossed my mind that if we had waited just a little longer, we could have seen them as well! But light, a hint of the coming dawn, was coming from the same direction, reminding me that it was already very late.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Jun 23, 2000
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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