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Log, Jun 30, 2000

92 people. What a wonderful wonder filled night!! A dark night, clear skies (and oh yes a big brightly lit tent from the Big Apple Circus) plus a large enthusiatic crowd made for an excellent evening. The Big Apple Circus was very obliging by turning off the searchlights that illuminated the Observatory. Although their string of tent lights remained lit, the tent was far enough away and in a area of the horizon which caused no problems once the search light was doused. Thanks! People asked how late we stayed open. Inadvertantly we misled them by saying "until about 2 AM". In fact we stayed open all night until the dawns early light forecast a rising Sun. Joe and Les stayed until the about 4:20 AM. Our last visitor stayed until just before 4! A bit bleery eyed but fully satisfied we final closed up and went home.

Jack Szelka [a member of SkyScrapers, our fellow astronomy group to the north] came down with a neat gift for us, a CD-ROM full of pictures. He had his digital camera with him the day of Project Comet Chaser (see November 18th log for details). As soon as we can process them, we'll put some of them out on the website. Thanks Jack!

Well, lets get started with our grand tour. We started while the Sun was still peeking above the horizon by putting Spica in our field of view. Quite a few folks and quite a few kids with early bedtimes got to see a star while the sky was still blue. As the sky darkened we went on to the lovely double star Albirio. When it was the turn for M57 [Ring Nebula], the major interest was who could/could not see the central star. It was visible, but very tricky to see and easily lost when the air was unstable.

On to M27 [Dumbbell Nebula] with many people expressing agreement or disagreement that it was well named. Soon we had the M8 [Lagoon Nebula] with the open cluster NGC6530 superimposed. The we went on to the Triffid where people got a chance to practice dark lane astronomy. Almost everyone clearly saw the three great lobes of the Triffid. More than a few people were astounded to realize they could spot both the Lagoon and the Triffid with their eyes alone. Those with binoculars couldn't get enough of them.

About this time, I packed up my Questar with my new 115V-AC portable power supply which was getting its shakedown cruise. After leaping about with my normal antics starhopping hither and yon, most of the focus moved inside.

We trotted out some old favorites M5 (utterly spectacular), M31 (better as always in binoculars), M32, M33 [Pinwheel Galaxy], M34 and M110. There was much debate about how good the Pinwheel was. Les found it worth viewing, but other thought it very faded. We used M34 and NGC956 as brackets for Comet Linear. M34 has a little asterism which looks much like the constellation Lyra. Perseus's famous double open cluster NGC869 and NGC884 were just able to fit in the field of our larger angle eyepieces. What a stunner!

We spent hours (literally) examining Comet Linear 1999 S4. Our best estimates put it at R.A.=02h37m06.0s and decl.=+43o47'00.0" with a magnitude we estimated between 9.5 and 10.3 based on the "racking out of focus" method. We could see the comet move when we watched long enough. Every 10 to 15 minutes placed it clearly farther along. Except for a gap at 1AM while we showed a new group of folks a bunch of sky treats, we kept going back to the comet every quarter hour or so from midnight until 4:15 AM. We tried filters, polarizers and various other means to improve our viewing but the old standby (waiting until it was high in the sky) worked best. At around 2 AM Comet Linear's head passed directly over GSC2844-1386. We used the star as a reference point to keep track of it motions. Joe and Les were surprised how long the tail is, although it certainly isn't easy too see several arcseconds away from the head.

This was a night for seeing meteors and satellites cross the field of view. Various people saw satellites or meteors cross M31. A satellite passed just a bit between the head and the middle of the tail while Les watched. Many shouts of "Look, a shooting star!" was heard from outside. One unsual thing was the great number of satellites we saw illuminated by the morning Sun. I'm used to watching satellites pass from sunlight into shadow, but the opposite was happening after 3 am.

Well after 3 PM, we got a visit from the Charlestown Police. The sergeant was surprised to see us still there. We gave him a mini tour (the comet, Jupiter and it four bright moons, Saturn with Titan, Rhea and Tethys plus an assortment of deep space objects). Yes indeed, we saw Saturn and Jupiter after telling everyone that only the outer planets were visible. Of course, back then we had no idea we'd be up while these two great world were visible.

As we left, a guard tending the Big Apple Circus folk, waved goodbye and asked "Are you the guys from the Observatory?" He was amazed that we had stayed so late. In fact, so were we.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Jun 30, 2000
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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