Log, Aug 11, 2000

Tuesday: 3 Staff. Last Friday the staff was grumbling about the fifth washout in as many weeks. Dave suggested and the rest of the staff agreed that we should meet sometime during the week of August 5-11 for a Clear Virtual Friday Session [CVFS]. CVFS's as the names implies must be a clear evening (other than Friday) when we can have a productive session. We knew the Moon would be up, but we were bound to look at Dschubba through the telescope. As the weather would have it our first chance for a CVFS was Tuesday evening and we quickly grabbed the chance.

Les arrived first to find every circuit breaker in the building including a couple which weren't even plugged in had popped. This included the master breaker for the dome over in the Nature Center. Les reset the breakers and all of a sudden the alarms went off and the security company and Les had an unscheduled chat. As far as we can tell, a lightning bolt hit very close by (probably the flagpole in the children's park). Les waited for Joe before powering up the scope so that there would be two of us to handle any problems but the scope came up perfectly. Except for the time which had lost a few seconds (as it does over a month of inactivity), everything was fine. A check of Spica showed that even a month of near inactivity caused alignment to drift.

Venus was lovely shades of red, orange , yellow, blue and violet. As you probably all know, this isn't an indication of good seeing. However, once the Sun had been down long enough the air became quite stable in spite of a high level of humidity. We went first to Delta Scorpii (Dschubba) to see the effects of its eruption. As reported in numerous other locations, it has noticably altered how Scorpio looks. I guess we can say the Scorpion now has a large and a small claw like a lobster. While we were in Scorpio we tried for a split of Alpha Scorpio [Antares] and HD148479. HD148479 is the phantom bright star. It is one of a very few first magnitude stars without a name. It is so close to Antares [2.9 arcminutes] that they seem a single star.

We located Pluto not far from Zeta Ophuichus. We used GSC5632-9010 as a guide star and a confirmation that the faint point of light was Pluto. Not bad when Pluto and the Moon were less than 8 degrees apart.

M3 was lovely with scads of bright stars easily picked out. M63 [Sunflower] was nice. M51 and NGC5195 [Whirlpool] were spectacular, but M101 was disappointing.

We went after some local tough targets. Uranus was easy to find but we were after its moons in the moonlit sky. We made heavy use of the Hubble Data base to insure what we saw was a moon and not a background star. We are quite sure of Titania and we may have glimpsed Oberon but nothing else. On to Neptune and Triton, which were slightly off where we expected based on the Sky Chart III position (about an arcminute, but enough to confuse us while trying to identify moons). We couldn't see any moons except Triton although it was an easy target widely separated in our higher powered eyepieces.

We could see the Milky WAy arching over the sky, but its contrast was low. Les saw about 5-6 meteors, and Dave almost the same number. Joe is jinxed when it comes to auroras (he has never seen one) and meteors (they tend to stop when he comes out). In spite of this I think he saw at least one.

We tried for the Saturn nebula (very prominant) and the so called "Little Gem" NGC6919. We decided it looked like a Marshmallow tidbit and decided to rename it then and there. Our last deep space object was the Helix nebula NGC7293. It was mediocre and we soon discovered why, clouds were building up all along the horizon.

We finished with the Moon. In spite of 96% neutral moon filters, this object is certain to wreck you dark adaptation. We saw some spectacukar terminator craters, but were knew it was time to wrap up when dark clouds scudded across its face. We left for home close to 1 AM without waiting for Jupiter or Saturn which were already mired in damp sea fog.

Friday: 30 people. Among our 30 visitors was someone we don't see enough anymore, our founder and director emeritus, Bill Penhallow. For those of you who may not know Bill, he is a retired URI Professor of Astronomy. Welcome, Bill!!

Well, as welcome as Bill was, on-again off-again in-again out-again clouds are as popular as ants at a picnic. It limited what we could see, not to what we wanted to show but what was in a gap. We started with our usual alignment on Spica, but it took ridiculously long in the filmy clouds and bright skies.

The Moon was an early target. When it clouded over, we made as much of Arcturus as possible. Does anyone know any good Arcturus stories for the future? Eventually we saw M3, M13 and M31. Outside, Les had set an Astroscan to give the kids something they could point and use themselves. This little scope, elementary as it is, is very popular with the kids. Our experiments with eyepiece projection were enthusiastically received. Kids helped by getting things from the dome (like the foot ladder). All in all it was a lot of fun.

The Perseids made fitful spurts across the sky. I missed the best one when I glanced over my shoulder to look an an encroaching fog bank. All in all a so-so night but I'm glad I went.

----- Joe continues the log ...

Les left at about 11:30, and the thing he took for an encroaching fog bank was actually a fairly small set of thick clouds that blew over rather quickly, leaving us beautifully clear skies behind. Dave, Barry and I settled into chairs in the shadow of the dome and sat back for a wonderful display of Persied meteors. Occasionally clouds would scud by, but none big enough to be bothersome.

My meteor jinx was broken as dozens and dozens of meteors were seen. While most were small, fast streaks of light, the Perseids' reputation for providing some spectacular meteors was upheld. I saw three very bright meteors, two of which were Perseids, and one which travelled in a line perpendicular to the Perseid radiant. Dave consulted a book and determined that it could have been from either the Alpha Ursa Majorid or Kappa Cygnid showers, both of which, while not well known since they have very low peak hourly rates, overlap the Perseids.

One of these Perseids was so bright that it lit up the ground. Fortunately, all three of us were facing in the right direction to see it, causing all of us to give shouts of joy. It left a persistent train that lasted for 10-15 seconds. We were amazed at the amount of time we could see it. There were at least a half-dozen meteors that we saw with excellent trains in their wake.

The moon sank lower and lower, and at about 3:00 AM descended into some far off clouds, making the sky considerably darker. This made it even easier to see the meteors. They came in spurts, with up to a half-dozen in a 3-5 minute period, followed by a 5-10 minute period with none.

As 1:00 AM rolled around, we turned the telescope onto the rising gas giants. First up was Saturn, followed a half-hour later by Jupiter. Barry got his first glimpse of these rulers of the solar system through a telescope and was blown away. We left the scope on one or the other of the planets for the rest of the night, tearing ourselves away from the Perseids whenever our bodies needed to stretch. As they rose higher and were affected less by the atmosphere, I was able to glimpse 5 moons of Saturn and the Cassini division in the rings. Jupiter put on its usual majestic show, with Io and Europa stealing the spotlight by passing within 5 arc-seconds of each other. At first I'd thought that only 3 moons were visible, but a second looks showed the pair looking like a bright double star!

Just before 4:00 AM, I facetiously asked about the glow in the east; it was the first harbinger of the dawn, still a while off. Shortly after that Dave noticed a satellite moving overhead from south to north, another indication that the sunrise was on its way. At 4:15 AM we were closing the gates, rubbing our stiff necks and making sure we watched the road, not the sky, as we were driving home.

We'd beaten a number of predictions, including the weatherman's call for fog, clouds and rain, and astronomer's predictions of a disappointing Perseid shower due to the bright moon. Those of us who stuck it out were rewarded with a magnificent display.

-Les Coleman, Joe Hartley

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Aug 11, 2000
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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