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Log, Aug 25, 2000

82 people. Tonight the sky was clear from horizon to horizon. As the sky became really dark, we could see rich detail in the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy was easily discerned by eye alone. There were a few annoyances. Seeing wasn't rock steady accept for brief periods. Dew became a problem for people outside with telescopes. However, compared to most of the weeks this Summer, tonight was excellent.

The earlier arriver was Doug Stewart [a new FDO member, but a long time amateur astronomer] with his Celestron 8". Just behind arrived Joe and Harrison Hartley with Harrison's new 6" Dobsonian. Everyone spent time looking at the telescopes while Les and Doug went in to get the Meade 16" started.

Our first target, Venus was being seen by crowds that went out the door long before the sky became even moderately dark. Venus is low on the horizon and suffered a great deal of prismatic distortion by the Earth's atmosphere. A red and blue fringe was common and the shape varied from circular to ameboid. Just before Venus set, it gave the appearance of a small ball with reddish flames burning its surface. Pretty in a way but hardly an excellent target.

Albireo was quite a contrast. As the skies got dark and Venus went down we turned to this jewel. The topaz and sapphire stars were magnificent. We gave the crowd turns at the Dumbbell [M27] and the nearby open cluster NGC6940. After explaining about the galactic "cannibalism" of the Milky Way on its smaller hapless neighbor, the Sagittarius Galaxy, we looked at one of the visible remnant - M54. We turned the scope on Uranus. Uranus and Oberon were easily visible. From time to time, we got glimpses of other moons, but never well enough to be sure what were seeing.

People had begun to bring younger children home by now, and the crowd thinned from about 65-70 people down to 25-30. We began to move through more and more objects at a more rapid pace. M11 was utterly magnificent with the blue cluster stars and the single yellowish star. I thought that the yellow star was in the foreground, but apparently it is actually a red giant which looks yellow because of the extreme blueness of its neighbors. The Messier parade began in earnest M17 [Omega], M22, M57 [Ring], M31 [Andromeda] and its two satellites M32 and M110.

Three minor meteor showers, the Alpha Capricornids, the Kappa Cygnids and the Alpha Aurigids are active near the end of August. There was much debate all night as to which of these showers was contributing the flashes and fireballs we saw, but see them we did. We saw at least 20 fairly bright meteors tonight.

Outside, Les had gone over to look through Mark's [a visiting astronomer] very compact refractor on a cross axis mount. One thing lead to another and finally he setup his Questar on the far side of the field where Taurus could be easily seen. One visiting lady was entranced by the Plieades. Les showed the Pleiades, Jupiter and Saturn to a group of about half a dozen folks.

Not long after this, Joe announced that Saturn had cleared the trees and everyone trooped inside. Six of Saturn's moons [Tethys, Dione, Rhea, Titan, Hyperion and Iapetus] could be seen. Only Titan and Rhea had been visible in the Questar. When Jupiter cleared the tree line to the east, it was actually painfully bright. When someone wasn't at the eyepiece, Jupiter was projected onto the dome! I've seen this with the Moon, but this is the first time I've seen the effect with Jupiter.

Several of us discussed the visual appearance of Scorpio. The general consensus is that the startling brightness of Delta Scorpii [Deschubba] was less pronounced. I don't know if that was due to an actually dimming of the star or that we were just getting used to its new brightness.

Requests for specific deep space objects determined our viewing for the next couple of hours. NGC891 was a bit of a problem. We couldn't find it. We had installed a new focuser the prior week and we decided that we might be out of alignment. Earlier in the evening, we had a pronounced drift viewing Albireo that eventually resolved itself. [The declination worm gear sometimes needs to be tightened after mechanical adjustments]. After the alignment and a change of eyepiece NGC891 was clearly visible. It is a large galaxy of moderate contrast. We could clearly see dark dusky lanes, the central bulge, and much of the wheel. We went on to NGC404 and M33.

Doug had been looking into Perseus with his binoculars. In our dark skies, he identified an open cluster which he never had seen before. Photo maps listed this as NGC1528. It of course became our next target. We went to M37 and M2 [which was stunning] and finally M15. We couldn't dodge the issue much longer, dew was becoming too heavy for further work. Les and Mark had already been forced to dismantle their telescopes a little earlier because of the dew.

The Moon formed a wedge to the East. Its orangy red color indicated that sky moisture was increasing. In any case, it was the wee hours of the morning. Just as we were locking up, we had a welcome visit from the Charlestown Police. It is very comforting to know we are watched over by them.

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Author:
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Aug 25, 2000
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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