Log, Sep 22, 2000

72 people: We covered lots of ground figuratively tonight. We had 72 looking at some 49 different objects. By 3 AM, I decided to leave letting the younger guys spend the remainder of the night. They stayed until just after 4 AM. I was decidedly cold but very happy with the evening.

We had occasional clouds which sometimes obscured a portion of the sky near the horizon, but the zenith and in general most of the sky remained clear and exciting. Since they were the first to set after the Sun, we targeted Venus and Mercury. Outside, Barry and Les had set up their own telescopes with an intent to allow visitors additional objects while other were looking through the big telescope.

Doug, Art and Joe began knocking off M objects like we were running off a Messier Marathon. M10, M11, M12, M13, M14, M17, M92 were the first Messier objects we displayed. Requests by visitors to see planets before Jupiter and Saturn rose were met by displays of Neptune and Uranus.

Not to be put off, the pseudo marathon resumed. M73 and M2 were viewed before Doug displayed NGC253 and NGC752. Before the marathon again lurched into gear Doug showed Almach (Gamma Andromeda) a double star. Although we took time out for other items we also tallied M27, M42, M33, M35, M36, M37, M38, M57, and M71.

An old friend Ernie Evans arrived. Whenever Ernie arrives it is always because he has yet another curiosity he wished to see. Tonight was no different. He wanted to see the Crescent Nebula NGC6888 through our new filters. After this the night took one of the serendipitous turns and we started looking for "unusual" objects. After looking at NCG6791, we looked at the Veil Nebula - a remnant so vast that it requires more than one NGC number to cover it [NGC6960 and NGC6992]. We looked at NGC6940, a bright open cluster.

The North American Nebula was nearly impossible to make out except for some nebulosity. The was also the fate of the Horsehead Nebula in spite of using a Hydrogen Beta filter designed to select this nebula type. Maybe we'll have to use the CCD but I always like to see things by eye as well if we can.

By now Saturn and Jupiter were high in the east and brilliant. We managed views of Saturn that I have never equaled before. The Crepe Ring (the very thin innermost ring) was continually visible. Cassini's division looked like a mathematically scribed line around the whole ring. Then to my wonder, we began to see Encke's division (a narrow gap in the A ring). I have never seen this division before through any telescope although I've seen it in numerous pictures. There are many seasoned astronomy observers who will maintain that it cannot be seen in less than a 40 inch (1 meter) telescope yet here was proof that a 16" (0.4 meter) telescope can make it out. Even people who did not know what it was or where to look for it could see it.

We looked at Jupiter at high power and with filters. By using a variable polarizer we could somewhat selectively chose to highlight bands and knots in Jupiter. It is strange that we almost considered moons of the two gas giants ho-hums. Orion's Great Nebula was next.

Before Les left, we had taken a close look at the Eskimo [NGC2392] and had tried to split Castor [Alpha Geminorum]. Continuing, Joe and Doug took a look at two galaxies in Cetus, M77 (very nice, some structure seen) and NGC1053, very faint glow only.) They looked again at Saturn. It was very high but the view was no better than earlier. A breeze was kicking up, a very thin high overcast was beginning to form and moon glow was becoming more of a problem. They finished up with some more excellent views of M42, Using the Oxy III filter whole new masses of nebulosity appeared extending out from the main nebula in all directions. Remarkable! Doug says he can''t wait to view it under moonless winter nights of high transparency! "Last light" came at 4:02 AM, when they reluctantly closed up and headed home.

A wonderful night.

[Thanks Doug for sending this addendum.]

Barry Martasian ...

Date: September 22, 2000

Location: Frosty Drew Observatory, Charlestown RI

Weather: Cool and fall like with ever changing sky. Almost cloudless in the early evening to heavy bands of clouds and haze to the N. and NE around Midnight, then back to almost perfectly clear skies from Midnight on.

Equipment: Orion XT-8, 8 inch dob, unknown Rich-field telescope, and FDO's 16" Meade LX200.

Time: 7:00 PM Sept. 22-3:30 AM Sept. 23, 2000

With summer off the calendar, and fall chomping at the "bits" with a desire to run head long into winter, last nights viewing was much like a celebration to welcome the changing of the seasons.

When I arrived at FDO, the sky was still blue, the staff of the observatory was just starting to remove the cover from the 16" telescope housed under the dome.

It only took me a few minutes to get myself set-up on a cement pad out on the lawn, then I was ready for one of my favorite past times of watching the sky slowly get dark, then trying to find the first stars that looked down on me.

As the evening makes its way to the morning Sun I have grown to love watching the darkness falling upon the Earth, then watching the constellations move through natures planetarium . After observing this you begin to realize that our ride on the planet Earth is much like a ride on the gears of a watch, a never ending ride through the cycle of time. Pity not many people try to experience this at least once in their lives.

My first target for the evening was Venus. After watching the two "Gas Giants, Jupiter and Saturn for the past month, Venus really doesn't have much to offer. "Bright" is about all I can say about it now. Some time early in the darkness of the night, it become apparent that we were going to have some very nice skies if we could hold off the clouds. Over head the "Milky Way" was brightening the sky with it's "star cloud" that swept across the sky from the "Teapot" of "Sagittarius" to "Cassiopeia" and beyond.

My desire to find the "Andromeda Galaxy" (M31) again over took me and I spent what felt like hours looking for it until I realized that I was using the wrong stars to hop to it with. By the time I realized my mistake and finally found it in my finder I had a small "herd" of Cub Scouts hovering around my telescope asking me all kinds of questions I didn't know the answers to about "Black holes". Trying to let them know that I didn't know all the answers to their questions with as much dignity as I could muster, I invited them to look at M31. Each one of the boys had a "Wow" are a "Neat" and it seems they all wanted to see it again plus more.

The Galaxies "M81 and M82" were next. With great difficulty I found these two galaxies, and even though the two of them are speeding away into the Universe at incredible speeds away from the Earth, both of them still could be seen within one view of an eyepiece. They also seemed much brighter to me than they did the last time I saw them in North Kingstown.

Somewhere in the evening activities I saw "M8 the Lagoon Nebula" through somebody's binoculars, so I thought a side trip to the "Teapot" would be nice for some of the FDO visitors. I landed on the globular cluster "M22". I would have to say there wasn't a bad sight anywhere in this region of the "Milky Way".

Over at the "Big Dipper" the Double Stars of "Alcor and Mizar" were big hits with the scouts. "Mizar A and B" were split very nicely this night and was real easy for the kids to see what a double stars looked like. Mizar A and B left nothing to the imagination.

Out of the darkness I could here a voice calling, "Barry, do you want to see the Veil Nebula?" It was my friend Ernie out in the parking lot with his Rich-field telescope hunting down some special jewels of the night. He had his Oxy III filter on his eye piece and was looking at "NGC 6992-95 the left side of the "Veil Nebula" in "Cygnus". The view was terrific and took up the whole eyepiece from side to side.. Latter Ernie would call me back to look at the "Helix Nebular, NGC7293 in "Aquarius".

Sometime around 10 or 10:30 Doug came over to catch a view of the "Double Cluster", NGC869 & NCG884 in Cassiopeia for me. These open clusters are beautiful. My feelings about open clusters is even stronger now than before. I love these "collections of stars" but I have a real hard time finding Open Clusters especially if they are in the "Milky Way". The are truly a real challenge to find for people new to the hobby.

It was also around ten when the scouts disappeared back to their tents for the evening and I felt safe in leaving my telescope alone so I could go into the dome and check out the sky in the 16". The first view I had a chance to see was "M92" in Hercules. Tonight it was as spectacular as "M13" I tried to remember if I had seen it in this large telescope before and came to the conclusion that I have only seen it in the Orion 8 inch. It is a very nice cluster and well worth several trips back to visit. I am not sure of the time when we viewed Neptune, but in all honesty I have to say, "No big deal on this one tonight". Can you say, "Star?"

Saturn and Jupiter started to make their appearance so I dashed out to my telescope to check them out. Being low on the horizon they had not come anywhere near their potential for the evening so I thought I would wait to view them later on when they were higher in the sky. It was at this time I was starting to notice how bad the dewing situation was getting at my scope.. The lawn was wet hours earlier, but the telescope was doing fine until around midnight. It was at this time life at the eye piece was getting a little difficult. After wiping the dew off my eye piece and observing the "Pleiades" and having to wipe again, I was getting a little discouraged. I want to view the planets again before I put the telescope away, so I would put up with the dew for a while more.

After midnight "time" started to get weird. A combination of excellent skies, being tired and constantly being bombarded with new things to look at started to put me into a "tailspin". It is here because I didn't write anything down last night I kind of forgot the order of things

The following are some of the objects viewed during this time between Midnight and the time that I went home at 3:30 AM: (NOT IN ORDER)

The Crescent Nebula...Nice but dim

The Dumbbell Nebula M27...Very Nice

The Eskimo Nebula NGC2392 ...good, no face.

M35 Open Cluster and companion NGC2168, beautiful

Open Clusters in Auriga, M36, M37, and M38...all beautiful.

Like a little boy I waited with great patience for "Orion the Hunter" to take his place high enough in the sky so that we would have a clear and steady view of the "Orion Nebula" M42. When the moment arrived it was well worth waiting for his arrival. The view through the eye piece of this 16 inch telescope nearly knocked me to the floor. The nebula was spectacular. The contrast between the bright areas and the dark "dusty" areas were captivating. I believe the four of us who remained to see this sight was under some sort of mystical spell, and all of us found it difficult to leave the eye piece.

If we thought that the Orion Nebula was something special to see. The views of Jupiter and Saturn were equal or better. Before I put by telescope away, Saturn was showing incredible detail. The Cassini's division was clear and steady, and there was a beautiful shadow from the rings on the planets surface. Jupiter was also showing itself, with two solid dark bands showing with a third coming and going.

At 3:30 AM I was dog tired, my equipment was packed in my VW Golf, I said good bye to my friends and headed home on a drive where I did not encounter one car on the half hour ride home. In the dark of the morning, with a crescent moon riding over my sun roof, I felt as though I was speeding through space on my journey home from the stars.

Doug Stewart ...

Well, the challenge is on! The Encke division in Saturn's rings - what aperture do you need to see it? We've heard everything from 4" to 40"! With Saturn just 8 weeks from opposition, and with the rings inclined over 26 degrees to our line of sight, this is the time to do some serious looking.

Last night was clear and fairly stable in southern Rhode Island, but transparency was only average. Three other observers and I stayed late at our observatory in Charlestown to check out Saturn as it rose high in the sky. At 1 AM, with the planet 40 degrees above the horizon, we were treated to some of the best views we've ever had. Each of us made our own mental notes, but we all used a 13 mm Nagler on the observatory's 16" LX200 (313X). Three of us are very experienced observers (over a century of combined time in the hobby).

The Cassini division, 3,000 miles across (translating to .82" last night) was like a thruway, clearly visible all the way around the rings. The dusky gray Crepe ring was easily seen by all of us, even where it passed in front of the planet. The cloud belts on the surface of Saturn were cleanly delineated and contained numerous bright spots, especially in the broad equatorial belt. But the big surprise was the Encke division, about 2/3 of the way toward the outer edge of the A ring. It was not steadily visible at any time, but definitely snapped into view near the rings' ends whenever the air stabilized - perhaps two or three times per minute. I had never seen it before with certainty, so I wasn't even sure that it was the Encke until our senior member {present} confirmed it when we compared notes.

I have no idea what the true width of the Encke division is. Our 16" has a theoretical resolution limit of .28", corresponding to just over 1,000 miles at Saturn's distance (799 million miles last night). But I agree with other posters to this group that detecting such a gap in the rings does not require clear resolution. If that were the case, the Cassini division would require a 6" scope when in fact it can be seen easily in a 3" on a good night.

Saturn's rings will continue to open up for another couple of years as the planet moves to the high point of the ecliptic in Gemini. These will be excellent times for observation, and I encourage amateurs with all scope sizes to get out and give the ringed beauty their best shot!

-Les Coleman

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Sep 22, 2000
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Log
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