by Mark Wagner
As always, a very pleasant drive up. Slow and easy. I arrived just before 5, paid my use tax in the iron ranger. The parking lot had several overnight camper's cars parked mostly along the western edge, but there was still plenty of room for the astronomers. The marine layer was as high as I've ever seen it over the western mountains, and I pretty much knew we'd be lucky to have any real observing. Wisps of horsetail clouds overlay the heavier stuff hanging over the valleys.
The pot luck worked out great. I brought a grill, Bill Cone some great andouille sausauges and red wine, others contributed a diverse range of tasties. I was good and only had one of Santangelli's CD sized chocolate chunk cookies. Matt Marcus's veggie dogs looked like some kind of strange little cigars you'd expect to find in Instanbul, but hey... food's food, knida. There was enough in quantity and variety to take care of everyone's tastes!
As the sky grew dark after sunset, it looked like we'd be lucky, it seemed to be clearing, and the stuff over the coastal range was looking less threatening. Everyone was getting down to business at their scopes. Soon though, we all began noticing dew.
I fought poor transparancy and some significantly bad light reflecting off the clouds, it was an obviously poor night. I toyed with just looking at Messiers in my 18", but went after some galaxy trios instead.
I did manage to get a decent, yet soft view of the trio NGCs 7463, 7464 and 7465 just off Markab in Pegasus. The first galaxy was very obvious, in fact, all three were. On a good night this would be an easy group even in a smaller scope. Cone was showing Neptune and Triton - interesting to see that dot of a moon preceeding the blue planet as the view drifted west. Later he was showing the Helix Nebula - I keep overhearing discussion about it, people wondering if it is the biggest planetary in apparent size, and if its the closest to us. I mentioned Jones 1 was up, and is another large(r) planetary. Santangelli decided to move from imaging the Little Dumbell to shooting Jones 1. But, although his computer confirmed he was on the field, Jones 1 was not there. I went to look for it in my scope and realized I was seeing almost no field stars. That's trouble. Shining a red flashlight onto my secondary and looking at it in the primary - it was soaked. Game over.
The star party reverted back to party. Green lasers came out, crackling their way up into the clouds that now enveloped us. There was talk about travelling overseas with scopes, high pressure moving in later in the upcoming week, and where people were planning to observe. Neuschaefer and Grimly were playing light cannon, shooting a flashlight through the focuser of a 10" Dob.
Everyone decided to pack it in. I was among the first out of the lot, and home by 11. All in all, it was a fun night. I doubt anyone regrets going. And, really, with an offshore flow instead of the whim of the winds pushing the clouds over us, it could have gone the other way and we'd have had a good night.
Let's hope that's what we get next weekend...
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