With the weather as uncertain as is usual for early spring, I waited until the minute before deciding to trek to Plettstone on Saturday (March 8, 2008). The drive was easy, little traffic on 101 or 152, and I took some backroads (Road 13 through cattle country, crossing 99 to Plainsburg Road) to get to 140. The rolling hills, lichen colored rock outcroppings and fields of wildflowers on up to highway 49, were a treat. What a great time of year for a nice afternoon drive. In Mariposa I met Richard Navarrete for a quick dinner and sunset arrival at the observing site. Michelle Stone greeted us, as well as Paul, Carter, Greg, Rick and Leigh (the dogs greeted us too). Nice group. The thin crescent moon looked great in Michelle's 80mm scope, as I grabbed brief views while setting up my 18" f/4.5 Dob.
My plan for the night was to go through a portion of my March observing list:
Conditions were decent. A bit soft early on, and then variable between very good and average throughout the night. Bands of clouds would come through occasionally diminishing limiting magnitude. No dew, temps at around 40F. All in all, it was very pleasant, and well worth the drive. I recommend the trip to anyone that wants a very good dark site without having to drive four or more hours. I made the trip in about 2-1/2, but I'm kind of a lead-foot.
The view of the night may have been the galaxy trio near NGC 2805, just so much fun breaking them apart by increasing the magnification.
Here is what I observed:
NGC 2655 Cam GX 6.6'x4.8' 11.0B 08 55 38 78 13 28
Two mag 7 stars bracket galaxy with bright core and large oval oblong disk, elongated WWNW with hints of spirals at 193x..
NGC 2787 UMa GX 3.1'x2.0' 11.8B 09 19 18 69 12 12
Bright, roundish, mottled core, possible arm separated to the N approx 5' distant, Maybe somewhat barred NNW/SSE. 293x.
N2805 Uma GX 6.3'x4.7' 11.5B 09 20 19 64 06 07
Large, diffuse, featureless with maybe a slightly brighter central area, elongated NW/SE. Nice field at 193x with edge on NGC 2820 and dim NGC 2814 all in one field. At 293x IC 2458 shows easily to NW just off 2820, and maybe perpendicular to it, same PA as 2814.
NGC 2742 UMa GX 3.0'x0.5' 12.0B 09 07 33 60 28 46
Extended NW/SE 5x2 with gradually brightening core and dim stellar nucleus. Core seem slightly asymmetric with extensions.
NGC 2768 UMa GX 8.1'x4.2' 10.8B 09 11 37 60 02 22
Large, diffuse, featureless, E/W 3x2, maybe a bit ragged edges.
Abell 28 UMa PN 4.7' 14.6P 08 41 35 58 13 49
If visible it is a very dim brightening without any features, no discernible edges. Filters make it more difficult. Just a very slight brightening.
N2756 UMa GX 1.7'x1.1' 13.2P 09 09 00 53 50 55
Elongated SW/NE, featureless, maybe an occasional dim stellar core, dimmer halo - elongation is in the halo and 3x1.
NGC 2681 UMa GX 3.6'x3.2' 11.1B 08 53 32 51 18 52
Face on spiral, very bright and probably active core, arm extending out E/W, Stars involved in arms.
N2639 UMa GX 2.1'x1.3' 12.6B 08 43 38 50 12 20
Bright, elongated NW/SE, bright core with pinpoint nucleus. 2'x1'.
HCG 35 Lyn GX6 0.5'x0.3' 16.1B 08 45 21 44 31 14
Two and possibly three, brightest one has another ENE and another a bit further NNE. At best, indistinct smudges with averted only, 293x.
Arp 283 Lyn GX 2.5'x0.9' 13.0B 09 17 22 42 00 02
2798 is roundish and small with a bright stellar core, 2799 is edge on, e of 2798 and oriented WWNW/EESE. Dim at 293x.
NGC 2782 Lyn GX 3.8'x2.5' 12.3B 09 14 08 40 06 08
Small, circular, maybe face on, mottled appearance, bright core with nearly stellar nucleus. 193x.
At this point in the evening, my laptop reverted to some serious problems it had last year. The display cut out. The laptop itself was still running, but without the display. That put an end to my list. I am now somewhat torn between replacing the laptop, or just starting to print charts in advance. I do feel the laptop screen, even dimmed down with "night vision" mode on The Sky and red plastic over the display, still affects my dark adaptation. I just don't know if a red flashlight on white paper would be any improvement.
I kind of stumbled around for a while, unhappy about yet another night being disrupted by technology problems. It made me think about how much fun it is to observe, through a big Dob, essentially using very rudimentary technology - the eyepieces have to be the most complex part of the entire scope. Wood, glass, a few poles, a couple machined parts, a finder, eyepieces, and I can see things that my parents, grandparents, ancestors - and many friends - never experienced. Maybe its time to get back to basic observing - and forget the computer. Maybe.
I poked around a bit, looking at eye candy, which is always fun. My lists always have some on them. I find a variety of object types and difficulty make for an enjoyable evening.
Michelle and I visited for a good while, and then I noticed that everyone had returned to their scopes - from the break they'd taken when bands of cirrus were passing through. So, I joined Richard, observing the targets he was hunting, from whatever list it was. I did not take notes on these... Richard may have jotted down some brief comments. All of them were in Virgo....
NGC 4123 Glxy 12.0b 4.3x 3.1' 12 08 11.2 +02 52 41
NGC 4116 Glxy 12.4b 3.8x 2.1' 12 07 37.2 +02 41 29
NGC 4180 Glxy 13.5p 1.6x 0.6' 12 13 03.0 +07 02 17
NGC 4191 Glxy 13.8p 1.1x 0.7' 12 13 50.4 +07 12 04
NGC 4197 Glxy 13.4b 3.4x 0.5' 12 14 38.5 +05 48 18
MCG +1-31-30 Glxy 14.9b 0.4x 0.3' 12 15 18.3 +05 45 40
NGC 4200 Glxy 13.9b 1.7x 1.0' 12 14 44.2 +12 10 50
IC 3063 Glxy 14.8p 1.1x 0.5' 12 15 06.8 +12 00 59
NGC 4216 Glxy 11.0b 8.7x 1.7' 12 15 54.2 +13 08 58
NGC 4206 Glxy 12.8b 6.6x 1.1' 12 15 16.6 +13 01 30
NGC 4222 Glxy 13.9b 4.0x 0.6' 58 12 16 22.4 +13 18 26
CGCG 69-113 Glxy 15.1 0.7x 0.6' 12 15 53.3 +13 12 56
NGC 4348 Glxy 13.3b 3.2x 0.7' 12 23 53.9 -03 26 33
NGC 4352 Glxy 13.5b 2.1x 0.9' 12 24 05.0 +11 13 07
One oddity of the night was the final target. We began observing it just before 2 a.m., and we must have been so engrossed by it, an hour flew by before we knew it!
What I was most astonished by last night was the huge number of galaxies visible in Virgo. It is incredibly fertile ground for observing. And it is challenging - there are literally so many galaxies there, it is difficult to know if you're on your target, without looking at star patterns in the eyepiece for verification. Multiple objects in a field seem to be more the rule than exception. Like the spring wildflowers along the sides of 140 on the drive up, these spring eyepiece fields were as rich. It seemed there were galaxy fields forever.
Give 'em a try. They're everywhere...
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