by Jeff Gortatowsky
Last night (04-Jan-2003UT) was one of those nights that keep you at your dark site believing the clouds will hold off. Or perhaps they are there only here temporarily. Turns out often neither is true. :) I took my chances however as I wanted an unprecedented (for me) fourth separate night of DSO observing in a 30 days period. I've done it at star parties, but never on my own.
It started with a rather heavy dew on December 7th 2002 (the 8th UT) at my normal astronomy club night out. Then on Friday the 27th od December it was windy and cold but very productive night out. That night was followed by the almost the perfect winter night on Monday the 30th of December. Clear and cold, but wonderfully dark and seeing in the 7 to 8 range. I took my chances yesterday seeing the wispy high clouds spinning off of a low pressure area in northern CA. Hoping upon hope the high pressure area off the Baja coast would keep them from spinning into my field of view. That hope, and $1.70 USD would get me a Venti drip at Starbucks.
With warm Santa Ana winds blowing, the air last night was dry and transparent (for a while). Temperatures were a comfy 12-15C. Can you stand it! On January 3rd? Well I made do. I had to take some layers off, as I was getting too warm. However you've heard about two steps forward one step back? Well the conditions making in comfy warm also brought the evil 'W'. The wind, blowing at roughly 10-25kph, would make it challenging to see any detail on extended objects.
To compound things, the high cirrus clouds in the west that threatened for first few hours, eventually did get come inland and shorten my night. Mostly it became hazy lowering the limiting magnitude to 4 or 5 at times. Certainly not the right weather for chasing down some of the winter Herschel 400 nebulae I had left to tackle. So what's left? You guessed it! The dreaded open cluster! :) So I continued to pick off such objects in the winter milky way for my Herschel 400 quest. They do seem endless do they not? But then, the vast majority of Herschel 400 objects are galaxies and as we all know, they really are endless! Wind and haze don't seem to effect 'Oh Cees' as long as there is no nebulousity associated with them. Otherwise how could you tell!?
Seeing varied. Early on before the haze it was a nice solid 6 or 7. I could see Enceledus pop in and out of view in the 14.5 inch Teleport at 183x. I was able to split epsilon Aries (1.4") without much fanfare at 183x with the 9mm Nagler Type 1. Using the same ocular I could not detect any elongation of 7 Tau (.7"). However when the winds cooperated, I was able to detect elongation part of time using a 6mm zoom Nagler (275x). Telling wind-induced-wobble from elongation can be a real fun! (NO!) Between gust, enough of the time I guessed the PA untill I was convinced. I guessed the PA within about 30 degrees, which my not seem scientific to you, or perhaps even a wild-ass-guess, but it works for me. I rarely fool or lie to myself about observations. What would be the point? Once the haze moved in, under medium powers and up stars became steady fuzzy spots in the telescope. It was tough to see six stars in the trapezium whereas it had been possible at 106x (16mm) earlier. I tried Sirius for millionth time. No pup.
Highlights last night? I thought 2232 in Monoceros stunning. It reminded me of the 'false comet' in Scorpius. With 10 moncerotis making a wonderful nucleus. NGC 2169 was an interesting little splash or stars. NGC 752 a huge open cluster. I had to use the 35mm Panoptic to fit it into the field of view. BTW: I saw an unusual number of fireballs last night. Three on site and 3 driving home. Weird. I mean slow moving, white hot, fireballs. Huh...
I logged about 13 or 14 new Herschel 400 objects last night. I believe that will bring my total for the past 30 days to the 60-70 object range. I have not finished transcribing all the voice files. All-in-all very very productive 30 day period for me. Especially when considering side trips to doubles, or long looks at planetary vistas like the double shadow transits on Jupiter on the might of the 30/31st. Or time spent trying to steal a glimpse of the ever shy and elusive Mimas.
BTW: Finally, not to start an argument, but to encourage others, each Herschel 400 object was star hopped to. No go-to, no push-to. Each was found using Sky Map Pro 8 running on a 700mhz HP laptop with 4 layers of rubylith plastic filtering the screen (an indulgence but a produtive one). I believe I'd have lost a bit of productivily using charts like U2000. But I'd have prevailed.
At the scope either a 50mm finderscope and a Rigel Quickfinder were employed, or an 80mm finderscope and Telrad were brought to bear. In most cases each object was observed with at least low (64x) and medium-high powers (166 Ė 184x). Where it made sense, higher powers (220x +) or a narrow band filter was tried. All told, I believe it will come in a about 160 separate log entries. A decent months work in my book. Your robo-scopes may get you there faster, however I feel confident not with the satisfaction I feel. A few years ago I could find Epsilon Lyra.
My wife asked me last night (Jan 3rd PST) , actually this morning as I got home about 3am, if I was ready to go tonight again! LOL! I kissed her and said. "Sweetie my feet just canít take it." And if I donít get these observations logged Iíll fall so far behind Iíll never catch up! But you have to love a woman who has already planned for more nights out near Palomar Mountain! Sheís a keeper!
Hope you got a flavor of the past 4 sessions...