Observing Report - Saturday Fiddletown

by Jane E. Smith

Fiddletown Site, January 4, 2003
Equipment10" Tom Osypowski Dob
Televue TV-85
Eye Pieces30mm Type II Widescan, 16mm T5, 13mm T6, 9mm T6, 4.8mm Naglers
Other observers presentShneor Sherman, Gregg Blandin, Marsha Robinson, Steve Gottlieb and Randy Muller

A dry crust of bread after a month of starvation can seem like a feast. That's pretty much what Fiddletown was like last night. Transparency was poor to terrible, long streaks of wispy clouds kept drifting through, obscuring huge chunks of sky, seeing degenerated from an 8/10 to 6/10 as evening progressed, and constant warnings of "Last chance to see such-and-such", emanating from the northeast, obliterated any chance of serenity on this balmy Saturday night. Even so, I had a great time.

Marsha, Gregg and Shneor were already setting up when I arrived about 4:15pm. Randy Muller, noted author of "Ode to Saturn" and other remarkable prose, pulled in a few minutes behind me. The last to arrive was Steve Gottlieb at about 6:30pm.

I spent the first hour or so setting up, eating dinner, catching up on my astro-chatting and exploring the condition of the site's "facility". Suffice it to say that Charlie was right, the bushes are far more desirable.

This was my first night out with Gary Manning's 10", an incredible little scope which he loaned me when I sold the EL (Thank You Gary!). Despite taunts from Randy about how awful it would be to collimate, it dialed in perfectly, in record time. The rather unique focuser took a bit of adjusting to, but aside from an occasional squeak, worked like a charm.

My new TV-85 was also on hand, a recent acquisition from Bob Jardine, a Bay Area TACo. A loaner Stellarvue eq. mount from Jim Ster (Thank You Jim!) came in handy. I must admit however, that I'm somewhat baffled as to how to work this mount. It's a mystery! It has more knobs and dials than a double-oven, none of which do what is expected. So I ended up turning knobs at random until the scope pointed in the direction I wanted it to go. This worked pretty well.

I spent only a small part of the evening with the TV-85 as the 10" was beckoning, however I did check out Saturn which looked incredibly small in comparison to what I could see in my late-great EL. After popping in the 9mm Nagler, no sign of M1. I tried boosting magnification, but the image started degrading much past 100x. Decided to try later.

Next it was on to M42 to try out a new 2" Lumicon OIII filter screw into the 30mm Type II Wide Scan. Despite the awful transparency the nebula was stunning, a pale bluish hazy mass dominating the field, with the Trapezium stars appearing as a small bright blob of starlight. I decided this will not only be a great finderscope, it will be perfect for panning the summer skies of Sagittarius.

I then moved to the 10" and pointed at Saturn. It looked incredibly pretty tipped such that the entire outer A-ring was visible. Four moons popped into view, but no M1. I tried a bunch of eyepieces and the OII filter again, but no M1. Decided to try later.

After spending about an hour looking for the illusive Crab, I moved on to a clear portion in the eastern sky and did some comparison work on three of the open clusters in Auriga, M36(NGC1960), M37(NGC2099), and M38(NGC1912). Easy to find along the Theta Aurigae-Beta Aurigae side of the constellation, all three clusters are very large and bright. M37, with 150 stars, was the most interesting, showing dark areas throughout the cluster. O'Meara describes it as "a pear-shaped cluster of scintillating diamonds", a very Houston-like description I think. M37 and M38 in comparison were much less dense and nowhere near as interesting. I'm not much for open clusters, but I think M36 must be the prettiest one in the sky.

Then it was back to Saturn for a few more looks. No M1. Decided to try later. About this time Gregg and Steve decided to call it a night. Steve had held off setting up his scope in hopes that the sky would clear, but by 10:30pm transparency still had a VHSF so he left in favor of Sunday night. As luck would have it, Gregg's scope sacrifice aided by my packing up the TV-85, was just enough to appease the astronomy gods. The sky cleared to Mag 6-6.5 for several hours. Seeing was still hovering around 7/10.

So it was on to Ursa Major for a look at M81 and M82, and a few surrounding galaxies. I never seem to tire of looking at this pair. The long thin cigar M82 is such an interesting contrast to the wide, chubby spiral M81. I spent some time hunting down NGC 3077 which at first gave me some trouble. When I couldn't readily find it I wondered if maybe the sky wasn't good enough, but that didn't make sense because 3077 is listed as Mv 9.8 in my Sky Atlas Companion and M82 is Mv 8.4. I figured if I could see M82 I should be able to see 3077. I whined a bit and Randy came over for a look. He said he could see it and that it was "incredibly bright", so I realized I'd been looking in the wrong place. I went back to searching. I eventually found it about 180 degrees from where I'd been looking. DUH! (When am I going to learn that what I see on the chart is flipped from what I see in the EP?) 3077 was indeed bright with a very bright core. It easily fit in the FOV with M81 and M82. I then went looking for the fourth galaxy, NGC 2976 at Mv 10.2 and about a degree southwest of M81. Found it in a flash, since I'd finally got my orientation right. It was large and almost as bright as 3077, but I couldn't detect any core.

By this time Jupiter was getting high in the sky so I thought I'd see what the other gas giant had to offer. It was nowhere near as impressive as Saturn. Seeing had degraded quite a bit by this time.. Three moons were visible and the banding was clear, but no barges were noted.

Also, interspersed during the evening were several great views in Shneor's 18": Thor's Helmet, the Eskimo Nebula, and the most incredible, the double Quasar in Ursa Major. I'll leave these descriptions to Shenor, but it was exciting to finally see the double quasar after the recent discussion of lensed quasars on TAC-SAC. Also of note was the view of the M45 in Shneor's new monster 100mm binos. It was like looking through a pair of my TV-85s. The 3-D effect was incredible. These are going to be incredible for the southern summer horizon too.

I also had a number of looks in Randy's scope, but the views got rather redundant. Randy had decided to do a marathon on Saturn. We are however, grateful to Randy for his pooper-scooper activity, something from which we all benefited.

Marsha persevered at her Hershel 2500 list all evening long. Most of the time the only evidence of her presence was the swish-swish of her nylon pants as she shuttled back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, from her scope to her charts. Such dedication is an inspiration to us all!

The only other comment I have to make about the evening has to do with the road. It was not as improved as I'd hoped. Some gravel had been spread along the first section, but little had been done to the hill section. If this erosion is not addressed soon the site will become inaccessible to all but 4-wheel drive vehicles. Isn't there something we can do about this? Fifteen to twenty bags of gravel would work wonders. I'd be happy to volunteer my truck for hauling should others volunteer to help with the spreading effort, and we can get permission from the owner. I have a 3-day weekend coming up on the weekend of January 18th. Let me know what you think.