Fremont Peak Last Night; Sunday, Jan. 5, 2003

by Peter Natscher

I went up again within 24 hrs. to do observing at the Coulter Row area on Fremont Peak after a dissatisfying attempt at observing on the cloudy Saturday night. Sunday night was a totally different affair. The temp. was 54F and the air was dry with an offshore breeze from the northeast. The upper level winds the arrived Sunday pushed all of Saturday's clouds away but threatened our evening with gusts around the peak until sunset. The air finally settled down enough for us to set up our two 20 in. Dobs and await darkness. Yes, the wind was up there, above us (Derek S. and I) mushing the stars, and Saturn, up if viewing above 240X, but the great Transparency made the evening. My choice of bringing the 20 in. Dob was a winner. I devoted my time ('til 11 pm) to observing small planetaries (10 to 4 arc-sec dia.) and oddly shaped emission nebula, which the constellations of Perseus and Orion have plenty of.

My observing started by 6:20 pm while the last remnant of a very colorful sunset remained. Because of the prevailing upper-level winds, any sky up to 40 degrees in elevation displayed softness. The sky above 40 degrees all around offered sharper views. I initially spent a good amount of observing time in Perseus since it was nearly overhead at the time and offered tight stars at the higher powers I desired. These were my observing highlights for the evening:

M79, Perseus, planetary nebula, mag. 10.1; both lobes connected with easily visible bridge. The outer circular halo is visible and a faint star noticed on the s. lobe at 98X. There is always something new to be seen with this interestingly detailed planetary.

IC2003, PK161-14.1, Perseus, planetary nebula, mag. 12.5, 7" dia., tiny bright blue disk with a mag. 13.5 star 15" to the west. Its annular shape displays a some circular ring detail and a dark center at 180X along with an occasional mag. 15.3 central star when the seeing settled. The luminous disk is located within a field of close mag. 9 through 12 stars.

M33, Triangulum, face-on spiral galaxy, was visible naked-eye with averted vision.

M31, Andromeda, spiral galaxy, halo was easily visible naked-eye along with a brighter stellar core.

NGC1491, Perseus, emission nebula, a fan-shaped glow easily visible without filters at 180X. The addition of a UHC filter brings out the shape better, and the use of a O-III filter allows the mottled detail within the fan to be seen.

IC351, Perseus, planetary nebula, mag. 12.0, 7" dia., small blue oval-shaped disk with occasional mag. 15.8 central star blinking when seeing settled. Disk is evenly bright with no detail seen, close to mag. 14 star.

M42, Orion, emission & reflection nebula, noticed a great amount of deep-red coloring alongside the brighter blue areas at 70X. E & F stars in Trapezium easy to see along with a 4-5 fainter neighboring stars.

NGC1624, Perseus, open cluster with emission nebula, "L"-shaped star asterism embedded in a circular glowing emission nebula. Nebula barely visible without filter but comes alive with use of a UHC filter at 180X.

M79, Lepus, globular cluster, mag. 7.8, 8.7' dia., a remote and compact globular cluster with core resolved and good fov scale at 240X. Halo of many mag. 10 stars.

NGC 1888/1889, Lepus, galaxies, mag. 11.9/13.3, a close pair of dissimilar galaxy shapes; 1888 an elongated oval shape with 1889 a tiny circular stellar shape touching 1888 at 240X.

NGC2024, Orion, emission nebula, "Flame Nebula", bright irregular glow with dark matter dividing it into two detailed areas. Was easily visible without filters. UHC filter brings out more contrast and detail.

NGC2023, Orion, emission & reflection nebula, circular bluish glow surrounding a mag. 7 star.

B33/IC434, Orion, emission nebula, The "Horsehead Nebula" was barely visible against IC434 without filters but looked very nice with the use of a H-Beta filter at 98X.

NGC2022, Orion, planetary nebula, mag. 11.9, 18" dia., the planetary's disk is in the form of an oval shape with blue coloring and a visible central star of mag. 14.9. Three annular shells of detail were noted at 360X.

P205.1+14.2, Gemini, planetary nebula, "Medusa Nebula", mag. 10.3, 615" dia., large and faint planetary, was visible without filters but looked very nice with an 48mm O-III filter and a 2" eyepiece at lower power. The nebula exhibits an evenly-bright crescent shape with curved detail structure extending from both of its two pointed ends.