Fremont Peak 1/6/03

by Bob Czerwinski

A wonderful time at Fremont Peak State Park last night. A half-dozen of us set up our gear over on the observatory side of the park, enjoying cloud-free skies (YES!!!), temperatures in the 50's, and very low humidity. Even though we were wind-free, the seeing was a bit soft for detailed planetary work; call it a 3 on a scale of 1-5. The skies were certainly fine for galaxy hunting, however, with excellent transparency, which is how I spent the majority of my night. Jamie Dillon estimated the limiting magnitude to be in the neighborhood of mag. 6.3~6.5 all night long. As far as I could tell, the Clear Sky Clock prediction was right on the money.

Observing with my 18" Starmaster, my first view of the evening was actually directed toward the Moon, the result of David Kingsley pointing out a "cave" effect on the eastern side of crater Langrenus (assuming I've post-identified the crater properly in my Rukl atlas). This is a beautiful crater, with double floor-peaks and incredible wall formations. Not long after this, David, with finder charts in hand, had located comet C/2002 V1 (NEAT), positioned midway between Gamma Pegasi (Algenib) and Delta Piscium. I borrowed David's charts, and brought the comet up in my own 'scope. A beautiful sight. Jamie thought he detected a bit of a tail off to the west as well.

We had collectively looked for Comet Kudo-Fujikawa (C/2002 X5) low to the west in Hercules, thinking we might catch site of it in the twilight, but were unable to find it before the ranger's residence and other nearby structures blocked it's western position. I should have made a subsequent early-morning attempt, but was just too tired to do so.

Following last Saturday's transit action, Saturn and M1 were, once again, easily visible as paired objects in the eyepiece. The Crab was still pretty washed out by Saturn's glare, but there was no mistaking its glow in the eyepiece.

While awaiting Moonset, I actually hunted several H2500 objects in Cetus. Yes, I know it's really waaaay too late in the season for this constellation, but I was missing a few galaxies and thought I'd make one last attempt for several of 'em. With Cetus literally wrapping itself around the Peak to the SW, this was mainly a lesson in futility. My next visit to Cetus will likely have to wait 'til fall.

My intended H2500 target group for the night was in Cancer. While waiting for Cancer to favorably position itself, I spent a fair amount of time chasing down a number of asteroids, as well as looking over a number of winter showcase items. The head ranger had come out from his residence to chat with us, along with his wife, also a State park employee, so we provided 'em with views of Saturn/M1, the NEAT comet, M31/32/110, the M42 complex, etc.

While marching along on my H2500 hunt in Cancer, Jamie Dillon advised us that he'd nailed the Fornax Dwarf Galaxy (MCG-6-7-1/PGC10074) in his 11" Newt/Dob, so I gave this item a whirl in my 'scope as well. Using TheSky to identify/match the foreground star field and the approximate "borders" of this galaxy, at 63x I could just detect the subtle change in the galaxy's "glow," and I mean *very* subtle, but only toward its SE edge ... assuming I have my directions correct. Jamie could see this particular glow change as well. Save for this, I could detect no other evidence of the galaxy whatsoever. NGC 1049, the globular cluster most associated with this galaxy, was readily visible. At 133x, this glob resembled a small 13th mag. galaxy with a small bright core.

Despite the mediocre seeing conditions, Jupiter and its moons put on quite a show for us last night. Started off with Europa's occultation of Io, which began about 11:30pm. Not long after, Europa's inky black shadow appeared on Jupiter's limb, perfectly positioned in the center of the equatorial zone between the north and south equatorial belts. Soon to follow was Io's shadow, racing to catch up with Europa's. This shadow activity was, to me, the best part of the planetary action last night. With his tracking 14.5" Starmaster, David Kingsley provided us with the best views of the event. As David pointed out, the shadow of Io appeared larger and crisper than that of Europa, and when seeing/magnification permitted, the contrast in the difference of the colors of the two moons themselves could also be recognized. Quite a sight! I didn't get anything out of Europa's 1:15am'ish partial eclipse of Io during Io's Jupiter transit; the seeing didn't really provide the crisp view necessary to detail the event. If Io had dimmed, well, I sure couldn't tell. Still, quite a night for Jupiter, Io and Europa, that's for sure!

Despite being temporarily blinded by Jupiter <grin>, I kept up my H2500 activities in Cancer until sometime after 4:00am, having spent almost six-hours hunting Cancer's H2500 galaxies. Following up on some of the exploits of our TAC-SAC brethren, I took a couple of breaks to try and locate the Double Quasar in Ursa Major, QSO 0957+561AB. Using the excellent image I'd printed from, I quickly found the "signpost" pointing to this QSO, but could not detect the QSO itself. I knew exactly where it was, but not even my imagination could bring it to light. I think I needed both better seeing and darker skies for this object, so a trip back to the Sierra foothills is definitely in order.

With Jamie having departed just before us, Jeff Blanchard and I were the last two to leave Fremont Peak, and I locked the observatory road gate right at 5:30am. A great night! And yes, I was beat!