Fremont Peak 1/29/03

by Bob Czerwinski

Rich Neuschaefer wrote:
From the GOES10 images it looks like the sky may clear this evening.

And indeed it did. (Thanks, Rich!)

Late Wednesday afternoon, standing in a San Jose parking lot with a freshly loaded thermos of Starbucks' soy-something-or-other, the sky definitely looked clearer to the south than it did to the north, so I made a spur-of-the-moment decision and headed south to Fremont Peak. My 18" Starmaster had been sitting in my car since visiting Fog City (aka Henry Coe) with many of you gentle people last Saturday.

Sky conditions were pretty decent at the Peak last night, with seeing a solid "four" on that ubiquitous one-to-five scale, and often even better. Transparency was pretty decent, too, even though a couple bands of high clouds passed overhead during the evening, moving NW to SE. No fog down below the Peak, which really surprised me. I'd left my Radio Shack temperature/humidity thingy at the house, but temps seemed relatively mild through the evening, and no moisture developed on the 18" 'scope.

I spent most of the evening in Cancer, Leo and at the edges of Canes Venatici and Virgo, chasing down selected H2500 items. Most of these items were, in my opinion, just non-descript galaxies, and I was relatively successful in locating most of them. Well, at least I think so. I'd left my PC at the house, too (Ye gods!!), so I ended up working from an abbreviated H2500 print-out (less the H400-I & II items) for these constellations, along with my handy-dandy H-B Astroatlas. With no PC available, I avoided crowded galaxy areas, knowing I'd likely misidentify a galaxy. My H2500 sheet just listed the NGC designation and RA/DEC coordinates for the items, so I was further handicapped by not knowing the magnitude, surface brightness or size of the galaxies I was after. For the first time in a lonnnng time I actually had to put pencil to paper, noting star fields and relative galaxy locations, just to make certain I properly post-identify what it was I actually saw last night. Guess I'll be playing with this stuff this coming weekend.

I ran into problems locating several items, a couple in Leo and one in CVn. Although I'm quite certain I was in the correct positions, I couldn't locate NGC 3498 and 3616 in Leo, nor could I properly identify 4401 in Virgo. Here were the problems:

3498: Assuming the coordinates I have are fine, I was able to locate both 3489 and 3485 nearby. 3498 should have formed a nice triangle with these two. A surface brightness problem?

3616: Should have been just outside of the field with Theta Leonis, and in the same field with NGC 3596. Again, if the coordinates are correct, maybe another SB problem?

4401: This is entirely different from the others. Coordinates put it right in the middle of the area occupied by NGC 4395, a huge haze with two or three HII regions. I identified 4395 with no problem, which was best viewed with relatively low magnification. Is 4401 just one of the HII regions, much like NGC 604 in M33? Is there a separate galaxy in that mess?

Obviously I've got some homework to do with the items noted above. Again, another task for the upcoming weekend.

About 1:30am I took another turn at locating the Double Quasar in Ursa Major, QSO 0957+561AB. I still had the image sheet I'd printed from, and it was very easy to find big/bright NGC 3079, as well as to identify nearby 3073. As I did back on Jan. 6th, I quickly found the asterism pointing to this QSO, and this time I identified the QSO itself, and could actually hold it about 50-percent of the time with averted vision. No matter the magnification, I couldn't split the QSO into two components, but the elongation was clearly unmistakable. I've got to try this thing from the Sierras! How easy is it to split this thing? Can it be done with an 18" 'scope?

Early in the evening I took a look at both Jupiter and Saturn, both of which were just beautiful. A lot of action in Jupiter's equatorial zone and belts, with the GRS transiting around 10:00pm. Somewhere around midnight - I didn't note the time - I returned to Jupiter, and caught a moon and shadow transit. The moon, and its nearly-touching preceding shadow, seemed to move pretty quickly, so I'll venture a guess it was either Io or Europa. I caught the event just as it started, with the moon just off Jupiter's limb, and the shadow already on the planet. Very cool to watch!

Anyway, I had a fun time last night. (But I sure missed my PC!)