Fremont Peak 2/2/03

by David Kingsley

Given the weekend forecast, I decided to get work and sleep done on Saturday, and head out Sunday night instead. I'm glad I waited the extra day.

Last night at the Peak, I found very clear skies, temps in low 40s, and humidity about 50-60%. There was a persistent low level breeze but no strong gusts. The wind was enough to cause the view to quiver at times, but I did not find it bothersome enough to inhibit observing. There was absolutely no problem with dew anywhere (even on my telrad). I was set up on one of the new observing pads in front of the observatory. My 14.5 inch Starmaster Dob is about as large a scope as the pads could accommodate comfortably. But for that size scope (no ladder), the pad worked well, and provided a nice, level, non-dusty surface for observing. The seeing started out fair, and improved to excellent during the course of the night. I hunted up a mix of shallow and deep sky objects, including: a mutual moon eclipse on Jupiter, the beautiful pinkish planetary nebula in Lepus (IC 418), several new extragalactic globular clusters (three in the Fornax dwarf galaxy, a handful of new ones more from my large observing list in M31), the integral sign galaxy (highly extended U03697, plus a bonus of two other nearby UGC companions), and a bunch of other targets and old favorites.

I set up around 6:30 pm, and was originally planning to leave around midnight. However, every time I would get ready to go, I would point at an object and such a great view at the eyepiece, that I would soon go off to "just one more." Before I knew it, another hour would slip by, and then another. When I pointed the scope at Jupiter a little before 2am, I let out an audible whistle at one of the best views I had ever had of the gas giant. The GRS was near the central meridian of the planet. There was an amazing amount of detail in the equatorial band surrounding the GRS, including a dark edge in the hollow preceding the spot, a long train of white ovals trailing the spot, color in the spot and cloud bands. Just awesome. The outstanding and very steady view set me off on a whole additional round of picking up "last targets". Finally, I forced myself to reach up and cap off the eyepiece around 2:40 am or so, in order to keep myself from staying all night.

The night reminded me a lot of another excellent observing session at the Peak on January 6th. That night also took place after skipping an iffy Saturday observing session, and planning a trip around the weather rather than the day of the week on which the weather came. The night in early January also came with a great small group of other observers, all sharing eyepiece views, observing projects, and quiet comradery. I was set up alone by the observatory last night, with John Gleason down the hill doing astrophotography. Although I missed the quiet comradery of the January 6th group, I still had a wonderful night, and one that left me tired but full of photons today.