by Casey Fukuda
Marek and I showed up at around 5:40 pm. It appeared we'd be the lonely duo up there for the evening. The minute we had our scopes set up, Marek asked, "Have you seen the comet yet?" I had not, so he proceeded to swing his 10" dob around in a westerly direction. Within in seconds, he was giving me details on how wonderful the comet looked. My "go to" scope did not have Comet Neat in it's data base, so I had to manually slew over to the fleeting object. Marek pointed his green laser at the spot and with a little fussing, my C-11 ota was trained on the comet. What a wonderful appetizer to begin the evening. Comet Neat has a classic shape. The head is bright and almost naked eye visible. The tail was long and sleek and wouldn't fit in my 35mm Panoptic fov. The blue color seemed sureal. "Outstanding" is one way to describe it. I'm glad I got to see it. Within a few minutes, it had set behind a tree at the top of the western horizon.
M42 was already high in the sky, so we headed there next to treat ourselves with some eye candy while our scopes equalized to the ambiant temperature. We both agreed that M42 is a site that must be appreciated over a period of time. "I can stare at that nebula all night long," Marek exclaimed. I agreed whole heartedly. Even with the moon at 1st quarter, the Great Orion Nebula was spectacular. A great 1st course.
Speaking of the moon, last night's terminator was in an exceptional position. Splitting mountain ranges, mares, lava tubes and craters, the line between night and day revealed some awesome sights. With the moon nearly at the zenith, the seeing held up quite well. Even at high power, the crisp views offered more last night than I think I have ever seen. A sucessful second course.
After a quick sandwich, Marek and I were having fun with his green laser. My newbie curiosity got the better of me and a teach and quiz impromptu class ensued with the winter constellations as the topic. Marek was in his usual role as "teacher" and I as "student." While our session was underway, David pulled up with his new XT8 Dob. He joined our discussion as he set up his scope.
Saturn and Jupiter were getting most of our attention next. The Great Red Spot was looking nice during moments of good seeing. Just before 8pm, Io peaked out from behind the western limb of Jupiter. Nice. Later Saturn's Cassini Division prominently displayed itself in the rings.
Just about that time 3 or 4 carloads of young people entered the parking lot. With their headlights blazing and music turned up loud, I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive with the crowd, which numbered around 25. I couldn't tell if we were in for a rowdy group or what. They turned out to be a nice bunch of Stanford students on an outing to gaze at the stars. I offered them a look at Saturn and they cued up respectfully, each waiting patiently for their turn. My reward was the usual ohhs and ahhs, and some with their very first look at the rings. Our dinner for two had turned into a large dinner party. There were plenty of planet views and DSO's to feed everyone. The moon, M42 and Jupiter went over with the same enthusiasm from the crowd.
It seemed Peter and Yuen (sp?), the two astronomers from the group, were asked to lead their star party. Yuen brought his C-9.25 and G-11 Losmandy mount and Peter brought his 10" custom made Dob for their viewing pleasure. After a couple of hours, the group called it a night and left. Marek, David, Peter, Yuen and I got back the the business of gazing.
By 11pm Canes Venatici and Coma Berenices had risen. The galaxies are back! We feasted on M81, M82, M51, M101, M104 & M64. All were bright with visible dust lanes. What a main course. By 12:30 the moon had set and the skies really turned dark. The galaxy views were even more spectacular. By then, I had a jones to see some globs. M3 looked great after the moon set.
Finally around 1:30, we all started packing up. David, Peter and Yuen left us around 2. I was ready to go by 2:30. Marek left his XT10 set up until the very last moment. Our desert for the night, M13. And what a desert it was. Even deep in the eastern light dome of MB, this always pleasing glob, didn't fail to live up to it's billing. What a great way to end the night.
PS Next time your out observing with Marek, ask him to pull out his night vision monocular. Very cool. After I get a green laser, that's my next toy.