First Light, Starmaster 18" GOTO

by Jane E. Smith

February 21, 2003
Blue Canyon
Starmaster 18" GOTO
Jane Smith

After fighting the Friday traffic, I arrived at Blue Canyon around 5:30pm. The entry drive had a couple of inches of snow, but thanks to Alvin Huey, Brian Zehring, and Randy Muller, there was a nice track to follow. Alvin's handcrafted 22", Randy's 18" Starmaster and Brian's new 30" Starmaster GOTO were all setup. Brian's 30" dwarfed everything in sight. What a beauty!

Temps ranged in the high 20's, low 30s. Transparency was about a 6/10. Seeing about 7/10 and softened up later in the night. This was my first "official" outing with the 18".

Randy helped me lift the stacked mirrorbox, rockerbox and secondary for my 18" out of the truck, something for which I'm sure I'll be reminded for months to come ;) The setup went quickly enough although I had to feel around in the dark at the end... good practice. Marsha Robinson with her 14.5" Starmaster pulled in just as I was screwing down the secondary cage. Collimation went quickly.

Following a two-star alignment using Polaris and Regulus, I spent a number of minutes acquainting myself with the Star Tracker's control panel and GOTO button. Isn't technology wonderful! As nice as it is, this system will take some getting used to. Once I'd figured out how to make everything go where I wanted it to go, I started after my first object of the night.

I had intended "first light" be Hickson 44 in Leo, but it was still a bit low, so I popped in the 16mm Nagler, dialed in M97, and "sung" my way to my sentimental favorite, M97, the Owl Nebula in Ursa Major. This was also "first light" for my 12.5". It looked like a big mushy brown pillow hanging in the sky... a very fun object. Then, while I was in the neighborhood, I checked out M108, a stunning edge-on galaxy that stretchs the entire FOV in my 9mm Nagler eyepiece.

About this time Jim Ster drove in to mooch some views, stir up some trouble, and offer me a much-appreciated cup of hot coffee. It was now time for Hickson 44 which is the brightest of the Hickson galaxy groups. With the dimmest component, NGC3187 at mag 13.1, I figured it would be an easy target. It was. All four members of the group were easy to see. I was, however, surprised by the size of the group. I'd always gotten the impression that Hickson's were all very small. This one isn't. It fit nicely in the field of my 13mm Nagler.

Having bagged my first Hickson, I was now feeling cocky and confident. Hickson 55 in Drago was next. This one almost skunked me. So much for feeling cocky! I was able to locate the star field without much trouble, but no Hickson 55. I called over the resident "Hickson Master", Randy Muller, who said he could barely see a blur where the group was suppose to be. I was at 220X with the 9mm Nagler. I looked at the field again and still couldn't see it... until I moved the scope a little. Then it popped out. That was the best I could do. Maybe under a better sky... I'll try again tonight.

The rest of the night was spent cruising through bright eye-candy and ended with Jupiter and Saturn just as my eyepieces were starting to dew up and the moon starting to rise. View of the night belongs to Marsha in her 14.5"... Jupiter with one of the moons sitting right on the edge of the planet looking like a pimple. Fun view. The views in Brian's Beasty were fantastic too.... M51 looked like it does in books and the Double-Quasar was an easy split. I heard Brian also found Hickson 50, although I didn't get to see it.

All in all a very fun night, a bit wet, a bit cold, but a great time. Back out tonight for another dose.