Coe, Coyote, Virgo, and more... What a night!

by Marek Cichanski

So, there I was, at about 4:30 Saturday afternoon, doing what everyone else was probably doing. I was obsessively surfing back and forth between the CSCs, the GOES-10 loops, and the TAC page, trying to decide what to do, and trying to figure out what everyone else was doing. Didn't seem like there were a lot of OIs in the air, probably because of the pessimistic forecasts.

Finally, at 4:45 I got a wild hair and headed out the door. Car was already packed from Friday night. I figured I'd go to Coe. I guessed that I'd probably be alone, and that seemed like a nice place to observe solo, assuming that the infamous Coe winds didn't kick up...

Had a nice fast drive to HCSP, and when I got there an English father-daughter pair was setting up an XT8. They bailed around astro twilight, not liking the looks of all the cirrus. I had a strange faith in the weather, and so hung out for a while longer, mostly looking at Saturn and Jupiter, plus a few bright DSOs like M42, M41, M46, and M47. Tried to bag a few dim galaxies and planetaries that I saw on my shiny new SA2000 field edition sheets, but didn't have a lot of luck.

It seemed to be getting a lot clearer around 9 pm, but the wind was kicking up. Seeing was staying decent, and transparency was improving, but it was no longer practical to go above 100x, what with the OTA shaking like a leaf. Managed to bag a couple of galaxies in Hydra, until I noticed that the infamous Coe dust was getting on my shiny new Paracorr - unacceptable! And then the wind grabbed the SA2000 sheet out of my hands and flung it across the parking lot. @#$% this!

So, there I was, heading back down the Coe road at 9:30. Bummer! Too bad about the wind, it was getting so nice and clear. Hmmm... maybe I should bop down to Coyote. Maybe it's less windy there. Maybe someone else is set up there. Ahh, what the heck, I'll give it a go.

(our hero chokes on the noxious miasma of agricultural fumes as he passes through Morgan Hill...worse than I've ever smelled it before.)

Quick like bunny over to the boat ramp at Coyote. Bathroom lights are off, but no one is observing. Place is quiet and windless. Warmer, too. I set up as fast as possible, and jumped feet-first into Leo.

Part of this weekend's observing was a "proof of concept" test of my new finder and charts. I got an Orion 9x50 erect-image, right-angle finder, and mounted it near the eyepiece, so that I hardly have to move my head to alternate between using the finder and looking through the main scope. Also bought the field edition of SA2000. I've mostly been a laptop user, but I wanted to try using the paper charts, too. Together, the finder/charts combo worked like a dream. I was able to track stuff down much faster than I ever expected. Boom, boom, boom, shooting down incoming bogeys like nobody's business.

Stayed at Coyote from 10:30 until 1:30. The sky got really clear, and it stayed still. Some moderate dew. Not a soul around. 'Classical 102.1' playing softly on the car radio. A little bit of that noisome vapor seeped over from Gilroy, but I was not to be deterred. I was bound and determined to do my first big night of galaxy-hopping, ever.

I didn't log any of these objects in detail, but here's the rundown of galaxies that I saw and identified in Leo and Virgo. ">" indicates a hop of some distance.

Leo: 3169, 3166 > M96, 95, 105 > 3384, 3389 > 3346 > 3485 > 3489 > 3593 > M 66, 65 > 3628 > 3608, 3607, 3599 > 3626 > 3659 > 3686, 3691, 3684 > 3681.

Then on to the heart of "downtown Virgo" for basically the first time. I'd looked at Markarian's Chain for the first time the night before, technically, but it was in a desultory and dilletantish fashion. Now I was determined to do some serious damage...

Virgo: M98 > M99 > 4298, 4302 > M100 > 4350, 4340 > M85, 4394 > 4450 > 4498, 4489 > 4540 > 4571 > M91 > M90 > M89, 4531 > 4550, 4551 > M87, 4478 > 4440 > then, if I'm not mistaken, there began the odyssey along the famous Markarian's Chain ... I was psyched! > M84, M86, 4387, 4388, 4413, 4425, 4438, 4435, 4458, 4461 (and possibly another gx that may not be in SA2000), 4473, 4477, 4459 (next to a star - still no moon at 12:55 am!...), 4474, M88. Whew! Goodnight, nurse, I'm spent!

This must sound silly, but the whole thing was actually quite exhilarating. The sense of concentration and, well, motion, was as intense as in any physical adventure. I felt like I'd just done a long rock climb or an intense cave trip.

I finished up with M3 and M13 in the last minutes before the moon rose. 45 degrees at departure (1:38 am). I'd had to zap the finder once, but dew wasn't too bad otherwise. Saw a small herd of deer as I was heading out.

Awesome night. CSCs were wrong, for once - and in just the way we want them to be! Two gambles in one night had paid off, and I got to see Galaxy Central as a result. Sweet!

Hope that y'all had an equally good night!