Fremont Peak Observing: February 22, 2003

by Peter Natscher

Last night up at Fremont Peak turned out to be a better night than expected, from the CSC's rather gloomy forecast. All five of us (Craig & Elena, Bob C., and Jamie D. at the Ranger's House parking area and me set up at the Coulter Area next to three campers) agree it was very worthwhile making the drive up to the Peak though the sky forecast was grim. The CSC called for poor seeing, poor transparency, and a good degree of cloudiness. Forecast or not, I had to get out to observe anything in the sky. After setting up my 20" Starmaster Dob at 4 pm, I was concerned about the increasing cloudiness moving in from the west. By sunset, most of the sky was covered with fairly thick cirrus clouds. I've been trough that before and much of the time, the sky clears up again after dark. Sure enough, by twilight, the north star was shining well through the leafless oaks for me to polar align my Go-To Dob. The brighter stars and planets above began popping into view assuring me now of a more promising night of observing.

My first view was during twilight at 7:15 pm of Saturn and it immediately revealed a very sharp ringed-planet with the crepe ring showing very bright in sub-arcsec. seeing and good transparency. I was using my new TeleVue 9mm Nagler at 240X. I was surprised that early on to have easily seen six moons encircling the beautifully ringed Saturn, down to the faintest moon Mimas, at mag. 12 The Enkle minima was also very contrasty in the outermost A-ring along with a complete Cassini division sharply visible all the way around the globe. Things were looking very good above. The clouds and muck were disappearing and the winter milky way was beginning to show. All the mag. 1, 2, and 3 stars had absolutely no scintillation, not even Sirius.

Before dark, I was approached by a couple who were camping in their VW Camper at Coulter, and another man who was car-camping there, too. They wanted to have a look thought my, as they put it, totally massive telescope (my 20" Starmaster Dob). I was gazing at Saturn at the time and the tack sharp view thoroughly blew there socks off. I ended up scrubbing my personal observing plans to show the three of them a couple of hour's worth of a sky tour. I wasn't alone observing at Coulter after all. This was more fun than doing my own observing. I love getting other's turned on to the views for the first time. It reminds me of my first times at an eyepiece. I showed them all the big bright stuff along with their descriptions and varied the kinds of objects. The winter sky offers a lot of variety. I remember that, for me, the winter sky was the first sky I had observed with my first telescope in 1962; a glossy white Edmund 4-1/4" Newtonian on a GEM. And, Saturn was their as the first planet I saw in that sky along with sparkling Orion, Taurus, and Gemini.