Fremont Peak


The BB's go bust

by Michael Portuesi

Last night was a mixed observing session at Fremont Peak. My partner Jim and I set up on one of the new observing pads outside the main observatory. I brought my 10" F/7 Dob I built in John Dobson's class some years ago, and Jim set up his 8" LX-90 SCT. We got there in the mid-afternoon, shortly before Jane Houston Jones and Morris Jones set up their 15 and 18" scopes on the flat in front of the classroom entrance.

The observing pads are quite nice; one pad (double-sized) accomodated both our scopes easily. Folks with a big Dob might have a bit of trouble with the "turning radius" while on the pads, but if you stay in the same region of sky, or you can pick up and move the big scope, you can do okay. The red lights are a bit too bright for serious observing; also the light reflects off the aluminum power boxes and reflects everywhere. Painting the power boxes black, and perhaps getting some stronger red filters might solve the problem.

The FPOA Board meeting was happening when we arrived, and I was on hand to watch the 30" mirror get re-installed in the big scope.

Observing was mixed bag. Early evening was nice, with decent seeing and moderately hazy skies, but then a bad case of dew set in and the transparency went realy bad.. My finders (and everyone else's got totally covered by dew, and we all had to end the evening by 11 pm.

My observing project was in Monoceros, following starhop #4 in "Star Hopping for Backyard Astronomers" by Alan MacRobert.

South 529, 7:33 pm - triple star. Flat triangle of stars almost in a line. Rightmost star in FOV (southernmost) yellowish, leftmost (northernmost) bluish, center star red.

NGC 2259, 7:53 pm. Could not identify this one for certain. Sky conditions were a bit hazy tonight.

NGC 2265, 8:06 pm. "Christmas Tree Cluster" - Spectacular open cluster that really looks like an Xmas tree. Bases is S Monocerotis, the ornament at the top of the tree is Struve 954, an okay-looking double. S forms the base of the tree. Three bright stars form one side of the tree, and a row of dimmer, irregularly spaced stars forms other side of tree.

At this point, I was interrupted in my star hop by some park visitors who wanted a sky show.

NGC 2261, 9:40 pm. Hubble's Variable Nebula - Looks like a small, fan-shapped comet. The tip is noticeably brighter than the fanned-out portion. Through a 13mm Lanthanum Superwide (139x), the comet-like appearance is even more obvious. I stopped to borrow one of Jane's pencils to sketch this sight.

Dew had set in big-time at this point, and I spent much time trying to un-fog my finderscopes.

NGC 2251, 10:20 pm. Open cluster, long, diagonal chain of stars. Made a sketch of this through the 13 mm Lanthanum SW.

At this point, I was just about to quit; the dew was horrible. But Jane insisted I make one more observation, to close out the night. She showed me the view through her 17.5", then invited my to find it in my 10" Dob. I toweled off my Telrad and carried on.

M49, 10:53 pm. Elliptical, fuzzy core situated between two moderately bright field stars. Almost forms a straight line with them.

...and that finishes my AL Messier Certificate.

If anyone's reading this far, I asked for help on counterweights for my Dob earlier in the week, and got plenty of suggestions. I settled for BB's in double-plastic bags, mounted at the bottom of my tube box. Well, this is less than ideal. The velcro strips won't stay stuck to the plastic, and so the bags fall out after a few hours pointed upward. Then the bags broke (despite being double bagged) and started leaking BB's all over the floor of the observatory classroom. So I need to work on a better solution - maybe lead weights are the way to go after all, or at the bare minimum cloth bags to hold the BB's.

It was a short and wet night, but it was a fun one, and marked by several special events and accomplishments.