Fremont Peak Observing, March 1, 2003; Enter, The Lion!

by Peter Natscher

Kicking off the Fremont Peak observing for this spring, 2003, worked out very well for the eight of us closely setup at the Ranger Row area of Fremont Peak. I was chose to bring my 20" Starmaster Dob anticipating a dark and transparent night of seeing. We were among others in the distance at the FPOA observatory handling club business and observing, too.

As the sun set at 6 pm, we were surprised by a 1/2 hour period of passing mountain fog blowing in from the west. The entire Peak area became enshrouded with a cloud. This raised the humidity wetting scopes up as they were awaiting darkness. I quickly covered my Dob to keep it as dry as possible. I was ready to power up my Dob's secondary heater by installing the 9V battery. By the end of twilight though, the fog gradually settled and the moisture sank in the valleys below our elevation.

The seeing at twilight showed much turbulence high above with the jet stream activity. The brightest star, Sirius, displayed a classic "running river" pattern while observing it very defocused at 200x (racked out an inch). Due to the soft seeing, Sirius refused to show its "Pup" to any of us, including with Craig and Elena's sharp 8"f/12 D&G achromat. Jupiter and Saturn were mostly blurred in view in my 20" at 200x only showing some satisfying detail very occasionally. By 9 pm, the sky's transparency (4/5) was better than its steadiness (3/5). I did a star count in the Gemini triangle right overhead to estimate the limiting magnitude. I counted 14 stars giving a limiting mag. of 6.3; not great. We had water vapor in the air that was directing the neighboring city's light pollution over to us, lowering the darkness. As the evening approached midnight, the seeing steadiness softened (2/5) and the humidity dropped-becoming less of a dew issue. The Telrad on my Dob remained dry until I left at 2:30 am. My star map working table did stay wet all night forcing me to work out of my vehicle to keep my paper maps and eyepieces dry.

I planned to observe a variety of objects in Camelopardalis, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, and Hydra. Some of these objects are out of the two "Night Sky Observer's Guide" volumes. It s noteworthy that using my 9mm Nagler at 240x was invaluable for darkening the field of view and raising the image scale, allowing me to see more much more detail in the galaxies and planetary nebula.

Telescope20" f/4.25 Starmaster Dob
Eyepieces24mm Panoptic (90x), 12mm Nagler (180x), 9mm Nagler (240x).

NGC 2403, Camelopardalis, a face-on galaxy with good even spiral structure, a nice array of field stars lies on top of the out-reaching arms.

NGC 2523, Camelopardalis, a spiral galaxy showing oval halo with visible barred core. Neighboring NGC 2523B shows as a soft oval glow w/o core.

NGC 2392, Gemini, planetary nebula ("Eskimo" or "Clown Face"). I like returning to this prominent planetary because it continues to show as much detail as the seeing will allow. With large aperture, the outer ring area exhibits a countless array of blue neon-like radial streaks emanating from the inner ring encircling the dwarf mag. 9.2 central star. The clown face image made by the inner ring boundary is remarkable.

NGC2672-73, Cancer, two galaxies within reach of each other; 2672, the larger galaxy with a nicely visible and large halo and core and 2673 that's embedded within 2672's halo. Few galaxy pairs look this nice with a companion within a halo.

NGC2535-36, Cancer, Another pair of galaxies, 2535 seen as an evenly illuminated oval and 2536 as a smaller and fainter oval patch with no visible core. The pair looks like a game board piece.

NGC2747, 2749, 2751, and 2752, Cancer, four galaxies in one field of view each appearing with different sizes and shapes. 2752 is a sharp edge-on galaxy while the others are oval-shaped but with differing magnitudes and angular sizes. 2749 is the brightest and largest one and the only one exhibiting a halo, core and nucleus.

M95 (NGC3351), Leo, a medium-sized face-on barred galaxy that shows a classic centrally-barred core and symmetrical encircling arms. This is one of the most beautiful barred galaxies that I've seen-looks like an angel. Aperture brings out the arms well.

NGC3226/3227, Leo, an odd pair of galaxies with different shapes; 3226 with an evenly circular (elliptical galaxy) shape, and 3227 as a long oval-shaped galaxy with a halo and brighter core.

NGC3432, Leo Minor, a very thin edge-on galaxy with one end brighter than the other. Its thin shape is interestingly straddled between two opposing stars. The longer I looked at it, the more of its length I saw.

NGC2903, Leo, a big and easy, bright face-on galaxy that begs your attention to see how many spiral arms you can see. Big aperture benefits, here. This galaxy rivals M33 and M51 in spiral arm detail, except it's smaller. I counted 6 arms spiraling out of the core on all sides. No problem if you have 20" aperture and a fantastic new 9mm Nagler at 240x. This galaxy would make a great imaging or film project for someone.

NGC3091, Hydra, what makes this average looking oval-shaped galaxy interesting is is close companion--a tiny dot off of the longitudinal tip of its halo. This stellar feature is MCG-3-26-06.

NGC3242, Hydra, the "Ghost of Jupiter" planetary nebula, shows up as prominently as the "Eskimo" planetary in Gemini (2392). Its shape, though, is more angular than the Eskimo's. The boundary between the inner and outer shells is very interesting-being elliptical and pointed at the ends. It looks like an outlined eye that's looking back at you from so far out in the universe. The central star here is fainter than the one in 2392, being mag. 12.

NGC3109, Hydra, an irregular galaxy with mottling and filed stars piled up on top of each other. What a concoction of a view. The galaxy looks disorganized, but none-the-less interesting for this reason.