by Bob Czerwinski
On Wednesday I made a late afternoon decision to head to Fremont Peak. The CSC indicators actually didn't look too promising, with a "clear-to-cloud" forecast prediction for 9:00pm onwards. Well, this didn't seem to make sense to me ... unless it was possibly predicting fog along the coast or in the valleys below the Park, so I thought I'd take a chance and head south.
Taking a lead from Mark Wagner, and borrowing from Robert Leyland:
|Date||March 5-6, 2003|
|Observing Time||7:00pm to 4:00am PST|
|Location||Fremont Peak State Park, 36°46'N 121°30'W, El. ~2800-feet|
|Moon||Waxing crescent, 2-days-old, 8:45pm set time|
|Equipment||18" f/4.3 Newt/Dob e/w Telrad and Paracorr|
|Eyepieces||17mm-133x (default) & 12mm-188x TV T4 Nagler; 5mm-452x, 6mm-377x & 8mm-283x TV Radian (magnifications include Paracorr)|
|Filters||None in use|
|Sky Conditions||Zenith LM 6.3; transparency 8/10; seeing 9-10/10|
|Temp/R.H.: 7:00pm||46F/37%; 9:00pm: 45F/39%; 11:00pm:|
|45F/71%; Midnight||45F/70%; 2:00am: 45F/38%; 3:00am: 41F/41%; 4:00am: 39F/43%|
|Comments||No fog below the Peak. Extremely steady skies. Occasional puff of a breeze from the west. No moisture/dew.|
Despite the CSC predictions, on the way to the Peak the skies looked very nice. When I arrived, Rangers Bret (sp?) and Stewart (sp?) were doing maintenance work in the Coulter area, and I proceeded to set up my 'scope over on Ranger's Row, just east of the shop building. In the evening twilight, viewing Jupiter and Saturn with the rangers, it looked like I was going to be in for a fine night. Jupiter, about 40-degrees above the eastern horizon, was already showing some amazing detail, and Saturn, just crossing the meridian, looked razor sharp.
My goal for the evening was to get back to my H2500 hunt in Leo, so while waiting for Leo to rise into better position, I chased after six comets:
Low to the SW in Fornax, I wasn't certain if I could spot this comet before it rotated to the WSW and dropped behind Fremont Peak itself. Scanning the area, I was able to find 4th mag. Alpha Fornacis, sitting just to the east of the KSBW tower, which sits just to the east of the Peak. Using TheSky as my guide, I spotted the comet about 2-degrees away from the star, at about 8th magnitude. This wasn't nearly as hard to find as I thought it might be.
This comet gave me fits! Sitting low to the west in Pisces, it took me quite a while just to identify the field where TheSky said the comet should have been, getting there by first spotting The Great Square's (Pegasus') 3rd magnitude star, Algenib, and then moving up (east). The sky was still pretty bright in the area, and I thought the comet was another 8th magnitude object. After not being able to find it, I turned to Starry Night, thinking maybe TheSky might have it misplaced. Nope. They agreed on position. Well, that's when I realized I was actually chasing something dimmer than 10th magnitude. It took me quite a while, another 30-minutes or so, but I eventually spotted the comet, very small and extremely faint, right where both programs said it would be. My guess it that the comet was somewhere between 11th & 12th magnitude, despite both programs telling me it was ~10.4.
I lucked out a bit in finding this comet, which sat low to the NW in Cepheus. Fortunately for me, because of where I'd set up my equipment, I had a nice NW gap between the side of the Park's shop building and a tree to the building's east, giving me a clear shot at the comet. And thanks to all the time I'd spent on Brewington, it was dark enough for me to easily spot both Alpha and Zeta Cephei, the two stars which, to me, form the base of the constellation's "little house" shape. Well, hey, it's what Cepheus looks like! The comet, at about 7th magnitude, was pretty easy to spot as a small nondescript fuzz-ball.
Ah! Finally into a halfway decent area of the sky! This comet, in UMa, was about 40-degrees above the NE horizon, in the clear, and rising. Even so, I first missed it and ended up on NGC 3665 instead, about 2-degrees away, which has a very bright nucleus and a fainter halo area. (This galaxy, with NGC 3658 in the same field, would make a perfect comet!) I eventually nailed the comet, confirming the star field ... but liked NGC 3665 much better!
Easy to find in Orion, right on the border of Monoceros. Nothing else "fuzzy" anywhere near it, and a number of relatively bright stars easily identify the field.
And last but not least...
Now traversing Leo's tail area, I tried to find this comet once before, but was unsuccessful in spotting it. Very small and faint, I probably would have missed this comet without the TheSky pointing the way. Once I had the field identified, and knew just where to look, the comet was relatively easy to spot.
Well, having nailed my last comet for the evening, I wanted to go back to Saturn for a look-see to check out the seeing. Well, this sort of seeing is what I rate a true 10! Saturn was incredibly steady, no movement at all. I quickly moved to the 6mm Radian (377x) and was treated to a rare sight. The C-Ring (Crepe-Ring) was easily visible, a light band stretching across the entire planet, giving Saturn the appearance that it had gained a new equatorial belt. I've only seen something like this once before, through Rich Neuschaefer's 155mm A-P. The inner portion of the B-Ring was clearly much darker than the outer portion, while the A-Ring's relatively broad dark'ish area (the Minima?) remained steady as a rock, no wavering whatsoever. Mimas, at about 13th magnitude, was popping in and out, too, and sometimes I could hold it relatively steady with averted vision. I changed to the 5mm Radian (452x), looking for the "gap" at the edge of the A-Ring, but could not convince myself that it was truly there. Not even with averted imagination. Maybe if I'd had a tracking platform with me this particular evening...
Off to the galaxies...
I spent most of the rest of the night in Leo, wanting to see if I could finish up my H2500s in this constellation. Things were going along pretty well, usually with the 17mm Nagler (133x) in use, until I tried to locate NGC 3840 and a few of its friends ... right in the center of Abell 1367! This is a bee-yoo-tee-ful cluster! If you haven't done so already, check it out! With the excellent sky conditions, there must have been a good 40 or 50 galaxies in the eyepiece field, and it took quite a while to sort things out. Well, mostly. <grin> I spent the next three hours in this one field, constantly rotating eyepieces, working to confirm that I saw in the eyepiece matched what TheSky was telling me should be there. This area was more confusing than selected areas in CV, Coma and Virgo! And yes, this was total fun!!
I spent about five hours in total in Leo last night, and enjoyed every second of my time there. Discovered a few more errors in TheSky's database, some relatively simple (e.g., the reversals of NGC 3911 and NGC 3920), while others involve missing or misplaced database objects. Still, I really enjoy The Hunt, and it's fun to try and sort things out. Well, usually. <grin>
Finally the night was over...
I did manage to reconfirm some asteroid positions as well, and also gave the Double Quasar in UMa a whirl before calling it a night. Even though the Double QSO had hit the meridian about 11:00pm, I still gave it a go about 3:30am. Bottom line: I could barely detect it, seeing it about 10- to 15-percent of the time at best, as a single stellar item with a "strangeness" to it. Not quite a pinpoint. Sure wished I'd thought about it four hours earlier! M13 was its usual beautiful self, and the seeing was still steady as a rock at 3:45am. My last views of the night were a few of the summertime items, and I finished up with M57 and the Double-Double in Lyra.
Started packing up my gear just after 4:00am, and departed the Peak about 45-minutes later. Caught the commute traffic heading for the Silicon Valley, but felt the evening was certainly well worth the trouble. A very fine night!