Observing on 4 hours of sleep after an all-night messier marathon *o*

by Jane Houston Jones

Wasted is the best word to describe how I felt while preparing for the drive to Lake Sonoma just 10 hours after we had packed up telescopes and driven home from our 3/28 - 29 all-night observ-athon.

But with the anticipation of another night of spring observing, I packed lots of coffee and girl scout cookies, curled up in the passenger seat of "Green Flash", the mighty Dodge Caravan, and snoozed all the way to Lake Sonoma. We arrived at 6:00 p.m. and there were already some telescopes set up, the first of a total of about 20 telescopes to arrive that night. We drove further into the large observing area, and set up our 17.5-inch and 14.5-inch Litebox reflectors, collimated and then sat down for dinner.

Soon we were joined by 6 more telescopes up in "dob heights", and there were 13 or more in "down below". My 8-year old nephew Aaron arrived with a dob of his own - his blue f/5 6-inch Pierre Schwaar companion reflector, and before I could say Zodiacal Light, he had put his 6mm Vixen Lanthanum eyepiece in, switched on the telrad and was aiming at Jupiter and the beehive cluster. Soon he was exploring all the "fuzzy spots" with his 25mm Meade plossl at 32x. He really liked the Beehive, Pleiades and the Perseus Double Cluster, which he found naked eye, and them aimed telrad and eyepiece to the objects. He discovered a couple open clusters which he was sure nobody else had ever seen. Switching back to the 6mm eyepiece, he aimed at Saturn and M-42, then we did some side by side comparisons of all-star spring-time galaxies in the 17.5-inch and the 6-inch. He called my 31mm Nagler the "BFO" meaning, he explained, Big Fat One. :-)

Soon it was bedtime and off he went back to Healdsburg, about 15 miles away. I wanted to go with him - bedtime sounded nice. Then a steady stream of visitors stopped to chat and mooch views. :-) It wasn't until about 10:30 p.m. that I was able to ponder which projects to tackle. I decided I didn't have the concentration or the energy for Hicksons and Abell clusters, my planned projects for the night. I had printed charts from SkyTools 2 for all the visible-tonight Abell Clusters and Hicksons. But I also printed individual charts for each of Tom Polakis' great "edge-on spiral galaxies of spring" project. That seemed just the project for my post marathon energy level. There were 41 of them visible on this night.

My charts are plotted for optimum observing time, and I hadn't missed a one, despite my late start. The charts show naked eye and Telrad view, 80mm finder view and 222x 9mm Nagler view all on one sheet of paper. I wrote my observing notes right on the charts.

I observed 30 of them in two + hours before the views became as wasted as I felt. Some of the edge-ons were old time favorites, some are even Messier objects, like M108, M65, M98. Brightness ranges from 9.7 of NGC4631 to12.9 of both NGC4256 in Draco and NGC5422 in Ursa Major. A nice easy springtime project. I highly recommend it, even if you have seen these all before. Spring is the time for galaxies. You can find various versions of this list at places like this: http://messier45.com/listgen/EdgeOnPolakis.html

At about 1:00 - 1:30 the sky deteriorated and the clanging of truss tubes could be heard throughout the observing field. I had already stopped looking in Virgo because of deteriorating sky. I saved some of these edge-ons for another night, we packed up, and joined friends Norm and Linda at the Lyons in Petaluma for breakfast burritos. After two long nights, all four of us looked more than wasted. I am surprised they let us in!

DateMarch 29, 2003
LocationLone Rock Flat, Lake Sonoma, California 38 42' 90" N , 123 02' 43.7"
Altitude900 ft.
Instruments17.5-inch f/4.5 Litebox reflector, Orion 80mm reflector, 25mm 16x
Oculars16mm (125x) 31mm BFO - Big Fat One (64x)
SeeingExcellent until 11:30 p.m. deteriorating over the next two hours
Relative humidity40 degrees
Temperaturesin the mid-high 50's
TransparencyLM 6.5 at 9:00 p.m. using LM Area 4 Alpha-Epsilon-Beta Gem, 164 stars, and also 6.4 LM using Area 16 Alpha Cvn - Epsilon - Eta UMa, 14 stars at midnight