by Matthew Marcus
Downtown Virgo was confusing, as usual. O'Meara recommends starting at M58. I found M100 to be a somewhat better choice as it is quite isolated, by Downtown Virgo standards. I think Markarian's Chain would have been even better, because it's starting point (M84, M86, the other point of the equilateral triangle, the center spot, and the Eyes) is quite familiar and distinctive. Note: the new Uranometria identifies those two galaxies as The Eyes, as well as giving them their NGC numbers.
Before the action started, a family came over, and I showed them Jupiter and Saturn. There was a shadow transit on Jupiter, with all 4 moons lined up on one side. The seeing was good enough to make Saturn worth an ooh-aah from us experienced sky-gazers, so both planets blew the visitors away. One of the kids kept yelling "Come here! You gotta see this!". Moments like this are one of the satisfying things about our hobby. However, it was an unfortunate commentary on the state of science education that none of them were sure if it was Jupiter or Saturn which had the gaudy rings, nor which one was farther out. At least they knew there was a 'farther out'! Mom asked some good questions, like what the stars are and, after being told that our sun is one, whether any had planets. Good for her!
In addition to M-objects, I went for Vesta, presently cruising through Virgo. The S&T chart linked to by one of the TACos showed Vesta near 4578, a (surprise) galaxy. Vesta was much brighter than any star in the area, and was definitely where Uranometria showed no stars anywhere near as bright. This was a two-fer for me as I had not previously logged the galaxy, which was within a 125x FOV of Vesta.
During a break in Messier Madness, I hit Libra, which was probably not the best choice in the scummy sky conditions. I did log two new objects. One was PK342+27.1, a tiny PN. This PN showed distinctly blue, and was quite close to an orange star, so it was almost like a cross between a double star observation and a regular PN. The other was 5728, an unremarkable-looking galaxy.
Transparency pretty much sucked the whole time, with clouds coming in and out. In a sense, this was a good night for MM'ing, as these objects can usually shine through such conditions, while dimmer targets fade out. The seeing was good enough to make OCs and globs worth more than a quick glance.
It was a nice, small crowd after the boaters cleared out. There were only three of us, plus a pair of Russians who were off by themselves and didn't make contact. I suppose I should have been polite and at least greeted them with a "zdratsvooitye", though that's about the extent of my Russian.
While I didn't do much Serious Observing, I saw more objects in the one night than I usually do in three, and I had fun doing so, which is the whole point. Not bad for a cloudy night!