Surprise treat at Pacheco

by Jamie Dillon

Pulled into Whiskey Flat after 6 and thought, great we got everything, clouds, wind, nice and cold. But boy did the night turn out good.

We lucked out. No dew to speak of, wind died down, 6.0 sky thru the night with good seeing, 4/5. We had a nice bunch of visitors, more kids than last month at this time, everyone had relaxed fun. TAC has a new enthusiast, Mike Ruddy, who hung out in 35 degree weather and had a real good time. Has starhopping talent and a genuinely searching intellect. Welcome, Mike.

9 scopes or so in all. Cordial bunch. Even for us winter regulars there was a notably busy sense of fun last night.

I polished off the Dickinson atlas. Yup, after thinking I'd pulled off a finish last week, and afterward finding 7 galaxies and an emission nebula hiding in corners on the charts, now it's complete. I've observed and described every extended object in Edmund's Mag 6 atlas down to -40 dec. This is the atlas I started observing with 4.25 years ago. While having gotten into Uranometria regularly for things not charted in SkyAtlas, still have been continuously watching this atlas fill up. Text is by Terence Dickinson and the charts are by Victor Constanzo, tables by Glenn Chaple. A marvel of clarity. Has tons of doubles and variables, in which I've started on the doubles, but a real focus on extended objects, some 343 including the Messiers.

This has all been with Felix, a Celestron 11" f/4.5 Dobs with optics made by Discovery Telescopes, and very clean shiny mirrors they are. Was using a 22 Pan, 16mm UO Koenig and10mm Radian last night, with a Lumicon OIII to check out NGC 1788.

Finished the night with galaxies in downtown Virgo, having sharpened my teeth on 3 galaxies moving east from the Dipper, including one just south of the Owl, 3631, that's highlighted in Wagner's Out There column in the April Ephemeris. Nice one, looking face-on, with a bright core, swirly halo with plenty of dust. The one toughy was this EN in western Orion I'd missed, 1788. It's setting fast for the spring, and moonlight or no mo0nlight I wanted to see it. Caught the bright core of the nebula, clearly deserves a look without the Moon. Czerwinski out of the goodness of his heart took time to confirm it in his 14.5.

Most interesting was the long time spent cruising downtown Virgo. Along with the main big chain moving SE from Markarian's masterpiece to M60, there are plenty of sets of 1 or 2 or 3 galaxies just north and south of the main skein. That's where I was happily getting lost and finding my place again, finding the 7 smaller members I'd missed that are charted in Dickinson's detail chart or in SkyAtlas. Kept stumbling back onto M90, which is really beautiful, a rich complex spiral. Of the little guys (I know, little from here) one that esp caught my eye was 4429, due south of M87, with a sharp lenticular shape and a bright core, sitting pretty between 2 stars.

That barn light is maybe a half mile away, doesn't get in the way of anything functional, being below the NW horizon. Aesthetically it calls for a ball peen hammer. The people in the nearer brand new house turn their lights off at night. Dim inside lights at sunset, after that we forgot where the house had been. So Whiskey Flat at Pacheco State Park is still a quality site from fall thru early spring.

We looked at Vesta, at Mercury above the horizon at sundown, and at a lovely shadow transit of Europa. Saturn showed 4 moons to me, with that captivating shadow on the rings. Ranger Dave noticed the strong equatorial band and dark south pole. Jerry surprised us with a view of omega Centauri in his sharp refractor, just above the notch in the hills. Loads of extras last night. Like Marcus, I'm often the last to leave, and last night, while earlier than last Saturday still it was refreshing to see the Great Rift heaving up in the East.

Felix is coming along next weekend to Doe Flat on the Peak to entertain and edify Liam's Scout troop, big Moon and all. But even more looking forward to fresh adventures come New Moon.