Gorgeous Night at Fremont Peak

by Peter McKone

The sky was cloud-free and the air was still at Fremont Peak on Saturday night. I could see haze in the valley, but the Peak was above most of it.

At 8:30 I got my first view of Jupiter, which showed lots of detail, including a strikingly dark moon shadow crossing its face. Saturn was visible at 8:45. The Cassini Division was holding steady, even though the Planet is dropping low into the western sky. Later in the evening I got a refractor-like split of Porrima at 500x.

I couldn't resist trying Theta Virginis, whose separation is listed in TheSky as 71 arc seconds. I saw a clean split of this star too. The CSC did not predict good seeing, so I was wishing that someone else could verify these views. My goal was to log a bunch of galaxies from the Saguaro list that I missed during March and April. The sky became quite dark, perhaps due to the haze below, and Messier galaxies were visible as smudges in the finder. It was, as they say, like shooting fish in a barrel.

At 10:45, after finding several targets without much trouble, I got stuck on NGC 3184 in Ursa Major. The chart shows it close to two naked eye stars with names beginning with "Tania" (did someone pay the "International Star Registry" to "Name a Star" after Patty Hearst?) , and even closer to two finder-visible stars one degree to the west. It should have been easy, but I wasn't seeing anything there. I turned away from the eyepiece to take another look at the chart, and noticed the problem. A smoky dark orange moon had risen above the hilltops, snuffing out all but the brightest galaxies.

I tried to get a view of Double Double, but I had stupidly set up too close to my car. Time to pack up and drive down the hill.