Coyote Lake, 31 May 2003

by Joe Fragola

Observing Report - 31 May/1 June 2003

LocationCoyote Lake Park, Gilroy, CA
Date/Time31 May 2003 9:00 p.m. - 1 June 2003 1:15 a.m. PST (1 June 2003 04:00 - 08:15 UT)
Sky ConditionsClear, limiting magnitude approx. 6.5
EquipmentOrion XT10 Dobsonian

After a 50-minute drive from my home in San Jose, I arrived at Coyote Lake Park just before 8 p.m. PST (03:00 UT). As I arrived the last of the boaters who use Coyote Lake Reservoir during the day was getting ready to pull out of the parking lot. As soon as it was dark enough, I pointed my scope toward Jupiter in the Western sky. Ganymede was due to start transiting Jupiter at 9:34 p.m. PST. Sure enough, there was Ganymede poised very close to the limb of Jupiter, soon to “melt” into the disc of the planet. As it got darker, the hoots of two owls could be heard coming from the trees to the southwest of the parking lot area. I had decided to start my “formal” Messier survey for the Astronomical League’s Messier Observing Club certificate and pin.

Here’s a list of objects that I recorded in my log.....

Iota Cancri (double star); Cancer - yellow primary and blue companion; colors reminiscent of Albireo. A very nice double star that is always on the list of the best double stars. I had wanted to see this double for awhile and I’m glad I finally had the chance. Observed with 25 mm Plossl (magnification of 50x) and 12.5 mm Plossl (magnification of 100x).

M44 (Beehive Cluster; open star cluster); Cancer - I had seen this one numerous times before. With the planet Jupiter in the vicinity the past couple of months, it is very easy to find. The view is much nicer in the 8x50 finder. The cluster is too spread out in the 25 mm (1 degree) field of view. I’m still deciding which size eyepiece to purchase (32mm or 40 mm) for wide fields of view to observe star clusters such as this one and the Pleiades.

M104 (Sombrero Galaxy; edge on spiral galaxy); Virgo - I was able to detect the dust lane in this galaxy. I viewed it with my 25 mm Plossl, the 12.5 mm Plossl, and I used my 2x Orion Shorty Plus Barlow with the 12.5 mm eyepiece (200x). This was one of the brightest galaxies I would see tonight.

As Leo was diving down into the Western sky, one of the other observers (Frank from the San Jose Astronomical Association) came over to talk with me. His plan for the night consisted of tracking down about a dozen asteroids on his observing program. He mentioned that the asteroid Parthenope was in the same field of view as the galaxies M96 and M105 in Leo. I decided to take a look. I brought up a view of the field using my Starry Night Pro software. My first attempt to locate the target resulted in me stumbling across the galaxies M65 and M66. Then I got sidetracked by another observer who was taking a break and came over to talk. By the time I got back to my scope Leo was sinking into the part of the Western sky that was partially affected by the light dome from the city of Gilroy. At least I was able to record M65 and M66 for my Messier survey.

M65 (galaxy); Leo - I viewed this faint galaxy only through the 25 mm eyepiece because, as mentioned above, I was actually trying to hunt down M96 and M105 at the time I stumbled upon the M65/M66 pair.

M66 (galaxy); Leo - In same field of view as M65 with the 25 mm eyepiece. This pair of galaxies was fairly faint. The view may have been affected by the light pollution in the Western direction I was viewing.

M53 (globular cluster); Coma Berenices - The view of this object was a pleasant surprise. The globular cluster M13 had always been at the top of my “favorite objects” list. After seeing M53 for the first time, and also M92 later on (see below), I’ve decided that globular clusters are at the top of the list of my favorite type of deep sky object. M53 was bright and fairly easy to find. I pointed my Telrad along a line extending just short of two times the distance between Arcturus and Eta Bootis (aka Murphid). M53 is just about a degree away from the 4th magnitude star Alpha Comae Berenices (aka Diadem). A nice bonus while viewing M53 was that there was also an attractive pair of 9th magnitude stars to the southeast, just under 10 arcminutes away. I used the 25 mm Plossl and the 2x Barlow for views of this target.

M13 (globular cluster); Hercules - After seeing M53 I had to view my favorite deep sky object and I wasn’t disappointed. I saw M13 easily in my finder scope. I had views ranging from 50x to 200x through the 25 mm, 12.5 mm and the 2x Barlow. Stars were resolvable toward the core. The low power view looked like salt spilled on a black tablecloth. Very beautiful object.

M81 (galaxy); Ursa major - The light dome from San Jose washed out a section of sky stretching from the NNW - NE and about 25 degrees up from the horizon. However, the Big Dipper portion of Ursa Major was above the offending “pollution” so I decided to try for the galaxy pair of M81/M82. The Telrad got me close and after a few seconds of sweeping the pair popped into view. It’s always an awsome sight to see these two different galaxies shining brightly in the same field of view. M81 (aka Bode’s Galaxy) is the “fat” one of the two galaxies. I viewed these DSOs with the 25 mm.

M82 (galaxy); Ursa Major - In same field of view as M81. This is the “skinny” member of the duo. M82 is also known as the “Cigar Galaxy”.

M57 (Ring Nebula; planetary nebula); Lyra - The Ring Nebula is my favorite among planetary nebulae. It’s fairly bright and very easy to find. As it was approaching midnight now, I got lazy and viewed most of the remaining objects with only the 25 mm at 50x magnification. The swath of sky in the direction from NE - S was the darkest since there were no light domes from nearby cities to wash out the view. The Ring Nebula stood out against the dark Eastern sky. Very nice view of M57 tonight.

M92 (globular cluster); Hercules - I wanted to track down M92 for awhile. It took a few minutes to hop to it. This globular cluster lived up to the descriptions I had heard about it. M92 is a nice, bright globular cluster; smaller than it’s “big brother” M13. I took more time with the views here, again using the 25 mm, 12.5 mm, and the 2x Barlow for views up to 200x. I could resolve stars toward the core of M92. Another satisfying view of a pretty globular cluster. I wish I had thought to go after the globulars M3 and M5 as well. I’ll save those for next time.

M4 (globular cluster); Scorpius - Here’s one of the easiest DSOs to track down (not counting naked eye objects such as the Pleiades) - just center Antares in your scope and head West for a bit more than 1 degree. This globular star cluster is always a nice treat, even from the light polluted skies of San Jose. Just a 50x view through the 25 mm. M4 is a bit less compact that other globulars, such as M13.

M8 (Lagoon Nebula; emission nebula); Sagittarius - The view of M8 showed two sections: a more nebulous half and the other half looking like an open cluster. I used both the 25 mm and the 12.5 mm eyepieces. I was able to make out more nebulosity in the view with the 12.5 mm.

M20 (Trifid Nebula; emission/reflection nebula); Sagittarius - I used only the 25 mm eyepiece on this one. I was able to make out nebulosity but not any of the dust lanes that trisect this nebula. Of course, no pretty red and blue colors as seen in photographs.

M21 (open star cluster); Sagittarius - I got a “freebie” with this object as it is located in the same 1 degree field of view as M20. This appeared somewhat like a stretched out version of the Lagoon nebula with nebulosity on one side and the open cluster across the opposite side of the 25 mm FOV.

M24 (open star cluster); Sagittarius - I continued my “climb” north along to Milky Way to the open cluster M24 which also has some nebulosity surrounding it. It was getting close to 1 a.m. PST now and I was starting to get tired. Again, I only viewed this target with the 25 mm Plossl. I was unaware of any nebulosity surrounding the cluster.

M18 (open star cluster); Sagittarius - This was an attractive open cluster. Viewed at 50x, some of the stars closer to the center formed a small arcing semi-circle.

M17 (Omega Nebula; cluster w/nebula); Sagittarius - I like this object very much. One of the other nicknames for this Messier object is the “Checkmark” cluster. Sure enough at 50x there was a ghostly grayish-yellow checkmark in the sky.

M16 (Eagle Nebula; star cluster w/emission nebula); Sagittarius - Hey, where is that “Pillars of Creation” view I’ve seen in Sky & Telescope? This target offered a nice, large star cluster/nebula combo. I didn’t see as extensive an area of nebulosity with the 25 mm at 50x. There was a lot more nebulosity to see when I paired the 25 mm with the 2x barlow for a 100x view.

Since these last seven objects will be visible throughout the summer, I thought I would save them for a more careful revisit later. It was after 1 a.m. and I had almost had enough for one night. As I looked up, I saw that Ursa Major was in a more comfortable area to go after one last target.

M51 (Whirlpool Galaxy; spiral galaxy pair); Canes Venatici - I had looked at M51 from my light polluted driveway the previous weekend. I was surprised how faint it appeared. I had a recollection that last summer (August?) I had a better view from the same driveway. In any event, with the dark skies at Coyote Park I had a wonderful view at 50x and 100x. The cores of the two galaxies were fairly bright and I could make out some of the spiral arm structure as neblosity around both galaxy cores. The “bridge” between the two galaxies wasn’t seen.

All in all, a very productive night with 21 objects observed (if you count Jupiter which I observed early in the evening). I started packing up around 1:30 a.m. and was home in bed by 2:40 (PST). Some “lessons learned” from the observing session: a wide field eyepiece, either 32 mm or 40 mm, is still high on my wish list; I definitely have to bite the bullet and get some red plastic to darken my laptop screen and preserve my night vision; I need to get out more regularly and train my eyes to see more subtle details in galaxies and nebulae; my views could probably also improve by adding a “premium” eyepiece or two to my collection (maybe a generous observer or two will let me try one of their “premium” eyepieces out in the field before I decide what to buy); and finally, I should strive to shorten my observing reports.