Observing Report from the Grand Canyon Star Party

by Jane Houston Jones

We just returned from 7 nights observing at the Grand Canyon Star Party. Approximately 50 telescopes were set up each night in two adjacent observing locations from Saturday June 21 through Saturday June 28. We missed opening night and opted instead for a scenic, though longer drive through Yosemite, camping at Tuolomne Meadows Friday the 20th, driving over Tioga Pass, down the length of Highway 395 until we hit Astro Burger at Kramer Junction where highways 395 and 58 meet. Then on to Laughlin, NV overnight and finally through the basin and range country of western Arizona to the Grand Canyon.

We carried 6 telescopes and three people on our 2,100 mile round-trip journey, comfortably loaded into our 1998 Dodge Grand Caravan, dubbed "the Green Flash". Our 17.5-inch, 14.5-inch and 12.5-inch Litebox reflectors shared the back space with three refractors: an Orion 80mm short tube, Lumicon 80mm super finder and TV 70mm Ranger, white light solar filter, plus a Coronado 60mm SolarMax h-alpha filter. Also back there was a Televue alt/az Telepod mount for the refractor's solar duty, since our Vixen GP mount was a little too bulky for this trip and a friend wanted to borrow it while we were gone anyway. Tucked in between telescopes were three eyepiece cases, 3 ladders, 3 boxes of observing stuff, 3 pairs of binos, chairs, a small printer, speakers for the hotel room :-), projector for movies in case it rained :-) (really the projector was for the sunset talks), two laptops and ethernet conection stuff, and plenty of observing snacks.

Each night started with a public star party. After the sun set one of the attendees gave a talk at the visitor center at Yavapai Point to about 100 visitors. Mojo and I gave a Milky way talk...twice. Others who gave the twilight talks were artist Joe Bergeron (art), Dennis Young (photography), Derald Nye (eclipses), Marilyn Unruh (using 5 senses when observing), George Barber (stars), and Dean Ketelsen who is the chief organizer of the GCSP and who delivered the opening and closing night talks.

Each night I had observing projects ready for after the public visitors dwindled. I chose to show the public 'other Milky Ways and their neighbors", through my 17.5-incher, knowing lots of the other observers would be showing double stars and Jupiter early, followed by our own galactic wonders after that. So I showed galaxies with spiral arms or dust lanes, followed by nearby galaxy groups when it got darker, to show some the crowd some of our galaxy's neighbors out to about 50 million light years distant. And nearly every night at about 11:00 p.m. Mojo, Barry Peckham and/or I showed Pluto to long lines of people, including many of the other observers who had not seen our little planetary neighbor before, or who wanted to know how to star hop to it or verify it in their own telescope. We brought a little color jet printer with us and printed out nightly Pluto charts to hand out to those who wanted them.

Anyway, after most of the public left, I started in on my own projects for each night. The first night's project was Steve Gottlieb's /Celestial Odd Couples/, from the July 2003 Sky and Telescope magazine. It's a great project, combining the Milky Way eye candy with faint nearby objects. I printed out SkyTools 2 http://www.skyhound.com/ maps showing naked eye + telrad view, 80mm finder view and various eyepiece views of the combos, depending on the object. These nifty charts - all three views on one sheet of paper were wonderful. I marked my observing notes right on the maps, and checked off the objects I observed, too.

My favorite hunt was for magnitude 15.1 IC 1296, 4 degrees NW of the Ring Nebula, M57. It was difficult to find and took alot of concentration. Eventually the little barred spiral galaxy popped into view through my 9 Nagler (222x) and 6 Radian (333x).

The Blinking Planetary, NGC 6826 is a close neighbor to magnitude 14.8 galaxy CGCG 257-010 - aka PGC 63573. This one was tough - and I needed 333x to differentiate it from the stars.

When M7 and Scorpius were highest, I tried for several planetaries in the neighborhood. Mag 14 PK 355-4.1 (also known as Hoffleit 2-1) is on the western edge of the famous open cluster. Mag 12.1 PK 356-4.1 (also known as Cannon 2-1) is north of the cluster center. And mag 15 PK 355-4.2 (also known as Minkowski 1-30) was closer yet to the cluster center. The three tiny planetaries make a straight line from north to south on the western side of the cluster. I had to use the filter trick to see them - holding my 2-inch OIII filter between eye and eyepiece to spot the "brighter" objects. Took some practice, but worth it.

Still in Scorpius and near the stinger is globular cluster NGC 6441 plus planetary Haro 1-36 (PK 353-4.1). Ugg, the little guy is next to a very bright mag 3 star, HD 161892, among other designations.

Moving up off my knees to Scutum is another cluster/planetary nebula duo in Steve's article. NGC 6712 is a globular cluster which forms a nice lopsided triangle with nearby open clusters, M11 and M26. Once I took a look at the two Messiers, I moved to the pretty globular. IC 1295 is the odd couple pairing for the glob, a magnitude 15 planetary. Just to the NW is a toughie object: PK 25-4.1. I am not sure if this is the same as Steve's K 4-8 (PNG 25.3-4.6) but it lies in the same direction and was visible in the same field of view. I am not sure what the magnitude of the planetary is. I saw the faint brighter "star" in the circle of stars Steve refers to, using the OIII filter flicker method.

M80 in Scorpius was my next area of opportunity. An nice edge-on magnitude 15.5 galaxy, IC 4596 was a great find. It looked like a faint white whisker in the sky. Steve's directions and helpful star-shapes were spot on.

Now up to Dobson's hole, and Hercules. :-) Near M92 is a little galaxy, PGC 59984. Steve refers to it as MGC +07-35-058. It is a tiny mag 15.1 oval. I tried Steve's suggestion and used my 16 Nagler for 125 power to see both M92 and its odd couple companion in the same eyepiece, then moved to a 9 Nagler and then a 6 Radian for a darker background to show the galaxy better.

Also in Hercules, although I had already seen it before, is the M13/ IC 4617 combo. I was actually showing nearby spiral galaxy NGC 6207, for part of the public night, moving from M13 to NGC 6207, back and forth. IC 4617 is between M13 and NGC 6207. Imagine my surprise when my eyepiece visitor at the time turned out to be cluster pro and author, Brent Archinal! He hung around and talked for about a half hour about this and that. You never know who you'll bump into in the night!

I didn't re-observe the Pease 1/M15 view, because I had been there and done that one already. It's written up here, and in other observing reports in the archives. /reports/2001.07.21.11.html

This project took me parts of the first two of seven good observing nights of the Grand Canyon Star Party. These turned out to be about the best nights of the 7. I was happy to be hunting some interesting objects, and thank Steve Gottlieb for providing an interesting and challenging project for us all to try.

ObserverJane Houston Jones Date June 22/23, 2003 Location Yavapai Point, Grand Canyon National Park Lat 36 04' 12" N , Long 112 degrees 07' 12" W, Altitude 7040 ft.
Instruments17.5-inch f/4.5 Litebox reflector, Orion 80mm reflector used as a finderscope, plus Telrad
Oculars6mm Radian (333x), 9mm (222x) and 16mm (125x) Naglers in Litebox 17.5 inch, 25mm (16x) Kellner with cross-hair in 80mm finder Seeing almost excellent on 6/23 better than good 6/22. Humidity less than 20 percent all week Transparency LM 6.6 both nights using LM Area 16. 6/23 seemed a little darker to me.