Dark night on the Peak

by Jamie Dillon

A day late but as promised...

Wednesday night Liam and I headed up to the Peak, with a reasonable moonset coming up. A roni mushroom garlic olive pizza from the Pizza Factory was good as ever. It was the first time Liam had come to the Peak with me in months, and we had the place pretty much to ourselves, with one couple camping way on the other side of the whole park. The marine layer was in good, with Salinas nicely covered up, promising.

The sky got to be respectable, limiting magnitude after moonset around 6.2, seeing 4/5, good. While that pretty crescent Moon was winding its way down, I got into doubles for the first time in a long while. Two I hadn't seen before. Zeta CrB showed as blazing white and pale blue, and mu Boo is yes a triple, with a white primary and two partners close to each other, both rusty colored.

Spent a chunk of the night finding new galaxies in Draco. Off Edasich, iota Dra, are several sets of them. 5963 and 5965 fit in the same 24' field, with the 10mm Radian. 5065 is a sharp edge-on with a bright core, symmetrical long arms. 5963 showed a bright fat core, with 2 superimposed stars on its SE limb. Two smaller galaxies were nearby in the area, 5987 and 5971. The hunt was on! I was using SkyAtlas, with UM2000 for backup for the galaxies that weren't plotted on SkyAtlas, like 5971 already.

Very cool was the trio of galaxies that Richard Navarrete and Mark had gotten onto about recently, 5981-2-5. These form an actual group: 5985 is a fat spiral extending N-S. The core didn't show up at first, but sitting down and playing with the field, arms started to show up, with swirls and lanes, and a tiny stellar core popped out 20% of the time to averted vision. 5982 is dense, circular and compact, yes the elliptical in the group. 5981 isn't in SkyAtlas but was clear to direct vision, a nice edge-on with no clear core. Nice sampling with a face-on, an edge-on and an elliptical in the same close (and actual) field in the 10mm. 5989 was off to the NE, an EW swirl, no core. Took a breath and moved over to NGC 5907, a real favorite, sat and sketched it. Took up almost 60% of the 10mm field, showing a sharp core with a bright linear nucleus moving away from the core. Tight long arms with braiding. This is a mondo edge-on. This time I spotted a bright region halfway out the southern arm.

Got onto planets next, catching Uranus and Neptune for the first time this summer, physically close to the very spot where Bob Czerwinski patiently showed Nilesh Shah and myself how to find these planets, 4 years ago. Neptune looked more distant with a smaller disk than it showed last year, hafta check that out. Still that bright blue. Uranus was big and bright and blue-green, per order. Caught a fair amount of detail on Mars already, with a dark rim on the south polar cap, and a very dark splotch heading E-W, midships in the disk.

Finished the night revisiting Messier globulars I hadn't seen in years. A chunk of the time this spring, I'd been catching small globulars in dusty areas of the sky, as in the south side of the Teapot, so it was time for contrast. M107 in Ophiuchus is a magnificent object. It sits inside a cross of stars that make a beautiful frame, as well as dramatizing how this globular has long extended arms. Caught a bright pretty row of 4 stars lining the west edge of the core, and dark lines running N-S across the core.

Yes I visited M15, personal alltime favorite, and M2, Nilesh's old fave, and sure M13, but hadn't seen M30 but once when it was my last Messier object, 3 years ago. Whoa, it has two bright locks of stars extending NW from the core in very straight lines, one of 4 and one of 3 stars. A bright dense arm extends to the E, other shorter ones to N and S.

This was all with Felix, a Celestron 11" f/4.5 Dobs with optics made by Discovery Telescopes. Was using a 22 Pan, 16mm UO Koenig, 10mm and 6mm Radians. Liam crashed fairly early, so I had the place to myself for the first time also in a while. Lovely spot. Weather was nice: along with the dense marine layer below, I never buttoned my denim jacket.