Fiddletown last night was...

by Jane E. Smith

... AWESOME!!!

DateJuly 3, 2003
In attendanceShneor Sherman, Jane Smith
Moonset11:09 pm
TemperatureShirt sleeve weather all night
Equipment18" reflector
Eyepieces5, 7, 9, 13, and 16mm Naglers, 35 Panoptic

I left Davis around 6:15pm, hit some traffic, and pulled into Fiddletown about 7:45pm. I found the dirt road stretch much improved, especially the last portion up the hill which appeared to have been graded. Rounding the bend, the "puppies" greeted me with their usual woof, woof, and when I arrived at the site I found their little "remembrances" all over the ground. Where is that Randy Muller when you need him??? Shneor was already there setting up his new 22" beauty. After a quick spray with skeeto-pellent, I prepared for what promised to be a great night.

Once the scope was setup I turned to my laptop. What a relief to have it purring again! I'd forgotten to pack the battery for SSP, Dumb-ACT #237, so had to use charts instead. It's amazing how dependent I've become on SkyMapPro 9 since I started using it earlier this year. A quick change of the color scheme on the monitor and I was off for a glimpse of Jupiter before it dropped too low on the horizon.

I'd looked at it the night before when I had my scope out to Explorit for one of their public nights. The view was washed out, boiling, and generally unimpressive. Last night it was much better, but too low on the horizon to provide any great views. Four moons were visible and some banding showed on the planet. Boosting magnification resulted in fuzziness. So I said goodbye to Jupiter and headed for my first Hickson of the night, Hickson 82 in Hercules.

Hickson 82 consists of 4 components ranging from mag 14.1 to 16.0. After entering the "a" component, NGC6162, into the Sky Commander, I punched GOTO and the scope took off. I spent a little time figuring out orientation on my laptop and was then able to confirm the star field. I couldn't see the galaxy group at this point because the moon hadn't set yet, but I was confident once the sky darkened the group would pop into view. While I waited I had some munchies and gulped down a Red Bull... great stuff!

When the moon finally set I returned to the eyepiece. Sure enough, there it was, Hickson 82! I could see the "a" component with direct vision and the "b" component, NGC 6163, with averted vision about 50% of the time. Components "c" and "d" were not noted. No bright cores were noted in either "a" or "b".

I then moved on to Hickson 79 in Serpens with 5 components ranging from mag 13.8 to 15.9. I knew this was going to be a toughie. It's a tight little cluster and, try as I may, I couldn't split any of them out. It appeared as a one large irregular blob, but with averted vision I could make out two bright cores. I'd like to try this one again under a darker sky.

Object #3 was Hickson 74, also in Serpens, 5 components from mag 14.1 to a tough 17.8. Although the group appeared bright, I couldn't differentiate any separate components. It was just one huge mass with no separate cores noted.

Then, it was on to Hickson 68 in Canes Venatici. This was the *fun* object of the night. Everything popped out! This group consists of 5 components, a bright mag 11.8 to 14.2. Components "a" and "b" showed as an elongated mass in which two distinct cores were noted with direct vision. The "c" component was also bright with direct vision. Components "d" and "e" were much fainter and smaller, but I could still hold both with direct vision, "e" just barely.

I then took a break from Hickson hunting and ventured to the southern sky for a look at the Swan, M17, and the Eagle Nebula, M16. The Swan was stunning in the OIII, a big bright bird floating south. The Eagle looked only so-so, not one of the more impressive nebulas, IMHO. Then a quick look at M5, always stunning.

My final object of the night was an old favorite, Stephen's Quintet, Hickson 92 in Pegasus. This was my first Hickson, found back in October 2001 at Fiddletown when I still had the 12.5". I remember that night clearly, how excited I was to find such a famous group, and how I looked and looked and looked and could still only see 3 components. I think that was the moment I set my heart to owning an 18". I would order one 4 months later.

We packed it in at 2am and headed home. It was an incredible night. I don't think I've ever felt so focused, so patient, so intent on noting exactly what I could see. Despite having just spent 5 nights at Shingletown, it will be last night that I remember. It felt like I had finally come of age, that I was finally an astronomer.