MB 7/25/2003

by Marek Cichanski

Kevin Roberts and I observed at Montebello last night, and we couldn't help wondering "where is everybody?" It turned out to be a pretty good night.

There were a few clouds hanging around in the northwest at sunset, but they never got any closer and I didn't notice them after twilight. There was a somewhat stiff breeze at sunset, but it died down after dark, and most of the night was still.

There were about 14 cars parked in the lot after dark, which struck us as odd, since the ranger didn't seem to be concerned about them. Turned out it was some sort of night hike, and the participants returned to their cars sometime around 11 or 11:30, I think. I think that it was some sort of MROSD-endorsed activity. A few headlights, but generally not too bad.

The light dome was somewhat diminished by valley fog, although I don't think we got the full benefit of it, because I think the transparency left a little bit to be desired even up at MB. I got a limiting mag of 5.79 from the Finnish triangle in Bootes, although it should be borne in mind that I have a strange deficiency when it comes to Finnish triangles - I could barely get 6 to 6.3 at Shingletown. Still, it was a fairly dark night by MB standards, with a pretty good naked-eye Milky Way. As at Shingletown, my favorite deep-sky objects of all are the Sagittarius star clouds through binos.

Somewhat to my surprise, I managed to bag about a dozen H400 objects, thereby nearly completing the summer portion of the list. I'll say this - there are an awful lot of little globulars out there. And when you take a globular and put it about 20,000 light years away, it won't exactly knock your socks off in a 10" scope. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Tracking them down and logging them is fun no matter how you slice it.

My beefed-up EQ platform worked reasonably well. I left it switched off most of the time, to avoid having to reset the platform too often. When I found an object and centered it, I just flicked the switch and had a nice long, steady look. I guess you could say that my use of the dob and platform is kind of a mix between driven and undriven. I don't switch it on for, say, the Veil at low power.

It was really neat having the capability to track objects. I found myself saying "I'm gonna post a message telling every XT10 owner to build a platform." Granted, that's a little heavy-handed, but now that I have the thing, it makes perfect sense. If you can figure out how to get the right kind of motor, and if you can put together the controller for the motor, the rest of it would be a snap for most people with shops and tools. Especially for those with routers, I think a simple platform like mine would be a piece of cake. For those without wood shops, Orion ought to make and sell a simple one for the XT10. Everyone would get one, it would (ideally) be like buying a couple more eyepieces.

I was excited to look at Mars, but wouldn't you know it, that darn wind kicked back up just when I went into Mars mode. There were some moments of decent seeing, but the darn image was bouncing around too much. I didn't see much in the way of albedo features on the planet. Could make out a few, but it looked pretty bland except for the polar cap. A yellow filter helped a little. I remain a little bit underwhelmed by Mars. Must give it more time, I guess.

On the drive down, it was clear that there really was valley fog. It was a near-repeat of last summer's famous "Black Cloud" night. On that occasion, Leonard Tramiel, James Turley, and I were at MB when it got really dark. On the way down, the Silicon Valley was gone. I mean GONE. Leonard and I actually turned on the radio to see if there had been a power outage. But it was just cloud. Last night was nearly the same. If only the transparency had been a bit better up at MB, it would have been killer. That's my ultimate dream - Shingletown skies at Montebello. One of these nights...