Lake Sonoma Sat 26 Jul 2003

by Matthew Marcus

Lake Sonoma was warm, clear, and well-attended. The N end of the parking lot was full of Celestron SCTs ranging from 8 to 14". Anticipation filled the air, along with the smell of horses.

We had an unusual scope there, a binocular made of two 8" Newts yoked together in a Dob-like mount.

As night fell, I hit my usual summer seeing-test target, epsilon Lyrae. The Double-Double split very cleanly with sharp Airy rings holding for up to a second at a time, with little 'fast' wiggle. There was a kid there learning about about astronomy, so Albereio came up in conversation, so I took a look. It's easy to forget to look at favorites like that. The kid was lucky that he was there on such a good, comfortable night, and that Linda (sorry, I don't know your last name!) was there with patient explanations. She and I traded views, though hers were better, given the fact that they were obtained with 14" of aperture to my 8".

Next followed a period of eye-candy grazing, including M57, M11, Antares (a maybe on the Green Pea), M7, Polaris.

It's starting to get pretty late in the year for Scorpius. I hit the Bug Nebula and got a nice view of the bright central region and the long extensions, one being much brighter than the other. Then, Linda asked about the Cat's Paw, for which she provided coordinates which matched 6334. I found it using an O3 filter, and got a somewhat better view with an Ultrablock and a 32mm EP, for 62x mag. This EN looks more like a complex of RNs around four stars, with a faint blob in the middle. The brightest part shows a comet-like asymmetry, with its star playing the role of the comet nucleus. This object was new to me. Thanks! The Uranometria chart showed another EN within easy star-hop, with a chain of four bright stars pointing at it. I therefore went for 6357, a roundish glow with a star at its S edge. There was a mysterious notation 'Pi24' on the chart page, which a look at NSOG showed referred to an OC in the area, Pismis 24. This turned out to be an elongated haze with four visible stars in it, placed between two of the bright stars forming the above-mentioned chain.

Linda then pointed out that there was a glob right next to an orange star in the tail of Scorpius. Well, technically, it's just S of the Sgr-CrA border. Anyway, it's easy to find and appeared as a round glow with a star at its N edge. At mag 9.6, it's pretty bright, but wasn't really resolved, perhaps because Sco was setting by then.

The most prominent feature on that page of the (new) Uranometria is M7, which is always worth another look. It turns out to have a GC hanging in its W fringe, 6444, and an OC, 6453 nearby. It was possible to get parts of all 3 objects in one 35x field.

For a change, I went for the Veil, getting all 3 segments into the field of the Ranger.

Linda found Uranus and Neptune using her GoTo scope. I did a Telrad transfer of coordinates to my scope and got them. Little whitish-green and blue disks, as always.

I've been ignoring the more northern constellations because of the geometry of my scope mount. Looking at these can be a neck-twisting experience. However, Cepheus was high and I decided to do some scope-yoga and look there. The first target was delta Cep, the prototype of the Cepheid variables. It's a double, with a blue secondary.

Next, I started logging objects, to wit 6951, a galaxy with a star at one end, 7055, a small OC nestled in a coarse collection of bright stars which make it easy to locate, and 7139, a PN quoted at 13 mag, which appeared as a large, round disk next to some conspicuous asterisms.

I also looked at some objects I'd seen before and therefore didn't log, mainly the bright RN 7021, the huge OC/EN complex I1396, which sits to the S of mu Cep (Herschel's Garnet Star), 7142, a large OC, and 7129/7133, an RN complex. I couldn't figure out where 7129 is supposed to end and 7133 begin.

By this time, my neck and back were complaining, so I switched over to Pegasus, hitting such favorites as M15, 7331, Stephan's Quintet, the Peg I group (brightest 3), 16 and 23. I tried for NGC 1, but couldn't detect it. I also logged a new (for me) galaxy, 7469, a tiny lentil among a field of moderately bright stars.

All this was in preparation for the time when Mars would hit the meridian. When that happened, I went after it with a red (#25) filter. I found that I could pump it up to 417x, my highest mag, which I use only a few times a year. The seeing was variable, but amazing detail popped out during clear moments. I sketched it, but I'm afraid that the sketch doesn't represent it accurately enough. The N hemisphere was almost blank, but the S was replete with detail, looking a little like the paint-splashed globe of the old Sherwin-Williams "We Cover the Earth" logo. The dark parts of the S hemisphere also resembled a continent with bays and penninsulas. No wonder the old-time observers let their imaginations run wild! I even saw two sharp linear features which reminded me of the old 'canals'. They didn't extend very far, but they did seem real. They were right at the center of the disk. These observations were done around 0345 PDT 27 Jul 2003. I'd appreciate it if anyone could send me an image of the actual features at that time, say from a planetarium program.

After that, it was time to start winding down. By then, I was the last one there, as usual. I spotted the California Nebula in the Ranger. I think I saw part of it it the C8, unfiltered.

The Pleiades were up, so I took a look. The Merope Nebula showed clearly, with an asymmetric tail which left no doubt that I was not just looking at the effects of a scratched-up diagonal and dirty eyepiece. After all the faint stuff and the red of Mars (through the red filter), the blue of those stars was quite striking.

I hadn't had a good look at the Double Cluster or M33, so I remedied both omissions. I could see the big H-II region (206?) pretty well, especially filtered.

By this time, a new light dome had appeared in the E and it was time to pack up. Saturn was up, and though it was very low, I could still see the rings, though not Cassini. Welcome back! The moon was just rising, and its Earthshine-illuminated disk and thin crescent made a perfect last target.

I left at 0500, saw the sun rise behind clouds from the Richmod-San Rafael Bridge, and drove into a wall of fog behind which lay Berkeley. It occurred to me that there are some deluded souls who believe that there are better ways to spend a Saturday night, and I pity them.