SSP 03 Part Deux

by Jim Ster

Although maybe not as accurate as usual as of late, the CSC's were predicting some cloud cover at the local Sacramento observing sites, so Shneor, Gregg and I drove up to Shingletown last Saturday for a night of observing. It was well worth the drive. All in all the evening was a success, albeit the wind kicked up just enough (5-10 mph) after midnight to mess up the seeing as well as cause the scopes to vibrate more than we'd of liked, but clouds were never an issue and I was able stay up all night. I checked out a few galaxies, but spent most of my time looking at planetary nebulae and was not disappointed. We had some views of the Saturn Nebula around 11:00pm which were stunning. In both Shneor's and my 22" Pegasus mirrors you could clearly make out the elongations which give the impressions of rings and hence the name. We also took a few minutes to compare views of the NGC5350 group which includes 5 galaxies, 4 of which could be seen with direct vision and the fifth with averted vision and a little patience. I have to admit that Shneor's 9mm with fewer layers of glass beat out my 9mm Nagler by a touch, but both of these blew away his 8mm. Unfortunately, it was shortly after the views of the Saturn Nebula that the seeing and transparency dropped a notch and we worked on brighter objects. The views of the Veil, blue snowball, blue flash, the cats eye, and the cocoon were quite nice as well.

Because I don't have much time with my new 22", I spent a lot of the night working to get my collimation perfect, but alas, I fell victim to that age old difficulty of trying to do something in the dark and ended up making matters worse. It wasn't until dawn started to rear its ugly head and shed a little light on the situation that I was able to actually get it dialed in. Even though the sun was coming, I was still able to get some nice views of Mars as well as the very thin crescent moon. The moon was actually very eerie (but way cool) to look at because the earthshine was illuminating the dark side and you could see slight shadows being cast by some of the more prominent features. Mars had more detail than I'd ever seen, including a very bright white southern polar cap and some dark regions that caught my attention.

One of the more interesting parts of the evening happened as we were getting ready to observe when this van full of people and astro-gear (an 8" Discovery dob and some binos) showed up. It turns out that these folks were from Idaho and had driven down to attend the SSP, which of course was actually a month earlier. Apparently Astronomy Magazine had posted incorrect dates for the SSP on their website and these folks unknowingly drove down thinking they would find a huge star party in progress. Well, even though they missed the SSP by a month, we still had a good time sharing views with them through our scopes. They set up their cots and sleeping bags on the runway and had a great time.