Lake Sonoma Saturday 8-2

by Bob Berta

A few of us stalwarts went to Lake Sonoma Saturday night hoping for a repeat of the spectacular seeing/weather of the previous weekend. We figured the SF City Star Party was going to be a bust since it has been socked in with heavy fog every night for the last couple of weeks. The LS Sky Clock looked promising so off we went.

It was beautiful and clear as I started out...but as I drew closer some ominous clouds were making their entrance. We hit the Healdsburg Bear Mountain Republic Brew Pub for some tasty brew and one of their Black and Blue burgers (yum).

When we came out the skies had turned very cloudy. Figuring that as long as we drove the 85 miles we might as well head up on the mountain and pray to the clear weather gods. Art, Chelly and Russ decided it wasn't going to clear so they headed back. The rest of us broke out the camp chairs and socialized for about 45 minutes.

To our delight the clouds mostly went away just as the darkness enveloped us. The lack of wind seemed to be a harbinger of good things to come. Once the moon set it was nice an dark and there was good seeing. There was some moisture in the air...the high dew point meant we had to break out the dew Kendrick kept my optics nice and dry.

The remaining 7 had some delightful views of various objects like the familiar Messier objects M17, M8, M20, M5, M13, etc. waiting for Mars to show up. We quickly switched to Mars and were rewarded with some particularly good views. Linda and Norman Mahans 11" Nexstar GPS needed a touching up of the colimation so I tweaked it a bit...after that the view through their scope was pretty spectacular.

Doug put his fine DOB on the red planet and tried the view through his binoviewer...nice effect. The pole ice cap was nice and bright and lots of mottling and patterns were visible. About midnight we noted that "something" seemed to be causing some problems...we looked behind us in the direction of Polaris...and it had disappeared along with most everything in that part of the sky. Over the next 30 minutes we fought to find some objects in the clear parts of the sky...but finally gave up when the fog pulled the "plug" on our nights viewing.

I slept in my car a couple of hours before I headed headed back to San Francisco. When I woke up it was extremely much so that visibility was about 5'! One of those nights when you almost have to open your car door and stick your left foot out to feel the Botts Dots on the center line to make sure you were still on the road ;-)

I drove down to Healdsburg for a bit of breakfast and than drove back to pea soup fog all the way. All together we probably got about 2 1/2 hours of clear viewing...but the excellent views of Mars made it worthwhile. Still no sign of the dust storms that ruined last years viewing of Mars.