FP 8/19: The Winds of Pluto

by Marek Cichanski

Okay, so Pluto probably doesn't really have a heckuva lot of wind. But it was windy at FP last night, and I saw Pluto. At least I'm pretty sure I did, if my software is to be believed...

Tuesday night at FP started out great, although we ended up being chased out by wind. The high clouds that had been so ooky over Palo Alto all day were all hiding off in the NW when I got to the Peak. That was very good to see. And the Pads were just above the fog - I mean JUST above, like 200' or so. And it was warm and dry. Richard Crisp was set up for imaging with his C14 with adaptive optics system and dichroic beamsplitter. I was using my XT10 as usual. It looked like we were in for a world-class FP night.

And it WAS great, at least for the first couple of hours. It was my birthday, and I was looking to do something a little different, so I decided to try a mini Messier marathon. Having not done the marathon this spring, I decided to just see how many Messiers I could log in one night during the summer. I started in the Dipper and worked my way east and south. It was a lot of fun, and it made me look forward to next spring. It was clear, though, that to make a log entry for each object during a marathon would require a tape recorder, at least for me. Doing it at my computer, even with my logging database with its popup menus and shortcuts, would be too time-consuming.

It appeared that Richard's imaging setup was working very well. He was shooting the central part of the Lagoon Nebula, trying to image a structure called the Hourglass. If I recall correctly, his guiding was working very well and all of the other gear was humming along nicely. He got at least one H-alpha image of the central Lagoon, and to my eye it looked amazing, Hourglass and all.

Ken Lum showed up after dark and set up for Mars imaging. With only the three of us, it was easy for us to share the pads and accommodate someone setting up after dark. All was well at Ranger Row.

The Milky Way was easily the best I've seen since Shingletown, hands down. Very bright, very wide, very detailed. Fine detail in the dust clouds could be seen naked-eye all the way to Cassiopea. This included the Great Rift, the transverse rift north of Deneb, and another dark patch around northern Cygnus that I think might be called the Northern Coalsack. The large central crossbar in "Barnard's E" was readily visible, and I think that I might have been able to see all of the E if it hadn't gone behind the strobe towers on the Peak. (I guess that would have involved seeing the Pipe Nebula...didn't think about that at the time.)

Seeing was very good, too, as judged by the views of Mars through Ken's 5" f/8 refractor. It's a cool scope, with an AP triplet objective and a beautiful tube and focuser made in a home machine shop by the fellow that Ken bought it from.

I think I bagged Pluto. After looking at M9, I tried for Pluto. If Starry Night Pro was being accurate, I saw a very faint 'star' with averted vision in just the right place. Assuming that I really got it, it was a nice birthday present.

Sadly, the wind came up and got really strong between 11 and 12. Richard and I broked down and headed out by about 1am, although Ken stayed behind to see if the wind would die down.