Fremont Peak Observing, " FPOA Mars Night-8/23/03"

by Peter Natscher

EventFPOA's "Mars Night and Star-B-Que"
LocationFremont Peak (Ranger Row), California
Telescope10" f/14.6 Mak-Cass with Zeiss/Baader Binoviewer Conditions at 11:45 pm: occasional breeze, 62F, 74-78% RH.
Seeingvariable planetary sharpness (5/10-8/10), good stellar and deep sky sharpness and contrast from the good sky transparency.

Fremont Peak on Saturday night was very packed with campers, visitors, and FPOA member who I've never seen before. After arriving at Ranger Row, a FPOA Star-B-Que was in progress for FPOA members next to ranger "CL's" resident house. He was off duty on Saturday and wasn't in uniform. I've never seen it so crowded at the Peak for this widely announced Mars observing event by the FPOA. Setting up in Ranger Row with four other parties, we continuously offered hundreds of visitor's great views of the brighter summertime Messier objects until Mars was high enough (10 pm) to show better detail. All age groups passed by me from sunset 'til 2 am asking about my "Monsterous White Telescope and Pier". I offered views to all lined up (sometimes 10-15 in line) of a variety of bright Messier objects (M57, M27, M11, M13) and explained to them what these are in relationship to each other and our galaxy (the Milky Way above). I was using my Zeiss bino's with a pair of easy to look through 24mm Panoptic eyepieces for the detailed Messier's. By 10 pm, I moved the scope S.E. to orange glaring Mars and with the bino's in and now inserted two 12mm Tak LE's with Baader planetary filters added.

These long eye relief planetary eyepieces provided a beautiful, contrasty and colorful view of Mars at 400X. In addition to the superior planetary seeing gained with using both eyes, the filters really did help in seeing even more surface features on Mars. Many visitors coming from the observatory told me that Mars was too bright to clearly see any surface features through the 30" telescope (stopped down to 10" for Mars). Bino's do cut some of the light transmission advantageously for observing the brighter planets like Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Everyone who looked through the bino's in my scope at Mars were so delighted by the detail seen with both eyes. The seeing wasn't quite as good as last Saturday night (on 8/16) but it still was good enough for my 10" Maksutov to see sub-arc-sec detail well into 1 am. I did take a last look at Mars at 3:30 am and the seeing had become very soft.

By 1 am, I was so exhausted from providing +200 new people observations that I wanted the few hours remaining for my own observing. I returned to enjoying the Herschel objects in Cygnus, Cepheus, and Cassiopeia from 1 am 'til 3:30 am, after which I rolled out my sleeping bag to catch a couple of hours of sleep before dawn. By 3:30 am in the east, a beautiful winter sky was now rising, along with Saturn in Gemini, reminding me of more great observing coming my way later on this year.