MB Sat 13 Sep 2003

by Matthew Marcus

Spend all night standing around looking through telescopes? Anyone who doesn't do that would agree that it's crazy! Do that with a full moon so that faint fuzzies become even fainter? Even crazier! Why do that? One word - Mars.

I got to MB shortly before sundown and found James Turley already there. He had been wondering if anyone else would show. No need to worry - half a dozen of us crazies came. There was just enough time before sundown to have a quick look at the sun. It was perfectly blank, with no visible sunspots. I suspect that this is quite a rare condition, even near solar minimum. Too bad I didn't have a camera to aim down the EP as there were bushes making interestingly photogenic shadows in front of the solar disk.

Mars is rising pretty early nowadays, and was obvious in the twilight wedge ("Venus' Veil", as I'm told it's also called). That would have made a pretty picture, too.

We had a hour or so before the Big Bright Thing came up, so I went through some of the brighter eye-candy objects. MB isn't the darkest of sites, so I wasn't about to attempt any 12th-mag galaxies. The seeing was moderately good.

I sketched Mars at about 9:40PM, when Syrtis Major was coming over the limb, then again at about 2:50AM, by which time it was well-placed and Mars was past the meridian. This was the first time I'd done the exercise of sketching at two different times on the same night. Hellas was visible, as were a number of other features I haven't learned the names of yet. The polar cap continues to shrink and is now quite small. The second sketch shows the effects of poorer seeing, which continued to soften through the night.

I had a lot of time to kill between those two sketches. I spent some of it looking at the moon and wishing I had a good map of it. Casey Fukuda (have I got the name right?) had a fancy 11" SCT with all the trimmings including GOTO and a tour function, and he gave us a tour of double stars. Most of these were ones I'd never heard of (not being much of a double-star observer), but some were famous ones like Albereio, 61 Cyg and epsilon Lyrae. One of the stars on the list was Enif (epsilon Peg, 8 Peg). None of us could split it. More to the point, none of our books listed it as double. I think we found a bug in the database. Oh, well. It's a nice colored star anyway.

As we were winding down, Saturn had risen, so we had a look. I'd seen it before this year, from Lake Sonoma shortly before dawn, but some of the other observers were greeting their old friend for the first time this season. Cassini's division was visible but not clean because the planet was still low, but it's always nice to see Saturn. Nobody stuck around for Jupiter. We also took a look at a soft, blurry M42 and Trapezium.

Casey started to pack up at the same time as I started my last sketch. I finished up and got out at 3AM, leaving Casey, not me, as Last One Out. At least, I upheld my tradition in the sense of being the last one observing.

All the above goes to show that even a full-moon observing night is better than none.