Another Fremont Peak Trip Report

by Randy Thelen

Two of my neighbors, Sumit and his wife Pam, and I planned to go to Fremont Peak to see the stars in a very good setting. We invited our friends and family to come with us. In total I think there were twelve of us, 2 telescopes, and two pairs of binoculars. What a great evening! The weather was warm, the sky was clear, the company was great. It's hard to have asked for a better night!

My own experience was that this was the first time I had ever located an object in the sky not visible to the naked eye: M13. Mimi Wagner pointed this one out to me and I repeated what I had just learned to Sumit and we both located the object in our scopes! Sumit was driving a borrowed 10" Dobsonian and I was having my way with a borrowed 8" Celestron Cass.

For me, M13 was the first big thrill of the evening. There were several more. I looked through the finder for M2, a golublar cluster almost directly above Mars inside of a four star asterism: Enif, Kitalpha, Sadaal Suud, and Sedal Melik. This was another find that made me feel great about the evening.

I continued looking throughout the night, peeking at different objects. Steve Strange and I were ultimately persuaded by my brother Edward that a double-double star formation exists just off of Vega near the constellation Lyra; and that the main stars of each double-double are clearly visible to the naked eye.

Robert, another astronomer who was nearby and over heard the hunt for the double-double, pulled out his star charts and found a double- double in Cassiopeaiae: Eta Cassiopeaiae. (I believe, I'm working from memory here.)

Also, I saw M31, The Great Galaxy in Andromeda. From there I easily found M110 and M32. NGC206 is suppose to also lie in the Andromeda Galaxy, but I couldn't find it. Mark Wagner pointed his telescope at it and I got a good look at a patch of haze not unlike the arms of the Great Galaxy in Andromeda near it.

Sumit and I had planned to observe a collection of Messier objects: the Lagoon Nebula (M8), Sagittarius Cluster (M22), Delle Caustiche (the Sagittarius Star Cloud, M24), Trifid Nebula (M20), the Black Swan (M18), two open clusters (M23 and M21), and a globular cluster (M28). And we wanted to find the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies (located at 12h15m Right Ascension, 15 degrees aove the Celestial Equator).

All of this planning was for naught: A mountain located almost directly to our South completely obscured Sagittarius, in which much of our planned objects lay. Except one object of interest, the Virgo cluster of galaxies was not blocked by the mountain. While writing up this trip report, I learned that the Virgo Cluster wouldn't be visible until minutes before sun-rise. Even then the glow from the arriving dawn would undoubtedly have washed it out.

Speaking of dawn, as we were getting ready to tear down our equipment, my brother and my dad wanted to find Saturn. Off into the wilderness we went, binoculars in hand and telescope in tow, to see the rings of Saturn. The binoculars identified a spherical object at which we pointed the 8" Cassegrain. Sure enough, at 1:45AM with 200x, Saturn was just gorgeous. And, my, did it whiz by in the eye piece! What a great final viewing of the evening.

I learned some things that I'd like to share. First, I was happy we had the green laser pointer. I really enjoyed hearing Pam describe to others what she knew (and what she wasn't quite sure of) in the sky. She used it to good effect helping her friends understand what we were looking at. I appreciate that its usage should be constrained, but for helping beginners see the objects in the sky it's invaluable. Striking a balance will vary from site to site and night to night; different fellow astronomers will feel differently about its use.

Second, I highly recommend that one be familiar with the observing site before making a list of objects to view. The sky was still beautiful, but Sumit and I now needed new objects to search for. Fellow astronomers present at the site were kind to offer suggestions and tips.

My last few learning tips are more of the basics that I'm still learning:

  1. Water, snacks, and warmth are an absolute necessity

  2. Red flash lights, chairs, and a card table for taking notes are helpful for learning

  3. A good star chart (e.g., Sky Atlas 2000, 2nd Edition) is very helpful

  4. Asking questions and talking with other astronomers is a must, everybody has their own perspective on what's fun to look at and why

  5. Share. I forgot to let my dad or my brother take a spin at finding an object with the 8" scope. I'm sure they would have enjoyed that.

  6. I can now see why people enjoy Montebello so much. It's much closer and it's a great spot. But, boy, Fremont Peak sure is a treat!

All in all, I had a great time on Saturday night! I'm glad so many people could make it.