3 bad raccoons, 2 clear nights, 1 cup of beer and 0 speeding

by Brian Zehring

After an unusually mellow day of work I headed south down the 101 to Lake San Antonio. As I turned off the freeway, I pulled over to put the top down and settle in to some good music. I was fortunate enough to be able to do this because Jane had volunteered to bring the 30" and its new trailer down with her. With all the travelling and running around I had done over the last few weeks I was extremely grateful to Jane for her generous offer (thanks again, Jane!). The road in was a lot less windy and twice as pretty as I remember it being. I had a hell of time keeping a reasonably safe speed. I was enjoying the scenery and listening to Jimmy Buffett, it was the most relaxed I had been in a while. It knew it was going to be a great time.

I arrived to find Jane, Gary (I have not yet earned the right to call him "the dude") and a lot of folks on the observing field.

I set up the 30" and waited for the end of twilight. Everything was working well and I had a decent list of objects to observe, but knowing that I would likely get distracted and never even look for 2/3 of the objects on my list. I started out with the ring nebula as I usually use the central star as a good test of the seeing conditions. The central star was more difficult than usual and was a little difficult to hold with direct vision. I next began looking for the little galaxy (IC1296) next to the ring that I had never seen before. Knowing it was 15th magnitude, I thought it would be relatively easy and did not consult any charts before looking. I didn't have any luck. I checked with Gary's chart and we were able to locate it, but it definately had a very low surface brightness. Around 9:00, Gary came over and told me to check around my car as he had seen some raccoons nearby. I had left my windows open for part of the night because I had my warmer clothers and food in the front seat. I arrived at my car just in time to see a raccoon running away with a 1 pound bag of Tostito's Gold chips that he took from my front seat that was unopened. I looked inside to survey the damage and noticed two raccoons in the front seat staring back at me! They had trashed pretty much all of my food and made a mess of my new Corvette. The funny part was that I saw what looked like a pile of seat stuffing in the driver seat and I thought they had torn up my interior. Turned out to be pieces of bread. No big deal, no permanent damage done.

I looked at several different objects during the night, a couple Abell planetaries and mostly showing other people the usual eye candy. Mark Wagner also stopped by for a little while and showed me a galaxy triplet (NGC 48,49,51) next to another galaxy triplet (forget the ic numbers) Around 2:00 Mark invited me over for some Orion beer to celebrate Orion rising in the east ( I can't believe it's almost winter again). It was good beer and great company. I went to bed shortly after. I woke up about an hour later to see one raccoon next to me and two others on top of my car. I made a feeble attempt to build a raccoon shelter with some chairs and a couple Uranometrias, but to no avail.

I woke up the next morning around 9:30. The fog was most welcome and made both mornings easy to sleep in.Skies were a little better the second night. I started out with Abell 82, which was found with direct vision and low power (quite unusual for an Abell). I next moved confidently over to Abell 83 nearby. I found the star field but no planetary. I asked Kent Wallace (a renowned planetary nebula observer) to verify the field and if the planetary was visible. He verified the field but did not see the nebula. He checked his notes and this planetary was one he had tried before but without luck. We would need a little darker skies for this one. He stayed awhile and observed a few objects with us.

We next looked at Abell 70, which is planetary superimposed over a faint galaxy (very cool). The planetary had a distinct annularity and the galaxy was just visible on the edge of the bottom of the ring. The galaxy disappeared when the OIII filter was put in. As I have mentioned before the Abell's have been quite a chore to accomplish. They are typically quite large and very low surface brightness planetaries. I also have resolved to not find any of these objects using the GOTO on the telescope only by star- hopping off the excellent charts created by Alvin Huey. Anyway, Kent mentioned that he had seen a planetary named Sharpless 2-174 (on Simbad it is SH 2-174) in the previous month and wanted to see it in the 30". He explained that this objects shell had ran into a dust cloud and contorted into a U-shape. The white dwarf connected to it was no longer even in the nebula. It was quite old and very faint. We located the field and at about 250x with an OIII filter the nebula came into view nicely. We also located the white dwarf star attached to it with a finder chart Kent had. Kent said that him, myself and possibly one other person were probably the only people to have ever seen it visually. Pretty cool. Earlier in the evening, David Kingsley had came by and told me about an object on the "AINTNO" list that sounded like we may have a shot at. It was an 18.5 mag globular in the Andromeda galaxy known as G132. He had a good finder chart and I located the field pretty quickly. We tried for over 2.5 hours to see this little glob with no lasting success. Both David and I felt we had glimpsed it just briefly on a couple different occasions but not enough that we felt comfortable claiming it as a successful observation. The mind can play tricks on you, especially when you know the field and exactly where the object "should" be. Too often you hear of observations that are just plain suspect given the aperture of the scope and magnitude (or type) of object being observed. David and I did hold two different stars that were fainter than 18th magnitude that were in that same field, so I think with darker skies it will be possible. We tried powers up to 1500x but found that around 600x gave us the best view. I thoroughly enjoyed the search. Thanks for the suggestion David. Called it quits around 4:00.

I had a great time and enjoyed the event thoroughly. Thanks to all those that made it happen.