Shingletown Report (better late than...)

by Bill Chandler

I arrived at Shingletown AP at 3:30PM Saturday. Since I had the RV with me, finding a flat and level spot (next to the runway) became a difficult task. Since Bruce, Dan, Mel and Shneor were already occupying the high ground, I decided to move back down the runway, about 200 yards, to a flatter section). (this later proved to be a bit of a benefit to the others as you'll read later). :-)

I brought my 8" Meade LXD55 Schmidt-Newt GOTO. As Shneor and Bruce already noted, the sky conditions weren't that great. Oh well, I was 'there' and would take anything I could get. :-)

Just after sunset, I noted Venus very low on the western horizon (about 3 deg above the distant tree tops). After polar alignment had been completed, I initialized the Autostar and proceeded with the 2 star alignment. My first object was M13 (one of my favorite globular's). I centered on M13 and increased mag to 150x. Nice but Not sharp (due to the average seeing) but I was able to make out a number of stars and the internal patterns within the glob. My next target was M8 (lagoon Nebula). While the it was apparent, in the EP, the southern sky conditions weren't acceptable for viewing anything in Sagittarius.

Mel and Dan stopped by (about dusk) to say Hi and look at my setup. Mel's name was quickly recognized, by me, due to all his work in motorizing telescopes (particularly GEMS). We chatted for a little while and they invited me back up to the 'hill' for some viewing in Dan's 28" later.

After slewing to a few more objects (M15, M57 (ring), M27 (Dumbbell) and M11 Wild Duck (stopping at all, trying various EP's mags and filters) I decided to walk up for a look see in the bigger scopes. As I approached Shneor's setup I saw a huddled group (Mel, Shneor and Bruce) working intently on debugging his tracking setup. Seeing they were preoccupied with this, I drifted over to Dan who was looking in his 28" (This is a folded design so the EP is a bit closer (and easier) to use than the traditional Newtonian. Dan was looking at NGC253 (Sculptor galaxy). While we could see this large galaxy, the sharpness suffered from the sky conditions (and it was still a bit low (about 25deg above the south eastern horizon). We then moved to NGC247 (and even dimmer galaxy) a bit higher than 253. I could only see this object using 'averted' vision. We then proceeded to the Helix Nebula (NGC2793) using Mars to locate the general area. Swapped in the O-III filter to get a better look. Interesting, but again the details were lacking. I then suggested we attempt the Saturn Nebula (NGC7009). Never observed this object before, so I wanted to see it in a large OTA. With the highest mag (16mm) it looked blurry and undefined. This was due to the average seeing and the astigmatism in Dan's mirror. We could make out the blue color and the basic shape (just like it's name sake) but that was about it. The 'troubleshooting crew' was still checking out Shneor Setup, so I headed back to my scope with the idea of coming back later for some views in Bruce's Binos' :-)

As I arrived at my setup, I heard a distant roar of an ATV engine. Seems somebody was coming up the runway with no headlights on. I waved my 'bight red' flashlight in that direction (not wanting whomever to crash into my scope!) Just then, they switched on their headlight! Illuminating me (and the rest of the group further up the runway). "TURN OFF THAT HEADLIGHT!" I yelled, and they quickly obeyed. It turned out to be 2 local teenagers, attracted by the red lights we were using. They apologized for the headlight and asked what I was doing. I proceeded to tell them and invited them to look into my eyepiece for a better view. (I was looking at M15). Their first reaction is 'what's that?" I explained, but sensed they wanted to see something other than a globular cluster. So, I slewed over to Mars. While not at it's prime, it was interesting enough that they seemed hooked and asked for more. "how about Saturn?" one asked. I told them it was not up yet, and they would have to wait until Midnight for a better view. So, as a consolation, I found Uranus and showed them that. We talked for awhile longer. Using naked eye, I showed them the Big & Little dippers, Polaris, the summer triangle and Cassiopeia. They appreciated the tutorial and said they'd be back (with no headlights next time). They rode off in the night (back toward the runway entrance). I'd effectively distracted them from continuing further up the runway and intruding on the other guys with the much more expensive equipment (assuming they would've preferred to keep younger eyes (and hands) from going where they shouldn't. Don't get me wrong, I like introducing the young people to astronomy. But in the dark and you're not sure 'who' they are (and with 'what' intentions,) discretion is the better part... :-)

With that done, I went back to my observing. In October edition of S&T, an article talked about interesting objects in Cygnus & Cassiopeia. It looked like a nice list and since Cygnus was overhead I proceeded through the published list. NGC6811 a small open cluster. Interesting. Not a lot of stars but a nice pattern. Next was 16 Cyg. A pair of yellow stars about 40" apart. This turned out to be a good reference point for finding the next object NGC6826 (Blinking Planetary). Cool, This actually looked like Uranus. Blue in color and about the same size. As for 'blinking' I didn't see this effect. ;-) I then moved to NGC6866 (open cluster). This looked similar to 6811. My next target proved to be elusive. IC1311 An open cluster near gamma Cyg. Never did locate it. :-(

Dan stopped by to see what I was looking at. After playing around with the Autostar, He suggested we look at NGC253 (Sculptor). Again, it was not as detailed due to sky conditions, but we wanted to see if it could be located. After some hot coffee (it was getting a bit cold) Dan left to head back to his scope. I followed a bit later (still wanting a peek in Bruce's Bino's).

Bruce was indeed working his bino's. My favorites were the Veil (NGC6995) and later Orion M43. WOW!!! is the best description I can use. These objects were "3D" in his Bino's. Unbelievable. In Orion, the Dark nebula column near the trapezium almost jumped out of the EP. Spectacular. I can only image what it might look like when the sky conditions are excellent. :-) THANKS BRUCE. :-)

After a checking out Thor's Helmet (also know as Duck nebula) in Canis Major (NGC2359) in Dan's scope. I called it a night (around 3AM).