by Casey Fukuda
As the sky got darker the clouds didn't seem to get any worse, but they didn't seem to get any better either. It didn't take long for George to convince us that often times when the transparency looks poor, the seeing can be good. George got his rig up in no time (a fine TV 85) and was giving Marek and I an accounting of a nicely split double double. The seeing was pretty good, even though the cloud cover only allowed us to see the planets and some bright stars with the naked eye.
By astronomical twilight, Marek and I were set up and sucker punching to some surprisingly nice views. The was just enough clear skies to keep us interested. George suggested several great doubles to split and our iffy night started to get fun. For a good hour, the cloud condition didn't improve. We kept at some great doubles and a planet or two. Well, wouldn't you know it, by around 2000 hours the sky started to clear up slightly. We could make out several more constellations than at the begining of the night. Within a half an hour of noticing the improving cloud conditions, the whole sky opened up. Clouds disappeared and the stars came out. The transparency improved by 90%. There must have been some upper level winds to blow the clouds away, because the seeing got a little soft for a while.
Marek and George were setting up for some wide rich field views. We caught glimpses of the entire sword of Orion, then entire belt of Orion, the double cluster in Perseus and at least one more double open cluster. That was really fun. We got the TV 85 down to about 20X and some really low power views with Marek's Mak utilizing a Celestron 2" focal reducer.
Towards the end of the night, Saturn and M42 were positioning themselves for some great views. By 2230 hours, Saturn must have been 50 degrees above the horizon and M42 at least 40 degrees. I cranked my C11 up to 310X and swung around to Saturn. There were many moments of good to excellent seeing supporting the high power. The Cassini Division was easily seen. Equatorial bands on the disk of the planet showed well. And Titan, the great moon of Saturn, was definitely a tan disk. My first really great views of Saturn for this season sure lived up to its billing as one of the best objects to view in the sky.
M42 was, of course, just as spectacular. Although, the Trapezium only revealed 4 stars tonight, the nebulosity was very bright and extended. Maybe if we would have put more power on the Trapezium, we could have seen a 5th or 6th star, but we were content with low power views tonight (with the exception of Saturn).
All in all the night turned out to be a great sucess. It just goes to show what a little perserverance can do.