Where Stars Go To Die (8/19)

by Mark Wagner

Went to Coe Saturday, already tired from being out at Houge Park the night before. Richard Navarrete had suggested a pot luck for the group and put word out on TAC. I stopped at the Morgan Hill Safeway for chips, wine and a few other goodies to contribute.

I was first in the parking lot at Coe. Navarrete arrived less than five minutes later. Soon other began to show. Tony, Bill, Chuck. We sat at the picnic bench under the giant oak at the south end of the lot, warm afternoon sun keeping the chill of the steady breeze at bay. Comments about the breeze were softened by the fact there was no dirt blowing. That was a good sign.

The pot luck was set for 6:30, and right about then cars began rolling in as if someone was ringing a dinner bell. Oddly, not a lot of people participated. I think Bill Cone won best entry, with his homemade pasta salad and bottle o Zin. Nice going Bill. There was also sushi, chips and dips, all sorts of goodies. We chowed, cleaned up, and it was time to start setting up.

The sunset was good once again. It is really a beautiful spot, San Jose to the northwest under a promising and thickening layer of low moisture. To the south Fremont Peak stood prominantly over a thick wall of fog already pushing its way deep inland toward Pacheco Pass. These were all good signs. Sunset happened, right on time. No green flash. Maybe a green sprite, but I'm still flashless.

There were few hikers, if any. One mountain biker left after dark. We had two visitors that live just down the mountain in Morgan Hill. Nice husband and wife. The wife is involved in education, and coincidentally was looking for astronomy resources for an associate. Didn't know we'd be at Coe, they'd just gone for an afternoon drive and found us. Stayed until well after dark, looking through several telescopes. That was our public outreach at Coe, while our lower elevation counterparts did their outreach down the mountain to the south at Coyote Lake.

The sky began bright, as the fog layer was not thick until later in the evening. Even so, the sky was much better than back in town, either my yard or Hogue Park. By midnight the fog was a thick blanket, fingering into the small valleys and canyons below us. From midnight to three thirty it was about as dark as I've seen it at Coe. The summer pattern held true, and we had a very good night.

Richard and I began observing soon after the guests left. I'd been putting together observing lists for months, and when Richard suggested we just do something easy, like working out of the Night Sky Observers Guide, it sounded great. Back to the days of having no plan, just wandering the sky in search of new quarry. We began in Aquila, which was nicely placed high in the southeast.

I'd spent a lot of time there in the past. It is the graveyard of the stars, where they seem to go to die, with more planetary nebulae than any other constellation. All the dead souls of the stars.

Here is what we observed between about 10 pm and 3:30 am in 18" f/4.5 Dobsonians.

NGC 6749, globular cluster in Aquila. Off the western wing of the Big Bird, this is a very difficult globular to observe. I've picked it up before, but there must have been some glop in the atmosphere early on, as this, our first target, was very elusive. Three dim stars running mostly N/S pointed to a dim haze to their south. An arc of stars to the southwest and a single star to the northeast seem to border the haze. This one is a challenge object. I tried 20mm, 12mm and 7mm Naglers. I have to list this as a DNF that night as the "haze" was too much like, lumpy darkness....

NGC 6751, planetary nebula. In an easy location off the naked eye tail stars of Aquila. This small planetary was visible using 20 Nagler and no filter. With 7 Nagler and NPB filter it appeared annular, and without a central star. Occasionally I felt there were "sprites" popping in and out along the outer edges of the disk.

The planetary nebula PK40-0.1 is also known as Abell 39. There are three stars running generally e/w under the western wing of the Eagle at mags 5.6, 6.5 and 5.2 tht point directly to the target. This is another challenging object. The most convincing view was with a 12 Nagler and OIII filter. The planetary sits just off a mag 11.3 double star 5' to its nw, and mag 13 star 1.3' to its n. The object was very "in and out" at first, settling into occasionally held with averted vision.

ngc6755 was next. This is a nice large open cluster with another small open, ngc6756, next to it. The view is somewhat reminiscent of the pair M35 and ngc2158. It is a short star hop from Abell 39. The cluster appears to be in three main sections, rather unusual, separated by dark lanes. ngc6756 fits in the same field using a 20 Nagler.

ngc6760, globular cluster. Just over three degrees south of the open clusters sits this easy to view globular. Its bright core diffuses out quite noticeably. It is an easy object to find and see. It seems on the verge of resolving, and appears to extend asymmetrically more to its s.

ngc6773, open cluster in Aquila. My notes say "yawn".... this small open is in a very easy to find location, but appears to consist of maybe four stars. I have to agree with Richard, its OC's like this one that makes one lose their taste for opens!

ngc7184, galaxy in Aquarius. We shot over to this galaxy as it was creating a stir among several of the observers. I think it was Albert Highe who suggested it. Jamie Dillon could be heard in near ecstasy ooohing and ahhhhing over it. Before going further, I'll mention that that is part of the fun being out in a large group. Interestingly, some people don't hear the others out there, but I sure do. I knew Greg LaFlamme was having a blast breaking apart Stephen's Quintet. Matthew Marcus' voice was unmistakable at the south end of the lot. Richard and I kept looking over and seeing Jamie's scope standing alone, as he was spending a lot of time by Albert - we considered moving his scope to the other side of his car while he was on extended leave. I think everyone was having fun, and of course, as all this took place the sky continued to darken as the fog layer grew ever thicker.

Back to 7184. It was worth the trip. It is a large no-doubt-about-it lenticular galaxy, extended ne to sw, and quite elongated. To its north extend three other galaxies, ngc7180, ngc7186 and ngc7188. Only the last one required some effort to pull out.

ngc7137 is an interesting galaxy in Pegasus, our next stop using the Night Sky Observer's Guide. It too is in an easy location to hop to, using a series of mag 3 and mag 4 "constellation figure" stars lined up e/w to get there. A star nearly touches the western edge of the galaxy, visually changing its shape from round to somewhat fan shaped. In fact, Richard suggested it looked like Hubble's Variable Nebula (aka, Richard's Comet). I agreed.

On a line south of the preceding stars of the Great Square of Pegasus sits ngc7469, a roundish galaxy with IC5283 dimly sitting very close by. The brighter galaxy was mag 13 and elongated 1.5'x1' ese/wnw. Sitting perpendicular to it to the ne is the IC galaxy, clearly visible at mag 14.8 and elongated .8'x.4' ne/sw. This was the dimmest object seen easily during the night.

Nearby was Pal 13, one of the difficult Palomar globulars. We were so close by, and its in such an easy location, we figured "why not?". The glob is moving toward us, so eventually it should brighten up ;-) But at its current mag 15.6 all I could pick up was a very occasional glow, slightly elongated, with the 7 Nagler. This also would have to go into the DNF file, as I don't know if I was seeing it, or just some lumpy darkness. While in the area, I kept running into the big and bright galaxy ngc7479 to the sw. This galaxy is worth a visit!

ngc7625 is listed as a round galaxy in Pegasus, about 4' northeast of Markab (Alpha Pegasi). It appeared to have an elongated core, wsw/ene with a brighter area to the ene. I thought it might be a face on spiral with a possible bar.

By now it was getting late. Richard and I kept saying "this'll be the last object"... but somehow, kept going. It was about 3 a.m. and we were very surprised to see how many die hards there were still observing. We had some conjecture that places like Coe drew more of the die-hard crowd, whereas other places - Montebello and Coyote appealed more to the out-by-midnight or one observers. Whatever, it was astonishing to see so may people still at it.

On the border of Pegasus and Pisces is ngc7743, a nice large bright galaxy with a brighter inner section and a stellar core. It sits in an attractive field with several bright finder stars. I felt it looked spiral with a hint of arms.

Our last target in Pegasus was ngc7800, an elongated galaxy on the "line" from Gamma to Alpha Pegasi. I found it surprisingly difficult to locate, probably a result of fatigue. Perhaps I should have had more pasta salad at dinner. The galaxy was unusual in appearance. It was rather elongated, but not overly so, about 3x2 nne/ssw. What was odd was a noticeably brighter nne end. After leaving the eyepiece, I looked at the DSS image and sure enough, this galaxy is disturbed and does show variation at its extremes.

Richard and I left Pegasus at that point, and headed to the waters. Down deep, low in Cetus, on its western extreme bordering Sculptor, is ngc45. This is a big galaxy. It reminds me about the big southern galaxies I rarely visit. ngc45 is encouragement. While this is a large object, there is a mag 6.8 star very nearby in the field that makes the galaxy more difficult that you'd expect. The galaxy seemed involved with a star to its north, extending dimly away to its south. I enjoyed the subtle nature of this target's soft and obscured glow. It, like the other's I'd seen during the night, were all enjoyable. I will dis no galaxy, lest others dis mine....

The final target of the night was ngc145, up higher in the western end of Cetus. It turned out to be my favorite observation of the night. It appeared large and elongated 3x2 from the wnw to ese. At lower power it had an even brightness, and no central concentration. When I mag'd up with the 7 Nagler a weak central concentration appeared, oddly, oriented n/s, almost perpendicular to the major axis of the galaxy. Checking the DSS image afterwards, I called Richard over for a look. It is sure fun to pick out detail in these distant objects....

The night was over. People were breaking down, other than few of the most determined of the hard core. We talked briefly with Albert and Jamie, then hit the sack. I woke with the sun coming in the windows of the truck, after 3.5 hours sleep. We packed up the scopes and headed out.

Back down the hill, through the fog, to downtown San Jose and the bright night skies of home, where not only the stars, but whole constellations go to die...

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