How To Feel Letdown on a Good Night

by Mark Wagner

I had not planned on observing at Houge Park last night. An early moon rise combined with a two night observing trip to the darkest corner of California next weekend had me planning an evening at home, reading, writing, or in front of the tube (possibly subjected to a parade of HGTV fix it or design shows). An evening or two spent together is always a good thing. But as soon as the question "Isn't there a Houge Park tonight" was asked, I was out packing astro gear into the car.

I haven't been much of a regular at Houge the past few years. There was a time I went twice monthly, for years. Now it feels more like twice yearly. But it does give me the opportunity to take out my 10" f./5.7 CPT, and it is great fun to pack the scope, mount, eyepiece case and step stool in the passenger seat of the Miata. It is one of those rare opportunities to witness an actual blivet. But it works...

It was a very pleasant evening, warm temps and a clear sky. Jupiter was first, high to the south. I viewed it progressively with my 20mm Nagler (72x), 12 Nagler (121x) and 7 Nagler (207x). I showed surprisingly nice color, distinct ochre bands standing out well, and some hints of a large festoon would occasionally snap in, in the somewhat soft seeing. Best views were through the 12mm, but it is way too fun pump up the mag and wait for the seeing. A number of visitors were around, several waiting outside as spouses sat in on the SJAA lecture (learning about different types of telescopes) - mostly women and younger children. They too enjoyed peeking at Jupiter. I always enjoy watching children twisting their heads around, trying to figure out how to look in the eyepiece. It is also funny to ask them if the see the object - Jupiter, The Ring Nebula, etc,. and usually they answer "yes" even if you can see, clearly, there is no way they can with their head twisted so off-axis! But it is fun, and that's what we're there for. Serious fun.

There was a good turnout - must have been a dozen or more telescopes, and earlier on plenty of public. As the sky darkened, the show began. The curious public had a great time, and some beginning observers, trying out their telescopes, also were clearly enjoying themselves. Made me think of my first experiences at Houge Park, maybe 17 years ago, and how amazed I was and excited at what I could see.

But I also could not get over how bright the sky seemed! Even with the Milky Way showing, which it clearly was last night, the sky lacked so much detail, I was having difficulty star hopping and kept wondering what the problem was. Then I realized, it *is* a good night at Houge, but I also felt let down! The problem was my frame of reference, as my prior night out doing astronomy was at Bumpass Hell parking lot at 8,000 feet on Mount Lassen! What a huge difference... the same shock hits me every year.

I had brought my Edmonds Mag 6 Star Atlas, but found it unnecessary. I spent the evening showing off highlight objects that I've viewed hundreds of times. They included The Ring Nebula, Alberio, M13, The Double Double, M15, M22, M8, Izar, M11, M17, and The Blinking Planetary. The best views were of M8 with a UHC filter - the nebula was very apparent and nicely contrasted with the open cluster, M13 was at zenith and put on a good show, and the double stars were pretty cool. M15 was disappointing, kind of low in the muck, it looked dull and small.

I spent a good deal of time describing to the visitors what each object was - what stage of the stellar life-cycle was represented in the particular view, distances, ages, the concept of light years, etc. There were lots of good questions, about the views, and about my telescope!

The end of the evening was punctuated by an intensely bright meteor, screaming from north to south - perhaps an early Perseid. Oh, speaking of streaking objects, we also had a nice pass of the ISS earlier in the evening. Comparing the two celestial streakers, I'll take the meteor, any day...

It was a very enjoyable evening. At moon-up I packed the scope and other gear into the car, and took a final look at the sky. I realized how much I liked Houge Park, but also that I now spend my time at darker sites. Plettstone, Lassen, Willow Springs, all good dark places. I don't even frequent Coe or Montebello much any more... the hobby has over the years added a new element - the road trip - to dark skies.

Next weekend, it will be checking out a new observing site, six hours away in the darkest far reaches of California... where the only light will be from the Milky Way, and Perseids.

Clear skies,


Observing Reports Observing Sites GSSP 2010, July 10 - 14
Frosty Acres Ranch
Adin, CA

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