Munching Cosmic Brownies At Coe.

Mark Wagner

I can't remember the last time I was at Coe. I suppose I was there some time earlier this year, but it has been a while. When I arrived at the overlfow lot the gate was locked, so I drove to park headquarters and soon had Ranger Bonnie unlocking it, and letting me in. Richard Navarrete joined me there, and eventually maybe a dozen other observers were parked around the perimeter of the lot. It was a treat to see Richard Ozer there. I also hadn't seen Kevin Roberts or Mark Brada for a while, as well as Greg Claytor, his (TAC lurker buddy) with a Highe-type scope, and Matthew Marcus. "Dan" (didn't catch the last name), Mike Delaney, Chris Kelly and his food raiding dogs (hey... great dogs, but they raided the KFC remnants from inside my truck - think Bumpass' Hounds in Christmas Story!), Peter K, Jeff Weiss, and others were there too. We really had a good group, and quite a social observing evening. Folks from down the hill and in the campgrounds joined us after dark to look through our scopes and learn about the sky and our see some of our neighborhood in it. There are certainly a few new observing converts among them - good questions, wide ranging discussions (water table, fishing, GSSP, astro-clubs, literature, philosophy and joking) on a warm and clear late November night. What a treat.

The skies began very mushy. I didn't look, but heard comments about Jupiter being plain ugly. Stars were fat. The sky glow from San Jose was up high, and you could see the moisture content out there. Transparency was noticeably down, and my 18" f/4.5 scope was barely breaking into the mid mag-14's. As such, a lot of the targets on my observing list were just silly to try for. I thought about the skies at Willow Springs the prior weekend, and, while last night was an okay (average) night at Coe, I found myself missing the darker location. The trade-off was proximity, I could easily drive home afterward and enjoy waking in my own bed.

Even though the transparency and steadiness began as a double-whammy, the seeing improved dramatically as the night wore on. But, the lower transparency put me off my list for sure, and I spent much of the night doing public outreach and looking at brighter, familiar targets I hadn't seen in a while, and just hanging out with the buds.

Of the "tougher stuff" I chased down:

A component of Hickson 1 - UGC 248 in 12mm and 7mm. Elongated, averted.

Arp 65 - which is part of the NGC 83 group I observed the prior week (had at least 25 galaxies) - Nice field in 7mm - NGCs 80, 83, 91, 93, 96, 86 and 79.

Arp 249 - UGC 12891 - 7mm - small, dim, averted, elong N/S with dim star involved or stellar core.

I also observed:

NGC 23 - 7mm - small galaxy elong N/S with star involved on SE. Other galaxy to W is dimmer and elong E/W.

NGC 129 - Nice triangular open cluster in field dominated by 6th mag star to S. Triangle opens to the N.

NGC 136 - 12mm - small, dim, rich, round.

That was it for my list.

There was actually something of a "party" atmosphere going on by about 10 p.m. The group had gathered around the two 18" scopes (mine and Richard's) and we were sharing eyepieces, views, Mexican Coffee (a few of us, limited supply) and the Cosmic Brownies I brought along. Here... put your mind at ease...

Mmmm... mmmmm!

It turned into something of an eye candy ... or, actually, let's stick with the "Cosmic Brownie" kind of night at Coe...

I was showing M31 and its satellites to the visitors using Ozer's 35 Panoptic. People were easily able to see all three galaxies in a single field, in relation to each other - distinct differences in size and shape. Cool. We showed the Double Cluster, which sparkled. M45 still overflowed the field, but was spectacular. From there I showed M15, to contrast young open clusters with ancient ones and to talk about distances. M37 in Auriga with the cool red star at its center. On to M42 - which our guests not surprisingly fell in love with. We even showed M1 to give an example of a supernova remnant, along with synchrotron radiation scientist Marcus discussing for our company what was actually taking place *in* the object. Fascinating. And fun. Who'd ever guess that amateur astronomy could be such a group participation activity!

Later, after the company took off, I began poking around at a few other interesting objects. I began on M82, which was very sharp in the 12mm Nagler, looking like it had two big chop marks in it with chunks missing from the galaxy. One comment was that it looked like it was almost cut in half.

I peeked at M81, and convinced myself I was seeing some outer sweep of the spiral arms.

Decided to try something I hadn't looked at in a long time, since the seeing was now excellent. Off to NGC 2371/72 in Gemini. Nice bi-lobed protoplanetary. At 294x with the 7mm Nagler and NPB filter, the SSW lobe was clearly circular and brighter than the "trailing" ENE lobe, which also appeared circular, but larger. Between the two was a dim stretch of filament that seemed brighter on its N edge, although with averted vision filled in to something of a bar.

Oh, reminds me, I tried that target after having an excellent view of M76 with the 7mm and NPB filter.

I kept the NPB in an moved on to a showpiece planetary - NGC 2392 - aka the Clown or Eskimo. This object stole the show as far as planetaries for the evening. With the 7mm in,the central star stood out well, alone in a torus of black, surrounded by a sharply defined neon-glowing ring. The contrast and clarity of this view was as good as I've ever seen. Surrounding the neon ring was the soft slightly elongated "puff" of outer envelope. Several of us kept taking in this view. When its working, get it while you can!

Moved back to Orion and (NPB and 7mm in) went through M78 and the associated NGC emission nebulae that form the larger complex. Richard Ozer and I were picking them out. Then (for the heck of it) I decided to cross the line (inside Orion's torso above his belt) to try for UGC 3331 (negative observation) and on to another emission nebula, IC 426. We didn't really buy into seeing it while we were there, but looking at its shape today (using The Sky) and the DSS image, I am certain we were picking out the brighter/denser portion trailing off a bright field star. Woo hoo - redemption!

After that, I began looking for something more off the beaten path, and noticed that Sirius was now reasonably high. That meant NGC 2359 was up. This target is a large area of nebulosity illuminated by a Wolf Rayet star - in a shape that reminded someone of a Norse Helmet. And so it was named Thor's Helmet. Again, with the NPB in and a 12mm Nagler, this object showed great extent and variety in density. If you get a good night, you should spend a little time there. Under the right conditions, this one is a hidden gem.

I think we finished up on the Rosette Nebula, which showed thick, almost pasty patches, and put me in the season's spirit. The 18 was doing great, but by then it was past 1 a.m., and that was the Witching Hour for me. My bed sounded good. It had been actually a very rewarding night, unexpectedly, given what the sky looked like early on. Instead of a "butt-busting" observing session, it was more kicked back at Coe. A relaxed, social, and as it turned out, very good night, even with a brighter than normal sky. And, surprisingly, I didn't even put on a jacket or hat (although I had layers of thermals on). Amazing, for the last weekend in November.

Let's hope for a repeat in December. If it sounds to you like this was fun, it was. Come out next time... I'll bring the brownies...


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