A Surprising Night at Houge Park

Mark Wagner

It turned out to be a much better night than expected. Weather forecasts called for wind increasing throughout the day, and reaching 25 mph during the night. It couldn't have calmer. Wispy clouds were appearing as I drove into Houge Park... but disappeared after sunset. There was a penetrating chill in the air at sunset as I set up my 10" CPT, but temps seemed to warm soon after. All in all, the night turned out to be a pleasant surprise... I stayed for the entire event.

With a full 1st quarter moon high in the sky, this was not a night for faint targets. A few people insisted on picking out galaxies, M81 and M82 were seen in telescopes as small at 4 inches. A 12.5" CPT gave the best view of M82, but still, not the night, thanks to Mr. Moonlight. I picked out M3, which broke into sprinkles of stars, but certainly wasn't its splashy self. Perhaps the best deep sky views were the big open clusters in Auriga (in the 12.5").

The real show of the night was put on by the moon and Saturn. Early on the seeing was okay, but not really tack sharp. I was cranking up the power on crater Eratosthenes, which was sliced in two by the terminator, enjoying the chain of craterlets sitting in the full sunlight, but wishing the steadiness could improve a bit. A neighbor with an 8" Orion Dob looked, and decided to get it in his scope. I looked at his view... it was fantastic. Detailed rilles and sharp edges on the craterlets. I was baffled, wondering how his smaller scope with mass produced optics (mine has pretty high end optics) could so clearly outperform my view. I went back to the 10" and looked again. It was the seeing! It transformed in a matter of minutes from acceptable to outstanding. The moon was giving up detail all over the place. This was totally unexpected, given the forecast for strong wind overnight.

That transformation kicked the star party into overdrive. Saturn now held up even in my most powerful eyepiece. The moon became a playground. Visitors were having fun, some so excited at the views words literally failed them - - - it was really, a surprising night at Houge Park.

It was also surprising to me, how much I have missed the public aspect of amateur astronomy. I used to be a regular at Houge, but over the past five years, seeking out darker sites further from home, my participation has been infrequent. This year has been a nice return. Maybe its time to bring sidewalk astronomy to downtown San Jose...

If you would like to participate at Houge Park, with or without a telescope, here is the events schedule for the San Jose Astronomical Association.

See you next time!


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

OMG! Its full of stars.
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