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Thread: Dark-sky Site + Outstanding Conditions = Whole Lotta Fun

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    Default Dark-sky Site + Outstanding Conditions = Whole Lotta Fun



    Date/time: Saturday, January 25, 2014 (1900 – 0010)

    Conditions: At the San Diego Astronomy Association’s (SDAA) dark site near Tierra Del Sol, California. The moon was in its third quarter and it was SDAA’s monthly public star party night; I set up on my private pad and then had a wander around the rest of the site while my scope cooled down. Conditions were nothing short of outstanding; transparency was 5/5 decreasing to 4/5, and seeing was 5/5, the best I have seen. The temperature was about 65 dropping to about 42 degrees Fahrenheit, the wind was calm, and the humidity was fairly low. The public pads were at about three fourths of their capacity and the club’s 22 inch Lipp telescope was up and running and there was a group of boy scouts in the observatory ready to observe with the club’s representative running the ‘scope.

    Observations: I had marked up a February whole sky chart with some choice (fun) targets and the high level goal of getting some galaxy time in, including seeing the new supernova in M82. As things started out, I deviated from my plan right from the start by deciding to align my finderscope and Telrad on Jupiter; that’s when I figured out just how good the seeing was! I started out with my 9mm and aligned, but was so impressed with how crisp the view was at 192X that I had to see how it would look through my 20mm and 4X Powermate (with the Paracorr’s additional 15% magnification, 345X). The view was magnificent. I could clearly see the great red spot near the upper side of my mirror image, the bands were clear and I could see the swirl patterns in the atmosphere and 4 Jovian moons.

    I checked out M31, M32 and M110 with my 30mm EP and was able to clearly see two dust lanes in M31. I could see some structure in M 110 too; nothing clearly identifiable, but there was some mottling in the surface brightness.

    Next up was M81 and M82, so I could check out the supernova. I started out with the 30mm EP. I was expecting two stars side by side from looking the one image I had seen of it, so after seeing only one bright star in the brightness of the galaxy where the supernova was supposed to be, I kept on cranking up the magnification until I had 345X and with good seeing and perfect focus I still only saw one star. Then I went over to the public pads and asked a couple of gentlemen who were also observing it and they confirmed that there was only one star in the light of the galaxy and that was the supernova. I took a look through their 10 inch scope and saw the same thing as my scope, just a bit smaller due to their lower magnification. They helped by pointing out that there is a straight line string of stars coming in from an angle that ends at the supernova.

    Next I checked out the owl cluster, NGC 457, with my 30mm. It was upside down in the EP, but I could easily see the owl with its bright eyes. Then I decided to check it with my 15X70 binoculars and found that I liked the view of it even better that way; it looked much more like ET now (another name for this cluster) and it was upside right. What a cool cluster!

    Then I checked out M52 at the end of the Cassiopeia W. It was nice, but there are a lot of better clusters out there. Speaking of better clusters: the double cluster kept appealing to my bare eyes, so I gave in and checked it out with my 30mm and it was so bright that I almost felt like it was going to ruin my night vision. Bright, beautiful, and full of cool patterns; what a showpiece!

    I also checked out the double cluster in my binoculars and they looked good that way too, but the brightness of the 12 inch mirror won first place on this comparison. Then I did some open cluster hunting with my binoculars down in Canis Major, Monoceros, and Puppis. I ended up exclaiming to myself that I just love those binoculars, because they made such short work of finding M41, M50, M47, M46, M48 and M93. The binoculars made it much easier to compare and contrast this mixed bag of clusters. M41 was biggest and brightest, M47 has a lot of bright stars in it and is right next to M46, which is very rich and large, but obviously more distant since all of its stars were much lower magnitude. M93 is pretty small. On my way from M46 over to find M48, half way between the two, I found and identified the cluster NGC 2506. It was a lot of fun scanning around the area and finding clusters everywhere. M48 was notably large and rich.

    Then I proved to myself that I had seen M46 & M47 with my bare eyes by putting the scope right on target by simply putting the Telrad finder on the bright spot in the sky. With the 30mm I was able to see the planetary nebula NGC 2438 in M46. Then I put in the OIII filter and that made it pop out, then I went up in magnification to the 14mm with the OIII and it got even better. The stars were still nice and bright, but the background went to jet black and the PN was now virtually jumping out at me yelling “LOOK AT ME!” Lots of amazing views this night!

    Since I had the OIII filter in, I decided to quickly hit M42 (still with the 14mm and OIII) and was gob smacked at the clarity in my eyepiece. I could see individual tendrils of fine nebulosity all over in the trapezium area. Never before have the seeing, my collimation, and everything else lined up to make such a perfect view of the trapezium. I intended for this to be quick, but couldn’t tear myself away and found myself exploring the nebulosity. There is what looks like a sharp, deep, cliff-like edge on one side of the trapezium that made me feel like I was in a spaceship cruising through the nebula. I actually felt like, wow! That is a deep area there. Too cool! With such exceptional seeing conditions, I felt like pushing the magnification to see how many stars I could count in the Trapezium, so I took out the OIII filter and went up to 493X (ES 14mm 100* with 4X Powermate and Paracorr T2) and was able to clearly see six (6) stars (A, B, C, D, E, and F). Oh Yeah!

    Next I checked out the globular cluster M79 under Lepus with the 9mm. It is a pretty small cluster, but rich; it looks like it is just fairly distant. I decided to go ahead and crank up the magnification and at 345X it was a bit nicer to look at.

    Then I took in M1 and with the 14mm and OIII filter and was able to actually see some slight detail in it. The best way I could describe it is it looked like there were some fine, barely discernable, filaments visible in a pattern that appeared randomly crisscrossed on a fine scale, while making a roundish pattern overall.

    I wanted to see more with the binoculars, so I spent some time on M42 and was able to also see M43, the flame nebula (NGC 2024), and M78. I was a bit surprised at how well the Flame nebula could be seen and how large it was in the binoculars. I also checked out the Flame nebula and M78 in the telescope and found (to my surprise) that it and M78 actually looked better without the OIII filter.

    I wanted to spend some time with the galaxies in Leo and Virgo to increase my familiarity with them so I can progress more quickly whenever I do my next Messier Marathon (attempting to find all the Messier objects in one night without computer aid). Leo was getting high enough now, so I first checked out M95, M96, M105 and NGC 3384. I didn’t intend to find NGC 3384, but it was in the mix up there and in order to figure out what was what, I needed to identify it too. The galaxies are right between Rho and Delta Leonis. Going from Rho toward Delta the galaxies are roughly one third of the way. First you hit M95, then you see M96 slightly off to the side, then M105 very close to NGC 3384 and a third dim galaxy that together make a triangle.

    The Leo triplet (M66, M65, and NGC 3628) was next. They are right between Theta and Iota Leonis. Right between the two stars you find M65, then right next to it going toward the rear of Leo the lion, you have M66. These two look like the eyes in a smiley face and the third galaxy is long in the direction perpendicular to M65 and M66, so that it makes up the mouth part of the smiley face. NGC 3628 is closest to the triangle that makes up the tail section of Leo the lion. All three of these similar galaxies fit nicely into the FOV of my 20mm 100* EP.

    Next I went on to do some identification work in the Virgo galaxy cluster. It’s not hard finding galaxies here, but there are so many of them that it takes some time to identify which you are seeing at any time. I like to use the two bright galaxies M84 and M86 as a jumping off point, since they are easy to identify, right in the middle between Denebola and Vindemiatrix. There are so many galaxies there together that with my 30mm EP I could clearly see six galaxies at once. M84 and M86 make a triangle with NGC 4388 and there is a dimmer galaxy right in the middle of the triangle that is not in my Sky and Telescope Pocket Sky Atlas (I found later that it is NGC 4387). Going in a straight line from M84 to M86, you run into two side-by-side galaxies NGC 4435 and NCG 4438, then NGC 4461, NGC 4473, NGC 4477 then the chain of galaxies (Markarian’s Chain) curves around to NGC 4459, but if you continue off in a straight line, you come to M88 and can find M91 nearby going toward Vindemiatrix. M88 is elongated and M91 is face-on.

    At this point is was 12:10 and I was feeling very satisfied with the night, so instead of pushing myself to the point of being dead tired for the drive home I decided it would be a good time to wrap it up for the night. All in all, the night was nothing short of OUTSTANDING.
    Name: Sam
    Equipment: SkyWatcher 12” Collapsible Dob w/Telrad, Explore Scientific 30mm 82*, and 20mm, 14mm, & 9mm 100* EPs, Tele Vue 4X Powermate & Paracorr T2, 2" Lumicon UHC and ND13 (moon) Filters, 2" Astronomik OIII filter, dew heater system, and Nikon Action 7x50 EX Extreme ATB 6.4* binoculars & Celestron 15x70 binoculars.

    I'm enjoying learning the sky by star hopping; just charts, my binoculars, and my Dob!

  2. The Following 5 Users Say Thank You to samgray1 For This Useful Post:

    billp (01-27-2014),helicon64 (01-27-2014),j.gardavsky (01-27-2014),pb2au (01-27-2014),Shallbe (01-27-2014)

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    Default Re: Dark-sky Site + Outstanding Conditions = Whole Lotta Fun

    Hi Sam,

    Excellent report and a fun read. Thanks for sharing. It's night like these that we reminisce about for years to come.

    Clear skies again,
    JT
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    Default Re: Dark-sky Site + Outstanding Conditions = Whole Lotta Fun

    Hello Sam,

    thanks for your outstanding report, and congratulation to your having seen the SN in M82. The mass of the DSOs you have been observing during 1 night is impressive.

    The SN is on my observing list, but not sure, what the skies over my backyard will be doing, we have got new snow.

    Looking forward to more reports from you,

    JG
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    Default Re: Dark-sky Site + Outstanding Conditions = Whole Lotta Fun

    Wonderful report, Sam. But, I'm jealous. Wish we had those conditions here, but it will a few more weeks. Really liked your report though, thanks for sharing.
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    Default Re: Dark-sky Site + Outstanding Conditions = Whole Lotta Fun

    Hi Sam and thanks for the fine report. It definitely was a great night out under some dark skies. My star hopping through Leo and Virgo clusters resembled your own. The profusion of galaxies is so great that it is almost unbelievable. Glad to see that you caught the supernova in M82. I was going to check it out last night but a fog arose obscuring the view, and now there are cloudy skies in the forecast, but hopefully we'll all be able to enjoy moonless skies for awhile now.
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    Default Re: Dark-sky Site + Outstanding Conditions = Whole Lotta Fun

    Really enjoyed your detailed post!
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    Default Re: Dark-sky Site + Outstanding Conditions = Whole Lotta Fun

    Great report. What a wonderful memory, too. It sounds like the kind of experience many of us just dream about.
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    Default Re: Dark-sky Site + Outstanding Conditions = Whole Lotta Fun

    That's a very nice report. I enjoyed it a lot.
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    Default Re: Dark-sky Site + Outstanding Conditions = Whole Lotta Fun

    So thats where the clear skies are!! We are so socked in I can barely see my back fence.....grrrrrr...... good for you!!!
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    Default Re: Dark-sky Site + Outstanding Conditions = Whole Lotta Fun

    Amazing report, felt like I was there. I've only seen skies like that hiking in Utah .
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