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The South Plains Astronomy Club is a small group of active astronomers who enjoy observing under the beautifully dark West Texas skies while being serenaded by coyotes and night birds. We’re a friendly bunch who enjoy showing newcomers the night skies and discussing the latest in telescopes, astro-imaging, astronomical discoveries and space exploration.
OBSERVING REPORTS

Observation Report - Gott Observatory, Saturday 17 October 2015
Posted by Collin Smith.

2015 Society of Physics Students Fall Star Party

I arrived at the Gott late, around 8 PM. My wife fixed us a huge late lunch, around 3 PM, and I wasn’t even slightly hungry at 6 PM. But I arrived with my Orion 102mm F/7 ED scope on my Orion AstroView (EQ-3) mount. Not a big fan of EQ mounts, but since this was the Fall SPS event, thought the tracking might be helpful. Took some getting used to after using an alt-az for so long, but I was able to put any target in the eyepiece, even those near zenith.

Dr. Clark had plenty of scopes in the shed whirring when I got there for the students.

As I was setting up, I looked at Saturn, low in the west, in Gary Leiker’s 12" dob. He had a low power eyepiece, probably his Meade 25mm HD, and it threw up a very nice image. Of course, looking at Saturn now, very low in the west, in the muck, is not an ideal time to view the planet, but even under these unfavorable circumstances, I could make out the Cassini Division (from time to time) and equatorial banding. Pretty good for low power in the muck!

Once set up, I went after the moon and put that in my eyepiece. Gary & Scott had set up on the southeast corner and I was in the north-central area of the eastern half of the pad. So the Physics students would naturally want to look through mine first, then Gary’s. We warned them against that, though, since after viewing the night-vision destroying 5 day old moon in mine, they’d not see much of Saturn. So they went to his, then mine, as a general rule.

Gary had M57, the Ring Nebula in his and of course it was beautiful. I would view it later through my refractor.

Albireo split very well in Gary’s 12" and my 4", of course. I prefer the view through the big mirror; it has enough light gathering to really bring out the color variation. It looks nice in a refractor — stars just do, of course, in their unobstructed light path — but the more photos the big mirrors bring to a colorful pair, the more color you can see. At least I can.

Mark arrived and began setting up his Meade 6" Maksutov Newtonian.

Gary’s dob made M31/32/110, the Andromeda Galaxy complex, look awfully nice. The moon and City of Lubbock were doing their best to destroy the night sky’s dark contrast, but those light pollutants couldn’t eliminate the beauty of these three. With Gary’s, they wouldn’t all fit in the same field of view, but they were glorious as they were. Gary had left his 2" eyepieces at home, so he borrowed my 28mm Explore Scientific 68°, while I put the 31mm Hyperion Aspheric in my focuser to put the trio into a nice 3.1 degree field. That was awful purdy!

Then we all went after M27. It looked very good in all the scopes. I was particularly pleased with the view in Mark’s 6". It’s quite amazing how much light a 6" gathers, and Mark demonstrated it quite well Saturday night.

The Double Cluster (NCG 869 & 884) is a crowd pleaser we all put in our scopes. Jerry Hatfield arrived around this time and began setting up his scope. I liked the wide angle view of mine with the 31mm Hyperion, but later in the evening, Jerry put this in his 10" dob and you could see a lot more detail in Jerry’s 10? mirror. I think he had a 20mm 100° AFOV eyepiece, so quite a nice wide field, higher power view than my 4? refractor could muster. Jerry’s got an excellent mirror in his scope, and he proved it again Saturday night.

Jerry put the Globular Cluster M2 in Aquarius in his scope. I had wanted to see it but with all the students in line, he’d moved on by the time I could’ve checked it out. But I didn’t make the same mistake with the Saturn Nebula, NGC 7009. Lying just above the “belly button” of the “bikini bottom” the constellation Capricornus draws on the sky, but technically within the bounds of Aquarius, the Saturn nebula sure looks good in a bigger mirror, and Jerry’s didn’t disappoint.

Gary put the Veil Nebula in the 12" with an O-III filter, and that was nice. Later Jerry did the same with his 10" and an UHC filter. The Veil is an interactive treat to navigate through visually and physically. I moved both scopes from the “top” where the Witches Broom is to the bottom of the brighter nebula, which is reverse the position in the sky due to Newtonian image reversal. But whatever way you look at it, the Veil’s a wondrous spectacle to cruise, huge 3 degree supernova remnant in Cygnus that it is.

Jerry also put the brightest galaxy in Pegasus, NGC 7331, in his 10? Orion dob for us all to behold. At an angle similar to Andromeda from our terrestrial perspective, it makes for a very bright spindle. Another beauty, this “star island” is 40 million light years distant.

I used my Meade 5.5mm eyepiece to split Delta Cygni, a blue-white star pair, the right hand star of the crossbar of Northern Cross fame as seen from the South Plains. It wasn’t an easy split, but she split just the same. I’ve been wanting to try this to test my optics. It passed.

Then Jerry put the Blue Snowball in Andromeda (NGC 7662) into his eyepiece. What an intriguing site! I had to try it out in mine, and thus began my misadventure. I wasn’t alone.

Dr. Clark pulled out his personal 18? F/5 dob and began his own difficult finds. I heard Dr. Clark, Jerry and Gary talking about first M52, on their way to NGC 7635, the Bubble Nebula. Gary said he’d never seen it visually, and Dr. Clark admitted the same, even though he’s successfully imaged it before. While they fought for that, I struggled with the Blue Snowball, NGC 7662. I finally found it. Not sure if Dr. Clark, et alia, saw the Bubble, or if they did, if they were impressed, but I must say the Blue Snowball through a 4" refractor isn’t the same thing as through Jerry’s 10? dob. Very underwhelming for all the work to find it. Oh well, getting a bigger 8" reflector might solve my problems, but we’ll see. Also, Dr. Clark looked for Stephan’s Quintet. I didn’t look through his eyepiece but heard him mutter about 3 or so objects. Did I mention the moon was out?

Jerry found NGC 7008 in northern Cygnus, a planetary nebula near Alpha Cephei known as the Fetus nebula. In the referenced picture it looks to me like a tadpole, but I suppose that’s fine, too, given that the phylotopic period of human embryonic development moves through the various stages of evolution from fish to us.

But NGC 7008 isn’t as impressive a planetary in 10? or even 18? scopes compared to M57 in my 4". I checked, and indeed, this was true. I hadn’t put the Ring Nebula in my refractor, and after my rather disappointing Blue Snowball find, it was just what I needed to keep me inspired. I know for someone like Dr. Clark he gets tired of M57, but I haven’t seen it in at least a month in a telescope, so I was VERY happy.

Inspired by the Ring Nebula, I thought M33 might be just the ticket, but forgot about the moon and the City’s influence on that wonderful but low-light surfaced galaxy. M33 is absolutely spectacular at a very dark sky site, but the luna and Lubbock made for a rather washed out blob. The funny thing in even my scope, though, was that if you simply stared at it a while, you’d begin to get a taste of its glory, with spiraling arms flowing off. Of course, this was better in the bigger scopes than my lowly 4", but since we were all suffering the effects of stray light, heavenly and earth-bound sources, the views were more similar than not. For another night after Last Quarter near New Moon.

Being in the Andromeda neighborhood, I decided to go after the other side. M15, the globular cluster off Enif, was a nice catch in my little 4"-er, though it looked more differentiated in Gary’s 12" (surprise).

I walked over to the north side of the observatory for a little break and looked westward, with Hercules staring down at me, so when I got back to the southside pads, I had to see M13. Again, a nice find in a little 4" refractor. Jerry had picked it off earlier in the evening with the students, who by this time had mostly left. That was another target I didn’t catch early, so was glad to see it later in the evening. Wish I’d remembered to try and split Rasalgethi, but another night.

Turning eastward, we could all see the Pleiades glistening in the muck. But M37, 36 & 38 looked “do-able”, so off I went. M37 was awfully low and particularly distorted for my view, which isn’t surprising, given how low it was. M36 was okay, and I could see the “Zia” symbol in it, but, again, a little low. Later, Jerry commented on it, and I’m sure it was better because the longer one waited, the higher up things climbed out of the thick lower eastern atmosphere. But M38 was, for me at that time, the right height. And the its ghostly companion NGC 1907 stood by. What a nice pair!

I tried for M1, and all I could think was “bluh”. Far too low and just a big blob.

I turned back to the west and pulled out M11, the Wild Duck Cluster. Very nice, and everyone enjoyed that vista. The Wild Duck cluster is very nice in a refractor.

Gary asked if I could split Epsilon Lyrae, the Double-Double, so off I went. Just a little past zenith, it was still pretty easy to get in the refractor on the EQ mount. In went the Meade 5.5mm, and yep, they were split. You couldn’t drive a truck through them, but they were indeed separated (you could optically squeeze through them).

In the general vicinity, I put back the Meade 20mm SWA in the diagonal and went over & above Cassiopeia’s W low side angle to see if I couldn’t tease out NGC 457, the ET Cluster. Again, another crowd pleaser that looks quite good in a refractor. But honestly, in Gary’s 12" with the 28mm ES 68°, it looked pretty darn good, too. In fact, it had more faint accompanying stars. Of course, the field of view was smaller, but the extra stars made it more detailed and interesting. NGC 457 looks very good in a refractor, but if you’ve got a big mirror with a wide field eyepiece, it looks even better.

Around this time Dr. Lance Drager of the Math Department who’d been there since 6 PM called it quits. I’m sure I would have, too, if I’d been there since 6. I was getting tired, but wanted to pull a few more celestial treasures out of the sky and into my optic nerve. On a night like this Saturday the 17th of October, 2015, it’s hard not to feel that way. There had been almost no wind all evening. The moon provided plenty of glare, but now even she had left stage west.

Next up was M45. By now, the Pleiades weren’t simply glistening in the muck — low in the east, mind you, but not deep in the eastern atmospheric muck. So I put ‘er in there. Now here is a place where the refractor can’t really be beat. Jerry put it in his 10", with the 20mm 100° ES, and it was big & beautiful (and all there!), but still, I prefer the 1.9 degree view through my refractor with the Meade 20mmm SWA. Didn’t put the Hyperion 31mm in for 3.1°, and that may have been even better, but a 1.9 degree view ain’t half bad.

After this, I remembered the two Andromeda beauties we’d forgotten, Mirach’s Ghost, NGC 404, and Almach. I didn’t bother with the refractor. Gary was off looking through Maurice’s 18", so I asked if I could find it in his 12", and he obliged. Mirach’s Ghost through a big reflector is a surprising find. Found it for the first time at a Copper Breaks Star Walk in the early 2000’s by accident, driving a 16" Obsession dob for a fellow who had both a 16" & 18" Obsession dobs to drive and realized I knew enough about scopes to run it and not ruin it. He was right about that, but I was trying to split Almach when I came across this white, non-double star with an amazing nebulosity beside it. Of course, it wasn’t Almach at all; it was Mirach! And the ghostly companion was NGC 404, an elliptical galaxy seven arcminutes away. Mirach is 197 light years away, but NGC 404 is 10 million light years hence! After Mirach I did split Almach with my refractor.

By now most everyone had left and the wind, which had mostly been absent, began to blow a bit. It was around midnight. Mark had already packed up his scope, and Gary & Scott pulled down the 12". I began the slow process of disassembling the refractor, while Jerry made quick work of breaking down his dob. But Dr. Clark decided to go after Neptune with his 18". He had to star hop a bit, since Neptune is NEVER easy, but eventually he put Neptune with Triton in the eyepiece. A fitting ending to a GREAT night of astronomy.

Observation Report - Tech Terrace, Monday night, 21 April 2015
Posted by Tom Campbell.

A Sea of Crises

The last couple of nights, I have been teased with a thin Moon and clear skies, but bad winds. Tonight the sky was still mostly clear, but the winds had died down considerably, so I decided to get in a bit of observing while I could.

Venus and the thin crescent Moon were near each other in the sky tonight, making for a breathtaking sight. I ended up taking several photos of the pair.



Moon

Formed during a large meteor impact, Mare Crisium (Sea of Crises) is over 345 miles in diameter. In 1969, the Soviet Luna 15 probe crashed here. Tonight, dawn had arrived on the large feature, with its rim showing up well past the terminator. This gave the Moon the appearance of the Death Star.

Another notable feature on the Moon tonight was seeing sunlight glistening off a few lunar peaks beyond the terminator near the south pole.


Venus

Appearing as beautiful to the naked eye on Earth as its namesake, Venus is one of the most hostile environments in the entire solar system. The high temperatures from being near the Sun and a runaway greenhouse effect have heated up the surface to around 900 degrees Fahrenheit. This has created a thick, cloud-covered atmosphere of primarily carbon dioxide, with traces of sulfuric acid in the clouds.

Using my telescope at high power, I was able to detect its gibbous phase. I could have used a filter to cut down on the brightness and see it more clearly, but didn’t bother with it tonight.

Jupiter

I was still waiting for the twilight to darken into night, so I turned my telescope towards the king of the planets. Jupiter did not disappoint. The Great Red Spot (GRS) was easily visible, as were several cloud bands. The GRS is a huge storm in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter that has been around since at least 1665, and is over 18,000 miles wide (two or three Earths would fit inside it!). A narrow white band of clouds was seen separating the GRS from the Southern Equatorial Belt (SEB), making it appear to pop even more.

Also crossing Jupiter’s disk was Ganymede. Although I couldn’t detect the moon, I was easily able to make out its shadow. Seeing both the GRS and a shadow transit got me so excited, I ran inside to tell my wife to take a look. She was also impressed.

NGC 2392 (Eskimo Nebula)

Planetary nebulae are the result of a sun-like star that has spent all of the hydrogen in its core and the outer layers are ejected into space while the core contracts. This will be the fate of our own Sun in a few billion years. While a horrible cataclysm to have to try to survivie, from a distance, it is often a beautiful sight.

NGC 2392 is no exception. At low power, it looks like a fuzzy star near another, brighter star. Increasing the magnification to 122x revealed a bright central star with a wide circle of nebulosity surrounding it. Using averted vision, I could begin to detect a few wisps of detail, but nothing definite. I’ve seen it look a lot better from darker skies.

NGC 2420

This open cluster was in the neighborhood of the Eskimo, so I thought I would take a peek. It is small and not that bright, appearing as some background glow with a sprinkling of stars. I kicked up the power to 203x, and a few more stars began to resolve, making it look better, but still not that impressive.

M104 (Sombrero Galaxy)

By pointing the scope about halfway along a line from Porrima to Beta Corvi, it is easy to find this galaxy. Right away, I could tell that galaxies were going to be hard to find tonight. Although it was obvious even at low power, it didn’t pop out like it usually does. The galaxy appeared as a long thin line with a bright central core. The famous dust lane was barely detectable, even at 81x.

Leo Triplet

To confirm my suspicions, I pointed the scope at the Leo Triplet. M65 and M66 were visible, but barely. I was completely unable to spot NGC 3628, even though I have observed it on several other occasions.

M53

Deciding to give up on galaxies this evening, I thought I’d try a globular cluster. M53 was nearby in Coma Berenices. This was more difficult to locate than I expected, because with my light pollution, none of the Coma Berenices stars were visible with the naked eye. I ended up using Porrima and Vindemiatrix as pointing stars to find it. The cluster was small, so I kicked up the power to 122x, which offered the best view (203x was mushy). The cluster appeared as a round spot of nebulosity that quickly faded out to the edges. A few stars were resolved at the edge of the cluster.

The wind was really starting to pick back up at this point. To test the conditions, I put the scope back on Jupiter. The GRS was now nearly centered on the planet, and Ganymede had just passed the edge of the disk and appeared as a bright little bulge on the side of Jupiter. The image was wiggling wildly in the wind, so I decided to pack it in for the night.

Observation Report - Gott Observatory, Sunday night, 20 March 2015
Posted by Tom Campbell.

March Madness


After being socked in by clouds for the last week (without seeing much of the needed rain), the Sunday sky cleared and a group of six of us showed up at the Gott Observatory to give our photon-deprived brains a good healthy dose of starlight.

As I arrived, a visiting farm dog came by to see what we were up to. He was very friendly and stayed with us the entire evening. He was well-behaved for the most part, but did have a tendency to try to lick your face whenever you would sit at the telescope and bend over to look through the eyepiece. No eyepieces were buried in the dirt, no telescopes were “marked” as dog territory, and when a few coyotes showed up in a nearby field (or were they chupacabras?) his growls gave us comfort in having a safe night of observing, so for me at least, he was a welcome addition to the group.

One person was a first-time visitor to our group, so of course, the rest of us were happily showing him the gems of the sky. He was soaking it all in and asking lots of great questions, so I think we’ll be seeing more of him at future events.

Strangely enough, everyone brought reflectors tonight, ranging in size from 6 to 12 inches. We starhopped to many perennial favorites, including the Moon, Venus, and Jupiter. We also saw highlights in Canis Major (h3945, M41, NGC-2359), Orion (M42/43, Rigel), Gemini (M35, NGC-2158, NGC-2392, Castor), Auriga (M36), Taurus (Hyades, Pleiades), Cancer (M44, Iota), Perseus (Double Cluster), Leo (M65/66 Triplet), Canes Venatici (M51), and Ursa Major (M81/M82 Triplet, M97, M108, M101). Rather than make this report any longer than it already is, I will only go over a few of the more memorable (to me) sights of the night.

As darkness descended, the pairing of the Moon and Venus stole everyone’s attention. With the naked eye, the earthshine on the Moon was incredible, and the darker the sky became, the more surreal it looked. By blocking out the thin sunlit crescent, the top half of the moon looked similar to what you would see during a lunar eclipse, except it retained a gray color. Very cool!

Through the telescope, Venus was very bright, but its gibbous phase was distinctly visible. The Moon showed a lot of craters that popped out in 3D.

h3945

After showing the newcomer the big obvious targets (Venus, Moon, Jupiter, M42), I showed him the beautiful double star h3945 in Canis Major. He already knew many of the constellations, so I showed him more precisely where it was located by letting him see where my Telrad was pointed. We agreed this was a flea on the dog’s back.

The double itself did not disappoint. He was impressed at the obvious double nature of the star. Then I told him to look closer and tell me what colors he saw, or whether both were white. He took a second look in the eyepiece and reported the same orange and blue colors that I normally see. I think this exercise actually made him get more enjoyment out of observing some of the later and fainter objects, because he was already learning to observe carefully and soak everything in, rather than just take a quick peek.

NGC 2359 (Thor’s Helmet)

One of my nightly targets tonight was Thor’s Helmet. I cannot see it at all from my backyard and wanted to take advantage of the darker skies to try to nab it. The southern skies at Gott are hardly pristine, as the sprawling city of Lubbock lies only about 10 miles to the south, but it was still a lot better than what I could see from my house.

Unfiltered, I “thought” I could see something very dim in about the right spot, but I threw in an O-III to make sure. Pop! Now I could easily see the half-circle helmet shape, but the horns still eluded me. Still, it was larger than I thought it would be, and even as dim as it was, I could make out a few details within the nebula. I can’t wait to see this from a truly dark site.

NGC 2158

I also enjoyed trying to tease some detail out of NGC 2158, an open cluster very near to M35 in Gemini. at low power, it was detectable as a hazy smudge off to the side of M35. I was able to squeeze out 203x out of my telescope and could barely start making out a few faint stars within the haze. Not that impressive by itself, but considering that NGC-2158 is about twice the distance away as M35, it makes for a cool comparison.

M97 and M108

Using one of the other club members’ 24mm Panoptic in my 8", I was barely able to squeeze M97 and M108 into the same field of view. This made for a great sight, seeing a large planetary nebula and an edge-on galaxy at the same time. Although at this low power, no real details could be seen, it still was a great image.

Everyone had a great time and we reluctantly started heading home around 11:30 as we all had to go back to work the next morning.

Observation Report - Gott Observatory, Sunday night, 7 February 2015
Posted by Tom Campbell.

The King’s Ball

Tonight was clear and unseasonably warm. And with the Moon not scheduled to arrive until after 10pm, it looked to be a promising night for observing. A group from the SPAC decided to meet out at the Gott Observatory to take advantage.

Most of the evening was spent going from favorite to favorite, comparing the views in different telescopes. We saw dozens of objects throughout the night, but I am only going to list some of my favorites here. They are in the approximate order that I observed them:

COMET 2014 (Lovejoy)

I wanted to make sure I took a final peek at Comet Lovejoy before it faded out of sight once again. The comet appeared large and round, with just a tinge of color left in it. The best part, though, was that the sky was dark enough to see parts of the tail, which I had not yet been able to see from my backyard.

M42 (Great Orion Nebula)

Although the nebula looked great as always, with dark green, billowy filaments of gas and dust fanning out across the entire field of view, we spent most of the time concentrating on how many stars we could see in the Trapezium cluster nestled inside. Five stars were easily visible most of the time through my 8? dob, but in moments of good seeing, I could make out the sixth star.

DOUBLE CLUSTER

This is always a treat, but through Jerry’s 10? dob with 100° 20mm eyepiece, it was flat-out gorgeous. The large clusters fit nicely in the field of view, with hundreds of stars visible.

M31 (Great Andromeda Galaxy)

The Great Andromeda Galaxy looked great tonight, with its spiral arms stretching out for miles, or rather, light years. The most fantastic view of it tonight, however was again with Jerry’s 100° eyepiece, where its two companion galaxies, M32 and M110 could also be easily seen within the same field of stars.

H3945 (Canis Major)

Collin pointed us to this pretty double star, nicknamed the “Winter Albireo” after its famous counterpart in the summer sky. One star was a deep orange and the companion was a medium blue, making a striking sight in even a small telescope. The stars were far enough apart to be easily split in a small telescope, yet close enough together to be visually appealing as a double star. This was definitely added to my “favorites list” tonight.

FLAME NEBULA (Orion) This was the first time I had seen this awesome nebula. My first view was through the TTU 18". After nudging the bright nearby star Alnitak out of the field of view, it was obvious, shaped a lot like a Christmas tree and even appearing green, with a dark interior.

JUPITER

The King of the Planets was definitely the highlight of the night. It was absolutely fantastic. Many cloud bands were visible, and the Great Red Spot was obvious as well. During moments of good seeing when the atmosphere settled down, the details were incredible.

But even Jupiter was about to be outdone by his own court. The Galilean moons twirled around the planet tonight, each one easily identifiable by their slight differences in size. Callisto appeared larger than either Io or Europa, and Ganymede was larger still. Through the 18?, you could even discern that Io was slightly paler and more of a creamy color than Europa.

Most of the evening featured Io (and its shadow) crossing Jupiter’s disk. The shadow appeared as a very tiny black dot crossing between the equatorial bands of Jupiter. As the moon approached the edge of the disk, Io became visible as a bright dot in front of Jupiter, with its black shadow following right behind. Around 11:30pm, Io completed its journey across the face of Jupiter and eclipsed Europa. It was interesting to see two moons merge into one and then split apart again. As they came together, the two moons looked like what Collin termed a snowman.

Shortly after this, you could see Europa become noticeably dimmer for several minutes as it slipped behind Io’s shadow. The dance of the moons was lovely to behold and made a great finale to a wonderful night under the stars.

Observation Report - Gott Observatory, Sunday night, 7 February 2015
Posted by Collin Smith.

Another courtier’s perspective at the King’s Ball

Mostly what Tom said, but . . .

I arrived about 7:15 with my two 4" refractors in tow, the Celestron 102GT on the Synta AZ-4 with wooden Hands On Optics legs, and my Orion 102 ED F/7 on a Vixen Portamount. Muchos eyepieces — I used the 7 & 13mm T6’s, along with the 5.5mm Meade UWA cum Baader M&SG filter on Jupiter. I loaned Tom Campbell my 9 & 11mm T6s at various times. I was very interested in the views in his 8" Discovery, and wasn’t disappointed in what I saw. Trying out my new Baader Hyperion Aspheric 31mm, I loaned Tom my 25mm XCel Celestron eyepiece — too busy going from the superwide field 31mm Aspheric and planetary Nagler and Meade UWA to stop in between. Fortunately Tom was agreeable to using the eyepiece, and in his dob, it performed quite nicely. Setting up my scopes, I called out that I had the February and March Sky & Telescopes should anyone want to refer to one. Tom announced he had January’s. “We’re set for 2015? I noted, but no one needed them, too fascinated by the events we found on our own.

I was so busy with my two scopes, Jerry’s, and Tom’s that I never even looked thru Gary Leiker’s 12" dob or Mark Smith’s 6" SNT. That was a shame, cause I’m sure they both brought quite a lot to the field, but managing two telescopes is, well, a little crazy. I was fortunate to meet Ron Hedden of Chem E, who just happened to show up for some imaging, and Father Malcolm Neyland who works with Jerry Hatfield in the chaplaincy at UMC, and has the capacity to grasp the magnificent in a telescope of the visual astronomy cognoscenti.

Jerry caught Comet Lovejoy very early & very well. The view was surprisingly good given how light it still was when he first found it, with a fair amount of residual sunlight from dusk still graying down the sky’s contrast. Still, even with the background light, good tail. Didn’t know he had one! Too much dragonfly influence, I suppose. But seriously, Jerry’s scope put one nice view of a comet that I’d have thought would be pretty much gone since last month’s Emma outing, pre-MLK weekend. But here it was, with a distinct tail, and not nearly as dim or distant-looking as I would have thought. Not very impressive to the naked eye, unlike out at Emma in early January, but excellent in Jerry’s 10" Orion, and very nicely framed in his new ES 30mm 82° eyepiece.

Jerry put M35 & NGC 2578 in his 10" with the ES 20mm 100°. The pair was fantastic, as usual, with M35 nicely resolved, and NGC 2578 a ghostly neighbor. Father Neyland was impressed with the beautiful sight, and I erroneously told them that the NGC was twice as far as M35. Actually, M35 is 2,800 light years away, while NGC 2578 is 11,000 lya, just nigh 4 times times farther. But a beautiful pairing it is.

M81-82 & NGCs 3077 & 2976 framing in the Hyperion Aspheric 31mm 72° & Tom’s Discovery dob was quite nice — all four in the same field of view. Woo-hoo!

The Great Orion Nebula, M42 was a must see. The Trapezium only yielded the E-star for me. Tom mentioned catching the elusive 6th, but I never saw F. The seeing was inconsistent. Sirius was a whirling, pulsating blur of bright white-blue, with Sirius B not seen or even hinted at. In contrast, Rigel split rather easily in my refractors, the little blue B star at between 6 & 7 o’clock in these scopes.

The Eskimo (NGC 2392) in Jerry’s 10? was quite nice. The Andromeda Galaxy group M31/32/110 looked good in mine & Jerry’s, as did NGCs 884/869, the Double Cluster.

Maurice brought out his personal (not TTU’s) 18” dob and put the Flame Tree off Alnitak. Bright and vivid.

It was late, and Scott, Gary, Jerry and Father Neyland had all left. Monday awaited us, but Maurice beckoned us to stay and catch the Jovian Mutual Event to take place around 11:30. I was at first hesitant, knowing how desperately my old body needs its rest, but the curiosity he put into us about the event inspired Mark, Tom, Ron & I onward. Although these Jovian mutual events happen in 6-year cycles, they are not so common near opposition, and the last series Dr. Clark has observed like this was back in the 1970’s. Wow!

Luna broke the horizon right on schedule, and at 22:51, her brilliance cresting the horizon. She rose with her gibbous, Last Quarter-ish terminator side, and appeared flat and almost sandwich-like between the sky and land. Amazingly, a wave of humidity hit us with her arrival. Luna’s dampening would presage the steamy goings on about Jupiter.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot was pink, but quite visible with the white band evident between GRS & the South Equatorial Belt all evening long. Early on, Io abandoned the side with Ganymede & Callisto into the globe of Jupiter, effectively disappearing into his Lord Creaminess. Ganymede & Callisto would be distant voyeurs for the rest of the evening. Europa was at the moment far across the other side of the King of the Gods, but would find herself quite entangled with volcanic Io as the evening progressed. Io’s belly-dance transit across the enormous girth of Jove’s mid-section was clearly visible in all the telescopes, her curvaceous black shadow distinct over the broiling striped atmospheric belts of Optimux Maximus. As Io neared the edge of mighty Jupiter’s corpus, her distinct brightness and coloration caught the eye like a beauty on the beach. Space was vast, but you couldn’t take your eye off this spectacular creature shining so against all the muscular Jovian bulk. The magnificence of Io’s return to space and parting with Jove’s body we blessedly absorbed.

And no sooner had Io departed her Master and blazed into the blackness of space one could easily see her b-line toward awaiting Europa, patiently biding her time as Io danced across Jupiter’s body. As they approached, I called out, “Folks, we’re T minus”, as the stage was set and all the players making their moves. At 11:26, Io first met, then held, then consumed Europa in a brief, tight occultation lasting only a few minutes. In no time, their unity disentangled first into a figure 8, a “snowman”, then separation. Finally, 6 minutes after the occultation, Io’s shadow dimmed Europa as the two went their separate ways around their Jovian perennial center stage. And it was over.

Such a night! I was tired all week, and never seemed to catch up on the lost sleep, but it was worth it. A Jovian Mutual event is something to behold. Catch one before the season ends.

Observation Report - Emma Cemetery, Sunday night, 11 January 2015
Posted by Collin Smith.

I arrived late, about 7:15, and too late to catch Mercury and Venus, now setting low in the west, but Maurice Clark, Scott Harris and Gary Leiker had seen them, and Mark Smith may have arrived early enough to catch them, too. Dr. Clark had his Jaegers 5” short tube achromat, an almost 50 year old scope. When not imaging, Dr. Clark paired the scope with a Williams Optics 28mm UWAN. More on this later. Gary and Scott had the 12” dob, while Mark had an 80mm achromat. I brought my C102GT, a 97mm clear aperture F/10.3 achromat. Gary used his Meade HD60’s more the most part, occasionally borrowing my ES 28mm 68°. I used the ES 28mm 68°, the Pan 24, and TeleVue Nagler T6’s 7 & 13mm.

Of course, the first item on my agenda, and even theirs although they’d already seen it, was Comet Lovejoy. That night, the 11th, in Taurus and a fuzzy naked eye 4th magnitude “star”. Dr. Clark noted how fast it was moving, and indeed it clearly had changed positions from the first time I saw it to further north & east on its way toward Aries and Triangulum, but from the “legs” deeper into the corpus of the Bull this evening. Dr. Clark snapped off a few shots.

We looked at a lot of things. Dr. Clark getting Gary and Scott to bag some Eridani galaxies, while I worked on the Orion Nebula & the Trapezium, having more luck, surprisingly, with my 13mm T6 vs. my 7mm one.

Without a doubt, however, the highlights of the evening were the jaw dropping widefield views the Jaeger’s 5" together with the WO UWAN 28mm. Simply spectacular! Dr. Clark had been imaging earlier, so the scope wasn’t available for viewing until later. He had to reconfigure the focuser a bit to get the diagonal in place after removing the CCD, but, man, was it worth it! The 3.62 degree true field of view combined with the light gathering of a 5? unobstructed primary, the rather perfect 5.6mm exit pupil, 22.68x magnification and the pristine Emma skies came together for an optic nerve nirvana. You’ve GOT to see it to believe it, folks. M31, the Andromeda galaxy, spread on forever and ever, amen! Obviously attended by both M32 and M110, seeing its galactic wings go on in a 3.6 degree field is just stunning! M33 lay in a beautiful field of Milky Way stars, faint arms unfurling. Maurice showed us the “pointing stick” of stars directed at the Double Cluster, stars one would never associate, could never associate, in a lesser field. And of course, comet Lovejoy’s long ion tail was spectacular flaring off this temporal inner Solar System interloper.

Now Gary’s 12" did a nice job of pointing out M31’s dust lane, and with my 28mm 68°, we could just put M32 and M110 in the same field. This level of detail is nice, and it was satisfying to have both widefield star scape and exacting detail on the same observing field.

Around 9:30 the winds picked up, and the warm 60 degree sunny day of Sunday gave way to the wintry, freezing fog of Monday. Just before this, I noticed the flickering and shaking of Rigel, which I was able to split, just barely, stars gyrating madly in the eyepiece, photons tussled about by the upper atmospheric disturbances that soon begat our much lower atmospheric ground winds. We packed up and headed home, a night of stargazing that I will not forget, widefield heavenly vistas running through my head even to this writing.





 

 

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