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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 — Sunday night, July 15th, 2018
Posted by Collin Smith.

Mark Smith with 10” F/5.56 Newtonian
Richard Craig with 102 Maksutov
Steve Maas, binoculars
Your Humble Narrator, GSO 8” Dob

We dodged clouds, principally in the south, all night. We caught the gibbous Venus & beautiful Crescent Moon early, but quickly turned our attention to Jupiter. Io created a transit near the Jovian lower right limb, the moon itself hidden in the Jovian clouds in the foreground. Europa was off to the left (in Mark & my Newtonians, to the right in Richard’s Mak) Ganymede much further out off to the right, while Callisto was farther still, far away to the right

Saturn, big band across his center, with the Cassini Division very clear, while the shadow the globe cast against the back portion of the rings demonstrated the 3-D effect of visual viewing so hard to replicate in photography.

We saw …
Albireo (β Cygni) — beautiful, colorful double
Izar (ε Boötis) — also beautiful, but tight, double (white-yellow primary, blue secondary)
A fruitless search for NGC 6826, Blinking Planetary Nebula
Coathangar asterism (Brocchi’s Cluster, Cr 399), nice is the finder scope, too big for my dob
M51/NGC 5195 (somewhat disappointing this night)
M81/82 (no NGC 3077)
Hershel’s Garnet Star, μ Cep (mostly orange-ish to us)
M22 in Sagittarius (great gobular!)
M17 Swan Nebula in Sagittarius
M16 Eagle Nebula (Open Cluster), in Serpens
M8 Lagoon Nebula in Sagittarius
M20 Trifid Nebula inSagittarius
M57 (as Steve was leaving) in Lyra
Cor Coroli, α CVn — pretty double
M3 in Canes Venatici

We returned to Jupiter, noting Io’s transit progression across the Jovian surface, right-to-left, with the emerging of the moon proper from Jove’s left side (Newtonian perspective, of course).

Saving the worst for last, though typical of the clouds we dodged, a light sprinkling fell as I put up my dobsonian at about 1:30 in the morning. A nice evening under the stars.

Observation Report — Friday, June 22nd, 2018, Tech Terrace Park
Posted by Collin Smith.

Richard Craig, 102mm Maksutov
Mark Smith, 10" F/5.56 dobsonian
Ray Smead, himself
Your humble narrator, SkyWatcher 6" traditional dobsonian
Steve Maas, Binoculars

I arrived quite late for this public star party, probably around 10:15 or so, and wasn’t setup to observe until no earlier than 10:30. Scott and Gary were probably put off by all the clouds and wind, earlier, and we did indeed have plenty of wind at first (and later as we finished), as well as some patches of clouds, but compared to what we’d feared from earlier in the day, I’d say we got relatively lucky. It wasn’t a great night for astronomy by any means, but it wasn’t the miserable result we had feared, with the winds considerably less than forecast. Steve Maas showed up about 10 minutes or so after me.

Arriving as late as I did, Venus was already behind a west tree, so that option was out, as were all the Geminid targets. I put Algieba, Gamma Leonis, into the eyepiece and upped the power with my 9mm Nagler T6 to 133.33X, which would be my workhorse eyepiece. Although I’d have liked to go to higher power, the wind was still pretty bad, not as bad as forecast and feared, but hardly calm, and the skies were turbulent, limiting high power options. Still, the 9mm yielded a clean split, and I showed this off to everyone, as well as pointing out Algieba’s location so Richard and Mark could put it in their scopes.

I put in M57 in the eyepiece with the Nagler 13mm T6 for a nice balance of wider field for placement, yet enough power to see some detail in the nebula.

We couldn’t resist looking at Jupiter, and again, the King of the Gods was ready to oblige with the visual bonanza only Dies Pater can orchestrate. A shadow transit was in progress (Io, yet hidden in the foreground amongst the upper atmospheric clouds), with the Great Red Spot adding to the spectacle. What a hoot! Callisto was way off to the left, with Europa moderately close to the globe to the right, followed by Ganymede farther. Everyone stared long and hard at Jupiter, taking our time. What a beauty! The 10" put up a nice, bright image. We came back to it later and saw Io pulling off the lower left side of the globe. I mostly used my 9mm T6 for 133X, since the atmospherics were unfriendly to higher power. Later, we split the low-hanging fruit of Zubenelgenubi, just down from Jupiter.

I put my telescope on Cor Caroli, and was immediately impressed with the beautiful yellow-white primary and blue-white secondary and the colors my 6" scope demonstrated. One of the better doubles of the night, and quite colorful and rich in the 6" dob. This was an easy split in the Pan 24. This was followed up by the best double star in the night sky, Albireo. The orange and blue stars that comprise this gem of the night sky set the standard for colorful double stars, and did not disappoint tonight.

Ray Smead requested Mizar, and we easily showed the triple Mizar A, Mizar B, & Alcor. I split Beta Scorpii, Graffias, quickly followed by Nu Scorpii, which required some pretty high power to split the B-component.

We had a couple of people wander by and take looks through the scopes around Tech Terrace Park, but mostly it was the SPAC members listed above. Had a nice night under the moon and stars and looking forward to our next outing at Tech Terrace Park on July the 20th, weather permitting.

Observation Report — 05-25-2018, Tech Terrace Park
Posted by Collin Smith.

Who showed up?
Steve Maas 10×50 binoculars
Richard Craig 102mm Maksutov
Me Zhumell 8” dob
Tom Heisey TV 101 Nagler-Petzval
Gary Leiker 12” Orion Intelliscope
Mark Smith self
Scott Harris & Lesley Chapa, selves

My hoped for big turnout for the end-of-school fizzled without a student, and we put on a public star party for ourselves, but that was okay. I learned a few things in the process of observing and enjoyed the camaraderie in the ancient practice of stargazing, joining us to the Hershels, Galileo, the Romans, Greeks, Mayans, Han Dynasty, Jyotisha, Egyptians and Sumerians, doubtless before.

I arrived as Richard Craig was setting up, and Steve asked how I could actually get there on time, so often late. But I started setting up about 9:15, skyglow in the west from the sun just below the horizon. Venus was already bright in the west, so I used her to setup my Rigel and 30mm RA finderscope. She was a nice sight in the Pan 24, a gibbous, featureless moon on the opposite side of the sky.

With everything lined up, and now Pollux and Castor coming through the deepening dusk, I tried M35 in the scope, very near Venus. Found it, but, boy, was it disappointing! Gosh, the contrast was all gone as the stars tried to break through the creamy background. Turned me off completely from wanting to look at open clusters for the rest of the evening. For sure, my hoped for quartet of M35, 37, 36 & 38 dissolved like the twilight, a set one cannot observe with any satisfaction in late May. Oh well, live and learn.

Being in the neighborhood, I split Castor for grins. It was pretty tight and required the 11mm Nagler at 112x for a clean, if somewhat tight split.

So with twilight still in the sky, I decided a good look at the moon would be okay, blinding, but at this time of the evening, okay. And we were not disappointed about the blinding part. Luna was bright and searing, making whichever eye one used to observe her utterly useless once you’d backed off from the scope, overwhelmed by the photon flood she just poured into your cornea. But for that flood, a wonderful sight of the huge ray craters Tycho and Copernicus dominated her rugged terrain south and north of the lunar equator. Still some shadows on Kepler, and the terminator was awash in detail. And awash is the right term, since the thermal stability of the evening at that point was quite heat bedeviled. Having reached 99 degrees Fahrenheit officially, the sky was wavering under magnification, and the moon demonstrated this better than anything else in the sky.

Tom Heisey had setup his TV 101 F/5.4 on a Losmandy EQ mount by that time. It was interesting how much better it seemed to take the heat. The images rippled in it, too, but they somehow seemed more stable. Perhaps the extra-wavery images came from tube currents in my tube? I didn’t use a fan on my Z8, so was subject to the whims of the environment, but the scope had been stored indoors, and the temperature, though a little hotter, wasn’t a whole lot warmer at the Park than in my home (80° to about 90°).

And this thermal stability of the refractor over the images in my Z8 was even more demonstrated on Jupiter. Although by the time we got to Jupiter, Gary has his 12” dob set up. But I jump ahead of myself.

There were a bunch of double stars to crack, and after Castor and the moon, I began cracking them. Kappa Geminorum I just flat missed by not checking my observation list. Duh! But I nabbed Algieba, Gamma Leonis, easily enough. Again, I needed 112x to split it, but didn’t really like the view at higher powers, so a tight split would have to do for this yellow-white pair.

Cor Coroli was next, and almost straight overhead, so in the difficult “dob hole” region of the sky that made getting it into the eyepiece more challenging, but I managed to steer the scope onto the target with sufficient effort, and this nice white-blue primary and white-green secondary was pleasing to the eye.

Iota Cancri proved to be the most appealing double of the night, with its yellow primary and blue-ish secondary a striking pair, and the most attractive double our moon drenched sky would afford.

Because Mark, then Lesley and Scott all showed up later, I made two tours of the better naked eye doubles, and so made two passes at Castor, Iota Cancri, Algieba and Cor Coroli. Like Ella Fitzgerald sang, “Nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you try.”

We tried to get M3, but it was simply too close to the bright gibbous moon, and all efforts produced washed out skies with no globular in sight!

I went after Izar, Epsilon Boötes, and discovered more heat issues. With its white primary and blue-ish secondary, it could be split at 176x with the 7mm Nagler, but the scintillation of the primary under the high power and thermal issues, made the split temporal at best, with the primary morphing in the eyepiece to merge into the secondary most of the time, with only momentary glimpses of the secondary, when the image would momentarily settle down. That was disappointing, but a characteristic and bedeviled the splitting of Porrima, Gamma Virginis,too, and in exactly the same way.

Our one good DSO for the evening turned out to be M13, the Great Hercules Cluster, and “Great” it was. Nothing like under a dark sky in the country, mind you, but at least it was interesting to look at, with actual characteristics observable, especially in Gary’s 12” dob. This scope produced, by far, the best image of M13 of the scopes on the field. My Z8 did a reasonable job under the circumstances, but the 12” dob with Gary’s 13mm Ethos (and 17mm Ethos) produced the best image of M13.

But the most intriguing body in the sky this evening was, of course, Optimus Maximus himself, Jupiter Rex. Beautiful and resplendent with creamy stripes and brown bands, I don’t think the Great Red Spot was out, but all four Galilean satellites sprawled flanked the great King. And on Jupiter I made some interesting observations from the various scopes. First, having a tracking mounted, well made refractor, is hard to beat on planets. And the only scope that could was Gary’s 12” dob. By sheer force of photons, yes, Gary’s view was the best, but not by a lot, and honestly, Tom’s TV 101 put up a more effective view, using my TeleVue DeLite 3 & 4mm eyepieces, of Jupiter, than even my Z8. This is not to say my view was inferior, exactly, only that the thermal issues that bedeviled my double star efforts continued here, and even though the refractor’s image also rippled with atmospheric heat waves, the scope itself wasn’t adding to the problem, and this did not seem to be the case with the dobsonians. But at 12”, the sheer number of photons a 12” mirror could bring to bear on an on-axis target like Jupiter overwhelmed the other considerations, but it took that much! The little 4” refractor really could keep up, and not having to manually track was big advantage, especially under the heat soaked circumstances.

I finished by splitting Algorab, Delta Corvi. I like the Star Splitters descriptions of Delta Corvi, a fairly wide pair with enough color difference to give the effect of a star and planet combination. Indeed, I see a yellow-white primary and a brownish white secondary, planetary indeed.

It was late and I was very tired. I packed up, shook some hands and drove towards the home, fortunately not very far away.

Observation Report — Camp Rio Blanco, 14-April-2018
Posted by Collin Smith.

Participants:
Girls Scouts of South Plains and greater Crosbyton area
Richard Craig Celestron 150 XLT (6" F/5 reflector)
Gary Leiker 12" Meade SCT
Scott Harris & Lesley C8
Mark Smith 10" F/5.5
Humble Narrator GSO 8" dobsonian

The last astronomer from Lubbock to arrive, I pulled into Camp Rio Blanco at about 10:20, and aligned my Rigel & 50mm Right-Angle finders to Castor by 10:45. I installed the Explore Scientific 28mm 68° eyepiece to start things off, offering some of the widest fields of view I can get out of my scope, and proceeded to examine M42, swimming in a sea of disordered turbulence near the horizon this mid-April evening. The Trapezium showed up, as well as the rose-shaped nebulosity, but the wavering, watery low-power view guaranteed that higher power would not be rewarded this evening, at least not anywhere near the horizon, but I would find the “seeing” this night not conducive to high power, even towards the zenith. Scott forewarned me of this, and he was right.

But I have to test everything for myself, so I put in a 5mm T6 Nagler, for a whopping 246x view, only to find Castor turned to mush, so, indeed, no high powered viewing this evening; the skies didn’t support it. Fortunately, my 11mm T6 (112x) was enough to split the pair, and Alpha Geminorum resolved into a pair of tight, white pinpoints.

So I returned to wider powered views, putting M37 into the eyepiece. I loaned Richard my ES 28mm 68° eyepiece for him to find M35 as well, and I, having used that same eyepiece to find M35 with ghostly NGC 2158 beside it, dropped a SuperView 42mm into the focuser to continue my wide angle, 2" eyepiece viewing experience in my dobsonian. Although M37, probably my all time favorite open cluster, or at least a serious contender to M11, looked very, very nice in my SV 42mm, I prefer the vista in the ES 28mm 68°. Somewhat higher magnification with not a whole lot loss of field, it’s hard to beat in my dobsonian.

But Richard was about finished and he soon packed up and left, so I put the ES 28mm 68° back in the focuser and continued on my star path to M36, then M38 with its ghostly NGC 1907 companion. It’s odd to me how many star guidebooks miss this simple collection of open clusters. M35 (with NGC 2158), M37, M36 & M38 (with NGC 1907) form a nice grouping of Messier open clusters, with the orderly first and last having faint, much more distant NGC open clusters behind them providing ghostly companions to these “bookends”, with the two out-of-order clusters in-between. Fellow astronomer and dragonfly enthusiast Jerry Hatfield has christened M38 the “Zia” cluster, after the symbol that centers the New Mexico state flag, and to which M38 has a modern-artsy-ish resemblance.

Mark Smith put M81/M82 into the eyepiece, and was that a sight! That old 10" F/5.5 has some nice optics, and Mark was sharing the views. Besides these two, one could pan over from M81 and pick up NGC 3077 as well. A nice set. And Gary Leiker was able to fish out M100 in Coma Berenices in his 12" SCT. It was dim, but pretty, the 12" of aperture demonstrating its photon grabbing capabilities. Didn’t see much of Lesley, it was pretty cool when I arrived and only got colder as the night went along, so she spent most of her time in Scott’s pickup with blankets on herself. Scott, on the other hand, kept his C8 on Jupiter, which, as the night evolved, turned from a churning white dot to at least a wavy striped planet, the higher it got above the horizon (tho never high enough to be good and stable, given its present, pre-opposition position in the sky). Was good to have our only engaged couple out, tho. Even love birds should be able to fly to the heavens from time to time.

After meandering between Taurus and Auriga, I returned to Gemini to try and grab NGC 2392, the Eskimo Nebula, the vast, dying ember of a white dwarf shrouded in its thrown off shells of gas, giving it a distinct, gray-aquamarine eskimo-parka appearance. After some interaction with my copy of the Sky & Telescope Pocket Atlas, I found our hooded, glowing, post-fusion stellar friend.

From Gemini, I went to Cancer and the Beehive, M44. Andrea and her mother, Victoria, came by briefly to observe with the other Girl Scouts in bed, as Richard headed out. The Beehive was glowing in the sky overhead, with Mark borrowing my Pan 24, and me hot on the heels of the Eskimo, having put in the 1.25" Tele Vue 11mm T6, tried to show her the Beehive through my dob with the Tele Vue 16mm T5. Although it affords just over a degree in my dob, that’s not nearly enough to frame the Beehive very well, but it is obvious that M44 is, indeed, composed of a bunch of individual stars, and Andrea was impressed, so there ya go.

Although Andrea and Victoria didn’t hang around too long to see, next up for me was the nearby colorful double star Iota Cancri. Although pretty, I enjoyed splitting Gamma Leonis, Algieba, more. It’s tighter, and although the colors are more subtle, there is a difference between them (cream and gray-green to me). Their tightness, along with the higher power required to separate them, made them more challenging and consequently satisfying to split than the wide Iota Cancri.

Gary, Scott and Mark began to pack up, but I fell deeper into outer space — 21 million light years away to the Pinwheel Galaxy, M101 in Ursa Major. For the rest of the evening I’d use the 1.55° field the 2" Explore Scientific 28mm 68° eyepiece affords in my scope. Although always faint and ghostly, the spiral arms could just be made out in these dark, eastern Crosby County skies off the Caprock in my 8" dob. And 23 million light year away M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, technically in Canes Venatici, but closer to the end star of the Big Dipper, Alkaid, than Cor Coroli showed forth its round galactic arms. Of course, one gets two galaxies here, with nearby dwarf galaxy NGC 5195 interacting with its huge, spiral armed master, M51.

In the neighborhood, I went down just below to the “bottom right” of the bowl of the Dipper and observed the 46 million light years away edge-on galaxy M108, along with the mere 2,030 light year distant Owl Nebula, M97. Fellow astronomers gone, it was me, the sky, the coyote calls and the cool of the April deep-evening.

Noticing Arcturus, I jumped over to the globular cluster M3 in Canes Venatici, some 33,900 light years distant. This is a nice sight framed against the sky, but it was back to Leo and galaxies, as New Moon in Spring calls for. Turning my attention to the underbelly of the Lion, I was able to frame the squat triangle that M95, M96 (squat “top”), and M106 comprise. Also, M106 has the adjacent NGC 3384 just off to its side, and just outside the “bottom” of the triangle in my newtonian reflector. They make a great pairing, and point to a bunch more faint NGC’s up, closer to the belly of Leo. A wonderful place to graze, but I was beginning to feel the cold and still wanted to get in the famous Leo Triplet, so broke off my underbelly oogling and was off to the hind leg.

And just down the hind leg, of course, lies the Leo Triplet of galaxies, M65, M66 with NGC 3628 as the flat top of the triangle, such majestic beauties about the Lion’s thigh.

My send-off vista would be M104, the Sombrero Galaxy, just above Corvus in Virgo, 31-odd million light years distant. The dust lane was visible, and this was a wonderful sight to end a beautiful evening. I hope the Girl Scouts enjoyed it. I know I did. A special thanks to Charles Barker for inviting us and having us out.

Observation Report — 17-Mar-2018, Location: Gott Observatory
Posted by Collin Smith.

Participants:
Gary Leiker with his Orion 12” Intelliscope Dobsonian
Scott Harris and his 8” Celestron NexStar 8SE
Richard Craig and the Orion 102 Maksutov
Mark Smith

Your humble narrator with his Kunming 102mm F/7 refractor and SkyWatcher 130 F/5 reflector on the GSO SkyView Delux alt-az mount with AstroTech Voyager Extension tube.

I arrived around 9:50 PM and was setup with my Kunming 4” F/7 ED refractor by 10:15. Setting up my finders on Rigel, I was ready to observe, and pulled in h3945, Hershel’s own “Winter Albireo” in Canis Major.

Richard provided us with Spotify orchestral “Space Music”, starting off with Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, Introduction, from 2001: A Space Odyssey. That was followed up by the Star Wars Main Theme, Cantina Band and The Imperial March to get us in the mood. Thanks, Richard!

Since I got there late, everyone else was enjoying — what else while you can in late March — M42, the Great Orion Nebula and the Trapezium, the “four” stars that make up faint naked eye Theta Orionis. Of course, there are WAY more than four stars in Theta Orionis. Many are beyond the reach of mobile amateur telescopes, but at least 6 are definitely not, although four are visible to just about any scope worth its salt, even quite small ones. But the “E” and “F” stars are subtle, well within the range of small amateur scopes, but require cooperation from earth’s atmosphere, in conjunction with the light gathering aperture of the telescope involved. Huh? Well, on a calm, cooperative atmospheric earth night, any reasonably good 90mm scope should capture all 6 stars of the Trapezium. Trouble is, Mater Terra’s furiously churning oceans of air rarely permit this, such that, under this Saturday night, March 17, aye, the very Saint Patrick’s Day 2018, even Gary’s 12” dobsonian had great difficulty picking up “F”. In fact, I never personally observed “F”, but Scott said he’d caught it flickering in and out.

Scott’s ability to catch “F” is not surprising. Visual astronomy is, in a very real sense, a skill like playing the guitar, or tennis. The amount of practice one gets, the hours under-the-stars, or on-the-court, so to speak, matters — a lot. Lately, with work, family, and uncooperative weather, I simply haven’t observed much. That’s not to say that Scott’s been observing constantly, but I suspect he’s gotten more observing in this past Winter than me. And Richard was unhappy that he thought his little Mak only got three stars of the Trapezium, even tho I saw it easily resolve all four, because I’d seen the Trapezium moments earlier in my own refractor.

In fact, with the ground wind as strong as it was Saturday night, beating all our scopes in such a way that all I could possibly resolve in my refactor was four wiggly stars. Gary’s considerably more stable 12” dob, on the other hand, easily resolved “E”, tho I never saw “F”, to give you an idea of the conditions we observed under. 12” of aperture to gather light, and only “E”? That’s some bad seeing. Besides this, the wind, tho certainly more resistant, still hit the big 12” dob, rattling the image some, nothing like my refractor, but still making to resolution of fine details at the eyepiece a difficult proposition.

We decided to see what we could do with multiple star Sigma Orionis. Again, Gary’s 12” dob grabbed all four main components, even faint C. My refractor only saw AB, D & E, but again, the wind made resolving fine details a jumping jumbled gamble to lose.

Giving up on high powered views from my refractor, I retired my 7mm T6 and put the 2” ES 28mm 68° eyepiece into the focuser. Gary went with one of his wider Ethos. M35, a mere 3000 light years away, with its ghostly companion open cluster NGC 2158 (16,000 lya) made a good appearance in our telescopes at low power, Gary’s able to begin to resolve the much more distant 2158 into its stellar constituents. The Double Cluster, NGC 869 & 884, made for nice fare before they set behind the roof of the Observatory. M37 in Auriga with its bright orange center star surrounded by blue-white stars.

Giving up on high power, I put up my 4” refractor and went with the SkyWatcher 130mm F/5 reflector. The Leo Triplet, M65, M66 & NGC 3628 formed the nice flat-topped triangle they are. M81 & M82 (and NGC 3077 farther afield) made nice appearances, especially M81’s spirals and M82’s fractured core in Gary’s 12” dob, as he changed out the 17mm Ethos for the 13mm. He also picked up M51’s swirls with NGC 5195. My views were wider field, but less detailed.

Our finale was M1. Not much more than a cotton ball in my smaller scopes, it came to life in Gary’s 12”. It looked good in the 17mm Ethos, better in the 11mm Ethos, but Scott’s 11mm Nagler T6 produced, as Gary called it, “the money shot.” Indeed, the mottling on the Crab Nebula, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen out at the Gott, although I’ve caught it at Emma in a 10” scope, was visible in the T6.

It was late and we packed it in, and we enjoyed our time out under the stars, and the camaraderie of fellow astronomers. We drove home tired, but a little more visual astronomy the wiser.





 

 

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