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.


Observation Report — Tech Terrace Park, Lubbock, Saturday night, December 14, 2019
Posted by Steve Maas

Steve Maas: 5" Meade Maksutov
Gary Leiker: 4.5" Orion Newtonian
Scott Harris: 8" Orion Dobsonian
Mark Smith
David Tronrud

I got to the Park shortly after sundown and set up my scope and aligned the red-dot finder. The weather was surprisingly pleasant— practically calm, temperatures in the mid-50's, and just a few streamers of high clouds. I had dressed for colder conditions, so the milder conditions were welcome.

Venus was brilliant in the west— placing my scope on it with a 20mm SuperView eyepiece (95X) showed the planet in a gibbous phase. Even though it was relatively close to the horizon, the stability of the atmosphere still allowed a good view of its disk. Luckily, Saturn was still hanging above the trees at this time, so I was able to get a good view of it in my Mak— probably my last view of it this year. The Summer Triangle was still hanging in the western sky— the great thing was that it was lower in the sky, so I could put my scope onto Alberio and the Double-Double without having to break my back looking for these objects directly overhead, as had been the case with previous Star Parties.

About this time, a jogger stopped by to see what I was up to. He had seen the Star Party sign and was curious about what I could show him. I showed him Venus, Saturn and Alberio. He was impressed with Ablerio and Saturn (everyone is), and told me he and his daughter would be interested in attending our next Star Party in Ransom Canyon. I gave him one of our cards, so hopefully we'll see them in the future.

Around this time, David showed up and joined in the conversation. He said he had finally received the Takahashi he had ordered six months ago. This should be a great scope, and I'm looking forward to hopefully seeing it at our next star party.

After the jogger and David left, I was alone for a while. But soon a couple showed up (around 7:30) and I got to start the observing tour again. This couple knew about the Star Party tonight because that had previously attended the 60th Anniversary Workshop and the Star Party at Ransom Canyon. Tonight they were particularly interested in seeing the Moon. Unfortunately, the Moon wasn't going to rise until around 8:30, so they had a while to wait. They were patient, and we filled the time with conversation and observing other objects.

Luckily, Gary showed up so we could add another scope to the effort. His 4.5" Newt has a large FOV so it was perfect for observing larger targets like the Pleiades. The Pleiades looked great in his scope, framed in the FOV with enough area around the cluster to nicely set it off. In comparison, the cluster in my Mak was just a handful of scattered stars— too much magnification to really show it off.

At around 8:00, Scott joined us with his 8" Dob. Now we were really able to show the visitors a bunch of sights. Scott found the Double Cluster, an open cluster in Auriga, and even M31, which was almost directly overhead. That's an advantage of having a Dob! Gary tracked down μ Cephei (the "Garnet Star"), a carbon star that showed brilliant orange in his scope. Soon Orion began to climb above the trees (and Christmas-decorated houses) in the east, so it was a race to see M42. Scott pulled it in first— the view was nice but a bit distorted due to atmospheric effects near the horizon. About that time I also picked it up in my Mak. After it rose a bit more, we both re-targeted it with better results. The nebula was clearly visible and the Trapezium could be resolved. Gary also observed it with his scope. Our ability to see this object, along with M31, indicated that the clear, dry air this night was scattering less light pollution than usual.

While waiting for the Moon to show, we were surprised by the number of meteors that we saw. Various members of the group saw around a half-dozen fairly bright ones. From their paths, it was apparent that these were Geminids, which should have peaked the previous day. We were treated to one fireball that slowly streaked across the eastern sky, taking 4-5 seconds to traverse about a quarter of the sky. It was very bright (brighter than Venus had been earlier in the evening) with a distinctly greenish color. Luckily, I had been looking at the eastern sky at the time, so I was able to see its entire flight. Fantastic!

It was shortly after this that Mark wandered by. He told us he had seen a fireball while driving last Tuesday night. The one he saw was very slow and very green in color, so it's possible that it was not a regular meteor but rather some space junk re-entering the atmosphere.

Finally, the old Moon made its appearance. It rose brilliantly through the trees— at two days past full (94%), it was a beautiful sight. Using the 20mm SuperView, and turning down the variable-transmittance filter attached to it to reduce the brightness, I got a view of the entire Moon almost filling the FOV— this is what my setup is optimized for. It was a bit shimmery near the horizon, but its surface features still stood out. The visitors got their view of the Moon and departed.

Also rising at this time was the "Winter Hexagon"— the asterism comprised of the first-magnitude stars Capella, Aldebaran, Rigel, Sirius, Procyon and Pollux. Unfortunately, the Moon's glare pretty much washed out about everything else, so it was time to go. We packed up the scopes at 9:00. The evening of observing turned out much better than I initially thought it would but, of course, the best part was hanging around with friends.

Observation Report — Lubbock, TX, Monday evening, November 25, 2019
Posted by Collin Smith

After arriving too late to catch Jupiter and Venus on Saturday night for our Club's star party, I had wanted to see them at their closest point on Sunday evening the 24th. Luck would have it the weather was perfect Sunday the 24th, but my timing was not. I felt sure I’d be able to see this if I got home by 6:30 PM, and though, yes, if a person were already set up and had a genuinely unobstructed view – completely – of the western horizon, you could see it. But since I just started trying to set up at 6:30 it was apparent I’d waited too late. I let my wife talk me into an errand, one I figured would be okay provided it all ended by 6:30. Ha!

So I made it CLEAR that I wanted nothing more than to see Jupiter and Venus on Monday night, November 25th, if that were possible. The forecast called for partly cloudy skies, and as I drove home from work, couldn’t see the setting sun, covered by clouds that hugged the western horizon.

But the Fates blessed me as those clouds moved off, such that by the time I got my WO Megrez setup the western skies were quite clear, and Venus and Jupiter glanced down, faintly at first through the early bright baby blue sky; they would be had this evening. And I had a new toy to play with. In truth, I already possessed the necessary equipment, my Explore Scientific 28mm 68° and GSO SuperView 42mm at the ready, but my latest ocular acquisition, the APM UFF 30mm that Don Pensack of EyepiecesEtc.com had had delivered to my door Sunday the 24th was awaiting its West Texas first light this august conjunction in late November, 2019. And the weather was wonderful, about 54° F (12° C) by the time I got out and set up this evening.

I popped the APM 30mm 2” eyepiece into my GSO Quartz 99% diagonal, and beheld the joyful glory of Venus in the left side of the eyepiece, Jupiter on the right trailed by Ganymede farther to the right still, the very close pairing of Europa (slightly farther from Jupiter) and Io practically embracing between Jove and the Trojan boy. I couldn’t see Callisto, the low power (22X, 3.3° TFoV?) and low contrast of the blue skies hiding the nymph, but what an amazing sight there was! I quickly abandoned my gear, set up as it was in the neighbor-across-the-street’s sidewalk so I could get around the houses and trees that otherwise obscured my view, running into the house to beckon my wife and daughters. They all came out and beheld the glory of the moment. After 5 minutes of looking, they went back into the house and I got down to comparison views. I had to wait as power lines momentarily got in the way as the planetary duo sank lower, but the darkening skies at first gave me the impression the ES 28mm 68° was superior in its presentation (2.76° TFOV). I put in the SV42mm just for grins. Indeed, it had the widest field (3.6° TFOV), but at 15.71X, it was a very low power affair, something the ES 28mm’s 23.57X bettered easily, which I quickly verified with a second look. But when I went back to the APM 30mm, I noticed how much more real estate the skies gave up at only 1 and a half X less. And the darker skies really gave the view legs, earning an abiding appreciation.

Cloudy Nighter Dave (russell23) is right, the APM 30mm weighs only a little more than the ES 28mm 68°, but offers more heavens for the heft, and costs only $40 more during the present sale ($1 more when the ES isn’t on sale). It’ll be interesting to compare the APM UFF 30mm to the Pan 35 when I get the chance, but for now, I’m quite happy with its light blue sky performance, and looking forward to the forecasted dark sky Sunday night post Thanksgiving, if the 5 and a half day old crescent moon doesn’t blast the DSOs away. May it be so.

Observation Report — Ransom Canyon, Saturday night, November 23, 2019
Posted by Collin Smith

Tom Heisey
Mark Smith
Lynn Borel
Mark Monk
Steve Maas

Dinner and family had me late to the Star Party in the evening off West Lakeshore Drive in Ransom Canyon, arriving after Venus & Jupiter had left the scene. And I forgot the very useful black rubber ground-cover given to me by Don Fritz, lo, many moons ago. But setup the WO Megrez on the grass, aligned my Stellarvue red dot and Orion 6x30 RA finder to Capella, put the ES 28mm 68° (for 23.6X & 2.76° true field of view) into the diagonal, and I was off.

And first stop was from Capella was, of course, Subaru, the Seven Sister, the Pleiades, M45— calling my heart with their enticing beauty. They are an appealing cluster in the F/6 refractor with a wide field ocular. Although most had already beheld their galactic glory, me arriving late and all, the Andromeda complex, M31, M32 @ 11 o’clock and über faint M110 @ 3 o’clock made a fine sight. After this, my daughters, who’d come along for the viewing, were getting pretty cold and wound up in my car playing with my iPhone for the rest of our time at Ransom Canyon.

Adding more power in the focuser, Andromeda was followed by the magnificent Gamma Andromedae, Almach, yellow-orange primary with light blue secondary. Mark Smith thought I’d put Albireo into the eyepiece, until I revealed the star and he looked up to see, indeed, I was not pointing to Cygnus. But it is certainly one of the most colorful double stars in the sky.

Dramatic NGC 457, the ET Cluster (certainly dramatic for anyone who’s seen the movie), and the more subtle NGC 7789, Caroline’s Rose Cluster followed. Eta Cassiopeiae’s blue-yellow primary with reddish-orange secondary wowed the eyepiece, then, back to low-power, the magnificent Double Cluster of Perseus, NGC 869 and NGC 884.

I headed more westerly to pick up the Coathanger (Cr 399, Brocchi’s Cluster). This one is HUGE— 1.5° span— and was only well-framed by the GSO SuperView 42mm eyepiece, the ES 28mm 68°, wide as it is, not quite wide enough for this asterism, which benefitted from the 3.6° TFoV the SuperView afforded. A passing jet left a contrail which ran beneath the Coathanger, making it easy to describe in the eyepiece.

While I was in the neighborhood, Beta Cygni, Albireo, the gold standard of colorful double stars, was an easy split, even in the GSO SV 42mm. Heading back to the eastern skies, I picked out beautiful open cluster M37 in Auriga as Mark Smith, Lynn Borel, Tom Heisey packed up to go. Rolan Pirtle, Wade Estepp and Steve Maas had already left. I was feeling the chill myself (and aware the girls were waiting in my car).

Mark Monk’s 14” SCT put the Blue snowball in Andromeda into the eyepiece for a ghastly beautiful sight, one he enhanced with higher power to demonstrate its “hollow” nature, kind of M57-Ring-Nebula-like.

With his Go-To working well, Mark Monk put Neptune into the eyepiece. Neptune is always a bit of a ho-hum target, even in fairly large apertures. I have been unimpressed by it in the 20” Planewave at the TTU Gott Observatory. But where Neptune was anticlimactic, Uranus was quite interesting. Neato, in fact!

A young man, Dan, showed up, so I reviewed the Pleiades (M45) & Andromeda (M31/32/110) again. No one should miss those.

Having helped Mark pack up his gear, it was time to take my girlies home, and back westward we drove.

Observation Report — Ransom Canyon, Saturday night, October 26, 2019
Posted by Steve Maas

Steve Maas: 5" Maksutov
Tom Heisey: 5" Maksutov
Mark Smith: 10" Newtonian
Gary Leiker: 12" Dobsonian
Mark Monk: 14" EdgeHD

I got to "The Meadow" in Ransom Canyon at sundown and set up my equipment. We had a cold front go through the area two days before, and the conditions were quite pleasant. Winds were light (partly because we were down in the canyon) and the temperature at sundown was around 60° F. The sky was a bit milky due to dust picked up by the strong northerly winds that had been blowing since the cold front passed. Still, conditions were good for observing.

When I got to the site, Mark Monk was already setting up his brand-new 14" Celestron EdgeHD (see the photo to the left). While this is a huge scope with a huge mount and tripod, Mark was able to set it up himself with minimal difficulty.

Shortly after sundown, Venus was visible just above the western canyon rim. I put my Mak on it— it appeared gibbous, but showed little detail beyond that since it was so close to the horizon. It should be a better target as the weeks go by.

As it was getting dark, visitors began showing up for the Public Star Party, so naturally the first things to show them were Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter was quite good, with four moons easily visible— two on one side and two on the other. The banding on the planet was barely visible in my 5" Mak, but clearly stood out in Mark's 14" Celestron. The view of Saturn was unremarkable, except to the visitors. Many of them gasped upon seeing the rings for the first time!

Tom and Gary showed up shortly after it got dark. Mark Smith was the last to show, getting his 10" Newtonian set up in the darkness. By this time, enough stars had appeared so that the automatic alignment feature on Mark Monk's new scope could be used to set up its go-to capability.

Once it got dark, the degree of clarity of the sky was obvious. Back when Collin Smith and I had observed here on October 5th, the Milky Way was clearly visible overhead. Tonight, the same Milky Way was faintly visible, almost lost in a veil of skylight. Again, this was probably due to suspended dust and also skyglow, which tends to be greater in the clear, dry skies following cold fronts. The good thing was that the sky conditions steadily improved as the night went on.

The first deep-sky object I put my scope on was M31. Andromeda was fairly high in the sky, so this target was easy to find (although not visible to the naked eye). Everyone in the group eventually observed it, and it looked very good in all the scopes. Naturally, the view in the 14" Celestron was the best, with the satellite galaxies clearly standing out. I couldn't detect them in the view through my 5" Mak, but the larger scopes pulled them out.

I'll talk about the objects I viewed in my scope first before I go on to what I observed in the scopes of my companions. After M31, I put my Mak onto the Double Cluster in Perseus. With a 26mm Super Plossl eyepiece, I could almost get both clusters in the FOV. With a 40mm lens that Tom lent me, I could get both in the view. This is one of the most beautiful objects in the sky— a double splash of diamonds— but really is at its best in large binoculars or a really small telescope. I'm seriously thinking about bringing my 80mm Orion spotting scope out next time just for objects like this.

A lot of my time early in the evening was taken up showing (and re-showing) Jupiter and Saturn to visitors as they showed up at the Star Party. It was only after 10 PM, when most of the visitors had wandered off, that I and my companions could get to viewing objects we wanted to see. For me, this included M33 in Aries, which was faintly visible in my binoculars and also faintly visible in my scope. Unfortunately, the low surface brightness of this relatively large object makes it a disappointing target in a small scope like mine. Cygnus was low enough in the west so I could more easily train my scope onto Albireo. I asked a couple of the remaining visitors what colors they thought the two components were (before telling them what they were supposed to be). On their own, they agreed that the two stars were yellowish and blue. That was encouraging, and it led to a discussion between me, Gary and them about the relationship between color and star temperature. Gary put his Dob onto η Cassiopeiae to show the visitors that the primary in that pair was similar to our Sun.

Later in the evening, the Pleiades rose above the tree line in the east. The view of them was great in my Orion 10X50 binoculars but, as was the case with the Double Cluster, they wouldn't completely fit in the FOV of my 5" Mak.

The crowning achievement of the evening was observing both Neptune (in Pisces) and Uranus (in Aries). We were able to successfully observe them in all the scopes. Well, almost all— I couldn't conclusively find Neptune in my 5" Mak. The planets were easy to identify even in the smaller scopes by their blue-ish colors. In the larger scopes, both planets were clearly resolved as disks. The best views were naturally through the 14" Celestron at around 200X. Unfortunately, all the Star Party visitors had wandered off before we acquired these targets. And, I didn't hear a single "Uranus" joke the whole time we were viewing the planet, which is amazing for this bunch. 😂

Over the course of the evening, everyone was able to observe numerous objects. I'm not aware of everything that was observed, but I know that M31, the Double Cluster, the Ring Nebula, and the Double-Double in Lyra (ε Lyrae) were popular. Mark Monk had an advantage over the rest of us due to the go-to capability of his system. His view of Mirach's Ghost was exceptional, with the small galaxy clearly visible to the side of the star. His view of the globular M15 easily resolved the stars. Using an OIII filter borrowed from Gary, he was able to pull out a portion of the Veil Nebula. He also had a good view of the Deer Lick Group of galaxies in Pegasus, an object that would have been difficult to find without the go-to capability.

By midnight, most of us were ready to call it quits (my back and knees were ready to give out from bending and stooping to look in various scopes). Mark Monk was going to hang around waiting for Orion to rise above the trees to the east. When we left, the temperature was still in the mid-50's, making the evening very pleeasant for observing. We got to see a lot of objects, many of which were ones we don't usually observe at the Public Star Parties. This, and the decent sky conditions, made this one of the best observing sessions I've participated in over the past few years.

Observation Report — Tech Terrace Park, Lubbock, Saturday night, October 12, 2019
Posted by Steve Maas

Steve Maas: 5" Meade Maksutov
Gary Leiker: 8" Celestron SCT
Lesley & Scott Harris: 8" Orion Dobsonian

When I got to the park at around 7:30 PM, the moon was rising over the trees in the east. It was big (one day from full at 95%) and bright, but the atmosphere was clear and dry so its light did not overpower the sky like on a humid summer night. I was bundled up in a sweatshirt and jacket but conditions were very pleasant. The temperature was around 60° F and there was hardly any breeze. Perfect observing conditions, and no mosquitoes! Lesley, Scott and Gary showed up shortly thereafter. We were all in a Halloween mood and Lesley had brought snacks and hot chocolate. 😋 Lesley had also found some fancy glow-sticks at the store (all for 29 cents!)— you can see her "tricked-out" version of the Star Party Sign in the photo to the right. Also, Jupiter riding just above the trees.

My first target was naturally the moon. Using a 20mm SuperView objective with my 5" Mak allowed the Moon's whole disk to almost completely fill the field-of-view. I've got an Orion Variable (1%-40% transmission) Polarizing Filter attached to this lens to keep from getting blinded by the glare. Even though the Moon was only about 25 degrees above the horizon, the clarity and stability of the atmosphere made the major features on its surface distinct.

However, I didn't spend much time on the moon since Jupiter was beginning to sink in the western sky. Jupiter turned out to be a great target. Using the 20mm SuperView at a magnification of 95X, the bands were clearly visible. Three moons were easily seen— two on one side and one on the other. But— there was a fourth small moon just visible outside the limb of the planet. Scott's phone app confirmed that this was Io and it was due to pass behind the planet at around 8:30 PM. Sure enough, observing over about a 15-minute period, the moon disappeared behind Jupiter. Great!

The views of Jupiter and Saturn in Scott's Dob and Gary's SCT were likewise great. The photo to the left shows Lesley checking out the view— honestly, that mysterious creature in the background just appeared out of nowhere! 😲 Well, maybe out of Gary's truck. Anyway, with my 5" Mak I could see one of Saturn's moons (Titan) clearly. However, Scott said he could make out four smaller moons through his 8" Dob and verified their positions using his phone app.

The good atmospheric conditions also made it great for seeing double stars— the stable air made it easy to split the stellar components. We sort of went crazy trying to view as many double stars as we could locate in the moonlight. Mizar (ζ UMa) was an early target for me— I love the brilliance of the two blue-white telescopic components. Likewise, Scott put his Dob onto Albireo (β Cyg)— Lesley and I agreed that the primary was clearly yellow while the secondary was distinctly blue. I put Almach (γ And) in my Mak— Lesley and I agreed that the bright primary was deeply yellow while the small secondary seemed blue-ish. Our crowning feat was to get η Cas simultaneously in all three scopes. We then assessed the color of the components. In my Mak and Scott's Dob, the bright primary looked yellow-white while the small secondary looked orange-ish. For some reason, the primary looked deeper yellow in Gary's SCT. Checking the spectral classes of the two stars (G and K), Gary confirmed that these perceived colors were reasonable.

I looked at a couple of other double stars with my scope. The wide double β Cap had components that appeared yellow and white (I could split this pair with my Orion 10X50 binoculars). With a Meade 26mm Super Plossl lens in my Mak (around 70X), I could almost split one of the two main components of the Double-Double (ε Lyr). Going to a more powerful Meade 9mm lens at around 200X, I could distinctly split the system into its four components. Again, the stable viewing conditions contributed to my being able to do this. I believe Gary also observed this target (I must apologize— I didn't take note of everything my companions observed).

Finally, the last object I observed was M31— even with the brightness of the Moon, I could still see it in my binoculars and scope. It was not as obvious as when viewed on a dark night— as Gary appropriately put it, it appeared "ghostly". 👻

We had only a couple of visitors come by to observe with us this night. The up-side of this was we were able to look at a lot more targets than if we had a constant stream of visitors over the course of the evening. We packed up and left the park at around 10:15 PM. The weather and observing were great— we even got to see the Space Station!

Observation Report — Ransom Canyon, Saturday night, October 5, 2019
Posted by Collin Smith

Collin Smith: 8" Orion XT8PLUS Dobsonian
Steve Maas: 5" Meade Maksutov

I called the outing very late, and we got the crowd one might expect — no one. Still, Steve and I enjoyed our own homage to the International Astronomy Day and International Observe the Moon Night, and had a quiet evening under very clear skies with very little wind to bother us. I arrived later, not sure of the time, but probably around 8 or 8:30, Steve alone in the Meadow. Forgot my Rigel QuikFinder, which I'd left in my 80mm refractor's case, and as there's only one standard Synta shoe on my dob, had to decide between the Orion 6x30 Right Angle Finder or Baader Sky Surfer III red dot. I chose the RA finder to begin the night with and aligned it.

I remarked to Steve my surprise that the Milky Way was naked eye visible on this First Quarter evening from Aquila to points north, through Cygnus and Cassiopeia. This was a welcome sight and unexpected that Ransom Canyon, so close to the city, would have such inviting skies.

To make sure I lived up to the evening's namesake, after setting up my Orion XT8PLUS and plopping my ES 28mm 68° 2" eyepiece into the focuser, it was (à la Jackie Gleason) "to the moon, Alice!" And Luna was BRIGHT, of course. Steve recommended I come over to his scope and take a look with a 90% filter on it. But the view in my dob was beautiful, if a bit dark adaptive destroying. My eye was completely blinded for a few seconds, but I did observe the moon on International Observe the Moon Night. Did you?

One thing our observations of the moon demonstrated was the amount of heat distortion in the atmosphere at lower coordinates (i.e., anything remotely close to the horizon). I estimate that one needed at least a 40° clearance to get to steadier skies, but the moon and planets were all well below that threshold. Like pebbles appearing to move under a creek bed, the moon's image rippled in the eyepiece awash in the convection waves of atmospheric heat. Given that I never used an eyepiece more powerful than my 2" 28mm at a mere 43 times on the moon, high power would clearly be of limited value this evening, at least on these lower targets, and that would prove to be the case.

Steve said the mosquitoes had been worse earlier in the evening, just after sunset, but that the cooler evening weather seemed to have put them off. Although they weren't as terrible as I've seen them, I would not find them absent enough, and continued swatting them about my ears my entire time at the Meadow, seeming a bit worse later in the evening, to me. Clearly they'd not gotten Steve's directive.

Jupiter riding low abruptly caught my attention, threatening to hide under the western horizon, but his creamy figure likewise quaked in the heat bedeviled atmospheric turbulence, guaranteeing the diminutive, 43 power view through my 2" widefield wouldn't be enhanced by more magnification. I had to abandon Optimus Maximus for his Titan father, Saturn, a bit higher in the southern skies.

But Poseidon was not high enough either. Should've known, because on Saturday night, October 5th, 2019, Saturn was just to the right of the moon in the sky. Expecting better was wishful thinking but as my grandmother Maggie Bell Roscoe in Palestine would say, "If wishes were horses we'd all ride." But this night, the horse was as unobtainable as a steady southern sky. Saturn's image wavered in the eyepiece like the moon and Jove before, the turbulent, newly night-draped skies spasmodically radiating their thermal dissonance.

I resolved to install my 2" to 1.25" adapter and split Rasalgethi, Alpha Herculis, a bit higher and more northerly. The 9mm T6 delivered a nice, contrasting golden-orange primary with baby-blue secondary optical treat. This was at 133-1/3 power (wouldn't George Harrison be proud!). Steve noted this and went on his own journey to split it in his Mak, while I went after a target he recommended.

Dabih ['dei bi:], or Beta Capricorni, is a favorite double of Steve's that I'd always planned on observing, so I turned my dob to the upper right side of the bikini-bottom that is Capricornus. Even through the Pan 24 at a mere 50 power, the yellow primary and sky blue secondary easily split for a delightful pairing. This is one to return to!

Going higher still, I eventually centered Epsilon Lyrae into the focuser. Folks, with a RA finder and a target near zenith, that's not an incidental task, at least for me, Jerry Hatfield notwithstanding. With my 7mm T6 for 171-1/2 power, the four stars showed up, but that was a hard fought target.

By now, Steve's Mak had fogged over. Given all the rains we've had this fall, the night was moist with dew, and his poor Mak's thick corrector plate had tiny droplets all over it. My dob had been a very lucky choice. Since Sofia was a little under the weather and Neetu and Maya stayed home with her, I had all the back seat to lay down my friendly dob. As my father often would say, "I'd rather be lucky than smart."

With the dob our only instrument, we pointed the relative optical brute (on this night, at least) to the Andromeda galaxy, not naked eye, but pretty easy to spot in my finderscope, and we were on it momentarily. The Andromeda galaxy complex, M31, M32 & M110, were all three visible going back to the 28mm ES 68° 2" with a 1.6° True Field of View They were arrayed quite nicely, with M32 nearby to the left and the elusive M110 farther off at 3 o'clock. Certainly not the best view of Andromeda, but nearly as good a view as anyone could see in an 8" instrument with a First Quarter moon blighting the heavens. Quite nice really, and more natural and connecting than a TV screen.

We headed for Eta Cassiopeia. This double split easily with the Pan 24 in the focuser. Now the colors, to me, seemed yellow and reddish orange, but it's really interesting the descriptions one finds for Eta Cassiopeia. Consolmagno & Davis in "Turn Left at Orion" write "the primary star being yellow (perhaps with a touch of green) while its companion is reddish". This appears more closely to what I observed, but Jeremy Perez on his wonderful "Belt of Venus" sketching website (http://www.perezmedia.net/beltofvenus/archives/000443.html) draws the primary "key lime pie" with a "deep orange secondary".

With the 24 Pan in the focuser I first put Mirach in the eyepiece and looked for his NGC 404 "ghost". As expected under a half-moon sky, the ghost was particularly ghostly. I could just make him out, at the edge of visibility, but Steve was under no such allusion, and I could see why. From here it was a quick walk down to the exquisite double Almach. The pair was rather tight in the Pan 24, so I put in the 11mm T6 for 109 power to make the split more explicit, a yellow primary with blue secondary. Some folks see an orange tint to the primary.

Finally, I tried to find and split Delta Cygni. Again, this target was near the zenith, so it was awfully difficult to put into the eyepiece. I thought I had it, but got no split. Now Delta Cygni is one TIGHT double, and cannot be split, in my experience, under 165 power. I put in the Nagler 7mm T for a nice 171.43 power, but only got a bright white star. Even my 6mm ortho, for 200x, produced the same white solitary star.

After my failed Delta Cyg attempt, Steve was spent. He'd been there longer than me, and the dew, cool evening and late hour had taken their toll. I bid him farewell and continued my celestial journey in solitude, a few barking dogs in the distance of Ransom Canyon, the heavens draped over me in the meadow.

As Steve drove off, I couldn't get over not being able to split Delta Cygni. I have no trouble splitting it with the 6mm Baader Classic Ortho in my C102GT refractor (169 power), why couldn't this mighty 8" dob do the same? It occurred to me that perhaps this was a "wrong star" issue. Although I had been using the RA visual finder, I decided to swap it for the Baader SkyScout III red dot. Since d Cyg is definitely a naked eye target, I decided the red dot couldn't deceive me and aligned it. Then I went back up to the right-most star of the Northern Cross with the Nagler 7mm T6, 171-odd power. I put it into the SS III red dot, centered the dot on Delta Cygni, and … There at 3 o'clock, close to the much, much brighter primary, shone the diminutive white secondary. I had split it, and chalk up my earlier failure to being on the wrong star! Oh well, sometimes it's hard to beat a visual finder, at least for an old dob guy like me.

With the visual finder in place, I put a much easier target in the scope, Albireo. This most famous visual double is probably the best double star in the sky. The primary star is a bright yellow, or yellow-orange star, and the secondary a striking sapphire blue. From the latest Gaia data, Albireo appears to be an optical double, the two stars unrelated gravitationally, only chance aligned in the night sky from earth's perspective. Regardless, it is a beautiful double star, whether by chance or gravitation.

With the 24mm Panoptic back in the focuser, I browsed the celestial neighborhood for M57 in Lyrae, the beautiful Ring Nebula. I then nabbed M27, the Dumbbell Nebula. The Ring Nebula is the remnants of an exploded star from "above" — the gasses blown out from the sides as seen from above. The Dumbbell is the same event, but from a side-on perspective. The gasses explode from the center into two triangular shaped cylinders.

Another stellar treasure I hadn't seen in person in quite a while was M13, the Great Herculis Cluster. This is probably the best globular cluster visible in most of North America. We are lucky enough to be able to catch Omega Centauri in April and May, but otherwise, M13 is the king in our skies, certainly available to view much longer, and much, much higher in our sky. I put the 9mm T6 in the focuser to get a better look. What a magnificent thing M13 is in our heavens. It's like an old friend, and it sure was nice to see it again.

From here I found Gamma Delphini, the head of the Dolphin. There's a distinct color difference, but this one's more subtle, gray and white? Yellow and white? Yellow and gray? Definitely worth a look.

I went back to Saturn. It was still wavering, but I took some more time and took in the view. Titan and cloud belts, Cassini Division, what a majestic planet!

I returned to M31, now higher in the sky, and took another look with the Pan 24. 50 power isn't a whole lot more, but Andromeda is spectacular, and always worth a second look.

I went after Collinder 399, Brocchi's Cluster, the Coathanger asterism between Cygnus and Aquila, in the obscure Vulpecula. Even my ES 28mm 68° wasn't wide enough to frame this large cluster. I plopped in my largest field eyepiece, the 42mm SuperView, for a full 2° TFOV. Finally, the whole thing showed up. This is an object probably framed best in a short tube reflector, like a 150mm or 130mm F/5 scope, but still pretty nice in my 8" dob with the SV 42mm.

Neetu texted me, they were taking chicken tenders home. Did I want any? It was late, I was alone, and my warm, dry home, inviting family, and tasty food beckoned. Was great to have some time under God's good heavens, but home is where the heart is so I left my commune with eternity for my family this fine fall evening.

Observation Report — Tech Terrace Park, Lubbock, Saturday night, September 14, 2019
Posted by Steve Maas

Steve Maas: 5" Meade Maksutov
Lesley & Scott Harris: 8" Orion Dobsonian
Gary Leiker: 8" Celestron Cassegrain

When I got to the park at sundown I thought I would mostly be telling any visitors that showed up that it was "too cloudy so we weren't observing tonight". There were a lot of high clouds but, surprisingly, there were enough breaks and thin spots so that observing the brighter celestial objects was not too bad.

Lesley, Scott and Gary showed up shortly after I set up my 5" Mak and aligned the red-dot. We had a constant stream of visitors during the evening, usually 2-3 at a time. So, we mostly ended up viewing and re-viewing Jupiter, Saturn and the Moon. Jupiter was particularly nice. In my scope with a 20mm SuperView lens, I could distinctly see the bands on either side of the equatorial region. The planet was nicely framed by all four Galilean moons— two on one side and two on the other. The view of Jupiter in Scott and Lesley's Dob was even better. Scott said he could make out the Great Red Spot but, with my less-than perfect vision, it eluded me. The best views of Jupiter were to be had with Gary's 8" Celestron (see the photo to the left) under higher power. I could definitely see the Great Red Spot in his view along with nice banding across the face of the planet. Similarly, his view of Saturn was also nice. With the 20mm SuperView in my 5" Mak, Saturn was small but sharp. I tried going to higher power (Meade 9mm) but the seeing conditions at the time really didn't support it, yielding a bigger but "muddier" view of the planet.
The main reason I like to use the 20mm SuperView with my 5" Mak at these star parties is for viewing the Moon. With this setup, the Moon's whole disk just fits within the field-of-view. Also, I've got an Orion Variable (1%-40% transmission) Polarizing Filter attached to that lens to cut back the Moon's glare when viewing it through the scope. About an hour after we started observing, the Moon rose bright and beautiful over the trees to the east. It had been full the previous night, so most of its face was still illuminated tonight. This Moon was called a "Micro-Harvest Moon", which alluded to the fact that, currently being at its farthest from Earth, the face of the Moon appeared about as small as we can see it. Once it got above the denser air along the horizon, the Moon was a beautiful target. Luckily, it was rising into an area of the sky largely clear of clouds, so we had an unobstructed view of it in our scopes.

While it was quite bright, the Moon did not completely wash out other bright celestail objects. Lesley was able to train their Dob onto Albireo, which was quite an acrobatic feat since the double star was almost directly overhead. The colors of the pair were distinct with, to me, the brighter component being yellow while the smaller component a bright sky-blue. I took my scope away from the Moon to view Mizar. The 20mm SuperView frames the three components of the "system" nicely, with the true double component easily split. To me, all three appeared bright blue-white.

By 10:30 PM, the visitors had trailed off so we called it quits and packed up. It was a fun evening of observing even though we had spent the roughly 2 hours on only five objects (the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, and two double stars). Still, it was not bad considering that I had thought earlier we would be clouded-out.

Observation Report — Ransom Canyon, Saturday night, August 24, 2019
Posted by Steve Maas

Mark Monk: 7" Celestron Maksutov
Collin Smith: 110mm Williams Optics Refractor
Tom Heisey: 80mm Onyx Refractor, 25 X 100 Burres Binoculars
Steve Maas: 5" Meade Maksutov with Revolution R2 imager

This was the second Public Star Party that SPAC has held in Ransom Canyon and, like the first last month, was quite a success. Although there were high clouds during the day, by sundown they had moved off to the east, leaving excellent clear skies for the duration of the event. I arrived at around 8:15 PM and got my stuff set up. Mark showed up shortly thereafter. Visitors started coming by as it began to get dark. Initially, Mark and I provided great views of Jupiter and Saturn, which were real crowd-pleasers. Luckily, Tom showed up as the crowd began to grow and was able to add his scope (and later, HUGE binoculars) to the action. Collin and his girls (and cat) arrived later but still in time to provide great views of objects to the last groups of visitors. While visitors came and went, I estimate we had around 40-50 total over the course of the evening, including some that had attended last month's event. Rolan Pirtle also swung by to add his presence to the group. Everyone said they had a great time (see the photos below).

I probably spent about 60% of my time showing visitors Jupiter and Saturn. Jupiter was very clear in my 5" Mak, showing dark equatorial bands and three moons. Saturn was fairly small in my scope with a 20mm SuperView lens but sharp and contrasty. Many visitors said this was the first time they had actually seen Saturn's rings and were very impressed. The views of Jupiter and Saturn were much better in Mark's new 7" Maksutov, particularly at higher power. This was the debut of Mark's new scope, along with its massive mount and probably the biggest tripod I've seen in a while (see the photos below).

Besides the planets, I also had some great views of M8 (Lagoon Nebula), M7 (Ptolemy's Cluster), M11 (Wild Duck Cluster), and the bright globular M22. The FOV of my 5" Mak with the 20mm SuperView is well-suited for these objects. To me, there was a hint of green in the glowing nebula of M8— several visitors also mentioned this. M22 was almost resolvable.

Since I was pretty busy with all the visitors, I didn't get to see as much through the other scopes as I would have liked. But I can mention a few highlights. Of course, Jupiter and Saturn were great in Mark's 7" Mak— the cloud bands on Jupiter were very prominent. He also put it on several globular clusters, including M13. Particularly nice was his view of M57 (Ring Nebula), which was almost directly overhead. Tom had started the evening with his 80mm Onyx refractor, but soon changed to his HUGE 25 X 100 binos. His views of M6 (Butterfly Cluster) and M8 were great— the FOV of the binos is well-suited for these types of objects. Later in the evening, he caught M31 (Andromeda Galaxy) rising over the houses to the north-east. With his 110mm refractor, Collin caught great views of M11, M16 (Swan Nebula) and, later in the evening, M31. And, of course, his view of Albireo was excellent— you can't beat the contrast of a refractor when viewing objects like this.

One of the things I was hoping to spend time working with was a new piece of equipment that I had recently picked up— a Revolution R2 Imager. This is a small, inexpensive color video camera that can capture videos (on a laptop) from any scope that uses 1.25" lenses. As shown in the photo below, I had attached it to the camera port of my 5" Mak— through a judicious use of adapters and spacers, I was able to make it almost parfocal with the objective lens. So, I could find objects with the normal viewing lens and then, by flipping a knob on the back of the scope, switch to the camera. Unfortunately, with all the visitors, I only spent a little time playing with it. I did capture a couple of videos of Jupiter. Viewing the videos later, I was pretty impressed with the little imager. I've shown one frame from one of the videos below. What I need to do now is extract all the individual frames from the videos, throw out the bad ones (those with atmospheric distortion), and then register and stack the remaining ones to produce a final image.

Most of the visitors had departed by 11 PM, although we had a few late ones including one of Ransom Canyon's police officers. He wasn't there to hassle us— he was just interested in looking through the scopes. We pretty much called it a night by midnight and packed our stuff up. It was a great mosquito-free evening for observing and outreach, and I'm looking forward to doing it again next month.

Observation Report — Ransom Canyon, Saturday night, July 27, 2019
Posted by Collin Smith

Gary Leiker (was told 12" Orion dob)
Mark Smith (on crutches)
Mark Monk (dual mounted 125mm ED refractor & C9.25)
Scott & Lesley (an SCT)
Steve Maas (with 127mm Mak)
Brian Greenlees (Z12)
Wade Estepp (binoculars, probly)
Ray Smead (self)
Humble Narrator 110mm WO Megrez

Saturday night found me eating dinner with my family at Montelongos, when none other than Rolan Pirtle called me about 9:05 PM wondering where the meadow was at Ransom Canyon. He was across the dam, way over on what I reckoned was the wrong side. I told him that, in truth, I was a bit unsure, since the last time I'd observed there was with Don Fritz some 12-odd years ago, and that one took a right, not a left, entering the Canyon to get to that particular locale. I also gave him the Club President's cell phone number in case memory was not serving me well, and he eventually did rondez-vous with the group, but was gone by the time we actually made it there.

That particular Saturday night, July 27th, was the anniversary of the day I met Neetu Arora at the TTU Rec Center fourteen years earlier. We were having a dinner out with the kids, and it took a lot of finessing on my part, and a non-inconsequential effort from my daughters, to persuade Dr. Arora to go along on the drive east, but eventually, we succeeded. Loaded up the car with my William Optics 110mm Megrez, alt-az mount, chairs for everyone, and off we went, Jed Clampett style.

One of the biggest selling points of the whole endeavor for my chiquitas was bringing our new cat, Luce. He adopted us on July 7th, and we'd taken him to the vet on the 12th, so he is officially our beast now, and taking him on an astronomy trip seemed like the right kind of baptism for our family. Neetu's eyes glowed when I reminded her, some 14-years earlier, when we'd taken Faust, my old cat from that era, with us out to various astronomy outings, and I knew instantly she felt a kinship with our past, and what an historically appropriate engagement this entire endeavor was.

But I got no love for the setup. The second we arrived, everyone, cat included, took off to see folks, say hello, look through other scopes and otherwise check out the environs, while I set up everything by myself, including two chairs I'd brought for my girls that they never even sat in! Oh well.

Finally, after a preparation that seemed interminable, I plopped the 24mm Pan into my refractor to (barely) see Jupiter and moons in the south thru hazy cloudiness and, to better effect, Albireo (Yellow-orange with light blue secondary) overhead and, at the moment, unmolested by clouds. Lesley, Steve, my girls, and some of the unwashed masses enjoyed the view. Tried my new Siebert Optics Star Splitter III 3.9mm on Jupiter but at 169.23 power was just too much for the atmosphere at that aperture. And the same combination on Delta Cygni produced no split this evening, either. However, I got much better results on Jupiter and Saturn with Nagler 5mm T6 at a mere 132 power.

According to my Sky & Telescope iPhone app, Jupiter's moon Io was just left of the planet, having emerged from in front of the Jove's surface only a few minutes before. Ganymede and Europa were flung much farther off, in that order, to the left, with Ganymede below the farther-appearing Europa. Callisto was much, much farther off to the left, so it was clearly a night of leftist Galilean moons, at least in a telescope's perspective.

Sadly, I didn't get to look through hardly anyone else's scopes, since there were lots of people who showed up, by Lesley's count 50 folks! On top of that, many of our people were tired and were pulling down their scopes by the time mine was in production. But ...

I caught a stupendous view of Jupiter (200+ power) in Mark Monk's C9.25 SCT, Io's shadow transit barely on Jove's globe to the upper left, exiting the creamy sphere after a long pass across Jupiter's face, a sight I did not notice in my refractor of less than half the aperture. The Great Red Spot to the lower right was more evident in Mark's C9.25 than in my 110mm with 5mm T6. He had dropped the tube in the dirt earlier, but collimation clearly was not too adversely affected. I've read on Cloudy Nights that the C9.25 has a longer focal ratio of the spheroidal primary to corrector plate, F/2.5 as opposed to the standard F/2 of most SCTs, giving it greater resilience, collimation-wise. Regardless, the view was STUNNING! Money shot on Jupiter for the evening for me, though I didn't get a chance to look in Brian's Z12, nor Gary's 12" dob, which are both fine instruments, to say nothing of Scott and Lesley's SCT and Steve's 5" Mak, all of which I'm sure had worthwhile views in their respective diagonals, but with the crowds and late arrival, I'll have to take a rain check.

Still, a good time was had by all, and hopefully we'll get a tradition going at Ransom Canyon for a positive, well-attended public star party.

Observation Report — Tech Terrace Park, Friday night, June 14, 2019
Posted by Steve Maas

Steve Maas
Gary Leiker
Wade Estepp

It's been quite a while since we've had a Public Star Party, and it started out the day looking like this would be another cancellation. The weather forecast was for thunderstorms developing to the west of Lubbock and moving through the area right around sundown. There were also quite a few high cirrus clouds around late in the day, which also didn't make things look positive. Still, I was reluctant to give up and I hesitated in posting a cancellation notice on the SPAC Message Board.

Keeping an eye on the radar, it became apparent that the thunderstorms that did develop would miss Lubbock. Better yet, the "dry line" was approaching Lubbock from the west, a situation that often results in skies clearing after its passage. So, I took a chance and emailed everyone that I would be at Tech Terrace at sundown.

My optimism paid off. The dry line came in and swept most of the clouds away to the east. The few remaining high clouds eventually disappeared, leaving skies pretty much clear by 10 PM. The waxing gibbous moon (95% full) hung beautifully above the trees in the park.

I begain setting up my scope, a 5" Meade Maksutov, shortly after sundown. It was still light, and there were still quite a few joggers and dog-walkers at the park— a potential audience for moon-gazing. Unfortunately, by the time I had finished setting the scope up and adjusting the red-dot and finder scope, they had all pretty much disappeared back into their houses. So much for the audience.

I put my scope on the obvious target, the moon. With the 20 mm SuperView eyepiece I was using, the moon just filled the FOV. When I first started observing, there were still a few high clouds in the way, so the view wasn't great. These clouds soon drifted away, and the view greatly improved. I was surprised by the sharpness of the view— this was aided by the Orion Variable Polarizing Filter that I had attached to the lens. Without it, the view would have been blindingly bright. In particular, the ray system of Tycho stood out brightly. Other craters, like Clavius and Plato, were seen in sharp detail. Of particular note was a small crater along the eastern limb (I don't know it's name). Its inner wall was at just the right angle with regard to the Sun so that it was lit up very brightly— it looked like a beacon on the moon's surface. I hadn't closely looked at the moon through a telescope in years, so I was pleasantly surprised at the view. I may have to devote more time to this object in the future.

Around this time, Gary and Wade showed up. We spent some time observing the moon (see the photo below) and soon found out that, while the public hadn't showed up, the mosquitoes had. After dousing ourselves with repellant, we continued observing through my scope. At around 10:15 PM, Jupiter began rising over the trees in the park. Initially, it wasn't very sharp. But after it had risen a bit more, it turned out to be a fine object. The 20 mm lens at 95X showed it as a sharp disk, with a dark band on either side of the equatorial region. Three Jovian moons were also visible. Since I didn't have any other lenses, this was the only view we had of it. Still, it was quite nice.

We ended up looking at a couple of double stars (γ Leonis and ε Lyrae) but, with the brightness of the moon, we were pretty limited in what we could see. Also, the 20 mm lens was not great at splitting them. So, around 10:45 PM, we packed it in. It was a fun evening of observation and conversation, and it certainly turned out much better than what I thought it was going to be earlier in the day.

Gary checking out the moon at Tech Terrace Park.

Observation Report — Muleshoe Wildlife Refuge, Tuesday night, May 21, 2019
Posted by Collin Smith

When Dr. Ken Baake of the Texas Tech English Department’s Technical Writing group asked us to help with a star gazing party for a group of graduate students, I and other South Plains Astronomy Club members were all ears. Hoping for a weekend evening, the weather forecasts made clear we’d have to do this Tuesday night, May 21st for our best shot at anything like clear skies. Unfortunately, the wind in the day was unrelenting, and even tho Dr. Baake would be leading his group on a hike at the Muleshoe Wildlife Refuge, the 75 km/hr winds picked up dust high into the air, a condition that would be difficult for us later in the evening as well.

I was very concerned about my selection of telescopes. From past experience, I knew that we REALLY needed at least one “Big Gun”, a dobsonian Newtonian that could grab a LOT of photons and throw them into your eye. As much as I love refractors and Maksutov-Cassegrain scopes, their portable varieties just don’t have the punch to make galaxies come to life. You gotta have a Big Gun.

I’m not much of a “Big Gun” fellow. I like portable, easily managed telescopes and am not a fan of coma nor coma correctors, so my “Big Gun” is only an 8” F/6 dob, about as small a dob as one can easily buy. But still, that 203mm of mirror can pluck out blessèd views of galaxies far better than anyone’s 5” and smaller refractors or MCTs. And I know because I own several of those also. I was unsure of which Club members would attend. Fortunately, I have some flexibility with my work schedule -- not nearly as much as the professors I work for -- but was able to take off Wednesday morning at quick notice. Being between semesters really helps in this regard, too. Unfortunately, not everyone else in the Club is in that boat, and that includes two of the most reliable Big Gun toting Club members, Gary and Scott. And a quick call to Gary on Tuesday confirmed what I had suspected -- they were not going to Muleshoe Tuesday night. I had received an email that Robb Chapman would be there, and that was very good news. He has a nice 10” dob, and from past views at the eyepiece, I knew that his presence & scope would be very welcome additions. Still, just one Big Gun isn’t really enough for a big crowd, and Dr. Baake was planning to deliver just that.

With all that in mind, I decided to take my 8” dob, and leave my wide field 110mm refractor at home. It was a tough call, because Dr. Baake had asked we bring a variety of scopes to demonstrate the different capacities and optical configurations available. Of course, we had finderscopes, but unfortunately, we didn’t actually field a genuine refractor telescope, and I regretted that, but under the circumstances, I made the best decision I could with the information available at the time. With Maya, my older daughter, sitting on a small fold up chair I take to the field, I fiddled with the lock and collimation screws on the back of my brand-new 8” Orion SkyQuest XT PLUS to perfect mirror alignment, a must for any Newtonian telescope to function at its best. It’s grand to have a good, eager, 10-year old helper in that endeavor. I’m a lucky guy!

I loaded everything up in my 2007 Mercury Milan and headed north and west. As I was driving up, I called Brian Greenlees who’d emailed me earlier. Brian is a newer Club member who lives in Levelland and owns an impressive-looking Z-12. I’d not had the pleasure of looking through it, but he sent me pictures, covered in ice, from the January total lunar eclipse we got earlier this year. Now THAT was a genuine Big Gun. If I’d known he was coming for sure earlier, I might have foregone the maiden voyage of my Orion 8” dob in favor of the wide field refractor, but c’est la vie. The wind would even die down to a refractor-safe level, too, but we would have enough scopes to really see the night sky, and enough scopes to, hopefully, satisfy a larger crowd.

I arrived, for the first time in my life, at the Observation Deck at Paul’s Lower Lake at the Muleshoe Wildlife Refuge with the sun low, but still shining in the sky. I’ve observed from this location many times over the last decade, but always arrived after dark. What an interesting and easy course to navigate in broad daylight! I was greeted by Club President Steve Maas and fellow South Plains Astronomy Club member Richard Craig. Both of these gentlemen had brought their Maks, 5” and 4” respectively. They were both finishing their setup, but I had many things to unload and configure, not a complicated process, but a lot of back and forth for me that I’m used to. As I was getting things out, Richard called Steve to observe the setting sun thru his 4” Mak-with-solar-filter. After hearing Steve comments of the view, I had to take a look.

This was Lawrence of Arabia’s sunrise scene in reverse, only better. The glorious, shimmering heat-soaked waves of the sun’s globe through the scope were mesmerizing, as Sol, half submerged in the hard, unmoving horizon of a West Texas mesquite tree and surrounding scrub, slowly sank further and further into terra firma. Lucky Richard got to see this whole process to completion, but even a glimpse of this magnificence already rendered the trip worthy.

My scope set up, I was in the process of aligning my finderscopes, an Orion 9x50 RA and Rigel, when Ken Baake showed up in his Kia, preceded about 3 minutes earlier by the first batch of students. They arrived in several cars, and numbered something like 12-odd, I suppose, when everyone was there. Dr. Baake showed up around 9:15, which was after the sunset, but still only with a couple of the brightest stars shyly breaking through the light blue dusk skies.

The winds would render our views of anything below about 40-degrees off the horizon muddy, and very hard to resolve. This was unfortunate, but that still left most of the heavenly dome rich and full of beautiful targets

A bad thing about these kinds of large group observations, one doesn’t get to look through your buddies’ scopes. The worst example of this was during the second Transit of Venus. In 2004, I’d flown East to catch the first of the 8-year separated pair of transits, and on the observatory roof of Charleston College caught the glorious transit through an h-Alpha filtered telescope. Such a sight! In 2012 here in Lubbock, as part of the “show”, although Tom Heisey had one such setup in front of the TTU Museum, the huge crowds and groups prevented me from being able to get away from my scope to even take a look, so I didn’t get to see the second transit in h-Alpha here in Lubbock, something I did as a spectator in Charleston. Oh well. I hope the views through Robb and Brian’s scopes were as great as mine through my 8” Medium Gun. I did get to see edge on spiral M108 and planetary nebula M97 in the same field in Brian’s 12” dob. Great view! But sadly the only one I was able to sneak over and take a gander at.

And my views weren’t altogether great. As mentioned before, things below about 40-degrees from the horizon weren’t necessarily so great. But things above that …

I aligned my finderscopes on Arcturus, then went off, at very low power, to show folks that Mars was, in fact, a globe. Not much detail on that globe at 36.29 power, but a globe just the same, and not a star as it appears naked eye. I had my 2” 28mm 68° wide field eyepiece in the scope to start things off, and used it much of the time for the evening. Iota Cancri was easily split, and the Beehive, easily visible naked eye at MWR, was resolved to myriad stellar geometric patterns of triangles, rectangles, trapeziums and the like. I heard Steve showing off Albireo to people, certainly more colorful than Iota Cancri. At such low power, I had trouble believing I’d found the rather dim M67, but later, looking at other images off the internet, I believe I did catch it. There’s some speculation that perhaps the Sun came from M67, given it is one of the older open clusters, and the age of the stars is only slightly less than the Sun. A lot of the latest models exclude this possibility, but still, it’s nice to see a cluster that, if not the Sun’s birthplace, clearly a model for what might have been Apollo’s original crib.

M81 and M82, the interacting pair of galaxies in Ursa Major, were a hit in my scope, which easily framed the distinctive pair. These are believed to have had a collision, due to the streamers of dust, gas and stars betwixt them, as well as the ruptured core of the cigar-shaped M82. Ken Baake had asked me about the distance, and I was unsure, but can now relate they lie about 11.8 million light years away from us: the light we were seeing more than twice as old as our earliest australopithecine ancestors.

My proudest moment, however, came with M101, the open face spiral galaxy in Ursa Major forming the “top” of a triangle between Alkaid and Alcor in the Dipper’s handle. This is a very sensitive target, and getting any spiral apparition out of the Pinwheel Galaxy usually requires at least a 10” scope under good conditions. As noted the conditions were far from pristine below about 40-degrees, but above that, as M101 now was, well, the view through my 8” dob demonstrated just how nice they were. Spiral arms faintly flowing off the center, M101 put every millimeter of my 203mm scope to use, and to wonderful effect. At 21 million light years, M101 is almost twice the distance as M81/82.

But if M101 demonstrated what my scope could do, sadly, Omega Centauri, very low to the horizon, did not. I had bragged on it so, and have seen it before under better conditions clear and beautiful at the Emma Cemetery east of Lubbock in Crosby County. But it was just a blob here through the dust bedeviled skies that evening at MWR. I countered that rather lackluster globular performance with M13 in Hercules, and much higher in the sky. This was through my 16mm Nagler T5 at 78.15 power, and was that better, to many folks’ eye, mine included! Night 'n day.

M104, the Sombrero, was higher, but still not as spectacular as I’ve seen it before, and no doubt due to that 40-degree business. But the most disappointing target of the evening for me was the Double Double in Lyra, which appeared high enough, at about 33-degrees off the horizon, but still too low to be able to make the pairs split, no matter the power I employed. Muddy skies below about 40-degrees, and that was the way it was, folks. Of course, M57, the Ring Nebula, wasn’t as affected, and looked quite nice at 78 power.

At 23:40 Luna began rising through thick eastern clouds, and the students who were left began leaving, even as we started to tear down our equipment and pack up. It was a good evening under the West Texas heavens, as Robb and I drove our cars back to our warm homes in Lubbock after the cool evening spring air of the Muleshoe Wildlife Refuge. We’ll be back under the glorious West Texas skies again, hopefully with a little less dust from the preceeding afternoon.

Observation Report — Gott Observatory, Sunday night, March 24th, 2019
Posted by Collin Smith

Attendees & optics:
Darien Perla 8" SCT imaging system
Darien's friend
Tom Heisey Big binoculars
Mark Smith 10" F/5.6 dobsonian
Richard Craig Mak 102
Wade Estepp binoculars
Gary Leiker Celestron Edge 8 SCT
Scott Harris NexStar 8SE
Steve Maas 5" Meade Maksutov + binoculars
Your Humble Narrator WO 110mm ED with EQ-3 alt-az mount

I arrived late, even by my standards. I had many family obligations that kept me busy late, but by 22:30 or so, I rolled in to the Gott and did my best to set up as quickly as possible. Unfortunately for me, the EQ-3 alt-az mount I have fashioned, with its metric bolt and two counterweights, is heavy as sin, and took a bit of huffing and puffing, grunting and general pain to establish on the far concrete pad, the main pad pretty busy with everyone's gear. I was glad to see that, actually. It's always good when there's a lot of people and equipment set up. In fact, I didn't see Richard by his Mak, and he might not have bothered to set it up, but we had plenty of scopes on the pads, so views were readily available.

I can only report on the things I saw, but I did overhear others talking of various items in their eyepieces, so without further ado . . . I recalled Tom Heisey discussing M78 and Barnard's Loop with Mark Smith as I set up. Later Tom caught M81/82. Don't recall him saying anything about NGC 3077, but perhaps he got that one, too. Darien was busy imaging NGC 2903 in Leo for a good portion of the night when I was there. I know Mark Smith put Mars in the eyepiece, even though it was low in the west. This is just what I heard about. There were certainly other targets others put in their scopes, but I was too busy finding or setting up or otherwise too preoccupied to commit to memory the astral adventures others murmured of.

I set up my finderscopes (Baader Sky Surfer III and Orion 7x30mm RA) to Cor Coroli. The color variation was apparent, but not outstanding because I started the evening with my 2" ES 28mm 68°, which produces a mere 23.57 power view. Now it's got 2.88° true field of view, so not half bad, but puny on magnification. But that's a good power to find things with, and since I was in the neighborhood, I put M51/NGC 5195 into the eyepiece. Well, I've seen it better, but again, a nice widefield view on a hazy night.

Being in the neighborhood, I next put the huge, faint face-on spiral M101 into the refractor. It was mostly a blob, but Mark, who was having trouble finding it, kindly allowed me to loan him my Meade 25mm HD 60 and navigate his beast to the beautiful galaxy's shores. It was more substantial in his 10", for sure! I've seen it much better in darker, more transparent skies, but still pretty nice in Mark's big light bucket. Both Mark and I tend to look too "low" for M101, not realizing how "high" the triangle-top M101 is to the base of Alkaid and Alcor in the Dipper's handle. Before leaving Ursa Major, I successfully put my refractor on the M97/M108 pair.

I framed the Double Cluster (NGC's 869 & 884), then M45, the Pleiades. Steve urged me on to M44, the Beehive, and there she was, a geometric jumble of stars. Moving back to Taurus, I picked up M1, which was an uninspiring fuzz ball.

I ventured further south to try and find Gary's "discovery" of NGC 2362 in Canis Major — a pretty little set of white stars dominated by Tau Canis Majoris, finally putting 1.25" eyepieces in my scope. From there it was a very short walk over to h3945, the Winter Albireo – large orange-ish primary with a small blue secondary, remarkable.

By this time Wade and Steve had called it a night. It was getting a little colder, as the hours climbed to the end of Sunday toward Monday. I had taken off Monday morning, so wasn't as concerned as others, I suppose, about the late hour, but cold asks its own price. I was well dressed for a cold night, and it served me well, especially later.

I moved on to the lovely quartet of M35-38, in a line from the Geminid Castor's foot into Auriga the Charioteer. They're interesting for many reasons, but one very nice thing is that they're both in order and out of order. M35 is the first, followed by M37, M36, and finally M38, so it starts and ends where it should, but is mixed up in the middle, kind of like me I suppose. My wife feels that way. M35, 2,800 light years away, is, in our earthly perspective on 3-D outer space, closely bordered by NGC 2158, an open cluster some 11,000-plus light years distant.

The absolute gem of the series, and certainly a candidate for "most beautiful open cluster in the northern skies", is M37, a glittering array of white loyal thanes surrounding their bright Orange Chieftain. At some 4,500 light years, M37 delights my eye every time I get to behold its heavenly glory.

M36, next in line, is referred to by astronomer friend Jerry Hatfield as the Zia Cluster, because it somewhat mimics the Zia pattern on the New Mexican flag. And the end of our quartet is the "Starfish Cluster" M38. At 3480 light years, M38 is, like M35 at the beginning, also "haunted" by a distant open cluster "ghost" NGC 1907. NGC 1907 is from 4,200 to 5,900 light years away, so not the same distances of M35 and NGC 2158. M38 & NGC 1907 are much closer in outer space (but not very close at 720 light years apart using the most optimistic figures possible). Ironically, from our earthly perspective, M38 is a bit farther from NGC 1907 in terms of arc seconds in our skies compared to the Geminid cluster pair.

I tried to pick out some details with higher power on M42, which had sunk low to the horizon, but the stars of the Trapezium flickered rather wildly even in my 16mm T5, so trying to get the E and F stars was not an option this evening.

Gary and Scott broke their scopes down, and only Richard was still there by the time I put Castor in the eyepiece for a close split, only fitting after all the fiddling with his left foot down below. Clouds had come and gone, but the wind had picked up. It was time to head home.

As I turned off the Observatory road onto the Hardy-Ramanujan Number county highway, the large, waning gibbous almost-Last-Quarter Moon bathed me in an enthusiastic white amidst the darkness, greeting me from the East like a puppy dog's wagging tail.

Observation Report — Saturday night, February 23rd, 2019
Posted by Collin Smith

Steve Maas 5" Maksutov
Scott Harris Zhumell 8" dob
Gary Leiker Orion 12” dobsonian
Humble Narrator SkyWatcher 6” dobsonian

I arrived about 21:15, with the “Guthrie boys” already observing. I was much more prepared for the cold weather this evening than last time I’d come out. Last time I somehow forgot my deep respect of the winter learned the hard way through five in Iowa immediately proceeding my moving to Lubbock, but being lazy about astronomy, and too Texas-centric in my demeanor got the best of me. This time, having been reminded Lubbock winters, especially those out in the country, can bite pretty well, I was in layers with my full-length down coat. My feet still got so cold they felt they were burning by the end of the night, but at least my wool socks kept them as warm as possible for the two plus hours I was able to get in.

I foolishly forgot my Orion magnetic one-pound counter-weight, so had to forego my optical finder, making do with the simple Baader Sky Surfer III Red Dot finder. That wouldn’t turn out to be such a big mistake this evening due to upper atmospheric turbulence preventing us from using high power. With low power the best choice for most of our evening, the red dot plus a two inch eyepiece did rather nicely.

I aligned the red-dot to the central FOV of my eyepiece via a streetlight along the horizon, then fine-tuned it on Mars. Didn’t bother to spend any time on Mars, small orange orb that it was in my Explore Scientific 28mm 68°, yielding 43X and a 1.59° field, but proceeded immediately to the Andromeda complex low in the west, M31, M32 and M110. For some reason, I didn’t attempt to split beautiful Almach right there beside them, overlooking it — duh. But there were plenty of targets, so I went for Eta Cassiopeiae, an easy split, visible even in the ES 28mm 68°. Looked a little better in my 16mm Nagler T5, but not bad in the ES 2-incher, if a little tight. Steve made a nice split of it with my Meade 25mm HD-60 in his Mak. While I fruitlessly searched for Mirach’s ghost, too low for me to find with a mere 6” scope, Gary had the Leo triplet in his 12” dob, and that was a nice sight, even if the flat top NGC 3628 was dimmer than it should be in a 12”. That would change later as it rose in the sky, but now with it still low in the east, and after our 60mph winds on Saturday, a bit murky at that location yet in the sky.

The 60mph winds were SO bad, that the first four-way stop sign one comes to rather quickly after the curve up Frankford just north of the railroad tracks & 84 was bent, and barely looked like the traffic proceeding from the south needed to stop at all, bent so strongly toward the east after the day’s blast. Despite this, and even though I brought out my 6” dob for the added stability a dobsonian makes in any kind of wind, we literally had almost no wind the entire night. A small breeze here and there, but a refractor on a light-weight mount would have fared well enough. With Scott bringing out his 8” dob, I’d wished I’d brought out a wide field refractor, but I honestly didn’t think a refractor would be worth a hoot in the wind. Ha!

I hunted down M33 in Triangulum, with the results one might expect low in the muck with a mere 6”. Scott and Gary went after M81/M82 and NGC 3077. Their views were wonderful! The turbulence in the upper atmosphere might be disturbing our high powered views, but the photons that flooded into our eyepieces at low powers rendered the galaxies quite nicely! Gary got the detailed view, and Scott managed a nice, wider angle view.

I thought I had an advantage with my GSO 42mm SuperView eyepiece, yielding a true 2° field of view, but Scott had his Pan 35mm in his Z8 and man did that thing have some true field of view! The 1.93° that thing splashed into the eyepiece delivered all 200mm of the primary for a very, very nice 35X view. The Double Cluster, NGC 869 & NGC 884, were very nice in my SW 6” dob at 28X in my GSO, but Scott’s Z8 with Pan 35 stole the show. He got the best view out of that target, for sure. And the exact same scenario got repeated at M45, the Pleiades. The ES 28mm 68° did a nice alternative, at 1.59°, but the Pan 35 and the Z8 were just that much better on these targets. Hats off to Scott!

We went after M1 and that was a nice experience. Gary’s big 12” dob put up as good a view of the Crab Nebula as I’ve seen at the Gott. There were hints of filaments in the Crab’s shell, not as dramatic as I’ve seen in 10” scopes out at Emma, but beginning to approach them, and quite a feat when one considers the considerably more light polluted skies at the Gott compared to Emma.

We looked at M42, and it was here we established, once and for all, that the upper atmospheric turbulence was too much for high power, as we tried in vain to find E and F in the Trapezoid of M42. Not a big feat on a clear night for such scopes, even my 6”, but with the amount of turbulence encountered on Saturday night the 23rd, nigh impossible. Oh well, the nebulous filaments spread out in glorious trails in Gary’s 12”. This scope is made for those kinds of views, and Gary came through with the money shot on M42.

Next we dug up the globular M79 in Lupus. A nice globular, but a bit difficult to get more details due to our lack of high power, its southerly location, and within the outer reaches of the Lubbock light dome out at the Gott. It was a nice blob, though.

We split the Winter Albireo, Hershel 3945, and what a beautiful pair it is, orange and light blue. Around this time, Steve had packed up his scope and had had enough of the cold. He’d arrived first, and I understood only too well by the time he left why he might want to leave, as the cold was beginning to bite Gary and me plenty.

But since we were on the Winter Albireo and Steve was leaving, he gave us the news – the real Albireo, Beta Cygni, has proven to be an optical binary only, and NOT a true gravitational binary. According to GAIA, the European Space Agency’s sky-mapping spacecraft currently doing painstaking measurements of astronomical objects the heavens over, the two stars are some 60 light years apart, and not moving in the same exact directions, and so are merely an optical double, and not a gravitationally bound binary pair. Read about it here. Read it and weep? Well, it’s kind of tough-love astronomy news, to be sure, but there’s always been a lot of debate on the issue, and now it appears over, and with a scientific ending. C’est la vie, et vive la science!

While Gary was looking for h3945, well, he found sumpin’ else – NGC 2362. This is an open cluster not far off the top of the Canis Major’s hind star Wezen. Tau Canis Majoris is the primary star in this cluster, and it kind of looks like a “white” version of M37. It really doesn’t look a whole lot like M37, but it is genuinely beautiful. It’s near the size of the Pleiades Cluster, M45, but about 10 times farther away. 8 light years across, like the Pleiades, but instead of 445-odd light years away for M45, the Canis Major open cluster is a whopping 4,500 light years distant. It is so lovely that the late Patrick Moore included it in his list as Caldwell 64. It’s covered in Turn Left at Orion on ppg 66 & 67, and the coordinates are RA 07h 18.6m, Dec -24° 59’. Tau Canis Majoris dominates, surrounded by a glistening host.

I put M51 and NGC 5195, the Whirlpool Galaxy and its satellite, in the eyepiece and that set off an Ursa Major celestial rush the likes of which ain’t been since since Californie in ’49. Besides that couple, we picked up the M108/M97 pair, a mostly edge-on galaxy and round planetary nebula, respectively, on the other side of the Big Dipper, just off Merak. Followed this up with M109 just outside the other side of the bowl, near Phecda. We dug out M106 at something around Phecda and Chi Ursae Majoris and out between them a little toward Alkaid, if that makes any sense.

Scott spotted the light dome in the east announcing the impending waning gibbous moon. Gary finished the evening up on the Leo Triplet, M65-M66-NGC 3628. This time they were closer to zenith, and were a nice site in Gary’s 12”, NGC 3628 much more apparent than before. I nabbed open cluster M35 accompanied by the ghostly NGC 2158 in western Gemini to finish off the night, the moon cresting the horizon and ending our dark sky adventure.

In emails from Mark Monk, I learned he came out earlier, around 6:30 or so. He left when no one else showed up. We waited till later given the dust and wind earlier, and wanted to avoid that as much as possible. Too bad but we will do this again. Also, I got an email from Robb Chapmann who went out to Emma. He said the final road to the cemetery had been plowed up and was extremely rough and difficult to drive over. I suppose it might be time to talk to the Crosby County sheriff again.

A nice night under the stars, and the frost that covered parts of my telescope was a testament to the cold and our determination to enjoy the heavens anyway. My toes in particular, and feet generally, were in pain, but it had been worth it. By the time I made it to the Loop at 4th Street, my feet were fine. It was nice to get back to a warm home.



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