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 — 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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