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. Were 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, May 9, 2020
Posted by Collin Smith

Gary Leiker, 8" Edge Celestron SCT on AVX go-to equatorial mount
Steve Maas, Orion Maksutov 127mm. Not sure of his mount, but he was busily looking through it.
Humble narrator:
William Optics Megrez 110 F/6 FK-61 doublet refractor
Nagler T6 3.5, 5, 7, 9 &13mms. Pan 24, APM UFF 30mm
Stellarvue M2C Deluxe Alt-Az Mount

We arrived, Sofia, Maya, our cat Luce (Sofia 's insistence — not the cat's idea) and myself, about 9:40 PM on Saturday night, the eve of Mother's Day. The girls and cat walked about the grassy knoll, the Meadow, while I straightway set up my gear. Sofia was eager to look at something, but told her I had to get my finderscopes, Orion 9x50mm right-angle and Baader SkySurfer III red dot, aligned, after getting my WO 110 setup, balanced, and otherwise ready to roll. But I finally got beautiful, curvy crescent Venus into the scope, centered in my finderscopes and dead center in the eyepiece.

My, my, how slender and curvy she is right now, in her faster inside orbit about the Sun, passing us earthlings on her way to an early June Inferior Conjunction, and then dawn skies. In the William Optics FK-61 doublet, the curvaceous Goddess of Love has a distinct red color off to her side. The physics of this has to do with the color correction of the FK-61 glass, but the effect adds impact to this object of Botticelli 's masterwork, giving her crescent form a heightened sensuousness.

Moving up from Beta Tauri and Venus, I tried, in vain, to find M35, hidden from view by the glare of the western skies, still aglow from fiery Sol's recent exit, and unyielding this otherwise bright Messier open cluster, but not near 10PM on May the 9th.

From the foot of Castor, I went straight up to the head and namesake of Gemini 's northern twin, armed with the 7mm Nagler T6 to split Castor, easily, at 94.3 power. The two white stars shining brightly, as uneven "headlights".

Steve Maas was going to run back to his house for a while, and as he was packing up, Sofia asked where the "tiny guy" was. This was within earshot of Steve, so I informed her that Steve, although hunkered down low on his small-sized telescope, was actually taller than either Maya or Sofia, and was not "tiny". Sofia clarified that she was talking about his telescope, and indeed, the Orion 127 Mak appears rather small compared to most other scopes of that aperture, even my WO 110, which is smaller, technically, in aperture. But Maks are much shorter, and we all enjoyed a chuckle. Steve took off.

A Ransom Canyon Police car stopped by and an officer paid us a visit, asking if we lived there. As it was, we told him, no, we did not, but that our Club President, Steve Maas, did, and had left shortly. Steve noticed the patrol car heading our way and decided to drive back. By the time Steve returned, the cop had left. Gary suggested we should tell Ransom Canyon people if we can't come there, they can't come to Lubbock. Although amusing, we concluded that wasn't a good tactic to employ with a Ransom Canyon policeman.

I don 't know what happened with Kappa Geminorum, but I wasn't able to split it, and Epsilon Hydrae wasn't cooperative, either. But I had much better luck with Iota Cancri, which displayed a nice yellow primary and blue secondary, like this ... http://www.perezmedia.net/beltofvenus/archives/000616.html, even at low power. Another easy catch at low power was open cluster M44, the Beehive, or Praesepe.

Gamma Leonis, Algieba, was a tighter split with 7mm T6, offering less color variation than Iota Cancri, two yellow stars. But they split cleanly at 94 power.

Although Ransom Canyon has much better skies than the City of Lubbock, I could only put M65 & M66 of the famed Leo Triplet into the eyepiece. There were hints of NGC 3628, but was it really there? The skies were not dark enough to reveal this otherwise beautiful "dunce cap" triangle of star universes.

Moving north, I put Cor Coroli, Alpha Canum Venaticorum, into the eyepiece. The blue-white primary contrasts with the yellow-white secondary, such that, although not the most color differentiated pair in the heavens, it's clear they're not the same color. Somewhat interracial? Oh well, you decide.

Being in the neighborhood, about two-fifths the way between Arcturus and Cor Coroli one finds the spectacular globular cluster M3. And right where I expected, bloomed like a dainty flower in my finderscope such that putting it into the cross-hairs positioned this astronomical wonder in my Pan 24's eyepiece. I put in the Nagler 13mm T6 to go from 27.5x to 50.8x for a little closer look. Even the policeman who had stopped earlier, now returned, came by and took a peek through the 110mm at M3. What a wonderful, dense little star-world! Fortuitously Steve was back by this time.

In Ursa Major M81 & M82 showed themselves easily enough, but NGC 3077? Not really able to see it. Just below Alkaid, the tail end of Ursa Major, or the end of the handle of the Big Dipper, lies magnificent M51 with accompanying NGC5195, the Whirlpool Galaxy, so christened by the images the Earl of Rosse's huge 72" speculum mirrored "Leviathan of Parstonstown" telescope revealed in 1845. The core distinct and clear in Gary's 8", he depreciated the view of the SCT, given what he'd seen through the 30" a couple weeks prior. Can't argue with that, but it was a nice view under our suburban light bedeviled skies just the same. The swirling of the galactic arms manifest in his eyepiece, a mere 23 million light years to my lucky optic nerve — what a spectacle!

It was getting late, and the moon was threatening to rise over the horizon, so Gary began the tear-down process, a bit more involved than my own, but I pressed on to rising Hercules, early summer constellation, and back to the globular theme, with one of the best in all the heavens, M13. Another dense collection of beautiful stars, a mere 22.5-plus thousand light years, placed into my eye for the viewing from the time of the last great Ice Age, before human civilizations, and a North America of roaming mastodons and ancient equines unbothered by Homo sapiens.

Alpha Herculis, Rasalgethi, a yellow-orange primary, with light aqua secondary, would be the most excellent double-star split to end the evening. Something like this ... http://www.perezmedia.net/beltofvenus/archives/001394.html

Rasalgethi is not to be missed. Coming into English from a corruption of Arabic, the "Ras" is from the Semitic root of the Hebrew "Rosh", as in Rosh Hashana, "head of the year". Ras Algethi, "head of the Kneeler", as Hercules was known in Arabic mythology, is the head of a man in prayer, kneeling. Honestly, looking at the Constellation in the heavens, the Arabs have it all over the Greeks, appearance-wise. This is a mere 360 light years away, around the time of the Restoration of the Monarchy in England and Charles II's ascendance. Thank God for Oliver Goldsmith.

We finished the night with M57, the Ring Nebula. In the 1996 movie "Michael", John Travolta plays a rather unconventional angle, more akin to the Devil in Bulgokov's Master and Margarita, puffing perfect smoke rings from a long drag on a cigarette. The Ring Nebula always reminds me of some celestial angel blowing one of those. Perhaps John Travolta in a 2570 light year distant cosmic past life? Well, okay, maybe just a white dwarf, but regardless, it's important to fire the imagination of this complex primate species Homo. And the mesmerizing, beautiful Ring Nebula is a fine way to finish a waning gibbous moon May evening under the stars.

Hope you can join us next time if you 're interested. Buenas noches

Observation Report Ransom Canyon, Saturday night, February 15, 2020
Posted by Steve Maas

Scott Harris
Gary Leiker
Collin Smith
Tom Heisey
Mark Smith
Mark Monk
Rolan Pirtle
Steve Maas

On this day after Valentine's Day, the sky-gods showed us their love by giving us great conditions for the Star Party at Ransom Canyon. High clouds that had been hanging around all day promptly dissipated after sundown, leaving us with clear, stable viewing conditions. You could tell conditions were good because the stars showed very little scintillation and the light dome from Lubbock was much less prominent in the west. There was no wind, and temperatures ranged from near 60° F at sundown to the upper 40's late in the evening.

With the good turnout of Members, we had a wide variety of scopes ranging from my 80mm refractor up to Mark Monk's 9.25" SCT (see the photo below). We had only a handful of visitors show up for the event but, in a way, this was good because we got to observe a lot of different objects instead of constantly having to show and re-show Venus and M42 to everyone. This event was much more like the observing sessions that we've had in the past at the Gott Observatory. I didn't get a chance to see everything that everyone was targeting, but in this report I'll try to cover some of the more impressive things I did see.

First, let me describe the things I targeted with my scopes. I had two scopes— a 5" Maksutov and an 80mm Orion refractor. I was able to catch Mercury with the Mak just before it slipped below the ridge to the west. Even though it was close to the horizon, the stable viewing conditions allowed me to resolve it as a disk without appreciable distortion. I had searched for it earlier with binoculars but missed it in the still-bright western sky. Venus was brilliant high in the western sky. Through the 5" Mak with a 20mm objective, it appeared like a miniature "last-quarter Moon". Using a polarizing filter with the lens (that I usually reserve for looking at the Moon) allowed me to remove a lot of glare from this bright object, making its shape much easier to see. I've got to remember to try to use higher power on it next time.

I spent most of my time with the 80mm refractor targeting relatively large objects. Using a 26mm objective provided around a 3° field-of-view (FOV). The Pleiades were directly overhead and were a fine target. M42 and its surroundings fit nicely in the FOV. I observed it several times over the course of the evening and, late in the evening, conditions were dark enough so that I thought I could detect the nebulosity of the Running Man Nebula above M42. With Spring coming, the Beehive (M44) was around 30-40° above the horizon in the east, and was a great target in the little refractor. Another great target was the open cluster M41 in Canis Major. It's just some scattered stars in my 5" Mak, but in the 80mm refractor it was a relatively tight cluster of stars— really nice.

Collin had set up his larger refractor adjacent to my location, so I got to see a bunch of nice things through it. The Double Cluster was nice, as was the view of the galaxy pair M81 and M82. His view of the ET Cluster was really good, framed nicely within the FOV. But perhaps the best things I saw through his scope were the double stars η Cassiopeiae and HD3945 (the Winter Albireo). Both of these doubles are so impressive, and the contrastiness of the refractor made the components very distinct.

I spent most of the rest of the evening going between the other scopes in the group. Again, I didn't catch everything the others targeted but I can report on a few of the things I saw. Several of the scopes had great views of M42, with the Trapezium showing up distinctly under the stable conditions. Scott reported that he could even resolve the E component in his 8" SCT. I caught a good view of the Tau Canis Majoris Cluster (NGC 2262) in Mark Monk's scope. Another great object Mark targeted was the only decent globular cluster in the winter sky, M79 in Lepus. This is a small, tight cluster, but Mark's 9.25" showed it nicely and even resolved it under higher magnification.

Perhaps the best (and most surprising) object viewed was Hubble's Variable Nebula (NGC 2261) in Monoceros. I had always regarded this as a small, dim object suitable only for imaging. However, Gary Leiker pulled it up in his 8" SCT and— there it was— a relatively bright glowing little "fan" of light. Mark Monk also pulled it up in his scope, with it resembling a small comet. I was really surprised! I suppose the good viewing conditions helped us pick this target out.

There was probably a lot more to be seen but, by 10 PM, the humidity from the snow that had melted a few days before was noticeably increasing. Most of the scopes were starting to fog up, turning every star into a "planetary nebula". So we packed up and called it quits. It was a great evening of observing, especially for mid-February!



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