Observation Report, Camp Rio Blanco, 14-April-2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Observation Report, 17-Mar-2018

Location: Gott Observatory


Gary Leiker with his Orion 12” Intelliscope Dobsonian

Scott Harris and his 8” Celestron NexStar 8SE

Richard Craig and the Orion 102 Maksutov

Mark Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Observation Report, 10-Dec-2017

Gary Leiker 4.5″ Orion Starblast
Darien Perla C8 fork mount
Your humble narrator 4″ F/7 ED Chinese refractor
Mark Smith 10″ F/5.58 dob

I arrived later than I’d have liked, but it can be difficult to make my wife appreciate astronomy anything like shopping at Lowe’s, but home improvement is a good thing, too.

I brought my Orion 102mm F/7 ED refractor (Kunming Optical OEM), Gary had his StarBlast 4.5” F/4, Mark had his 10” F/5.58 dob, and Darien had his C8 fork mount setup doing astrophotography.

I began the evening aligning my visual finderscope, tried to get my 8×50 RA to work, but it’ll take some fiddling with in the daytime. This evening I finally got the 6×30 RA aligned and the Double Double was a very difficult split that night. Unfortunately, that was the way it would be. Double star splits, in particular, were extremely difficult, and Epsilon Lyrae set the evening’s trend. With the 5mm Nagler T6, they both split, but just barely, and that was 144 power! Even then, the right pair split easier than the left, and one had to wait it out for the snowman to split in half with the left pair. So much for the seeing, but the skies, after a brief time of cloudiness at setup, revealed a glorious celestial dome of stars.

I tried to split Delta Cygni, a task I’ve easily done with my C102GT and 6mm BCO (almost 170 power), but try as I might, and I exceeded this power by quite a bit when I little wouldn’t do it, I saw no double. Folks, the seeing wasn’t so hot.

In the neighborhood, and a bit put off by high powered efforts, I switched to low power, 2″ eyepiece viewing. I got a nice 25.5 power, 2-2/3 degree true field of view from the ES 28mm 68* eyepiece, and that’s what I used for a while, gobbling up Sulafat (Gamma Lyrae), the Ring Nebula (M57), and Sheliak (Beta Lyrae) with room to spare about them. It was a tiny Ring Nebula, of course, but was it in context!

At Darien’s calling, Mark put Caroline Herschel’s Rose Cluster, NGC 7789 into his 10″ dob, and am I glad he did. The Rose really does have a blooming flower appearance, small dark linings amongst the stars that seem to outline petals on a rose. NGC 7789 is worth the effort, just off and up from Caph, as tho to continue the “W” zig-zag pattern in the sky.

On to Andromeda, and to no one’s surprise, Mark’s view of M31, with the distinct dust lane, like Bob Ross had taken an eraser to the galaxy across the top, like a hat’s rim. I rather liked my less detailed, but more dramatic capturing of M31, M32 and M110 all together in my refractor, still with the wide field ES 28mm 68*. Looks awfully nice in a 2-2/3 degree field.

Albireo was a beauty, as usual, the Orange and Blue pair never failing in splendor. I scooped up M27, the Dumbbell Nebula, and brightest of the Messiers while I was in the neighborhood. And the Double Cluster, NGCs 869 & 884, added to this wide field sweep. Even the ET Cluster, NGC 457 in Cassiopeia looked pretty nice at 25.5 power. He was smaller than normal,true, but still distinct and easy to pick out in the dense starfield that is this Milky Way constellation.

I tried for M1, the Crab Nebula, still somewhat low in the east, small, but visible as a cotton ball. Gary started talking about the 100 sisters of the Pleiades he had in his StarBlast, and indeed, he did have them. Couldn’t resist putting them all in my refractor, either.

At Eta Cassiopeia I believe I returned to 1.25” eyepieces. Another beautiful, colorful pairing. With the Pan 24, I went after M35, ghostly NGC 2158 behind it. This pair of clusters forms the “ends” of a set of open clusters, with M38/NGC 1907 its other end, and M37 & M36, in that order, in between. So they begin and end in order, with the middles “swapped”. Also, the beginning and ending have distant, ghostly clusters farther behind them. In M35’s case, some four times more distant; in M38’s case, a mere 300 more light years behind this 4,200 light year away Messier Object.

Attempting to torture myself, I put M33, almost at zenith, in the eyepiece of my refractor. It was nice, and there was almost an expression of “arms” in this most interesting of galaxies. The seeing was better near zenith, or at least it was when I was looking at M33. We went after Mirach and his “ghost”, elliptical galaxy NGC 404. Got ‘em, alright. I was done with groveling on the ground when I commandeered Mark’s dob (he was off talking to Gary and Darien anyway) and put Gamma Andromedae, Almach, in the eyepiece. Again, another pretty, colorful split.

We hurried back to the west to catch M15, off the end of Pegasus’ nose star Enif. We tried Orion targets, getting a rather poor M78. I really couldn’t make out the Flame Tree Nebula (NGC 2024), which was disappointing. My split of Rigel was just plain terrible, and the Trapezium yielded bloated, unfocused stars that could not be focused, and the focuser on my 102 ED, tho only single speed Crayford, is pretty world-class. But that was the seeing. No tight Trapezium (and you could forget E & F, since A-D were as ugly a stars a person could put in the eyepiece).

So not the best night for stars at high power, but a nice night of low power viewing. It was getting late for a “school” night, we were all getting quite cold, and the clouds started to roll back in. Mother Nature even wanted us to quit, so we packed up and headed back south to the city, and our respective warm beds.

Observation report, 22-Oct-2017

Darien Perla 8” SCT
Steve Maas
Dmitri & Katia Paniukov 130mm F/5 reflector
Charles Beaudoin 8” XTi
Jerry Hatfield 10” XTi
Ruben Saldana imaging with C150XLT
Your Humble Narrator 8” Zhumell dob

Although I’d hoped to arrive right at dusk, 7:30, having already packed my scope into the car by 7 PM, I managed to waste enough time puttering about the house to arrive at 8:15. Still a tiny bit of sky glow from the sun in the west, but definitely dark enough to be looking, even as I had to unload everything and set things up first. Oh well, by 8:30 I suppose I was aligning my Rigel illuminated reticle and Orion 9×50 right angle finders.

I used sinking Saturn to make all my finderscope adjustments, using a Nagler 16mm T5 for 77 power and just over a degree to provide a nice, wide field, but enough power for some definition. I tried the 7mm Nagler, but at that low altitude above the horizon, no go. So I backed off to the 9mm, but settled on the 11mm Nagler T6, for a 112x view. Small, yes, but as good as could be afforded so close to the heat-rippling, thick atmosphere of Mother Earth. Even lower in the west and north was the rather small crescent moon. I should have pulled out the 11 and gone back to the 16, shimmering in the low altitude heat waves as the image was.

I turned to the rapidly setting Sagittarian fare before they were spun below the horizon. Getting in the vicinity with the Rigel, I sleuthed about with the Orion 9x50RA and found the Lagoon, M8, easily. In my 9×50, I can even see M20 as well, but first things first. The Lagoon was a nice site in the 16mm Nagler. This is such a good eyepiece for framing things while still getting enough power to get a good idea of your target, and it proved this Sunday evening. Then off to the Trifid. Low as it was, and somewhat light polluted at the Gott, it was hard to determine the exact triple nature of the nebula, though a dark lane was evident in this dust and gas celestial masterpiece.

The Swan, M20, was next, and she was gracefully riding the skies as though on a placid lake, perhaps at a bit of an angle, yes, but stately, dignified and calm.

Still wanting to grab all the western targets I could, I rushed up to Hercules to pluck out that gem of the northern celestial skies, the globular M13. After finding it, I first put back in the 11mm for 112x again, then let everyone else take a peek, and what a nice peek it was. This is such a majestic object, or, as Dave in 2001: A Space Odyssey exclaimed, “My God, it’s full of stars!” Indeedy do.

And speaking of stars and Hercules, Alpha Herculis, a.k.a. Rasalgethi, is a beautiful double star. This is a nice pair, with a rather orange primary and white secondary, at least tonight in my Z8 dob.

M11, the Wild Duck Cluster, was another wonderful site, followed by the Ring Nebula, M57 and the Double Double, Epsilon Lyrae. The Nagler 16mm at 77x was just enough to split the Double Double. It was just barely split, yes, but both pairs split just the same, and both genuine splits, not snowmen. I thought that was something nice, but looking at the Cloudy Nights website, I see it’s not so unusual.

By this time, Jerry Hatfield had arrived and encouraged Charles to put one of his nicer, newer eyepieces on M57. They had complained about the image, but when I went over and focused it, gosh, what was there to complain about? Looked great.

Getting lower, Jerry scooped up the Saturn Nebula, NGC 7009, just above the “bikini bottom” of Capricornus in southwestern Aquarius. I was determined to find this, too, and was eventually able to, 1 degree west of Nu Aquarii. A beautiful dim, fuzzy likeness of its namesake, the Saturn Nebula is an optical delight.

We were then off to the Dumbbell, M27, and what a nice showpiece this is, the brightest Messier Object in the catalog. The dual lobes coming off of this “side view M57” was quite nice, with the elliptical halo surrounding the whole thing clearly visible in my scope.

Then everyone went a little Andromeda crazy, and who can resist M31/32/110 in the eyepiece, the Great Andromeda Galaxy holding celestial court with his two attendant dwarf galaxies? A great view and in my ES 28mm 68*, the dust lane on M31 was visible. Very nice to behold in anyone’s telescope, the Andromeda Galaxy has got to be THE fall celestial spectacular. It’s not to be missed if you don’t get the chance to observe often.

I went after M33, the Pinwheel galaxy, but by this time, fortunately, Jerry’s scope was up and running. It looks good in my 8”, but this faint gem is meant for aperture, and Jerry’s 10”, combined with his above average mirror really turns up the quality of the image — like Spinal Tap‘s Nigel Tufnel said, “goes to 11” . The swirls of the arms, only hinted at in my scope, were there to behold in the XTi 10. Such a nice view!

Then we were off to the Double Cluster, NGC 884 & 869 betwixt Cassiopeia and Perseus’ helmet. Jerry preferred the view in his ES 20mm 100 degree eyepiece, and I had to agree the view was very impressive. I liked the view in mine with the 2” ES 28mm 68*, but Jerry’s seemed to encompass about the same area with higher magnification. Both views were good, but Jerry’s 10” XTi stole the show again, as it is apt to do with the extraordinarily good mirror that scope has.

At Cassiopeia, Darien, who was imaging a target in Cassiopeia, became the Ethiopian Queen’s advocate, evangelizing me to find other delights there, more than a couple I was unaware of. First, of course, I showed off Eta Cassiopeiae, the beautiful contrasting double my eye caught as white to orange — but everyone sees this beauty differently. BTW, this is a fairly close star in our night sky, only 19.7 light years away, with the primary being very similar to our own sun. So our own Sol would appear very much like Eta Cassiopeiae in the night sky on a planet around that star.

At Damien’s encouragement, I uncovered the haunting NGC 7789. This open cluster has a ghostly appearance because, though filled with many stars, it is 8000 light years away and somewhat dim, but rich. This is Caroline Hershel’s “White Rose” cluster, discovered by her in 1783 with her brother William adding to his famous Hershel catalog; definitely worth taking in. Thanks, Darien! Again at Darien’s urging, I was off to M52, another open cluster off Caph, Beta Cassiopeiae. Much brighter than NGC 7789, it’s another nice find in the neighborhood. These two are great fall fare, not to be missed, and rather easy to star hop to from Caph, which acts as a guidepost.

I finished my Cassiopeia course with NGC 457, the ET Cluster. This one lives up to its name, and everyone enjoyed seeing ET with outstretched arms, ready to visually embrace you! Katia, even got Dmitri to put this one in his 130mm reflector, one nice image! Their little scope puts up a nice, wide field, and does such a great job on this target, in particular, and other large targets, too, like the Andromeda Galaxy set.

After Cassiopeia, we put on our UHC/O-3 filters and dove into the massive Veil Nebula (NGC 6960 & 6995), a 3 degree wonder. 6 times the diameter and 36 times the area of a full moon in the sky, this nebulous remnant is what’s left of a star that went supernova sometime between 6000BC – 3000BC. It was glorious going over the filaments and textures, which wouldn’t fit in my ES 28mm 68*, and not even in Jerry’s ES 30mm 82* eyepiece, but what a beautiful journey to navigate through it with our relatively smooth moving dobs. Just south of Epsilon Cygni, the Veil is a hallmark of the Summer/Autumn skies.

I removed my O-3 filter and went back to regular light targets, while I let Jerry borrow my 2” filter, so he went after NGC 7000, the North America Nebula. “Florida and the Gulf of Mexico” were quite evident. A nice view from the Gott, which has a lot of stray light from our fair city to the south.

I dove into the Pleiades, a bit cramped in my ES 28mm 68* in my Z8, but just fits. This is a better target for a smaller, shorter focal length instrument, but it was there, and Jerry was finding NGC 7000.

Jerry made one more Cygnus effort pulling NGC 6826, the Blinking Planetary, out of the inky darkness. The “blinking” quality of this nebulous star is quite striking! Don’t miss it.

After this, we went after Mirach’s Ghost, NGC 404. This happened to be the APOD (Astronomy Photo of the Day) for 27-Oct-2017!
Rather appropriate for Halloween, the distant, dim 10 million light year elliptical galaxy haunts the bright Mirach, Beta Andromedae, a mere 200 light years distant.

From here it was a quick jaunt over to Gamma Andromedae, Almach, a beautiful, colorful double star not to be missed if you find yourself in the neighborhood. Somehow I forgot to split Delta Cygni, but it was getting late.

While I dug up M36 from the eastern muck — low, low in the east — Jerry and Damien put NGC 7331 in the eyepiece, a beautiful spiral galaxy, slender and seen not quite edge-on, but at a glancing angle, near Matar, Eta Pegasi.

It was quite late, and time for me to pack up and head home. Sunday evening is not when we typically observe, and getting up early and being at work is a rather sobering prospect as the hours click off, but it had been months since we went out last. That last time, Ruben and Mark and I were almost carried off by clusters of mosquitoes that molested us relentlessly the entire evening this past Summer at Emma. Although they were present, and Damien was attacked when he arrived much earlier, they decreased such that the night was substantially more enjoyable than my last outing so many months ago.

As we tore down and packed up, Jerry couldn’t resist dialing in Uranus’ location on his Intelliscope object finder. And find it he did! Near Omicron Piscium right now, Uranus was a beautiful aquamarine dot, clearly not stellar, in Jerry’s XT10i, which sent us off into a deep, peaceful place to prepare us for our beds.

Observing from Emma, 29-oct-2016

Observation Report – Emma Cemetery, 29 Oct 2016

Jerry Hatfield, birthday boy, Orion XT 10i, ES 16mm 100* and 30mm 82* eyepieces, amongst others

Gary Leiker, 8” Celestron HD on AVX mount

Scott Harris with Leslie, Orion XX 14i

Mark Smith 10” F/5.56 dob

Your humble narrator, 8” SkyWatcher dobsonian, 28mm Explore Scientific 68*

Our Saturday night pre-Halloween observing fest at the Emma Cemetery featured Gary’s Scarry Pumpkin and his brother, two Jack-o-laterns with variable LEDs, to help set the scary mood, observing at a cemetery. Unfortunately for me, I was the one to be haunted, by bad collimation issues relating to a “floppy” mirror. The previous weekend, I’d collimated my dobsonian with both lasers agreeing she was well collimated. Okay. So I haul it out to Emma, set it up, and check the collimation, and it’s in need of some adjustment. Well, about 30 minutes later I tried to see if my dob was collimated, getting conflicting results from my Far Point versus my Hotech collimating lasers. As Charlie Brown might say in the Great Pumpkin, “Oh brother”.

While I spun my fingertips on lock screws and adjusted with a Phillips head screwdriver, birthday boy Jerry Hatfield gave us NGC 253, the bespeckled Sculptor Galaxy. Jerry then showed us the Helix Nebula, NGC 7293, in Aquarius, followed by NGC 7009, the Saturn Nebula, also in Aquarius, but about where the belly button might be above the Capricornus bikini bottom.

But then Hatfield shows me his excellent 10” XTi’s beautiful, clean split of the Double Double through his dob with the ES 8.8mm 82* eyepiece at a mere 136 power. Through my own 7mm DeLite, an eyepiece which always splits them in my C102GT, they were fuzzy snowmen. It wasn’t really all that cold, so thermals weren’t likely to have been a big deal. Poor collimation only rendered double trouble. This set off a second round of collimation, which ended when I noticed my laser moving out of collimation as I changed the altitude of my dob. Something was wrong, and I wasn’t going to be able to fix it. I resigned myself to low power viewing, less sensitive to collimation errors, inserting the ES 28mm 82*, and began to pick out wide angle targets.

And M45, the Pleiades, looked pretty nice in the 8” dob. A bit crowded, but they all fit into the 1.58* true field of view, relatively well corrected at the edge, even at F/5.9 The Andromeda Galaxy family, M31, M32 & M110, all looked very nice in the 8”. The dust lane on the “bottom” looked quite nice, if a little less pronounced than Jerry and Scott’s larger aperture views. We picked up the Triangulum Galaxy next, M33, on the opposite side of Mirach. I did find Mirach’s Ghost, NGC 404, and that was a nice little treat.

Perhaps the most memorable target of the night was NGC 7331, along with the other members of the Deer Lick Group in Scott’s 14” dob. Jerry’s scope made a nice framing, itself, but Scott’s large aperture pulled in the most detail of this collection of galaxies in Pegasus.

Before we left, Gary put Uranus in his SCT with go-to. I really would have enjoyed that, but the collimation blues had sapped all the pleasure out of observing for me, and although the glory of Aquarius would have been easy enough to discern out there, I just didn’t feel like bothering, having been so bothered by my unsuccessful scope. I’ve been on Cloudy Nights and tried some more things to collimate it correctly. Maybe someday I’ll get it right and look back on these dark days as growing pains, but that’ll take more tweaking, and I’ve still got more of that to do.

As we stand poised for our November Club meeting, I want to thank Maurice Clark for sending us some astrophotos he nabbed in Australia just before our October meeting. Looks like he’s enjoying retirement northeast of Perth.

Celestron C5 for sale in Lubbock

A local astronomer is selling his Celestron C5 and accessories on http://lubbock.craigslist.org/art/5847403075.html. If you are interested, contact him through Craigslist.

C5 Celestron for sale

C5 Celestron for sale

Tech Terrace on a Monday night, 10-10-2016

Gary Leiker called me on Monday night, October 10th, 2016, to go out to Tech Terrace Park. There was a big gibbous moon in the sky, but we were both ready for some astronomy. I didn’t arrive until about 9:30, but went straightway to setting up and was aligning my finders (red dot and 50mm RA) by 9:45.

I had my Celestron 102GT refractor (97mm clear aperture, F/10.4), while Gary had his Celestron Edge HD 8, and Scott Harris with Lesley had out his NeXStar SE 8 with 2″ visual back. I was very interested in determining the apparent field of view of my 2″ GSO 42mm Superview eyepiece. I had heard it was actually only 55-odd degrees, even though it is advertised as a 65* eyepiece. I centered around a point between Sulafat (Gamma Lyrae) & Sheliak (Beta Lyrae), the “bottom” stars of Lyra in between which lies M57, the Ring Nebula. One could see the tiny nebulosity, even at 24 power in the SV 42. Quite nice. But there was only about a third of a degree or so outside Gamma & Beta Lyrae, so I’m putting the AFOV of the SV42 at about 57 degrees. That’s about it, folks. Not the best news for me, but still a wider true field of view than what the Hyperion 31mm provided.

Scott and Lesley split the beautiful Eta Cassiopeiae, which I unfortunately missed, still calculating the AFOV/TFOV of the Superview.

But with that out of the way, and Delta Cygni nearby, I decided to try and split that 2.7 arcsecond uneven double. With my BCO 6mm at almost 170x, it split. A bit tight, and wavering due to all the upper atmospheric turbulence we had, but at least it split, at least most of the time.

Epsilon Lyrae, the Double Double, on the other hand, split even in my 11mm Nagler T6.

Scott and Lesley put Albireo in the eyepiece. Plenty of oohs and aahs on that pretty double.

I then put Brocchi’s Cluster, the Coathanger, into my scope. Scott tried it with my SV 42mm, but it’s just too big for an SCT, even with a widefield 2″ eyepiece. Gary’s still got to buy a 2″ visual back for his Edge HD 8.

I put M31/32 into the eyepiece for some reason, nostalgia I suppose. It was there (no M110 of course), but Scott put it in his 8″ SCT and we could make out the cigar shape, even with the glare of the moon! My refractor showed two blobs, but Scott’s gave the galaxy some form. In the neighborhood, I split Almach, Gamma Andromedae, with my 11mm Nagler. What a nice orange-yellow, blue-green combination it was. That inspired Scott to put it in his SCT. Quite a nice one.

That’s when Scott pulled the night’s coup. His tracking impeccable, he put Uranus into the eyepiece of his NeXStar 8. Uranus! In Pisces! On a gibbous moon night! I couldn’t make out ANY stars in that huge southeastern swath of sky. Under Luna’s unforgiving glare, no star dared shine. But the NeXStar tracked right to it. He focused and called us over. Yipee! Third largest planet in the solar system, aquamarine orb, at our service. Hot diggity! This was completely unexpected by me, and gazing at the washed out southeastern skies at Tech Terrace Park I was genuinely impressive.

Scott attempted to do the same thing with Neptune, but Neptune is more finicky, and the skies weren’t exactly cooperative this Monday night. He might have put it in there, but honestly, it wasn’t all that clear. Was it Neptune? Probably. Could it just as easily been a mistaken star? Less likely, but just not certain. Neptune can do that. It’s really a deflating thing to see, knowing how grand it is, fourth largest and all, yet still hard to distinguish from a pinpoint star, unlike the certain orb of Uranus earlier. I’ve always felt that way about Neptune. Even when you KNOW you’ve got it, you’re always kind of scratching your head at its stellar quality, how genuinely tiny it is, and not too planetary looking. Oh well, the turbulence was, indeed, bad, and Neptune wilts plenty under these circumstances.

Gary managed to get a bit of resolution on M13, with a few stars shining about the gray mess of sky the moon grudgingly allowed us.

It was late and we were ready to go, so if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Luna demonstrated the turbulence of the atmosphere in the eyepiece, features literally washing about like rocks “moving” through the reflections of a creek bed. She was 10 days old, but quite beautiful …


We packed up and left, satisfied with an evening under the stars, but eager for another.

Observation Report 16-Sept-2016

This past Friday night was the 3rd Friday of the month, and supposed to be our Club’s public star party. The forecast was quite discouraging, and I was feeling a little tired, the week’s end and with the kids while my wife was at a Conference out of town. But I got the Orion SkyView Pro Mount extension in the mail, and the skies, though not pristine, were relatively clear nonetheless. Also, the kids wanted to head down to Tech Terrace Park, so I loaded up the Celestron 102GT 97mm clear aperture F/10.4 refractor and off we went.

We arrived about 9:15 or so, and I wasn’t set up and observing until 9:40. I set up on the sand gravel track, proper, due to all the dew on the grass. We grabbed Saturn early, already fairly low in the southwest. With the 11mm Nagler T6 at 92x, quite nice. A little shimmering due to its low angle, the shadow of the planet against the back right of the rings was just stunning. The Cassini division was evident, too. The girls REALLY liked Saturn. Nothing says visual astronomy like Saturn in a telescope!

Mars was actually pretty nice, given its present extraordinary distance. Has a rather gibbous shape now, but at least one polar cap was visible as well as either the other cap or some white clouds. A vague dark grayish tone to the otherwise amber orb denoted the mountainous highlands from the dominant auburn deserts.

I put Albireo in the eyepiece for a nice, dazzling duo, split even in the Celestron 32mm Omni plossl at 31.75x with an excellent wide field expression, but the color was more prominent in the 11mm T6 at higher power. After that, Maya wanted to look at the HUGE moon, just 10 hours after it went full, in the eyepiece. Believe it or not, there was a tiny bit of a terminator at the left edge, with the achromat providing a little greenish orange fringing at the terminator, but still quite nice. A beautiful, if utterly night vision destroying view. I had to wait a few seconds after that one.

A minute or two later, night vision restored, I tried to find M11, the Wild Duck Cluster. I found it, but gosh, with the full moon glaring the sky into gray from black, it wasn’t very inspiring. I decided I’d try and crack Delta Cygni, the close double that’s supposed to be a bear to split. Well, with the 32mm, it wasn’t split at all, so I decided to try my 6mm Baader Classic Ortho. I thought this eyepiece honestly did the best job, with the split apparent. I got an occasional split out of the 7mm TeleVue DeLite and 7mm Nagler T6, too, but the 6mm BCO was the cleanest of these for this target. 169x worked better than 145x. I had similar results with Epsilon Lyrae, the Double Double. Here, however, the T6 and DeLite 7mm’s more than held their own. The BCO 6mm was excellent, but so were the 7mm TeleVue offerings.

I decided to try out my new GSO Superview 42mm eyepiece. I’d just got it from Agena after selling my Hyperion 31mm. I was disappointed with the Hyperion’s performance in my f/7 ED refractor, and found it not very sharp over at least the outer 30% of the field. Well, the SV 42mm did NOT disappoint, at least not in this F/10.4 refractor. Now some might say this isn’t fair, and I can’t disagree that you can’t compare an eyepiece at f/7 and another at F/10 and pretend there’s not a huge advantage for the F/10 eyepiece trial, and I agree. But for the price of the Hyperion, I’d say it should have performed as well as the GSO SV 42mm did last night in my F/10 refractor. Stars were pinpoint in the SV 42mm at least through 90+% of the field. Yes, at the very edge there was a slight bit of distortion, but it was really quite minor. I’m not positive I can even use this eyepiece in my F/7 refractor, exit pupil wise (does my exit pupil open to 6mm at a dark sky site?), but for $70, I can live with that. It performs quite well at F/10.4, and I own one and can afford a “widest angle” 42mm eyepiece that works only in this scope for this price. Even if the Hyperion 31mm would have performed this well at F/10.4, it’s worth it to me to sell it and pick up the SV 42mm. And maybe it’d work okay at f/7? — assuming my exit pupil will expand to 6mm. Stay tuned to resolve this mystery.

I put the Superview on the bottom half of Lyrae, and I got at least a 2.31 degree view. Sulafat (Gamma) and Sheliak (Beta) were both easily in the field of view, with a tiny M57 Ring Nebula within it. There was quite a bit or room to spare above each, so this eyepiece certainly has an apparent field of view of at least 56 degrees, maybe more.

I put the washed out Andromeda Galaxy, M31, into the eyepiece after my Lyra trip, but it was as indistinct on this full moon night as one might expect. This had me put Eta Cassiopeia into my field of view, and the result was quite nice. The pair exhibits a nice color differentiation, and looked much nicer on this moon drenched evening than the lackluster galaxy. For my final double split, I put Almach into the eyepiece. This may become one of my favorite double stars, with a rather pleasant color difference between the pair.

My final target for the night was the Coathanger, Brocchi’s Cluster, more or less between Albireo and Altair in Vulpecula. It was a nice visual feast in the 32mm Omni Plossl. Still prefer this in a Newtonian, a little upside-down-ish in my refractor, but a nice target just the same. I put the telescope back in the car and we drove on home, tired, but having had a lot of fun under the stars.

Dark Sky Map

Thanks to Steve Maas for producing this dark sky map of the USA, as promised from the September 2016 monthly meeting

Observation Report Saturday, 27-Aug-2016

Gary Leiker’s 20” dob
Scott Harris’ aide in setup/teardown of the above
Your humble narrator’s 4” F/7 ED refractor & AZ-4 mount

Other attendees:
Steve Maas, Val Jordan, Emma Jordan & Heather Hedge, Islam & his wife, & Lesley, Scott’s girlfriend

Despite my best plans, I arrived late anyway, for a very time sensitive event. Although I did see Venus and Jupiter very, very close to each other, and having swapped positions from Friday night, the 26th, with Jupiter now below Venus, I caught them on the drive up to the Gott from my driver’s side window. Once I got there, a totally encompassing cloud bank obscured the western horizon’s skies completely, leaving no trace of Venus, Jupiter or Mercury. Better luck next conjunction!

However, despite that unfortunate turn of events, Saturn and Mars beckoned, as did the multitude of heavenly hosts: globular clusters, galaxies, double stars, star birthing emission nebulae, and the night sky herself. We would not be disappointed by a few clouds and we were not.

Gary & Scott had already set up the 20” dob as I arrived, and pointed that photon bazooka at Saturn. Everyone got a chance to observe the ringed beauty Jupiter’s father. Everyone but me. I was busy setting up my refractor. Gary then put Mars in the field of view, and although only hinting at detail, there was a distinct gibbous phase on the God of War, heading toward eastern quadrature on 13-September. Moving on to M4, Gary nabbed our first globular. It would not be the last. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see M4, but I did finally get my scope set up. About this time, Steve Maas realized the night wasn’t going to be lost to clouds, so he left to go image some of the heavenly beauties at his home observatory in Ransom Canyon. I finally got my finder scope and 1x red dot aligned off Arcturus and I was ready. I put the Nagler 7mm T6 in the 4” and Saturn came to life. Everyone liked the view, including yours truly. Now a 20” dob can certainly beat a 4” refractor, but refractors always throw up views of planets above their aperture, and this night was no exception. What a beauty he is, the Great Titan, in his ringed spendor. But targets called from most every quarter.

Gary put M22, the globular just off the top of the Teapot for folks, while for grins I put the refractor on M51. It was still a little early yet, with some fading twilight still lingering in the west, but what the heck. I could tell the humidity and turbulence combined to make our night somewhat less than transparent, but one could still make out the two galaxies’ cores. Of course, Gary would turn his 20” on them to display more, but they remained more elusive than I’ve seen them before, given the muddy skies. While still in Sagittarius, we tracked down M8, the Lagoon Nebula, and M20, the nearby Trifid, lovely Sagittarean fare.

I wanted folks to see Albireo, the colorful double in Cygnus. At nearly straight overhead, the refractor put the eyepiece in an awkwardly ground-hugging position, but we still got a chance to see the duo. Not long after this, Islam and his wife left. Gary had discovered that his secondary had dewed over and was the reason why his images weren’t as sharp as they should be. Didn’t stop us from putting M13 in Hercules, the Great Northern Cluster in the eyepiece, and did that look nice.

It was a bit cooler, and Val, Emma and Heather took off. Val had helped identify some constellations for Islam and I think is sold on the laser pointer, and I don’t blame her. They’re wonderful tools for an astronomer.

After they left, we took a breather, absorbing the night sky and talked about our travels through New Mexico. Scott and Lesley had been over Albuquerque/Chamorro way, and we swapped stories of that wonderful place.

Getting back to the sky, we tracked down the dense globular M15. At first, I only had my 16mm T5 in, to nab it, but after Gary put it in his 20”, and started to bust it open, I decided to try the 7mm T7, and I’m glad I did. Gary and I noticed that, with averted vision, one could begin to see some individual stars breaking through the otherwise cotton ball shape of M14.

We tracked down the Swan Nebula, M17. Lesley took a look and agreed it was more swan-like in Gary’s dob than my refractor. The Swan, though still attractive in a refractor, just plain looks better right side up in the inverted view of the Newtonian. A refractor’s view of this particular object can only be appreciated after looking at it in a dob, and even then it’s odd looking, and without the grace of the Swan gliding on the blackness of interstellar space.

Although we’d talked about Andromeda and Pegasus earlier in the evening, I finally noticed that, indeed, Andromeda was up, and so it was off to M31. I put my Hyperion 31mm, but preferred the ES 28mm 68* in the end to frame that big bad galaxy family. Both scopes put all three, M31, M32, and M110 into the field of view, but mine had them all easily in its 2-2/3 degree field of view, where the 20” could just squeeze them in. Still, they were quite nice. It was on to the Double Cluster, and we were just about done.

As a finale, I put Izar, Epsilon Boötes, in the eyepiece. At first, I had to check my charts. Wasn’t this a double? Then I realized I had my Nagler 13mm T6 in the focuser, for an inadequate 59 power. Duh. So I swapped it for my new Baader Classic Ortho 6mm and a super thin blackness between the pair confirmed the split (at 119 power).

I caught one very bright, white-yellow meteor stream across the sky from the southeast to toward the northwest in Cepheus, a nice trail buzzing along with/after it.

With Gary’s secondary fogged up and tired as we were, we all packed up everything and drove back to Lubbock. A wonderful night under God’s good heaven — about as good a way to spend a Saturday night as can be devised.