Keeping with tradition, I arrived late at the Gott Observatory Saturday night, about an hour after sunset, around 9:20 or so. Everyone was already set up with their scopes observing. Gary and Scott had Gary’s 12″ solid tube Orion dob. I recalled looking thru Gary’s Meade 5000 30mm UWA and 18mm Meade HD eyepieces. Jerry Hatfield had his Orion XT10i on an Orion dobstand, with ES 8.8mm 82*, 20mm ES 68*, and 20mm ES 100* eyepieces, that I was aware I looked through. Tom Campbell had his Discovery 8″ dob with 10 and 25mm plossls, while Dan Roe had his trusty C9.25. Kalana Pothuwila had his C8. I think he did some visual observing, but noticed a camera on the eyepiece end of his SCT most of the time. Mark Smith showed up long after me (10:30-ish?) and set up something, looked like a camera on a tripod, but I never went over there to look through an eyepiece so am ignorant of exactly what he brought out. It didn’t bite anyone, though, so that was a blessing. And speaking of biting, although I managed to swat a few off me, the mosquitoes were relatively absent. I had brought some DEET enhanced OFF, figuring I’d need to douse myself with it after Thursday’s rain, but was spared the trouble (and smell) by the relative benign degree of infestation.
Saturn and Mars were already low by the time I got set up, which many noted, myself included, seemed to take an awfully long time. Not that a lot of my stuff didn’t come in handy, the laser pointer, the S&T Pocket Atlas, but still, I seemed to make setting up a simple alt-az refractor as laborious and time consuming as possible. At least I’m good at something.
Later, after we had finished and were jawing with local astronomy prof and Aussie Dr. Maurice Clark, he lamented his bad luck with cantankerous equipment, forgetting things, etc., this evening. My own bad luck came quickly during setup, when my Stellarvue Red Dot Finder (http://www.buytelescopes.com/stellarvue-f1001-red-dot-finder) wouldn’t work. The next day, I replaced the battery and it still didn’t work; put the old one back in, and it came right up. Ha! So my evening began from the substantial handicap of non-functioning basic equipment. Great! Fortunately, my 50mm RA finder worked just fine, and I had ‘er aligned on my C102GT in no time.
The autumnal 5-and-a-half-day-old moon was sufficient to remove a lot of contrast from the sky, but its slendor figure in the west was not enough to obliterate our dark skies, the Milky Way quite visible from the north up through Cassiopeia, across the zenith at Cygnus, and down through Aquila and Scutum and onwards south. The City of Lubbock, from our northerly locale, did its best to destroy the Milky Way as one meandered down to Sagittarius, but it was still visible, if somewhat washed out down there, but it’s always this way at the Gott.
As usual, Jerry Hatfield’s Xt10i put up eye-popping spectacles one after the other. Doesn’t hurt that Jerry’s an absolute Cracker Jack putting various beautiful celestial eye candy in the eyepiece as fast as Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. But the combination of Jerry’s God given talent for finding things (land and sky — you should see his dragon fly photographic collection!), one fantastic mirror, and some splendid ES eyepieces, not to mention his dobstand delivering views from a no-hunch necessary, ergonomic position was continuously inspiring through the night.
But there is, always, strength in numbers, and the single most spectacular find of the night came from the eyepiece of Tom Campell’s Discovery dob with a simple 25mm Plossl eyepiece — Hershel’s Garnet Star flanked by Comet Jacques! None of us were aware of this conjunction on August 30th, coincidentally my good friend Neale Pearson’s 84th birthday, but there she blowed! Thank God Tom had the foresight to put this gem into his eyepiece, one of THE coolest astronomical pairings of 2014, for sure!
We looked at many a thing. Here’s what I recall, in as close to some semblance of order as I recollect, which most certainly is not accurate, but mostly what you who weren’t there will have to go on …
The moon (Jerry noted the beautiful lava flow wall visible across the equitorial Mare near the terminator)
Looking through Jerry’s dob as I set up my refractor, and loaned him my 2″ O-3 filter, he found 1st the Veil Nebula (NGC 6992/6960 in Cygnus). This was quite nice, and I enjoyed the view, if not as contrast rich as I’ve seen before on moonless nights. Next up was the North American Nebula (NGC 7000). Honestly, I could only see smudges, and couldn’t make out North America or Mexico or nada, myself. The moon was still pretty high and bright, tho, and the North American is a REAL dark sky object, and though not bad, the Gott with the moon was not dark enough for this target, at least for me. Third, Jerry put M27, the Dumbbell, into the eyepiece. Now that was easily visible, with plenty of rich 3D detail. One great view. Fourth and last object was the PacMan Nebula in Cassiopeia, NGC 281. And a pretty site, too. I’m less familiar with it, but one could just make out the circle with a slice in it, and star as the ‘eye’ of PacMan. It was upside down (this was a dob, you see), but was nice and novel for me.
After that, my scope was finally set up. Again, after Jerry found it, I put in NGC 457, the ET Cluster. Jerry’s was richer, with more stars, but my 4″ refractor still did a nice job on the “phone home” man himself.
Jerry put NGC 6826, the Blinking Planetary in Cygnus, in the eyepiece early in the evening, starting things off on the right track.
The Double Cluster looked good in everyone’s scope. That’s just one nice find.
We looked at M31/M32/M110, the Andromeda galaxy family, and this was beautiful, as usual.
Jerry found NGC 7331 in Andromeda, the galaxy that leads to Stephan’s Quintet. He first found it in the 20mm 68*, but switched to the 8.8mm. That light bucket of his collects so much light it looked MUCH better in the 8.8mm. Not common with many galaxies.
The Ring Nebula in Jerry’s XT10i-with-ES-8.8 eyepiece was ‘da bomb’. Really nice and 3D-like. And M13 was also just fantastic in the same optical combination. Yawz’r! 3D popping, baby!
M8 and M20, the Lagoon and Trifid nebulae of Sagittarius were again, great in Jerry’s XT10i with the ES 20mm 100*. I found NGC 6544 and 6553 going the wrong way while trying to pan from the Lagoon on up to the Trifid. But the Trifid was spectacular! One could see the internal dark cloud markings that give the nebula its name. Very nice.
Tom split Almach, a colorful double in Andromeda, and proceeded on to Mirach and Mirach’s Ghost (elliptical galaxy NGC 404).
I split the colorful double stars Eta Cassiopeia and Alpha Herculis (Rasalgethi). Tom, and no doubt others, split Albireo.
Dan put the Pegasus globular cluster M15 in the eyepiece in his C9.25. That was one VERY nice image.
The contrast improved as the evening wore on, with the moon getting lower, then finally disappearing over the horizon.
No doubt there are other things people put in their telescopes that I have failed to mention or remember, but that happens with me often, so hopefully no one is put out by my omission.
Plum forgot about Neptune, just one day after opposition. Guess we’ll have to do it again.