2015 SPS Fall Star Party

Sat Oct 17, 2015 5 day old moon
Society of Physics Students Fall outing

I arrived at the Gott late, around 8 PM.  My wife fixed us a huge late lunch, around 3 PM, and I wasn’t even slightly hungry at 6 PM.  But I arrived with my Orion 102mm F/7 ED scope on my Orion AstroView (EQ-3) mount.  Not a big fan of EQ mounts, but since this was the Fall SPS event, thought the tracking might be helpful.  Took some getting used to after using an alt-az for so long, but I was able to put any target in the eyepiece, even those near zenith.

Dr. Clark had plenty of scopes in the shed whirring when I got there for the students.

As I was setting up, I looked at Saturn, low in the west, in Gary Leiker’s 12″ dob.  He had a low power eyepiece, probably his Meade 25mm HD, and it threw up a very nice image.  Of course, looking at Saturn now, very low in the west, in the muck, is not an ideal time to view the planet, but even under these unfavorable circumstances, I could make out the Cassini Division (from time to time) and equatorial banding.  Pretty good for low power in the muck!

Once set up, I went after the moon and put that in my eyepiece.  Gary & Scott had set up on the southeast corner and I was in the north-central area of the eastern half of the pad.  So the Physics students would naturally want to look through mine first, then Gary’s.  We warned them against that, though, since after viewing the night-vision destroying 5 day old moon in mine, they’d not see much of Saturn.  So they went to his, then mine, as a general rule.

Gary had M57, the Ring Nebula in his and of course it was beautiful.  I would view it later through my refractor.

Albireo split very well in Gary’s 12″ and my 4″, of course.  I prefer the view through the big mirror; it has enough light gathering to really bring out the color variation. It looks nice in a refractor — stars just do, of course, in their unobstructed light path — but the more photos the big mirrors bring to a colorful pair, the more color you can see.  At least I can.

Mark arrived and began setting up his Meade 6″ Maksutov Newtonian.

Gary’s dob made M31/32/110, the Andromeda Galaxy complex, look awfully nice.  The moon and City of Lubbock were doing their best to destroy the night sky’s dark contrast, but those light pollutants couldn’t eliminate the beauty of these three.  With Gary’s, they wouldn’t all fit in the same field of view, but they were glorious as they were.  Gary had left his 2″ eyepieces at home, so he borrowed my 28mm Explore Scientific 68*, while I put the 31mm Hyperion Aspheric in my focuser to put the trio into a nice 3.1 degree field.  That was awful purdy!

Then we all went after M27.  It looked very good in all the scopes.  I was particularly pleased with the view in Mark’s 6″.  It’s quite amazing how much light a 6″ gathers, and Mark demonstrated it quite well Saturday night.

The Double Cluster (NCG 869 & 884) is a crowd pleaser we all put in our scopes.  Jerry Hatfield arrived around this time and began setting up his scope.  I liked the wide angle view of mine with the 31mm Hyperion, but later in the evening, Jerry put this in his 10″ dob and you could see a lot more detail in Jerry’s 10″ mirror.  I think he had a 20mm 100* AFOV eyepiece, so quite a nice wide field, higher power view than my 4″ refractor could muster.  Jerry’s got an excellent mirror in his scope, and he proved it again Saturday night.

Jerry put the Globular Cluster M2 in Aquarius in his scope.  I had wanted to see it but with all the students in line, he’d moved on by the time I could’ve checked it out.  But I didn’t make the same mistake with the Saturn Nebula, NGC 7009.  Lying just above the “belly button” of the “bikini bottom” the constellation Capricornus draws on the sky, but technically within the bounds of Aquarius, the Saturn nebula sure looks good in a bigger mirror, and Jerry’s didn’t disappoint.

Gary put the Veil Nebula in the 12″ with an O-III filter, and that was nice.  Later Jerry did the same with his 10″ and an UHC filter.  The Veil is an interactive treat to navigate through visually and physically.  I moved both scopes from the “top” where the Witches Broom is to the bottom of the brighter nebula, which is reverse the position in the sky due to Newtonian image reversal.  But whatever way you look at it, the Veil’s a wondrous spectacle to cruise, huge 3 degree supernova remnant in Cygnus that it is.

Jerry also put the brightest galaxy in Pegasus, NGC 7331, in his 10″ Orion dob for us all to behold.  At an angle similar to Andromeda from our terrestrial perspective, it makes for a very bright spindle. Another beauty, this “star island” is 40 million light years distant.

I used my Meade 5.5mm eyepiece to split Delta Cygni, a blue-white star pair, the right hand star of the crossbar of Northern Cross fame as seen from the South Plains.  It wasn’t an easy split, but she split just the same.  I’ve been wanting to try this to test my optics.  It passed.

Then Jerry put the Blue Snowball in Andromeda (NGC 7662) into his eyepiece.  What an intriguing site!  I had to try it out in mine, and thus began my misadventure.  I wasn’t alone.

Dr. Clark pulled out his personal 18″ F/5 dob and began his own difficult finds.  I heard Dr. Clark, Jerry and Gary talking about first M52, on their way to NGC 7635, the Bubble Nebula. Gary said he’d never seen it visually, and Dr. Clark admitted the same, even though he’s successfully imaged it before.  While they fought for that, I struggled with the Blue Snowball, NGC 7662.  I finally found it.  Not sure if Dr. Clark, et alia, saw the Bubble, or if they did, if they were impressed, but I must say the Blue Snowball through a 4″ refractor isn’t the same thing as through Jerry’s 10″ dob.  Very underwhelming for all the work to find it.  Oh well, getting a bigger 8″ reflector might solve my problems, but we’ll see.  Also, Dr. Clark looked for Stephan’s Quintet.  I didn’t look through his eyepiece but heard him mutter about 3 or so objects.  Did I mention the moon was out?

Jerry found NGC 7008 in northern Cygnus, a planetary nebula near Alpha Cephei known as the Fetus nebula.  In the referenced picture it looks to me like a tadpole, but I suppose that’s fine, too, given that the phylotopic period of human embryonic development moves through the various stages of evolution from fish to us.

But NGC 7008 isn’t as impressive a planetary in 10″ or even 18″ scopes compared to M57 in my 4″.  I checked, and indeed, this was true.  I hadn’t put the Ring Nebula in my refractor, and after my rather disappointing Blue Snowball find, it was just what I needed to keep me inspired.  I know for someone like Dr. Clark he gets tired of M57, but I haven’t seen it in at least a month in a telescope, so I was VERY happy.

Inspired by the Ring Nebula, I thought M33 might be just the ticket, but forgot about the moon and the City’s influence on that wonderful but low-light surfaced galaxy.  M33 is absolutely spectacular at a very dark sky site, but the luna and Lubbock made for a rather washed out blob.  The funny thing in even my scope, though, was that if you simply stared at it a while, you’d begin to get a taste of its glory, with spiraling arms flowing off.  Of course, this was better in the bigger scopes than my lowly 4″, but since we were all suffering the effects of stray light, heavenly and earth-bound sources, the views were more similar than not.  For another night after Last Quarter near New Moon.

Being in the Andromeda neighborhood, I decided to go after the other side.  M15, the globular cluster off Enif, was a nice catch in my little 4″-er, though it looked more differentiated in Gary’s 12″ (surprise).

I walked over to the north side of the observatory for a little break and looked westward, with Hercules staring down at me, so when I got back to the southside pads, I had to see M13. Again, a nice find in a little 4″ refractor.  Jerry had picked it off earlier in the evening with the students, who by this time had mostly left.  That was another target I didn’t catch early, so was glad to see it later in the evening.  Wish I’d remembered to try and split Rasalgethi, but another night.

Turning eastward, we could all see the Pleiades glistening in the muck.  But M37, 36 & 38 looked “do-able”, so off I went.  M37 was awfully low and particularly distorted for my view, which isn’t surprising, given how low it was. M36 was okay, and I could see the “Zia” symbol in it, but, again, a little low.  Later, Jerry commented on it, and I’m sure it was better because the longer one waited, the higher up things climbed out of the thick lower eastern atmosphere. But M38 was, for me at that time, the right height.  And the its ghostly companion NGC 1907 stood by.  What a nice pair!

I tried for M1, and all I could think was “bluh”. Far too low and just a big blob.

I turned back to the west and pulled out M11, the Wild Duck Cluster.  Very nice, and everyone enjoyed that vista.  The Wild Duck cluster is very nice in a refractor.

Gary asked if I could split Epsilon Lyrae, the Double-Double, so off I went.  Just a little past zenith, it was still pretty easy to get in the refractor on the EQ mount.  In went the Meade 5.5mm, and yep, they were split.  You couldn’t drive a truck through them, but they were indeed separated (you could optically squeeze through them).

In the general vicinity, I put back the Meade 20mm SWA in the diagonal and went over & above Cassiopeia’s W low side angle to see if I couldn’t tease out NGC 457, the ET Cluster.  Again, another crowd pleaser that looks quite good in a refractor.  But honestly, in Gary’s 12″ with the 28mm ES 68*, it looked pretty darn good, too.  In fact, it had more faint accompanying stars.  Of course, the field of view was smaller, but the extra stars made it more detailed and interesting.  NGC 457 looks very good in a refractor, but if you’ve got a big mirror with a wide field eyepiece, it looks even better.

Around this time Dr. Lance Drager of the Math Department who’d been there since 6 PM called it quits.  I’m sure I would have, too, if I’d been there since 6.  I was getting tired, but wanted to pull a few more celestial treasures out of the sky and into my optic nerve.  On a night like this Saturday the 17th of October, 2015, it’s hard not to feel that way.  There had been almost no wind all evening.  The moon provided plenty of glare, but now even she had left stage west.

Next up was M45.  By now, the Pleiades weren’t simply glistening in the muck — low in the east, mind you, but not deep in the eastern atmospheric muck.  So I put ‘er in there.  Now here is a place where the refractor can’t really be beat.  Jerry put it in his 10″, with the 20mm 100* ES, and it was big & beautiful (and all there!), but still, I prefer the 1.9 degree view through my refractor with the Meade 20mmm SWA.  Didn’t put the Hyperion 31mm in for 3.1*, and that may have been even better, but a 1.9 degree view ain’t half bad.

After this, I remembered the two Andromeda beauties we’d forgotten, Mirach’s Ghost, NGC 404, and Almach.  I didn’t bother with the refractor.  Gary was off looking through Maurice’s 18″, so I asked if I could find it in his 12″, and he obliged.  Mirach’s Ghost through a big reflector is a surprising find. Found it for the first time at a Copper Breaks Star Walk in the early 2000’s by accident, driving a 16″ Obsession dob for a fellow who had both a 16″ & 18″ Obsession dobs to drive and realized I knew enough about scopes to run it and not ruin it.  He was right about that, but I was trying to split Almach when I came across this white, non-double star with an amazing nebulosity beside it.  Of course, it wasn’t Almach at all; it was Mirach!  And the ghostly companion was NGC 404, an elliptical galaxy seven arcminutes away.  Mirach is 197 light years away, but NGC 404 is 10 million light years hence!  After Mirach I did split Almach with my refractor.

By now most everyone had left and the wind, which had mostly been absent, began to blow a bit. It was around midnight.  Mark had already packed up his scope, and Gary & Scott pulled down the 12″. I began the slow process of disassembling the refractor, while Jerry made quick work of breaking down his dob.  But Dr. Clark decided to go after Neptune with his 18″.  He had to star hop a bit, since Neptune is NEVER easy, but eventually he put Neptune with Triton in the eyepiece.  A fitting ending to a GREAT night of astronomy.

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