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
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.