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.

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