Loaded the car for a night of observing with friends at the club field until the moon came up. At least that was the plan. Sometimes there are pleasant changes to the best of plans and this night would be such a night.
I arrived at the club’s dark sky site near Pilot Mountain as the sun was setting and one of the club’s members that I had not seen in a few years was there and another was on the way there, too. One came with a homemade 5-inch rich-field refractor and the other had his 20-inch dob. So there were a total of five of us there with our scopes; it was a good night indeed.
After sun set and while it was still getting dark, we all looked at Venus and Mercury with our binoculars. Mercury is moving away from Venus quickly now. Next we turned our attention to Jupiter and the two dark barges in the north equatorial belt.
Oh what a beautiful sky it was once it was dark. David brought some finder charts for Comets and after examining them it was off to comet Garradd. At the present time Garradd is in the middle of its northward turn in Hercules. I don’t know that I ever remember a comet making an almost 90 degree turn before. Still am not sure who found it first, David or me, but I called out first that I had found the comet. It was a cute little fan shape too and through Jeff’s 20-inch dob there was a very faint dust tail visible.
Once comet viewing was over, we all turned to what we had all come to see, Deep-Sky Objects. We looked in rather quick succession with Jeff’s 20-inch dob at the Helix nebula, the Saturn nebula, the great globular cluster M15, the Blinking Planetary nebula. Some people say that the blinking effect is aperture dependent and does not blink with a large telescope, I think we all had no trouble seeing this blinking with Jeff’s 20-inch dob. Probably the best view of the whole night was viewing the galaxy NGC 891 in Jeff’s 20-inch dob. The dust lane was visible for a full third or more of the galaxies length. All the while there was the constant banter and kidding that only like-minded good friends can have. Even though it was not the kind of viewing I normally like to do, I have to say I had a great time last night. What a way to break a long spell of not being able to view.
I turned my attention to the southern sky due to a haze developing in the northern sky. I looked at NGC 253 and was surprised by how faint it was. Still I thought it was good enough to go for NGC 55. What an easy star hop it is to this large galaxy. My it is faint but you could still see that the western half was much brighter than the eastern end. The galaxy was about 30′ long by 5′ wide so there was a lot that was not visible in the haze close to the horizon. Still it was a good view of a great large southern galaxy.
Darn, the sky was almost covered by a heavy haze. It was still early, some three hours before the moon would be rising, so we decided to wait it out. Oh what fun we had in a fantastic bull session. We checked out the inventory of equipment in our observatory talking the whole time. Waiting for it to clear worked too. After a little over an hour, the sky started to clear and we all went back to observing.
I had wanted to sketch NGC 281, the Pac-Man nebula and some other objects too but was happy just to spend some time on the Pac-Man and the included open cluster IC 1590. I thought I was using my 19mm eyepiece for sketching but in all the changing of eyepieces and filters, I ended up with the 24mm and a OIII filter in the telescope for the sketch. The nebula was very faint but still visible without a filter and with a 7mm eyepiece for a magnification of 171x the bright star in the center of the nebula, Burnhan 1, could be seen to be a triple star. I never saw the fourth component of this system. This is the faintest star of the four in this multiple star system and is located only 1.4 seconds east of the brightest member of the group. It just would not show itself. With the OIII filter the shape of the nebula could be easily seen with the mouth of the Pac-Man created by the absence of nebulosity.
We were all becoming aware that the sky was covered by an ever thickening haze once again, so we all decided to call it a night at 11:00pm. Still this was a night that I had more fun than I ever would have thought I could have had. It was a great night with good friends under the stars.
Here is my sketch of NGC 281. This is the November object for the Las Vegas Observer’s Challenge. I would encourage all of you to go to www.lvastronomy.com and check out the observer’s challenge.