Sunday, October 7, 2007

A Night with the Guys

Last night I was up past midnight again, gazing at the stars. It's addictive. The South Bay Astronomical Society's (SBAS) In Town Dark Sky Observing Session at Ridgecrest Middle School (that's a mouthful, isn't it?) took place last night. The seeing was not as good as last month, but still a good time was had by all. There was quite a crowd this time, with about 15 members with scopes set up and several visitors wandering from scope to scope to see what they could see.

The guys love showing off their scopes, and do a little wandering themselves to compare features. Some of the visitors were trying to decide which kind of scope to buy and having a look through the ones that were set up was probably a big help. But a couple of the scopes were priceless and can't be bought in any store. They were handmade by their owners, including (and I think this is the most fun part) the grinding of the mirror. These scopes don't have motors for tracking, so their one major drawback is that you have to constantly monitor your object and move the scope to keep the object in view. Is that why these were the folks that left early?

My own viewing got off to a slow start as it took three tries to get the alignment right. Either I didn't have the scope pointing true north to start (home position), or what is more likely, the two stars the computer chose for alignment, being ones that I am not familiar with, were not the ones I chose to zero in on. An awful lot of stars have names that begin with the letter "A" and the computer goes through the possible choices alphabetically. Why it didn't choose Arcturus or Antares, both of which were clearly visible and easy for me to recognize, I don't know.

Anyway, the third time was the charm and then the alignment was spot on. I looked at some old familiar things while waiting for it to get really dark (which it didn't do until after 10 p.m., unfortunately) and then headed out into new territory. My prizes for the evening included the blue planet Uranus, and the blue-green planet Neptune. M15 and nearby M2 were new globular clusters that I had not looked at before. Both looked the same in my scope, just fuzz balls although I tried to convince myself that I could see some individual stars in M2 using my highest powered lens with a Barlow lens, which doubles the power. There are 100,000 stars in this tight little cluster!

I used my filter a lot to bring out the nebulosity in things like M8, the Lagoon Nebula, and M17, the Swan Nebula, but it also worked very well to cut out some of the city light glow. The Double Cluster in Perseus, NGC 869 and 884, was spectacular when viewed at low power so that both were in my field of view at the same time. This was one place where the filter helped to make the background darker. M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, and M13, the Hercules Globular Cluster, were disappointing. They appeared as only faint fuzz balls in the glowing sky. I had waited too late to look at M13 and it was very low to the horizon.

Toward the end of the evening, the lovely Pleiades rose in the East along with the Hyades which is best viewed with binoculars because it is so large. I made a stab at viewing M57, the Ring Nebula, but it was too faint and my telescope is not powerful enough. Sometime when I am at a really dark sky location, I'll give that one another try.

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