Was it the new Pentax ep’s or are are we just getting better (dare I say even competant) at finding the faint fuzzies – perhaps a bit of both.
We (my wife, Gail and I) arrived at Binbrook Conservation Area, our club's local dark site near Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, to find a key lock on the gate. A few minutes later, Jonathan (who had inadvertantly hooked us on the Pentax XL line with a look through a 14mm on his 3.5” Takahashi) showed up with his wife Iloisha (Iloysha?), and his two young daughters. After waiting fifteen minutes, we realized that the observing night protocol must be to call one of the observing night directors to come and unlock the gate, beforehand, if we wanted to get into the park.
So we set-up our scopes right there at the gate, utilizing some tall evergreens to block the light from the house across the road.
Starting with the 7mm in the focuser of my 6" dob-mounted reflector (171X) we started with Venus which was dropping to the horizon. The atmosphere overlayed the planet with a rainbow effect as the colours red, yellow, blue and green danced over it.
Jupiter showed four bands cleanly as well as the four moons which were grouped interestingly about the planet.
Saturn’s rings are still nicely tilted in our favour and Cassini’s division very apparent. I’m really liking this eyepiece.
Switching the 7mm for the 21mm (57X), we turned our attention to M42 – Orion Nebula, which was bright and the trapezium apparent. I would have liked to have checked it out with the 7mm, but with 6 people shuttling between 2 scopes, and no table set up, I was hesitant to start juggling $400 ep’s.
M81 (Bode’s Galaxy) & M82 (Cigar Galaxy) have quickly become one of our favourite views: 2 well defined galaxies in the same FOV. M81’s core showed definite brighness toward the core, and M82’s edge-on length nicely complimented it’s companion. As these were near the zenith, I had to fetch a bag of rope from the car for Iloisha to stand on so she could reach the eyepiece.
M1 – Crab Nebula had almost a boxy looks to it. Not much definition, but we were happy to find it.
M44 – Beehive Cluster is not quite contained in the 1.1 degree FOV and definitely looks "busy".
M51 – Whirlpool Galaxy appeared at first like a pair of out of focus stars, then I realized that the Whirlpool Galaxy had a companion (NGC 5195).
By now, Jonathan and family had departed and we were feeling the cold so we packed up also, but it was too god a night to waste, so, having warmed up a it, we got a couple of beers and we set up again in our backyard in Grimsby.
Back to Jupiter with the 7mm. Though there was a little more of a breeze here, the seeing seemed steadier, and Jupiter’s bands clearer. I barlowed the 7mm (342X) but only got a larger image with no definition.
Castor A,B and, which one of those other 2 is, C?
A & B were very bright with little separation between them.
Algieba is a nice double star in the mane of Leo, but it was along the bottom of the constellation that we picked of 5 galaxies with the 21mm
M95 / M96 / M105 are all below the “stomach” of Leo. Faint spirals with cores. M95 & 96 sit close to each other, while M105 is a degree or so away.
Under Leo's haunches sit M65 & M66; though larger than the previous 3 they don't quite have the same same impact as M81/82.
By now, we'd finished our beers and the cold was starting to seep through our 4 layers of clothing, but it's hard to stop when you're on a roll.
M94 near Canes Venatici was our “just one more” galaxy and the clarity and wide FOV of the Pentax ep, made it as easy to spot as the others had been. Some credit should also go to the Rigel Quickfinder.
Hopefully, the next time will be warmer and we'll be able to slow down and record more detailed observations as we go. Still, with 9 galaxies, 3 planets, 2 nebulas, 2 double stars and a cluster it was our best night yet!