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What A Night! - 4/10/02

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Posted by Matthew Sullivan on April 11, 2002 07:01:16 UTC

Hi people,

I was caught off guard coming out of work today to see the sun ready to set and not a cloud in the sky! It was a beautiful night for stargazing - zenith limiting magnitude of 5, temps in the upper 30's and no biting insects except the astronomy bug. I blew the dust off my 10" SCT case and lugged it a couple hundred yards to the middle of the field in front of my apartment, along with a backpack full of accessories and a beach chair. By 10:45 I had the scope set up and acclimating and was casually seeking new sights in my 8x40 binoculars.

I found four globular clusters in the binocs. M3 showed up as a faint cottonball, M5 as a fainter one, and M13 seemed larger but just as faint. M92 was the only globular that was visible with direct vision and seemed considerably brighter than the others.

A couple other objects brought a prompt reward to my efforts. Alcor and Mizar are always a pleasure in binoculars: two close stars of differing magnitudes. Y Canum Venaticulum showed a definite orange tint, differentiating itself from the surrounding stars. The Coma Cluster seemed much richer than the last time I saw it in binocs, just above the horizon. Now a definite must-see in my book. For the first time I saw both this and M44 with the naked eye. The Coma Cluster resolved itself under averted vision but M44 was just a fuzzy patch.

Aside from brief views of Jupiter, Saturn, M31 and a handful of bright stars, this was the first time I've pointed my scope at the sky. After tonight I'm really beginning to appreciate amateur astronomy and understand people's enthusiasm. All my observations were done at 166X with a 15mm Meade 4000 Plossl eyepiece. Had problems focusing to a point but decided not to mess around. Don't think the scope was fully acclimated by 11:30, but I couldn't wait any longer!

M3 - this bright globular filled nearly a third lengthwise of my field of view. On direct vision it looked like a big poofy cottonball. With averted vision several stars on the outer edge were resolved.

M81 - the brightness of this galaxy's core surprised me after my experiences with M31. The elliptical glow faded into the background with no hint of internal structure.

M82 - a spectacular edge-on galaxy shaped like a cigar. Although no part of it was as bright as M81's core, averted vision showed at least three bright regions separated by diagonal dark lanes.

Xi Bootis - 7" binary. A white star with a fainter orange companion.

NGC 3242 - a round, colorless, featureless, bright planetary nebula. I later learned this is commonly known as the Ghost of Jupiter. It is in Hydra.

V Hydrae - carbon star. When I first located this object I could see little difference between it and the surrounding stars. Out of habit I had been using averted vision. After looking directly at it for a couple seconds it looked BEET RED!

Epsilon Lyrae - the Double Double. The two systems were separated by about a fourth of my field of view. One set looked elongated but not resolved; the other looked like a single star. Probably part of the focusing problem I described earlier.

M57 - the Ring Nebula. I was very pleasantly surprised after a careful navigation in the finderscope to see this fine object at dead center in the field of view. It looked like a bright smoke ring with a dimmer interior.

M92 - probably the most spectacular object I saw tonight. Dozens of stars were resolved in what looked like an elliptical spattering around the bright round central glow.

I tried my luck with M51 , but it was too close to the horizon for my sore-by-now neck. My plans were to try my luck with M64 and M94 before observing M13 as a grand finale, but after seeing my printed star charts wrinkling from condensation and frost forming on the scope case and chair I decided to rescue my scope instead. Was kinda sad to pack everything up after seeing my favorite constellation, Scorpius, just beginning to rise in the southeastern sky. After so many awesome first peeks I really can't wait for our next clear night. I love this hobby!!

Ciao,
Matt

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