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Observations 5/3/02

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Posted by Matthew Sullivan on May 7, 2002 19:25:26 UTC

Hi people,

Was able to get to some better skies this weekend after making arrangements with a friend. The weather forecasters called for mostly clear skies, but there were just enough clouds to be annoying. I arrived before he did and was welcomed with an awesome view of the five planets. Unlike last time I saw it, Mercury was a (dare I say bright?) yellowish naked eye object just above the thin red glow of the sunset. Venus and Jupiter were dazzling as usual, and Saturn and Mars were clear and bright. All these I pointed out once he got there.

Later that night I dragged the scope out. By this time, at zenith limiting magnitude 6, the sky was awash with stars. After gazing at a fuzzy Jupiter through the unacclimated scope he wanted to try finding a few objects, so I started him out with M82. Unfortunately, by the time I explained how to find it from the charts, clouds had obscured the Big Dipper. After having the same luck with two other objects I packed up the scope and we continued our observations with my 8x40 binoculars.

By this time Cygnus was about 15 degrees above the horizon and I could see the head of Scorpius just peeking over the mountains. The Milky Way was clearly visible and kept me spellbound for most of the night. By this time I had put my charts away, but while admiring the whitish streak traversing the sky I pointed him to 30 and Omicron 1 Cygni, a visual binary, Mizar/Alcor, the Coma Cluster and M44. After spending a good half hour discussing the vastness of space I described where he could find M4. After finding it he gave me the binoculars, and sure enough there it was as clear as could be - another new sighting! I gave M39 a half-hearted look, but the star fields in upper Cygnus were so dense I had a hard time identifying it.

We spent most of the evening identifying constellations, discussing astronomical concepts, and admiring the sky. By about 1:30 I could no longer feel my toes and my fingers were not far behind, so we reluctantly called it a night. Still, it was an experience I won't forget - the views at a truly dark site are amazing!


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