Our club's dark sky site is in a conservation area; the driveway to which is normally blocked by a locked barrier. The poor member who got blessed with the key lives about 45 minutes away, and as Gail and I sat waiting we hoped we wouldn't be the only ones to drag him out. Stewart showed up to open the gate just as it got dark, which was good. The fact we could see the housing of his 20" Obsession was even better, and we were soon busy setting up for what promised to be a fairly clear night.
Naturally, our 6" dob went together a lot quicker than Stewart's behemoth, but this night I'd also brought my laptop so took a few minutes to insert the invertor into the car's cigarette lighter socket, and plug the computer's AC adapter into that. The power cord slipped through the window to where the Compaq sat on a folding table.
I'd recently downloaded Cartes du Ciel, an excellent freeware sky charting program, and was eager to see how it performed in the field but Ann, who had pulled in while I had my head in the car, gave a quick "boo, hiss". It seems that the more experienced members prefer their Sky Atlas, and Messier Objects Handbook, but to me free is good, and I know a computer can be more versatile - not only can I get different perspectives and locate objects quickly, but I can also log my findings directly to the hard drive, saving time later. Of course, I draw the line at GoTo scopes, so each to their own.
M13 in Hercules was our first target, an it showed up like a bright snowball with many stars in the foreground giving it a nice 3D effect.
Next was M51, the Whirlpool galaxy and it's companion which showed well in our 6" but was simply mind-blowing in the 20" - I didn't want to get off the ladder!
By now, Jonathon, and family, had shown up with his Takahashi refractor which he set up near Ann's Astro-Physics version. Ann was using a green filter to check out Jupiter. This had the double effect of reducing some glare and enhancing the bands. I headed back to my scope for a look at Saturn, but the planet was low in the atmosphere and didn't resolve well. Stewart had managed to get a nice digital picture of the 5 planets over the reservoir earlier, though.
Gerry showed up just as I began the hunt for M101. I'd tried for it from my backyard without luck, but after a few minutes shuttling back and forth between computer screen and eyepiece I thought I had it. It was so faint I had to jiggle the scope to make sure it wasn't imagined. Even after Gail said "yup", and her eyes are better than mine, we called Stewart over to confirm. For comparison he swung his light bucket to M101 and, well, it showed bigger but not much brighter which made us all a bit more appreciative of what a small scope can achieve.
Ann showed us M57, the Ring Nebula; first in her scope then in ours, and then we set our sights on M92 - a smaller verion of M13.
M104 - The Sombrero galaxy was another first for Gail and I and it appeared as a bright horizontal slash. The famous dust lane was not apparent to us this night and we pushed over to visit the triple combination of M65, 66, and an NGC galaxy the number of which I've forgotten (I'm at my work computer - shhh!:)
I heard Stewart trying to decide which of the M81/82 combo he had in his eyepiece, and this being one of my favourite views I brought them both into the FOV of our Pentax 21mm. Singularly, they looked nice in the 20", but for my money the pair, together, is quite a sight and the others seemed to agree.
The Owl nebula was the only other nebula we grabbed that night yet, by midnight, with temp's around 6C we felt we had seen plenty. Everyone, except Stewart, Gail and myself had now gone home and, once we had packed up, we spent a few moments taking in the constellations and appreciating how much everything had moved. Appearing like it had just risen from the Earth, Scorpius was a magnificent sight, sitting as it did on the horizon with the jewel Antares in it's tail - and as I review the night that stands out as is my most impressive memory.