Observing Session, January 27th 2012

On Friday, January 27th, 2012, I decided to head out on my own to FR 006 for an evening of observing. The sky was clear, blue and terrific as I headed out after work. I got to the site around 5:15p.m. and set up with no issues and collimation went well. I then waited for the transition of evening to night to come along and enjoyed some views of the crescent moon and of Venus during this time.

As dark came on, the owlet that my friend Mat and I had encountered started chirping again and sure enough, a parent came along with some food. That quieted it down and though I did see the parent fly out and in a couple of times, they left me alone. Rather cool to be honest. No one else was out here this cold night, and it did get cold, down to around 10 degrees and the humidity was higher this night, but not high enough to cause any issues with the equipment.

My observing this night took a new tack. I had a list of Herschel 400 II objects to hunt down on my long, long quest of the H2500 but I also decided to add something to the evening. For Christmas I had received a copy of Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders book. Since I had time prior to the crescent moon getting out of the way at 10:30p.m. or so, I decided to add some of her items to my observing list for the night. I will offer a quick review here and then move on of the book. A more extensive review is coming. Quickly, if you like Sue French's column in Sky & Telescope, you'll like this book. It covers items by season, beginning with winter and has a variety of objects to cover in an observing session. Some of the objects are easily covered from a backyard, some are better seen at a dark site and I have to admit I don't like the back of the book cover where it says "100 Tours for the Backyard Telescope." Again, some objects are seen great from the backyard, some are not capable of being seen or to only be glimpsed at. I've seen claims of observers seeing things from the backyard that I have never seen (and in some cases know I wouldn't try) and I live in the 2nd driest state of the country, Utah! I think editors need to be careful of what they put on books and make a distinction between what can definitely been seen, what could be glimpsed and what is just near impossible to be seen. Sue French does a good job overall on distinguishing some of the harder objects, but I think the observing list could have had an asterisk next to harder to see objects from a urban backyard. The asterisk could also be for going to a dark site to see some of these.

The book is Sue's style and I will openly admit here that overall I really like Sue French's style. Her article is perhaps one of the only reasons I purchase a copy of S&T each month. Finder charts like in S&T are in place as are mainly images and some sketches. Where the book shines is just like where the article shines, in sharing some tidbits on the objects from an astronomical historical perspective, little tidbits that most observers would not know if they didn't read her article or research on their own. Overall, I would highly recommend Deep-Sky Wonders for those who are not tackling the Messier, H400, H400 II or the H2500. Even if you are, you'll find objects there to supplement your observing of those other objects and bring a variety in to one's observing. I'll be doing that moving forward.

One of the things I really like about this site, and we'll see how it changes as the weather warms, is the stillness of the air and just how quiet it is. Outside of the owl family, there was nothing there. No cars or trucks came up the road in the distance heading to the Vernon Reservoir which is to the east a good ways. At one point I almost hooked up my iPad to play either a couple of lectures or talks by Alex Flippenko's or a series of lectures by Richard Pogge out of Ohio State University. This night, I didn't want to. It felt good to be in the quiet. Snow wasn't too bad of an issue, about half of it had melted away and at the observing site, all of it had. Mud wasn't an issue either though the wetness of the previous week's snow storms had cut down on the dust.

I begun by going after the objects in Deep-Sky Wonder's chapter called Hodierna's Auriga which is all open clusters and a double star. I visited Messier 38, NGC 1907, Messier 36, E737 (the E is sigma), Sei 350 (double star) B226 a dark nebula (looked at this later after the moon was almost gone), and Messier 37 (the ones not listing what they are are the open clusters). I've seen most of these before but it made for a nice visit to some old friends, a visit to a couple of new ones and a good way to start off the evening.

Here is my sketch of NGC 1907. Again, I am working on finding a method to give a hint of stars that are popping out in the background. I may decide to just describe it and not try to sketch it in.

Next I used Deep-Sky Wonder's chapter called Hazy Gleams and Starry Streams. These are some wonderful objects in southern Perseus. NGC 1499 (California Nebula) an Emission Nebula was terrific (didn't see all of it of course but more this time than the last time I had tried and again, after the moon was out of the way), as was NGC 1579 a Nebulous complex, done just after the moon set. NGC 1579 is known as the Winter's Trifid and I did do a sketch here. I am combining here the black paper with pastels and trying to transfer that sketch into GIMP on template. It worked okay, but the rest of my sketches I'll go back to the old way. I'd recommend anyone who is at a dark site to give this one a view. I enjoyed it.

Here is NGC 1579:

NGC 1342 is an open cluster I've seen before but was nice to revisit and Zeta Persei a multiple star was a good view. 40 Persei is a nice blue/white pair with good separation. Sigma425 is another double star and B4 & B5 are Dark Nebula well worth the investigation. If you go for B4 & B5 wait for the moon to get out of the way, I saw them better without the moon. One item I am facing is in sketching dark nebula and I am still processing my sketches from that night on these objects because I am not sure if I like how they came out. I may have to go back and redo them.

IC 348 is on the north end of B4 and is a nice little open cluster. Sigma439 is a triple star system with A&B close together but the 14 split them while the C component is easily seen (the system is only 0.5" apart). Sigma437 is a double star are a pair of 10th magnitude stars that were a fun split. Finally NGC 1333 is a hazy oval Reflection Nebula that was fun to chase down, again after the moon was out of the way.

The rest of the evening I spent with my Herschel 400 II in Orion and in Monoceros. I have sketches but I will post them up later as I need to purchase a new camera (the old one died). Of course I took at look at Jupiter, Mars and before I left, Saturn though Saturn was still relatively low.


Observing Session, Friday, January 13th, 2012 Forest Rd 006 Site 1 west of Vernon Reservoir

My friend Mat posted that he wanted to go out on Friday night and at first I thought, why? The sun sets at 5:15p.m. or so MST and the wanning gibbous moon rises at 10:42p.m. or just after that because of the mountains here. Then I thought, for winter 4 to 5 hours is about what I get in at a dark site due to the cold so why not? We decided to head out to one of the new sites I had explored, the site that I call Forest Road 006, Site 1 or FR006 Site 1 (the later in my blog will be how I identify it). Lets just say when we got there and got setting up it was dark, but even with both of us using white light at first, the Milky Way was clearly evident as was the Zodiacal light, which formed a beautiful triangle with Venus in it.

After getting set up I went to work. I wanted to get as many Herschel 400 II items in Orion down tonight and I didn't do bad. I got 12 of them down, sketched 6 items and then saw about 10 more old friends. I even did some open cluster work which was fun. Mat got more than me and let me just say that there was no humidity at this site! The site sits at 6092 feet and there is no ancient lake bed nearby! It took an extra 22.1 miles to get there and another half an hour, but it was worth it. The skies on the SQM measured darker than Pit n Pole and Lakeside, with the only site equal to it would be Wolf Creek. There are some lights from Vernon, a very small town to the north but they didn't bother me and my Pathfinder was between me and them. The one negative is that though you are a mile off the main dirt road and a half mile west of the main dirt road leading in and out, if a car or truck is coming up that road, you will see their lights from time to time unless you position your car between them and you.

Again, I guess I am getting lazy, but I figure I don't need to rehash the information on my sketches on the blog here. If you want to know the object and the details, simply click on the sketch. I will list what object they are though so that might be helpful. I hope this is working and since I haven't seen anything to the contrary, here we go.

1. IC 443 Supernova Remnant in Gemini. Hard to see at first and I wondered if I really was, but with patience the object slowly came into view with the 27mm Panoptic and the contrast showed up nicely. I can't wait next year to see this with the Zambuto mirror! I am pretty happy with the sketch as it seems to have captured the brightest portions, though I do believe I saw the harder to see edge as well.

2. NGC 1587 an elliptical galaxy in Taurus. A galaxy in Taurus? Yep, they are there. This was a decent one to check out. Nothing terrific, but okay for a Herschel 400 II galaxy.

3. NGC 1662 Open Cluster in Orion. This has one of those observing stories I am going to share. Mat had taken a break at this point and I had just finished observing this open cluster when I kept hearing this noise that sounded like an animal to me. Mat was talking and I asked him if he was making that noise. I think he thought I was asking about opening up to get to his tomato soup he had brought. He said yes. I then heard the sound again and again and Mat said I heard that. I thought it might be a deer or antelope or perhaps an elk, but we were too low for elk. No, so I asked Mat if I should flash my flash light and he said yes and we scanned around and Mat said that he thought it was a bird so he had me flash in a tree and sure enough, a large owl flew away.

The next day I looked and listened on the internet and it has to be a Great Horn Owl owlet and the owl we saw which was very large was one of its parents. The owlet was in a nest letting their parent know they were hungry. Rather cool! Great Horn Owls are known to nest in January and February and in the mild winter we are having could have nested a little early this year.

I know some way this OC is like a boat with a mast but I saw a line with a fishhook on the bottom of it.

4. NGC 1663 Open Cluster in Orion. Looks like a shrimp to me in the eyepiece.

5. NGC 1762 a spiral galaxy in Orion. This one is faint, small, and I won't be back to it. Did I mention faint also?

6. NGC 1977 Emission Nebula in Orion; "The Running Man" or "Ghost" Nebula. I am not happy with this sketch. It seems here my mind drew in the shape I was use to seeing from images, not what I believe I actually saw. I'll be revisiting and redoing the sketch. Happy with the observation. You have to click on this one and really look as the nebula and the dark portions are faint.

There you go, the six main objects I sketched and then like I said, I did some work on a few more open clusters that night. It was one of the best nights I've had. The only thing I missed was I wanted to try for the Horsehead but old Luna came up much too fast this night! I'm glad I got out as the weather has turned here and we have snow and rain later this week so I don't know how well new moon is going to turn out. Bummer, I wanted another session there.

Edit: I forgot one item. At the end of the night I noticed that Mars was in the sky hanging out by old Luna so I took a look with the 7mm Pentax XW. I'll include that sketch also which is a digital re-creation based on a rough sketch at the eyepiece.

Directions to South of Vernon, Forest Road 006 Site 1

I will be posting some of my sketches and report from last Friday, the 13th from this site, but let me just say this is the best site I have been to in the area, except for Wolf Creek. Its closer in terms of mileage but takes an hour and a half because of the roads. I would assume if your coming from Salt Lake City and take option two below, you'd find it easier to get there than coming from the south end of the Salt Lake Valley or from Utah County.

From South End of the Salt Lake Valley or Utah Valley.

From I-15 get off at the Lehi exit by the Lehi Roller Mills. That is exit #279 or the UT-73 exit. Go west through Lehi on State Road 73.

Continue west on SR 73 across the Jordan River, straight through the intersection of Redwood Road (1700 W.) by Smith's, up the hill past Eagle Mountain and out to Cedar Fort.

The road will turn south for 5 miles to Fairfield. When you get to Fairfield note the turn off to Camp Floyd but don’t get on it. From the Camp Floyd turn off check your mileage and follow the highway around the bend and go 4.7 miles from the Camp Floyd turn off up the hill. If it is dark when you are following these directions, you may not notice it is a long gentle hill.

At the top of the hill is the ATV/motorcycle rec area called 5 Mile-Pass. During the day you should see motorcycles and 4-wheelers having a good time (if it's light, in the dark you won’t see anything) As you top the hill at 5-mile pass you will see the a sign marking the county line between Utah County and Tooele county. You'll also see a large pole/Mesonet Weather Station on the left (solar panels, anemometer on it, etc). The road then slopes down and curves to the North (right). From the County line go 3/10ths of a mile and turn left onto a paved road. This road is called The Pony Express Road and as you drive down it you'll see dark wooden posts that have PR7, PR5 etc. on them. Drive to the very end of this road (it is a long way). You'll have a patch of road that is very rough, the paint dividers disappear in this area, and the road itself can be rough in general. You'll eventually come to a stop sign, go over 3 sets of railroad tracks, and please watch as there is no lighted warning here and then proceed to the end of the road in Faust where you can only turn right or left onto SR 36.

Now turn left to SR 36 and head south through Vernon. As you leave the small town of Vernon the road winds to the left. Continue until you see this sign:

Turn right here onto the dirt road and proceed to drive down the dirt graded road, over 5 cattle guards for 5.0 miles. At the end of the road you'll come to this sign.

And a close-up of the sign:

Turn right here toward Bennion Creek and Harker Creek and drive for 0.5 or 1/2 mile to Forest Road 006. It will be on your left and when you turn, you'll see this (yes, turn left at Forest Road 006).

The marker just says 006 with FR on the bottom. You will now drive 0.9 or nine tenths of a mile down Forest Road 006 and on the left you'll spot a turn out with a bunch of juniper trees there. To the east just beyond the trees is a very old cattle trough and that area is wide open. There are no cow paddies there, not even dried ones so it hasn't been used for awhile. There was a next of a Great Horn Owl there and the owlet was screeching for food and the parent came and delivered it and then flew off (cool).

This is what the southern view looks like and if you look carefully you can see the grass area on the ground.


Get on Interstate 80 or I-80 and go west to the Tooele Exit for SR 36 which is Exit 99 and head south.

Follow SR 36 through Stansbury Park, Tooele and Stockton. At the split with SR 73 stay to the right on SR 36.

Continue to follow SR 36 to Vernon and then follow the directions above from the sign to turn right to the Vernon Reservoir and Benmore. The directions are the same from there.


Moon Rise and Set Times for Utah

I have an link to a document I created in Word and uploaded to my Google Documents. With this link you can see it. I'll also post it here for those of you who observe in Utah. I went to the U.S. Navy Observatory page located here and I put in my information and created the table for the moon rise and set times. I then copied it to Word, saved it as a text and imported that text into Word, adding in the titles and headers. I then went into Word and highlighted in yellow (using the highlighter tool) the days when one could observe DSO's and then put the new moon as a teal day. Here is what the table looks like. Again you can click on it to make it larger as this is a screen shot of the document.

Hopefully this helps me in planning out my observing days and when I want to actually go to some of the darkest skies available in Utah. Hope this idea helps someone out there as well. It is based for Riverton, Utah, near where I live but is close enough that I will use it like I do every year for northern Utah as a guide.

I have another post on my dew equipment but I have been quite sick this week with a stomach virus, or I ate something that was bad, or possible something worse (I'll know on Thursday) so I am just hoping I ate something bad or have a stomach virus and that is all it is. I'll get that post up as soon as I can. Then I am hoping to have a new toy to share a review about here in a week or two.