Observing Session, February 17th, 2012 ??? on location

Well this last Friday was very cloudy during the day. I had planned to go observing and I was going to drive out to my new favorite location no matter what, in defiance of the weather. Skippy Astronomy, the National Weather Service locally and Clear Sky Clock (clicking on the cloud cover for details) all showed clearing that evening. I loaded up at 3:00p.m. and headed out to Vernon to get to 006 FR Site 1. Well, the drive out went well and as I turned right to get onto the main dirt road, the road was rather wet and though not really muddy, except on the sides of the road (the road is graded so water goes to the side) I began to wonder what conditions was going to be like when I got out to 006 FR (FR is Forest Road). Well, I got out to where I turned right and then I came to 006 FR and turned left. I hesitated at first because the road was snow covered and covered in what appeared to be mud. It looked like another vehicle had gone down the road and had left some ruts. I drove in and as I drove I could feel the Pathfinder slipping. I put it into 4WD and the slipping ended and as I went down I knew I had made a mistake. I decided to turn back and called my friend Mat to tell him to go to an alternate site at Pit n Pole. Mat suggested I just simply back up since there is no place to turn around in the road in the muddy conditions. I backed up and got out. Here are some images I took of the general area and of my tires after I got off 006 FR.

You can see the depth of the mud on my tires, not so deep but I had a lot of mud in my wheel wells and it took some time on Saturday to get a high speed wash to get it all out. Again, if your new, click on the picture or the sketch to see it in a larger format.

Another image showing that my foot board also got some decent mud (yes, not too bad, I've had my Pathfinder much muddier in the past).

Here is the road that you turn right on to get to 006 FR. Very passable but still muddy a little bit. The issue I see is that the sun wasn't able to melt the snow and dry the dirt before I got out there. Lesson on this observing location . . . IF it has rained or snowed don't go there if the Sun has been behind the clouds and hasn't dried out the road.

Sunset looking west. Compare the next two pictures with the images I took in January and you can see the amount of snow we've had the last month.

My favorite shot, looking south.

So I drove back to Pit n Pole, taking about 25 minutes to get there and when I got there, Mat was set up. I set up the XX14i and decided since I was at the Pit of Dew as I now called it, to set up my dew controller and dew straps for the finder, the Telrad, the eyepiece. I held off on the secondary because I am going to attach a secondary safety strap using dental floss, but more on that on another post. At that time I will attach the secondary dew strip at that time. I will take pictures of my dew set up next time I get out or as I set up the scope to do some maintenance work and put the dew equipment on permanently. I went with the Thousand Oaks controller and it worked like a charm! For the first time at the Pit n Pole or Pit of Dew, I had no dew impact my viewing the entire night. The scope did frost up pretty good but not my finder, Telrad or eyepieces! Yeah!!!!!

I had a hard time getting started this night and I have to admit that I was a little flustered because of what had happen at Vernon. That site is my primary site because of its lack of people, lack of shooters and most importantly the darkness of the sky. I started working that evening in Puppis and had a hard time getting to the first open cluster but I finally nailed it. I then worked and bagged several more open clusters but I wasn't in the mood to sketch them, so I didn't. I simply recorded my observations on my digital recorder and then moved on.

Later that evening I decided to take a break from the Herschel objects and I had grown tired of viewing so low in the sky, and I went to M42. Wonderful view as always. I then saw that Leo was up and I took off for Leo, getting a second wind and an idea. I had two goals in Leo. First is probably a fantasy but I have been trying for the Tidal Tail in NGC 3628 for a while now. This night I think and I stress, I THINK, I got a glimpse of it. Conditions had improved as the night went on and I captured a slight brightening in the eyepiece right off the left side of NGC 3628 in the right location to be the initial part of the Tidal Tail. In the observation I have to state that the first part of the Tail wasn't evident, this was a slightly brighter part that is a little farther off. See my poor man's sketch. I haven't counted this as I didn't have anyone come over and verify and I share it for the fun of it. To quote Carl Sagan, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" of which, again, I have none as I had no one confirm it. Again, this could and probably is simply something my mind put in there because I want to see it, and I know where it is and I am willing to admit to that. However, the brightening was real to me and I have enough experience to know when something is on the verge of seeing. This sketch is based on the one in the field I did as the dew was bad and I couldn't work long before the dew impacted the paper. The tail is too bright to what I saw, I need to lessen it.

NGC 3628 is often called the Hamburger Galaxy or as I learned in looking things up on the galaxy, Sarah's Galaxy. I include that for a friend and hopefully he can share that with his daughter! Here is the sketch.

My next purpose was to get started on a project I have played with for sometime. I had a grand idea I would make it into a book but I think I am going to just post it here. The goal is to sketch some (not all) of some of the Messier objects from a dark site and then to sketch them again from my backyard and in light pollution. The purpose is to show others the impact of a dark site on observing and what can be seen. If there is a sketcher out there that wants to coordinate on this project with me, I'd love to do that. So instead of looking at more open clusters, I went looking at galaxies in Leo. Here are the sketches I made at the scope.

Here is the Leo Triplet using my 27mm Panoptic. An admission on the sketch. If you looked closely I put in the location where I saw the Tidal Tail but it wasn't visible in the 27mm Panoptic. Besides that I really like this sketch overall and was happy with the outcome. It's been a while since I sketched such bright objects!

NGC 3593 a spiral galaxy in Leo. Found just opposite of the Leo Triplet (M65, M66, NGC 3628). Elongated East to West (north in this sketch was labeled slightly too far to the left. It needs to be more to the right) with a brightening of the core and a stellar nucleus. Fun galaxy to observe and I enjoyed viewing these galaxies after chasing Herschel objects for 3 years now. It has trained the eye to see that much more detail.

Here is M105, NGC 3894 and NGC 3898 in Leo. M105 and NGC 3384 (the elliptical galaxies) had very bright cores and stellar nucleus. NGC 3389 (the spiral galaxy)had a brightening of the core but I could not make out a stellar nucleus. Fun trio to view as always.

Messier 95 showed well this night, one of the best views I have had of this galaxy. The bar was discernible with averted vision and that led to a ring like structure. A hint of one of the arms was there so I included that in the sketch. Very time sketching this one.

Messier 96 in this sketch. Probably my favorite sketch of the night as I felt I caught the detail the best and the star field. I did too many stars to be honest, as I am trying to stay with the main field stars so the sketch can be oriented better for those wanting to do that. Part of my growth I guess. I like how I captured the various brightness of the stars in this one.

So that is what I got done. I'll go back and sketch the open clusters in Puppis next winter. I just got tired of viewing them all and trying to sketch them that night was just not going to work well. I may try to do it when the moon comes up from home because the rest of this new moon week here is looking horrible for observing! Snow and clouds this week. It is the pits since this is the last new moon before Daylight Savings Time comes back again in March. That means a later start and not as much time at the scope unless I stay out later and/or camp. I hope this March, April and May brings good periods of clear skies to get in some spring observing as I haven't had much of that the last two years. Clear skies to you.