On the nights of Friday, September 11th and Saturday, September 12th, 2015 I was able to go to Vernon to my preferred site and observe for two days. What a welcome relief and comfort to have one last official summer session as fall rose so quietly and quickly from the eastern sky into the southern sky and at zenith as the night progressed each night. This was not a typical observing time for me but more on that later. I arrived early on Friday, and the Owl Site was taken by an RV and so as I drove up the road, I found no one around so I took my preferred site. I set up the 17.5" dob and went to work creating a workable place to observe and a place to sleep.
Since I always get asked where I am observing I thought I would post pictures here with directions. You get on State Route 36 or SR 36 by either coming down the Pony Express Road (now gravel) past Pit n Pole to Faust, and turning left on SR 36. Or you go to Tooele and drive down SR 36 to Vernon. Either way, you drive on SR 36 with Vernon to your right and go past the Silver Sage gas station, restaurant, store and follow SR 36 as it curves to the east. On the left is a sign that says Benmore/Vernon Reservoir and you turn right across from that sign onto a 5 mile long dirt and gravel road. Follow that ALL the way out until you come to this photo:
The road ends here and you MUST go left (to the Vernon Reservoir) or right. You will go right. When you do you will go over a cattle guard and then see this:
The road you are on, will continue west (or to the right here). If you look carefully this is a road sign, one of the narrow ones that will say FR 006. You turn right here as I am about to do in the photo. This is FR 006. You will drive up this road and on the left, about 9/10 of a mile or .9 or so, you will see a disperse camping area on the left. This is what I call Owl's Roost, there are owls that nest here in January or so. If it is open, I will go here. My preferred spot though, the one I call Jay's Spot or Jay's Favorite is further down FR006. Again, you will cross a cattle guard:
And IMMEDIATELY turn right! It will look like this:
There is a disperse camping area to the right, but by-pass that. Keep following this slight dirt road farther west. This is what you will see:
Be careful as you approach the road by the Juniper on the right. There is a good dip there. My Outback handles fine as will a truck or SUV. A car will need to be slow but it should be okay.
As you pull in and get past the dip and the tree on the right, this is the view:
You will pull over to the right and turn around (in the picture below I am facing south). I then turn my car to the east which if I am leaving that night, allows my lights which will go on automatically to be facing out and away from those who may still be observing. Good manners here.
I usually park my car facing east, behind that Juniper which is angled so I can exit when or if I am ready. If I stay the night, then in the morning the Juniper provides great shade so I don't wake up too early (I usually still wake up early though).
After arriving in the heat of the day, I set up the 17.5" dob, but having left my Telegizmo Scope cover at home, I left the mirror covers on the scope and used some towels to protect the secondary and primary for fun. It worked nicely so that was good.
After setting up I took some pictures of the area in full daylight, and yes, it was hot, and yes, it is dry out there now, as the pictures share. Still, wonderfully beautiful and serenely quiet, minus the sounds of nature which for me, inspire me.
Finally, that last picture shows where I usually sleep if I am spending one night at an observing site and am by myself and don't want to set up a tent. On the left, I have a battery for a scooter (that people ride in) that is charged, the connections to my CPAP machine (I'll post on this soon) and my CPAP and mask so I am ready to sleep. I have my memory foam and a inflatable by blowing into it air mattress to sit on top of the memory foam (I like a firm place to sleep on and the memory foam acts to cushion out all the bumps). During my observing I pull up the air mattress and lay my cases on the back of car with the hatchback open like it shows. When I go to bed, the eyepiece cases go in the front seat and I can either sleep with the tail open, as it is in the image, or I can close it and lock it up if I want. Luckily where I observe mosquitoes are not an issue nor any other biting insects so in the summer, I often sleep just as I show up there. There is protection if I need it but I never have.
If I am going to be at the site for more than one night, or if I have people coming along or family that I will share space with, I will bring my large 8 person tent and set up my Cabelas XL cot with the memory foam and air mattress on it. THAT is extremely comfortable and I put my CPAP next to the cot. The Outback isn't bad to sleep in and I am pretty comfortable in it. Just don't sit up in there. In the morning I will unlock using the keys, and open a side door, slip on a pair of slipper shoes I have and go out the door and open up the Outback to get breakfast and to load up to go home.
These pictures bring out a good point in my mind as I review them. The importance of bringing more than enough water when you go observing at a dark site. Yes, it gets hot here, it was around 90 degrees F this day, and it cooled off that night to around 46 degrees F, yep, its a desert and that is what it does out here. Well, that and combined that the elevation for this site is at 6800 feet above sea level so there is a natural cooling that the elevation brings also. Dehydration will ruin an observing opportunity/experience and makes for crummy after affects. Also, in the winter, I have seen people who come out here in shorts cause of the daily high temperature really freeze when the nightly temps dip into the high 30's or low 40's degrees F. Hypothermia can set in even in summer if one is not prepared.
In the same sense, I observe here in the winter when conditions allow, which is often to be truthful, and for the same reasons it can have a wide and varied temperature range in summer, the same is true in winter. During the day, the high in winter can reach 40 degrees, usually melting snow and drying out the dirt locations here. However, by night, because of the elevation and the desert/foothill locations it is quite common by 12:00 a.m. for the temperature to be between 0 degrees F and say 12 degrees F. That is cold so as I have shared, you have to be prepared for this and know how to observe in it. I don't camp overnight in the winter here as I can get in and out with five hours of great observing if conditions allow, and still be home in bed by say 12:30a.m. and if on a work day, ready to go to work by 6:30a.m. In winter, hydration plays a key part in not developing hypothermia also, so have your warm drink and thermos, and I recommend not coffee or tea (look it up yourself) but hot chocolate or better yet, a nice broth of your favorite soup.
As twilight arrived, I was completely set up and I enjoyed twilight with my friend Daniel who had come out. We actually spent time bird watching, and I enjoyed that very much. A new hobby I am getting into since I have the camera equipment, the binoculars and a telescope if needed for terrestrial viewing if I want to use it. As twilight, that magical time of when the daytime world passes into a slumber and the creatures of the night arrive with their sounds and calls, my friends Charlie Green and Mike Clement arrived, Charlie hauling his trailer (you can see it in the pictures). Mike you may recognize as the owner and creator of the largest amateur telescope in the world. No, the 70 inch was not at the site, Mike still is working on the transportation but the scope does have motors. More of that is coming in my next post as I announce what is going to be happening with the 70" and Mike so people can stay current on that tremendous projects! Also, my other good friend Jeff P. arrived. What an awesome night this was turning out to be.
I had one more person I wasn't sure if he would arrive. I have a neighbor, Jerod who was going to come out and bring my 10" XT10 with him. This was to be his first time observing and using a dob so I had given him directions. Dark came and no call (yes, as I state, we have cell service here, roaming for me but I don't pay for roaming charges) and no headlights coming down the road. Well about 9:30pm as I was getting ready to break out my observing plan for the night, lights came down the road and sure enough, as I walked down to the road it was my friend Jerod. I drove in with him and helped him to park facing east and then set up the XT10 with him. We collimated it, as I taught him about collimation and then we got out my Explore Scientific 11mm 82 degree eyepiece and my 24mm ES 68 degree eyepiece to use as a finder. I spent the next three hours teaching Jerod how to use the XT10, how to read an atlas, in this case the Sky Pocket Atlas, and then how to relate what he was seeing in the Atlas to what he saw in the sky. This was hard because there are so many stars out there and I probably should have done a session or two in his backyard. Yes, I think it is sometimes easier to learn constellations and to star hop in moderate light pollution than at a dark site. Less stars to compete with.
I began by showing him Sagittarius and for the first time, in a VERY long time, I pulled out my green laser pointer, and ensuring that when I used it there were NO aircraft in the area, I showed him how to Star Hop from Klaus to M22. From here Jarod was able to get to M8, the Lagoon and then to M20, the Trifed. Jerod had a hard time working and finding M20 and it took me back to when I also for the first time, so long ago, had a hard time with this object. From M20 Jarod went to the Star Cloud and then to M17, Omega or the Swan Nebula. For Jerod it was easier though to go to M16 The Eagle Nebula and then work back down to M17. From here he easily went to the Wild Duck or what my friend Mat calls (and I agree with him) the Borg Cube open cluster.
By now Jerod was getting more comfortable so I showed him where to find the list of Messier objects by season and I had him find Hercules in the Sky Pocket Atlas, and then I pointed it out with the laser and he went and got M13. He REALLY enjoyed looking at M13, it was gorgeous. I also have to mention that from time to time, we would take breaks as Jeff using his 17.5 or Daniel, using my 17.5" dobs found objects for us to take a look at. Jerod next went to M51 and saw that, and then he went to what he was really wanting to see, M31 and its companions. He found it, observed it, and then compared the view in my 17.5" Bottom line, from there we went to the Double Cluster, which he found easily enough, and then to NGC 457, the Owl Open Cluster and then Jerod ended the night on M103, another open cluster in Cassiopeia.
As the night ended, I went to load the XT10 tube in the Orion bag that I have for it, and the knob system I have, the knob came off. I played around with it and finally got the knob back on, the tube out of the holders and back in the bag. The base assembly with the Lazy Susan modification I did worked wonderfully. A little loose but I have adjusted that by adding a touch of carpet to the opposite side of the carpet break I installed and it is perfect for use now. Jerod kept the XT10 on a loan from me, with three eyepieces to practice back at home. I need to touch base with him on how it is working.
With Jerod leaving, Jeff P. also left to go home as did Daniel and Mike since Mike's truck had gotten a flat and he didn't have a spare. So left were me and Charlie. After everyone had departed, I noticed it was almost 1:00a.m. and so I got out my adjusted observing list and planned out what I was going to do. The night was truly one of those wonderful nights, one of the best of the year. It had been a little weird to sacrifice it to help Jerod at first, but in truth, that is what I enjoy doing the most, helping others to learn the hobby. What I did with Jerod is what and how I believe we grow the hobby so it was well worth 3 to 4 hours of my time. Not being tired, I got to work and Charlie stayed up talking with me and keeping me company.
Eventually, the call of a VERY comfortable trailer called to Charlie and he answered by retiring to his extremely comfortable bed inside of the trailer. With Charlie retiring I was alone, and I went to work. Here is what I got done that night minus a few observations of galaxies I did not sketch. I went into Aquarius and got several unremarkable galaxies that I won't bother with here. Perhaps later I'll not be so lazy and pull out my notes and update my entries for those objects. Probably when I update Sky Tools 3 with that information I'll add it here.
So here are my sketches and objects I took the time to sketch, in the early morning of September 12th, 2015. I FINALLY figured out my DSLR camera and how to use it to take accurate pictures of my sketches so I do not have to make any adjustment or corrections post picture to make them be close to how I sketched them. These are unaltered now, finally, and are as I sketched them. I have to say, I am EXTREMELY happy with these sketches. They reflect what I saw in the eyepiece and are pretty accurate to me. I also changed something in my sketching that I found has make a major improvement in my sketching. In the past I have used 6" x 8" black paper to make my sketches. This time I was able to use 9" x 12" paper and that provided enough room to work, to capture what I was seeing, to use the chalk in the layers I needed in the Mellish method to really make an effective sketch. The hardest part was adjusting my sketching because I was enlarging it to match the paper. That adjustment happen quickly and here are the results.
You will find two sketches, one where I zoomed in with the camera, showing more of the object(s), one that was a little wider field of view showing more of the sketch.
1. NGC 6964, NGC 6962, NGC 6967 (NGC 6962 is the large galaxy in the center; NGC 6964 is to the upper left of that galaxy above it; NGC 6967 is to the upper right of 6962 and 6961 is to the lower right of 6962). September 12th, 2015; FR006 Jay's Site; 1:20a.m. MDT or -7:20 UT; Clear, Mild, Antoniadi II: SQM 21.84; 17.5" Dob; 7mm, 10mm, 14mm Pentax XW; Paracorr Type II.
NGC 6962 is a rather small but the largest of the galaxies seen in this field of view. It has a stellar nucleus and a bright inner core region. There are some subtle variances in brightness in the galaxy but no hints of structure that I could really determine.
NGC 6964 is smaller, bright and easily seen and is an elliptical galaxy.
NGC 6967 is also concentrated, bright, and easily seen in the field. No structure in it.
NGC 6961 is the hardest of the galaxies to observe. I saw it with averted vision mixed with patience. Once I obtained it with averted vision I could hold it while observing.
2. NGC 7606 Spiral Galaxy in Aquarius; September 12th, 2015; FR006; Site Jay's Site; Clear, cool, 50 degrees F; SQM-L: 21.88; 2:20a.m. MDT or 8:20 UT; Antoniadi II; 17.5" Dob; 27mm Panoptic as finder; 7mm, 10mm, 14mm & 20mm Pentax XW to observe; Paracorr Type II.
This is my favorite sketch of the night. I captured this as I observed it. The galaxy is tilted to the plane of the observer, and is relatively bright. It is elongated NNW to sSE and the outer edges are diffused and mottled, possibly showing some structure(?). The core is relatively bright and averted vision shows a slightly faint stellar nucleus. Just a joy to observe, sketch and tease out details with.
3. NGC 7723 Spiral Galaxy in Aquarius; September 12th 2015; 03:10 MDT or 09:10 UT; Site: FR006 Jay's Site; Antoniadi II; SQM-L: 21.88; 17.5" Dob; 27mm Panoptic as Finder; 5mm, 7mm, 10mm, 20mm Pentax XW as Observing Eyepieces; Paracorr Type II; Conditions: Clear, Cool, 48 degrees F.
NGC 7723 I really enjoyed sketching. However just to the lower left I found that my white ink gel hand't dried when I turned my next sketch's writing on to it so I had some cross over. NGC 7723 is a large bright spiral galaxy, being oval in shape. The outer edge is diffused, not sharp as in other galaxies. There is some mottling in the outer edge as well in terms of brightness, thus hinting at structure there to me. Averted vision shows a bright inner core region with a small stellar nucleus with averted vision. This is a nice galaxy to observe. Not like a Messier, but it was fun to observe, tease out the detail and to sketch it.
4. NGC 7184 Galaxy in Aquarius; September 12th 2015; 1:58am MDT or 07:55 UT; Site: FR006 Jay's Site; Antoniadi II; Conditions: Clear, mild/cool 50 degrees F; 17.5" dob; 27mm Pantoptic finder; 7mm, 10mm, 20mm Pentax XW observing; Paracorr Type II.
NGC 7184 is a tilted spiral galaxy laying ENE to WSE and is elongated. The edge is not defined and has varying brightness levels, with some areas being sharper than others. The inner core is bright and small. A nice fine, fun to sketch.
5. NGC 7443 & NGC 7444 SA Galaxies in Aquarius; September 12th, 2015 at 3:45a.m. MDT or 09:40 UT; Site: FR006 Jay's Site; Conditions: Antoniadi II; clear, cool 46 degrees F; SQM-L 21.88; 17.5" dob; 27mm Panoptic as finder; 7mm, 10mm, 20mm Pentax XW observing with; Paracorr Type II.
NGC 7443 is the upper galaxy and NGC 7443 is the lower one. NGC 7443 is bright, and the smaller of the two galaxies. It has a bright core region though small it can be seen. Lays SSW to NNE. The edge is sharp and well defined.
NGC 7444 is bright, small in size, elongated. Lays NNW to SSE and has a bright inner core region which is small also. Sharp edge and no other structure is evident. Nice set of two small galaxies.
In the morning I woke early and left to be at a family commitment I had. Charlie stayed on site until Mike was ready, then he drove his SUV leaving his trailer on site, and went on got Mike and his spare tire. They came back and fixed Mike's flat and then remained on site visiting. I arrived later that afternoon as did my friend Jorge who came to use his camera to take wide field shots. That evening started very promising as this photo shows. That is Mike Clement on the left with his refractor and Charlie on the right with his Meade SCT.
Below is my 17.5 and you can see the clouds threatening to the west. However as the picture above shows, they stayed away and we really had the promise of a good evening.
If nothing else, we had great conversation, a great sunset and location.
Later, after getting some observing in, the clouds arrived with a vengeance. Mike packed up and left, and Charlie then packed up and went into his trailer to go to bed as the driving around that day wore him out. I stuck it out for awhile, and then began to break down some stuff. After about an hour the sky began to really clear out again and I was hopeful to get some serious observing in when Charlie came out. Mike had gotten another flat and needed help. I was the one who could help so I had no choice, broke down, loaded up and began the journey back to get Mike.
When I found mike out by Five Mile Pass, a group of people in pick ups had assisted him and given him a spare with a rim and put it on his truck. So Mike was good to go. The skies were clear and Mike took off and I followed for awhile, thought of turning back to Pit n Pole but decided to call it good for two days.
So this was in some ways not a typical observing session but I had a wonderful time, with some of the most wonderful people and enjoyed myself immensely. The weather here in northern Utah has been just gorgeous of late and I fear that may mean a change by the time new moon gets here. I am more hoping for an Indian Summer and if we change the pattern, it happens before new moon and for new moon in October it is clear and wonderful. I hope you enjoy the wonders that occur above us!