Monday, February 07, 2005

Observing Report 2.5 to 2.6.05

Tonight proved to be a full and gratifying night of observing.

I spent the latter part of the afternoon printing out star charts and planning my session. I cannot stress the necessity for a well planned observing session. You truly get more out of a starry night if you have some type of attack plan. As the sun began to sink toard the horizon, I precede to pack the car full of warm clothing and observing gear. About 40 minutes prior to sunset, I hit the road and headed for Savage Farm, a NOVAC observing site only about 25 minutes from my home. I reached Savage without incident and found it very easily. Well, more specifically, I found the entrance to the site. However, the access (a rutted, country-type byway), was covered in snow and ice, much to my dismay. My car has all-wheel drive, so I decided to go for it. After about 30 feet of slipping, shifting, and sliding, I decided I was no longer going for it. Tail between my legs, I headed backed toward the homestead and the Jen.

Five hours of quality time later, I was on the back deck with a makeshift light shield comprised of towels and microphone stands. This contraption managed to block out much of the offending glare of nearby lights. I was quite pleased with my ingenuity. I was to employ a new technique (to me) in star hopping this night. I used a piece of copper wire, made into a circle to represent my eye piece field of view. As it turned out, this method was far better than having the eyepiece FOV printed directly on the chart. I successfully located each objected I had planned on viewing.

It was a peaceful night. I could’ve stayed out until the sun came up. It generally takes me a little less than an hour for distracting thoughts to leave my brain. Eventually, the background noise fades, only to be replaced with a remarkable sense of calm and clarity. It is difficult to describe the feeling you get when you are looking back in time at an object so much larger than your human self. An object made of the same dust that your physical being is made of.

Observing Location: Ashburn, VA
Observing Date: 2/5 to 2/6/05
Observing time: 11:00 pm to 3:00 am
Seeing: Above average (4/5)
Transparency: Above average (4/5)
Temperature: ~ 30'F


This galaxy was surprisingly faint, with an absolute magnitude of 10 and a surface brightness of around 13. I received an abrupt education in the difference between surface brightness and abs. Magnitude. I was convinced I was in the right area, because the star pattern in the eyepiece was identical to that in the field of view isolated on the star chart. “It should be here, why don’t I see anything!” Finally, subtle movement of the scope and averted vision prevailed as the faint galaxy came into view.


This small planetary nebula was easier to find than its neighbor. Although its absolute magnitude was lower (11), its surface brightness was brighter (12) than M108. I take great pleasure in observing nebulae.


Another faint and fuzzy target that was a challenge to see with a abs. mag. of 10 and a surface brightness of nearly 14! Averted vision and subtle movement of the scope once again were my friends.


This was my longest hop of the evening. But, the journey presented me with a galaxy that appeared brighter than the two view earlier in the evening (abs mag 8.4, sb 13). I could clearly make out the core, as well as some ghostly impression of its spiral arms.


A quick hop, and I had two reasonably bright, fuzzy blotches in my field of view. One was M51 (abs mag 8.4, sb 12.9), the other was its diminutive companion NGC 5195 (abs mag 9.6, sb 12.9)

Mizar Double

I next decided to check out the Mizar multiple star system - I figured I was in the neighborhood. The components of the Mizar multiple star system are Mizar A (Zeta 1 Ursa Majoris at magnitude 2.27) and Mizar B (Zeta 2 Ursa Majoris at magnitude 3.95), located 14.42 arc seconds away. The brighter of the pair seemed yellow/white in hue, the smaller more of a white/blue.


This galaxy was more difficult to see than I had assumed. The galaxy has an absolute magnitude approaching 8, however, its surface brightness is a staggering 14.90. It was barely detectable through averted vision and moving of the telescope.


The king of the planets certainly did not disappoint tonight. Seeing was exceptional and I could distinctly make out the cloud bands in great detail, however, I could not pick up the great spot. I wonder if it was just not visible at the time I looked at the planet (which is very possible). I particularly enjoy observing the Jovian satellites and their movement (Callisto, Ganyemede, Io, and Europa are readily visible)


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