Monday, December 7, 2015

OR, CalSTAR 2014; Lake San Antonio, CA, September 26-27

I did not plan to attend CalSTAR, as going out for multi-night observing trip is usually not possible for me given work and family obligations. But having received special dispensation from my wife, I packed up my scope and camping gear and headed down Friday afternoon. I enjoyed meeting many fellow observers and benefited greatly from talking to them. Special thanks to Mark Johnston for discussing the finer points of recording and reporting one’s observations, especially with regard to estimating an object’s size and position angle; I will endeavor to incorporate such detail in future reports.

I spent my observing time continuing the H400 list and the TAC Eye Candy list, and a few others just because I noticed them to be nearby on the chart. Lake San Antonio is much darker than Coe and it was the first time I could clearly see the darker details of the Milky Way, such as the Great Rift. The darkness made the trip well worth the effort, even if the seeing and transparency was not always perfect—however both nights were good and had a few even better hours. I count 70 objects observed in my logbook; what follows are some of the highlights, the ones I remember being particularly excited about. I doubt I could have seen many of these so well—if at all—from Coe or other Bay Area sites. I did not just slave away at a list: I spent quite a while taking it all in, scanning the sky naked eye, with binoculars from my lounge chair, wide field views with my Astroscan, and the main scope (12.5” f/7 dob).

NGC 6520, OC, Sgr, 1803 -2754, 13mm 170x: Rather sparse faintish cluster with bright reddish star in middle surrounded by a ring of stars, and around that a half circle of stars arcing north. Rich field all around.

NGC 6822 / Barnard’s Galaxy, Sgr, 1944 -1448, 22mm 100x: Very faint & diffuse smudge, hardly there, elongated west to east. Large, filling 1/8 FOV. Tough find.

NGC 7000 / North American Nebula, Cyg, Astroscan w/ 20mm + OIII, 22x 2.7 degree TFOV: Like milk spilled in water. Almost all in the FOV. Mexico is brighter and well contrasted with dark Gulf of Mexico; Florida plain, with interesting swirls drifting up the east coast. The lakes / Canada region slowly fade up and out of the FOV.

NGC 6826 / Blinking Planetary, Cyg, 1944 5031, 13mm 170x: This was a lot of fun! Stare at it and it fades out, leaving only the central star; glance away and the greenish orb pops back into view.

NGC 7331 + Fleas, GxC, Peg, 2237 3426, 13mm 170x: 7331 had a bright stellar nucleus and a wide halo, tilted at a gentle angle. I detected hints of a dark lane to the south of the nucleus. I also detected four nearby smudges which I believed to be the Fleas; comparing my sketch to a finder chart provided by Marko the next day I can claim 7340, 7337, & 7335, but I cannot claim 7336.

Stephan’s Quintet (NGC 7317, 7318A, 7318B, 7319, 7320C) GxC, Peg, 2235 3356, 13mm 170x: After seeing 7331, on a whim, I nudged the scope to see if I could find this famous group. It was very faint, four smudges in a triangular pattern initially just hinted with AV, but the view improved with more time spent looking and studying. 7318A & B did not seem to separate for me, so I perhaps cannot claim the whole group. Thanks to Marko for the confirmation.

NGC 7814, Gx, Peg, 0005 1608, 13mm 170x: Bright nucleus and extended halo fading, fairly large. A meteor passed through the FOV! A bright flash, was not a satellite. That’s the second time that’s happened to me!

NGC 752, OC, And, 0157 3741, 41mm 54x: Huge bright open cluster filling the 1.3 degree FOV and then some. At least a hundred stars with a fine grainy background. Seems to be a double-double pairing to the West.

NGC 598 / M33, Gx, Tri, 0133 3040, 22mm 100x: Cloudy form visible in finder. In eyepiece there are spirals! The spiral pattern is very plain with several foreground stars. Two prominent dark lanes, one running north the other south. Its form is lopsided to the east.

NGC 247, Gx, Cet, 0047 -2045, 22mm 100x: Long and thin, nearly fills the FOV – a mist trailing off with no definite edge. Not very bright nucleus.

NGC 246, PN, Cet, 0047 -1207, 13mm 170x: Large circular nebulous cloud, grey and thin. Two stars superimposed in central portion with several others around it. AV brightened the cloud.

NGC 779, Cet, Gx, 0159 -0558, 22mm 100x: Small, very thin – just thicker than a sliver. Stellar nucleus and AV-enhanced halo.

NGC 474, Gx (with 470 & 467 as bonus), Psc, 012x 03xx 13mm, 170x: Since I was in the Pisces neighborhood I checked my chart for other objects to view, and located NGC 474. I immediately noted two other galaxies in the FOV, which were not on my chart; checking the internet later I discovered these are 470 and 467. 474 was the brightest, but 470 a little dimmer and 467 dim but plain. Nice to stumble onto a galaxy cluster!

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