The night of Feb. 6-7 I was joined by my friend Balint at Fremont Peak. Conditions were decidedly non-ideal, with gusty winds, average to poor transparency, and occasional sweeps of cloud moving through. Nonetheless it was a productive session [I made more than 50 observations; "productive" is an understatement!]: the wind seemed to help keep the water vapor that was pouring in from the north from spoiling too much of the viewing area. As it grew later we lost more of the north and west, but we could still explore the southern sky. We made do with what we had. Through the night my SQML ranged from 20.50 to 19.40 to 20.93 – as crazy as the weather.
Dr. Peter Jenniskens of SETI arrived at sundown to work on his meteor detecting equipment (http://cams.seti.org/). He pointed out the zodiacal light, which rose about 20° in the west. I had noticed this light before but not having ever seen or identified zodiacal light, I assumed it was a light dome from Salinas. He also pointed out the winter Milky Way, which I hadn’t taken care to notice. So, our sky was not all bad.
Here are some of the more interesting observations, all in my 20-inch reflector:
NGC 2359, bright nebula in Puppis, “Thor’s Helmet”: Viewed 205x, nebulosity visible without filter but viewed best with UHC. Extensive nebulosity like a hollow sphere with a bright rim to the north [which I find this morning has its own designation as NGC 2361]. There is a central star and two more stars at the northern rim. More large arcs and spheres of nebulosity to the north, west, and south. SQML 19.66, this must be amazing in a better sky.
IC 418, PN in Lepus, “Spirograph Nebula”: Central star steady with averted vision, comes and goes direct vision with the seeing. Faintly greenish large round halo, ragged edge, mottled. Astrophotos show loops and arcs of bright strands which give it its name, which I did not see.
Jonckheere 320, PN in Orion. This was disappointingly easy! I had heard of this being a challenge object, but at 205x without a filter it was a hazy bloated blinking star. OIII at 333x made it more apparent, brighter dense oval core with some thin halo around that; no CS.
NGC 2440, PN in Puppis: Central star visible in 80mm finder. In the scope at 333x it is a bright star with a round haze close by. With OIII the haze extends into a dumbbell shape nebula.
NGC 2432, OC in Puppis: Around 20 faint stars with 10 brighter which form a galloping giraffe asterism.
NGC 3887, GX in Crater. Large 3’x2’ visible, stellar nucleus and bright core, diffuse halo with a stubby dark lane intruding in the eastern portion but not crossing the whole.
NGC 3672: GX in Crater. Large 4’x2’ elongated NNE-SSW; some mottling in the halo hinting of spiral structure with a sharp cut off on the eastern side – dust lane? By moving it to the edge of the FOV, I could pick up MCG-1-29-19 about 0.3° to the NE as a faint, even surface brightness 3:2 elongation
NGC 3145, GX in Hya: Very close to the south of Lambda Hydrae, pretty large 3:1 NE-SW, stellar nucleus and a diffuse / uneven surface brightness halo, obviously an inclined spiral.
NGC 3242, Ghost of Jupiter, PN: Visible in the 80mm finder as a blinking star. Amazing in the scope! Best view at 333x without a filter, but I did try 553x which enhanced some details in rare moments of seeing. All features in the PN had a light blue / teal color. The central star sat serene in the middle of a ring which was visibly tubular. The gap between this ring and the star was only slightly darkened. The whole was enveloped in a large semitransparent outer shell with defined but oddly soft edges. Moments of still seeing at high power hinted at annularity of both inner ring and outer shell, and some bright filaments like electric bolts running between the outer shell and the inner ring. Imagine what this looks like on a good night.
Jupiter: I ended my night looking at Jupiter itself, which was a bit north of its Ghost. The Great Red Spot rode on the SEB, which had bright and dark areas within indicating turbulence. The NEB especially had many gradations of color. The temperate belts and the polar regions showed a little soft.