OR: DARC Observatory, 8/14/2010: Prison escapees enjoy dark and steady skies

When I showed up at the entrance of the Hollister BLM access road, off of Little Panoche Rd, around 7pm, I saw Dr. Lee Hoglan, Craig Scull, Peter Nastcher, Tony Hurtado and Mark Johnston fiddling with the gate. Apparently, a land owner had added their own combo lock in addition to the existing lock, and nobody knew the combination code! As I was privately entertaining the idea of setting up my equipment on the gravel area in front of the gate, Lee decided to cut off the chain with a hack saw blade. At first, I didn’t think that it was going to work, but apparently, Lee had learned quite a few tricks while at Folsom, and managed to cut off one of the links in about 10 minutes (thank God for soft steel chains!). Using a pair of pliers, I then twisted the link and managed to open the gate. Victory!

We proceeded to setup on the large flat area in front of the observatory. It was a bit breezy early on, but the wind died down after sunset as it is often the case in that area. It was quite warm all night, and I was observing in nothing more than a pair of shorts and a thin long sleeve shirt.

After collimating, we looked at Venus, Saturn and the Moon, which were all pretty low over the western horizon, and noticed that the seeing was quite good! Antares’ companion was readily visible in my 12″ scope. Always a good sign!

In the middle of the night, Peter noticed that his scope was out of collimation. We later found out that it was due to the support of his secondary mirror getting loose. This incident prompted me to check my own collimation since I, too, was starting to see more coma than I am used to. Indeed, my collimation was a little off, and after adjusting the mirrors, everything became crisper. I don’t know what caused that shift on my scope, but I decided not to worry about it for now.

After midnight, the seeing went from good to spectacular. Peter was showing off Jupiter through his 24″ StarMaster telescope armed with a binoviewer and a neutral density filter. This was the best view of Jupiter I have ever had. A lot of very fine details could be seen within the bands. The satellites were seen as tiny little discs of varying diameters and colors, making it easy to identify them. The GRS was crossing Jupiter’s meridian, followed by a long thin dark band (maybe signaling the reapparition of the SEB?)

Lyra’s double-double was showing a very clean split, and Peter suggested to try 72 Peg, which members are separated by only 0.5″. Sure enough, using my 12″ scope, two tiny Airy discs touching each other were intermittently visible.

The transparency was good but not great. Jupiter was showing a tiny halo, and my NELM estimate was around 6.6, which is slightly below what the site is capable of. Nevertheless, M33 was fairly easily visible using averted vision, which I consider a good test for darkness and transparency.

As far as my observing log, this was not a night for the record books. I only logged the following 5 (new to me) objects:

M1-92 (Minkowski’s Footprint) PN Cyg 19 36 46 +29 34 28 11.0 2010-08-14 09:35pm
Appears as a fairly bright fuzzy star at 305x, confirmed at 610x. It seemed extremely slightly elongated WNW-ESE with tiny faint extensions in the same direction (?) Forms a small triangle with two field stars of relatively comparable brightness. I did not try using a narrow band filter since I knew in advance that it would not help.

HP 1 (Haute-Provence 1) GC Oph 17 31 47 -29 59 26 12.5 2010-08-14 10:15pm
Very pale round glow 45″ in diameter. Confirmed the location with Mark Johnston’s 18″ StarMaster telescope. In that scope, a tiny (10″) core, only very slightly brighter than the surrounding glow, was suspected (?)

Djorgovski 2 GC Sgr 18 02 31 -27 49 34 9.9 2010-08-14 11:00pm
Faint round glow 1.5′ in diameter located 20′ W of the famous ink spot (B86) and its neighboring open cluster NGC 6520. Positioned in the center of a keystone shaped asterism formed by 4 fairly bright stars. Another small (unnamed?) dark nebula is located 5′ WNW. A very faint superimposed star was detected at the northern end of the cluster, and another one was also seen intermittently at the western end. Not sure whether these belong to the cluster or are simply field stars.

NGC 6412 (Arp 38) GX Dra 17 29 16 +75 42 06 12.4 2010-08-14 11:15pm
Bright stellar nucleus surrounded by a diffuse featureless halo measuring 1.5′ in diameter. A faint smudge was spotted 10′ NW (?)

NGC 6621 (Arp 81) GX Dra 18 12 54 +68 22 15 13.3 2010-08-15 12:05am
Faint diffuse glow 1.5′x30″ elongated NW-SE containing two small condensations. The slightly larger and brighter one to the NW is the core of galaxy NGC 6621, while the other one is the core of its companion galaxy NGC 6622. A faint (mag. 15.3) star is located just 30″ E of the core of NGC 6622.

I also tried to look at a number of tough objects, including Djorgovski 1 and the Aquarius Dwarf, but was not able to see them.

I finished the night with a quick look at a couple of galaxy groups in Pegasus using one of Alvin’s observing guides. I also looked at some of my favorites, including Stephan’s quintet, the Deer Lick group and M33.

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