Plettstone Preserve April 20, 1998
by Sandra Macika

WoW!  It sure was great to be under really dark skies again!

I met Michelle's parent's at  PSWLAP.  They are interesting and very nice. Her father worked for Union Pacific Railroad for years and had many interesting stories to tell!  I think he said he started working there in 1950.   Her mother is sweet andvery conciderate.

The ride to Michelle's place is fun.  It is about a three hour trip.  The roads are comfortable (the Mercedes helps) and quiet once you get out of the city, and the only unpaved portion is the area on her property.  Her property is so much different from September when I was there last.  This time it was so green!  There were luxurious carpets of yellow, white, pink and purple flowers.  The ground was cool, damp and soft in contrast to the warm spring sun.

It was the first time I had seen her observatory and those great solar panels.  The observatory is beautifully constructed, and those solar panels are really convenient.  Michelle was able to vacuum the comfortable carpeting in the observatory, and use her circular saw to do some work on the porch of her cabin.  Her hot shower is also very impressive.  There is a nice wooden stall that is open to the sky.  I even forfeited some of my observing time to be able to shower under the stars.   I am certainly lucky that she (and other talented people) have volunteered to help me build my scope!  I know it's going to be beautiful.

I wasn't hopeless, I mean scopeless, for the trip.  Mike Shade lent me his 4" Vixen Fluorite.  That sure is a great scope!  I was able to make great progress towards my Messier certificate.  Mike also lent me a 12.5mm and 18mm Parks eyepiece, and a 9mm Meade.  Michelle lent me her 26mm Tele Vue and 32mm Plossel.  Michelle had her C11 with a 4" Vixen Fluorite finder scope.

Thursday night I observed from Boulder Creek, but much of my time was spent learning to set up and polar align the scope. I sketched beautiful pictures of M51, M63 and M94.  Thanks to Mike for the kind and patient explanations when I wasn't feeling so very patient.  He must be a great  teacher, because everything worked perfectly when I got to Michelle's.  I  even checked my polar alignment by tracking for over 10 minutes at 102 diameters.

Both Friday and Saturday night were perfectly clear at Michelle's.  I  would have liked to have tested the limiting magnitude at the zenith or  in the southeast, because the northwest has a very slight glow from  Miraposa.  It seemed to diminish significantly after midnight.  I lost  the web address for the limiting magnitude charts.  Maybe there is a link  from Bill's nine planets.  I did have a map of the little dipper with  most of the star magnitudes marked.  There are two 5.6's that were easy.  I got the 5.9 with averted vision.  I thought I had the 6.2 a couple of  times, but I wouldn't call it a kill.  It would have been nice if there  was a 6.0 or 6.1 to check.

Friday night I started with the open cluster M48 in Monceros.  It filled  the field at 51 diameters.  I was happy that Michelle was able to strap  her extra telrad to my (Mike's) scope with  some of those plastic strip  ties.  It sure beats trying to use the viewfinder like a telrad by  keeping both eyes open and staying about 3 inches away from the eyepiece.  I was able to get the object in the field of view 85% of the time using  telrad or view finder.  This did not seem to impress Michelle or Mike,  but I am extremely impressed with myself.

Next I located elliptical galaxies M105, M95 and M96 in Leo.  After  reading Marsha's report I wondered if I may have made the same mistake as  she, but realized that was highly unlikely because I did have them all in  the same view  at 28.5 diameters.  Then I got elliptical galaxies M66 and  M65 in the same view along with the edge on galaxy NGC3628 in Leo.  It was this view that made me realize that aperture isn't everything.  Mike's 4 inch gives incredible clarity with excellent contrast.

I really did get spoiled having the drive motor.  Michelle is always  finding great stuff.  She is constantly calling me over to see "an  exquisite jewel."  She's always right, and I am happy to see her views.  But at the peak last month I was getting a little frustrated  because I would lose my place because the earth kept spinning every time  I went to check out someone else's view.  Friday night I was able to  check out three supernovas and many other great views that Michele found  without ever losing my place!  She showed me supernovas SN1998S in  NGC3877, SN1998aq in NGC3982, and SN1998V in Hercules.  The supernova in  NGC 3877 was much less prominent then it was last month at the peak, but all were incredible!  I feel very fortunate!

I went on to elliptical galaxies M81 and M82 in Ursa Major, which I found  in the same view at 35 diameters.  Then I easily split the double M40 in  Ursa Major at 35 diameters.  I finished the night with the elliptical  galaxy M101 in Ursa Major.

Saturday was even darker than Friday!  I found elliptical galaxies M94 in Canes Venatici, M101 and NGC5866 (sometimes known as M102) in Ursa Major. Then I looked at the globular cluster M53 and elliptical galaxy M64 in  Coma Berenices, globular cluster M3 in Canes Venatici and finished off  the night with a beautiful view of my favorite globular cluster, M13 at  102 diameters.

I am almost halfway there!  I have 52 of 110 Messiers.  And all with O.P.  scopes!  (That's Other People's)  Michelle and I had so much fun.  I am  looking forward to more observing time with such great company!

Sandra J. Macika