PSWLAP Observing report May 1, 1998
Gold Country Astronomy

By:  Mike Shade

This last week I had the chance to observe from Michelle Stone's property in the sierra foothills (PSWLAP). For me it was a three and a half hour drive (from Boulder Creek), most of it through the central valley.   I was of course pulling my trusty Coleman pop up tent trailer and was going to photograph with the NGT-18.  Her property is very nice:
Oaks of a variety of sizes, natural grasses, and wildflowers galore.  I found a nice spot to set up my camp and  then got down to checking out her observatory.  It is a solidly built structure, 10x12 (I think), with a roll off roof.
She has her CG-11 mounted permanently on a pier along with her 4" Vixen Fluorite. The floor is carpeted and there  is ample room for various accessories.  It is a first rates job of design and building, and seems quite functional.

Now on to the astronomy part.  As I was driving through the central valley, the wind was whipping up quite a bit of  dust.  Sure enough when it got dark, the sky seemed quite hazy and murky.  Michelle commented that it was  unusually bright.  The sky did seem to get better as the night wore on but never seemed to be truly clear.  For the  next several days the sky was murky and a very light shade of blue, never the deep blue one often associates with out of town locations.  I would say that the limiting magnitude was slightly under 6.0 (using the Little Dipper as a guide).  Stars of magnitude 5.6 were easy, 5.8 would come and go (they became more certain later in the evening).  I suspect with fewer particles in the air the sky would have been significantly darker, probably slightly over 6.0, perhaps 6.2.  The sky was brighter to the west, due, no doubt, to Merced 30-35 miles away.  There was a slight glow extending perhaps 10 degrees to the south/southeast.  The east and north were quite dark. The only problem, and no fault of Michelle's were the mosquitoes.  They were large, hungry, and numerous.  Everyone present noted that they were pretty bad.  I had to apply repellent two times a night.  During the day it was in the lower to mid 80s and at night in the upper 40s to lower 50s.

Over the course of my visit I photographed M65-66, M95-96, M104, M61, M101, M99, NGC 4293, M98, M59, M97, M81-82, NGC 4631, and NGC 4244.  My results are fair, a few good, and a few, well lets say that they will not make it into the book.  It seemed that the sky conditions were not helpful for photography.  Many of my prints seemed slightly washed out and murky (I was shooting Royal Gold 1000).  My exposures ranged from 20 to 30 minutes.

Overall, I feel that this is a good location for astronomy.  The company was good (John Hales is a CHEESE),  the property is charming, Michelle (and her parents) were quite the nice hosts.  I thank her for sharing her sky with me.

Mike J. Shade