Firworks and Deep Space Objects
July 4, 1999
By: Michelle Stone
July 4. It was party time. Time to go out in the street and join the rest of the neighborhood to watch the nearby fireworks at Great America.
But the thought of wasting a good observing night was nagging at me. I had been out the night before however and my GEM mount had been acting up so I was thinking that I would just stay home.
But that photon itch just wouldn't go away. So, in the heat of the summer afternoon, I set up the tripod on the front sidewalk to see if I couldn't find out what the problem was with the mount. After fully dissasembling it and checking to make sure that my recent grease job hadn't mungled anything, I was satisfied that it all looked just fine. I put it back together and I still had the same dragging on the right ascention motor. After tweaking with it for a half hour or so, I discovered that if I didn't tighten one of the mounting screws for the worm, the motor worked fine. So much for that problem. 4PM and the car isn't loaded.
Maybe I should stay home... and... ehhhhh... Within 15 minutes I had my lunch packed and the massive amounts of equipment were thrown somewhat haphazardly in the van. I was on my way.
The traffic was a breeze leaving the metroplex. It seemed that everyone was inbound, stuck on an endless ribbon of parking lot. Yes, they were going to see the fireworks. I arrived at Fremont peak around 6:45 or so. I wandered up to the southwest lot where the "gang" usually hangs out. No one there except for some teenagers and loud music. I figured that if I were to be the only one there, I would rather set up behind the observatory. You see the road up there is gated and locked. So, scary sorts would have to at least walk up to kill me instead of driving up.
I was delighted to find Jay already setting up just south of the observatory. I parked the van and started my set up. I had most everything together when I discovered that my refractor wouldn't slide on to the mount in its dovetail. Something was messed up somehow. Jay came to the rescue with a screw driver. I started wacking the locked part and Jay recommended that I remove my optics before wacking any more. I thought this to be very good advice. He soon broke out a file and various lubricants and I went to work on the assembly. It didn't take much to get it working properly and I was back in business.
Just before sunset, Mojo, Jane, and Robin arrived. Jane brought her 17.5" Litebox and began to set up while Mojo opened up the 30" Challenger. Jay and I were just finishing up our polar alignments when Robin yelled out "look at the fireworks!". From the mountain peak, we watched firework displays from several of the smaller cities surrounding the park. It was strange to actually be looking down at these fireballs as they exploded. It was also very pretty to see them going off in different places.
I lined up my optic array on Venus. It was a nice bright object and easy to find for the task of centering my finders and my two scopes. The crescent shape of the planet was exquisit. Since I'm still relatively new to the hobby, I have never seen Venus with such a thin crescent shape. Jay soon had his scope on Mercury and we shared his views.
The seeing turned out to be excellent. And although it wasn't as dark as the darkest nights at the Peak, I was astonded at the detail I was able to see in favorite objects.
Jay was chasing down Hicksen groupings of interacting galaxies. I decided to zoom in on the NGC pair 4485 and 4490 in Canes Venatici. This is a favorite interacting pair of mine. The view was very good and comparatively bright in the early evening.
I showed Robin M27 and as she peeked through the eyepiece of my C11, she proclaimed that she could see the central star of the gigantic planetary. I don't know that I have ever looked for it so I tore her away from the scope so I could see. Sure enough a brilliant pin prick of light was flashing in and out from the central core of the apple core.
Jay announced that he had Terzan 3 in his scope. This is a globular cluster originally discovered in the infared and he said that someone, somewhere declared it not visible. But they don't know Jay. Yes it was there in his eyepiece. Maybe its his scope..... No, it's Jay.
Mojo had centered the 30" on Pluto and we all had to go take a look. He and Jane had been there the previous night and been able to detect movement in the 24 hour period. I had to settle for a chart to deterimine which of the dimly sparkling dots was the far flung planet. The scope was performing quite nicely.. another testament to good seeing. He later centered the scope on one of the Messier globulars (I think it was M12). It was a grand site to behold in the giant scope. The stars sparkeled like a giant mound of diamonds. Had I not been perched on a ladder with my head crooked backwards to observe this sight, I probably would have been glued to the eyepiece for several minutes.
Since planets seemed to be of such interest, Salt and Pepper (the C11 and Vixen 4") wandered over to Uranus. It was easy to find in Capricornus and the color was pretty decent for being fairly low on the horizon. After showing those that were interested, I chased down Neptune. I've never really been able to seek out and identify this planet before on my own. This was a first. Although I have seen it in other scopes, I wasn't really sure about what I would need in terms of magnification to observe the disc (required to separate it from the background stars).
I spent some time on favorite summer objects, chasing the wisps and swirls in the Swan, Lagoon, and Trifid, and trying to detect the pillars of creation in the Eagle Nebula. At about 11 PM or so, I opened up my life list and started chasing DSO's I have never seen before. I started out in Aquila and logged a couple. But realizing that I would have a wonderful opportunity for these within the next couple of weeks, I swung the scope around and spent the rest of the night in Ursa Major. Not any of the objects I found were really impressive, but every time I saw "another dim fuzzy", I was awestruck at the size and wonders of our universe.
I must have dived deep in the observing program because an hour and a half passed quickly. At 12:45 the cruel hearted orb poked its bright shiney disk into the darkness of the night. Spoiling deep space hunting must be the Moon's mission in life and it certainly has a propensity to remind observers that a night of viewing has come to an end.
So we packed up. On the way home, I spotted Jupiter in the sky and later on after I arrived home, I was able to pick out Saturn. So this night, aside from the good friends, great fireworks, astounding views, wonderful strange deep space objects, and Jay's chocolate chip cookies, I got to see all nine planets in a single night. It's not the first, nor will it be the last time, I hope. But it was fun and very memorable.
Copyright by Michelle Stone 1999 All rights preserved. Please ask permission before reprinting this article or any part thereof