X-treme Astronomy or a weekend of foul weather


Foul weather kept most of us indoors this weekend. But I maintain that the only way to get more observing in is to go and see what happens. This certainly paid off this weekend.

Friday evening looked terrible. Heavy rain clouds hung over my home as I packed my gear to go to Hogue park. I could see a few blue patches to the west. I headed out and a half a mile away, I remembered that I forgot to pack my eyepieces and tripod. So I turned back to get them. When I arrived home, I secured my eyepieces and threw them in the car. Then I remembered that I had promised Steve he could borrow my Losmandy plate and rings, so I went in the house and removed them from the attatched scope and left.... completely forgetting the tripod.

I arrived at Hogue and conditions seemed marginally better. There were 3 or 4 folks getting ready to set up. And then all of a sudden, the skies cleared. After cursing myself for forgetting the tripod, I set up my binocular mount with my 16X70. As it got dark, I started looking at the bright stuff in Sagitarius. These objects will soon be gone for the season and most of them show well in large binoculars.

When I started observing, globular clusters were of little interest to me. I wasn't interested in seeing stars in our OWN galaxy. I wanted to see galaxies. But know that I know something about the globs, they are absolutely fascinating. And I enjoy looking at them very much with both eyes. So, I tracked down all of them in Sagitarius that I could find. The large nebuala also looked very nice. The Fujinons provied beautiful pinpoint star images to the edge of the field and these views were quite special. I'm typically bound to my telescope... so when forced to use the binos, I find new magic.

Shortly, Jim Turley showed up and he generously lent me his GP DX tripod forgoing the opportunity to set up his own scope. What a nice guy! For the rest of the evening we shared views through the "new" Televue SDF. It was a delightful evening of looking at bright stuff with a new perspective. The SDF has a very wide field of view. I'm used to looking at stuff with a very long focal length. Compared to the Obsession which I mainly use for observing, the views were delightful with crisp star fields and knock out contrast. We looked at double stars, nebulae, and a very few galaxies.

A wag of cub scouts came to see the sights and we had a delightful time showing them snippets of our galaxy and our solar system. Saturn was a big hit as always. Several parents were very interested in information on getting scopes for their kids. Later on in the evening, a teenager dropped in on us after getting out of a dance and asked what we were all up to. We showed him Saturn. He was awestruck and said "I want to thank you for showing me something that I have never seen before. We asked him to invite the rest of his friends (waiting in the car) over for a look. He went to ask them. They said no... that the party they were going to was waiting. But, he came back to tell us. I think something special happened there.

Saturday, probably the most windy day of the year, I headed up to Coe. I was frankly suprised to see as many folks there as there were. Some scopes were set up as the gust swept over us back and forth with strength. Dust and sand were in the air and it was hard not to get a mouth full. I decided to set up my tripod and mount and wait for calmer weather.

The night wore on and the wind seemed to pick up. We huddled near the back of Wagner's Burb in chairs trying to get some protection from the wind. I got out my binos and started looking easterly. It wasn't long before everyone had thier binos out and we were doing the most basic observing. I spent time in Casseopeia and Perseus. These have lovely star fields and open clusters that are quite beautiful. I was using my Celestron 9x63's. These binos are very comfortable to hold and lightweight considering their aperature. We were soon comparing views in various binos.

Around 10PM or sometime soon after, the winds subsided substantially and we all broke out our equipment. I moved my mount and tripod between my car and the next to reduce exposure from the potential wind and set up the Televue SDF. I was soon looking at various Messier objects. I could see half of the veil (one side and then the other) with a 15 Panoptec and OII filter. The view provided little detail in this object which spoke of the fairly louse seeing conditions. So, I focused on globulars and bright galaxies.

Steve Caron was set up next to me with his new Losmandy GM100 mount and the infamous Celestron HD150 refractor. Say what you will about achromats, but this behemouth really pulls in great images. He was focusing on all the big nebula and managed to pinpoint them all with great speed. I tell you, that young man has some real talent.

The wind picked back up and we heard this or that fall over from time to time. Although my scope was fairly well protected, it took time to observe objects, since I had to wait for the wind gusts to cease before I could get a solid image. I spent most of my night viewing at very low power. Towards midnight, I started looking at Saturn and Jupiter. With the galing wind, the views of the planets were really quite nice... I just had to be patient to wait for the scope to settle between gusts. The bands of Jupiter showed distinct detail.

It wasn't long before the wind really started to get the best of me. I looked around and most everyone had taken down. Even Die Hard Jay Freeman, had started to take down his equipment. I took a few more looks at the planets and then swept M42. It was beautiful in the wide field but the trapezium seemed dimmer than it should. I could not pick up the 5th and 6th members at all. For kicks I tried to split Rigel. I could not split it. However, at high power and with the wind, the display was quite interesting. It reminded me of a lazer light show. It did figure eights and spirals.

Finally, the wind took my cap, and my long hair flailed in the wind. I decided to call it quits. When I finally found my cap and tucked my hair back in, I noticed that the parking lot was close to empty. Steve and I appeared to be the only two still set up. I called it a night, packed up and left.

It was a fun night despite the less than acceptable conditions.

The forecast for this weekend was rain on friday and strong winds on Saturday. I went both nights and observed both nights. I'm glad that I did!