Turkey and Stars
Plettstone Observing Report 11/25/00
Paul and I arrived at Plettstone on Wednesday night about 11PM. The skies were overcast and we had just driven through holiday hell to get there. It seems that everyone wants to leave silicon paradise on a long weekend. Who can blame them?
It had been a long week. I knew that it would clear and I was right. Shortly after arriving, the skies cleared for a couple of hours. I didn't bother to crack the shell on the observatory and opted for binoculars instead. I just poked around at my big bright favorites. But the dew was obnoxious, so I turned in.
Thursday morning, we fired up the weber grill and threw a huge 20 pounder on. I normally don't get a bird that big but I couldn't find anything smaller when I went shopping the previous Tuesday evening. Paul figured that it was an 8 beer bird. That's how we time a Thanksgiving turkey at plettstone WILD LIFE and astronomy preserve. He was right. After he had downed 8 16 OZ beers later (about 8.5 hours), the bird was done. We keep things simple at the ranch. We had a fabulous feast without going to a lot of trouble fixing all kinds of extravagant dishes. Stuffing, potatoes, gravy, veggies, bird, pie... and Stoddard's finest (for Paul) made a great meal. Paul couldn't eat much... too much beer.
Overcast skies with heavy fog finished up the daylight activities. I knew that it would clear later. So I settled down with a good book. The skies cleared around 1 AM, but the book was pretty good, so I stayed in my warm cozy loft with my numerous pillows to continue the story. I figured I'd have a couple of nights left.
Friday, we had a couple of TACies show up to share the views. Paul and I had worked on the new wind tower during the day. I was pretty tired. Fog and clouds again threatened viewing, but the skies cleared up around 9. Viewing wasn't great, as the fog came and went. But there was enough clear sky during the evening to satisfy my thirst for celestial art. This weekend was an observing weekend. That's right, I felt blasphemous as I removed the CCD camera from the C14. The scope has never been looked through... hard to believe ain't it? I had a new binocular viewer that begged to see some aperature. So off came the ST7. It was a good decision.
The view of the planets throught the binoviewer was excellent. It's not the best that I have seen (through Rich's 7" AP), but the sight was BIG. The C14 can provide a great deal of detail for healthy magnification. I could see that my collimation was ever so slightly off, but I didn't care this night. I was NOT going to be fiddling with equipment on this weekend. I decided to try using the binoviewer on really faint galaxies and nebula. I was very suprised to find that for me, it worked very nicely. I have floaters in my right eye and to be able to use both eyes, significantly improved my ability to see faint fuzzies. I easily detected 14th and 15th magnitude smudges.
Andrew and I poked around till 2 AM. I worked on my Herschel list a lot more than normal. There are a lot of galaxies in Eridanus and Cancer that I've not seen before.
Saturday night, Ed and his wife invited us to dinner. We had yummy meatballs and lasagna. The food was good and so was the conversation. It was almost dark outside as we started to eat, but I knew that we would have some clouds and fog early on.
Dinner done... viewing time... clouds cleared.... absolutely righteous skies. My CCD camera extraction had been favored by the observing deities. We were granted a very dark night. Fog did roll in shortly after sunset, but cleared within an hour. Although we were hindered slightly by fog off and on, the skies were very steady and at times exceptionally clear.
The event of the evening was the Ganymede transit of Jupiter. The view was breathtaking throught the large aperature of the C14. I used twin 19mm Panoptics in the binoviewer which provided slightly more than 200 X magnification on the Jovian world and its satelites. First look showed a big dark spot on the limb and a clear shot of the GRS as it was just starting to recede from center stage. With just a bit more time at the dual eyepieces, Ganymede itself popped out clearly. It showed visual evidence of being a sphere... not just some splotch of light. And, it was easily seen that this orb was a good distance away from the planet. The shadow helped delineate this 3D impression. I extracted Paul from his comfy spot in front of the television (where he was soundly sleeping) for a look.
Paul does enjoy looking at things occasionally. He is a very strong supporter of my astronomical adventures but has a weak interest at best in observing. But this night was an exception. I thought that he would come down to the observatory, take a quick look or two and leave. I found myself kicking him off so I could see this transit unfold. He wouldn't leave... he in turn would kick me off.
As the GRS moved around to the limb to where it was very difficult to see, the moon also moved closer to the edge. There were moments that I thought the moon might pop the edge before it's shadow but that was not to be. As Ganymede finished its transit, I decided to work more on my Herschel list.
I went back to Eridanus and Cancer. I won't bother with the details of my galaxy hunt. But it was a fabulous experience. I recorded many new ones in my log book. And on the way, I visited Thor's helmut and the Rosette nebula. For these, I installed an H alpha filter on the binoviewer. I have never seen these objects with such detail and clarity.
The night was very wet and the water collected on my observatories roof. Around midnight or so, enough had collected to start dripping off the edge... onto my head. It didn't stop my enthusiasim for the hunt however and I continued looking for those dim fuzzies.
Shortly after 2 AM, we were again threatened by fog and clouds. I was tired after 6 or so hours of really good observing and decided to call it a night.
I tried to wipe down my equipment which was thoroughly soaked. It was hopeless.... so I put everything inside and buttoned up the observatory.
An hour later, I peeked out the window for a last look at the sky before going to sleep... it was crystal clear.