Observing Session #1: Mount Baldy

Me and my Dad got to go up to Mount Baldy (elevation 4000 feet) for an exciting evening of dark sky telescoping.  We knew it was going to be cold, considering it was already down to 48 degrees before we even started ascending the mountain.  We had along my 70mm f/10, and my Dad’s Orion  XX14 Go To dob.

We also had brought along an armada of eyepieces and accessories  as well as a LOT of jackets and coats.  I think by the end of the night, the temp got down to somewhere in the 30s.  Up until about 3 or 4 weeks or so, the average temperature in southern California for the past 3 months was somewhere around 100 degrees.  I’m sure that if we were “seasoned” with cold weather previous to this trip, we probably wouldn’t have been as cold.

Since the recent time change, this is a great time to make a trip up to acceptably good dark skies, just for a couple hours of observing.  This time, we came prepared, with a list of objects to observe, and we had almost everything we needed, short of a few batteries.

We were set up in a lot off of Glendora Ridge Road.  I’m not sure if there any more decent places to put up a scope farther up the mountain.  Itchy for dusk to settle below the horizon, I went over my list of 23 objects.  They were mostly Messier objects, with a couple of NGC’s.  It seems like most of the objects we observed were star clusters, but hey, they’re pretty, and respond well to dark skies.

Some of the highlights of the night included:

– The “Propeller feature across M13.  There are 3 thin dark lanes that cut into the globular and form an airplane propeller.

–  NGC 7000, North American Nebula.  A very large nebula by Deneb in Cygnus.  It was seen naked naked eye.

– NGC 7009, Saturn Nebula. A very cool Planetary Nebula that looks like the planet Saturn.

– Individual Stars in M31.  I could resolve some stars in a cluster within M31- NGC 206

– M31, M32 and M110 in the same FOV.  Was done in 70mm f/10 at 28x.

– M33- Triangulum Galaxy.  Seen for the first time in 10×50 binocs, 70mm f/10, and XX14.  Best view was in 70mm.

– M76- Little Dumbbell.  Allegedly the hardest Messier to find.  Not true.  looks like a smaller, flatter M27 (Dumbell Nebula)

– Dark Nebula in front of M45.  Seen in 10×50 binocs when leaning on the car

– Just seeing the Milky again was a real treat.

In the end, we observed 19 out of the 23 objects on our list.  I definitly don’t regret making that list.  One of the best feeling you can have is having so many stars in the field, you’re overwhelmed.  This happened when I had gazed upon the Double Cluster (NGC 869) with the 70mm f/10 at 28x.  It framed the 2 groupings perfectly; this sight brought a tear to my eye.  This is what a serious astronomy buff does .

Photo: GSMimaging.com

This was the closest picture I could find to what I saw in the eyepiece.  Truly overwhelming amount of stars visisble.  There had to be hundreds, quite possibly thousands of stars visible.  I’m glad the scope is a refractor, because had it been a reflector, the stars would no have been quite so sharp.  I failed to understand this  until I owned this scope.

As far as the seeing, it was great, and dark as it can get for that location.  The location has dark skies, but they’re not the darkest I’ve been under.  For example, Lake Arrowhead.  My family went there on vacation years ago.  My Dad had brought along his 6 inch reflector, and he said that the view of M31 was compared to the view of it through the 14 inch, the 14 was slightly better.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a say in this.  I was very young and my primary interest was in my Game Boy.  Oh well, all of this observing makes up for that, so my conscience is clear!

Ascending into the skylight

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Amazing resolution with 6 inches

The 6 inch reflector, possibly the most common mirror size manufactured and used in telescopes.  I has been considered the “serious” aperture for many years.  At least that’s what it was like back in the day, meaning the 1950s and 60s.  That has certainly changed in today’s light pollution and advancements in telescopes, including Go-To telescopes

I can remember my grandpa telling me that he used to sketched moon craters and similar objects with his homemade 4.25 inch reflector.  He tried to have some of his sketches put into Sky and Telescope>, and unfortunately, they were never put in. I just got Sky and Telescope, and I don’t see any sketches in it.  Perhaps I’m wrong though.

I recently made an excelent detailed sketch of M42, on of the best nebulae you can view.  M42 is good in most any telescope, but it was great the other day.  Why? Because staying up late was worth it.  Even with a Waning Moon some 40 to 50 degrees away, it was still really good.  One of the only other times I’ve seen Orion- the constellation in general was at a PVAA star party at Mount Baldy.  I mean, this was really good seeing.

On a recent sketch from Astronomy Sketch of the Day, there is a nice sketch of M42-43, with a telescope with aperture of somewhere around 10 inches.  The sketch is great, I tip my hat to them, but notice that the seeing when it was sketched was 3 out of 5.  Most or all deep sky objects generally react well to darker/more transparent skies, so if you see my sketch below, notice that there is more structure and also notice more stars in the “Trapezium”.

Observed with a Star HOC 6-5 EQ; Orion Sirius Plossl 7.5mm eyepiece

Notice that I can pick out the “E” and “F” stars in the Trapezium cluster; this was previously only attainable by the using the Orion XX14, or a 12″ Meade Lightbridge at Mount Baldy.  I could not believe this much structure and defined detail in such a small telescope.  There is an interesting article on Belt of Venus regarding sketching and how much can be seen in a small telescope.  This article included seeing very detailed view of M101 with only a 50mm refractor.  Read this really cool article.

So the moral of the story is that even 6 inches can take you very deep in the sky, giving there’s decent viewing.  One thing to remember is that the light pollution usually is less so after midnight as lights turn off and freeways and highways become vacant.  I believe that most of the light pollution in La Verne is due to the 210 freeway that runs right through town.

When it comes to observing the deep sky, the more you look the more you’ll see; an experienced observer with a 4 inch telescope will see much more detail/structure in all objects than an inexperienced observer with a bigger telescope.

Keep looking up!

All Night Observing 9/15/12

Me and my dad had been thinking about doing a run up to Mount Baldy and we finally got everything ready to go.  The 14 inch and 70mm refractor easily fit into the car, as well as all of our accesory cases and star charts.  Just before we left, my Dad showed me his new 5x 2 inch barlow.  We had seen this on ebay and I did know of such a lens.

Anyway, we were all excited to go up there to get away from all the lights.  You know it’ll be good seeing when your going up the mountain and seeing the smog and lights from the city below.  It is an awesome view, and I was going  to take a picture of it, but I forgot the camera.   We made it all of the way up there, and we were just about to turn onto Glendora Ridge Road and it was blocked off.  It was probably because of the extreme heat lately and they didn’t want to risk a fire of some sort.

We came down the mountain looking for an alternate spot.  When were pretty much all the way down, we found a nice parking lot to view in. There were cars going by every once in a while, but no site is perfect.  We got everything all set up and we were observing for not more than 45 minutes when were told to leave.  I guess the police don’t want people around there after dark.

So we had to pack everything up and go home.  Once we got back, we could either take out the scope in the backyard or put it away.  We took it out.  I will try to list all of the objects I saw, but I might forget some.  I saw so many, if you can think of any decent object, I probably saw it.

I saw:

M13 globular

M57 planetary (as well as the central star)

M56 globular

M11 open

M27 planetary

Cat’s eye nebula (NGC 6543)

Blinking planetary (NGC 6826)

Stephan’s Quintet

M2 globular

M15 globular

M22 globular

M8 lagoon nebula

M20 Trifid nebula

M31 Andromeda galaxy

M42 Orion nebula

 

I stayed up pretty much all night.  I got to be the first one to see the Orion nebula in the 14 inch.  When you view it with that much aperture, you can see structures of clouds and dust going in multiple directions and the nebula extends out very far.  In the 10×50 binoculars the whole region is nebulous.  I also saw M31 which came out really awesome in a sketch I made.

Shortly after viewing it, I found out there was an area on the edges of the galaxy called NGC 206.  I would definitly seen it had I known it was there.  One of the other highlights of the night was Jupiter.  It was absolutely amazing in the 14 inch, and this is where I got the most use out of the Rini 5x.  I was getting clear focus, even when it filled nearly the entire field.  I must have spent about 45 minutes on it, and returned to it several times.

I also managed to sketch the Blinking planetary.  Also, I was able to pick out several very dim objects with the 70mm, such as the blinking planetary, the Cat’s Eye Nebula and the Saturn Nebula (NGC 7009).  I came in around 4:30, and it was still dark.  I guess it technically wasn’t all night, but it’s the longest observing run I’ve ever made.  I also tried imaging M45 with the digital and they came out OK, you can see the blue stars but not much more.

 

All in all, one of the best nights I’ve ever had out with the telescope,  I need to find a way to stay awake longer though.

Less than Transparent Skies

The growing dilema in amateur astronomy is light pollution and other related sources.  In the mid city, forget about all of the NGC’s or IC’s you’ll be lucky to see all of the Messiers.  I have faced this problem everytime I go out with my telescope.  The LA county fair is in full swing right now, and that pretty much rules out the entire southern sky.

I don’t have any problem with the fair, it’s just that it turns an already not transparent sky into something that can’t be described without seeing it firsthand.  If you live far away in the country, you don’t have much problem with this.

Anyway, I am finishing up the Mesier project, 70 objects are very close now! I need only about 15 more Messiers, but this is hardly any compared to how many I have observed.  Pretty much all of these were observed in town, in badly polluted skies.  Before going out with the telescope, I look at the color of the daytime sky.  If it is a deep blue, it will be a decent night.  However, if it is pale blue and the area above the horizon is a dirty smog color, it will not be worth going out for deep sky.  I have been limited to planets and the moon on nights like that.

I can’t wait to see dark skies, even acceptably dark sites like Mount Baldy are well worth the trip.  By the way, the blog appearence and theme has been changing a lot lately and I have finally found a look that I am satisfied with.  I haven’t observed too much as school is really in full swing now.  I have also been blogging less, like one to two posts a week.

If you ever get the chance to pull the trigger on one of Astro league, programs, it is HIGHLY reccomended you start one.  Mesier one is awesome for learning and taking notes on these bright and detailed astronomical objects.

Clear Skies