Here's a quick report of my night last Friday (1997 Jan 10) at Fremont Peak. Others present included Akkana Peck, Mark Wagner, Mark Taylor, Jay Freeman, John Hales, Michelle Stone, John Gleason and Jack Zeiders.
The day started out on the wrong foot when I had to wait 10 minutes behind a CalTrans flagman on the road up to Fremont Peak. They were putting sand on the road. This is presumably to make those of us that enjoy driving spin off a corner to our doom. Sometimes I think CalTrans's only purpose in life is to try to make everyone drive as slowly as possible. (Mark W thought the sand might have something to do with ice, but I'm sure that's a cover story :-)
Nevertheless, I made it to the top uneventfully if a bit more slowly than usual. It seemed like I couldn't remember how to set up my scope, it had been so long since the last time. I had to attach, detach and reattach my scope to its tripod three times before I got it right. Mark W was having similar brain-fade with his 14" Dobsonian. Good thing we were there with plenty of time before dark :-)
Just after sunset, I convinced Mark T to walk over to Coulter to observe the new Moon. We took our binocs but, of course, it was trivially easy naked eye. When we got back to Ranger Rick's it was also visible from there. At least the hike warmed us up a bit :-)
As darkness fell, I had a nice view of Saturn. It was much more steady than the last few times I had observed it so my hopes were set for a good night. It was steady enough that I could use my 9mm Nagler just fine (341x). (I saw 4 moons easily; didn't try for any more.)
Next up was M42. I just can resist looking at it whenever I get a chance. (And why should I? ;-) Six Trapezium stars were easy. I looked for the 7th, "G",unsuccessfully. I should have read Burnham's first: "G" is mag 16, hopeless in a 12" with all that nebulosity around. With my new Orion Ultrablock (thanks Santa!) I was able to see more detail than before in the southern portion of the nebula. The Ultrablock (similar to Lumicon's UHC) is a nice complement to an O-III filter. I'm looking forward to further comparisons.
My main planned activity for the evening was a list of all the NGC objects in Orion that I prepared with the neat little engine at http://www.ngcic.com. One that I had not seen before, NGC 2174, was very pretty with the Ultrablock. All together, I was able to see 27 of the 63 objects in about an hour. I wonder how many I could see if I really studied the charts and POSS images.
At one point, Jay Freeman came down from the area by the observatory all excited about seeing Alpha Carinae (Canopus). He encouraged us all to hike up to see it, too. I found it odd for a guy who has seen so much to make such a big deal out of a simple star. OK, its the 2nd brightest star in the sky and only rarely visible from these latitudes. But really, its just a star. (I must confess I had seen it just a few weeks ago from San Diego and had seen it many times on my trip to Australia in '95. I guess I though it was cool the first time, many years ago in San Diego, but it's still just a star :-)
Just before dawn while looking for Hale-Bopp, several of us saw Omega Centauri (NGC 5139) from up by the observatory with our binoculars (and naked eye!). Now that's a deep southern object worth getting excited about! Again, I've seen it from San Diego and Australia but I'll never tire of seeing it again. I found it amusing to compare its binocular appearance to that of M13: Omega Cen is MUCH larger and brighter even though its right on the horizon. Too bad we can't ever see 47 Tucanae, though. Its not quite as big and bright (though still more so than M13) but it's much prettier being more centrally condensed.
Jay also had me find an obscure NGC down near the horizon with my Meade LX200's computer. At first he wouldn't explain why he wanted to see it. But I'll let him tell the rest of the tale...
John Gleason was kind enough to allow me to try his Zeiss binoviewer on my 12" LX200. I was observing M3 in OK but not great seeing. With my normal diagonal and a Nagler 20 it looked nice and with a Nagler 12 it was fabulous. I'm not sure what eyepieces John had but the end result was magnification roughly equivalent to the Nagler 20 (150x).
In the past, my experience with binoviewers has been pretty bad. I have a great deal of difficulty making the images fuse. I was unable to do so earlier with this same binoviewer on John's scope on M42. But this time I was able to sit down and adjust it until it worked. Binoviewers seem to be finicky and require patience. Or better eyes :-)
Nevertheless, though I was able to get it to work properly, I was pretty disappointed with the view. My immediate first impression was that it was MUCH dimmer. I perceived no 3D effect. About all I could say is that it was easier not having to close one eye. (One can achieve that benefit with a $2 eye patch, a highly recommended accessory, BTW, even for non-pirates.) Maybe it would have been better with higher magnification, but I doubt it.
This is a good thing, actually. I had seriously considered buying one of these puppies. Now I can save the $1000.
Mars is getting bigger. Several of us were able to discern a polar cap and a slightly gibbous phase. I though I saw a dark region which might have been Syrtis Major, but I wasn't sure. My computer indicates that it was more likely Acidalia Planitia. I forget to look for Phobos and Deimos.
The night ended with an easy naked eye view of Comet Hale-Bopp. About 5:15am Michelle Stone and I hiked up past the observatory to get a clear view to the east and waited for it to rise. We were confused for a while by spotting directions one of us had heard indicating that it should be near Altair. Well, it is near Altair but its west of it so we saw the comet long before Altair rose. Better to say that its near Theta Serpentis. I estimated its brightness at about 3.0. It seems appropriate, considering the brain-faded way the night began, that when we got back from our little hike, Mark T had H-B in his scope. It had risen exactly between two trees. Well, it was a nice hike, anyway :-)