1997 Aug 24 & 25

I went to Fremont Peak Sunday night, the 24th. The fog stayed low, but was not very thick, so I had clear sky but not awfully dark conditions. Seeing was so-so -- I mostly looked at galaxies and other Herschel objects with the Intes 6-inch, so that didn't matter.

It was most interesting watching the fog's position and extent change during twilight. The afternoon had evidently seen a modest marine layer over the coastal plain and offshore, perhaps with the tops at a thousand feet or so. When I arrived, shortly before sunset, a sea breeze was blowing, though not as strong as on Saturday night, and from a slightly different direction. The marine layer was being lifted over the lower flanks of the peak, to the southwest of the southwest parking lot, and as it flowed up over the mountain side, cloud condensed, but as it flowed down the far side, much of the moisture evaporated again. The sea breeze was fast enough that one could easily watch the phenomenon, it looked like white water forming on a standing wave in rapids.

Had the breeze been a little stronger, or headed in a little different direction, the Peak would have been swamped, as on Saturday. But over the course of an hour or two, the breeze slowly dropped, the rate of motion and fog volume in the "rapids" declined to match, and the SW lot remained clear and dry. By the time I left, at 0030 PDT, the wind was nearly calm, and subsidence had warmed and dissipated nearly all of the fog on the coastal plain. On the drive back up 101, I encountered no low fog and scud till San Jose.

I looked at Jupiter and Saturn in the Intes, but the seeing was such that 214x was too much magnification except for occasional brief flashes of more detail. A Galilean satellite transit was in progress at about midnight -- Io, I think. I could easily see the shadow of the moon on Jupiter, but could not pick out the satellite itself, against the bright equatorial zone. Perhaps better seeing would have made it possible to do so.

The Herschel list is quite neat to go through -- there is a lot of quite interesting stuff out there that nobody bothers to look at, that is fairly easy in amateur-sized telescopes. Anybody ever see the emission nebulosity between the Lagoon and the Trifid?

One of the nice things about being at the peak on off nights is the wildlife. Late Saturday, after everybody but me had left from the southwest lot, a gray fox wandered across the asphalt, sniffing curiously at places where we had been. The animal knew I was there, but couldn't have cared less -- the fox was quite content only 15 meters from a human being. On the way down the hill I saw a raccoon family, two striped skunks, and two house cats. Coming down the road this morning yielded sightings of two skunks -- probably the same two, based on position on the road -- an opossum, the disappearing tail of what was probably another gray fox, a large owl, and a juvenile bobcat. The latter was very perplexed, frightened and confused by the lights of my car. I stopped on the road and waited till the little creature had gotten off to the side and well into the brush. I wonder if its mom was around. And the volunteer caretaker stated that within the past week, there had been wild pigs and deer in the southwest parking lot.

I was at Fremont Peak again on Monday 25 August, 1997. The marine layer over the coastal plain and off shore appeared thicker than it had been on either of the two preceding nights, but the wind stayed fairly calm, so the fog and cloud showed no tendency to move upslope and engulf the park. It was warm enough for much of the evening that I did not need either hat or jacket, though it got a little cooler and breezier near midnight.

I had my Intes six-inch, and chased down another bunch of objects on my "Herschel 2514" list. Most were galaxies, but not all -- NGC 7076 is a small, faint nebulous patch in Cepheus, and NGC 7067 is a tiny open cluster only a few degrees from M39. Some of the open clusters that Herschel found are listed non-existent in recent versions of the NGC, but there is an "object" of some sort at the position, perhaps a real cluster lost against background stars on deep plates, or a chance association of a few stars.

I looked at Jupiter and Saturn at about midnight; I just missed the double transit that several others reported, but saw the two moons nearly merged, off to the side of the planet. Seeing was pretty good.

I was not alone in the southwest parking lot: Two TAC newcomers showed up with a new 10-inch Meade equatorially-mounted Newtonian. They were having trouble polar-aligning, the mount being a little wobbly. I only looked through their telescope briefly -- it gave a nice view of the Dumbbell Nebula, M27.

On the way back down the road, I saw a gray fox, an opossum, and -- on the flats nearly all the way to the outskirts of San Juan Bautista -- two deer, trotting across the road and leaping the agricultural fencing with grace and ease.

Jay Reynolds Freeman 1997 Aug 30