An Optimist is Rewarded

Observing at Fremont Peak, 1997 Jan 3

Friday, 3 January, 1997, provided the central coast of California with the first clear evening in several weeks. Another storm system lurking offshore, plus leftover moisture from wet weather, gave prospects that viewing would be limited by fog or curtailed by more clouds, but I decided to go to Fremont Peak anyway. I hoped for good transparency in the rain-washed sky, and I was certain that the seeing would be too poor to do double-star work if I stayed in town.

On arrival, I had the state park to myself, though another optimist showed up a few minutes later. And sure enough, light wind was bringing moist air upslope from the south; a thick blanket of fog was forming atop the peak itself, but disspating as the air began to descend again, so that the area where I was parked, only a few hundred meters away, remained clear. Notwithstanding, I did not set up right away -- such a situation can go from bad to worse in short order, and make a real wet mess. But luck prevailed -- the wind died, the fog settled and dissipated, and I got in an hour and a half of observing before the onrush of high cirrus ruined the sky for faint fuzzies.

It did indeed look pretty dark up there. My first target was Sh 2-155, the so-called "Cave Nebula". It has been called "unobservable", but not so -- at 27x, I could glimpse an amorphous blob in my Intes 6-inch Maksutov. Adding an Orion Ultrablock made the blob more visible but showed no detail. With the filter still in place, I swung the telescope to the belt and sword region of Orion, and was rewarded with a nice view of all the usual stuff: NGC 2024, 2023, and IC 435 were easy, and even the Horsehead was not really difficult. The part of Sh 2-155 that I was looking at was of lower surface brightness than the part of IC 434 against which the Horsehead is in silhouette, but Sh 2-155 is much larger and thus perhaps a little easier.

I could see color in M42 -- the area south of theta Orionis was pinkish. I tried 150x for detail, but found mostly that the seeing was lousy. Switching to 47x with no filter, I proceeded rather haphazardly: M82 showed structure, M81 hinted of spiral arms, and the nebulosity in the Rosette was visible.

I had noted some nebulosity charted around lambda Orionis; this is Sh 2-264. At 47x, I saw some of it, most notably a patch elongated east/west that was centered on a 6th magnitude star about a third of a degree north of lambda Orionis.

Clouds were coming in, so I put the Intes to bed and took out an Orion 10x50 Ultraview binocular. I could see NGC 2024 with it, as well as the southern end of Sh 2-276, Barnard's Loop.

Before I left, I wandered up the hill to where the other denizen of the Peak was using the 30-inch telescope in the observatory. We looked at M42 at 160x -- the broad patch of nebula south of theta Orionis was radiantly pink, and the Trapezium showed six stars, notwithstanding the lousy seeing. We also looked at NGC 2022 with 160x -- this little planetary appeared to me as an elongate oval, slightly brighter at the edges. I had looked at it once before, with my Celestron 14, which at 315x showed a featureless disc with a star suspected at the south end.

Jay Reynolds Freeman; last updated: 1997 Jan 4