Fremont Peak

1997 Dec 21

On 21 December, 1997, I took my Meade 5-inch f/9 ED achromatic refractor to Fremont Peak, near Salinas, California, to take observing advantage of a break in wintry weather. It was cold, and I had to get up for work the next day, so I could not stay late, but sunset was early. I arrived at about 6:30 PM, and was soon set up.

Weather was brisk -- temperatures were in the 30s, with too much wind for high magnification -- I use the 5-inch on a Great Polaris mount, which is at its limits. Yet I was out for deep-sky work, and though there was no fog below, transparency was good, and I noticed no dew. I was the only person in the parking lot, so I could run my car to warm up, without bothering anyone. I dressed warmly -- down-filled booties instead of shoes, and street clothes plus powder pants, sweat shirt, down vest, windbreaker, knit wool hat, and mittens.

I do Messier surveys regularly. I added nine to the tally for the five-inch: At 36x, open clusters M35, M41, M46, M47, M48, M50, and M93 were unremarkably resolved, and galaxies M81 and M82 were easy, even down in the light dome of the Santa Clara Valley. M82 showed mottling. Then I moved to central Orion. I saw much nebulosity at 42 Orionis, including the local knots cataloged as NGC 1973, 1975, and 1977. I tried twice for the Horsehead Nebula. At first I could not see it, but later, with Orion higher, it was barely detectable without any filter at 36x, but only because I knew exactly where to look.

I have also been checking off the "big" Herschel list -- all 2500-odd deep-sky objects found by William Herschel. I mostly use my 6-inch f/10 Maksutov, but I decided to try the five-inch. I logged five faint open clusters in Canis Major and Puppis. namely NGC 2367, 2414, 2425, 2401, and 2396. The middle three are within a stone's throw of M46 and M47. I looked at NGC 2327, a bright patch in a larger IC nebula, and at the location given for NGC 2459 (epoch 2000: 7:52.0 +09:33) I saw a few faint stars near a brighter one.

As my evening closed, I switched to 74x to chase galaxy NGC 2481, in Gemini. It was easy, and to my surprise, with averted vision, I spotted its faint companion, NGC 2480, slightly north-preceding. This observation surprised me, so I pulled a Palomar Optical Sky Survey image off the web next morning, and verified what I had seen. I doubt I would have noticed the second object without its bright companion as a guide. _NGC_2000_ gives magnitudes for these two as 13 and 15, and I add the usual caveat about ratty visual magnitudes for galaxies. Still, 2480 is not bad for a 5-inch -- folks with medium-sized refractors can stop complaining about not being able to do deep-sky work. :-)

I struck camp at 10 PM and went home to bed, hoping that the good weather would hold through the holiday.

Jay Reynolds Freeman; 1997 Dec 29