At Pacheco State Park

1998 Apr 21

The weather appeared to be very nice with clear skies last night, so I loaded up SJAA Loaner #27 (a Coulter 13.1" Dob) and headed down to Pacheco State Park for a night of "solo" observing.

I nearly missed the turnoff to Dinosaur Point Road. Then I nearly missed the entrance to the park. I've never been to Pacheco Park before (in daylight or night), so finding my way around in the darkness was a bit of challenge. Nonetheless, I managed to find the de facto observing area, and deposited the $5 fee in the iron ranger. The park was empty, though the gate was open when I arrived.

The first order of business was to track down a decent radio station as it was eerily quiet except for the passing ships of the night on nearby highway 152. An acceptable Fresno station was found, though I hope thier advertising wasnt directed at me specifically: Every commercial break included a company selling "Bail Bonds"... "When you find yourself in jail, be sure to call Lucky Bail Bonds for bail!" Oh well. They played o.k. music.

Next order of business was to get the scope set up, check the collimation (which seems to hold very well on the Coulter), pop in an eyepiece, and start observing. For most of the evening I used a 15mm Vixen LV eyepiece, which yields 100x on the 1500mm focal length Coulter 13.1" scope. I also used a 26mm plossl for wider field viewing, and an 11mm plossl when I wanted a bit more magnification. For the first time, I decided to actually write down all the objects I observed. I guess this helped me keep track of what I was doing.

I started on M51, The Whirlpool, one of my favorite objects. It looked great, and I could just barely make out the "bridge" between the two spirals. I then checked out M81/82, another nice pair. Also easily visible was the nearby galaxy ngc2985 (I think).

I then went over to Leo and observed all of the "bright" objects: M65, M66, ngc3907, the faint ngc3593, M105, M95, M96, ngc3190 (in the lion's 'neck'), and ngc3384. I also observed a couple objects that I couldnt pinpoint on my "DeepMap 600": A faint edge-on galaxy near ngc3384, and two galaxies near ngc3190: one about the same magnitude as 3190, and another much fainter.

Periodically, I took a break to check out the light domes. Every direction except south had some form of light pollution. It was limited, just maybe ten degrees up from the horizon, making the sky pretty good. To the south, it was dark right down to the horizon. This is probably because Pacheco State Park extends about 3.5 miles to the south of the parking lot. I guess there isnt much on the south side of the park.

Occasionaly I used the 9x63 binos to check out the overhead sky. I sorta use these as a gauge for how good the sky and conditions are. M81/82 was plainly visible. The nearby ngc2985 was also easily visible in the binos.

M81/82 and Ursa Major was now mostly overhead, so I pointed SJAA Loaner #27 up there to see how the view was, and it was good. I also went over to nearby ngc2976, and another nearby fainter galaxy not on my map. The beehive was also visible, though I think this object looks best naked eye.

I then went down to the cluster of galaxies between Leo and Virgo. Alot of galaxies were viewed. I've never actually identified the galaxies over there. Maybe I should sometime... maybe after I get a computer with "identify" mode. At times, I had three, four, or five galaxies in the field. Its a nice spot to "scan around", and just trip over galaxies. I also "stumbled" across ngc4361, a mag 11 planetary nebula, and another galaxy, ngc4699 in and around the Corvus and Virgo contellations.

While over in the Corvus/Virgo area, I made a point of tracking down M104, an object I hadnt seen before. A.k.a. the "sombrero" galaxy, I could barely make out what I believed was a dark lane.

Then it was back to Ursa Major to track down the rest of the "bright" objects just because they were there. M108 was an easy find, as was M97, the owl nebula. However, the "eyes" of the owl were not easily visible. M109 and M101 were easily found. Using a bit more magnification with the 11mm plossl helped bring out the spirals on M101, though this galaxy was still very faint even in the 13.1" scope.

Then it was down to Canes Venatici where I found M63, the "sunflower" galaxy, which was quite faint. I also tracked down M94, ngc4490, plus another faint galaxy not on my map.

Around 2am I noticed a strange cloud rising in the east. It turned out to be the milky way! So I figured it was time to chase down some globulars: M67, M4, and M80. Much to my surprise, sagitarius was also rising! So I took a look at the Lagoon (M8) and the Trifid (M20) nebulae.

By now it was approaching 3am. I had planned to be leaving around 1am, and the time just went by quick. I took in a few more wide field views of the Milky Way with the 9x63, made myself a cup-o-hot-tea for the ride home, and started packing.

Regarding the weather conditions: I had set up on the edge of the grassy area. Dew was definetly present. A couple times the eyepiece fogged up, though I was able to clear it by waving the map in front of it. The telrad was a different story. It needed constant dew removal. I wonder if setting up on the gravel instead of the grass would have improved the dew situation. It just seemed drier over there.

The wind was only a bit noticable. I had parked in a way that didnt block the wind. It actually wasnt a problem. Also, tuesday night was warm: I just wore

a thermal top and a lined nylon jacket (and jeans and boots). The winter parka wasnt neccessary. Note that we had unusal-for-el-nino 80 degree F spring weather that day.

On the way out at 3am I closed the gate. Traffic on 152 was mild. Heading down the pass road I could still see the Milky Way from the car -- but given 152, it was better to not look at it.

All in all, it was a good night!

Jay Reynolds Freeman; 1998 Apr 16