Two weeks of clear nights in the Sierra

1998 May 5

I arrived at PlettStone in the mid afternoon, just minutes after my folks arrived with there 28' travel trailer. While my mother embraced me for a warm hello (we hadn't seen each other for over a year), Dad had wasted no time in getting his large rig stuck in the soft mud. The more he tried to manuveur, the more the complete rig slid off the road. We finally encouraged him to stop trying and we enlisted the help of our neighbor Larry, who soon put his recently acquired tractor to work. Within minutes (and some yelling and hollering), we were able to pull Dad's rig up onto the crest on the other side of the road. That is where it would stay for the duration.

This was the first time that my folks had visited the place since I finished the construction of the observatory. After setting up the trailer, I dragged Mom and Dad over to the observatory and opened it up. Dad immediately saw the little name plaque that I made. It reads:

             The Dale Jay Steed Observatory
                First Light Dec 25, 1997
The observatory is named after my Dad and he was touched by the brass plaque. He made sure that my mother saw it.

After showing them the details of how the building and instruments worked, I opened up the building to cool down.

The next two weeks provided 14 contiguous nights of clear and warm viewing. I took full advantage of every one of them. Sandra Macika arrived for the first weekend and shared a couple of marvelous nights with me. Together, we observed three of the most recent Supernovae that have been discovered. They were:

SN1998S in NGC3877. We had observed together a couple of weeks before. The star has dimmed considerably.. at least by two magnitudes. SN1998aq in NGC3982. This nova was a bit more difficult to detect but was still an easy catch. The star lies very close to the edge of the perceived eliptical galaxy. SN1998V in Hercules. This nova is in our own galaxy. I consulted the supernovae network to obtain a chart of this guy before I left.

All of these objects were a delight to view. I had only seen one nova last year in a distant galaxy and it was very difficult to see. These three objects were magnificant ... and I was able to see them all in one night. Sandra enjoyed viewing these as I found them even though I knew that I was tearing her away from a concentrated effort to find objects on her list.

I worked a substantial amount on my modified Herschel list over the next several days as well as worked on doing a bit of photography. Lazy days filled with visiting my folks and afternoon naps oozed together with my all night marathons to make a wonderful vacation schedule.

I don't know how many objects I found on my list... it must exceed a couple of hundred. And in those that I found, were jewels. Those I noted to revisit. One of particular note was the galaxy cluster in the vacinity of M5. As I wandered carefully in this area of the sky, I was able to see several galaxies in a single field of view. This was quite a site in my 2800mm focal length scope. Another was a barred spiral carefully framed between two brilliant blue stars. Sorry about the names...

Mike Shade, John Hales, and Sandra visited the second week. We had a fine time viewing together. I set up some of John's equipment with mine to see if we could determine where he was having some of his problems. By swapping stuff in and out, we were able to determine that one of his motors wasn't working properly. The good news is that his ST4 seems to be working okay.

I spent 3 nights of the 14 attempting photography. The photo gods were not with me those few days. They felt that I should pay my dues and they left my presensce to move on and bless other cameras. My first night I shot PPF film at F6.3 through the C11. After processing the next day, I decided I would shoot at F10 to get a smaller field of view. I would also use faster film and longer exposure times.

I shot Kodak Gold 1000 speed film all night and managed to get 5 hour long exposures of favorite exposures. I took the film into the one hour lab and they accidentally exposed it to white light. They were very apologetic and made good by supplying me replacement film and processing. I had lost some time but it turned out that I really didn't lose any photographs. I duplicated the shooting session the following night. The shots did not turn out well. I had some star trails in RA and the exposures did not seem to be great (hard to tell because the processing wasn't ideal). With the longer focal length, I think that I will use a barlow in front of the ST4 autoguider. In addition, I need to figure out how to compensate accurately for backlash in the motors. Both my mount and ST4 have settings that can help solve these kinds of problems. I just need to run a few more rolls of film to get them figured out. Now I know why I like observing so much more than shooting pictures ;)

Day after day, the ground got drier, the grass grew taller, and by the end of my stay, the flowers carpeted every open and secluded space. We had blue eyed grass, brodaie (a couple of varieties), royal purple larkspure, Chinese pagodas ( both white and purple variaties), wall flower, and doezens of others.

I spent a great deal of time catching up with my folks, going out to eat with them, and working on a couple of small projects around the place with my Dad. Saturday night with clouds threatening rain, I stayed up with my Mother reminiscing until quite late. I didn't want her to go to bed because I knew that I wouldn't get to spend much time with her after that. I went to bed sobbing and couldn't sleep well. Mom woke me at 7:30 in the morning. In the midst of a heavy wet rain, my folks drove off 15 minutes later. My tears mixed with the rain as I spent the next three hours cleaning up the observatory, the grounds, and put the cabin to bed.

Michelle Stone; 1998 May 5