A Quiet Night

Fremont Peak, 1997 Oct 4

It wasn't until late afternoon that I was sure I'd be able to make it out to observe. I decided to go to "The Peak" because it would likely be a quiet night with most other TAChyons having gone to Pacheco. I really needed a quiet night after the last couple work-weeks I had been through.

I arrived just before sunset and began setting up at the top of the observatory hill. A half-dozen others were already there (and a few more would arrive later). It was apparent even before sunset that it was going to be a cool night... already down to 61, and fairly breezy. I actually (eventually) had to resort to a sweatshirt and sweatpants to stave off the chill!!

The first few hours brought seeing that was quite mushy, with moments of total UNclarity (not unlike looking through a jar of vaseline ;-) Jupiter and Saturn were maxed out at powers in the 150x range. I did manage to see the GLCS ("Great Low-Contrast Spot") through Rich's scope-- something I usually have to work at in my "contrast-challenged" SCT. At 11:30 I decided to take a much-needed nap for a few hours and see if the seeing was any better..

At 2am it was still windy, and some clouds had started to show up in the west and north. Gil had already gone, and Rich was packing up to leave presently.

At 2:15 I looked at Saturn -- it was reasonable at 204x in my scope, so I decided to stick with it for a while. I was observing moons in the immediate vicinity of Saturn, and happened to notice a very dim one hanging just above the eastern-most tip of the ring system. I estimate its brightness/contrast to have been comparable to the E/F elements of the trapezium. I revisited this moon again at 3:15 to see that it had moved inward toward Saturn, now nearly equidistant from the ring and the planet's limb.

Somewhere during that period (around 2:30 I'd guess), the wind mostly stopped. It felt almost warm out by comparison. The clouds were still up there, but still to the north and west (but closing in).

At 3:30 I noticed the Big Dipper rising back out of the muck (right where there was a hole in the clouds). I took a moment to observe M81&82, and the Owl nebula. I then turned to Orion which was climbing well into the southern sky by now...

M42 never ceases to inspire awe; I gawked at it for at least a half hour. Only A-F... not a "G" night. I also tried for the Horsehead, but can't say that I definitely saw anything. There was a lot skyglow... even directly overhead didn't appear to be very black.

But that didn't stop me from counting 11 naked-eye stars in the Pleides, as opposed to the 10 I counted earlier at 11:30. I attribute the extra star to the added elevation during the later viewing.

At 4am I decided to pack up and get a few more hours of sleep before dawn.

It certainly wasn't the clearest, darkest, or warmest night I've had at Fremont Peak, but it was no waste either. I had quite a few good views to take home with me.

Mark Taylor 1997 Oct 6