Leif's 2010 Astronomy Journal


December 20/21st:

The Lunar Eclipse of 2010 is thankfully visible tonight. Here are my observations:
11:30pm - The winds are moderate and the sky is partly cloudy. The full moon is briefly obscured by fast moving translucent clouds. After a few minutes of cloud cover the full disk is exposed and displays about 1/8 of its surface dimmed by earth’s shadow.

12:50am – The sky near the moon is devoid of clouds. The moon is nearly at zenith and exhibits a bright pale orange limb on the western side while the remaining 80% is a dusky grey/orange. Orion, Taurus and Canis Major are  fully visible to the south, below the moon

1:20am – About 5% in from the edge of the disk is still pretty bright orange around roughly ¾’s of the disk, the southern facing quadrant edge and the majority of the surface are dull grey/orange.  Temp for Boise at 1:25am  says 27°(F). Wind is calm and not having any impact at this time.

1:45am – The eastern side is more brightly lit as it moves closer to the penumbra.

2:05am – The eastern side is a bright thin white crescent while the majority is a grey gibbous shape.

2:15am – The white crescent grows and the shadow has lost all orange tint. It doesn’t look exactly like a normal lunar phase crescent as the arc is more shallow than during the normal lunar cycle. I didn’t know if I’d notice this during the live event or not, it was pretty cool to see.


Serge got up and observed it during its orange phase with me. It was cool sharing this with him. I hope he remembers it in the morning.  



October 14th: Lunar Observing from the Driveway

Description: Description: Description: Description: Mosaic of Hipparchus and AlbategniusWell last night’s observing went very well. I set up my 120mm scope in the driveway at about 8:30 and showed my boys the moon shortly thereafter. The sky was clear and the air was just a bit crisp and calm. We observed the first quarter moon with my 32mm eyepiece (28x) and this was fine for the boys but it wouldn’t reveal the craters I was intent on finding. After I shooed the boys inside I switched in the 10mm (90x) and proceeded to hunt down more objects from the AL Lunar Club list.


At 7 days past new, some of the objects on the ‘~4 days old’ binocular list were tough to see but I found all but the crater Vindelinus. Petavius, which is moderate in size and in the low South East quadrant, was very washed out this far past new but I did finally discern it.


Also of note in the South East quadrant was the TheophilusCyrillusCatarina chain near Mare Nectaris, very distinctive. Closer to the terminator was the Albategnius-Hipparchus complex (pictured at right). The shadows made these very prominent tonight. 


In the North East quadrant craters Hercules and Atlas were pretty washed out and I’d like to re-observe them closer to new. Aristoteles and Eudoxus were quite nice. My favorite though was passage way between Mare Serenitatis and Mare Imbrium.  The shadows cast on the floor of Mare Imbrium by the northern Montes Caucuses and Southern Montes Apenninus really made a striking image. The contrast of the jagged mountains and comparatively smooth floor was so striking. The very eastern edges of the crater rims of Aristillus and Autolycus were just visible, forming trim crescents. Their crater floors were completely hidden in darkness.

I was so focused on the first two pages of targets I’d printed out, I failed to observe anything on my third page, which contained the ‘telescope objects’ list. Well now I’ve got another excuse to do more observing.  I wrapped up for the night and was back in the house by 9:15.


September 19th: Deep Sky Scouting Report
Last Sunday I loaded the kids and Tanya into the truck for 'an adventure'. My goal was to drive to a potential DARK deep sky observing site I heard about quite a long
while back at a meeting and then again recently at ISP. The site is known as Pilot Peak. I heard it was a former fire observation post north of Idaho City at
an altitude of around 8000 feet. Google showed it to be roughly 17 miles and 40 minutes
north of Idaho City at an elevation of around 8100' ASL. The satellite
imagery showed a clear hilltop, devoid of a building and only a couple trees, with a road right to the top.

Well about 13 miles up Hwy 21 from Idaho City one will see the turn off to this location. The last 4 miles of unimproved dirt/rocky road was very bumpy and
rough. I'd guess it was about an 8% grade, single lane path up the side of a steep mountain. When a 1 ton pick up, loaded with firewood was spotted coming
down, it took some backing down the hill to find an appropriate passing zone for him. I was in 4 wheel drive the whole way up and down this 4 mile stretch of

We never made it to the end. I stopped at a wide clearing about a half mile away, where I could safely turn around. I could see the fire observation
building across a shallow valley. It was surrounded by medium height pine trees and featured a large antennae and solar panel array
protruding from the side of the building. So continuing on, to what now appeared to be a tree covered, building encrusted hilltop, seemed rather pointless.

The view from this turn around spot was awesome. We parked long enough to eat our pic-nic lunch. The boys got out and ran around and did some exploring. It
had about 90 to 120 degrees of clear horizon and an awesome panorama of forested mountain tops to the S/SW. It was stunning. The wind occasionally gusted to no
more than 10 miles an hour but it was enough to further erode my opinion of this location as a possible observing site.

The site might be suitable for my refractor but I wouldn't want to take my 16" dob up there due to the roughness of the road. Also any wind would be quite cold
and make bringing my weather vane of a dob quite pointless as well. The site would require an overnight stay as I would not attempt to go down that hillside
at night. At one point on the way down I could see the paved snaking path of Hwy 21, below me I guess between 500 and 1000 feet down. It was one of those fine
optical illusions where there appeared to be nothing between the highway and the road I was on.

For those that have mentioned observing from this site to me, I wish you the best with it. It was a little too back-country and didn't seem to offer a big
enough unobstructed horizon for my tastes. In all fairness I really should have finished driving over to the fire post just to see what it was like, but I was
at a good turn around spot and those where very rare on this road.

This 'adventure' trip was a lot of fun all in all. The oft repeated chorus of "we're going to die" from the back seat was really entertaining on the way up. I
remember those kinds of moments riding with my dad on our family rockhounding trips of my youth. When we got back to Idaho City we stopped and had ice cream
and the terror of the drive up was instantly forgotten.



September 10th and 11th: Idaho Star Party 2010

This year’s Idaho Star Party was a GREAT success. First off there was Atilla Danko. The man who is responsible for Clear Sky Charts. Is that man funny or what! His presentation on telescope performance on Friday was really good. His story about how clear sky chart came to be and how it is operated was really interesting too.

Then there were the night skies. Friday night was windless, warm till 11, and I think perfectly free of clouds. I rated it ‘seeing 4, transparency 4’ all night long. Saturday night was nearly the same although I rated it ‘seeing 3, transparency 4’ as it was not quite as good as Friday’s skies.


My (overly ambitious) goal for the weekend was to observe enough Herschel 400 targets to get my first 100 observations completed. I would have needed to concentrate and focus very intently on this objective to achieve it and the ISP is not the place for that. I observed 9 Herschel objects this weekend bringing my total H4C count to 78, only 22 more to go for the first 100. But I also observed some other fun targets that weren’t on the list. Chief among those objects was NGC 7293 (the Helix Nebula) and the Pegasus galaxy cluster (centered on NGC 7619).


On Friday night I started out in Sagittarius. I found NGC 6645, an open cluster near the border with Scutum. Then I moved on to NGC 6568, another open cluster in Sag, above M8. Both were moderate size and not too hard to find. I spent some time unsuccessfully looking for other OCL’s in Sagittarius. At about 11:30 I moved to Aquarius as I really wanted to see the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) even though it wasn’t on my list. It sure is interesting to look at. It is very faint at first. I had to let my eyes adjust and relax to see it. The twin rings looked almost blue to me. While I was in the neighborhood I picked off all three galaxies from the Herschel list in Aquarius. They were not too difficult to find, due to good nearby guide stars, but the galaxies were faint (mag 11 or so) and small ( about 4’x3’). I should have at least tried for the planetary nebula in Aquarius but alas I didn’t. I could have finished of the whole target list in that constellation if I’d found it. Oh well. That was pretty much it for Friday night.


Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: http://archive.stsci.edu/cgi-bin/dss_search?v=phase2_gsc2&r=23+20+14.52&d=%2B08+12+22.5&e=J2000&h=45&w=45&f=gif&c=none&fov=NONE&v3=Saturday was busy. I went into town and bought a new air mattress as mine was punctured somehow. Just before the Star-B-Q I was awarded the Mary Schneider volunteer of the year award. I am very honored and feel that it should have gone to someone else like Randy or Rhonda but club officers aren’t eligible. I am honored to be recognized for my efforts. The star-b-q was really good this year. The Costco burgers were really tasty. During the door prizes I won an Orion Sirius 26mm plossl. I gave this to Andi to round out her collection of EP’s. I’m really looking to move to 2” eyepieces in the future and have a unit in this range already. So it made sense to give it to someone who could use it.



As soon as it was dark I moved to Bill and John’s campsite and proceeded to learn how to collimate, calibrate and operate OB1, Bills’ 20” obsession with NGC Max DSC’s. It was really cool. I nailed 4 globular clusters in Sagittarius in about an hour. NGC 6638 is right near the top teapot star and M22.  NGC 6553 is near M8 and its similarly sized neighbor NGC 6544. NGC 6624 is very near the star Kaus Meridionalis, which marks right hand top of the tea pot. The last cluster of the evening was NGC 6569. This is located near the center of the tea pot’s spout. None of these were particularly stunning and in fact the last two I observed were not much more than grey circles. I saw very little detail in these last two at all. But they were getting low on the horizon by that point. I took a break and went and spoke with Randy and Steve for a bit and when I returned Bill and another gentleman who really knew the sky were working with some visiting campers, showing them a few highlights. After a bit of this I took over and pointed at The Helix for the second time this weekend but for the first time in a 20”. It was only a little more detailed than in my 16”. I shared this view with the group then moved on to NGC 7619. This is the focal point of the Pegasus Galaxy cluster, comprised of NGC 7619, 7626, 7623, 7617, 7615, 7612, 7611, 7631, and possibly some smaller fainter elements without NGC numbers. I think I only recognized NGC 7626, 7619, 7623 and 7617, as galactic elements. I really need a computer in the field. I need a computer worse than I need a camera.  This cluster group was shared with a group as well.


ISP 2010 was very rewarding. I look forward to the 2011 event.





September 4th: prelude to ISP

Well the Idaho Star Party is next weekend but the weather was good last night and I’ve learned you take it when you get it. The winds were supposed to be up to about 7 miles an hour and my 16” doesn’t do well in wind so I hauled my 120mm Refractor out to our common Dedication Point observing location. The event was well attended,  about 20 friends and 12 other scopes were out to enjoy some early fall skies. The biggest scope on the field was a nice 18” Obsession and ranged down to a 4” refractor I think. The skies seemed more light polluted than I remember them but I guess OSP will do that to you. Plus I was looking north (towards Boise and Nampa) all night. I observed 7 Hershel 400 objects in Cassiopeia (of 15), all open clusters. The highlights were NGC 663, a nice large cluster centered below the western most stars of Cassiopeia, Ruchbah and Segin, and NGC 457 (the ET Cluster), near Ruchbah. The night was warm and calm until about 10:30 when it began to cool. At around 11:30 the wind began picking up and everyone was loading up by midnight.


Well as of this writing I’ve completed my requirements for the binocular Messier club award. I’ve observed or re- observed 73 Herschel 400 objects, I’m about a third of the way through the lunar club targets and I’ve begun the northern constellation hunter club. I hope to observe about 30 more targets from the Herschel list next weekend. I’ve created an observation list of about 80 valid targets for next weekend so that should keep me busy.




August 12th through 14th – Oregon Star Party

We left Meridian at about 10:45am on Thursday morning (the 12th). We drove to the Oregon Star Party following I-84 to Highway 26. We stayed on 26 until we got to the forest service road that took us to the backwoods location for OSP. We paid our registration fees at around 5pm local time, including a stop for lunch it was about a 7 hour drive. We did a brief drive around of the whole site and settled on a spot close to the center – with nearby food and porta potties. I was amazed by the number of people. I later heard there were over 700 of us out there. The folks making this comment were impressed with this turn out, as the other big regional SP (at table mountain, in Wa.) was running the same weekend.

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A panorama of the observing field to the east of our campsite


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A panorama of the northern observing field

We set up a tent and then I set up my telescope. The entire location is basically clear but covered with red basalt stones (and related red dusty soil) and short stunted sage bushes. The site is basically the crown of a hill with a few scattered pine trees near its edges but good clear horizon views for most of the full 360°. Our camping spot was quite rocky. The next day I walked around a bit and found a better place for next time.
Our neighbor to the east was named Doug. He had a 10" orion dob and was doing a lot of volunteer work with OSP. He was quite talkative and friendly. To the west was Steve, a quiet man with a 14.5" GOTO dob, I can't remember the brand but it was a very good performer. I missed Tom Clark's talk "Star Parties Across the US" due to our arrival time and need to set up. I spoke with him the next day however.

Observing on Thursday the 12th:
The night of the 12th was AMAZING.
Seeing was a 5 of 5 and transparency was a 5 of 5. I was very tired from the previous short night of sleep combined with all the driving and set up tonight. I was still up till 1am though. I found the faint, spindle shaped galaxy NGC 891 in Andromeda fairly quickly. NGC 404 –Mirach's Ghost (a small galaxy near the bright star of Mirach in Andromeda) was also easy to find. It was a little larger in diameter than 404 and looked more like an elliptical to me. Finally I turned to M110, the big satellite galaxy of M32. I had this on my `unobserved list' of H400 objects. Even though I've seen it many times I moved over to it anyway – it was handy. I also found NGC 7686, an open cluster near the northern constellation boundary of Andromeda. I spent a long time looking for this and verifying that I found it. I then moved down to M33 and in the process observed NGC 752, the huge open cluster dominated by 9th and 10th magnitude stars with many fine smaller, fainter points in the background. M33 was a faint glow. It has always appeared very faint to me – even under the best conditions, but tonight I noticed several bright spots near the center and some of the arm structure further out. It was a really fine night.

After my time in Andromeda I moved to Sagittarius. I observed some old favorites like M22 and M8 (really good dust lane detail tonight) then picked off NGC 6544, the small globular cluster near M8. By this point it was nearing 1am and I called it quits for the night.

August 13th:
Tent camping for me means waking with the sunrise, so I still didn't get enough sleep. There were many speakers I wanted to hear today as well participate in Mel Bartel's Telescope walkabout. First up was the ATM forum hosted by Russ Genet. He is co-author of The Alt-Az Initiative: Telescope, Mirror, & Instrument Developments, a book about modern developments in the ATM field. I arrived late and sat in on most of a presentation by Mel Bartels. He described the process of grinding a 13" F3 meniscus mirror out of regular table glass. This mirror was no more than a ½" thick and very stable as both the mirrored surface and the backside were ground to a parabolic shape – front being a concave arc and back being convex. Imagine a big glass contact lens. He described how its uniform shape makes it very strong and how it needed a less complex mirror cell due to this shape and lower weight. He reasoned that if we're going to cool mirrors with fans, why spend all that money on low expansion substrates like pyrex or more exotic substances and just use standard glass. This 13" experiment of his speaks for itself. His talk was followed by an ATM panel which discussed modern trends in amateur telescope making, principally how to overcome the challenges of 1 meter or bigger amateur scopes. It was pretty interesting to me.

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: s. Mel's 13 inch F3 ultra portable.JPG  Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: s. Mel's 13 detail a.JPG  Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: s. Mel's 13 detail b.JPG

Mel Bartel’s 13” F3 telescope


  After this we did the Telescope Walkabout. I had entered my scope for this event and a large crowd gathered in my camp site and I told the story of how I built my scope and fielded a few questions and received many complements. I met Steve Swayze, who ground my mirror. He came up and introduced himself right after my presentation during the walkabout. There were many really cool scopes at this event. I'll include pictures of some of them soon. My favorite was a small string scope built by a college student named Nate. He finished the spider the morning he left for OSP. His scope was an engineering class project. He was a very good story teller.


Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: s. ATM Brass 4inch F12 refractor with clock drive.JPGDescription: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: s. Dan Grey's 28 string scope.JPGDescription: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: s. lt brdg on split ring 2.JPG

4” Brass Telescope, Dan Grey’s 28” String Scope, & a 16” Lightbridge mounted on a custom split ring


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Some of the home made dobs near Nate Currier’s site


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Another dob near Nat Currier’s site, College student Nate w/ his 8” string scope “wendy”, a nice remount of a coulter 13”


Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: s. 2 stage string scope.JPG  Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: s. 12in splitring scope.JPG  Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: s. OSP Tree.JPG

A small 2 stage string scope, a 12” split ring, the new OSP tree


  In the late afternoon I spoke with Tom Clark about his presentation "Star Parties in the US". I was hoping to get a sense of how our ISP compares with other events across the country. I can sum up his thoughts by simply saying "star parties are for looking at stars at dark sky sites." He doesn't pay any attention to the events or speakers or dinners or programs. He argues that a star party, to be successful and attract nationwide participants, must have great skies. For those that don't know who this guy is, Tom is the retired owner of Tectron Telescopes, former publisher of Amateur Astronomy Magazine, and author of "The Modern Dobsonian". He hails from Florida and lives in Cheifland during the fall and winter (where uses a 42" dob). He and his wife travel the country the other 6 months of the year. He has been building telescopes, writing about and publishing astronomy related information, and actively touring the country for pristine skies for many years. I found him to be very opinionated and a nice guy. He tells good stories.

Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Description: Astronomical Spectrograph  At 6pm I attended David Howarth's presentation on amateur spectroscopy. He built his own spectrometer out of old camera bodies, a piece of DVD ROM disc as the resolution grating and some cardboard. He showed us his results and I was impressed. He went on to build another unit out of off the shelf components that performed even better. I have thought about learning more about spectroscopy and possibly setting up a spectroscope for students to use. I think if we can teach more about this at the under-grad and HS level we will better prepare students for future astronomy studies later in their lives.
At 7pm I attended Shane Larson's presentation on galaxy formation. He is an assistant prof at Utah State University. He is very animated and a fine presenter. He is studying galaxy formation and gravitational wave astrophysics.



Observing on Friday the 13th:
  I was very tired still and did not make time to re-collimate my scope before I began this evening.
The southern skies were VERY twinkly. Seeing was a mediocre 3 of 5 but transparency remained extraordinary at 5 of 5. The wind was a real problem tonight. My scope is so fluid in its motion the strong winds made remaining on a found object difficult. These folks are serious about light. There were probably 15 scopes and observers within 100 feet of me and I only saw 4 red lights. I was `noisy' with my red light as I would point it at the ground to avoid the rocks between my scope and my table. No one said anything but I felt bad. My neighbor Steve, didn't use a flash light at all. I think these folks were observing, not logging things. If they were using flashlights I didn't notice them doing so, and I looked for them.
Steve's 14.5" scope had a really cool device, a 2", 3 position, filter slide. He had mounted a UHC and OIII filter in two of the possible holders and thus I quickly and easily observed parts of the veil nebula (NGC 6960) in unfiltered mode and through the two filters. This is the way to go! It was really cool. I really see the value of these two filters now. My first impressions of filtered views were that they overly darkend the image and I didn't like what I saw but I'm beginning to change my opinion.

  Doug was not as experienced an observer as I was so I helped him find M22 in his scope. He only had a telrad as a finder. When I was close I switched to his current eyepiece and noticed it had HUGE AFOV. I could roll my head around and not run out of stars at all. It was like the EP had no edge. When I mentioned this characteristic to him he said `yeah, those Ethos sure are nice huh?' It was my first look through a 10mm Ethos, it was impressive. The field reminded me of what I see through my 9mm Nagler in terms of flatness of field, great contrast, and sharpness of stars. It's just that it seemed to have no edge!
  I spent most of my brief observing time this night on familiar friends. I intended to pick off more H400 objects especially in Sagittarius, But this was not to be with the wind and the poor seeing to the south, finally my counter weight came apart and without it I can't target low altitude objects. And I couldn't fix it without a light. So M51 was totally stunning as were open clusters in Cassiopeia and Perseus. I wanted to look at NGC 7331 in Pegasus but the wind was too strong. With conditions working against me I called it a night at a little before midnight.

Saturday August 14th:
  Tanya and I discussed the plans and objectives for the day. I really only wanted to stay for a presentation on the LIGO project (laser interferometer gravitational wave observatory) but it wasn't on until 7pm that night. We discussed the merits of staying till the presentation was over and then leaving and/or staying one more night. In the end we decided to pack it in and head to Washington a day early to pick up our kids from their grandma's house. A night in a bed, off the rocks (we even had an air mattress) won out over another night of possible great observing. Guess I learned where my priorities lie. We broke camp and packed up. I sat with Mel Bartels and Tom Clark for another 30 minutes and discussed amateur and professional telescope building and then Tanya and I headed for Olympia.

  I would like to do this again, I achieved all my goals for the trip. But I honestly have more fun observing with my friends from Idaho locations. The skies were truly dark. There was no perceptible light dome in any direction I could detect. This makes it darker even than the Burns junction site (but only just a little bit) but it's further away by four more hours. It's noticeably less light polluted than any location I've observed from in Idaho. The skies were no better than great nights at Reynolds Creek, so this was just luck, it could have been more windy and/or cloudy and ruined the nights. The light discipline was quite interesting to work in. I've concluded that I'm not that disciplined. I like to be able to see enough not to trip over rocks and write my observation notes down. Meeting Steve Swayze, and Mel Bartels again, and listening to hard core ATMers was a real treat, I'd like to do that again. I observed 6 more H400 targets (another 1.5% of the list) and many old favorites under awesome conditions and that was very good too.


August 11th, Alice Pittenger Girl Scout Camp

I drove up to McCall, arriving around 4pm. I ate at My Fathers Place (good hamburgers and shakes) and then drove out to the Alice Pittenger Girl Scout Camp. There were 19 campers and about 9 staff. From 7:30 to about 9:15 we talked about different kinds of telescopes and what can be seen with them. The girls were very attentive and asked lots of questions. About 9:45 we gathered on the shore near the swimming dock (where I had set up my 120mm telescope) and we then observed the globular cluster M22 in Sagittarius, the open cluster M7 in Scorpius, and then the nebula/open cluster M8 in Sagittarius. We did a constellation tour of what we could see to the south. The girls were getting cold and tired and we broke up around 11pm. I was hoping they’d stay up late enough to show them Jupiter, which just broke the horizon around 11:15 but by then I was packing up and the girls were already back at their cabins.

This was a really good experience.


April 17th, Saturday, BAS and BSU Star Party

The skies were rather cloudy most of the day so I was skeptical of tonight’s opportunity but Clear Sky Charts said it would be lousy from 8 to until about 10 and then get progressively better until about midnight and stay good until early in the morning. This is in fact exactly what happened. By about 11pm the skies stabilized to 3/5 for both seeing and transparency.


I arrived at Dedication Point at about 7pm to find Randy and Jeff already there. I began setting up my 16 inch reflector, the Cosmos 406. The skies were mostly overcast with only small patches of blue to the south and southwest. My set up pace was leisurely and by the time I was ready to begin aligning my finders with the primary view, the thin waxing crescent moon was easily discernable in the high southwestern sky. Mare Fecunditatis and Mare Crisium were visible along with beautiful crater chains in the highlands at 75x (30mm Ultima – low power). Skies were quite turbulent but clearing of clouds. I’d say they were 2/5 for seeing and 3/5 for transparency at this time (around 8:30pm).


Shortly after my 80mm finder was aligned with the image in my primary, Venus was also clearly visible naked eye. At 124x (18mm Ultima – medium power) the surface was nearly completely round – very gibbous. I used Venus to fine tune my alignments with this eyepiece. The skies remained turbulent but continued to clear.  More club members were arriving by the minute. When the students from BSU were arriving in force, there were probably 13 to 15 scopes there.  I returned to the moon and showed it to students at both medium and low power while the skies transitioned from civil to nautical twilight (9 to 9:30).


My next target was Saturn. It was displayed well at 124x in moments of improving seeing. If skies had been perfect this is what should have been visible:

Image produced with Skytools 3.0


As it was not ‘perfect’ we could easily see the rings and occasional surface banding. Titan and either Rhea or Hyperion were clearly discernableon the right and left of the rings. I’m guessing we were seeing Rhea as it is 10th magnitude, while Hyperion is 14th. I’m sure we saw Iapetus (mag. 11) but given its position far off the ring plane I would have mistaken it for a star. I thought I saw Dione in moments of clarity but I couldn’t repeatedly make it out consistently. Irwin said he could see one of the closer moons as well. The skies were still pretty turbulent and light from the moon and twilight conditions complicated things.


After showing off Saturn to a large number of students I turned for a while to the open cluster M41 in the Big Dog. It was low and allowed viewers (and me) to stand on the ground for a while. It’s also bright and easy to find. Due to its proximity to the horizon I could see quite a bit of turbulence in the 75x view, but many of the students expressed delight with its view.


Next in the eyepiece were the galaxies M65 and M66 in Leo. At 75x they both fit in the field of view. The skies were improving by this point and I showed this to many observers. Retaining the low power eyepiece, I then turned to M86, M84 and NGC4388. M86 is the biggest and brightest of the three at almost 10th magnitude, followed by M84 at 10th and NGC4388 at 12th magnitude. With averted vision I could clearly make out the tiny 13th magnitude NGC 4387 right in the center of the triangle formed by its larger neighbors. Students needed to be coached to see the dimmer of the three bigger galaxies (NGC 4388) but many reported they could see it. The moon, while still up, was much lower in the sky by this point in time and many of the public attendees had left or were leaving. It was around 11:30pm. But the skies were really stabilizing now and the temperature, although cooling, was still comfortable.


I spent a good deal of time looking for the edge on galaxy NGC 4565 (the Needle) but couldn’t find it. In review the next morning I know I was in the right area and very likely had the 10th magnitude galaxy in my finder at least a couple of times but I could not pick it out. Joe came over and directed my scope to M104 (the Sombrero) and I looked at this at both 75x and 125x for a long time, in fact the moon had just set as I stopped to visit with others for a while. I have not observed M104 for this long or this well before. At 125x it was really superb. There was a definite inky darkness to one side of the flat bright band of the disk and a distinct bright bulge in the center.


This image captures the darkness on one side of the disk, and aside from the blurring caused by poor tracking, pretty closely matches what I saw at 124x :

Description: M-104

Image from Tim Cline (deepspaceimages.org)

This dark band is the dust lane at the perimeter of the galaxies disk. I had not seen it visually this clearly before. This dust lane is more pronounced and clear in the high res photo’s from Hubble:

Description: C:\Documents and Settings\Leif\My Documents\My Pictures\Hubble Images\0700065[1].JPG

Image from NASAImages.org [edited to match my view]


As the moon was setting it became chilly, and expecting it to get worse I decided to call it a night. By the time I was packed up I’d swear it had gotten warmer. Part of me wanted to stay and hunt Herschel 400 objects in Virgo. The skies were now perfect for it but I was getting quite tired as it was around 12:30 (0:30) in the morning. I’ll probably regret passing up the opportunity to go galaxy hunting in Virgo but I had a great night with nice people to share views with and good friends to talk and share with too.




April 9th, Friday Night, Messier Marathon 2010

   I drove down to Bruneau Dunes State Park by about 6:30pm. I set up with Randy Holst (TV Genesis) and Steve Bell (TV102). I saw Barb and Irwin as well as few other familiar and new faces. The skies were clear but a little windy on the drive down but the ground winds died and sparse clouds were forming by 8:30pm. Just a little after sundown, about 8:40pm, I focused on Venus and with the help of a new guy, whose name I never learned, I found Mercury about 4 ° to the right of Venus, a moderately close conjunction. When I found it, Mercury was invisible naked eye, but within 15 minutes it was clearly visible.

   I did not attend the Messier Marathon with any intention of hunting down all the Messier objects tonight. My goal was to observe enough unlogged objects to qualify for my Binocular Messier Club award. I didn’t plan very carefully so I didn’t know precisely how many I needed. I thought I only needed 6, but on reviewing my logs the next day I missed it by one. I also had intentions of working the AL Binocular Club List tonight.

   From 9:00pmto around 12:00am the skies were pretty average for steadiness, despite the rapidly forming and moving partial clouds.  The transparency was opaque to average depending on the part of the sky one looked at. For observing purposes I was usually aiming at targets in 2 of 5 or 3 of 5 skies. The winds were not a factor before midnight. At 4:30am to 5:30am it was very cold (around 25°), and winds were light (< 5mph) but they made staying out longer in the dark morning, an uncomfortable choice. The transparency was much worse in the parts of the sky I wanted to look at in the morning observing attempt.

   I picked out the open clusters M36/M38 and M35 around 9:40 in my 11x70’s. I saw M104 through Steve’s 102 a little after that. At 10:05 I focused my binoculars on the huge galaxy M101 in Ursa Major and could just make out its presence with direct vision. By 10:25 I had moved over to Collinder 256 (AL binocular list #1 for the night) in Coma Berenices. This is the faint naked eye, ‘hair’ cluster in Bernice’s Hair. Irwin pulled M44, the big beehive cluster in Cancer, into my 11x70’s at 10:40. I saw the awesome whirlpool galaxy complex, M51, through Randy’s Genesis. At some point later in the night I started to move to it with my binoculars but by this point it was uncomfortably high in altitude so I didn’t see it through my binoculars. At about 10:50 the skies had cleared up to the west again so I went back to Auriga and observed the open clusters M36, M38 and NGC 1893 (AL binocular list item #2). These all fit in the same field of view in my 11x70’s and along with the brighter foreground stars made for a very nice image. I also went back to the right foot of Gemini, to re-observe M35 and Collinder 89. This is a 1° grouping of 7 magnitude 6 to 7 stars and another 10 or so in the magnitude 8 to 9 range.  Around 11:30pm I focused on the globular clusters M13 and M92 in Hercules.  We broke off around midnight. I took a nap until 4:30am.

   At 4:30 I woke up and set my binoculars back up. The skies were considerably more cloudy, the wind was noticeable now, and wow, was it cold. The traditional summer skies were lit up across the sky though, with Lyra and Cygnus high in the east, Scorpius dominating the south. To the north Cassiopeia was now on the eastern side of Polaris, and Ursa Major on the west. Virgo dominated the southwestern sky. I love the summer skies, but it’s supposed to be in the low 40’s or 50’s when the skies look like that, not the low 20’s. Anyway I was originally hoping to log a bunch of the brighter Messier object’s in Sagittarius and Scorpio. But the weather was uncooperative. Most of my un-logged Sagittarius objects, and M6 were behind the muck in the southern skies. I logged the big globular cluster, M4 (in Scorpio) at 5:01am. I picked up my tripod and pointed east where the skies were better. The rich sky of Cygnus yielded up the open cluster M39 at 5:10am, and thinking I had all I needed for the Binocular Messier Club, and my fingers complaining of the cold, I hurried back into my truck for a short morning nap before moonrise. I sure wish I had gone for M56 and M57 in Lyra while I had the chance. Oh well, it’s not like they’re going anywhere. And it will likely be warmer when I see them again.

   I woke up about 5:45 with the thin, waning crescent moon in the East. Sagittarius was now higher in the south. The sun came up around 7am and it was mostly ringed by a 22° Sun Halo. The rainbow was best on the right (south) and above (west) the suns disk. The ring broke in the upper left but reformed almost due left (north). I thought the left and right points were almost like sun dogs, but they were more defocused and more rainbow like than a good sundog tends to be.

   This was a fun Messier Marathon despite the low count of objects found or seen.


March 20th Saturday Night

Tonight we had another university class star party for BSU and CWI students. The skies were terrible. The large masses of clouds and overall large quantity of water in the air made for poor transparency (2/5) and the high winds kept the seeing poor as well (2/5). Despite the conditions we still showed about 40 to 50 folks open clusters like M41, M44, the double cluster and M45. We also showed off the Orion nebula M42 and the moon and planets Venus, Mars and Saturn. I spent most of my time on Saturn as it looks good in my 120mm APO in poor conditions. I spent the rest of the time on M41 and early in the evening, the moon.  


March 19th Friday Night

I participated in a star party for the Vallivue Middle School. Ronda Weygant, Scott and I congregated at Vallivue Middle school in Nampa along with about 50 to 60 students and parents around 9pm. Throughout the night I showed people the Moon, , the Pleiades, and towards the end of the night (around 10:20) Saturn and M42 through my 120ED APO. The wind all but died by 9:30 making for a very pleasant night. The skies where laced with high thin wispy clouds on occasion making for mediocre transparency (3/5). But despite this moisture the skies were rather stable. I’d say seeing was mediocre to good on occasion (3/5). At one point I could clearly see all four stars of the trapezium at 30x. It didn’t last for long but was briefly exciting.


March 18th, Thursday Night

I participated in a star party for the BSU astronomy class. Richard Beaver, Steve Bell, and I congregated at Dedication Point along with about 30 students around 9pm. Throughout the night I showed people Venus, the Moon, the Double Cluster, the Pleiades, and towards the end of the night (around 10:45) Saturn through my 120ED APO. The wind began picking up around 10:15  and the skies, while clear of clouds seemed laden with moisture producing mediocre transparency(3/5) and poor seeing(2/5). These conditions worsened around 10:30.


March 14th, Sunday Night

Well tonight went really well. I packed my 11x70 binoculars, a tripod, my copy of the Pocket Sky Atlas, some snacks and warm gear and headed to Dedication Point. There were 5 of us there plus a couple of members of the public for a short while. Steve brought his televue, Eric brought his criterion SCT, Irwin brought his Meade SCT, and Lowell brought his 15” Discovery Dob. This dob is much shorter than mine. It has an F5 focal ratio meaning a 75” focal length. Mine is a 16” F5.5 yielding an 88” focal length. Yet his seemed much shorter than the 13” difference in focal length. I think I should have done a 16” F5 now instead, Oh well.

The skies were good until about 10:45 when the transparency really started to go, due to high thin wispy clouds. My goal was to get my Binocular Messier list further a long and I made great progress. I started out with M31 just before 9pm and finished with a pair of galaxies (M60 and M59) in Virgo at 10:44. I logged 13 objects that hadn’t been done yet and observed 15. The two galaxies M66 and M65 in Leo had been logged previously.

I was fully expecting to see globular clusters, open clusters, brighter nebula and galaxies in my binoculars but was surprised by how apparent 10th magnitude galaxies were in these small lenses. For me, it really reinforced the concept that sky conditions have a lot to do with success.

Also I think the field of view helped a great deal as well. When I attempt to target faint objects in my 80mm finder I don’t see them as well as I do in these binoculars. The 80mm finder has about a 3 degree field while the binos have a 4.5 degree field of view. When you can put beta Andromeda and mu Andromeda in the same field, star hopping to the target is just easier. Also picking out the ‘fuzzy’ spots seems easier with more little stars to judge them by.


I have also decided I need to learn more of the named stars by heart. It will make navigating easier. I also need to memorize the greek alphabet, this too will make things easier.


March 5th

Well my mount continues to be plagued with problems. I'm now getting a ‘No Response 17’ error when trying to align the scope. Friends tell me this means I have an encoder that is not responding to the hand controller signals properly. I'll contact Celestron on Monday. Other than this issue I had a great time observing at Dedication Point. 6 folks and 5 scopes showed up. We looked at Mars which due to the sky conditions wasn't all that good tonight, and at the end, Saturn. I spotted what I thought were 3 moons. I logged the double cluster. The sky conditions were such that continued exploration of objects in Perseus was going to be difficult so I moved to Orion. Once there I observed 3 more open clusters and tried for a faint nebula but couldn’t find it. The Sky-Watcher ED120 APO is very rewarding to use for open clusters as the stars are crisp and clear. 


Late February/early March
I bought a deep cycle 12v Marine battery, an AC power inverter, a battery recharger, Celestron AC power cord, and a cigarette lighter socket. I built a little shelf/stand that mounts onto the top of the boat battery, and mounted the 12VDC socket and inverter on top. I will now be able to power the GTCG5 all night long on AC power or DR power. If I use the DC plug for the scope I can use the inverter for a laptop perhaps, although others in the club had advised against this.
You have to use a deep cycle battery as they are designed for sustained power draws while typical car batteries are designed to provide a lot of power initially but don't have a lot of sustained delivery ability.


February 18th, 2010, Meridian ID.  Mary McPherson Elementary Science Night

Instrument: Sky-Watcher 120ED APO

    3 - stable skies, average seeing
    3 - typical/average transparency
Eye Pieces: Celestron Ultima 30mm, 30x; Celestron Ultima 18mm,  50x; Celestron Ultima 12.5mm, 72x


The skies had been cloudy for weeks. I was supposed to talk about the Lunar stations if the skies prevented seeing anything and I was very unprepared for this. I was SO lucky tonight. The skies cleared from about 5pm to a little after 9:30pm. In this window I set up my GTCG5 on the school's playground and showed a thin crescent moon to about 30 to 40 kids and parents from 6:00 to about 8:00. I showed a few people Mars and tried for M42 but the building lights were due south and obstructed southern views quite effectively.

This evening I resolved to end my power problems with my GTCG5. After setting up the scope with a Celestron powertank that I thought was fully charged, I was very disappointed when it ran out of power after only about 30 minutes of operation.

February 7, 2010 08:30p at Backyard, Meridian ID.

Instrument: Sky-Watcher 120ED APO
Technical : Prime Solar System Object in Cancer, R.A. 08h39m07.0s Dec. +23°04'05", -1.1 mag, Alt 40°

    3 - stable skies, average seeing
    2 - poor transparency
Eye Pieces: Celestron Ultima 30mm, 30x; TeleVue Nagler 6 9mm, 100x


Mars had just past Opposition in relation to the earth and sun an was very bright and large in the
sky. Visually I mistook it for Jupiter a couple of nights before this. I was
trying out my new 120ED APO and again a couple nights prior to this one, with
much worse skies, I mistook Mars for Jupiter. It's size, brightness and
coloring were very similar to my experiences with that larger planet, I didn't
see the typical Galilean moons and was confused by this at the time. It wasn't
until the next morning that I confirmed its identity. On this night Mars was
spectacular. Positioned about 40 or so degrees above the eastern horizon it was
bright and bold. I could not get my mounts motors going so I only observed for
a few minutes at a time at 100x but the details were like nothing I've ever
seen before personally. I could make out large triangles of dark brown in the
north and south regions against an overall reddish brown disk. I wish I could
have set up my 16" but it was too cold, too late and the skies weren't that
good. I can't wait to see what Jupiter looks like with this scope.


January 2010
I have wanted an APO refractor for some time. I came into some money which allowed me to afford this goal. I bought a Sky Watcher 120mm F7.5 ED APO from OPT. I began putting it to use very quickly.

2010 Observing Projects:

Prior to 2010 I have completed the Messier List of 110 objects and begun the Herschel 400 List, and the Binocular Messier List. I would really like to finish the Bino Messier list this year and make a bigger dent in the H4C. I think I will also start the Double Star list this year too.


The Herschel 400 list is the most challenging, because of its size and the magnitude of some of its objects. At the beginning of 2010 I have 45 of them logged, plus a few more that are on the Messier list that I've observed but haven't logged again yet. I plan to re-observe these.  I originally planned to tackle specific constellations and complete them (or get as close as possible) before moving on. And I kept a basic guide of doing things by quantities of 4 or 1% of the list. However this has some drawbacks. I think now I will apply a bit wider filter to my process. I noticed that there about 230 galaxies (almost 60% of the list), the brightest of which is M33 at 6.4 and the dimmest is NGC 3912 at about 13.2. Most are in the 9 to 11 range. There are 105 open clusters (about 26% of the list), ranging from 2.5 magnitude all the way to 14th magnitude. But only about 6 are 11th Magnitude or dimmer. So I don't need my 40cm scope to find most of the open clusters. 8% of the list consists of globular clusters and all but 6 of those are birgther than 10th magnitude, so again, possible candidates for my 12cm refractor. We'll see.

I've got 30 of the Messiers logged as BMC objects and I'm confident that I'll get the rest needed for the award  by this summer, hopefully at the upcoming Messier Marathon.