Archive for August 23rd, 2012

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Observing report: Mt Baldy again, with friends

August 23, 2012

I did a short run up Mt Baldy last night, with some of my former students from the summer anatomy program. One of them, Kevin Zhao, brought along his Canon DSLR and got this awesome 30-second exposure. Kevin waved a little flashlight around during the exposure, which had the cool effect of making me look like I’m just beaming down here. This is looking east; if you click through to the big version, you can see that stars in the upper left corner, near the celestial pole, are little pinpoints, whereas those in the upper right corner, near the celestial equator, were already starting to trail.

And you can see some clouds. I thought these were going to be the end of the enterprise. We got up there about 8:45 and the sky was halfway clouded out. Over the next 20 minutes the clouds continued to congregate, until all that was left was a little sucker hole extending from the handle of the Big Dipper to Arcturus. So our first object was the double/multiple star Mizar and Alcor. I had along the XT10 and 15×70 binoculars, and people had fun cruising the skies with the big binos while waiting for their turn at the eyepiece.

Happily, by the time everyone had a look at Mizar and Alcor the sky had started to clear overhead, so we moved on to the Dumbbell Nebula (M27), the Ring Nebula (M57), the beautiful color-contrasted double star Albireo. By then the sky was almost completely clear, and it stayed that way, except for a stubborn bank of clouds to the south and west that kept us from seeing Mars and Saturn and almost denied us the moon.

By now we were rocking and rolling on summer sky highlights: the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules (M13), the Wild Duck Cluster (M11), a fine globular in Sagittarius (M22), the Lagoon Nebula (M8), the Swan Nebula (M17), and the M24 star cloud. We probably would have observed all of the clusters and nebulae that form the ‘steam’ rising from the teapot of Sagittarius, but the light pollution was worst in that direction so I stuck to a handful of the best and brightest objects. Sadly, the open clusters M6 and M7 were buried in the top of the southern cloud bank, so we missed them.

Speaking of that cloud bank, about 10:45 the crescent moon emerged from the flat bottom of the cloud deck and set over LA. Distance and haze dimmed its light somewhat and colored it orange, but we still got good looks at 50x and 86x. As the last person got a look at high mag, the horizon started to nibble away at the moon, and soon it had set.

After that we turned 180, to the northeast, and looked at the Double Cluster (NGC 869/884), the Andromeda galaxy (M31) and one of its satellite galaxies (M32). Then a couple of nice asterisms: Brocchi’s Coathanger, and the Engagement Ring around Polaris. Polaris itself was nicely split in the telescope (not surprising, a good 3-inch scope will split it, and it’s pretty easy prey for scopes of 4 inches and up).

Our final object of the night was the Cat’s Eye Nebula (NGC 6543), which was a bright round glow at 200x, and–as I had hoped–noticeably blue-green in the eyepiece.

By then it was 11:20 and we were all winding down, so we packed up and came down. It’s a fun drive, coming down the mountain–steep and twisty enough that you can really pour through the turns, but not so bad that you worry about burning out your brakes or sailing into a canyon. And the cool mountain air was most welcome after the 110-degree heat we’ve been sweating through for the past month.

Unfortunately with the moon waxing there won’t be much point in going out to dark skies for the next couple of weeks; last night was about the last night we could have gone and gotten skies dark enough to be rewarding. I’m glad it worked out.