Archive for April, 2015


Observing Report: Afton Canyon, again

April 26, 2015

Afton Canyon April 2015 1 - Wedel camp

I’m now posting observing reports in reverse order. The last post was about the PVAA star party on April 18, this one is about an informal gathering at Afton Canyon the week before. I got an email from Ron Hoekwater saying that he, Laura Jaoui, and Craig Matthews would be heading out to Afton on Saturday, April 11. London and I were already planning on camping somewhere that weekend, and the high desert promised to be cooler and darker overnight than the Salton Sea or points south, so we jumped.

Afton Canyon April 2015 3 - waiting for dinner

I was excited to get back. The only other time I’d been to Afton, in the fall of 2010, I had one of the most memorable nights of stargazing of my life. That time the road down to the campsite was in horrible shape so we camped up on the rim. This time the road was passable and we got a campsite right across from Ron, Laura, and Craig. Craig had his 12-inch Meade Lightbridge dob, and London and I brought our XT dobs and a couple of smaller scopes.

Afton Canyon April 2015 6 - Ron's Obsession

Ron brought his new 25-inch Obsession. More about that in a bit.

The early evening was fairly miserable. We were camped only a little over 100 yards from the Mojave River and the mosquitoes were ghastly. I had a ThermaCell on, but for once it seemed to do no good. Possibly because of the breeze – there was a very light breeze, not enough to keep the bugs off, but possibly enough to disrupt any benefit from the ThermaCell, even though I tried to keep it upwind. Fortunately, Craig had some DEET wipes to share, and the wind came up after dark, just enough to keep us mostly bug-free for the rest of the evening.

Afton Canyon April 2015 4 - campfire sparks

London and I set up camp and cooked dinner (hot dogs and brauts) and then started picking out some of the best and brightest things in the sky. I didn’t do much dedicated observing of my own – too busy helping London and sneaking peeks through Ron’s 25-inch. After London sacked out, I abandoned my scope entirely, and spend the next three hours observing with Ron. He was very generous with the scope and even let me drive it to new objects a couple of times. It was the first time I’d gotten to actually use such a big scope for more than quick peeks at star parties.

It was pretty freaking spectacular. We looked at M81, M82, M51 and NGC 5195, M104, M97, M108, M5, M13, M57, M4, NGC 6144, NGC 4565, NGC 4559, an Abell galaxy cluster in or near Serpens Caput (I’ve forgotten the designation, but there were a LOT of galaxies in the field), NGC 4361, and Epsilon Lyrae. We caught the outer spiral arms of M81, the bridge of gas between M51 and NGC 5195, to-the-core resolution on the big globular clusters…amazing things. Unfortunately, the lousy seeing kept us from resolving the central star in the Ring Nebula. The Owl Nebula actually looked like an owl. My favorite view of the night was of M51 – the spiral arms weren’t just there, they were sharp and detailed, like a slightly fuzzy photo of the galaxy. Wonderful night.

Peggy Sue's Diner-saurs - London with sauropod

On the way home the next day, London and I saw dinosaurs, but you’ll have to head over to SV-POW! for the rest of that story.


Observing Report: PVAA star party on Mount Baldy

April 22, 2015

PVAA Mt Baldy Star Party 2015-04-15 panorama

Last Saturday a bunch of us from the Pomona Valley Amateur Astronomers, plus a few folks from neighboring clubs, got together at Cow Canyon Saddle on Mount Baldy for the monthly PVAA star party. Here’s a panorama of the whole group while we were setting up before sunset. It’s worth clicking on to scan around the full-size image. I wasn’t holding a camera on a tilt, the parking lot really does slope down significantly from northeast (right) to southwest (left).

PVAA Mt Baldy Star Party 2015-04-15 west end group

I spent most of the early evening with these folks at the southwest end of things. From left to right here we have Cori Charles, our local outreach coordinator for the Planetary Society; my son, London, with his XT4.5; Gary Thompson, our club treasurer – his powder-blue 8-in Dob is mostly hidden behind London; Rob Record of the Riverside Astronomical Society with his C6 SCT; and Terry Nakazono with his StarBlast 4.5EQ. My Celestron C80ED is in the right foreground, and with Venus in the photo near the bottom of this post.

PVAA Mt Baldy Star Party 2015-04-15 Kassandra and Kevin Garcia

Here are Kassandra and Kevin Garcia with their 8-inch SCT – they treated all of us to a steady stream of wonderful views.

I didn’t get pictures of everyone and their scopes. People I missed included Bill Maxey and his Vixen VMC 200L, Brandon Finnegan and his XT8, Frank Nelson, some folks who came while I was out and brought a Celestron FirstScope, and possibly others. And I haven’t mentioned Ed Grobel and Patty Morrison yet…

PVAA Mt Baldy Star Party 2015-04-15 Patty Morrison

Ed and Patty are relatively new to amateur astronomy and to the club, but they are getting up to speed very fast. Here’s Patty looking at Jupiter through their Celestron NexStar 6 Evolution. Yes, that’s a bunny ear you can see on her hat. Ed was wearing a chicken hat, I think. I’m going to ask Patty to make me a dinosaur hat.

Anyway, in the early part of the evening I split my time between socializing, looking through other people’s scopes, and helping London with a few things, although he is pretty independent with the XT4.5. He found the Orion Nebula, the Pleiades, and the Beehive (M44) all by himself, and the open cluster M41 and the galaxy pair M81/M82 with just a little help from me. I also got nice views of Jupiter through several scopes, and Brandon Finnegan treated me to great views of the Sombrero Galaxy (M104) and the triple star Beta Monoceros in his XT8.

At around 10:00 I left to run London home, but I was back on the mountain by 11:00. After that, my own scope sat mostly neglected while I cadged looks off everyone else. I spent a lot of time, close to four hours, observing with Ed and Patty and their C6. I probably missed a few things, but a mostly-complete list of objects we looked at includes Comet Lovejoy – still surprisingly bright as it heads north out of the solar system – Jupiter, Saturn, M13, M5, M57, M81/M82, NGC 6543, the Leo Triplet, Epsilon Lyrae, Albireo, Polaris, M51 and NGC 5195, M4, M27, Brocchi’s Coathanger (in the finderscope of the XT4.5), Saturn again, Jupiter again, NGC 4565, and Saturn yet again to conclude.

PVAA Mt Baldy Star Party 2015-04-15 C80ED and Venus

For me, the best views of the night were of globular clusters and Saturn. There was a stretch around 11:30 when most of us still on the field went a little glob-mad. I looked at M13 through both of the C6 SCTs and through Gary’s 8-inch Dob. I was extremely impressed by the 6-inch SCTs. They gave up surprisingly little to the Dob in terms of image brightness and their long focal lengths and comparatively high magnifications meant that everything we looked at had a nice image scale. All of the globs we looked at in Ed’s and Patty’s scope had nicely resolved outer halos, and NGC 6543, the Cat’s Eye Nebula, was distinctly bluish-green in the eyepiece.

Then there was Saturn. Seeing was very good Saturday night and Saturn was just stunning. I have never been able to hold the Cassini Division in direct vision for so long at a time. Occasionally a random gust or roil would smear it out but it was easily visible at least 80% of the time. The disk of the planet showed salmon-colored bands, and we could make out the shadows of the rings on the planet, and of the planet on the rings, so dark and crisp they looked inked in. That’s why we kept going back for more.

After Ed and Patty packed up about 3:00 AM, I wussed out and crawled in the Mazda for a couple of hours of sleep. I had a couple of quick peeks with the XT4.5 after I got up, but by then the sky was starting to get bright. Terry had pushed right through with only a half hour catnap earlier in the evening, adding 7 or 8 new objects to his tally, which now includes over 1000 unique deep-sky objects. We packed up and went down the hill for breakfast. All in all, a great time.

Before the star party, someone wrote to Gary to ask if non-members are welcome at PVAA star parties. The answer is yes, always! If you are within striking distance, come on out and see some things with us. Our star party calendar and directions are available on the PVAA website, I hope to see you out there.


Observing Report: Total lunar eclipse on April 4, 2015

April 5, 2015

April 2015 lunar eclipse composite

I stayed up late Friday night to catch the beginning of the lunar eclipse early Saturday morning. The penumbral eclipse started at 3:16 AM local time, and it was still going on when the sun rose. The umbral or ‘total’ eclipse was very brief, just five minutes between 4:58 and 5:03. Just like last October, I got London up to see it. He was kind enough to loan me his 60mm Meade refractor for the event, and he used his XT4.5. The little Meade refractor made photography easier by cutting down the light level without sacrificing contrast. I took all of these photos with my iPhone 5C shooting through a Celestron 8-24mm zoom eyepiece. As usual, I processed and composited the photos in GIMP.

Full moon 2015-04-03

I’m particularly happy with this shot of the full moon. I really need to do a composite image with all of my best full moon shots. One of these days.

Previous lunar eclipse reports:

Previous full moons: