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, http://pvaa.us/. I hope to see you out there.


  1. Enjoyable read, Matt. So cool to have a site like this a 30-minute drive from your driveway. Your nocturnal endurance, as always, impresses me and Terry is, well, an observing stud.

    London next to his XT 4.5 make a nice pairing, and good to hear that he is getting around so well on his own. As per an earlier email, maybe try out a green laser pointer on his ‘scope armed with his lowest power EP. I tell you, this has made a significant difference for me. I had my StarBlast 6 (now mounted on my ES Twilight I) last night for the first time in months and, for the first time on it, I used a GLP and, as with my refractors, it was just SO much easier to find and home in on objects. I used mainly a 32mm in concert with the glp and the object was either in the fov or just outside and easy to hit with a quick sweep. So maybe give this a test drive with London the next time out.

    So, did you do any work with your C80ED, and how did it go? I only recall reading some observing you did shortly after you recieved in last fall sometime and you were highly impressed. You say you were mainly ‘scope-hopping, but you must (?) have spent some time with your new glass. I am interested as I have been using my SV80ED and ES AR102 a lot of late, so curious as to your experiences with the C80ED.

    And, while I am on it, that C102 that we ALL bought for way cheap continues to amaze and impress. It’s easily my most versatile telescope and the resolution and ease of use (it’s SO light) make it maybe my favorite.



  2. Hope all is well Doug.

    That ES Twilight I is a great deal at $159 – thinking of getting one even though I already have the AZ4/Versago II that Matt used for his C80ED at the Party (see first picture) – just because of the price!

    Actually I’m more of an EQ person these days. Once I got the hang of using them beginning of last year, I could never go back to using an alt-azimuth for serious high magnification, deep-sky work. Maybe for casual, light observing though.

    I’ve decided to use my Starblast 6 as an urban scope. Brought it out of storage a few weeks ago and finally observed with it for the very first time since purchasing it over 4 years ago. Saw the most detailed view of Jupiter I’ve ever seen through any of my scopes (at 250X).

    I plan to buy 4″ tube rings for my C102, which I haven’t used in over 2 years. I would prefer using it on an EQ and star-hop with it, rather than using the NexStar GOTO mount which originally came with it.

  3. Hi Terry.

    I didn’t (and still don’t) recognize you in Matt’s photo! Good thing he identified all participants.

    The Twilight I is a super solid mount, and heavy, more so in boths cases vs the Porta II. Sadly, it doesn’t fold up so is only semi-portable. I currently use it mainly as a mount for my Starblast 6, and in this role it’s close to perfect. I leave the legs contracted all the way, and with the SB 6 aboard, I just pull up a chair and never have to move anything other than the ota. As I mentioned earlier to Matt, I have started using a green laser pointer on ‘scopes as a finder,
    including the SB 6 and have found this for me by far the fastest way to get centered on an object (using my lowest power EP, 32x GSO in the SB 6). So the scope, in essence, becomes its own finder. I can now whip the ota around just about anywhere, go to the low power EP and the object is either in the fov or just outside and easily and quickly centered.

    So do I understand correctly that your SB is a dedicated driveway/backyard scope? If so, not a bad idea as all that “extra” light gathering pays off in an LP setting. I use mine this way, and have pretty much since I’ve had it. I used it on Jupiter last week and had much the same experience as you, that is exceptional detail. And sharpness, too. I used my ES 11mm/82 apov plus an ES 2x barlow, so 136x on Jupiter; later tried a 3mm Zhumell planetary ep on its own (which similar to what you must have used to get 250x) and the image was a bit too soft, though larger. So the sweet spot is likely somewhere between the two. But we’ve had 5 straight overcast nights, so I’ve not been able to pursue this further.

    Happy that you finally got the SB 6 into action, and are finding it a fine ‘scope. I knew that once you used it, you’d like it a lot.

    My C102 has become my main scope: superb lunar and planetary views and terrific on brighter DSOs (best view ever of the double and ET clusters). The optics are so sharp, the 2″ focuser way more that just serviceable. And it’s so light for its size. For the $79 I paid for it including free shipping, 2 EPs, mirror diag, and red dot finder, well, I’m not likey to get that kind of score ever again. I use it now more than any other scope, including my AR102 and SV80ED.

    Btw, how did you find the NexStar go-to when you used it? Accurate and reliable . . . or?

    Good to hear what you’ve been up to.


  4. Yes – the SB6 will be used mainly from home, with the tabletop on the ground and me squatting down. I’ve only looked at Jupiter and Algeiba (in Leo) with it so far; very curious to see how many DSO’s a 150mm mirror can pick up in an urban white-zone.

    Also, I just bought a Celestron Omni XLT 150 Newtonian with a CG-4 EQ mount – if I wanted to take a 150mm scope to darker sky sites, this would be it.

    Interestingly enough, the C102 has been used mainly as an urban scope the few times I used it – the GOTO was good for seeking out objects where it was impossible to star hop because of the invisibility of guide stars. I brought it to the Arizona Star Party back in 2012 and that was the extent of it’s dark sky use. The GOTO worked well up to a point – because of a faulty cord, the power would suddenly go out from the hand controller and I would have to redo the settings and coordinates again (a pain).

  5. Right, I remember reading in one of the CN threads you mentioning that you bought that XLT 150/CG-4 package, I think for about $350.

    I’ve found that the SB6 even in my suburban white zone setting does a respectable job on even some relatively dim DSOs. Not great, but not bad either. I need to start using it more and dial back my infatuation with my assorted refractors.

    Star-hopping is always problematic for me as there are just so few visible sign post stars here, which is one reason the the glp as finder set up has worked so well.

  6. […] Stargazing for people who think they don't have time for stargazing. « Observing Report: PVAA star party on Mount Baldy […]

  7. Yes, the Omni was a great deal for that price.

    Re: SB6 in white zone – that’s good to know. Really curious to see how many of the fainter Messiers (e.g. Virgo galaxies) will be visible on a moonless night.

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