First Night: After a tour of the grounds to include the outside of the Solar Telescopes, The Chara Array and the 100” scope, outside and inside, we re entered the 60” Dome with our tour guide Tim at around 8pm. Telescope operator Tim and Shelly, Tim’s helper. Tim the scope operator also had a graduate student, Kristen helping him too. Still twilight out at the time. We were shown around the facility and learned more about the 60”. 22 ton instrument, no welds, all riveted, built in a shipyard. The 60” mirror is made of glass by St. Gobain co in France and of the same material as wine bottles.
After going over instructions on safe and proper use of the telescope, the process of opening the slit on the dome was started. Most interesting was the warning to stay away from the metal parts of the dome along the outside edge. The original DC electronics are still in use with a possibility of electrical shock as a result. To open the dome, a panel with 3 original, dim orange Edison electric light bulbs was turned on with knife edge switches. The dome started to majestically rise up with a loud metal on metal squealing. Quite impressive actually. The stars were rock solid and the seeing appeared to be a 10 out of 10. We were very fortunate in that there was an inversion layer over Los Angeles that kept the clouds over the city and cut the light pollution way down. It also served to steady the air and we were told that we had one of the best seeing nights on the mountain in a long time. The temperature was very mild too allowing us to dress lightly and in comfort.
First Object: The star Sirius. Still a bit too light out to see any deep sky objects. Sirius was somewhat low in the sky for the scope to reach, but we were able to view it. Image was clear and tack sharp. The pup star companion to Sirius was EASILY visible! Sirius showed 4 distinct spikes from the spider holding the secondary and the pup was bright and clear in between the spikes on the right side of Sirius.
Second Object: Approx. 8:30pm, “Eskimo” planetary nebula in Gemini. Fantastic! Bright, hint of blue to me, the inner part of the nebula was distinct with a rounded roughly triangular shape surrounding the core that forms the “face” of the nebula.
This was all surrounded by a large, diffuse, round glow forming the “fur edging” around the “face.” This made it extremely easy to see why it is called the “Eskimo” nebula. Much brighter and more distinct with the 55mm eyepiece than with the 80mm.
Third Object: NGC 2371, planetary nebula in Gemini, not far from the Eskimo. Interesting object, bright central star and 2 roundish glowing lobes to either side. I saw a greenish glow from the lobes. Tim gave us a 2” Oxygen 3 filter to put in front of the eyepiece. This helped immensely. I was able to see the lobes much better and to me, there was a hint of a spiral or pinwheel aspect to this now.
Dinner in the dome time. Approx: 9:35pm. Cold cuts, rolls, chips, cheese, drinks and fruit. What were we supposed to do with the fruit??
Fourth Object: approx: 9:40pm, MARS !!! Even though it has moved away from closest approach to Earth, still fantastic! LOTS of detail, very steady seeing. Bright, white polar cap pops out on the top, lots of dark brownish, greenish detail along the bottom. I saw a distinct roundish feature consisting of a dark line near Mthe center of the planet. Best detail I’ve ever seen, the 55mm eyepiece made the details pop out. Tim brought a salmon colored filter that we used over the eyepiece. This made the details come thru even better than with the naked eye. All sorts of light detail seen.
Fifth Object: Approx 10:20pm, on to “The Ghost of Jupiter.” Planetary nebula in Hydra. Exceptional object! Bright blue green coloration, looks like a giant almond shaped eye. Distinct center area, soft outer area with a distinct edge. Bright central star, then the inner oval shaped eye and then the roundish outer layer.
Sixth Object: Approx: 10:50pm, M 104, the “Sombrero” galaxy in Virgo. Long edge on with a dark band across the center. Lighter glow across the top and bottom. Not as distinct as the Ghost of Jupiter, galaxy all across the entire field of view in the eyepiece.
Seventh Object: Approx: 11:00pm, NGC 4038, the “Antenae” galaxy in Virgo. A bit of a disappointment. Very dim, washed out. Definitely there, but barely visible.
Eighth Object: Approx: 11:20pm, NGC 4361 in Corvus, small planetary nebula. Indistinct round fuzz ball.
Ninth Object: Approx: 11:30pm, M 51, “Whirlpool” galaxy, Canes Venatici. Large, bright, good detail in the 80mm eyepiece. Both cores easy to see and some of the spiral arm detail seen too.
Tenth Object: Approx: 11:50pm, SATURN !! 80mm, INCREDIBLE !!!
For me, the highlight of all of our observing time. Like a postcard, sharp, jet black background, easy details on the surface of the planet. Cassini division sharp and to me, seemed wider than I’ve seen it before. Thru the 55mm, Saturn was Mind Blowing! The “Crepe” ring on the inner part of the ring system was easy to see. Wide, distinct, a bit ghostly and a light blue grey. The shading on the bands of the planet showed some detail. Got some nice JPEGS with my camera held up to the eyepiece, but no where near what I saw thru the eyepiece. Titan showed a disk and I was able to see 6 of Saturn’s moons.
Eleventh Object: Approx: 1:30am, M 5 Globular cluster. Bright, resolved to the core, nice 3D effect so that it looked like a glowing ball of stars.
Twelfth Object: Approx: 2am, M 13 Globular. 3 dimensional feel to it, resolved to the core and it appeared to me that the dark lanes in the center were visible.
Thirteenth Object: Approx: 2:50am. The Ring Nebula. Extremely bright, blue green color to me. The central star easily popped right out.
Fourteenth Object: Approx: 3:40am, everyone tired and starting to fade. Viewed the “Catseye” Planetary nebula. Very bright, strong blue/green color. Almost a double ring, one on top of the other with an easily visible central star. Fuzzy all around the outside. A very nice object.
Fifteenth Object: Approx: 3:50am. Albeirio. I was surprised at how nice this was. Very widely spaced in the eyepiece, the stars were bright and it was easy to see one as blue, the other as yellow.
Sixteenth Object: Approx: 4:10am. NGC 6781, planetary in Aquila. Nice, round evenly illuminated though not too bright planetary. Greatly enhanced by the use of an Oxygen 3 filter. No central star seen.
Seventeenth Object: Approx 4:20am, “Campbell’s Hydrogen Star” in Cygnus. This was a surprise object and one I’d never seen before. Very unusual, looked to me like a small, strongly red planetary nebula with a bright orange star in the center. We were told that this was not actually a planetary, but a young star burning very hot.
Eighteenth Object (and last for the night) Approx: 4:40 am. The Dumbbell nebula. This filled the entire field of view and strongly benefited from the use of the Oxygen 3 filter. It was almost too large for even the 80mm eyepiece and while nice, was not nearly as impressive to me as some of the smaller, more condensed objects seen.
After this, we made our way back to Los Angeles thru extremely dense fog down a winding mountain road.
There was still an inversion layer over Los Angeles with rain and clouds on the way back to the mountain. We drove up into extremely heavy fog and only right near the peak where the telescopes were did we encounter clear skies. A bit of fog and cloud was drifting up over the peak from time to time. We arrived at the scope about 7pm with a new operator, Tom Mason and Shelly was there too. We had a dinner of pizza, cookies, chips and other bad for you food. The slit was opened by 7:35pm and it was noticeably cooler with the stars twinkling some. The seeing was definitely not as good as the night before.
First Object: Approx: 7:40pm. Venus. Crescent shape easily seen, no detail noted other than that.
Second Object: Approx: 7:50pm. Sirius again. Tried for the pup star, but the seeing was much poorer and Sirius was very shimmery. None of us could see the pup star.
Third Object: Approx: 8:10pm. Betelgeuse. Bright orangy star, no details, seeing not so good even higher up.
Fourth Object: Approx: 8:20pm, Castor. We were able to cleanly split it
Fifth Object: Approx: 8:40pm, NGC 2301 in Monoceros. Nice, small open cluster with 25 or so stars in it.
Sixth Object: Approx: 8:55pm. “Hubble’s Variable Nebula” in Monoceros. Fairly bright, easy to see a fan shape spreading out from a star, I could not see any color in it.
Seventh Object: Approx: 9:10pm, Mars. Not nearly as nice as the night before, harder to focus, surface detail much harder to spot.
Eighth Object: Approx: 9:40pm, NGC 2903 in Leo. Bright spiral galaxy, bright core and I could see a bit of brightening on either side of it.
Ninth Object: Approx: 9:55pm, Gamma Leonis star system. Nice yellow / yellow double star system. Clear separation between the two.
Tenth Object: Approx: 10pm, NGC 3190 in Leo. Edge on galaxy, thin streak with a brighter core and maybe a hint of a dust lane.
Eleventh Object: Approx: 10:20pm, NGC 3226 and 3227 in Leo. 2 galaxies in the same field of view, one bright and oval, the other fainter, smaller and round.
Twelfth Object: Approx: 10:30pm, NGC 3412. Galaxy, round, very bright core with possible faint extension around it.
Thirteenth Object: Approx: 10:45pm, M 95 Galaxy in Leo. Smaller than I thought it would be, bright round core, couldn’t see much other detail.
Fourteenth Object: Approx: 11pm, M 96 galaxy in Leo. Brighter than M 95, bright core, fainter, circular extension around it.
Fifteenth Object: Approx: 11:10pm, M 105 galaxy in Leo, bright, round, no other detail seen.
Sixteenth Object: Approx: 11:20pm M 81 galaxy in Ursa Major. Very bright oval core, with a diffuse background. No definite background detail seen.
Seventeenth Object: Approx: 11:30pm, M 82 galaxy in Ursa Major. Very nice, long, edge on, bright. I could see dark mottling in the core and near one edge.
Eighteenth Object: Approx: 11:45pm, M 65, galaxy in Leo. Bright, easy to see, with extensions from the spiral arms extending out up and down.
Nineteenth Object: Approx: 12:10am, M 66 Galaxy in Leo. Bright, elongated, almost an S or hook shape with a little bit of mottling near the bottom.
Twentieth Object: Approx: 12:25am. Saturn again. Not great, fuzzy, Cassini division pops in and out once in a while, but nothing like the night before. Still bright enough in the eyepiece to cause some night blindness, but overall a disappointment. Good thing we didn’t have seeing like this the whole time…
Twenty first and last object: Approx: 12:35am, 3C 273 in Virgo. Quasar 3 billion light years away, though one of the closer to us. Bright star like, close to another star. No other details seen.
At 1pm we called it quits. The seeing was poor and we were tired. If the seeing had been better, we would have stuck it out, but overall, the conditions were not nearly as good as the night before and we were spoiled by that.