Thursday, May 25, 2006

Three nights...before the front

We were fortunate to have three nights of pretty decent skies, 22-24 May. The first evening Charlie and I packed and left before midnight, the next two nights were up to and past the 1am park curfew. Day 2 had spectacular transparency in terms of what we are accustomed to. I didn't test for NELM, but my guess would be better than mag 5.0. Even last night which began to go south around midnight was clear enough that I could see the seven stars of UMi, as well as Pherkad Minor; Mel111 also was apparent. The cloud cover that came in around midnight is the front of this weather system that's going to blow our chances of observing the reasonably favorable opposing crescent Moon phases.

On the first night I brought the Tak bins and on the other two nights I had the Tak 102 refractor. I like the aperture and the flexibility with magnification. I miss the large glass that the Teleport offers. Just haven't had the will to bring in the park lately. I suspect that three objects which eluded detection (M56, M68, M106) would have been easily caught within the 10" reflector. M106 continues to have me perplexed thinking that this should be easy!

These past evenings we were hanging out mostly in the summer stretch of sky. While the spring sky culminates at astronomical twilight, Leo already tipped forward, the early summer sky is rising. Libra is rising in the south east, Scorpio's claws, squished beneath Serpens and Ophiuchus, are clearing the tree tops. We spent some in the claws observing the doubles, Beta and Nu Sco. Nu Sco is similar to the Double Double with a more challenging pair. We did a compare-n-contrast with Epsilon Lyr, which the northern pair of Nu Sco sort of appeared similar to both components of the Double Double. Looking at the data below they really don't show much similarity other than being double doubles.

Referencing Karkoschka's atlas in the field:
Epsilon Lyr mag: 4.6/4.7 sep: 209.0"
e^1 mag: 5.2/5.5 sep: 2.4"
e^2 mag: 5.0/6.1 sep: 2.5"
Nu Sco mag: 4.0/6.3 sep: 41.0"
e^1 mag: 4.4/5.4 sep: 1.4"
e^2 mag: 6.7/7.8 sep: 2.6"

A 'first' for Charlie and me was seeing Coma Berenices Star Cluster, Melotte 111, naked eye. It twinkled away displaying up to seven distinct stars as a distorted, upside "Y", pulled longer to the west. It didn't present any glow or hazy spot but a constant twinkling of these stars. I realize now how large it is!

Another first was NGC6210, a planetary nebula nearby Beta Her. It reminded me of the Cat's Eye Nebula, planetary nebula in Draco. Its size and color struck me as very similar, but that's relying on memory. I didn't starhop to NGC6543 to see in real time. Maybe another night.

Over the three days Charlie, Kin, and I observed a number of the globular clusters. These objects remind me that it wasn't that long ago before man would come to understood the size, scope, and nature of our Milky Way until Shapley tapped into the resident variables. The clusters we would drop by and observe included M13, M92, M56* (not detected), M3, M5, M68*. We compared and contrasted their sizes, brightness profiles, shape, starfield, etc. Of this series each had distinct characteristics which make it easy to distinguish. Give it a try.

A good three days with much diversity. Most Messier objects but a small measure of NGC complimented by good dose of doubles .