Wednesday, March 21, 2007

20070320 - Messier marathon from Central Park

Well a hardy, hearty try. As my first marathon, I learned some valuable lessons. To be successful, don't try it in Central Park.

I arrived at TotL with the Teleport 10" reflector, a well-thumbed Hoshi Navi Messier Guide, and Pennington's Year Round Messier Marathon Field Guide. The Hoshi Navi guide is a tried and true field guide that fits easily in cargo pants pockets. The Pennington guide not.

While the scope cooled down during sunset I observed the crescent Moon & Venus. Andrew, Vern, and Ian each beautifully captured that evening sky & crescent moon. Also, I thought I would spend the time to plan an attack across the sky. Instead, the scope attracted attention and soon enough a small crowd assembled. Venus blazing in the western sky hovering above a gorgeous crescent suspended above the treetops did not help in the very least.

At times I tipped the scope for the pedestrians to see the crescent. When the sky darkened, I showed the crowd and other passersby Saturn, all the while describing that I was out for the Messier Marathon. Coincidentally, Saturn looked as beautiful as Vern's recent shot. The air was moderatey good in transparency but the seeing was phenomenal. We were able to magnify Saturn to 180x with no problems, which is not often the case.

The session began earnestly with a failed attempt at M74. I got to the field but didn't see boo.

It's important to have a plan. Despite having the references, I relied more on memory and the Palm T3. As a result, I was inconsistent crossing the sky. Nor did I realize that there were objects seting to the northwest, which may have been possible. I don't know, I never tried. This would include M31, M32, and M34. M33 & M110 have been impossible thus far.

I was participating in these pedestrians' first Messier Marathon. The first object of the night was actually M45. They bagged their first without a telescope: Aldebaran, identify Hyades, and then west to Pleiades.

When the sky grew dark enough I began to punch away at very familiar objects. Most I know and don't need a chart - just pop, pop, pop. I worked from memory. From instinct. With the low power eyepiece yielding a 2.2° field of view, I landed the scope of the Leaping Minnows in Auriga, hopped to the cheek of Chesire Cat to find M38. On to M36, and M37. Four or five persons shared the time with me. I described how the Messier catalog came to be and my efforts devoted to checking 'em off one by one. I shared with them the views of each object.

While looking in the direcction of Auriga or M45, a meteor came down the western sky passing south east of Auriga. It traveled brightly and sluggishly like the words slow gin fizz.

Lesson #2: Sidewalk astronomy and a Messier rapid fire approach don't mix. in this case, sidewalk astronomy prevailed.

After the Aurigae clusters, made a big jump to Orion for M42 and M43. As usual, M43 doesn't pop out as conspicuously as M42. I mentioned the Trapezium and the molecular dust cloud. (Remember Lesson #2.) I poked the scope up to M35 in the foot of the Gemini twin Castor and then came down the sky to Canis Major for M41.

Standing there thinking for a moment - I was thinking hard and mentally patting myself on the back. Yeah, what was that 7 ~ 8 objects in 10 minutes. I swung the scope all the way around the sky and landed on M81 & M82. Tough. I could see M80's core easily but M82 was not at all requiring averted vision and the experience of knowing a low contrast object looks like against the background sky. For the one pedestrian sticking it out, Kevin, he saw M80 but not M81. Good for you that was a galaxy from NYC and two more objects for our list.

It was, in fact, 9 Messier objects, Moon, Venus, Saturn, including three returning looks at M42 for the half dozen or more people that passed by or stopped. And it was more like an hour and 45 minutes, not ten minutes, that passed.

Lesson #3: Have a plan and stick with it. The more methodical, the more efficient.

Charlie arrived about this time with his Canon 15x binoculars. I returned to Sirius, alpha Canis Majoris, to launch my hop eastward into Puppis for M47, M46 (no Planertay Nebula detected), back to Sirius to go northward into Monoceros for M50. I admired M50, as well as M46. Both have a faint, concentrated glitters of light - though both are completely different in appearance. It's that shimmering, ethereal quality that they have in common.

Lesson #4: Don't hang out on the object. Observe, take a deep breath, and enjoy the scenery for no more then two moments. Detect it, note the time, and move on, save the visual interrogation for another session.

I eyed Wezen, delta Canis Majoris, then looked hard at the sky east for xi Puppis. Pushed the scope southeast from M50, putting the Rigel Quickfinder on xi Pup. M93 was a very short hop outside the field stop of the eyepiece. I had been in this area earlier in the night when someone asked me about my favorite object. After a hesitation, the scope was parked on tau Canis Majoris to delight in the fragile glow low in our southern sky.

Anyway ...

Back up to Orion to confirm that M78 won't show itself. I spend a bit of time to confirm the field which had some six or seven magnitude 10+ stars. Nebula, not.

Daniel the Intern arrived at this time. Andy, Masha, Didier, Carol and Dog "E" would pass. While Saturn wqas snuck into the repertoire I raced to get other DSOs. The list below contains the objects hunted.

All night long the cops were pretty busy in the park. At times there were two or three cars around the Lawn. One nearby street lamp was out and the other we placed a red towel over the half that faced our direction. No bidy said anything until one cop came by at midnight reminding us to leave by 1:00am, otherwise we could be charged with a misdemeanor crime. Shortly afterwrd, a dog owner stopped and told us of a horror story where he claims he was harassed by the polioce for nearly half an hour and then ticketed for being in the park at 1:04am. In his version, he was told by the police that they have a quota & he was at the edge of the park. Hearing all this, Charlie and I were spooked and left by 12:50am. These aren't the police we know and admire.

So in the vein of our last hurrah for a March Meesier marathon, the objects hunted are as follows (an asterisk indicates field but not seen):

M66 & M65,
M105 & NGC3321,
M96 & M95*,
RHO VIRGINIS and the Pinwheel,
M49 - only a faint small glow of the nucleus, ~4'
M44 - Ooops forgot these, going back
M67 - beautiful, faint OC that courageously struggles with the background sky
M60 & M59 - both nuclei in same field of view, faint but obvious
M3 - was going to pack but landed the scope right on M3 as last, deliberate object.

Packed up knowing that the Spring and Summer sky had a lot more to offer. I really didn't expect toi get all 110 but I am thinking that 80 should be realistic. Well I really won't know until were able to get reprieve from the curfew. Alittel bit of a let down at TotL.

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