Your Favorite Observing Session
Posted 12 July 2013 - 09:35 PM
For me it is one where it was just me and my friend Alan and we were at my favorite dark site last summer. I got set up early, collimated, and everything was set up. I stood up and began to take some pictures of the sun as it was setting over the Sheeprock Mountains to the west. I then sat down, took a bottle of water and began to take a few drinks. I love that time so much, sunset to twilight with the world calm, peaceful. I anticipate the observing that I am about to do. I often think of Carl Sagan's quote "Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality." For me this time is a very spiritual time and the inner peace and calm that comes over me I relish. It is the signal that I have left the hustle, the demands and the responsibilities of my everyday life and I get to escape, to focus on only one thing, hunting down and observing the objects I am after.
This night a fun thing happen. Seven months before my friend Mat, who is my usual observing friend each new moon, and I had gone to this site in January for a wonderful evening of winter observing. During this night in the Juniper trees next to the site, we discovered a family of Great Horn Owls. The parents were hunting and the owlets were squawking for their food. It made for a fun night of observing as the parents would fly out and fly in to feed their owlets. Well this night as twilight came in and Alan and I were now standing and talking, the Great Horn Owls flew out and flying in circles, flew around our heads. They flew close enough that I can remember seeing their eyes and their wings and feathers. Cool and it was very cool.
My observing that night was outstanding. I captured about 10 Herschel 400 II and then went after some challenging objects. First off I was able to confirm a visual observation of IC 1296, with a bright core, the bar on each side. I also got that night the Hickson 79 group, all five of them. Sketched that one and I do remember when I found them I was very excited (all found in the 14"). Then I went after some planetary nebula and observed until 4:30a.m. I then packed up, putting everything next to my Pathfinder, climbed into the back on top of my covered memory foam mattress, turned on my portable fan on (I have to sleep with a fan) and watched as Aldebaran, Jupiter and Venus rose in the eastern sky. I feel asleep there and woke up later that morning.
It was a wonderful night, Alan was wonderful company as we observed, talked, observed some more and confirmed our observations. More importantly, when it came time to go to bed, I was so relaxed, so calm that it was so easy to fall asleep. Man, at times I wish I could capture these type of observing sessions in a pensieve like in Harry Potter to relive those nights. So what is your favorite observing session so far?
Posted 13 July 2013 - 12:43 AM
It was glorious. In contrast, I've had my scope out twice this entire year (weather & work schedule conspiring against me), and both times were only so-so seeing, with 150x-230x being the max I could use on Saturn. The consolation is that Globs don't really care about seeing, so I spent a lot of time with them instead.
Posted 13 July 2013 - 07:13 AM
Posted 14 July 2013 - 04:33 PM
Posted 14 July 2013 - 06:02 PM
Another equally memorable one is when the same daughter looked at Saturn through a telescope for the first time. She exclaimed 'DAD, IT'S JUST LIKE IN THE TEXTBOOKS!!!'
Posted 15 July 2013 - 08:04 AM
I only realized how great of a night that was, when revisiting some of the same objects this past Friday at the same site, with the same scope - all of them looked like a pale shadow compared to the views I saw previously. It was like I was viewing completely different objects.
This really reinforced in my head how big of a difference viewing conditions can make.
Posted 15 July 2013 - 10:09 AM
It makes me wonder how many would-be stargazers never get off the ground because of the conditions they start under. Having Saturn at opposition, rings wide open, made a tremendous difference for me in my first week. Anytime I got frustrated (like when I couldn't find M13 in Draco's head), I could swing over to Saturn and be instantly rejuvenated.
Posted 15 July 2013 - 11:01 AM
My second favorite took place on 3/30/13, my first night under jet black skies. I swung the scope over to M42 and the view that night, it will be forever engraved in my mind. Seeing M42 in its full, non-polluted glory literally took my breath away. But that's another story...
Posted 15 July 2013 - 04:54 PM
I heard a woosh and saw a shadow out of the corner of my eye. As I looked up a large Bald Eagle was swooping down and picked up a large 5' Bull Snake in its huge Claws.
The Eagle flew away toward its nest high in a tree along the River bank.
This happened no more than 10-15 ft away from me.
Posted 16 July 2013 - 06:00 PM
Posted 17 July 2013 - 10:03 PM
Observing a fireball in Panama with my friend Dave was another. Laid back and looked up through the milky way. You got a sense of 3 dimensions. Serene.
The worst: a bat pooped on my pristine, brand new meniscus and on my head. It happened no more than 10 to 15 feet away, too.
Posted 23 July 2013 - 07:58 PM
But my favorite is a night that seems to happen once a year. Usually I set up my telescope facing east in my urban front yard. But it seems about once a year, Sagittarius is in the right place at the right time, and the horizon haze is just a little bit lighter that night. Last year it was August 6, this year it was July 12. I set up facing south looking through a tiny gap in the cityscape, and I start at Antares and look at everything through Scutum as the earth spins over the next couple hours. M7! M11! M22! Dim globulars, nebulae, it's the center of the gosh-darned galaxy!
Maybe I'm just jinxing myself, but it seems to me like I'm very unlikely to get things to line up again to get another look at this part of the sky until July 2014 -- maybe June if somehow I can do a late night. Once we get too far into August, all this stuff is too far west by the time it gets dark. *sigh*
Posted 24 July 2013 - 12:14 AM
It never gets old, right?
Posted 24 July 2013 - 04:28 AM
On December 6, 2011 I got up, made myself a nice cup of coffee at 4.30am and set the scope up for my first view of Saturn. I had one of those Celestron 1.25" 8-24mm zooms popped in and Saturn obliged.
I only got about x93 magnification, but I got hooked! My first view of a planet! That view cost me a lot of astrodollars and a lot of sleepless nights. Totally worth it!!!
Now I prefer DSO but whenever any planet can oblige when I am viewing, I am always up to it as a tribute.
Since then, I showed Saturn to many people. Astrodj is right, you always get the "Holy ****" reaction!!!
Posted 24 July 2013 - 06:32 AM
Posted 24 July 2013 - 07:19 AM
Here's one from the night of August 4th-5th 2010:
A day of intermittent heavy rain and thunder gave way to clear skies during the evening, for once exactly as the forecast had predicted. The BBC and Metcheck’s forecasts both agreed, which seems to be a rare event in itself, so as it got dark I went and pulled the scope out of the shed. Earlier in the evening I had been in a pretty awful mood, no reason just a bad day, and felt more like going to bed but I am very glad I didn't as the sky turned out to be magnificent.
All too often when you step outside and look up, what looks promising at first often proves to be pretty average, even poor, but not that night. After getting dark adapted, I checked the naked eye limiting magnitude, using charts of Ursa Minor and Cygnus, and it was better than 6.5! We have reasonable skies here, but better than 6.5 is fairly rare. I would guess that the heavy rain and thunder had cleared the atmosphere of pollutants and dust. During my trips to the TSP, I’ve seen people using ‘iridescence’ in the Milky Way to gauge transparency – the more iridescent the MW, the more transparent the sky. The Milky Way was just like that here that night, iridescent, which we rarely see because of summer haze. Visible to the unaided eye were M13, M31 (later on when clear of the trees) and NGC 7000, the North America Nebula. These were truly great summer observing conditions and well worth the long wait for. I observed NGCs 6781, 6755, 6756, 6229, 6207, M31, Palomar 11, IC 59 and IC 56. I packed up when clouds made a reappearance and the waning crescent Moon came up. I didn't see loads of objects (short summer nights here) but it still goes down as one of my favourite sessions.
Another favourite session was my first time viewing with Jimi Lowrey's 48" at his observatory in West Texas on June 6th 2008. I was there at the invitation of Larry Mitchell, who was invited and was asked to invite a few people of his choice, this was during the 2008 Texas Star Party. I was really pleased to be asked as opportunities for observing with such a big scope are few and far between. I didn't do any sketching, not enough time as we had a big list of objects we wanted to see.
The 48 inch makes the unobservable observable, the faint, dim and fuzzy bright and detailed and the bright and spectacular simply awesome. M51 filled the field of view – it looked like the size of a saucer – and was better than a photograph. The arms were full of detail, HII regions shone and the whole thing was akin to a ‘religious experience’. The Cat’s Eye Nebula (NGC 6543), the Saturn Nebula (NGC 7009) (bright blue-green and showing lobes and ‘layers’), Hickson 88, Stephan’s Quintet and the Ring Nebula (M57) were also incredible. The Ring showed massive amounts of detail and, for the first time ever, I actually saw a colour other than blue or green in a deep sky object. The Ring was blue-green, but the outer portion of the ring was pink. The pink was subtle but it was obvious. The central hole was filled in, giving a gauzy effect and the central star was visible.
As for the globular M13, this was more detailed than I have ever seen before. The propeller feature was very obvious, looking exactly like a ship or aircraft propeller, a black mark on a bright background.
Another first for me was seeing Neptune as a disk and its moons. The planet was a lovely blue. Jupiter’s moons were also disks (these firsts keep on coming!) and as for Jupiter itself, wow! It was tack sharp in moments of good seeing and the detail was – at the risk of being cliched – photographic, with the Great Red Spot (more pale pink than red) and other spots seen, as well as belts, bands and festoons.
Jimi kept saying how the night wasn’t very good and the seeing was soft – actually it was a little soft – but to someone from the UK used to not great observing conditions it was an awesome night.
And then there's observing from Australia in 1997, and the Texas Star Party on four occasions and more sessions with the 48" when I've been out that way...
Posted 24 July 2013 - 07:24 AM
Posted 24 July 2013 - 09:41 AM
Posted 24 July 2013 - 09:55 AM
No telescope at all. I was visiting a friend in Abilene TX and after I left I drove to a gray area about 25 miles south of town for a while. It was a new moon and you could swim in the stars.
Good thing there's daylight, otherwise we'd have to come rescue you.....
Posted 24 July 2013 - 10:13 AM
For some reason that I can't quite identify, we all seemed to be in synch, taking turns observing different objects at different scopes. The focus and conversations were entirely on visual observing and there was a camaraderie that I haven't experienced before or since.
Posted 24 July 2013 - 09:58 PM
1969: My first real star party at the top of Mt. Pinos in Calee'fornia with what might have been one of the first RTMC gatherings. Took my 8-inch home-built reflector and camped with my mentor, Carl. I think we were some of the only few that actually looked at anything as everyone else was too busy talking about and showing off their gear.
Every night in the 80's when I'd go pop the circuit breakers in the nearby street lights at my two houses (in different neighborhoods) in Eurovillas, Spain. The first trip with my 8-inch reflector, the second time with my 16-inch home-built reflector. Those nights were very memorable.
The many nights I cut through the thick atmosphere near Adana, Turkey with my freshly completed 16-inch mirror and really discovered what aperture could do, even at 510 feet above sea level!
In the early 90's, watching the after-effects of Comet Shoemaker Levy hitting Jupiter from the Wichita Mountains Wildife Refuge with my 16-inch while being interviewed by the Lawton Newspaper as wild Buffalo moseyed by.
Every Okie-Tex star party I attended at Lake Murray near Ardmore, Oklahoma.
Every event I attended at Cathedral Gorge State Park in Nevada. Every event at Furnace Creek in Death Valley. Every star party I attended in and around Las Vegas that wasn't a washout.
Whew! I'm easy to please.
Posted 25 July 2013 - 01:06 AM
My absolute favorite is every time someone who has never looked through a telescope steps up to mine, sees Saturn at about 200x, and says "Holy ****".
I had my first such experience two weekends ago. After leaving the Golden State Star Party, I stopped by a friends place in northern California. They were having a 40-year celebration of their property which is in the costal range east of Fort Bragg. They have left it as an improved campsite and never built the retirement home thier parents envisioned.
Since I had my telescopes along I set up my ES 127ED to grab a quick view of Saturn before it set behind a ridge. Seeing was superb, as still as I've ever seen it. There were about 40 people there for the party weekend. At one point there must have been 20 people lined up to have a look. There were constant exclamations as people got their first look at Saturn. Oh my Gods! That can't be reals! Did you put a sticker on the lens? And on and on. It lasted until midnight when I finally closed up shop so campers could sleep. There were still around 10 people taking turns at the telescope and carrying on animated conversation about the night sky. And for the next two nights people were talking around the campfire about their first views of Saturn.
That was fun, but the best night observing I have ever had was three nights earlier at the GSSP. It took me several nights to appreciate how good the skys were. It seemed that there was a lot of sky brightness, not at all inky black. Then I began to notice that I could see Andromeda, the Double Cluster, M13 and other objects I'd always struggled to see by naked eye without even thinking about it. I could walk anywhere without a flashlight yet the Milky Way was incredibly vivid. I began to appreciate that I'd probably never been so well dark-adapted before. Absolutely no interfering lights. LED power lights became objectionably bright and got a cover of gaffers tape.
By the third night, everything was working perfectly with my C11 EdgeHD. When Sagittarius reached the meridian, I started browsing for targets in SkySafari and punching the goto button. There were so many objects so close together sometimes I hardly heard the motors grunt, and there was another gem centered in the eyepiece. I spent several wonderful hours looking at objects I never get to see from LA, between light pollution and obstructed southern horizons and I completely forgot about time.
Finally about 2:30 pm I got tired and decided to call it quits. My brother was with me and was already heading for his tent as I grabbed a beer and a recliner chair and sat down to wait for the Pleiades rising on the Eastern horizon. My brother joined me and we sat and talked and watched the sky turn. It turns out he had never actually watched the sky for long enough to observe the rotation of the earth, and the north-east view was perfect to see objects rise on the eastern horizon and circle about Polaris. He was utterly blown away to actually see this effect. Of course that is exactly why I chose that spot to sit down. About 3:30 the eastern sky started to brighten (Latitude 41 North,it makes a big difference compared to LA at 34N!) which was another revelation for Tony. We both staggered off to bed to end what was my absolute most magnificent night ever under the stars.
Posted 25 July 2013 - 11:30 AM
Another favorite was the night a friend brought over his Astrophysics Starfire and I had out my Obsession 20". We had a great time comparing the views between the two.
Then there was the time I was laying on my bed with the window shade up. I noticed a very bright fireball. It was the Peekskill meteorite that ended up going through trunk of a Chevy Malibu.
Posted 25 July 2013 - 03:41 PM
Posted 27 July 2013 - 11:46 AM