★ STARGAZE 2016 – A STELLAR SUCCESS – JAY ALBERT


Traveling a long distance for astronomical observing in Florida is always
something of a crap shoot. The ASPB’s annual Stargaze is certainly no
different. We’ve had years when the skies were spectacular and others
that were complete wash-outs. Most are somewhere in between. For
that reason, I’d like to thank the roughly 20 people (including host George
DeBarros, neighbors Kye and Al Ewing and a couple of their local friends)
who took a chance and participated at various times over the course of
our 2016 Stargaze from Thursday, March 3rd to Sunday, March 6th. I must
admit that, based on the universally poor forecasts, I skipped Thursday
night. Friday and Saturday nights, however, made the trip well worth
taking.
Although Hans Heynau told me that there was a little bit of observing Thursday night, I’m going to skip
ahead to Friday night after I arrived at George’s Milky Way Ranch in Venus. Bob Noss had the largest
telescope of the night, a 15” reflector, already set up. George and Kye had their dobs set up near
George’s house, Bob Noss, Quin Travers and Hans were close to my spot, while former ASPB president
Jim Kimball with his 10” Meade SCT was across the field from me flanked by Bob and Sherry Barr and
president Steve Schiff with his 14” Starmaster. I set up my Celestron 11” SCT (C11) and had the
sandwich I brought up with me before getting ready to observe. It was still twilight as I started my
alignment under a mostly clear, but hazy sky with large cirrus streamers arcing overhead. The sunset was
beautiful and we saw a rocket launch from the Cape. The wind and falling temperatures made for rough
seeing. Nevertheless, as the sky darkened we had no trouble seeing the open cluster M44 (the Beehive)
and the winter Milky Way stretching across the sky without any optical aid. Once the sky was completely
dark, I estimated the transparency at 5th magnitude and turned my telescope to the Beehive. I had a fine
view in the 80mm Stellarview finder piggy-backed on my C11. But what I was after were the 14th
magnitude galaxies that might be seen by looking through and far beyond the Beehive. I tried various
eyepieces in the C11, but the small, dim galaxies were lost in the haze and required a larger telescope
than mine. I did get a good look at the nebulosity of the Rosette Nebula with its central star cluster in
Jim’s scope. Among the other objects I observed Friday night were:
• Galaxies M81 and M82 in Ursa Major – both fit nicely in the field of the 80mm and M82 was
especially detailed in the C11. With my new 11mm Nagler eyepiece (255x), I saw prominent dust
lanes crossing perpendicular to the disk near the core of the galaxy. Also seen was the fainter
galaxy M109 in Ursa Major.
• M42, the great nebula in Orion was a fine sight at 70x, 255x and 311x, although the rough seeing
made the extra Trapezium stars difficult to see and, at times, invisible. The Running Man nebula
above M42 and NGC 2024 (the Flame nebula) near Alnitak were also seen.
• Gemini open clusters NGC 2304 and NGC 2266 – The former was seen as a faint cloud in a rich
star field at low power, but at 255x that cloud became a tight bunch of tiny diamond chips. The
latter was an attractive cluster, but dimmed by a sudden blanket of cirrus.
• In Canis Major, M41 looked good in the 80mm, but looked sparse and overflowed the 70x field in
the C11. The Tau Canis Majoris cluster, NGC 2362, was magnificent as always with its bright
central star, but also somewhat dimmed by haze.
• Turning to Leo where the sky was clearer, I had a fine high power view of galaxy NGC 2903. Its
brighter core appeared fragmented. I considered sketching this scene when a cirrus cloud
suddenly hid the galaxy.
• The increasing haze and cirrus, along with less wind, afforded a good view of Jupiter through a
large sucker hole. The haze acted as a neutral density filter which cut the glare and allowed us to
see good detail in the belts and zones at 311x. Unfortunately, I waited too long before turning to
Jupiter and missed seeing the Great Red Spot.
Conditions continued to deteriorate, however, and I put the C11 in hibernation mode at 10:25pm.
Several of us pulled up chairs and socialized near Jim’s trailer for an hour or more before heading off to
bed.
While not totally hopeless, the early forecasts for Saturday night were not good. Several people left,
some who had not yet come up decided to stay home and those of us who stayed on did not expect
much more than brief periods of mediocre sky conditions. I thought of going home myself, but decided
to stay and try to look at some of the brighter double stars and open clusters. When the Saturday
afternoon Clear Sky Clock came out, we were pleasantly surprised to see that there was a radical change
indicating some good conditions, especially later at night.
I woke up my scope from hibernation at 7:15pm under a partly to mostly cloudy sky with some large
sucker holes. It was warmer and less windy than the previous evening. The largest sucker hole exposed
Orion, making M42 my first target of opportunity. The view was beautiful and the seeing was steadier
than Friday night. I had less trouble seeing the extra Trapezium stars at 224x. The nebulosity was so
bright, I didn’t bother with my deep sky or OIII filters. I was exploring the extent of the nebulosity when
the sucker hole closed and gave us our first interruption in observing of the evening. When the clouds
finally cleared again, the sky was covered with stars and we could see the Milky Way down to the
horizon. Some of my highlights for the night were:
• M46 open cluster in Puppis – one of my favorites. It was large, bright and contained a beautiful
planetary nebula, which I understand is actually a foreground object. The nebula showed well
without a filter in the 11mm Nagler, but the view in the 17mm Meade super wide-field (165x)
was even better because it showed more of the cluster floating out there in space.
• M35 open cluster in Gemini- a great view of a
spectacular cluster. I was able to resolve the
background cluster, NGC 2438 and even better at
255x in the 11mm Nagler. Jim lent me his 13mm
Nagler which made the view even more
spectacular.
• M37 open cluster in Auriga filled the field at my
low power (70x). The orange star that marks the
cluster’s heart stood out brightly.
• The Eskimo Nebula, NGC 2392 in Gemini – I had
one of my best views of this planetary nebula. We
could distinguish the multiple shells of this object at
high power (400x). Jim and I compared the view in
my ancient Celestron 7mm orthoscopic eyepiece
with Jim’s 7mm Nagler. The Nagler clearly had a
wider field of view; otherwise I thought the
appearance of the nebula was comparable in each.
Here’s my sketch done at 9:35pm:
I was still looking at the Eskimo after finishing my sketch, trying to hunt for additional details I might have
missed, when the eyepiece went blank. I looked up and found the sky covered in clouds. This
interruption in observing lasted for half an hour. The sky began clearing again at 10:10 and the
temperature was falling fast. Jupiter was one of the first objects to become visible. I turned the C11 to
it as the cirrus was moving away. Even at 70x, the seeing was so bad that Jupiter looked like an egg in a
pot of boiling water! Moving on, I found the “winter Alberio”, H3945. This was the double star in Leo
that Sam Storch told us about during the ASPB’s March 2nd meeting. I viewed a number of other sights,
including the “Leo Trio”, the galaxies M65, M66 and NGC 3628. All three fit in the 80mm finder and I
could also see them in the C11 at 70x. The dust lane along the length of the disk in NGC 3628 could be
seen even better at higher power.
I turned back to Jupiter and was now able to get a good view at 224x. The two main equatorial belts
showed some internal detail and the north and south temperate belts could also be seen, along with the
darker north polar region. We were expecting action at Jupiter and were looking forward to watching it.
Europa was on the preceding side of Jupiter’s disk and moving closer for an occultation. On the following
side of the disk, Ganymede was due to emerge from behind Jupiter while Io was moving closer for a
transit of Jupiter’s disk. If you’ve ever wanted to see the universe moving, this was a great chance.
Ganymede began to ease into view as a tiny wart of Jupiter’s limb at 11:27. Europa dimmed, and then
ducked behind Jupiter at 11:37.
We knew that Ganymede moving out and Io moving in would pass each other in roughly half an hour. In
the meantime, we went next door to Kye’s observatory. She showed us the long, thin, edge-on galaxy,
NGC 4565 and the Whirlpool galaxy, M51 in her 15” reflector. We could see the dust lane in the former
and the spiral arms in the latter. When I asked Kye about the sky transparency that night, she pointed
her laser to a dark spot in Gemini. Kye is an avid variable star observer and active in the AAVSO. When
Kye turned off the laser, Jim, Quin and I couldn’t see anything at first, but with averted vision we were
able to pick out a faint pinpoint of dim light where the laser had pointed. Kye told us that it was one of
the AAVSO’s reference stars used to estimate sky transparency…and it was 7th magnitude! I’d seen loads
of faint stars in Venus before, including ones I could identify on the charts as 6th magnitude. But this was
the first time I knowingly saw a 7th magnitude star without binoculars.
We all got back to our own telescopes in time to watch Ganymede and Io move past each other…an
amazing thing to watch! As we watched, a jet suddenly flashed through the eyepiece field in a fraction of
a second. Then Io entered Jupiter’s disk and the transit began.
After midnight, I noticed the constellation Centaurus rising. It wasn’t too long before we could easily see
our galaxy’s largest globular cluster, Omega Centauri naked-eye, even though it was just a few degrees
above the horizon. I finished my own observations with Omega Centauri and the galaxy Centaurus A
(NGC 5128), well known in astronomy circles for its radio emissions. It’s also the galaxy that is known
for looking like a hamburger.
I had tossed a chemical heat pack into my sleeping bag earlier in the evening, so it was nice and cozy.
After checking my email on my iPhone, I went to sleep very glad that I took the chance of coming to
Venus and looking forward to the next time. Before closing, I should mention that it wasn’t necessary to
have your own telescope to participate in the observing, the companionship and the good times. At
various times during the Stargaze, we were joined by Mary Maguire and Kevin Dong, by Irene and Bill
Garbo and by new member Kinsing Yeun and family. Those of us with telescopes enjoyed sharing the
views with each other as well as those who came without a telescope.
Jay Albert
March 9, 2016

See April 2016 club newsletter for photos!