Shallow Thoughts

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Sun, 10 Jul 2005

Dark Side of the Moon; M51 Supernova

Yesterday was the annual Fremont Peak Star-b-q. This year the weather managed to be fairly perfect for observing afterward: the fog came in for a while, making for fairly dark skies, and it wasn't too cold though it was a bit breezy. It was even reasonably steady.

I had my homebuilt 8" dob, while Dave brought his homebuilt 12.5". Incredibly, we were all alone in the southwest lot: the most Star-b-q was fairly lightly attended, and most of the handful who stayed to observe afterward set up at Coulter row.

The interesting sight of the evening was the supernova in M51 (the Whirlpool galaxy). It was fairly easy in the 12.5" once we knew where to look (Mike Koop came over to visit after looking at it in the 30"), and once we found it there all three of us could see it in the 8" as well.

We had excellent views of Jupiter in the 8", with detail in the red spot, the thin equatorial band easily visible, and long splits in both the northern and southern equatorial bands. I didn't make any sketches since a family wandered by about then so I let them look instead.

We also had lovely low-power views of Venus and crescent Mercury, and we spent some time traversing detail on the dark side of the slim crescent moon due to the excellent earthshine. All the major maria were visible, and of course Aristarchus, but we could also see Plato, Sinus Iridum, Kepler, Copernicus and its ray system, Tycho (only in the 12" -- the 8" was having glare problems that close to the lit part of the moon) and one long ray from Tycho that extended across Mare Nubium and out to near Copernicus. Pretty good for observing the "dark" side!

Neither of us was able to find Comet Tempel-1 (the Deep Impact comet), even with the 12.5". But after moonset I picked up the Veil and North American in the 8" unfiltered (having left my filters at home), and we got some outstanding views of the nebulae in Sagittarius, particularly the Trifid, which was showing more dust-lane detail without a filter than I've ever seen even filtered.

It was a good night for carnivores, too. We saw one little grey fox cub trotting up the road to the observatory during dinner, and there was another by the side of the road on the way home. Then, farther down the road, I had to stop for three baby raccoons playing in the street. (Very cute!) They eventually got the idea that maybe they should get off the road and watch from the shoulder. The parents were nowhere to be seen: probably much more car-wise than their children (I don't often see raccoon roadkill). I hope the kids got a scolding afterward about finding safer places to play.

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[ 22:31 Jul 10, 2005    More science/astro | permalink to this entry ]