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  1. Depending on your point of view this was either a late night or an early morning stargazing trip. After a few hours of sleep my alarm woke me at 12:30am and I headed to the listed Bortle 1 skies just south of Tonopah, Nv, USA (map). When I went to bed the conditions were iffy due to a weather system that was pushing through - but when I woke up the satellite showed clear-enough conditions to warrant getting dressed and giving it a go. I arrived at my desired location and proceeded to setup the scope. The challenge of the night was going to be the temperature which was hovering around 9F (-12C)...I was dressed in sweater, jacket, ski jacket, jeans, ski pants, ear muffs, a hat that covered head and neck, ski gloves, and two hand warmers. Brrrr. Old Friends. New Observations. Missed Objects. The Milky Way was visible...but not impressive as I've seen from many other dark locations - a clear sign that transparency wasn't at its best...some of that upper level moisture must be hanging around. M31 was below the horizon but I'm sure it would have still been naked eye. The Beehive Cluster (M44) and suprisingly M67 (averted) were both visible naked eye. I didn't really go into the night with any set plan on what to observe...I wanted to ID SN2012ht, try to observe the Horsehead Nebula, maybe check on a few old friends under DARK SKIES, and not freeze to death...pretty simple. After spending some time in/around Orion I realized that my eyepiece was going to be a limiting factor as it was frosting over about every 30 minutes...requiring a defrosting back in the car. Anyway - M42/M43 looked brilliant as usual. The Flame Nebula was just about as visible as I've ever seen it. But tried as I might...the Horsehead eluded me. The jump from Alnitak to the Flame Nebula to HD37903 which is obvious with the surrounding nebulosity. And then to HD37805 which had much less nebulosity in the area. Knowing the Horsehead is w/in the FOV at 110x I started searching but the faint nebulosity that defines the area of the Horsehead wasn't visible. I'd come back numerous times tonight. Moving over to Sn2012ht the jump inside Leo was easier than expected. I found the right star field in my 110x EP FOV and quickly identified Sn2012ht shining around mag 12.x (it's listed at 12.8 and I'd buy that). Two nearby stars at mag 9.9 and 13.1 were both easily visible and the SN was a pinprick of light (like a very compact star...which sounds funny to say) a touch brighter than the 13.1 nearby star. Victory - SN #8 logged! The host galaxy was NOT visible...and with it listed at mag 15.x that's no suprise...but 'companion?' galaxy NGC 3447a (mag 13.1) was just visible. I went back to the Horsehead...was able to get faint nebulosity on and off...but never positively IDed the Horsehead Nebula. Over the next 90 minutes I spent time with some old friends: M81 - the core was strong and both spiral arms were faintly visible...the lower arm in my EP stood out a littel better than the other. M82 - shinging as a bright cigar...the dust lane just visible across the center and an unevenness along the central area...hints at more structure present. M51/NGC5159 - both galaxies showed up well and the spiral arms of M51 were visible...not the best views i've had of the arms...but they were present. The arms did not reach all the way to NGC5159. M101 - one of my best views of this large galaxy - spiral structure was faintly visible and the core stood out better than I'd ever seen it. At this point my feet ached from the cold seeping through my shoes, my EP was icing up too often, and my laptop was difficult to use with thick gloves...so I packed up and headed to the warmth of my car and hotel. I'd love to come back here when conditions allow for more comfortable viewing. It's dark! Overall - several old friends visited, one new galaxy, and one new supernova...worth some frostnip I guess. Happy hunting!
  2. How do you top a night where you observed two quasars and one supernova? You go to a darker location and focus almost exclusively on quasars in the magnitude 13-14 range. On the night of June 14 I drove almost 80 minutes north of Las Vegas to the Paranaugat wildlife Refuge arriving after sunset but well before true darkness set in. A quiet location but for the highway I used to get there - I didn't realize how much traffic this highway received after dark - not a five minute period went by without cars/trucks speeding by washing over my viewing location with their headlights - I got really good at keep my eyes closed to protect my night vision. And it was dark - this was my first Bortle 1 location with the horizon being completely black except for due south where the light dome of Las Vegas glowed dimly on the horizon up to about 10 degrees. The Milky Way was brilliant. Air temperatures dropped from the mid-90s (F) to the mid-80s (F) and winds dropped to nearly nothing in the hour after sunset. Despite being such a dark location my views of galaxies were never 'crisp' - I've had far better galaxy views from other locations (that are less dark) so there must have been a good bit of moisture in the airmass up high. Stars were clear with beautiful spikes coming from the bright ones. Several 'visibility test targets' were jumped through as I was waiting for twighlight to fade. The Hercules Cluster (M15), Alberio, and M92 all old friends revisited. My normal test targets - M65, M66, NGC 3628 - were briefly observed a few times over the course of the night but never impressed (which was disappointing). First hunt of the night was MKN 501 - a mag 14.5 quasar an unknown distance away. I hopped down from Eta Her and found a "V" asterism of roughly mag 8 stars that pointed right to the target area. After camping on a mag 12.6 star I was able to see the faintest galactic haze around a 'star' at the right location - that's the target with the 'star' being the quasar shining bright in the galactic core. Quasar find #5! Staying in Hercules I went hunting for B3 1715+425 - a mag 13.3 quasar listed at 2.1 Gly distant. I found the start of this hunt a challenge as I started star hopping from Iota Her - which was a challenge to find as it's not an overly bright star and doesn't stand out in the finder scope. I could clearly see it naked eye but had difficulty translating that to the finder scope. I eventually did find Iota and star hopped up to the area via a line of mag 5 - 6 stars to M92. I hopped to the correct location, positively identified the mag 8.4 star that was my 'base camp' for this hunt...then could clearly make out the mag 13 and 13.4 stars nearby but the quasar was nowhere to be seen...it was supposed to be sitting between the mag 8.4 and mag 13 stars...but nothing was there. Upped the magnification from 120x to 240x but it didn't help. No joy on this target. I'm thinking my star chart program must have been off in either magnitude of the target or location...because mag 13 targets were easily seen this night. Next I swung the scope over to Draco and PG 1634+706 (A Sky & Telescope target this month) - a mag 14.7 quasar listed 7.6 Gly away (but this month's Sky & Telescope said the distance is most likely incorrect due to time/space expansion). I star hopped over from Pherkhad in Ursa Minor to a grouping of mag 6-8 stars and then down to the target area. Positively IDing the quasar was not that difficult tonight as there isn't much else in the immediate vicinity...but a series of mag 12-14 stars ring the area and were all visible. The quasar stood out as a compact star-like body. Quasar #6! Next down to the tail of Draco for MKN 180 - a mag 14.5 target an unknown distance away. The star hop from the tip of the tail (Gianifar) wasn't too difficult...and I made a postive ID based off where the faint stars were in relation to one another...the quasar formed the corner of a parallelogram with 3 other stars - but it was faint. This was about the faintest target of the night and averted only. Quasar #7. Next moving up Draco's body to PG 1351+640 - a mag 14.3 quasar listed 1.1 Gly distant. A pretty easy star hop and a line of mag 10 stars pointed right to the averted-only quasar. It was faint but there were stars a little further away that were more faint. Quasar #8!! A little further up the body and star hopping over from Ursa Minor led to 3C 305.0 - a mag 13.7 quasar listed at 550 Mly distance. The star hop was the biggest challenge here as so many faint stars were visible it was tough for me to keep track of which star I was really looking at. After about 10 minutes of hunting/checking/moving/hunting/checking/verifying I finally made it to the correct target location and could see a faint star-like object in the faintest of haze - that's the target. Several mag 14.x stars were clearly visibile in the vicinity. Averted vision brought out the most of the haze...but the target was not difficult in these conditions. Mark that as #9!!! Final ultra deep target of the night was IRAS 17371+5615 - a mag 14.0 target listed at 960 Mly. Another challenging star hop trying to pin down faint stars in the head of Draco...eventually did it and camped out on a mag 10.3 star where the quasar was out on a ring of mag 14.x stars in the same EP view. I was able to pin down each of the mag 14 stars with the target quasar being #3 in the line. This was a faint target...but it was there. An even 10 quasars logged! Time to view a few more old friends - M101 with darkness showing between faint farms, M51 which was the only stunning galaxy of the night with the arms showing about as clearly as I've ever seen them, M63 with the bright core and expansive dim glow, and M94 was just a bright core. Then down to NGC 4618 and NGC 4625 - both of which were little more than faint smears. 4618 was clearly brighter and the core stood out well. I finished up my CVn tour with the Cocoon galaxy and companion NGC 4485 - the Cocoon had a bright core and appeared maybe "quarter-on" facing...4485 was non-discript. Their proximity lends itself to interaction but I couldn't see any through the EP. A great, dark night. Very pleased with the very faint targets I was able to pin down. 6 new quasars observed (+1 more missed) and 3 new galaxies. I'm all smiles (well I am now after a decent sleep). Happy hunting.
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