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  1. Second stargazing trip of 2013 logged while in on business in Las Vegas, USA. Location was the Pahranagat Wildlife Area about 70 miles north of Las Vegas - a good Bortle 2 location! Arriving just after sunset the Milky Way was dominant overhead and was SO bright as twilight faded. To my surprise accompanying the Milky Way were the Zodiac Lights...which nearly rivaled the Milky Way forming the southern arm of a V with the MW forming the northern arm. The lights were bright for about a good 90 minutes after sunset...and extended nearly to zenith. I've previously never seen the Zodiac Lights so this was an unexpected treat! Temps dropped quickly from the high 50s (F) to the low 40s (F) so I donned my heavy winter clothes to get ahead of the chills - I was prepped for skiing as much as stargazing - and with a cloudless sky I was eager for true darkness to fall. While waiting for conditions to get dark enough to start deep observing I hit old friends that I could find without the use of my laptop - my attempt to keep the battery up for as long as possible. During this time I spent some time with Jupiter at 120x and 240x - Io was crossing in front of the planet and seeing was pretty good so I was easily able to pick out the shadow of Io about 4/5 of the way across the planet...it stood out so well I was truly shocked. Rare is the day I can see the planets that clearly. Still missed the Great Red Spot as it didn't rise during my time out (hopefully later this week!). New finds Old friends Missed targets Other old friends I checked in on - M1 - 120x/240x - UHC filter on and off - best views at 120x ...and just a hint of structure visible with the filter M31/M32/M110 - stood out naked eye and was BIG in the finder scope M42/M43 - stunning at 120x...as usual...trapezium popped out NGC2024 (flame nebula) - stood out nicely at 120x M35/NGC2158 - such a pretty contrast of clusters...big/small...bright/dim M36/M37/M38 - easily found in the finder scope...all nice views at 120x - M37 is my favorite M81/M82 - both were beautiful views...just a hint of a spiral arm on M81...and what appeared to be a faint dark lane in the heart of M82 After this the sky had sufficiently darkened to allow the laptop to be fired up...so the goals for the night were set: #1 - observe SN2012fr #2 - observe the CAS clusters described in Star & Telescope a few months ago #3 - observe the MON objects described recently in S&T off I went... SN2012fr is located in NGC 1365 located in the southern part of FOR. The star hop is not too tough if you can see ERI. This night my guide stars stood out just above the distant light dome of Las Vegas and the hop was very easy. Low and behold NGC1365 was very easily seen as a faint fuzzy not far from a mag 11 guide star...and SN2012fr was easily seen glowing just south of the brighter core of NGC1365. The Sn is still listed at mag 12.8 but I'd argue that it's fallen below that as it was very dim and numerous mag 12.5 stars in the vicinity were much easier to see. I could pick out mag 13.x stars in the vicinity as well...so I think the SN is in the mag 13.2(ish) range now. Yeah...another SN notch added to the belt! That's #7! On to task #2 - CAS clusters I was suprised how easily many of the clusters stood out in the dark skies despite the bulk of the Milky Way passing around Casseopia. Here's my collection for in CAS this night (not in order of observing): NGC 609 - OC - mag 12.7 - This was a FAINT OC. Just a haze patch in the FOV of 2 mag 9 stars...mag 12 nearby stars stood out much brighter than this OC. The haze had a hint of graininess...like an GC does under good skies and magnification. NGC 637 - OC - mag 7.3 - Intersection of a lazy X of star streams...had the impression of a person swiimming when i saw it. Body + two arms stroking + two legs kicking. Odd observation...I know. NGC 559 - OC - mag 7.4 - A lot of faint stars visible...arcs of stars...i could even pull out a smiley face in the cluster. NGC 654 - OC - mag 8.2 - A pretty little cluster - like a 'hat' on top of the mag 7 anchor star...mag 11 stars outline the hat and mag 12-13 stars fill it in. MANY stars visilbe. Hat could also be the Android mascot's head...with the little antenae sticking up. IC 166 - OC - mag 11.7 - I think i saw this...despite what the finder charts say. a VERY faint hazy background cluster...maybe in a triangle...or sail shape. Not far from HD11162 a hazy patch is visible...averted only. A lot of very faint (but brighter than the haze) stars are visible in the proximity of where teh charts shows IC166 to be...I'm assuming I'm seeing the OC and then some more. Neeed to look at a DSS image of this area. ** after checking the DSS image - yes, i was indead seeing IC166 - very faint stars make up this cluster deeper than the charts show. Czernik 4 - OC - mag ?? - Not sure what this cluster is supposed to look like...but I was there at 120x and 240x. Looks like a tree with three branches joining there. Mag 14.x stars clearly visible...no nebulosity and no faint fuzzy background stars. ** after rereading the S&T section...there wasn't more to see...it's just an intersection of a few stars (boring). Trumpler 1 - OC - mag 8.9 - Looked to be about 7-8 stars...not overly bright but stood out from the background pretty well. Sort of looked like a big fish mouth opening to the W in my EP. Open mouth area must have been the dark nebula showing on the charts. NGC 663 - OC - mag 6.4 - A very pretty cluster...looked like a V with LOTS of stars visible. NGC 659 - OC - mag 7.2 - Nice little cluster ... about 8-12 mag 10.x stars with many fainter stars fleshing out the cluster. M 103 - OC - mag 6.9 - A most UNimpressive messier object at first. Bright-ish top and bottom anchor stars...but well in the middle of the EP at 120x. Sort of light a K or a fountain with the bright stars being the base. That completed goal #2...and it took a while. On to #3...or would have been if something hadn't triggered my fight/flight response ... real or imagined ... I thought I head something walking in the sand not far away that I couldn't see...I started talking more and whistling But my 'mood' had been broken and I ended up packing up and calling it a night. I don't know about the rest of you - but after a few hours in the dark and as the brain starts to get tired I get easily startled and lose the desire to be alone in the pitch black. I'm sure the noise was just a deer...but I was only about 70 miles from "Area 51" so you never know what's sneaking around in the dark. So I never attempted goal #3...nor the Horsehead Nebula...nor the Great Red spots return. Oh well - later this week I'll be spending the night in one of North America's darkest locations - a true Bortle 1 location! I just hope the clouds cooperate. Happy hunting!
  2. First stargazing trip of 2013 to the California foothills. As a matter of fact - first stargazing in WAY too long. The location was Cronan Ranchabout an hour from Sacramento, CA, at an elevation around 890' MSL. Skies were clear but moisture in the airmass brought seeing down to average if not slightly less than average. Stars boiled in the eyepiece all night when not overhead. Temps were near freezing...and despite gloves my hands froze. With skyglow from Sacramento on the SW horizon up to about 30-40 degrees I tried to limit my viewing from East to overhead...with a single target to the south (more on that later). The Milky Way was visible overhead...but really only overhead with direct vision. The night had three goals - observe objects in the Deep Sky section of the February issue of sky and Telescope, observe objects in the Deep Sky section from the January issue of S&T, and observe SN2012fr. Observing was done primarily with my 10mm EP for 120x but for some targets I added a 2x Barlow to go deeper...but I found that conditions did not favor the Barlow tonight. New finds. Old friends. Missed observations. While waiting for the sky to darken I spent some time with rising Jupiter. I was approached by a hiker while setting up and got the scope centered on Jupiter - unfortunately I let him look too soon because all he saw was a 'star-like' planet. Just after he left I collimated the scope and Jupiter and 4 moons jumped out of the EP. I felt bad because he realy would have liked the view. I'm pretty sure I saw the shadow of Io as it crossed in front of the king of the planets but good viewing was spotty due to less than perfect seeing. Additionally I viewed Albireo, the Ring Nebula (M57), and Andromeda (M31). With the scope pointed high overhead I opened my first observing list of the night: NGC 752 - And - OC - mag 6.6 - easily found, lots of stars, 'golf putter' asterism nearby IC 179 - And - Gx - mag 13.2 - tough find, just a small/faint haze about 2-3x bigger than the surrounding stars, averted only NGC 266 - Psc - Gx - mag 12.6 - easily found, very faint haze patch, no bar evident Lovro 2 - And - asterism - mag 10-11 - fairly easily found asterism that looks like double question marks (R.A.: 00h22m13.1s Dec.: +24°51'40" (2000) in Andromeda) Goal #1 - complete. Next I lowered the scope to the horizon and tried to pull faint Eridanus out of murky horizon. It took time with the finder scope, but I was able to ID enough stars to get in the neighborhood of SN2012fr - a 'kite-like' asterism of mag 6-7 stars in Formax that would serve as an easy go-to spot while searching for the SN. From the kite a short hop led to 3 stars mag 9.2-10.8 and then up to a pair of stars around mag 10.5 and on to a final, faint star at mag 11.1. Within the 110x EP view was the very faint (averted) glow of SN2012fr's host galaxy (NGC1365, mag 10.6)...but no star-like SN popped out. I spent many minutes trying to tease out the Sn's faint mag 12.x light...even tried more magnification with the Barlow but that just made things even more faint so i abandoned that quickly. Despite numerous attempts, SN2012fr never exposed itself to me. Goal #2 - fail (for the night). As my third goal covered a lot of clusters in/around Monoceros/Puppis and both constellations hadn't risen high enough for viewing I slewed the scope over to Gemini. A few gems graced the EP for the next 20-30 minutes. M 35 - Gem - OC - mag 5.6 - an old friend and very easy find due to size, too many stars to fit into the EP at 110x IC 2157 - Gem - OC - mag 9.1 - a small OC that looked like a bowtie at 110x with the left half being brighter and more filled in than the right half. NGC 2129 - Gem - OC - mag 7.0 - nice little cluster, a brightish anchor with slight haziness surrounding ... dozen+ stars clearly visible At this point my laptop battery said it was dead so my star charts were gone...Mon/Pup were still too low to see the target area so I called it a night and let my frozen body warm up. Goal #3 - epic fail (but I'll be back!) Not a complete loss I guess - 3 new galaxies barely seen, 2 new clusters and a few old friends. Happy Hunting!
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