Freeze Out

Observing notes from the evening of Wednesday, November 22, 2000

With the promise of clear skies from the weather report and by visual inspection of the sky, Jim Anderson and I met at the Big Woods observing site on Lake Jordan, NC. Jim had his 12" LX200 Schmidt-Cassegrain and I was using my 10" f/4.5 Newtonian. I learned two lessons this night. The first was to not believe everything I hear and the second was to be more prepared.

Though the skies offered up their treasures in the early evening, clouds began drifting in rather quickly. What happened to our promised clear skies? It was basically sucker hole observing as we tried to figure out which area of the sky was best. So much for believing the weather report.

On top of the deteriorating skies, it was cold. It was very cold! The cold did two things. It was cold enough that the display on my laptop computer quit working. While I do have other means of getting information, my laptop has becoming an essential part of my observing ritual. I use it as a very versatile sky chart. Not only can it tell me where an object is, but it also gives a description and can display the object in a field of view that matches whatever eyepiece I'm using.

The second thing the cold did was to shut ME down! I thought I was prepared for it. I had on double thermals, jeans, two jogging suits, double socks, jacket, etc. I had a thermos full of piping hot chocolate. Even so, the cold gnawed at me the whole time. I was quite surprised because I have observed in weather this cold before. I don't know what was different, but after an hour or two I was quite miserable.

With the lousy skies, equipment failure, and a cold body, this observing session was not very fruitful. And since I was using star hopping techniques, which can take quite a bit of patience on dim objects, my frustration level jumped quite quickly. I only managed three new Herschel 400 objects before I gave up and decided to visit the tried and true Messier objects. I only documented a handful of the Messier objects I viewed.

NGC772. Galaxy in Aries. Shows up easily. Not too much detail seen. Kind of round with a little bit of oval. Rather large. Mottled. Seems to be more to it than I'm seeing (maybe from averted vision). Brighter core.

NGC488. Galaxy in Pisces. Round and bright with condensed stellar core.

NGC524. Galaxy in Pisces. Not much to it. I think the high clouds drifting through are hindering my view. Kind of round with bright center. Surrounded by a sprinkling of stars. Almost seems like a star cluster.

M31. Huge galaxy in Andromeda. Extremely prominent. Core just blazing away. Dust lane easily visible, running the length of the galaxy.

M32. Satellite galaxy to M31. Sharp and bright. Looks like a globular. Just caught a meteor through the field of view.

M110. Another satellite galaxy to M31. Oval and relatively bright, but not like M32. Still it's prominent.

M33. Galaxy in Triangulum. Big and bright and almost fills view. Mottling gives a hint of the spiral structure.

Next time I will be more prepared. Even with this obvious observing failure, I still enjoyed Jim's company and the chance to practice the ancient art of astronomy.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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