Observing notes from the night of Friday, August 6, 1999

Friday night was yet another humid summer night. Still, the stars were populating the sky as the sun slipped below the horizon. Quite a few members of the Raleigh Astronomy Club were gathering at the Big Woods observing site at Lake Jordan and I decided to join them. I was armed with my Meade 8" LX100 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. The right fork arm had been replaced, including a new declination motor and I wanted to perform a few "see" trials. On top of that, I've got quite a few Herschel 400 objects I still need to track down.

Telescopes that were present ranged from 90mm, to 8 inches, to 10 inches, to 13 inches, to 20 inches, to even an incredible 22 inch telescope. We had a serious observing field set up. After getting my telescope setup and polar aligned, I decided to run my new declination system through its paces. After an initial scare of some quirky behavior, caused by a low battery, the new motor seemed to run fine. It was nice having true 32x sidereal speed on the declination axis. I can finally use my hand controlling to slew around without touching the telescope and inducing vibrations.

I wasted no time and jumped straight into the sea of Herschel objects. Using my manual setting circles, which perform amazingly well on a reasonably polar aligned mount, I dialed in my first object of the night, NGC6755. This open cluster in Aquila was basically a concentration of stars in a crowded star field to begin with. I barely could see it. It was hard to tell where the cluster started and stopped. It was spread out and sparse, basically scattered.

Next up on my trek into the deepsky was NGC40, a planetary nebula in Cepheus. An easy find, the central star actually seems to overwhelm the nebula. It seemed more like a bright star with a fuzzy haze around it. Pretty neat, but I was hoping to see more planetary than central star! It was kind of ironic in that with most nebulas we are straining, hoping to see the central star.

Next up in Cepheus was the open cluster NGC6939. I actually found it by accident as I was looking for another object (which I'll discuss next). This cluster is very tiny and scattered. The low power eyepiece seemed to make it register better with my eyes because it makes it stand out as a concentration of stars. When I bumped up the power it kind of disappeared. It was a pretty smattering of stars, but didn't really present a unique pattern or anything.

The next object to slide into view was NGC6946, which is a galaxy in Cepheus. Now this dim object barely registers to my eyes. Using a software mapping program on the laptop computer, I was able to tell where the galaxy was in relation to other stars and NGC6939, which is in the same field of view. It basically was a faint glow. This might have been the central portion. I couldn't even discern the boundaries. It was just a faint brightening where the galaxy was suppose to be.

Gliding through the inky darkness of the night sky, the tiny creature searches for prey. Swooping down on silent wings, there is no escape. Time to let you in on the meaning of the title for these notes. While gazing into the northern sky for potential telescopic targets, I got a little visitor to my observing area. A tiny bat, species unknown, started fluttering around me and my telescope. The bat came as close as about two feet from my face at times. While this might cause some apprehension in some people, I absolutely love it. I've always loved bats. The fact that they do their flying at night convinces me that they must also be stargazers too. When I was young, I use to toss up pebbles into the air and watch as the bats swept down to grab them. It was so neat because even if they were heading in the opposite direction, their built in sonar always seemed to pick up the pebble. Of course, as soon as they realized it was a rock instead of a bug they would drop it. Although they seem frenzied in their flight patterns, they are actually quite graceful and very precise. Bats are always welcomed visitors in my camp.

After my night wing friend flew off to pursue some tasty treats (at least as far as bats are concerned) I returned to the visual treats in the sky above. The next object I gazed upon was NGC6905, a planetary nebula in Delphinus. This was a small little planetary but it takes magnification very well. It's wedged in between three tiny stars. It's right in the middle. NGC6905 kind of looks like a little gray marble, sandwiched between the stars.

Sliding into the constellation of Cygnus, NGC7008 was the next object I found in the eyepiece. This planetary nebula has two stars at the edge of it making it easy to find. It had kind of an oval or kidney bean shape. Eric Honeycutt likes to call this one the Fetus nebula. Through his 22" telescope, a lot more detail can be seen. Speaking of which, I got to see a few other objects through Eric's fabulous new telescope. We took in the Cat's Eye nebula, the Veil nebula, and a few others. The detail and color were incredible. Under dark, pristine skies, I'll bet views through this scope will rival some photographs.

My last sight of the night was of Jupiter through Mark & Phyllis Lang's 20" telescope. Despite being low on the horizon, the view was remarkably good. I could see several belts as well as several moons. It was my first view of Jupiter this observing "season".

And with the images of the Jovian world dancing in my mind, I called it a night and packed up. It was a good observing session with good fellowship with other stargazers. As I drove back home, I wondered if my friendly bat had enjoyed his night out under the stars too.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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