Second Light

Observing notes from the evening of Friday, June 2, 2000

Astronomers use the term "first light" to refer to when a telescope is first used to view astronomical objects. In other words, the first time that light from the stars (or planets, galaxies, nebula, etc.) enters the telescope. I decided to title these notes as "Second Light" because my 10" f/4.5 mirror has been refigured and this is the second time that it will receive "first light". Jim Anderson, Michael King, and I gathered at Grayson Highlands State Park in the Virginia mountains. I was really motivated to do some observing from a dark sky area and I was really interested in the performance of my newly refigured mirror. The mirror belongs to my Meade 10" Starfinder.

Unfortunately, the weather did not fully cooperate with us. Michael and I arrived on Friday with partially cloudy skies. Of course Jim informed us that the previous night was glorious. Typical luck. We flirted with thunderstorms all evening but never actually got one. The skies did clear and we setup our scopes in the grass field. The sky wasn't all that great, but it was still better than what I typically see around my house.

I encountered two problems that night. The first was my inexperience with the Starfinder's equatorial mount. I've built a dobsonian mount for the tube and that's how I generally use it. I decided to try out the equatorial mount on this trip and it was kind of frustrating. Polar alignment was bad enough so that I couldn't use the setting circles. Additionally, these setting circles are not as good as the ones on my Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. So I was reduced to using it in star hopper mode. This led me to abandon my Herschel 400 hunt and just enjoy the Messier objects that I have come to know and love. The second problem of the night was the wind. It kept getting stronger and stronger. My charts were blowing all over the place. My chair blew over. And to top it off, the wind was causing the telescope to vibrate. The wind eventually shut me down because I just couldn't get steady views. Saturday night was totally cloudy.

Even so, this was still a pretty good camping trip. We took in some ghost stories told by one of the rangers and enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere of the mountains. And I did get in some stargazing before closing up shop on Friday night. Here's the list:

NGC6171. Also known as M107, this is a globular cluster in Ophiuchus. Shows pretty well. Hint of resolution. Grainy. Flanked by dim stars.

M57. Planetary nebula in Lyra. Perfect, beautiful, ghostly ring floating in space. Boosted the power a bit. Amazing and prominent. The inside of the ring seems hazy.

M51. Open face spiral galaxy in Canes Venatici. Spiral structure is quite evident.

M101. Open face spiral galaxy in Ursa Major. Bright and large…extremely large. Big and spread out. Low power displayed a bright round glow. Medium power starts showing spiral structure.

M97. Nebula in Ursa Major. Also known as the Owl nebula. Big and bright. Patchy areas.

M108. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Near Owl nebula. Very skinny and long. Relatively bright. Stellar core or involved star.

M5. Globular cluster in Serpens. Beautiful and amazing globular cluster. Stars are everywhere. Boosted the power a bit and resolved it to the core. This is an absolutely wonderful cluster of stars.

M3. Globular cluster in Canes Venatici. Similar to M5. Very bright and pretty. But it's more concentrated with a tighter core. Resolves very nicely.

M13. Globular cluster in Hercules. Beautiful and bright. Stars upon stars upon stars. Resolved to the core. Even so, for some reason M5 looked better to me.

NGC6207. Spiral galaxy in Hercules. Right next to M13. Oval in shape. Dim. Small. Brighter in the center.

M4. Globular cluster in Scorpius. Close to Antares. Shows up pretty well. Easily visible in finder. Beautiful in the eyepiece. Looks more like a concentrated open cluster than a globular cluster. Concentration of stars seems a little off center.

Tracked down Pluto. Or at least I think I did. I believe I found a little speck of light right where the software said it should be. But by this time the wind was blowing so strongly that the scope just wouldn't stay still so I gave up. I'll track it down later.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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