The skies at Oracle Observatory were cloudy at my departure time of 0445 PST but according to the nearby Clear Sky Clock forecast the skies were to clear up shortly after my arrival mid-afternoon and stay clear through the night. So I started on my 8.5 hour drive to Oracle. You can click on the image below to see a short Quicktime movie (from several single images taken approximately every hour; 1.8MB) of what the drive is like across California and Arizona.
When I arrived at 1415 MST the temperature was a comfortable 66°F and the sky looked like this:
Not too encouraging but the Clear Sky Clock forecast said it would clear up.
Here's the set up for this trip. The astronomer's quarters (tent) is out of the view to the left:
When I completed the set up (tent, telescope, etc) it was about 1515 MST and the skies were mostly clear. By sunset at 1822 MST it was totally clear and 56°F.
For this trip I planned to do more observing than astrophotography.
Since the Moon was approaching First Quarter I did a lot of lunar crater observing along the terminator. I decided to take a few photos of the Moon through the LXD55-8"SC at Prime Focus and Prime Focus with a 2X Barlow Lens with my Nikon D70 DSLR. Here are some of the photos:
I then took a quick look at Mars. It was small and lacking any real details.
But oh, Saturn! Gorgeous! I spent a lot of time just looking at Saturn. Shadows from the Ring system on the planet and the planet on the Ring system were quite evident. Cassini Division was clearly visible. Some cloud bands were also visible.
At 2000 MST, temperature 50°F, I decided to catch a nap while waiting for the Moon to set. I came back out at 0030 to a clear, dark, and not too cold (47°F) night. I spent the next two hours observing various Deep Sky Objects (DSOs) through the LXD55-8"SC using a TeleVue 2" 35mm Panoptic eyepiece (57X). Here are the highlights:
M51, Whirlpool Galaxy
This was my best view ever of M51 in the constellation of Canes Venatici. The spiral arms of the main galaxy were very clear as was the nucleus of the companion galaxy. The depiction below is a very close approximation to what I saw in the eyepiece. It was made using an image from the SEDS Messier Database and modified in GraphicConverter.
M101, Pinwheel Galaxy
This galaxy in Ursa Major appeared slightly larger than M51 but was more indistinct. It was a nice view however. The depiction below is another close approximation to what I saw in the eyepiece. It was made using an image from the SEDS Messier Database and modified in GraphicConverter.
M81 and M82 Galaxies
Both of these beautiful DSOs in Ursa Major appeared in the same 35mm eyepiece field of view! It was an incredible sight! The depiction below is a close approximation to what I saw in the eyepiece. It was made using an image from the SEDS Messier Database and modified in GraphicConverter. In M82, the "edge-on" galaxy on the left, the "notch" near the center of the galaxy was easily visible.
Caldwell 59, "Ghost of Jupiter" Planetary Nebula
This planetary nebula in the constellation of Hydra is a neat object to look at in small to medium sized telescopes. It appeared as a small bright blue dot just slightly smaller than Jupiter would appear at the same magnification.
I decided to get a little more sleep before coming back out to observe a recently discovered comet which would be visible just before sunrise. So at 0230, temperature 44°F, I turned in. At 0400 MST I came back out. The air temperature had warmed up slightly to 50°F but the sky was still clear.
M4, Globular Cluster
I took a quick look at this nice globular cluster in Scorpius using the 26mm eyepiece (77X). There were not a lot of stars visible (morning twilight was coming on) but it was still nice.
This newly discovered comet was just rising over the small hill to the east of Oracle Observatory. Unfortunately the sky was getting too bright to take any photographs of it. In 7x50 binoculars a very thin short tail was just visible. In the LXD55-8"SC with the 26mm eyepiece the head was a nice bright but fuzzy object.
Last to be viewed was Venus. It was bright and had almost the same phase as the Moon a few hours earlier. This made nice "bookends" for a good night at Oracle Observatory!
I plan to take my ETX-105 Premier Edition telescope on the next trip instead of the LXD55-8"SC used on this and recent trips. My plan is, like this trip, to do more observing than astrophotography. Until next time...
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