October 15, 2018 at 8:51 pm #4087
One night of clouds, another of sucker holes followed by two nights of cloudless, eye-widening Milky Way is the short version of this report. Hopefully, this event was the first of many more to come of Chesapeake Star Parties at the Chesapeake’s Virginia Eastern Shore hosted by Bay Star Telescopes. Bay Star Telescopes is the registered name of Shawn’s not yet fledgling telescope company on the star party’s property, another indication of the many plans for the site.
Mostly cloudy skies greeted me upon my Thursday arrival and the clouds prevailed into Friday so I took a pass to observe on either night.
Participants during the star party were Bob and Erin Jorgensen, John and Karen Hornberger, Rob Lancaster, Greg Lee, Rick and Nancy Spencer, Rob Cordivari, Bill Hanagan, Shawn (our host) and me. Several neighbors and friends of Shawn’s showed up on Saturday and Sunday and they got an overwhelming eyeful of mind-numbing astronomical wonders they never expected. Mars, Saturn, The Swan Nebula (M17), The Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) and the Keystone Cluster (M13) were among their favorites. The skies, measured by my SQM-L sky meter, were 6.38 Naked Eye Limiting Magnitude (NELM) with an intense Milky Way that stretched from horizon to horizon.
Friday night’s sky was full of evasive sucker holes as Bob Jorgensen reported. He no sooner would move his scope to an open area of sky when the “hole” of stars would close to utter blackness. Then like invisible gates swinging open, a dense Milky Way would gradually fade into view to last only a few minutes before the stars were snuffed out again. That’s what happens at sites that are truly dark. You can’t see clouds because there’s no reflected light to illuminate them. If it’s cloudy, the sky is just black and void of stars. When stars start appearing, the clouds are parting. So weird!
By Saturday night we had plenty of open sky over the field. The telescope line up was quite varied: Greg Lee’s Explore Scientific 16” f/4.5, Rick Spencer’s 18” f/4.2 Teeter, Bob Jorgensen’s 20” f/5.0 Obsession, Rob Cordivari’s 20” f/3.0 JP AstroCraft, Shawn’s DIY 22” f/3.2 and my 18” f/4.0 StarStructure. All were Newtonian Dobs, most with GoTo tracking. Rob Lancaster had his OPT TPO 6” f/4.0 Newtonian for imaging and a 120mm f/5.0 Orion refractor for visual. John Hornberger brought a Celestron Regal M2 100mm f/5.4 spotting scope (dark skies and a small scope are an awesome combination). Also, along with me was my 80mm Stellarvue f/6 apo refractor. Greg, in addition to his 16”, brought his 20×80 binoculars with a tripod mount.
Saturday night was glorious. Not a cloud at all from 7:30PM and on throughout the night enabling me to remain on the field until 5AM. Humidity was high but the seeing was spectacular. One of my favorite views was the Blue Snowball, NGC 7662, at 1137x. Sharing that view with Bob had him exclaiming that he never saw such detail at such high power. The outer shell and inner structure of the nebula was stunning.
Another jaw dropper view was NGC 246, the Skull Nebula, through Rob Cordivari’s 20” F/3.0 scope. Both Greg Lee and I spent quite a while at Rob’s scope on it.
Rob Cordivari texted afterward about how impressive was “the wide open panoramic very dark sky” and how he was “drooling over Canis Major rising to a jet black background without even a whiff of a light dome.”
The ever elusive Horsehead (B33) wasn’t the standout performer I saw two years ago at this same site. Now it took some patience and a judicious amount of averted vision. I used a H-Beta filter and a 24mm Panoptic eyepiece yielding a 5mm exit pupil in my 18” before the dark nebula gave itself up as a very subtle shade against the faint nebula (IC 434) that was illuminated behind it.
Sunday night Bill Hanagan was amazed with the star-filled field of view around M57, the Ring Nebula, and how inky black the spaces between the stars were while adding that it was the best view he ever saw of it.
The Sculptor Galaxy, NGC 253, was such a delight that it inspired Rob Lancaster to start an imaging run on it.
Dew had its varying degrees of issues for everyone. Some scopes had to shut down due to fogged primary or secondary mirrors. Others with dew control heat straps were able to last out the session. Cameras also had dew issues unless precautions were taken. My only problem was with my filters fogging in my filter slide despite the slide having a heater, so I went old school and removed the convenient slide and resorted to changing/ installing filters by screwing them on and off my eyepiece barrels. I hate doing that in the dark.
Regretfully, I didn’t spend nearly as much time catching views through others’ scopes but I certainly shared many views through mine. Usually when I’m under a sky so dark as this I can’t help but call people over to take a look at what I think they would appreciate but for long spans of time I selfishly pecked away at several observing lists digging deeper and deeper into that oh so black sky that sprawled with a brilliancy I hadn’t seen in too long a time.
My personal favorites were standouts, for me, and under a sky as inviting as we had on that Saturday night NGC 383 and NGC 1275 were humbling to behold. NGC 383, aka the Pisces Cloud, is a string of about 8 galaxies in the 13th to dimmer than 15th magnitude range that spread beautifully across an eyepiece’s field of view. In an 8mm Ethos eyepiece that gives an angular field of view of about 23 arc minutes in my 18” f/4.0 this collection of galaxies were strikingly contrasted against the deep, deep black background. Most stunning while observing this exquisite structure was knowing that they were 230 million light years away.
But even more impressive was NGC 1275, the Perseus Galaxy Cluster. I never pass an opportunity to observe this array of galaxies when under very dark skies at this time of year. The galaxies of NGC 1275 are dispersed throughout the field of view against a rich expanse of dim background stars for which any number of eyepieces can bring gratifying rewards. For me I kept changing between my 13mm and an 8mm Ethos eyepieces. But using my 6mm Ethos and slowly scanning around the field brought wonders I cannot find words to describe.
These two experiences alone made the trip worthwhile and will remain within my astronomy memory of views to recall when pressed for what I like to see. At 240 million light years distant the star cities that share the field of view with the Perseus Galaxy Cluster teem with possibilities that humankind are likely never to understand fully. That light began traveling to us in the early years of the Mesozoic era, the age of reptiles and dinosaurs.
It’s often thrilling enough to observe objects within our own galaxy but delving into our Local Group of Galaxies like Andromeda and the Pinwheel raises the excitement quotient substantially. Then go beyond the 10 million light year expanse of our Local Group. Linger on the Whirlpool for a while. Reaching to see galaxies even more distant brings indescribable wonders. Although void of details or definition, most are rather elusive to see, yet, with patience, some dedication, good optics, a wonderful dark sky and sufficient desire, one can gain a sense of the extremes, the potential infinite stretch of a universe that has hardly been scratched by mortals. Humbling is a woefully inadequate word for these views through an eyepiece.
Hopefully, I can get back under that canopy of stars soon to revisit more venerable sights.October 15, 2018 at 11:07 pm #4088
rob from altairParticipant
I can attest to Fred’s summary of Shawn’s place and the debut star party. Although there was a lot of dew on Saturday evening, it was not enough to distract from the very dark skies, open vista and great views.
I enjoyed views through Fred’s scope, particularly the NGC 383 group and of course, the horsehead, albeit very dim but visible nonetheless. It was great having a lot of scopes out on the field and and sharing the views with those who were there to share in the evening. I enjoyed showing people the Ring, Saturn, NGC 5907 and other celestial delights.
My favorite views in my scope were the Skull, as Fred mentioned, and also one of the best views of Stephan’s Quintet I’ve seen, certainly the best in my scope. NGC 7331 was wonderful with all 4 companions picked out. I also had a tremendous view of The Crescent and the best view of The Veil I’ve seen in a long time – just stunningly brilliant against such a dark background. I also spent time in the Perseus Cluster, NGC 1275, and Hickson’s in Pegasus, and I also spent some time trying to track down globs in Andromeda. Under high power, M110 looked like the Andromeda Galaxy when viewed through binoculars at home. I was not able to positively identify the globs I was after, even though I was in the correct area. But I was fairly certain I had a glimpse of one of them. I recall actually seeing one pretty easily a few years back from DS2, but I was looking in a different area at Shawns’.
I also spent more time playing around with my newly purchased I0ptron Sky Tracker. I got a few good shots but had trouble focusing and with the dew. I’m looking forward to getting some nightscape shots with the device. Rob Lancaster, and Shawn, were very helpful to me in getting it going.
I really liked Shawn’s place a lot. It was certainly as dark as Cherry Springs, at least from what I can remember from the last time I was up there. It was really nice having such a secure spot to observe from that is as dark as that. And Shawn is a great host, very enthusiastic about having people come down to observe from his property. I’d like to get down there one more time this season before the really cold weather sets in. I’d recommend it highly for anyone looking for a secure dark site with the open vista and within a relatively close distance.
RobOctober 15, 2018 at 11:33 pm #4089
Yea, what he said! I’m hoping to hit Shawn’s again next dark window, stargetting some time between 11/3 and 11/10.October 16, 2018 at 10:00 am #4092
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