Author Topic: OR: Sierra Foothills 23Dec2014  (Read 1033 times)


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OR: Sierra Foothills 23Dec2014
« on: December 24, 2014, 03:04:41 PM »
Observing Report for Dec. 23, 2014
Location: Sierra Foothills at private residence outside Mariposa, CA.

Don’t get me wrong, I welcome all this rain. But if it isn’t raining, why can’t the skies be clear? That finally occurred Tuesday. I woke to the pleasant sight of blue skies unmarred by any trace of white or gray. Some wispy clouds moved in during the afternoon, but they typically dissipate after sunset. Still, I didn’t expect to observe. Relative humidity generally is quite high after periods of intense rain.

I’ve been looking forward to an opportunity to follow up on Lumpy Darkness’ question a week ago about naked eye Messier open clusters in the winter sky. So, I stepped outside after dinner (6:30PM) to have a look. A thin crescent moon hovered over the trees to the southwest. After letting my eyes adapt to the darkness, I turned around. M35 was readily apparent. I’ve seen it naked eye many times. But I don’t remember ever searching for, or noticing, M38, M36, and M37. That may be due to force of habit. These three clusters hold special significance for me. They are among the first objects I found when I started observing in March of 1990. The telescope back then was a borrowed 4” f/8 reflector whose components were housed in an unprotected cardboard tube that had seen considerable moisture. The primary mirror was badly in need of re-aluminizing. The location was my driveway in Redwood City. Back then, on good nights, I could just detect the Milky Way (alas, no more). Despite the poor condition of the small reflector, I bagged half the Messier objects with it before buying a telescope of my own.

I return to the three Auriga open clusters often, following familiar paths traveled repeatedly over the years. M37 ranks among my favorites – for its sheer number of stars and for its sentimental value. So, it was with great pleasure that I discovered another facet to enjoy. I quickly picked up its small, faint glow with averted vision, holding it steadily about 90% of the time. The other two were more challenging. But I believe I saw them as well, but was only able to hold them about 50-75% of the time. For reference, I use M33 as an indicator for how dark and transparent the skies are. It was straight up and visible intermittently with averted vision. I’ve had better sightings of it from this location, but conditions appeared pretty good.

Stoked by fond memories, and the glorious sky, I decided to don my warm clothes and set up the 24-inch, f/3.3. I didn’t think the session would last long. The van already sported a substantial layer of dew.

I was observing faint UGCs in Taurus by 7:30PM. After tallying 13 new objects between pauses to clear the secondary, finders, and eyepiece with a hairdryer, I called it quits at 9PM. As expected, the body of the scope was wet. Views had dimmed and no longer responded to the hairdryer. A quick survey of the sky told the story – stars no longer were visible along the horizon. Everything higher up also was veiled by thin haze.

It seemed appropriate that I should conclude the night with a view of M37. The big glass compensated well, revealing hundreds of pinpoint stars through the haze.  Although brief, the session was very rewarding.