It’s been a while since this session but I finally had some time to do a write up of the visit to Dino on 12/1.
As we waited for dark we were able to pick out Mercury a couple degrees above the horizon, with binoculars (thanks to George for finding it). It formed a long line with Venus and Mars, all about the same distance apart. A very picturesque scene along with the two-day old moon, round with earthshine. A while later we saw the ISS pass. Joe Bob happened to see it rising from the western horizon. We watched as it rose and were excited to see it transit the earthshine part of the moon. The others began to track it with their binoculars, wondering if they could see any structure. I decided to try tracking it with the 10-inch f3.8 @ 37x, and I was able to fairly easily. It was bright, but appeared boxy. It was very cool to see it barreling through fields of stars -- it was headed for zenith and the Cassiopeia Milky Way region. As it passed zenith it began to slowly dim, and eventually I saw it as a small orange tube. I kept on it as it grew fainter, still able to track it easily with the Springsonian, even as it became fainter than most of the stars. Eventually it disappeared, and my telescope was pointed about 15° from level.
I didn't have any specific plan for observing, and I made few notes. SQML was 21.18, a little low. While it was a chilly 40°F, there was no dew, and I had dressed for the weather anyhow. I knew I wanted to exploit the scope's wide FOV and to try large scale objects.
I saw Blanco 1, which I wanted to see as a whole for a long time. It was a disappointing, large loose cluster of a dozen or more stars in a triangle pattern. Meh. I started out with this object thinking I would go to the Sculptor Dwarf and then the Fornax Dwarf, but the light dome from the Los Banos Reservoir lights washed out the horizon to 15°. There were light domes all around, sadly. So I abandoned the lower elevations and went high.
George suggested I try the Helix nebula. He shared the view in his 13-inch, and showed me a good way to find it with a reflex sight: make a right triangle with Fomalhaut and Skat (Delta Aquarius). I found it straight off. It looked nice with a UHC -- annular, with a large darker round interior.
My next thought was to try IC 342, the notoriously difficult face-on spiral in Camelopardalis. I wanted to start from Kembel's Cascade, an asterism in lower Camelopardalis near Cassiopeia. After some checking of my charts I did succeed in finding the straight line of stars making the asterism, and the small open cluster NGC 1502 at the end of it. Some nice colorful stars in the field. I then carefully star hopped through the eyepiece up the few degrees north to IC 342. I immediately saw an oval glow behind a rather dense field of stars -- if wasn't sure of my star hop I would have assumed this was an open cluster. It was the galaxy's relatively bright small core and nucleus. The arms were not apparent; there was a very subtle change in grayscale around the relatively brighter haze, but nothing certain. It was like looking for a soluble fish. I want to try this one again with the 20-inch to see if I can discern any arms.
I did some lazy sweeping around the Milky Way. The North America Nebula filled more than the field, and was billowy and cloud-like. I could see a large chunk of nebulosity hooking away from Mexico to the east. The Pelican Nebula (IC 5067 & 5070) was large and almost bright. And I could see the three condensations beneath the Pelican (IC 5068). The Gamma Cygni area was turbulent with nebulae and dark nebulae, too much for me to describe well. Same with the Mu Cephei area (IC 1396 etc.). And the Flaming Star Nebula (IC 405) -- which was quite astonishing. IC 405 appeared as a wide comma, with IC 410 on the other side of the bright elongated star cluster Mel 31. M38 looked great, and I could see the small faint cluster NGC 1907 at its rim, not unlike the small cluster at the edge of M35. It was very special to try some comet sweeping, coming across clusters, asterisms, vacancies and crowds of stars in the sky.
I shared a view of the California Nebula (NGC 1499) with the others, with an H-beta filter. In this scope it appears large, bright, with many tendrils. It does not quite fit in the field -- panning east or west reveals the thinly tapering ends. So far this is my favorite object to view in this scope.
Around 11pm I happened to take a rest from the eyepiece and looked up. I noticed a bright white flash and assumed it was a plane. I watched it for a minute. It flashed again but this time it was dimmer, more yellow. And it seemed to be moving more slowly than a plane would. Then again the bright flash -- I was sure it was a satellite. So I asked Jamie and Peter to take a look. We were wowed by the bright flashes, which came in irregular intervals. We believed it to be a tumbling satellite or space debris; it was moving below the "W" of Cassiopeia roughly west to east. I tried to find out what it was next day at the Heaven's Above website, but don't find any matches.
Near midnight some thin clouds moved in from the north. It was time to pack up, but I wanted some more looks through the scope – who knew the next time there would be clear weather? I took a quick look at the Flame Nebula (NGC 2024) which was very distinct, even with Alnitak in view. We tried the Horsehead (B33/IC 434), which we could see as a dark thumbprint -- but not very well. I tried for the Witch Head Nebula but only suspected some grayscale changes -- needs a darker and more transparent sky. Finally, George wanted to see M81/M82, so we pointed the scope up there. It was just seen at the edge of some clouds. I could see NGC 3077 hiding out next to a nearby star. Very nice view of the trio and a nice way to end the night.