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Messages - Mark

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Observing Reports / Re: The Pinnacle of Dark Skies
« on: August 05, 2017, 10:41:09 AM »
Hey Brad - stumbled across the picture today.  Surprise!  What year was it?

TAC Visual / Experienced Eclipse Chasers. Your input please.
« on: August 02, 2017, 08:54:51 AM »
I know there are many experienced eclipse chasers here.  This month's will be my, and undoubtedly others, first.

How about posting what to watch for, and how?  Visual stuff.  I recall listening to a recording made by someone experienced, and they were calling out the various events as each approached.

I'd like to have such a list, as the group I'm going with are not only eclipse newbies, but total astronomy noobs, far as I can tell.

Thanks for any and all suggestions.


Great observation Steve.  Reminds me of how surprisingly easy it was seeing that new glob near B86 a few years ago.  Interesting what can be seen.  With I'd been there!

TAC Visual / An observation about observation.
« on: July 26, 2017, 02:22:11 PM »
Last Saturday at Pinnacles, I had a brief moment of the type of observing we all hope for.  They're really not all that frequent.  Seeing was incredibly steady, and transparency superb.  It wasn't just me, I head others in the dark mentioning "like Bumpass Hell" or "only seen it like this at Lassen".

My views of the Veil and Crescent Nebulae were tremendous.  So much so, the Veil was at times a confusing large area of nebulosity I couldn't place, as I hadn't seen such detail before.  The Crescent showed easily all those parts that I'd seen previously, but in crisp sinewy details making the views new.

My old friend Dean Linebarger used to say observing is a lot like skiing (he was an avid skier), its all about conditions, and you may get truly great conditions only a few days of the year.

Dean was right.  I think being regular and running into those moments, getting such views, is what really drives the hobby. At least for me.  I got quite lucky, for about an hour, at Pinnacles last weekend.  More of that, please!


Observing Reports / Re: The Pinnacle of Dark Skies
« on: July 25, 2017, 07:47:42 PM »
Smart choice going home.  It's really an easy drive.  I got some sleep in my car, setting the alarm for 6:30 to be gone before the rangers arrived.  I was something of a zombie on Sunday.

Observing Reports / Re: The Pinnacle of Dark Skies
« on: July 25, 2017, 11:23:30 AM »
I mentioned poor seeing.  When it was good, it was very very good.  When it was bad, it was horrid.

Transparency was also coming and going.  We had some unusual warm air currents invade the observing site for a while.  I think with those, the poor transparency arrived.

I think Pinnacles can be, and likely for those who go regularly is, a great place to observe.

What I saw could be best described as "Lumpy Darkness".  On the subtle side of subtle mottling.  I chuckled when McCarthy told me he was looking at Sh-2, which I spent a few years chasing down.  Its a world of eye-torture. :o

Observing Reports / The Pinnacle of Dark Skies
« on: July 25, 2017, 09:58:37 AM »
Saturday the 22nd of July I trekked to Pinnacles National Park to join what I assumed were a few members of the Santa Cruz Astronomy Club, along with my friend Richard Navarrete, for a night of dark sky astronomy. 

Getting there is easy, just heading down Highway 101, as if going to CalStar, into the Salinas Valley then turning east on Highway 146 at Soledad.  I used to visit that town returning from CalStar, whenever our event coincided with the Harvest Festival at the old Mission - a wonderful local celebration of food, wine, music, art and California history.

There is a turn on 146 in the vineyards, paralleling the valley, before heading off into to wilds, where the entire spread of Steinbeck's country shows itself.  The coastal range mountains to the east, containing the National Park, the broad flat fertile Salinas Valley covered now in vineyards, and across, past the town, past the Mission, the western part of the Coastal Range Mountains holding the Ventana Wilderness, and entrance to Big Sur.  It is a magnificent sight.  The road winds through a shallow canyon, in an area known for greasewood, Manzanita, grey pine, live and blue oak, buckeye, coffee berry, holly leaf cherry and elderberry.  During my drive in the park, I saw Turkey Vulture, Magpie, Roadrunner, Scrub Jay, Turkey, Quail (with many chick lets), Chipmunk, Ground Squirrel, Jack Rabbit and Cotton Tail Rabbit.

Entering the western part of Pinnacles is quite different from the eastern entrance, which I usually access for hiking (it’s a terrific park for hiking, in cooler spring and fall temps).  Just at the entrance, the Hoodoos welcome you, what a sight!  These are the western  remnants of  the ancient Neenach Volcano, last erupting 23 million years ago.  The eastern portion is 200 miles south near Lancaster, transported there by the San Andreas Fault, on which the park sits.

The observing site de la nuit was the parking lot by the ranger's station, just inside the park.  There was plenty of room and good horizons, especially to the south.  Once the skies darkened, I found it to be as dark as any sight I've been at within three hours of the Bay Area - to the sough it looked absolutely black, but nowhere was I disappointed with bothersome sky glow.

Richard and I brought our nearly identical 18" f/4.5 Obsession telescopes, planning to leave behind computers and work from paper charts (Sky Atlas 2000).  I observed mostly in Scorpius and Sagittarius, peeking into Pegasus late at night, with a few choice incursions into Cygnus for the fancy fun stuff there.

There were some park tourists visiting, looking through our telescopes.  I had one 11 year old girl describing views of the Bug Nebula, the more I asked her to look, the more detail she related.  It was great, and I know her parents (who had trouble seeing The Bug themselves) loved it.

Here are selected targets I observed:

NGC 6302, The Bug Nebula at 297X.
Bright, elongated E/W with a brighter section to the east.  A dark intrusion in the elongated western section leading to a bright knot 2/3rds of the way to the eastern end.  Approximately 1.5'x0.5', fading dramatically toward the eastern end.  Using an NPB filter, the object looks distinctly like a bi-polar planetary nebula, with the dimmer section and nucleus to the east.

NGC 6334, The Cat Paw Nebula at 200X with Ultrablock filter.
Faint nebulosity close to two bright fiend stars (mags 5.9 and 7.9) separated by 16 arc-minutes.  This view was probably hampered by poor seeing at the time.  The greatest portion of nebula, really just mottling in the field, was to the southeast of the stars.

NGC 6357, The Lobster Nebula, 200X with Ultrablock filter. 
Easy to locate at the straight eastern end of a chain of four mag 6 and one mag 7 stars, with one crookedly offset over 37 arc-minutes. The nebula runs N/S with uneven brightness, the most obvious portion is off the tip of the chain, and to the east.  More of the nebula runs from there north the to the west.  This is called a mini-M42.  Using 297X, clumpy nebulosity shows around dim stars in the chain, north to south, then a large clump east to west.

NGC 6990 and NGC 6995, Veil Nebula, 297X, NPB filter.
This was a mind-blowing view.  I knew it was a great night for the Veil when the Witch's Broom section showed tremendous detail.   I looked at this from Lick Observatory the prior weekend, and barely saw the tubular shape extending north of 52 Cygni.  At Pinnacles, there was so much to see, I kept moving my telescope wondering if what I was viewing was part of the Waterfall portion, but no, it was just very bright knots throughout the center, around Pickering's Wisp (or Pickering's Triangle).  When I finally moved enough to see the Waterfall (NGC 6995), it looked like stretched taffy, frozen, interwoven strands, bright knots mixed in with slivers and chards of "broken" pieces, leading to the delicate western turn where the "waterfall" drops off back toward the center of the Veil.  As I said, terrific, eye-popping view.

NGC 6888, Crescent Nebula, 297X, NPB filter.
After such a great view of the Veil Nebula, who could resist? So… wow. Beautiful view, the western edge to the north with the bright star embedded looked like smooth clay, thick and stretching and thinning to the south.  The nebulosity breaks, near the star close to the inner the western edge, getting thin and ragged as it turns toward the south where two bright knots show, at the curve eastward.  The eastern section is the thinnest, but a nice extension crosses the void to meet the bright star near the inner western edge.  Along the eastern edge, beyond the thin inner extension, is a brighter knot outside the oval, where the continuity of the "egg" shape seems to break.  Then it continues toward the north, brightening and thickening around two bright embedded stars, curving back over to join the northern end of the object.

Those were the highlight objects.  I also tried some tiny dim Planetaries, but the seeing was such that most stars were looking like Planetaries, so, too much work (NGC 6442 and IC 4732).  I popped a few small globulars, they're everywhere in this area, then finally jumped up into Pegasus for some NGC galaxies.

All in all, a fine night.  We had good company, and I have a new observing site that I look forward to returning to again just 1-1/2 hours from home.  But, new moons between now and then, an eclipse journey, and CalStar.

I also heard other observers and imagers were on the east side of the park, along with a star party that you weren't allow to bring scopes to (really????)!  Its certainly a world of wonders....

See you all soon.

Photos below: Entering Pinnacles West, early morning Hoodoos, fog in the Salinas Valley next morning, Crescent Nebula.

See you there.  Navarrete coming too.

TAC Visual / Re: Epic Montebello Wednesday
« on: July 21, 2017, 12:38:41 PM »

Thanks for getting the gang up there.  So many faces from the past.  We should try it again.

I spent the observing part of my evening there, looking in the darkest part of the sky, low in the curve of Scorpius' tail.  Lots of gems in the area, including of course the two big opens M7 and M6.  I thought The Bug Nebula was the most interesting, and teasing out a bit of The Lobster (NGC 6357) was fun too - love the nice hooked chain of stars it sits on.  Think I'll bring the 18 the next time, but did enjoy getting my 10" out too.

I'm certainly up for more of this!


Observing Intents / Re: Observing at Montebello on Wed July 19
« on: July 19, 2017, 02:14:32 PM »
All packed up and ready to go.

Forecast looks great.  There's about a 3% chance of precip in Palo Alto at 9 tonight, which I take to be low cloud/fog moving in low... so we may get some light extinction help.

My 10" CPT Dob is the choice for a close-to-home trip.  Hunting targets using the Tirion Sky Atlas 2000.  A few hours of fun mid-week is perfect.

See you there - noobs, come have a look, no need to bring a scope.  Or if you have one, join the party.


Observing Intents / Re: Observing at Montebello on Wed July 19
« on: July 18, 2017, 09:20:31 AM »
There looks to be one of the largest crowds complete with a few special guest TACos  heading up to Montebello this Wed.
This just may be an epic get together for good old Montebello gravel crunchin astro fun

Thanks to Marco for announcing this week's Montebello here on TAC.  I'm in, either with my 10" or 18".

This site is an original TAC hangout, where beginners get to meet more experienced observers, check out equipment, and enjoy a night under darker suburban skies close to home.  Casey Fukuda has gathered the gang at Montebello Open Space Preserve ( ongoing for years now, and James Turley's been keeper of the flame (our group permit for Wednesday nights) for over 15 years - thanks to them both for keeping this a vibrant astro-site!

This event is highly recommended for any and all who are interested or curious.  Big globulars, great double stars, Summer Milky Way rising full of visual treats.  If we're lucky enough, fog will mute the bay area lights.

Bring warm clothes just in case, red flashlight or cover a regular flashlight with shopping bag paper (so you can see in the bathroom).  Arrive before dark as the parking lot gate will be closed once its dark (sunset 8:30).  We'll help people drive out when you want to leave.

I've returned to Montebello after an almost 8 year absence - can't wait - see you there!



Dan Wilkins, KIPAC (Stanford/SLAC)
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Tuesday, July 25, 2017 at 7:30 PM

Panofsky Auditorium
Science and User Support Building (BLDG 53)

Black holes are some of the most exotic and extreme objects in the universe. Though they sound like the stuff of science fiction, they are real and much more common than you might think.  Every galaxy has a black hole lurking at its center!  Also, these black holes are not actually black, because matter falling into black holes liberates energy that can power some of the brightest objects we see in the night sky. In this lecture you will find out exactly what a black hole is, how we can find them, and how they can flare intensely — giving rise to impressive firework displays and launching vast jets of plasma at close to the speed of light.

Dan Wilkins is an astrophysicist in the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC) at Stanford University and SLAC.  He received his PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2013.  He held a postdoctoral position in Halifax, Nova Scotia, under a fellowship from the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics. In 2016, he joined KIPAC as an NASA-supported Einstein Fellow. Wilkins works on both observational and theoretical aspects of black hole physics. He is a member of teams at NASA and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) that are developing next-generation X-ray observatories to study energetic cosmic sources powered by black holes.

Seating is on a first-come-first-served basis

We will also be streaming the lecture live on our Facebook page a few minutes before the start time.

Observing Reports / Two Very Different Nights At Lick Observatory
« on: July 16, 2017, 09:50:25 AM »
I had a terrific time at Lick Observatory over the weekend. Friday night we had very clear steady skies and a great lineup of telescopes.  Eric Z. was showing Jupiter in daylight to the early arrivers in his AP 155.  Al Howard had an identical scope, Kurt Kuhlman brought a C14 Fastar, I had my 18" Obsession, and a relative beginner and his son who had just attended GSSP a 10-inch SCT. As the sky darkened Saturn was rock steady and commanded views in most telescopes. I showed it briefly and moved on to some interesting double stars, settling on Albireo (which voice recognition wants to call El Burrito), explaining the idea of binary stars and what the colors mean to the public.  After some time people moved on to the big globular clusters and in a few cases M51. I eventually began showing the Neil Nebula, Witches Broom section, which with an OIII filter glowed as a subtle neon blue-gray tube extending away from 52 Cygni, which I kept at the edge of the field of you as a reference point to describe the object and help first-timers see it. It was really a fine night with shirt sleeve conditions all night. I spent the night in the Rec Hall as I was staying for Saturday as well.

Saturday was hot and cloudy, not a good combination. I set up my telescope after watching the others who had arrived do the same. Eric was back, as was Marek Cichanski (voice recognition kitchen ski), who brought his 18' Obsession once owned by Michelle Stone, who sold it to me, for my daughter Mimi to use, eventually selling it to Marek. I didn't look through my telescope once Saturday night due to conditions. But the company was great! We also were treated to a spectacular sunset as well as seeing some very unusual mammatus clouds over the observatory. Here are photos of both the clouds and tremendous sunset. The photo is from Rick Baldridge, whose shot turned out better than mine. I sat outside the observatory doors which were open to keep things cool and listened to the Grammy award-winning duo of Tingstad and Rumbel, guitarist and wind instrument players.  I loved the tune Chaco (, hearing the alto and tenor clarinet, and sweet potato.  Great setting for a concert.

All in all volunteering at Lick Observatory is a fun way to spend a weekend. I did it last month and I'll spend two nights there again in August.

Next up will be a Wednesday trip to Montebello for observing then to the Pinnacles on Saturday for some Dark Skies. Hope to see other observers out this week.

Clear skies,


TAC Visual / Mark Loves The Moon
« on: July 13, 2017, 03:21:30 PM »
There... I've said it.

After many years of confirmed, nearly exclusive focus on deep sky, I've fallen.  Its the images of our own local Jim Ferreira, along with a Texan named Robert Reeves, that got me looking.  Now I can't wait to get out and observe even in my bright Los Gatos skies.  Here's a photo of Reeves as an example of some of the detail I'd like to try picking up - although this shot with Reeve's new a 20"....  just to think of it... buying a 20" scope to shoot the moon!

Anyone else here spend their time looking at what my buds and I used to call "The Great Obliterator" and the "Plaster Ball"?  Think its a superb target for sketching!


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