Last night, 1 December, we opened Dinosaur Point for another winter of stargazing at one of our best darksky spots in the region. Once again we have our own TAC combo lock on the gate, thanks to help from the Four Rivers rangers and our own persistent sponsors.
Really don’t want to bury the hot story here. Thru prompts from Carter Scholz and Steve Gottlieb, we got to see this blazar, CTA-102, that’s an astounding 8 billion lightyears from here. Light twice as old as our Sun. The thing usually glows at around 17th magnitude, dim for the likes of us, but it has outbursts.
Bob King in S&T has a good finderchart, though his story sure wanders and gets too cute.http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/quasar-cta-102-historically-bright-violently-variable/
So this is a highly compact quasar that puts out rare bursts. It was easy in McCarthy’s 10” and my 13. We came up with a consensus that it was around 12.6 or 12.7 vM. Little star sitting there with direct vision, brighter than several in the field, only a whole whole lot farther away.
I’d seen 3C 273, the brightest quasar, and one other in Camelopardalis last year, PKS 0716 +71, when it had its own outburst. Those are measured at 2.4 and 3.5 billion lightyears distant. But there’s this whole other category of presolar light, that’s been on its way since before our local star formed. My first time there, and it’s gonna take me a while to wrap my head around this one.
Conditions were really good last night, with starfields at 6.3 limiting magnitude, seeing good, 4/5. Plus the company was superb, with Joe Bob Jardine, Peter Natscher, Mark McCarthy and George Feliz out for fun. The 5 telescopes there were ethnically interesting as well. George brought his 13” grab and go scope, that he made as a sibling for Johannes, the 13” that I bought from its maker, Albert Highe, this past June. Those two scopes have worked side by side at Dinosaur Point countless times over the years.
Joe Bob brought his mondo Albert-made 20”. McCarthy had his new scope that he brought to CalStar, his McCarthy-made Springsonian design, where the trunnions are around the focuser, so the observer sits in one place while the scope goes up and down. With McCarthy’s Terminagler in the focuser, he gets a 2.4 actual fov.
Peter meanwhile had his 16”, which he continues to say is his last scope. This is the man who has bedhopped thru more telescopes than some of you striplings have had hot dinners. Gotta say, this 16 is a serious scope and Peter continues to be happy.
We had a lovely row of planets after sunset, with Mercury perched under a sliver of a 2-day Moon, Venus well above that and Mars farther up, all in a row. There was a long ISS pass at 6 pm, and Jardine somehow caught it going across the earthlight part of the Moon. Cool. Another major highlight was the California Nebula in McCarthy’s 2.4 deg field, yes with an H-beta filter. I had no idea it had that kind of detail and structure, very beautiful.
Toward midnight I made sure and pointed at the Fornax Cluster, with the little equilateral triangle of hop stars for that rich cluster well over the horizon. Galaxies all piled up. It had gotten cold but moderated again, we were all bundled up anyway. At midnight, high clouds were coming in, and we really didn’t mind packing up. Very fun, fascinating, satisfying, congenial night.