It has been awhile since I sent out an observing report, mainly because it’s been awhile since I’ve been out observing. Well, that changed Sunday night, when the skies cleared as the sun was setting. I decided that I’d better get out and at least take a look at few things. So, at 21:00 EDT I headed over to Leslie Park for a quick impromptu observing run. As I was setting up an older couple out for their evening walk, stopped for a few moments to chat and watch me set up my 12.5” scope. I remembered them from the Venus Transit and it was nice to find out, that we had made a wonderfully positive impression. They said they have been wanting to come to one of our open houses ever since that morning.
I have always found it interesting to see peoples’ reactions to my set-up process, especially the uninitiated to telescopes in general. There they are walking along through the park minding their own business and I will pull up and start to unload my equipment, which can look quite strange, if not a little suspicious. On their initial pass they might give a casual extra glance to see if they recognize something that will tip them off as to my purpose. But its on their way back that they give the ultra-fine scrutinizing, when I’m in the actual set-up process and my scope starts to look like some kind of home built weapon of mass destruction. Now they will be moving in for some closer inspection or they will walk very slowly past my position watching every move I make. If by chance they have some of those small recon troops (more commonly referred to as children) with them, they will be sent out to reconnoiter the situation. These small but fearless troops will casually move right in close and after a couple of frustrating minutes of trying to figure me out on their own, will try the most direct approach and ask me “what are you doing? And as I start to explain to these inquisitive ones, I note out of the corner of my eye that the parents, either as a protection instinct or just figuring that there is no danger start to close in. Just about this time, while the parent is still a good shouting distance away the kid yells out, in a “way to loud” voice, “Its just a telescope! Mom, see I told you!” which instantly creates that perfectly wonderful, slightly embarrassed, chuckle of nervous laughter from the parent, as they move over to observe my final phase of set-up and collect there diminutive recon troops. The parent now tries to recover some of their dignity and stature by asking questions like, “What type of telescope is that?” Or, “How long have you been doing astronomy?” Sometimes the questions are well thought out and sometimes they’re not, no matter, I answer them as best I can and try to help these parents save face with their off-spring. Sometimes they wait around for the skies to get dark, in hopes to get a look through this strange device, but most of the time they will thank me for the info and wander off, back to their homes. If they stick around for a glimpse into my universe, I usually try to show them something visually exciting like a planet or the moon to start. After I get the “Wows” that objects like that can elicit, I’ll show them one of the faint fuzzies that I find so appealing. If they see it at all, their reactions are varied but predictable. They will ask, “How the heck did you find that?” or “What exactly is that?” or “I liked the (planet / moon) better, can I see that again?” Then after a little while they all thank me for sharing and go back to the comfort and artificial lights of their homes. Some might even give this experience a second thought just before sleep captures their night, but for most that was it ... just a brief encounter with an amateur astronomer at the park.
That was one observation; here is another one, this one is a little more astronomical.
My main purpose for going out on Sunday night was to get a look at Jupiter before it set and check out a couple of bright comets. So, after my company left and I actually got a chance look through the eyepiece of my own scope, I pointed the 12.5” toward the setting Jupiter and what I saw was this: Reading from left to right Europa, Jupiter, Io, Ganymede, and Callisto on the surface this is not that unusual of an arrangement. However, there was something that struck me as particularly symmetrical and quite pleasing to the eye about this layout; I quickly understood what it was .... These Galilean moons were spaced out all at their furthest points from Jupiter on a line that was perfectly perpendicular to my line of sight. Very nice! I also noticed the GRS about a quarter of the way in from the eastern limb, and it seems to be noticeably darker than that last time I saw it. Since it wasn’t quite dark enough to start comet hunting, I examined Jove at higher power (just under 300x) and sure enough the GRS actually appeared REDDISH in color, now this could have been due to the low altitude (about 22 degrees) that I was observing Jupiter at and the extra layers of atmosphere I was looking through, but I didn’t notice any change in the color of the rest of the disk. Whatever the case, it was a very pleasant sight.
It was now comet hunting time, and I had two targets to find tonight. The first was NEAT C/2001 Q4 with a listed magnitude of 6.5 and just 1.5 degrees north of Merak, (the southern star of the pointer stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper) this should have been an easy target. But the sky wasn’t as dark as I thought and it proved to be a bit fainter than listed by almost a half a magnitude. Of course that did not prevent me from finding it, and even at 7th magnitude this is still a very impressive comet. After spending a little time noting Q4’s position in relation to the field stars on my drawing form, I moved my scope over to the constellation Bootes and about 1/3 of the way from gamma to rho Bootes and just a little to the east of that line to find LINEAR C/2003 K4. The listed magnitude of 6.7 for this comet seemed to be off a little bit too, but in the other direction, it was at least a half a magnitude brighter at about 6.0 to 6.2, and sporting a very impressive tail stretching almost 2 degrees due east. This comet has a perihelion date of October 13th 2004 so its is currently in its dive toward the setting Sun and will move quickly through Bootes and a corner of Coma Berenices to the heart of Virgo by mid-September and into the Sun’s glare. So, if you haven’t seen this one yet, you might want to catch it in the next couple of weeks, as this comet continues to brighten at least another full magnitude or better. I made another quick positional sketch and started to pack up my equipment, it was now about 22:30 EDT and I needed to get up at 04:00 EDT the next morning, so my bed was calling me home.
All in all not too shabby for just an hour and a half observing session and it even inspired a newsletter article. Now that’s my gauntlet thown down! Who will be the next to pick it up?