Monday, August 10, 2009

Encounter with Cactus and Meteors. (weekend Star Party)

Saturday afternoon I loaded up my Jeep with my favorite folding chair, my homemade 4" Dobsonian and other gear. After double checking my packing list I headed to Rudy's BBQ on I-10 in Leon Springs. Rudy's is a great BBQ place, but they advertise as the "Worst BBQ in Texas." I guess this little ad campaign works because every time I've been there it was busy and to day was no exception. This was the meet-up place for the members of the San Antonio Astronomical Association who were planning on driving out to the Cat's Meow Bed & Breakfast, our dark-sky site to do some maintenance on the observing field and get in a little viewing.

I got there and enjoyed a plate of BBQ with a few of the members. Once we finished dinner we each got in our vehicle and caravaned out to our dark sky site near Fredricksburg, Texas. A few of people where already there. I parked grabbed my shovel, bucket and started searching for those needle covered things we call cactus. I filled my bucket a few times and soon the sun was starting it's plunge below the trees in the western horizon. I went to my jeep and began setting up for the evenings activities. My scope of choice was Snoopy the "Helotescope" (my home built 4" telescope). Then I set my chair in the circle of dicussion that was going on behind one of the member's telescope trailer (which houses a 30" Obsession Telescope).

During the that majestic hour after sunset when the stars slowly come out to play, a group of us shot the breeze for a while talking about various other topics while watching stars appear in clear sky that was overhead. Then when it was nice and dark we parted our ways and headed to our telescopes. I we set up behind my Jeep in the pasture we called the "Telescope Field." To the North of my telescope was another dobnosian whose user had a plan to observe a few Messier objects. To the south was our club's newsletter editor who was waiting for Jupiter to rise so he could photograph it with his Jupiter with a webcam.

We enjoyed about an hour of a moonless night and I looked at the Whirlpool Galaxy (m51)and the Ring Nebula (m57). Then clouds started coming in from the east. Before they settled in I used my telescope to observe M80 in the same fashion as Hershel by letting the image drift across the eyepeice. I did this repeatably to train my eye to notice details in smaller star clusters such as M80. I must have viewed M80 for about 30 minutes.

Then he clouds dominated for a while. While they moved through the astronomers on the telescope field socialized. We could see the moon rising behind the clouds.

About an hour later it was clear again. But now the moon was lighting up the night sky. I took in some views of Jupiter and the moon. This have me a chance to try out my Meade Planetary filter set that I had for a while but never really used. I could see two shadows of the Satellites of Jupiter on the planet. Being a 4" I could resolve the planet as good as some others that night so I headed over to Mr. Kelly's Schmidt-Cassegrain where we observed Jupiter and tired filters on Jupiter. We found the green filter really enhanced the banding and the shadows.

Around midnight I put my scope back in my Jeep and walked over to the circle of chairs and settled in for the Meteor shower. This night wasn't the peak but it was really enjoyable. There is something to be said for just sitting there watching the sky for hours on end. Bryan the obsession owner had Music playing and it was relaxing. I worked on my Astronomical League Meteor Observing list while we sat there, talked and joked around. Sometimes we'd hear snoring as someone drifted into a nap... but I remained awake and logged four hours toward the six required for the Leagues award pin. I logged 30 meteors that night most near Cassiopeia. The brightest I estimated at magnitude -4 at 3:50 AM (CST).

While sitting there star gazing Bryan our club's chairman got his green laser pointer and taught us about visual magnitudes using Lyra. He taught us about variable stars (ones whose magnitude-brightness changes) and about the Chicago Conference he attended about Citizen Science with Epsilon Aurigae.

About 4:30am we caravanned back to San Antonio. I got home about 5:30 am ate dinner and went to bed.