2005 Oregon Star Party Report
Indian Trail Spring
Ochoco Natl. Forest

by Wes Stone
September 1/2

The morning looked great as I headed out.  I stopped at Calliope Crossing near Sisters to do some birding, and again at Ochoco Lake for lunch.  I arrived at OSP in the early afternoon and began to play the weather waiting game. High clouds and cumulus thickened during the day but partially cleared throughout the night.  I observed a few faint globular clusters that were on my list, but sketching was difficult to impossible with clouds rushing to anywhere I was pointing.  I took a nap in the middle of the night. There were some nice meteors, but I guess I missed the best of the bunch by looking in the wrong direction.

I did get one of my target galaxy groups in the morning (the rather undistinguished NGC 3 group).  Limiting magnitude overhead when it was clear was around 7.0.  Seeing was pretty good, and the views of Mars through my own 10" scope and Mike Powers' 18" made up for the clouds.  Even Saturn looked pretty good in bright morning twilight, and a very brief break in the horizon clouds showed a sliver of crescent Moon and Mercury: just an awesome sight!
September 2/3

For much of the day, this looked like a total washout.  On the other hand, the weather was very mild and allowed me to get some rare daytime sleep in my tree-shaded tent.  The day's highlight was Don Machholz's presentation on comet hunting, which really rocked and was the best OSP program I've seen and heard in the past few years. (Too bad the songs from 1994 and 2004 were really cheesy, but it would have been kind of cool to discover a comet to Exile. Guess you had to be there.)  In any case, when the program was over, we emerged to clear skies with reddened Venus and Jupiter setting in the west. The weather was still a little moody, and there was some weak auroral glow, but overall the night was a bit better than Thursday. 

I found 10th-magnitude Comet SWAN in Ursa Major early in the evening (visual comet hunters didn't get to this one quickly enough).  The comet was near the star 58 UMa.  It was faint but relatively large (diameter ~3.5'), slightly condensed to a nonstellar core, and faded gradually to the edges. 

I also conquered the NGC 6472 galaxy group in Draco, which I had noted as "extra nasty" after a partially successful attempt from my yard.

I visited Dan Gray's 28" scope, and we viewed a number of galaxies.  The big scope was really stunning on the Perseus Galaxy Cluster, with about a dozen galaxies visible at once in a FOV of less than 0.5 degrees.

Mars stole the show, however.  In order to see a slightly different face of the Red Planet, I sketched it 3 hours earlier.  Seeing was good to very good, with lots of detail present.  After I finished my sketch, I returned to the deep sky, only to find that high clouds were moving in again.  I returned to Mars a couple of times.  At about 3:05am on Saturday morning, I noticed a white "bump" on the terminator.  It looked almost like the egress of a Jovian satellite transit, but it was the wrong planet :).  I made a quick and dirty sketch, and trudged over to Howard Banich's 28" scope setup.  I asked Howard whether he had seen anything weird on the terminator within the past few minutes, and he said that he had seen a projection he suspected was a cloud.  When I got home, I checked the marsobservers Yahoo! Group and found that Jim Melka of St. Louis, MO had imaged the same feature at the same time.  On the other hand, Howard's notes actually referred to a different, longer-lived feature near the North Polar Hood.  Did anyone else see it?  It was probably visible for 15-20 minutes or so. By far the coolest thing I've seen on Mars during this apparition. 
Here are my Mars sketches from Saturday morning.
September 3/4

Saturday looked bad all day and part of the night.  There were some sucker patches around, but not really conducive to serious observing. The annual chat session with the GAMA group from Argentina was a bit of a hoot.  Three of us (Margaret, Howard B. and myself) were online with them for about 90 minutes.  In lieu of observing down there, they had gotten nine members of their group together for dinner, wine and the chat. Especially the wine (their time zone is four hours ahead of us, so it was into the wee small hours for them).  They had a lot of questions for us regarding really obscure or difficult objects (i.e., Lower's Nebula in Orion, which we had to look up). There was some clearing before morning twilight, and I was able to secure a second sketch of C/2005 P3 (SWAN) for Astronomical League Comet Club purposes.  A bright Iridium flare lit up the clouds briefly, on schedule.  I sketched Mars again; Sunday morning had the best seeing of them all.
September 4/5

was clear throughout much of the day.  It looked like a real OSP night was in store.  Unfortunately, there was a lot of time for clouds to move in, and they did.  I took a nap as the sky darkened, checking occasionally.  Finally, by 11pm I was convinced that things were improving.  Clouds still plagued my galaxy group fields, and there was quite a bit of low-grade auroral glow.  So, I aimed at the best part of the sky and revisited Gyulbudaghian's Nebula, which I had sketched at OSP 2004.  This variable nebula hadn't varied much.  Next, I went to the Ring Nebula.  Naked eye LM was 7.0-7.1.  In the 10", I was able to hold a magnitude 16.1 star near the Ring for extended periods, and got glimpses of the central star.  Seeing was a little above average, but a bit off from the previous night.  I tracked down IC 1296, the faint galaxy near the Ring.  All I could see with averted vision at 330x was a small, slightly elongated core.

Finally, after 1am I let the Dob loose on galaxy groups.  The auroral glow had let up, the clouds had retreated to horizon outposts and the night was satisfyingly dark.  I was able to observe and sketch four groups in Aquarius and Pegasus before morning twilight.  The standout was the NGC 7331 group, for the best view of the dominant galaxy I've ever had.  Structure all over the place and elongation to lengths that I've never seen before. That was a really fun one. Alas, twilight was coming to bring the curtain down on another OSP. I made a quick run through some showpiece objects before packing it in, all the while shivering in a chilly predawn wind.