Annual Report

by Wes Stone

This was my 13th consecutive OSP. The weather was amazingly benign this year, with the wind only a minor annoyance and no clouds to speak of during the nighttime hours. Smoke was once again an issue, with fires in almost every direction. The horizons were pretty washed out, with best transparency on Saturday night. Overhead, skies were satisfyingly transparent except for a couple of smoke incursions on Saturday morning and Sunday night.

This year, I took a break from hunting the really faint things. I got a bit maniacal at last year’s OSP. I’ll pick up the rest of my galaxy groups list sometime in fall or spring. None of the bright planets were in prime position this year, although Jupiter showed very satisfying detail around sunset especially on Saturday night.

I took more time to stop and smell the roses this year, especially as I am getting just a tiny bit into digital photography. For several years, I’ve nearly neglected my daytime nature walks around the site in favor of trying to get that little bit of extra sleep. This year, with a more relaxed schedule, I did a bit more hiking. Therefore, this report has a photographic companion that I urge you to check out:

OSP2006 Photos by Wes Stone

I left most of the people and scope photos (not to mention most of the astrophotography) to others in favor of my own unique perspective.
Thursday night/Friday morning (August 24/25)

Some clouds pushed through during the daytime (I even hit a brief shower south of Bend). This kept temperatures very cool and comfortable, and cleared the way for a very nice night. I had six comets on my observing list. Comet 177P/Barnard was fairly bright, although fading a bit overhead in Draco. Comet 4P/Faye was faint but obvious, small and highly condensed near M74 in Pisces. I struck out on the other four comets; quite a disappointment.

There were lots of “oohs and aahs” about bright meteors this night, most of which I missed. I saw one green flash from a fireball reflecting off my telescope base and sketching clipboard.

Transparency was possibly at its best this night; my zenithal limiting magnitude was 7.2 overhead around midnight. The Sagittarius Milky Way was really popping when it was still fairly high. Seeing was just fair, although I did pick up Neptune’s moon Triton and Uranus’s moons Oberon and Titania. The Saturn Nebula (NGC 7009) was also nice at high power.

I took a short nap in the middle of the night, and then kept on trucking until morning twilight. The zodiacal light was really impressive. A bright Iridium flare occurred just after 6am. I had my camera set up with a self-timer, but the flare peaked a couple of seconds early by my watch and by the time the camera took the picture the flare had faded away. Oops!
Friday night/Saturday morning (August 25/26)

The night started out decently, with a slender crescent Moon providing some photo ops. As the sky darkened, Jupiter showed a modest amount of detail. I turned the scope to Antares and rarely saw Antares B, but when I added an OIII filter the companion was quite obvious. An Orion Ultrablock filter did almost as well.

Limiting magnitude was 7.1 early in the night. There was a bit more low-level auroral glow this night than the others, but overall this year was very quiet.

I ran through a number of the Messier globs in Sagittarius, Aquarius and Capricornus, often using 330x to get a more field-filling perspective. Even little M75 and M72 are impressive at this power, and M30 looks like some alien space invader.

I rarely get out of my shell during the night at OSP. This year, I tried to make more exceptions. I paid a visit to Scott Turner and Mike Powers. I think Scott needs another scope; his kids were in command every time I looked! I looked at a few of the unsung globulars in Scorpius that Mike was tracking down with his 18”.

Dan Gray’s 28” is one of the more impressive-looking scopes on the OSP skyline. Just make sure all objects (including ladders and heads) are out of the way when the scope starts to slew! Also, don’t press the wrong button on the hand control. Despite some problems with the goto, I was able to enjoy nice views of a number of objects. The Owl Nebula’s eyes were apparent even when it was low, and the Little Dumbbell showed its complex outer structure. The central star was visible in the Ring Nebula, and three moons of Uranus were visible with a fourth showing up occasionally. As I was viewing Uranus and Dan was away for a few minutes, the sky conditions suddenly went south. Some smoke had made its way in and dropped the transparency. I napped away until morning twilight, when I caught Venus and Saturn close together in a reddened sky.
Saturday night/Sunday morning (August 26/27)

On Saturday, the weather finally got a bit toasty. One good daytime view was the Sun through the RCA’s Coronado PST. Lots of disc detail (more than I’ve ever seen through a PST) and a very bright active region around sunspot 905. For the twelfth time in 13 years, I failed to win anything in the door prize drawing.

In evening twilight, Jupiter showed very impressive detail including the Great Red Spot and lots of structure in the NEB and Equatorial Band. Antares was often an easy split without filters.

This was arguably my best night at OSP. The horizons were certainly better, although I only got down to 7.1 on my limiting magnitude count overhead. I know that I’ve never had a better view of the Double Cluster in my 10” than I had on Saturday night.

I did a couple of sketches of detailed objects. I’ve planned to do NGC 6888 (the Crescent Nebula in Cygnus) for quite a while. Tonight I followed it up into Dobson’s Hole with the 10” at 76x and an OIII filter. Even with some propped pillows, my camp chair isn’t quite up to the task with an object that high, and with my sketch almost done I tried to shift the chair a bit and tumbled over backwards. Luckily, I was unhurt. Unfortunately, my clipboard hurtled forward into the ITS dust, so I had to redraw the sketch in daylight on a new piece of paper. This is a subtly detailed object. A portion of the northern rim is obvious at first glance, but only with extended observation and the use of a filter does the bulk of the nebula glow emerge from the sky background. The faint bits fill in a two-lobed structure that some observers have dubbed "Van Gogh's Ear".

I tried an M31 sketch with a variation on my usual technique. Someday I’ll do a big mosaic of the entire galaxy, with all stars to magnitude 12 pre-plotted. You really don’t want to try to place all the stars in that field at the eyepiece! Well, I didn’t get my starry template together for this year’s OSP, so I sketched the portion that would fit into my 1.1-degree field at 44x and omitted most of the stars while concentrating on the galactic detail.

Rarely does anyone visit my little 10” Dob, set up just yards away from huge scopes, but Matt Brewster wandered by in the middle of the night and looked at NGC 253. Other people seemed to be poking around the Sculptor/Fornax region as well. Galaxies like NGC 55, NGC 1097 and NGC 7793 were fair game, but the smoke still made them less impressive than during a really good OSP. I did a sketch of NGC 246 with an OIII filter; an OK view.
Sunday night/Monday morning (August 27/28)

I don’t work Mondays, so staying was an easy decision. All day long, the winds pushed smoke around. It got pretty hot, and much of the time the wind was coming from the south. Fire planes were frequently seen passing overhead. I didn’t get as much sleep as I would have liked, but I felt OK. Chuck and Judy had a little dinner gathering at their space just before sunset. There was a nice sunset glow mixed with jet contrails, and the crescent Moon was highly reddened as it set.

Jupiter wasn’t as crisp as the night before, although still impressively detailed. A polarizing filter firmed it up a bit. As night fell, transparency was again decent with a limiting magnitude of 7.1 overhead. The horizons had a bit more crud, however. The views of the Lagoon, Swan and Dumbbell nebulae through Chuck’s 24” were extremely impressive, with an extra layer of detail in the Lagoon’s dark lane.

It didn’t take long for sky conditions to deteriorate a bit, down to about LM~6.8. This is about as good as an average night at my home, so not too shabby. The crud in the air still robbed contrast from a lot of extended deep-sky objects.

This was a good night to look for Uranus’s moon Umbriel. Umbriel was near northern elongation from the planet, and all of the other moons were so close to Uranus as to be invisible in its glare. Chuck picked up Umbriel in his 24”, and when I returned to my 10” I was able to see it there as well.

Dan Gray was obsessed with seeing the Crab Pulsar, and had an image intensifier eyepiece. First, we looked at the Ring Nebula and the noisy green image revealed two embedded stars besides the central one. Contrast in the Ring detail was also enhanced. The Crab was still low, and I remarked that we weren’t sure of the exact location of the pulsar. Around 1:45am, I decided to pack it in even though it looked like the sky was improving a bit. Dan told me the next morning that he had gone online to get an image that showed the pulsar, and that it was readily visible in the intensifier when the Crab was higher in the sky. I would have enjoyed seeing it, but I also enjoyed the sleep I got.

So ended another successful OSP. Looking back over past years’ notes, I’d put this one above average as far as sky conditions. It ranked right up there with 2001 and 2002 but not as impressive as 1999 or 1995.

--Wes Stone