My 16th straight OSP was the OSP without much of a plan. For the first time in many years, I only scheduled three nights. I didn't have a deep-sky observing list per se, and there weren't as many bright comets as last year. I guess you could say I took it easy this year, so this is a shorter report than usual. I didn't even take many photos, so I won't be putting up a separate photo gallery. That doesn't mean that OSP 2009 wasn't fun and relaxing.
Thursday night/Friday morning,
I pulled into OSP a bit after 2pm. Skies were pretty clear, but by sunset they a bit cruddy with some high haze and smoke drifting in. Also, the wind kept blowing for a couple of hours after sunset.
Later on, when I checked the limiting magnitude overhead, I came up with 6.9. This was just a little better than a normal night at home. Telescopically, I could see down to magnitude 15.4 near the Ring Nebula in my 10" Dob, with occasional glimpses to magnitude 15.7. I also caught the central star from time to time, pretty surprising under the conditions.
Seeing was pretty rough in the windy twilight, but not bad later in the night. I wanted to see if Jupiter's impact scar was still visible. At best, there was a very subtle dark stain visible on the northern edge of the South Polar Region. Other parts of the planet were more interesting, with some structure visible in the Great Red Spot (GRS) and a dark barge in the South Equatorial Belt (SEB) just following the GRS. A slender extension reached from the South Temperate Belt toward the Spot, and there was a bluish area on the northern edge of the SEB. The North Equatorial Belt was full of detail as usual, and there were some dark "sausage link" spots in the North Temperate Belt.
Other planetary views in the middle of the night included Neptune (with Triton visible) and Uranus (with Oberon visible).
At least three interesting comets were visible this year. Comet 22P/Kopff (an old friend) was visible in Aquarius. The 11th-magnitude smudge was round with a small central condensation and a faint coma extending to about 7' in diameter. Comet 217P/LINEAR was a morning object in Eridanus. Also of 11th magnitude, LINEAR was more compact and condensed.
LINEAR's coma was about 1.5' x 1', with a bright stellar pseudonucleus. A faint tail 6' in length extended westward. I took a look at the third and brightest comet, C/2006 W3 (Christensen), but put off sketching it until Saturday night.
In the middle of the night, I tromped over to Dan Gray's 28" for a look at some goodies in large aperture. When I came back, I looked at Jupiter low in the sky. Io totally occulted Europa, but with the bad seeing the satellites were merged into mush for a while before and after totality. Later, Io partially eclipsed Europa, a rather modest event. The ISS made a pass in twilight, and there was a bright Iridium flare in Ursa Major.
Friday Night/Saturday Morning, August 21/22
Late Friday afternoon, some high clouds moved in and spread over the western sky. Initially the eastern half of the sky was clear, but things became more spotty later. For the most part, there was always some clear sky. It didn't make me feel much like pursuing serious deep sky targets, though.
In late twilight, there were two bright Iridium flares 40 seconds apart in Cygnus:
Seeing was better than the night before, and Jupiter looked good even without the GRS as an anchor. There was a complex of detail in the South Temperate Belt, with at least one white oval on display. Both equatorial belts featured a bunch of projections.
I made the pilgrimage over to Dan Gray's again, and we looked at some more targets bright and faint, including the Ring with the central star pretty easily visible. Perhaps the highlight of the morning was trying to get the 28" to track the International Space Station. Dan, Cathy Becker and I hoped to get a good view through the eyepiece. Dan's software didn't seem to agree with Heavens-Above, even after Dan downloaded current elements. The space station was supposed to emerge from shadow while high in the sky, and we decided that this time of emergence was the only discrepancy. The scope slewed down to the western horizon to start tracking, and Dan immediately picked up the still eclipsed satellite in the eyepiece. Each of us got looks at the ghostly outline of the ISS as it got higher in the sky. When it transited and was emerging from shadow, the big scope got a bit confused as to how to keep up with it, and seemed to swing around wildly and randomly. We all cracked up with laughter, but eventually we got it on course again and all enjoyed looks at the bright and clearly detailed station with its solar panels and modules. One side of the station was an intense golden color.
After I made it back to my scope in twilight, I took a look at Mars. Wow! Much more detail than I had expected. I kept pushing the power up to my maximum of 390x, and the seeing didn't break down. Syrtis Major was well-placed. The North Polar Hood of clouds blended into a bright yellow haze on the following limb, and Hellas and the visible portion of Eridania were fairly bright. Really an incredible view considering that Mars was only 5.7" across.
Venus also showed some fine cloud details in the form of darker streaks on its gibbous disc. I thought I might do a sketch of Venus as well, but unfortunately the seeing fell apart and all of the sudden the planets were broken into multiple images!
I contented myself with a bright Iridium flare in twilight:
The forecast for this night hadn't sounded good earlier, but it turned out to be the best of the three nights. I only got down to 7.0 for my limiting magnitude count, and I was pretty burned out, so I didn't last all night. I hadn't done a deep-sky sketch yet, so I did a couple. I also sketched Comet C/2006 W3 (Christensen). This comet was also one of the ones I tracked down at last year's OSP, and it has gotten a bit brighter. The comet (about magnitude 8.5) was in the middle of a rich Milky Way field in Sagitta. It showed a highly-condensed parabolic coma with a bright stellar pseudonucleus.
As with the other nights, I went over to Dan's to enjoy specialties like the "Veil Tour" and trying to explain the "Stock 2 Binocular Alien" to Cathy and Dan. We saw lots of neat stuff, but the highlight of the night had to be Jupiter. When we sacrificed our night vision to the giant planet, the level of detail was amazing. The barge following the GRS seemed to be 3-D, and there was a faint band in the South Tropical Zone that I couldn't really see in my 10" but was plain in the 28". When the impact scar was near the limb I thought I could see the dark stain effect, but when it transited I couldn't really make it out. Seeing was really just average or a bit better, but the big scope was doing a heck of a job with it.
By 3:00am, I was really starting to run down. I think the transparency was starting to degrade as well. So, I packed it in. Next year's OSP is timed for the Perseids, so I'm already looking forward to that! I think I'll have a list of deep sky targets ready as well...