Tonight was the best and the worst observing I've done so far. The family and I went camping at Timberlake Campground and RV Park
about 50 miles east of Vancouver. While getting some much needed R&R I had hoped to do some observing as well. While we had our choice of spots within the grounds I wish I had chosen more of a preferred "observing" spot rather than the "camping" spot we ended up on. Once we got our tent trailer set up I checked out the lay of the land and while the area was beautiful our view of the sky was limited to nearly directly overhead because of the surrounding lodgepole pines. While no spot in the park had low views of the horizon the one we chose was probably one of the most limiting. The camping was great! However, as I looked around I was disappointed by the view of the sky. I was disheartened enough to think I wouldn't even get the scope out of the car.
Then a strange thing happened. About 30 minutes after sunset I went outside. I looked up and my jaw dropped. I can't remember the last time I saw so many stars. I grabbed my trusty binoculars and started looking around. Yes, the view was limited, but what I could see was stunning. When I was easily able to locate and view M44
with just binoculars the decision was made quickly.
I bought my trusty Celestron Nexstar 8 SE back on February 18. I have had the scope out a grand total of six times prior to tonight. Up until this time my observing had been done from my back yard in Camas. Light pollution from PDX and local streetlights coupled with hazy skies often led to "mushy" viewing.
Tonight there was no mush whatsoever. I announced to the family my intentions and quickly fulfilled them. I set the scope up in the dark aided by a flashlight. Because of the limited field of view I had to do a "one star" align on the GOTO feature. This was the first time I had tried this method and it had mixed results. The GOTO feature got me close but I found I had to hunt for the targets. All I can say is I loved it. When I was able to find things it was far more rewarding. I see another scope in our future... and it will be manual.
Back in the present: The view of Mars started the evening, followed by M44, M35
. I consulted Starry Night and, based on my FOV, decided to try M81
(Bode's Galaxy). As the scope slewed around I knew the GOTO was off and objects were generally to the lower left in the viewfinder. Thus when I looked I was not surprised that the galaxy was not there. I panned around where I thought it should be and located what I thought was the target. However it didn't look right in that it was edge-on rather than a "top down" view. A quick consult of my laptop confirmed what I believed and that was I had stumbled onto M82
(Cigar Galaxy). This was a revelation to me because Starry Night listed the apparent magnitude as 8.40! My faintest find to date. As I looked at M82 there were three stars in a relatively straight line eminating at about a 45 degree angle to the galaxy. Starry Night suggested that if I follow the line and move a bit to the (relative) right M81 would be there. Sure enough, there it was. But what is amazing to me now, as I recall and write this, is the faintest of those three stars is 12.09! This proves my equipment is capable. I just need the right conditions to visually find what's out there.
And this is where the night became the worst. There were so many objects I wanted to view that were out of the FOV and would not be visible. I cursed the selection of campsites but also reveled in the beauty of what I had been able to see. Eventually Orion swung out from behind one of the trees and I had an unobstructed view of M42
in all it's glory.
By this time it was getting late for me after having worked all day, packed the camper and driven to the site. As I packed it in I lamented that Saturn would probably clear the trees within two hours but I wouldn't be able to stay up long enough to appreciate it.
I think it's safe to say that this whet my appetite for even more. I look forward to dark nights away from city lights and hope to make it to Stub Stewart and Maupin soon.
Until then, I guess I just have to wait.