Observing from Kaʻohe

A beautiful night on the side of Mauna Kea!

GyPSy in the Night
The 11″ NexStar GPS telescope, GyPSy set up at Ka’Ohe
I have been observing from the driveway quite a bit lately. But I really wanted to escape the neighborhood lights and get some real dark time. Add the vog factor, a thick layer was dimming the stars as seen from lower elevations. A few thousand feet of altitude would solve a lot of problems.

I needed some altitude! But I did not want to go to the VIS, it was cold and windy up there. A compromise was decided upon, if the clouds proved low enough I would go to the Ka’ohe site on the old Saddle Road. Only 5’800 feet elevation is a compromise between getting above the clouds, it is usually just high enough, and staying warm. On the west face of the mountain the winds are usually mild. This is only the second time I have used the site. Not that the site is new, I had noted this place as a possible observing site many years ago, it is only recently I have begun using it.

I have also been working on the ‘scope a bit. Now over a decade old the 11″ NexStar is in need of some TLC. A replaced GPS battery, a new power connector in the base, a little lube in the slip rings, a repaired solder connection also in the slip rings, etc., etc. She is working pretty well now, the GOTO system hitting target after target with precision. Thus I was looking to use the 11″ instead of the 18″, though this limited my magnitude a bit. I set up my observing lists for a maximum magnitude of 13.

What to observe? Just query my observing list generator for a list of whatever I have not observed in the area. I usually work in 30° x 2 hour section of the sky. This evening would see me south of Orion in Lepus, Eridanus, and Columba. What I did not expect is that everything I had not observed down there was a small, dim 12-13 magnitude galaxy! Everything!

NGC1993 Small, very faint, round 1′ in diameter, stellar core

NGC2089 Small, faint, round 1′ in diameter, stellar core

So it went, galaxy after galaxy, the variation was usually some version of faint… “Faint”, “Very faint”, “Quite faint”, to the limit of my vision “Averted vision required with the 28cm”. A bright star or another galaxy in the same field was exciting!

Normally when working a region of the sky I find quite a few plain objects, the usual slew of dim galaxies when off the galactic plane, open clusters in the plane. Usually there is the occasional gem sprinkled in to liven the observing session. Not tonight!

Still, it was very nice to be out under the stars. It was a completely dark night, the sky brilliant with Orion and Canis Major high overhead. I was sitting just at the top of the cloud deck, the cars far below me on Saddle Road creating a dim glow in the clouds. Across the top of the clouds I could see Mauna Loa and Hualalai lit by starlight and skyglow.

A solid three hours at the eyepiece, three pages of notes, and I was out of hot tea. I put down the unending list of dim galaxies and just spent a bit looking up some old favorites. The Orion nebula was stunning in the eyepeice, R Lep is still very, very red. Finally breaking down and heading home, I was in bed about midnight.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

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