Another Night in the Dark

Moonset would not be until nearly 11pm, otherwise the weather looked quite promising for a night on the mauna. The plan… A late arrival and setup at the substation site across the street from the Mauna Kea VIS

Arriving late would mean most of the evening crowd at the visitor station would be gone, taking their headlights with them, hopefully leaving a dark and quiet night to enjoy. This early summer season places the center of the Milky Way high overhead for much of the night for excellent observing possibilities.

Waiting for Moonset
Deep Violet set up under Mauna Kea skies waiting for moonset and full darkness
Sometimes things work out exactly as planned.

Meeting me on the mountain would be David Kriege, owner of Obsession Telescopes. This trip marked his first opportunity for Hawaiian observing and to take advantage of that he brought along a 22″ ultra-compact model. Along with David came Mike, he brought a camera in place of a telescope, not a bad choice with the Milky Way high overhead all night.

I enjoyed a close and personal look at the new Obsession 22″ ultra compact model telescope. The ‘scope is very nicely designed with some innovative features. Helping to lift the ‘scope out and into a small rental hatchback allowed a very direct feel for how easy it is to transport such a large aperture telescope. Setup was certainly quick and easy, taking no longer than my own 18″.

A little observing while waiting for moonset and the arrival of Dave with a second telescope

The views through the 22″ instrument were all one would expect with such a large aperture. I enjoyed several globular clusters, a few edge-on galaxies, and several very faint nebulae. The ultra compact design gives up nothing in performance. One day I am going to either have to buy or build an ultra-light design for myself when moving a heavy traditional dob becomes an issue.

Of course I spent a few minutes showing off Deep Violet, my own handmade 18″ dob. As much of Violet’s design was right out of David’s book it was fun to recount her construction with someone who has spent his life building telescopes professionally. I now have David Kriege’s signature beside John Dobson and David Levy on the secondary cage.

Looking at telescopes was all well and good, it was time to look at stars, with a dark sky overhead we spent the rest of the night doing just that.

Comet C/2015 Johnson – Easy to find in Bootes near zenith at the moment, big at 15′, with a tail off to the north, bright at 6.5 magnitude, a circular halo with a notable bright nucleus, a fan shaped tail about ½° long

NGC5139 – Simply spectacular! The cluster fills the eyepiece, well over ½° across, with a swarm of stars. gradually denser to the center with no sky visible between the stars, only innumerable fainter stars filling the void, an excellent object in the 18″, always worth a few minutes in the night to marvel at this wonder

One of the better features of the night was the lack of wind. Conditions ranged from calm to a slight down slope breeze. The result was a very comfortable night for observing.

The seeing was pretty bad at first, not because of the atmosphere above the mauna, rather from my very warm primary mirror. Coming from an 80+ degree day in Waikoloa the mirror was creating convection currents as it cooled. The stars looked like fuzzballs rather than pinpoints. After a couple hours this subsided as the mirror cooled, the resulting images were quite nice!

NGC6268 – An odd triangular cluster, quite detached from the surrounding starfield, quite distinct, fully resolved, a couple dozen 10-12 magnitude stars in a 10′ area, across the center of the cluster is a denser band running east-west

NGC6284 – Smaller globular in a rich starfield, the cluster itself is quite rich with a well concentrated core, fully resolved

NGC6307 – Nice object, oblong 2’x1′ with a star just visible off the long end giving the obvious nickname ‘exclamation point nebulae’, bright, small, stellar nucleus bright and conspicuous

Imminent Dawn
Venus and the zodiacal light have crept over the horizon… Dawn is imminent! Soon I will have to put the telescope away.
As we jumped from target to target we also wandered between the two telescopes to share the views. While a 22″ offers half as much light gathering power the view in my 18″ still offered a good comparison on all but the faintest objects. No need to upgrade my telescope anytime soon.

Eventually the appearance of Venus and the zodiacal light heralded the arrival of dawn. As the Milky Way faded we observed our last targets for the night. For me an old favorite, M17, the Swan nebula.

NGC6618/M17/Swan Nebula – A beautiful object, rich nebulosity fills the entire ½° field, the central region is quite bright, distinct from the surrounding region of fainter nebulosity, about 15’x7′ longer in the east-west direction, this central core very much resembles a swimming swan seen in profile thus the common name, addition of an O-III or nebula band filter reveals exceptional mottling in this central region, also enhancing the surrounding field of fainter nebulae, 12mm Nagler4 @ 175x

Just another dark night on the mauna. Many times in the night David remarked on just how much better observing conditions were than he usually endures back home in Wisconsin. His comments reminded me of just how fortunate I am to live and observe on Mauna Kea. Truly dark skies, good seeing, the mauna offers everything an astronomer can hope for. We are more than a little spoiled here.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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