Star parties at Hale Pohaku are very informal affairs. You never really know who is and who is not going to show up. We just don’t plan that much.
It had just been too long, I had not had a good night out with the telescope for months. This dark moon Saturday was not going to be missed, I packed up Deep Violet and headed for The Mountain. I knew a few folks would be there, certainly Cliff and Tony. The rest of the folks were a surprise to me. As the evening progressed more and more ‘scopes showed up, a few more familiar voices in the darkness.
We had picked a decent night. The transparency was fairly good, and the seeing was great. We enjoyed views of Jupiter better than I had seen in quite a while, Probably years. There was the red spot, moon shadows, even the moon Io could be clearly seen transiting the disk.
The only real issue was the wind, it was annoying. A couple of us moved our telescopes into the patio area of the MKVIS, where the building offered some shelter at the expense of blocking some of the sky.
As I often do, I faced the decision of setting up at the Mauna Kea VIS or someplace nearby. Setting up at the VIS means public observing for the first couple hours, but if I want some solitude under the stars I will often hide out on one of the nearby back roads.
This night I was ready for the crowd and setup at the VIS. It was a great night for it, with a large crowd of a couple hundred folks ready for dark skies. No sooner that I had the ‘scope ready to go than a line appeared. The big ‘scopes tend to steal the thunder from the VIS ‘scopes on the patio, no surprise, they can really deliver the view. My first target of the night was M22, always a pretty target for public work. One of the first viewers through the line admitted this was her first view ever through a telescope, she picked a good opportunity, a pretty globular cluster through a big ‘scope. She must have appreciated the view, she went through the line three times before I had a chance to change targets!
As the VIS closed, rolling their telescopes away, even more private ‘scopes were setup. I began to realize we had just about every big telescope on the island present. There was Cliff’s 24″, Mike’s 20″, Olivier’s and my 18″ ‘scopes, Josh had his 16″ and Tony had his 12″. Quite the array of glass in the VIS parking lot. There was only one big ‘scope notably absent, one other 20″.
After showing so many folks showpiece object with the 18″, I did get in some time hunting faint fuzzies. As I so often do from Hale Pohaku, I worked the southern horizon, looking up objects unreachable from more northerly sites. I worked through the constellation Caelum in the Night Sky Guide, cleaning out every object that was reachable with
NGC87 Faint, small at about 1′ across, no particular core or other structure noted, part of a quartet with NGC88, NGC89 and NGC92 all within 3′, NGC87 is on the northwest corner of the group
NGC88 Very faint, small at about 1′ across, no structure noted, part of a quartet of four galaxies all within 3′, NGC88 is in the center of the group with NGC87 located 2′ northwest, NGC92 2′ northeast, and NGC89 2′ south
IC 5325 Fairly bright, a round core surrounded by a 3′ halo with just a hint of detail, a 10th magnitude star is 2′ southwest of the core
ESO202-23 A featureless 2′ halo with no notable core or other structure
There were other treats in the night, a nearby supernova, SN2009ip in NGC7259, easily seen at the margin of the host galaxy. Comet 168P Hergenrother was perfectly placed for observation, easily appreciated in the larger ‘scopes at 9th magnitude and having an obvious fan shaped tail. The comet has recently undergone some sort of outburst, brightening from a more usual 12th magnitude.
NGC1365 A gorgeous barred spiral seen face-on, large, bright, a 1′ nucleus at the center of a 5′ bar, from each end of the bar sweep spiral arms at right angles to the bar
NGC 1658 Faint, small, a 1′ halo with a stellar nucleus, part of a pair with NGC1660 located 3′ southeast, NGC1658 is the brighter of the pair
NGC1679 Large, moderately bright, about 3’x2′ northeast-southwest, hints of structure in the halo
As is my habit, I stayed until the growing light of dawn shut me down. Jupiter provided a few last views, bright against the brightening sky. Still sharp with cloud bands and moons to enjoy. Those few of us left had breakfast at Hale Pohaku, then headed back down the mountain to find our beds.