Friday, 14 May 2010

TSP Day 2 - Aintnos and Ambartsumian's Knot among others

While observing on Monday night, Jimi Lowrey who is a friend of Alvin's and who I visited (along with some of the Houston gang) back in 2008 stopped by and invited me to join him and Alvin for a night on the 48". Obviously this was something not to be missed, especially as there were only going to be three of us - me, Jimi and Alvin - so just after 4pm Tuesday Alvin collected me and we headed up to Jimi's place at Limpia Crossing.
Just before dinner, Jimi and me headed over to fellow amateur Carl Swicky's place to see his 32". In the area, there are other observatories set up and there's a community of amateur astronomers. With the climate, dark skies, gorgeous birdlife and beautiful scenery I can't think of a better life, so if ever I win the UK lottery and get the chance to get out of that murky light-polluted place here is where I will come. We looked, admired and took plenty of pics (by the way, pictures will appear here but they might have to wait either until I get back to San Antonio on Sunday or when I get back to England -  I've just remembered that the World Cup begins next month, I'm looking forward to that, I love my football - on Thursday next week) including a prime focus capture of me in the 32" mirror.

After dinner, we headed up to Jimi's observatory, just up the hill from his house and set up 'Barbarella', his giant scope, for the night. The scope is collimated with huge bolts which need a torque wrench to turn and the laser collimater in the eyepiece can only be seen properly with a pair of binoculars!

Once the scope was set up and the mirror fans left to do their work (they suck air in and blow it out of the back of the mirror cell) we went back to the house to get our stuff and some supplies before returning to the observatory.

Fuller descriptions will appear later, but we observed quite a few objects, including NGC 3242 (aka the Ghost of Jupiter), UGC 9492, Arp 84, Arp 105 and Ambartsumian's Knot - including the Knot itself, the bridge between the galaxies and the streamer that comes away from the bottom galaxy. This latter component is on the famous Aintno List compiled by Barbara Wilson and Larry Mitchell but, sadly, Barbara doesn't believe us! I think Larry might, but he needs to see it for himself, he says.
Also seen were the ring galaxy VII Zwicky 466, the Double Quasar Q0957+561 A/B (nine billion light years distant, and I saw the very faint galaxy that is the gravitational lens - another Aintno, but we still can't weedle a certificate out of Larry and Barbara!), the Jet in M87 (a long-standing observing ambition of mine that I hadn't to date fulfilled, never got round to it. It was surprisingly easy but, then, I was using a 48" scope), the planetary nebula DHW 1-2, NGC 6304, the compact galaxy group Rose 13, very small and quite tough to seperate the components (I saw 3 members), NGC 5907 and NGC 6543, the Cat's Eye Nebula. We also saw three more quasars, but I need to find out what they're called and where they are as I forgot to write them down.
I'll pad this out with folks and scope photos and object descriptions later - 'later' might mean today, it might mean next week, but it will be in the near future.

The transparency was very good although the seeing was mediocre. However, we did get those moments of clarity which allowed quasars, etc, to pop into view. We packed up at 0500 and went back to the house where we all had a few hours' sleep before Alvin gave me a ride back to the Prude Ranch.

It was an awesome night and to see stuff that's totally impossible at home with a 12 inch is an opportunity you just can't refuse. Jimi, I doubt you read this,but if you do - thank you very much indeed for a wonderful night's observing! To read more about the Lowrey Observatory and Barbarella, Jimi's 48" Dob, here's his website: Lowrey Observatory. By the way, while you're there, go to the Gallery and the pic on the left side features me at the eyepiece, clinging on for dear life to the colossal ladder, taken in 2008.

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