CNYO Observing Log: Baltimore Woods, 13 July 2013

One month from the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower, Bob Piekiel’s monthly Baltimore Woods session this past July 13th was a study in summertime CNY observing – that is, a study in patience, persistence, and bug spray.

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Caption: Scopes and observers at the ready.

The evening started with an expectation of partly-cloudy skies according to all forecasts. The setup of of Bob’s 16″ Meade SCT, 25×125 Vixen binoculars, Larry Slosberg’s 12″ New Moon Telescope Dobsonian, and my 12.5″ NMT Dob went slowly as we watched the clouds move fast and move in. What might have been an early observing crowd at BW turned out to be an evening Frog Walk program that had the attendees hopping into the distance from the parking lot.

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Caption: Elaine, Bob, and a 16″ Meade SCT.

Scope setup and cloud cover were complete by 8:45 p.m., leaving a group of eight of us to strain to see Vega, Deneb, Altair, and Arcturus (the four brightest stars in our sky this session). Their appearance at all produced the call of their individual names for well over an hour. We were lucky enough to catch a few early glimpses of Saturn and the Moon, but even they were no match for cloud formations approaching from the West. While no one complained loudly about the mosquitoes in the air, no one appreciated their presence either. One of the benefits of a non-DEET (or, at least, more natural) bug spray is that, with a spray and rubbing-in around your head and neck (that you are more hesitant to do with the DEET variety), you can stare into an eyepiece unencumbered by the ever-louder buzzes in your ear.

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Caption: The author waiting impatiently for clear skies (photo by Larry Slosberg).

With the hopes of later clearer skies (and because the scopes were set up anyway), the group engaged in the time-old tradition of assorted conversations under an overcast nighttime sky while waiting for clearings between clouds.

With 20 minutes to go in the “official” BW session, dark patches finally began to appear at our zenith. Within 10 minutes, these small patches had grown into large spans of dark sky, from which observing began in earnest at 10:50 p.m.

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Caption: A view of the southern sky (featuring Sagittarius and Scorpius).

The official session lasted another hour or so and included a few Iridium Flares and one pair of unwanted car headlights directly in our path (if you see a scope in the middle of nowhere, PLEASE dim your lights).

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Caption: A very close double – car headlights raining on our session.

My observing list included Albireo (the head of Cygnus the Swan and one of the great double stars in the Night Sky), Alcor and Mizar in the handle of the Big Dipper (in the tail of Ursa Major), the great globular cluster M13 in Hercules, the “Double-Double” binary star pair in Lyra (Epsilon1a and Epsilon2a Lyrea, making up the handle of the lyre with Vega), The Ring Nebula (M57) in Lyra, the Veil Nebula (a supernova remnant quite obvious in an O III filter) in Cygnus, and M5 (which I think is a slightly crisper globular cluster than M13) in Serpens. In the search for M5, the skies were dark enough that NGC 5921 in Serpens (the half of Serpens known as Serpens Caput, to be specific) became ever-so-slightly prominent. This galaxy, dim and featureless but still bright enough to notice in a scan of the skies around M5, is shown in Hubble images to be a fantastic barred spiral galaxy.

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Caption: NGC 5921 (from NASA/Hubble).

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