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Old 30-12-2010, 09:54 AM
jamespierce (James)
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Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: Australia
Posts: 243
Little Desert - 29/12/10 - Dark Dark Skys !

Little Desert Nature Lodge - Night 1:

All viewed through my SDM 16" plus quite a few sneak peaks through skyoyster's Tak which was set up beside it at the Little Desert Nature Lodge. I used the 21mm Ethos 99% of the time, switching to the 10mm to take a closer look at a handful of objects.

We set up a little way away from the lodge at twilight, watching the clouds and bugs clear to a perfect night. I had a few Servocat issues early on, because of the heat I think??? The cable tension was just a little too low to pull the scope up, especially with a Paracorr and a heavy eye piece in. With some fiddling it got better but the tension adjustment is already against the end of its thread so I either need to swap for a slightly shorter cable, or for this trip just stick something small under the cable at the far end to make it slightly tighter. At this point it was warm, ambient of 26 degrees and the mirror still stubbornly at 31.

Once the Argo and Servocat were sorted and we waited for it to get really dark, I chased down a bunch of northerly Messiers, including a couple of new ones for me, M1, M35, M36, M37 and M38 plus a slew of old favourites. The temperature dropped quite quickly, but the mirror still couldn't keep up, about 4 degrees above ambient.

As it hit astronomical twilight, the scope was pointed towards Orion so I started to work through a bunch of the nebulae and clusters in this region of the sky (Orion and Canis Major). I ended up at the Flame Nebula which is nice, but once I was there the temptation to try and see the Horsehead took over. It's hard to truly resolve, but I could definitely see the dent, and some shape around the neck with UHC and Hb (Hb is better). I'll have to come back and try this again when I've not been futzing with red lights and looking at charts etc. At this point the air temperature was below 20 and the wind had picked up, after a 35+ degree day in the desert it seemed somewhat ridiculous to go and get a down jacket, beanie and gloves (but I did).

Having returned with more warm clothes I started a detailed look at the LMC, there are so many objects here that the Argo and Servocat stopped being very useful except for tracking the scope. Our normal viewing site has pretty dark skies everywhere except south, where it picks up quite a bit of sky glow from the town so it was a treat to enjoy this area of the sky in detail. I swung over for a quick look at 47 Tuc and the SMC. By now the ambient was 14 degrees and my primary mirror 3 degrees below that in spite of all the fan's running - still didn't need dew heaters all night so we can't complain really.

I finished off the night dancing across the sky to Fornax viewing perhaps 30 galaxies with a couple of nice barred spirals as a highlight, it seems like you can't help but have 3 and 4 galaxies in the eye piece at once most of the time in this region. At about 2:00am a small waning moon rose with Saturn at its side and we packed up calling it a night.

Some particular Favourites and Highlights

* M45 seeing nebulosity around all the main stars, improved by a UHC filter.
* M46 and the planetary NGC2438, the planetary really stands out with an OIII filter.
* M35 a bright open cluster with the small and tighter NCG2158 near by.
* The galactic cluster in Fornax, in particular the beautiful barred spiral NCG1365 - can't help but think of Rodstar waxing lyrical about Zorro every time I see this one now.
* The LMC - I enjoy hopping around the whole thing but wow, at a true dark site the Tarantula is something else eh - I love how it shows three distinctly different sets of detail with no filter, a UHC filter and an OIII filter.
* Seeing the Horsehead Nebula for the first time - in my 16" it was straight forward to see with a UHC filter and almost enjoyable with the Hb filter.

We have another night here at the Little Desert tonight and then a few more in the Grampians on our way home - hopefully this clear weather holds out, with the moon up later tonight we might stay up late enough to see Saturn get up high enough to try and see the current storm.

Last edited by jamespierce; 30-12-2010 at 10:46 AM.
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