Since there are a lot of people who could not attend this years NSP a few of the club members who are attending will try and keep you updated on what we saw from the previous night and some other interesting stories. Enjoy!
As a first timer to NSP and the Sandhills region, I had some high hopes for the viewing of the universe. First of all, the sandhills are much more beautiful and desolate than I pictured in my mind. Buzz Aldrin said it best “Magnificent Desolation.” Gently rolling hills with cows, fences and windmills. I guess the only downside is that everything is pretty much dry, dead and brown for pretty much everything except for the places where lakes are present. If you were to drop someone from somewhere else in the world blindfolded in the middle of the sandhills they would never guess Nebraska as their location. The Niobrara river area reminds me of pictures I have seen of places in Europe. Green fields, a single farmhouse, with the hills in the background.
As for the observing part, it was much better than expected after my crisis of a broken scope happened a week before I was to leave. The secondary mirror fell out of its casing in the scope and landed directly on the primary mirror and shattering the secondary. The primary was chipped but otherwise good. Brian and I were able to make a temporary fix for this week and bring the scope back to almost perfect condition. And I was not disappointed! Saturn looked magnificent. My observing group of Dan, Jim and Bob were able to pick out 4 moons, several cloud bands, the Cassini division and the ring shadow on Saturn itself. I was mainly using a 15mm expanse witch put the magnification at about 200x. I had planned on working on the Caldwell observing club this week but spent spent most of the night looking at the brighter Messier objects which I had seen only in my 8 inch scope. It was basically a test night for the new scope, trying out different eyepieces and filters on different objects. M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy looked absolutely amazing! I was able to make out the faint spiral shape of the galaxy, which is something I had never seen before with my own eyes. The Veil Nebula was fantastic also. With an OIII filter and about 100x eyepiece I was able to get the whole western ghostly edge in the eyepiece. Andromeda was pretty good, but since where it was in the sky was hazy, I wasn’t able to make out any detail within the galaxy.
The best part of the night though was not the stars but the TWO dazzling Aurora displays! We got the first one right at about midnight when we noticed the northern sky brightening to a blue-green glow with columns of green moving slowly across the northern sky extending into Ursa Major and Cassiopeia. There were some clouds in the foreground looked that like dark nebula! We took a break from our scopes for 15 minutes or so to watch the display. It then faded out as quickly as it appeared. The second display was about 2:30am CDT. The columns of light extended higher than the first. It was just as awesome as the first. We eventually packed up around 3am and got back the hotel around 4am. Overall it was a great first night!
We arrived at Merritt around 8:30. The skies looked like they’d be questionable. Low cirrus clouds were on the horizon and the Clear Sky clock said transparency wasn’t going to be the greatest. But Bob K, Jim V, Jason and I set up in a valley to block the wind and hoped for the best. It was worth the effort.
Around 11:00 it was finally dark enough to start. I started my Herschels, looking for galaxies in Ursa Major and Canes Vanatici. The sky actually gave great views, revealing galaxies down to the 13th magnitude. Dim, fuzzy galaxies aren’t the most exiting objects to view. Its not like your heart starts pumping when you glimpse a dim nucleus with averted vision. but I’m still overwhelmed by the thought that you’re looking at the lights of billions of stars that took many millions of years of travel to reach my eye. I hope I never lose that feeling.
All in all, I found 24 Herschels before transparency made them difficult to see about 2:00 am. We still puttered around enjoying a great aurora show and looking at brighter objects until 3:00.
It wasn’t the best night I’ve ever had a Merritt, but all in all I’d rather be here than stuck in the office
The observing field began to fill up last night. We decided to set up in a valley with the 10-20 mph winds from the SE. As it worked out this was a good decision as many Dobs were having trouble with wind vibrations.
The group last night was Jim’s 10″ Orion, Dan’s 12″ Lightbridge, Jason’s rebuilt 12.5″, and my 12″ Hardin. The skies started out a little cloudy with a high haze again but the sky cleared out pretty well from 11 to about 2:30 am. Our group decided to end around 3 after the skies became more hazy.
At 10:50 we started out with a very nice view of Saturn. Jason’s scope pulled in a beautiful view with the clear shadow line, 2 thermal belts, Cassini separation, and 5 moons. The skies finally got dark enough a little after 11. Everyone spent a few minutes getting use to observing again and getting all of our scopes lined up. The Mosquitos were circling but the winds really kept them at bay most of the night.
Jim, Dan and I were working on our Herschels, Jason was checking out his new scope and working with different eye pieces, powers, and objects.
One of the cool highlights of the night was the Aurora Borealis. At 12:10 the northern skies formed a sky glow similar to the Lincoln sky glow at Olive Creek. At 12:20 the “twilight” began to shoot streaks of light bands up. Several of these reach the bell of the big dipper and Casseopia. It put on quite a show for those that have not traveled or lived further north. The colors were mostly blue shades and green with a little yellow along the band edges. Clouds along the horizon gave a very nice “dark nebula” view that added to the quality.
After the curtains collapsed back to a horizon sky glow of about 10-15 degrees, we continued viewing. What we did not realize is that the midnight show was only a warm up act. Aurora Act II began around 2:15 with a sudden brightening of the northern sky. A curtain of waves began to rise till most of the bell of Ursa Major over to Casseopia were engulfed in the dance. The towers of light bands were changing every few seconds and sections would erupt to create the view similar to a musical equalizer. We all had to stop telescope viewing and just sat down and enjoyed the show. The only thing missing was the orchestra synchronizing the show. By 2:50 the hugh Aurora dome had collapsed back to about 15 degrees and we went back to our scopes.
Dan and I were able to log in over 20 Herschels each last night. I started with several Virgo’s until it finally got to low. The rest we focused on the galaxies in Ursa Major. Jason’s highlight was being able to see the structure of the arms in the whirlpool and being able to see the veil. Dan’s highlight was being able to see some very faint galaxies in the 12-13 mag levels – 4085 was one he really liked. Jim’s highlight was having a beer with the group, flat tire on the truck coming out, and enjoying the objects in Sagittarius. I agree with Dan being able to see galaxies down in the 13 mag levels and seeing some arm structures in M110.