Observing at Beaver Creek Trailhead – January 21, 2006

Tonight, I met Bill Ferris, Padraig Houlahan, James Wallace, and another observer named Tim for an observing session down the hill at the Beaver Creek Trailhead near the Sedona exit on I-17. The idea was to get down off the mountain for some more humane temperatures. Bill brought his 18″ Obsession, James, his 10″ Mead SCT, Tim brought another 18″ (I think) dob, and I brought my 6″ equatorial newtonian. After twilight, there were two light sources: the Phoenix light dome in the southwest, and a massive, blazing, gauzy pyramid of zodiacal light.
I had a goal to spot comet C/2006 E2 McNaught in Aquarius. Which, nicely enough was centered right in the heart of the zodiacal murk. Star hopping to it was painful without easy-to-spot stars in that mess. Is it bad to complain about a blazing zodiacal light? Anyway, I managed to finally get to the right field, and caught the faint hint of lint that indicated the comet. Bill took a look and saw it as well. I’ll post an individual report on the comet after I get the sketch scanned.
My next stop was the Horshead Nebula complex. The Flame Nebula, NGC 2024 was beautifully detailed, NGC 2023 was a floculent ball, and IC 434 was a soft, mottled haze. The shadowy presence of B33 emerged without too much trouble. I tried the 25 mm and 32 mm eyepieces both with and without the Ultrablock (~UHC) filter. The 32 mm filtered view in my 6″ newt was the most distinct, although B33 appeared unfiltered as well. My hope was that I would be able to congeal the boundaries of that shadow a bit better than last year’s observation. And in fact I was able to make it out better. I no longer consider this a questionable, threshold observation. The dark notch of the Horsehead was there positively, every time I stuck my eye in the eyepiece. The effort for this observation was in seeing how well I could define its edges. I’ll post an update observation as soon as I get this sketch scanned too.
As the evening wore on, the wind continued to rise. And it was coming out of the east, which suggested to me that this site likes to serve as cold air drainage from the Mogollon Rim. Wind makes me crazy. And cold wind is more than I can bear. I pulled up a beautiful view of the Rosette Nebula, but I just couldn’t bring myself to sketch it with the wind whistling through everything. I think I’d rather deal with 20 degree colder air and no wind than that situation. Other than that, the Beaver Creek Trailhead site is a nice spot. We tore down and took off by 10:45 PM. I wish I could have grabbed some more detailed observations, but I still feel pretty good about the two I did get. I really need to tackle the Flame and Rosette Nebulae soon.

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