Planning a Major Observing Night

So, I’m still working on this big astro project. Which involves a lot of not-at-the-scope research and exposition. Which has been a bit of a bummer. But now, a major portion of it has come to a head and requires a field trip. Especially the hunt for dark nebulae…and a few other treats. So I’ve got my observation list worked out for an all-night trip to Anderson Mesa on Friday.
I’ll be hunting down Barnard 5 in Perseus for a binocular or telescopic observation in the early evening. I’ll follow that with an attempt at a binocular observation of Barnard 7 in Taurus. Then just before dawn, I’ll be going for a naked-eye observation of the Pipe Nebula in Ophiuchus.
Interspersed with those, I’ll be giving another go at Comet 2005/E2 McNaught at dusk, the Rosette Nebula sometime after Barnard 5 or 7. Then I’ll be attempting SN2006X in M100 around midnight. And then a horizon-impeded, astronomically-twilight threatened observation of Comet 2006/A2 Pojmanski as it begins to make its morning debut for 35° N Latitude. If time permits in the 1AM-3AM stretch, I may hit some more Virgo or Ursa Major galaxies that I haven’t observed yet. Or I may take a nap =D
My current estimation of online Dark Nebula resources is that they aren’t for the faint of heart. They aren’t like an NGC or Messier object, where you’ve got precise coordinates for a localized object. Many of these things are huge, extended objects. There is an incredible photo atlas of Barnard’s observations at this site. And the Saguaro Astronomy Club has an excellent compilation of the best of Barnard’s visual dark nebulae. But the photo atlas is labeled with old epoch coordinates, so you need to do some cartographic gymnastics if the area doesn’t look readily familiar. And while the SAC site gives coordinates, it’s not easy translating those coordinates into what part of the mottled mess in that area is the dark nebula you want to look for…which leads you back to the photo atlas, and the old ephoch coordinate situation again. I’m getting a little itchy about the idea of investing in a copy of Starry Nights Pro Plus for Macintosh, since it apparently has a roster of dark nebula in its database. (Orion’s TheSky Astronomy Software is sorely lacking in the that department.) So anyway, I’ve printed my charts for those areas after much banging of my head into my desk until things rattled around into the right position.
My next step is to be better prepared for the cold. I’m finding that my discomfort with the cold really holds me back from Winter observing. I’ve lived in Flagstaff for going on 12 years now, and you’d think I’d have a decent selection of cold-weather clothing by now. But no. I’ve got a great jacket, thermal undergarments, caps, scarves, and gloves. But that just isn’t enough. I put on two thermal pants on under my jeans when I go observing, but my legs still freeze. So I went out yesterday and picked up a pair of snowboarding pants, some snow boots, and one of those villainous face warmer caps. I also plan on breaking out the chem-pack warmers right away and sticking them in my shoes and gloves. Hopefully it will all add up to a much more comfortable experience, and I won’t feel like running away at 2 in the morning. The ClearSky Clock looks perfect, so here’s hoping.
It may take me a while to post the observations, but I will get them up here.

2 Replies to “Planning a Major Observing Night”

  1. Jeremy:
    Have you seen this website, which provides the digitized contents of E.E. Barnard’s entire Photographic Atlas of Selected Regions of the Milky Way, plus lots of ancillary and background material? It’s a wonderful site and an excellent resource for dark nebula.
    I posted a sketch of supernova SN2006X on my website this morning. It’s my first attempt to incorporate some of the digitizing techniques you discuss on your articles. I’m very pleased with the result, although I’ve got a lot to learn about the technique. Here is a link to my post.
    I’ve also been working on a telescope project — a 22-inch Dobsonian! 🙂 Lot’s of pictures and articles about that on my website, too. Included is a cool silhouette shot I took of three ASKC members with their 20-inch StarMaster telescopes.
    Fiske Miles
    Kansas City, Missouri
    PS: If you have a chance to visit Kansas City, the Linda Hall library has an original edition of Barnard’s atlas, which includes photographic plates of each Milky Way region personally inspected and approved by Barnard. It is wonderful. Linda Hall has one of the foremost collections of rare works of science, including many astronomy texts and atlases, in the country.

  2. Hi Fiske,
    Sorry it took so long to get back with you. I want to thank you for your suggestion.
    I have in fact been using the Photographic Atlas of Barnard’s Nebulae at the site. It’s such a cool resource. The problem I have is with some of the plates that don’t match up obviously to the area in my planetarium software. And since the coordinates written at the borders of the plate are not 2000 RA/Dec, it gets me messed up. Not all are that hard to figure out. The plates that show Barnard 5 or 34 or 86 make perfect sense. It was actually the plate that held Barnard 7 that got me all messed up. I couldn’t match it up star-for-star, so I threw my hands up on that one. As soon as I figure it out, I’ll end up slapping myself on the forehead at how easy it probably should have been.
    Thanks for the link to your SN2006X observation. I enjoyed the sketch and detailed observation discussion. I really appreciate the fact that you kept the scale of the sketch as seen in your 17 mm eyepiece so that you had context with other stars, and NGC 4312, while still using the 7 mm to actually spot the supernova.
    I’m glad the digitizing tutorial helped!
    Thanks for the heads up on the Starting Out article too. Your experience with the mirror construction is inspiring. One of these days I figure I’ll be wanting a big dob…not for quite a while though, but I hope folks like Steve are in business when that time comes. And that photograph is fantastic!

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