(IAAC) Sentinel Arizona Star Gaze

Sentinel Star Gaze 99 Big Success
by Steve Coe
Well, after a couple of years having to deal with poor weather
for the Sentinel Star Gaze, this year decided to really show off.
A.J. Crayon and I made it out of Phoenix about 2:00 PM on
Friday, April 16.  This day also turns out to be my 50th birthday,
a fact which has yet to sink in completely.  I am, after all,
only 23 years old in my head.  
We made it to the tiny Arizona town of Sentinel and a short
trip over the railroad tracks and down a dirt road to a big
flat spot in the desert.  Several other astronomers are showing
up at about the same time and by the time it gets dark we
have 8 scopes and fewer and fewer clouds.
I set up the 13" and A.J. sets up his 8", both Newtonians.  
Once collimation is complete and finders are aligned, we are
just waiting for it to get dark.  An obligatory view of Venus
shows it to be about 50% illuminated and it is swimming
in a huge, bright cone of zodiacal light rising from the
western horizon.
Once it is good and dark, I can see that the seeing is even
pretty good to a dark southern horizon, so I decide to chase
some objects in the far south.  First in NGC 2440, a 
planetary nebula in Puppis.  It is obviously a planetary, even
at 100X, and it is in the field of view of a nice orange star
and delicate triple.  Going to 330X it is pretty bright, pretty
small, somewhat brighter in the middle and elongated 1.8X1
in PA 60.  Averted vision does two things for this fine
planetary, first it doubles the size and also brings out a
dark marking across the middle of the nebulosity.
I also did some galaxies in Sextans, then swung the 13 inch
over to Virgo and just did a little galaxy surfing.  Just using
the 22mm Panoptic eyepiece to give a power of 100X, this
overwhelming river of star cities is fun.  Jumping from one
galaxy to another, every shape and brightness is presented.
By now Mars is up nicely and we have a "Mars-a-thon"
for half an hour or so, trying different magnifications and
filters.  Syrtis Major is easy, as is the Hellas basin and
Utopia.  The southern polar cap is seen at higher power,
along with some clouds at the limb.  The dark features are
more prominent with the orange and salmon filters and
the clouds and bright features stand out with a light
blue filter installed.
All too soon the clouds roll back in and by midnight, 
the observing session for Friday night is over.  So, a
good night's sleep is in order.  We get up in the morning
and after fixing breakfast, we spend the day chatting
and using a tarp that Gus VanNoy (thanks Gus) setup
to prevent roasted astronomer being the specialty of 
the house.  Dale shows up later and adds more tarp
space and we now have plenty of room to discuss
eyepieces, scopes I would like to have the money
to build, where to go observing and I sure hope it
stays clear for tonight.  The usual.
As the Sun gets lower, more and more folks start pulling
into the observing area; it used to seem large.  As it
gets dark, I count 55 vehicles, most with either telescopes,
binoculars, or both, set up and ready to observe.
And it is a great night to observe.  The clouds have
dissipated completely by now and as a gorgeous thin
crescent Moon, Venus and the Pleiades set, the stars
come out and really show off.
As I put the 13 incher on NGC 2467, a nebula in Puppis,
I realize that it is a special night.  The seeing is excellent
and I am using 220X on an object that has a Declination
of -26 degrees!  Realizing that the sky is clear and steady
even a small distance above the southern horizon, I spend
some time on 2467 and see lots of fine detail with the
round, pretty faint nebula.  There are several, thin, dark
lanes within the nebulosity and 9 stars involved.  At this
point I decide to rate the seeing as a 7/10 and the
transparency at 8/10, as good as Sentinel gets.
I move on to a galaxy group in Antlia, Abell 4712.  Even
this group of distant galaxies that is only 10 degrees above 
the horizon shows six galaxies that are pretty easy seen
at 150X.  I decide to make a tour of the observing area
and chat with some other folks about what they are 
I observe Mars in a variety of apertures and again tonight,
lots of detail is seen.  Joe Goss's 10" Meade does a nice
job of pulling out some nice detail at 250X.  Bill's 18 inch
Dobsonian shows off lots of spiral arm detail in M 101.
There are pretty bright nebulae in the arms and the core
is bright and round.  Ken Reeves, Brian Workman, A.J.
and I spend some time in the Coma Galaxy Cluster, I count 32 galaxies in
a two degree area of the sky, many differing shapes.  
John Maris(?) from California has a 22 inch and the view
of the Dumbbell in it is excellent. 
So, the Sentinel Star Gaze was certainly a success.  There
were few problems with people splashing around white
light--thank you.  All in all, a fun time was had by everyone
I spoke with.  I will coordinate again so that this star
fest falls away from the Messier Marathon and we will
see you next year.
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