ALP Stargazing Report



March 12-13, 2005

Text and Sketch by  Allen Yu



It was 6:30 pm after attending important matters that I started my long journey to the highlands of Caliraya in the hope of catching the Orion constellation acceptably high enough to escape the western horizon glow.  The reason is that I want to test the H-beta filter recently acquired through the generous efforts of Jun Lao, and the filter can only lend assistance in seeing not even a handful number of objects, one is the Horsehead Nebula and the other is California Nebula.  I wondered if the Veil would also appreciate its efforts. 

The Horsehead remains to be an extreme challenge to visual observers, reports of seeing or nothing at all are quite scary.  Kepple and Sanner of  The Night Sky Observer's Guide could not see it even in a 14"  while Roger Clark claimed its existence in as small as 3" under exceptional sky (like Colorado , USA) . I wonder   where in the Philippines can we get such dark sky).  So, it leaves so much to be desired, let me take the plunge and see for myself.

I am not a lucky bastard, I stepped on a cow dung while walking my way to the observational site (that afternoon delight still bugging me?). Maybe that I'll tell you how dark the place is. James, Jett, and Jun (what do you know? The 3 Js, as in Jawo, Jordan..etc.) finished dining and checking the room, came out of the resort to greet me and proceeded to the site. The morning after Dr. Jett joked on me about horse shoe, I gallantly replied with a "Horse Shit" :)

At 9:45pm we started setting up.  In less than 15 minutes, I was done, and Orion is already some 30 degrees above the horizon, started really soaking in the glow of Lumban, the nearest town downstairs ( I think Metro Manila glow is too far to affect us now,).  Tsk tsk, I¡¦ll tell you this is not the optimum way of seeing the horsey, without a filter I used a 32mm Orion Plossl to see the flame nebula (NGC 2024)beside Alnitak,  almost invisible either, a far cry from my observation last November.,so much the efforts I plugged in the H-beta filter into the eyepiece.  No horsey, but it amazed me that it literally erased any signature of the flame! Okay, I have to check my atlas to make sure I¡¦m seeing right in the direction, and the orientation as well. Hmm...  between these two stars Hmmm, okay, I see NGC 2023, another star with nebulosity closer to the supposed location of the Horsehead.  The filter did not rendered this invisible.  Could it be that NGC 2030 and IC 434 is of the same make?  It responded well to the H-beta, so by logic IC 434 (that"s where the horsey resides, Horsey itself is B33, a Barnard cataloged dark nebula) should start revealing itself too.  I forgot, I am not yet dark-adapted.  Waiting for 10 minutes, another attempt.  I have my driver blocked the lights of the canteen nearby, it was bleeding into my secondary cage.  Really looked funny.  There¡¦ is quite a mess in the vicinity,  a very faint and chaotic mess of nebulosity, but no horsey.  I think IC 434 is starting to tease me.  The filter does not impress any surrounding stars nor other common-wavelength nebulosity, it is only focusing at the horsey.  Orion is now less than 20 degrees above horizon, chances becoming nil.  I gave up. 

The Orion Plossl contributed to the mess.  Finally I realized it was responsible for my distorted stars on my Orion nebula and Comet Maccholz digital image.  It showed the edge stars appearing to field rotate.  Sucks.  The same goes to Edward Tan's 25mm Orion Plossl because that what I used to image M42 through James' scope.  Outside it looks like one of the more decent Plossls, but I think the later China-made plossls really sucks to the brim.  Jett, please check the 26mm Plossl I sold to you a couple of years ago.  If upon your inspection the edge appears flat, I wanna buy it again from you :) he he he he he.

I will be back with Orion by this year's end.  At all cost, B33 has to be pinned down. 

The next worthy thing I did was to sketch M51, 050312m51_allen_sketch.jpg (122090 bytes)the Whirpool Galaxy.  Easy, and initially impressive on the first look, I have some hotel staff to share with me the vie but they are not impressed.  They did not know what they are looking at.  Pity boy.  I showed them Jupiter so at least they have some memories to sleep with.  It was just 11:30 when all dewey hell broke loose.  The hotel roofs where rattling, like a post-evening shower.  Jun Embuido explained it was not aswang walking on the roof, it was dew tickling down.  When the staff hit their pillows I went back to M51.  Hmmm, not anymore impressive.  Don't know why, maybe some high-altitude haze stealing precious magnitudes off the sky.  Haze is not easy to detect here, just like clouds, they are invisible here because of the absence of   light pollution, you only see stars dimming a bit, then to invisibility.  The afternoon was not a deep blue sky either, it was light blue suggesting haze.  So, this was my struggle to extract useful details from M51.  My sketch pad getting soaky, fast.  I got the overall impression: an oval glow surrounding a stellar core, another  star within the same oval (maybe a foreground star), its companion also with the nebulosity.  I now played wildly with my averted vision, my bullseye seemed locked in a 5 o'clock position, anywhere else, dark lanes contributed to the useful data, now I'm seeing something of worth.  The dark lanes appear circular on the edges, suggesting spiral structure.  Interesting, but M51 is blinking to me, a question of fluctuating sky transparency.  In any case, I am not in a hurry to do a marathon, I would prefer an O'Meara within me, patiently sweet talking the galaxy to open her secrets to me.  I have the entire night to be patient, as long as my eyes can hold on.

After M51, Jun told me to switch to Omega Centauri Globular cluster.  I can see it naked eye without my eyeglasses!  You know that is impressive because I have to worse eyesight in all astronomers I know.  My eyeglasses were set aside, as I am not using it on the eyepiece.  Besides, its useless because its soaking wet as well.  We observed the cluster using the 32mm Orion plossl.  Though the eyepiece sucks, Omega sucks not!  Jun was the first to be dazzled by this ball of gems. It looked 3D to him, to me, it was resolved to the center.  James joined me then advised a higher power eyepiece, we used the 12mm Ultima hybrid, this literally spilled the sugar to the floor.  To the center I was seeing background dark space, stars now a distance from each other, divisions resembling a multi-fractured cluster zigzagging artistically, this is God's painting in the sky!  Indeed, the universe's most beautiful things is conveniently placed in grandest scales, the humble night sky.

So few things tonight, as my eyes are too weary to continue (I  haven't got to sleep the entire night before).  I aimed at the Eta Carina Nebula, and it thought it was unfair.  My lowest power eyepiece cannot contain the entire thing.  But I saw the splits leading me to identify it correctly.  So few things yet so meaningful.  To be frank I know I won't survive the entire night awake, the day has pushed me to my physical limits, and the sleepless night before has done its damage.  I packed my things, retired to bed, in time (1:45am) for the clouds to claim the night sky once again.  

I will be back again with the group on April 9th.



For Comments

©2003, 2004, 2005  Astronomical League of the Philippines Inc.