Auburn Astronomical Society E-Newsletter
July, 2001

In this Issue

July Meetings MidnighTelescope
Texas Star Party 2001 Alan Akin at Kitt Peak

July Meetings

This month’s meeting will be on Friday, July 6 at 8:00 PM, in room 215 of the Aerospace Engineering building, on the campus of Auburn University.  AAS member Alan Cook will share some of his Astronomical experiences while on his recent trip to Europe.

The July star party will be on Friday/Saturday July 20/21 at Cliff Hills farm.

From Tom McGowan

I’d like to let the club members aware of an offer on selected telescope products. I have dealer privileges for the following stuff. I will offer these products to club members at my cost plus shipping:

TELRAD w/Base            $36.00 

JMI Products          Makers of top-quality focusers, etc... Example: NGF-DX3 2” Focuser Reg. Price $159 plus S+H -- 
My price $137 

These are the best eyepieces out there! I need to place a minimum of a $1000 order so I will take orders thru July. If you have ever wanted a Televue eyepiece, this is the time! 

This offer is for club members only, so please take advantage. You can contact me for information and prices at I cannot take credit cards, only check or cash. 

Thank you, 
Tom McGowan

Texas Star Party 2001
Tom McGowan

As most of you may know, I build large dobsonian telescopes by the name of MidnighTelescope. For the last year or so, I have been compiling an inventory of parts and mirrors, etc... for these scopes. Finally, I have accumulated enough to offer these scopes for sale to the public. I couldn’t think of a better place to “announce” my scopes than the Texas Star Party. This is one of the biggest star parties held during the year. It is hosted by the Southwest Region of the Astronomical League. Located at the Prude Ranch in Ft. Davis, Texas at 30.6 degrees North Latitude at an elevation of over 5000 feet, this site boasts some of the darkest skies in the continental United States. 

My daughter, Katie (12 years old), and I left Alabama on Saturday, May 12, loaded with three 20-inch scopes and a bunch of camping equipment filling our 5 x 8 enclosed trailer. After a 23 hour drive (with only a two hour nap) we pulled in to Ft. Davis. Before heading to the ranch, we stopped at a local grocery store to stock up on drinks, food and ice. It was in the parking lot that I was enlightened of the reality that I had taken the wrong key to the massive padlock on my trailer. Ahh, such minor details...     A quick check in the local phone book told me there was not a locksmith available. Well, we headed to the ranch with the hopes of finding a pair of bolt cutters. After checking in with the registrar, I managed to find a pair of cutters but unfortunately they were no match for my trusty padlock. Desperation loomed ahead. Nightfall was approaching and all of our equipment was locked safely in the trailer. But no worries, mate! With the aid of a hacksaw, I cut the eyelet off the latch in a mere two minutes! With no pride and much embarrassment, we could now setup. 

There are three main fields in which one may setup. The upper field is the most desired, with the central field and the lower field following. I wanted to make sure we had some type of shade to set our tent under as to help keep it somewhat cool for daytime sleeping. That eliminated the upper field which was just as well as it was jammed packed! I knew some choice spots located in the central field but after a walk thru, they were all taken. Ditto for the lower field. I guess we could have squeezed in anywhere but past experience has taught me well. Way off to the edge of the ranch property was a small group of three tents with a large field. It was definitely away from the action, but, there was shade and peace and quiet. Nothing worse than trying to sleep amongst a chorus of snorers. 

O.K. So we found our site, got everything setup and twilight was approaching. Well, after an exhausting drive with only two hours sleep it was all I could do to make some dinner and walk around the ranch to see who I might know. We stayed up long enough to see the glory of the sky in total darkness and then went to bed.

The next morning we awoke totally refreshed! We had a quick breakfast and then it was off to the venders building so I could display my wares. I fully setup on 20-inch and left another 20-inch in “transport mode” as to show the scope in both manners. Of course, the third scope (my personal scope) was back at our site. The first day at the vendors building was a bit hectic as many people came by asking an abundance of questions. But it all smoothed out thru the course of the week. I had many compliments and many inquiries on my scopes. I didn’t sell any at the star party but was pleased with the publics response and will have to wait and see where it all leads to. 

And now for the observing. The second night it was beautiful-for two hours and then it got cloudy. The third night it was...cloudy. (Though I can’t complain because I was rather tired.) The fourth night we visited with a friend I met at the Chiefland, FL star party two years ago. He is Gary Honis from Pennsylvania and he has a Starmaster 20-inch F/4 with the GoTo drive system. Nice scope! This is the person whom is responsible for first showing me what observing with a Bino-Vue is like. You look thru two eyepieces (just like a binocular) for an incredibly 3-D image! It is truly awesome! We viewed a fair range of Messier objects and some of the better NGC’s while catching up on some talk. About 1:00 am, Katie and I headed back to our site, both a bit tired. The next day  I had mentioned to Katie about some of the observing challenges that was available during the TSP. When she found out you get a pin for each one you accomplish she suddenly had a great deal of interest. We picked up three different lists to review. One was for novices-finding certain bright stars, constellations and the zodiacal light. Another was a list a 27 objects which when plotted on the star charts, made the outline of “2001.” It was a clever little scheme. The third was a list of Glorious Globulars-about 65 or so. We decided on the first two and also Katie wanted to try observing the Messier list. That night (Thursday) we started on the novice list. It went rather easy. Then, she started on the Messier list.  About midnight I had to lay down as I was exhausted. Katie continued her search but soon she woke me to tell me there was a skunk under our trailer!  Nothing like being abruptly awakened to have to deal with a skunk. Unfortunately, the sky clouded up only 20 minutes later. Friday, with a nice afternoon nap I felt great! I was ready to stay up all night. But at nightfall it clouded up totally. I awoke early Saturday to rain and dark cloud cover. It was our last night to observe and the forecast wasn’t looking too good! I actually took my scope down about 10:00 am because of the weather threat. But the gods had mercy on us and in the late afternoon it was a beautiful deep blue sky! That night we were joined by my friend, Van Robinson, who lives four miles down the road from the ranch. Van and I just returned from Australia a month before (more on that next month). He was also interested in doing the second observing challenge with us. As we drank coffee while waiting for total darkness, Gary from Penn. showed up armed with his Bino-Vue. This was going to be a great night! We started of with a collection of galaxies just above the heart of Virgo which form the “2” in 2001. None all that impressive but while we were there, Katie and I worked on the Messier objects in Virgo. Finally, after working our way thru the Virgo cluster we moved on to a gathering of globulars in the Hercules area which formed the first “0” in 2001. The Bino-Vue produced many Ohhh’s and Aahhh”s from all that viewed. A short excursion to M51-incredible! Wonderful spiral detail! M101 was next. This face-on spiral galaxy shows itself in wonderful detail under a dark sky! Very nice! We moved on to some open clusters and more globulars that completed the observing challenge mixed with the summer Messier objects, M57 the Ring Nebula, M27 the Dumbbell, M8 the Lagoon, M20 the Trifid, M17 the Swan or Omega Nebula, M5 a great globular. Also, the Veil Nebula in Cygnus. The whole area was swimming in faint patches of nebulosity!  Gary left about 2:30 am, with Van leaving a bit after 3:00 am. Katie and I called it quits about 4:30 am. What a way to end the Texas Star Party! 

Sunday, we reluctantly got up about 9:30 am and packed up. But our trip wasn’t over. We were headed to Arizona for the next week. I dropped my trailer at Van’s house and Katie and I went on our way. We had a marvelous time exploring the great natural wonders of Arizona.     The following Friday, we returned to Van’s house about 6:00 pm. The sky was beautifully clear. Though I was rather tired, I asked Van if he might want to do some observing. He was game! Van has a 22-inch F/4.2 StarMaster with the GoTo Drive setup in a spacious, roll-off observatory. What a setup! I figured it would be a short observing session-a nice way to end the journey. Well, as we started out looking at some of the more popular objects, I began noticing a great amount of detail that each object was showing. We were looking at M66, a spiral galaxy in Leo, when I noticed a long, faint arc which encircled almost a third of the galaxy. Van confirmed what I had seen. Intrigued, we looked up a photograph of M66 in a book from Van’s extensive library. Sure enough, there is a huge arm that spirals around the inner area of the galaxy. Wow! I had never seen that before. I noticed on the star charts in Leo a galaxy group nearby that had eluded me for many years- Copeland’s Septet. As the name implies, it is a group of seven galaxies. We moved the scope to the location and I peeked in the eyepiece. There was a tight collection of faint fuzzies. But it would require more magnification to identify all of the members. I slipped in the 9mm Nagler and took a look. Much better but it was still tough to identify all seven members. This would call for drastic measures. I took off my coat and draped it over my head while at the eyepiece, thus blocking out all that nasty external starlight and only allowing the light from the field of view in the eyepiece to reach my eye. Patiently, I recorded all seven members! The brightest is NGC 3753 at mag. 14.3 but only 1.9’ x 0.5’ in size. The other members are 3750 at mag 14.9 ; 3754 at mag 15.1 ; 3751 at mag 14.9 ; 3746 at mag 15.0 ; 3748 at mag 15.8 ; and finally, 3745 at mag 16.2 and only 0.4’ x 0.2’ in size! Incredible! I asked Van if he would mind if we tried for a little faint galaxy located between M13 and the nearby galaxy NGC6207. He said,”Sure!” Locating both M13 and 6207 in the same field with Van’s 31mm Nagler (awesome eyepiece!), I centered the field right between the two. Switching to the 9mm Nagler, I looked in. Bang! There she was! The little bugger’s name is IC 4617 and it is a little, tiny edge-on at mag 15.5 and 1.2’ x 0.4’ in size. I had been looking for this with no luck for about a decade. One final challenge, IC 1296, a mag 14.8 galaxy that is 0.9’ x 0.5’ in size. Most of you have had this in your eyepiece’s field of view before! It is located just off M57-the Ring Nebula. And this, too, was fairly easily identified. What a magical night! But it was already 2:30 am and Katie and I were planning on leaving at 9:00 am so we had to close up the observatory. 

A final count on Katie’s Messier list showed she had observed 51 Messier objects! We had an absolutely wonderful time! If you have never experienced the great skies of the Southwest, you will be amazed at the difference! Though it does diminish your desire to observe from our beloved state of Alabama. 

Tom McGowan

Observing with the 0.9 Meter at Kitt Peak
From Alan Akin

[Editors Note:  The National Science Foundation, Research Experiences for Undergraduates accepted Alan’s application.  This summer Alan is an intern in astronomical heaven.  We hope to have a full report when he returns to Auburn.]

I am sitting under the 0.9 meter “SARA” (Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy) and  telescope right now. We are in a well lit room with 5 different computers doing “professional” observing. In other words we are glancing over at the telescope monitor every few minutes to make sure that the star is still in before continuing cyber Karaoke on one of the other computers. I mean how much more “Professional” can you get. It’s a Cataclysmic variable that we are looking at. Whatever that means?
We do however spend some of the time at the end of the night observing the objects still up. We made a really cool picture of the Ring Nebula, the Trifid Nebula, and the Hour Glass Nebula in the last two nights with filters. We are in search of a good Galaxy that can fit well into a 1 degree field of view.  Awwww man! Never mind. This sucks. Dr. Wood just came up with another Idea. What a coincidence. While I’m talking to you I hear this. It looks like we are going to be looking at some other possible variable star for the rest of tonight and the rest of tomorrow night too.  I am so glad I brought my telescope. Even if professional Astronomy is boring I am having a ball with my Short Tube 80. The sky out here is truly magnificent. 

P.S. Here are the photos that we took. A couple of them were made by other REU students before we arrived.

Here are a couple of other links to SARA

Hope to see everyone at the meeting,