Telescoping in the Cold

M51 and NGC5195 Last night we had some clear skies, and the Seattle Astronomical Society called an impromptu star party at Rattlesnake Lake.  Rattlesnake is much closer to the Cascade Mountain range, and farther away from the bright city lights of Seattle.  Since it’s closer to the mountains, it’s also a lot colder than the low-lands: it was about 40°F when I arrived at 7pm, and had dropped to 32°F when I left at midnight.  There were about 6 telescopes setup at peak (I remember seeing a TeleVue 76, Vixen ED100, a vintage Celestron C8, my Meade LX50, a 10” dobsonian, the behemoth: a 20” Obsession Dobsonian) and a bunch of super-friendly amateur astronomers that were happy to help those of us that were newer to the field.

I was one of only three people not using either digital setting circles or a go-to mount, and things were complicated for me around 11:15pm when my motor drive stopped working for some reason.  I was able to knock out 15 Messier objects all by hand (using RA+Dec or star-hopping), including: M3, M36, M37, M38, M42, M43, M44, M45, M51 (and its companion galaxy, NGC5195), M58, M67, M81, M82, M86, M99, NGC4438 (Eyes Galaxy).  Favorite view of the night has to be M3, my first globular cluster.  Second favorite view of the night was M81/M82 within the same field of view: my first galaxies.

We also were treated to some phenomenal views of the ISS flying overhead twice: once just after sunset, and once around 9:50pm.  The second fly-by was amazing: pitch dark skies, and the bright ISS flying overhead – and then I noticed something much smaller following it at a distance of about 20°- the Jules Verne ATV, which just docked at the ISS this morning.  Lots of satellites/space debris flying by, including several at polar orbits.

Great night of observing, overall.