Astro log: Oct 10th, 2009

Equipment: Orion Skyview 6 Deluxe EQ, using the 32, 15, and 6 mm eyepieces.

New objects observed: M81, M82, M33, M110

Previous objects observed: M31, M32, M57, M13

New Location: Sunrise Point, Mt. Rainier National Park


This was a pretty big day, observing-wise, but very short. The weather and moon had been very uncooperative for the last couple of weeks, so I hadn't been able to do any observing at all. On Saturday night, I happened to see that sometimes the Tacoma Astronomical Society sometimes uses Sunrise Point on Mt. Rainier as an observation site, and that the road up there was going to be closing on Oct. 12th (with weekends being open until the 25th), and it was going to be a clear night. Since it looked like it was probably my last chance until sometime in the late spring to go up there, I packed the telescope up and headed out.

It took a while to get there (and I really should have brought somebody with me, but oh well), but once I got there the view was stunning. The Milky Way was brilliant and stretched across the sky, and there were so many stars it was a little difficult to pick out the constellations to orient myself. Supposedly the site has a Bortle Index of 3, but with its elevation (about 6100' or so) it may present a darker sky. Unfortunately I was not able to stay for longer than 45 minutes, because while I had dressed warmly I didn't realize how high Sunrise Point is, and didn't expect the temperature to be 23° F, so I had to stop once I couldn't feel my hands anymore.

In that brief time, though, I was able to observe M81 & M82 together (and M82 looked particularly good), a brilliant and wide M31 with M32 and (finally) M110 (interestingly, there were so many stars that M32 was a little harder to find than usual), M33 was easily visible, M57 was presenting as a bluish ring, and M13 was globular looking.

Because of the cold and my relative lack of preparation (again, I expected it to be chilly but not well below freezing) and because I had plans with the family the next morning, I only stayed about 45 minutes, including setup and teardown time. Had I been able to stay longer and get dark adapted, I would have gone back over the galaxies and looked at them again to see if I could distinguish any spiral arms (with M81 and M31, I could see the cores and fuzziness outside of them, but didn't see distinct arms, with M82 I saw some of the dark structures inside, and M33 was an irregular looking fuzzy patch), but I could tell that I didn't have as much time as I would have liked. Just that short time was amazing though, and I'm looking forward to heading out again with a little more preparation after the road reopens sometime next year.

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