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Busy Day at Houge Park Hall 5/3

The Houge Park Hall was buzzing with activity today with several programs going on at the sametime. The SJAA Fixit Program, SJAA Library and SJAA Advanced Loaner program were all open today to serve our members and public. We had people coming for help with telescope collimation questions, eyepiece and lens cell questions. We also did collimation procedures on some scope being returned for the Advanced Loaner Program. We had people stopping by to check out scopes for the Advance Loaner Program too. Our wonderful Librarian Sukhada Palav was busy checking and cataloging books and evaluating future books for the Library.

We also had a bonus activity going on too. Question? How many astronomers does it take to setup a really big telescope? Answer: 4

Rob Jaworski, Phil Chambers, Teruo Utsumi and Vini Carter were busy assembling the 20 inch Obsession Telescope that was graciously donated to the club by our dear friend Dr. Robert Armstrong and his family. The intent was to learn how to setup the telescope so we can share some views with it with the public and club members soon. Looks like with the braintrust of the fabulous four they had it assemble and figured out in no time. Thanks for the effort guys. Can’t wait for the views to be seen. I documented the big event with photos


Ed Wong

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Summer Exploratory Trip to the Pinnacles

This a report on exploratory trip to the Pinnacles last night 5/31

Last night me and (Dave I, Tom P, Gary C, Guna P, Lee H, Teruo U, Manoj K, Bharath K,) from the SJAA met down at the Pinnacles for a summer exploritory to see how viable viewing from the Pinnacles camp grounds would be. As we arrived, the campsites we had were on opposite sides of an access road. The campsites were large enough to fit all of us in one of the sites. So we decided to setup tents and gear in one of the campsites and park half of the other cars in the opposite site since there was a parking limit per site. As we were setting up it was obvious to the campers on both sides of us that we were not going to the regular campers. Needless to say the big Dobs and Big Binoculars got the attention of those around us which gave us a good opportunity to talk about the club and invite people to our website and HP. Of course the other campers wanted to have some views through our scopes too.

I guess I should list who brought what

Dave I – 17.5 inch Dobstuff Dob
Lee H – 25x150mm battle ship binoculars
Ed W- Oberwerk 28x110mm binoculars
Tom P – Televue NP101 & Astrotech AT72 refractors
Gary C- Astrotech AT72 refractor & Celestron 20×80 binoculars
Teruo U – 18 inch Obsession Dob
Manoj – 16 inch Hubble Optics Dob & 8inch? Dobstuff Dob
Guna P – Explore Scientific ED102
Bharath K – Orion ED80
Nhan N – Orion ED80

So the night started off viewing the Moon and Jupiter. I was able to spot Jupiter with the my binos during the just before sunset followed by Dave finding it with his Dob. We were able to see the bands on it and the sun was still up!!! The crowd gathered around to see views offered of the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn just as the sun had set. As a bonus we were able to see the Moon occult a bright star next to it (SAO 96786)

By 11pm some of the crowd started to dwindle down and I was able to get my first SQM reading of 20.56 (RCDO is about 20.50) There was still a lot of lights on from the nearby campers and the restrooms.

By around 1am the campers had gone to bed and the lights were out. Second SQM reading of 21.77!!! the Milky Way was blazing across the sky. If you have never viewed the Milky Way under dark skies it truly is a sight that is to behold. With my binos panning for the M8 – Lagoon Nebula through M24 -Sagittarius Star cloud to M11 – Wild Duck cluster it’s amazing how many stars are visible with the dark dust lanes in between them.

Other nice things viewed during the evening were: the Markarian Chain, M83, M104, The Leo Triplet, M31, M51, M64, M13, M92, M95, M96, M81, M82, M97, M105, M106, M108, M109. Bonus objects were the NG7000 – North American Nebula and Eastern & Western Veil Nebulas looked fantastic in the binos.

By 2:30am it was getting cold and most of us were starting to pack up for the night. Overall it was a good night. We learned things about the site that will help us for future trips, for some of the guys that went it was the first time they viewed under dark skies, we were able to give some publicity for the club.


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Galaxy Quest at Hunting Hollow

Hi All,

This is my observing report from Sat. 4/19 at Hunting Hollow Lot. On Sat 4/19 was the Starry Nights event at RCDO. With the event growing in popularity, the turn out for the event has been overwhelming to the point that there have been not been enough parking spaces for astronomers or the public. In an effort not to have to turn away astronomers coming to support the event we provided an overflow at Hunting Hollow Lot last night in order to give astronomers an opportunity to view there to minimize over crowding at RCDO.Last night we had 7 people at Hunting Hollow. I arrived by 8pm at there were people who were setup and ready to go. We had a pretty good assortment of scopes there a 14’ dob, several nice refractors, and binoculars. I was on a quest to find galaxies so I brought my 12” SCT

The evening started with most of us starting looking at Jupiter. I could see Europa just peeking around the left side of Jupiter which was pretty cool. As it got dark by 9:30pm I started to look for the galaxies. First up was the Leo Triplet. Had a great view of M65, M66 in the view. NGC3628 was out of the field of view. The long focal length of the SCT only provides .92 degee field of view with a 40mm 72 degree eyepiece. From there I went to another nice triple in Leo M105, NGC 3371, NGC 3373 this time all 3 galaxies in the FOV. M95, M96 was just over slightly so I look at the pair too.Next up was the fabulous Markarian Chain in Virgo which includes M84, M86. Moving over to it, it was fantastic! 5 galaxies in the same FOV. This object has 13 galaxies in it. I was to see about 7 of the 13 galaxies moving around that area.

Other galaxies view were M51, nice view including the companion and the spiral arms visible. M64 fantastic view showing the spiral clouds off of the galaxies. M63, M81, M82, M94, M101, M106, M108 M109. One other bonus object to mention, I also seen the C/2012 K1 (Panstarrs) comet (mag 8.9), it was in the constellation of Bootes. The best SQM meter reading of the night was 20.93. We packed it up by 11:30 as it the conditions started to get bad and clouds were on the way from the west. Overall it was the most galaxies I have viewed in one night.Thanks,

Posted in Articles, Observing Reports

Exploratory Trip to Henry Coe State Park – Hunting Hollow Lot

This is my report of an exploratory trip to Henry Coe – Hunting Hollow Lot. I have been interested in exploring this parking lot as a potential site that club members could visit for dark sky viewing and imaging. I came across this lot when I was out scouting for new sites to view and image from back in January and wanted to bring some members back with me to an Exploratory Trip. On Fri. May 21st. Lee Hoglan, Gary Chock and I met at this site to explore it and do some observing. First view of the lot, it is big. It is 265 feet by 171 feet. For comparison, RCDO is 146 feet by 70 feet.

We setup our gear as the sun was going down. Lee brought the “son of the beast” scope, a 16 inch Dob, Gary had his Astro72 refractor and 20×80 Celestron Binoculars and I had my Oberwerk 28×110 Binoculars. As sun went down, we started to look at the objects in the west, The Pleiades, The Orion Nebula, Double Cluster. There was a light dome in the west, the Orion Nebula in the 16” dob was very bright and impressive but, so was the sky glow behind it. I wanted to see how it would in my binoculars. I put in my DGM Optics NPB filter in the binoculars and the view was quite good, not quite as bright as the dob but, very nice. The difference was that with the filters in the binoculars, the skyglow was cut down quite a bit and the contrast and detail on the nebula really popped out.

Then we went on a galaxy hunt. In both the Dob and the 28×110 binos we had pretty good views of the Leo Triplet, M95, M96, M105, the Markarian Chain, M51, M101, M106, M108, M109, Owl Nebula, M81, M82, M64. Gary was having some nice views of the bigger star clusters like the Hyades, Beehive and Mel 111. We ended up wrapping up about 10:30pm. We all agreed it was one of the best nights of observing we have had in a long time.

As far as the site:
The Good – This site is big, all of the regular SJAA members who come out to view on a regular basis could fit in that lot with room to spare. There is no lock or gate at the entrance so it’s 7/24 hour access. You pay for use via dropping $6 into a slot in a metal pole. Easy drive within 1 hour from HP. 10 mins from Mendoza Ranch. The road ends shortly after the lot so there is not too many cars going on that road. The site is pretty dark, SQM meter reading of 21.1 around 9:30pm. Overnight camping if you want to stay overnight.

The Bad – The is no lock or gate at the entrance so it’s 7/24 hour access so, we have no control other cars driving in while we are viewing. Horizons not that low. From center of the lot, the south is about 30 degrees, east, west about 20 degrees, north is about 15 degrees. Elevation is about 600 feet so there could be fog on some nights.

The Ugly – Possible that night hikers could pull into the lot, happened to us. They had some lights on for about 15mins as they were gathering their stuff to hike into the park. This site I would say is more suited to viewing then imaging for this reason.

Overall impression of the site:
I think this is a good site for viewing. It is the darkest of the sites that club members currently go to (RCDO, Mendoza Ranch) It’s good to know that this site is available for use on a 7/24 basis. While it’s not perfect, neither are the other sites that we have access to. I think overall the good does outweigh the bad on this site.

The GPS location of the site is: 37°04’33.6″N 121°27’59.4″W

-Ed Wong

Posted in Articles, Observing Reports, Trip Reports

Second Exploratory Trip to the Pinnacles

This a report on my second exploratory trip to the Pinnacles. (Please see the earlier blog post on the first trip for some of the details on the Pinnacles itself)

On Sunday 12-1, me and 4 others from the SJAA met down at the Pinnacles (Nhan Nguyen, Guna Purushothaman, Sanjaya Srivastava and Srinivas P) For me, this was a second exploratory trip. On the first trip I did some imaging, but on this trip my goal was to see how good the viewing could be at this dark location. Guna, and Srinivas were imaging and the rest of us were viewing.

I brought my 6 inch scope to see what could be seen with a modest size scope under the dark skies. As the sun went down, the Milky Way and other stars began to light up the night sky. Venus again was so bright it was casting a glow over southwest. As Venus set, I started to do some observing on some of the objects I have never been able to see from RCDO with my 12′ SCT. Here is a list of some of the objects.

NGC6960 – The Veil Nebula, Using a OIII filter and my 40mm 72 degree eyepiece both east and west sides of the Veil Nebula easily seen with shape and detail.

NGC7000 – The North American Nebula, Using a nebula filter and my 40mm 72 degree eyepiece this nebula was easily visible, showing the shape and some detail to it. I’ve tried many times from RCDO with the 12″ to see this but, never was able to, so I was quite happy to see it this time.

IC1396 – Elephant Trunk Nebula, Using a nebula filter and my 40mm 72 degree eyepiece I could barely make out some outline of the object. Need bigger scope for this one.

IC1318 – Gamma Cygni Nebula, Using a nebula filter and my 40mm 72 degree eyepiece I could barely make out some outline of the object. Need bigger scope for this one.

IC1805 – The Heart Nebula, Using a nebula filter and my 40mm 72 degree eyepiece I could make out outline of the object. A bigger scope is needed to see more detail of it

M74 – A nice face on galaxy Mag 9.39, Using my 14mm 100 degree eyepiece, I could easily see the object and the spiral arms. I’ve tried many times from RCDO with the 12″ to see this but, never was able to, so I was quite happy to see it this time.

M33 – Another nice galaxy, Using my 14mm 100 degree eyepiece, I could easily see the object and the spiral arms. I’ve tried many times from RCDO with the 12″ I could see a smudge, but never was able to see the spiral arms, so I was quite happy to see them this time.

IC342 – A nice face on galaxy Mag 8.39, Using my 14mm 100 degree eyepiece, for some reason, I could not see this one, even though it’s supposed to be brighter then M74. Might need a bigger scope to see this one.

Overall, we had a good time on this trip, I did learn that dark skies really do make a difference as far as what is visible to you in your scope. Kudos again to Nhan Nguyen for finding this site. I think there is a possibility for this location for club members who want to view at a dark site within 2 hours of home base. I’m planning to go back again when I have the opportunity. If you would like to go view at this site with others, let us know hopefully we can get a group of people to go again.

-Ed Wong

Posted in Articles, Observing Reports, Trip Reports

SJAA’s first official new moon viewing/imaging night at Mendoza Ranch

This is my report on the SJAA’s first official new moon viewing/imaging night at Mendoza Ranch. Mendoza Ranch is a new location that the SJAA has been granted access by the Santa Clara County Parks to use on the new moon Saturday night. Access to the ranch requires one of the permit holders to be present, currently Ed Wong or Dave Ittner. The nights it will be opened are the new moon nights on the SJAA calendar which coincide the Henry Coe nights which will give people an option on different darker sites they can go to view or image at.

The event was held on Saturday, November 30th. We had a pretty good turn out, ten people total. For eight of those, it was their first time at Mendoza Ranch. We started at 6pm, there was about an equal mix of people viewing and imaging, five and five. As the sun was setting, I was able to get my mount aligned to do some imaging. I noticed that I was able to see the handle of the Big Dipper in the north. Mendoza Ranch has pretty low horizons. About 10 degrees in the north and the east, approx 12 degrees in the south and west. Overall the total visibility of the entire night sky is the best of all the places I have been able to view from so far.

As it got dark, the north, east and south views were pretty dark. The west had some glow from Gilroy and Morgan Hill but, Mendoza Ranch has some hills on the west blocking some of it, so it’s not that bad as some other sites I’ve been too. By 8pm the sky seemed pretty dark so I took a SQM meter reading using my app on my phone. It read 21.2 for comparison to other sites SJAA uses around the Bay Area, RCDO is 20.5. Pinnacles is 21.7.

Overall, it was a pretty good night, people seemed happy to be able to get out to view and image. I heard people say they like the site and were planning to come back. I think it was a successful first night. The next planned opening of Mendoza Ranch will be Saturday, January 4th, 2014. Come out and join us!

-Ed Wong

Posted in Articles, Observing Reports

Exploratory Trip to Pinnacles National Park

This is my report of a trip to Pinnacles National Park. I have been interested in exploring this park as a potential site that club members could visit for dark sky viewing and imaging. My friend Nhan Nguyen had told me about the location since he has been there a few times for imaging.

On Sun 11/24 Nhan, Bill & Susan O’Neil and I met at the Pinnacles to explore the location and do some imaging and viewing. The Pinnacles is location in a fairly remote location south of Paicines on Hwy 25. From my place in the south bay, the drive was pleasant no remote or off road excursions needed and no excessive winding mountain roads. It took me 1 hour to get there. From the club’s home base at Houge Park, it should take about 1.5 to 1.7 hours to get there depending on traffic. The city of Hollister is about halfway and has gas and other stores if need to get food or other stuff on your way down.

As, I drove around the park, I noticed there are a lot of mountains and trees so the horizons are somewhat limited. On my way to the visitor’s center to meet the others, I noticed an somewhat open area with pretty good horizons. After meeting the others, we talked with the Rangers about having access to that location which is a overflow camping area which also includes an flushable toilet.

As we were setting up, I noticed there were some cars leaving the park on a road next to the campground. Nhan had said once it got dark, that really would not be a problem and it was not. Once it got dark there were no cars after we were set up. I was amazed at how quickly it got dark once the sun had gone down. I had my mount polar aligned and ready to go by 6pm.

This was my first time to a true dark site and it was a new experience. Venus was so bright in the night sky in the west, it was almost seemed like the moon was up on that side of the sky!! But, as Venus went down it did get dark, really dark. I was able to see the Milky Way in detail naked like I had never seen before from RCDO or Coyote Lake. I could easily see all the stars in the little dipper naked eye. The Andromeda Galaxy, Double Cluster, M33 Pinwheel galaxy visible naked eye. The view of the Double Cluster in my 20×80 binoculars were spectacular!!! so much more detail and contrast.

For those into imaging, I was imaging IC342 with a F7 scope. I was able to shoot 12min. sub frames at ISO1600 with no light pollution filter with no skyglow.

I did take some measurements of the location. Most of the horizon are between 15-18 degrees high except for the north which is slightly lower. I took some SQM meter readings with my iPhone app and the readings taken several times through the night were 21.6-21.8 and the highest rating. For comparison RCDO is 20.5. I’ve been told by TAC observers Lake San Antonio is about 21.5. Granted, my iPhone app most likely is not as accurate as a dedicated meter but, it does give a rough reference point.

I enjoyed my time at the Pinnacles with Nhan, Bill and Susan. I think there is a possibility for this location for club members who want to view at a dark site within 2 hours of home base. I’m planning to go back again when I have the opportunity.

-Ed Wong

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Binocular Stargazing at RCDO

This past Saturday night (9/7), the Binocular Stargazing Program was held for the third time this year at Rancho Canada del Oro. Using binoculars is a great way to to explore star the night sky.  You can see the “big” picture – constellations and how they move as the night progresses.  Plus you can see asterisms, open star clusters, globular star clusters, binary stars, planets (when viewable) and a galaxy or two.

We encourage folks to bring binoculars, a comfortable chair, warm clothes, and a red lens flashlight.   As the sky darkens we explain how to read an all sky map ( that is provided to participants.  I take a few minutes to explain the advantages of using binoculars and how to select them.  We point out the brighter stars and constellations. Using Polaris (the North Star) we show how the sky rotates around it.  As the night progresses we point out and explain many of the night sky wonders.

There have been between 25 to 35 folks showing up on average. With quite a few that have returned. Many people stay after the session ends to spend time viewing additional objects and to ask questions. This program is a great way for those who are just starting out to explore star gazing.

Ed Wong

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