Where Lions Roar and Waves Crash Ashore and You Can See The Stars Too
I am in Western Washington, it’s the first week in February, and I’m in panic mode concerning my quest to finish the Herschel 400 in 2004. Of the 50 or so objects I have remaining, many are fall/winter objects in the constellations Pyxis, Puppis and Hydra. At 48° North these constellations rise barely more than 20 degrees above the southern horizon, and when they do they don’t stay long, making their Herschel objects very difficult to “bag.” It was so cloudy this winter that I was seriously considering a quick trip to Arizona.
But on Monday February 9 the sky cleared, and I set up the LX200 in my backyard to do some CCD auto guiding testing. This was a rare treat, but I still needed dark skies and a southern horizon to bag those remaining Herschels. Where to go? Park rangers at Hurricane Ridge told me that the road on the Ridge was closed at night during the winter. Then I recalled that there was flat terrain around Sequim near the Dungeness Recreation Area. But was there enough horizon? How about light pollution? What about fog from the Strait of Juan de Fuca? I decided it was worth a try.
On Tuesday morning I loaded up my 10” Dobsonian. As we left, my spouse dutifully asked if I had been
over the checklist. “Of course,” I said, confident that I had everything. My concern was to find a place to set up before dark.
The drive took about 90 minutes. When we arrived, the skies were promising. We noted a gravel parking lot ¼ mile inside the entrance, which appeared to have the needed view to the south. I spoke to the resident ranger and asked permission to set up a telescope. He said, “Okay, no problem, just register.”
The gravel area was flat and open to the south. We had plenty of time to unhitch the trailer, unpack, and set up. But then I realized truss poles were missing! How dumb, how stupid could I be?
Fortunately, while I was losing my cool, my spouse was keeping hers. She said she would drive back home to retrieve the truss poles, while I set up the trailer and as much of the telescope as I could. “But the gates to the park will be locked at 5:00 p.m.,” I said. “No problem,” she said, “get everything out of the car and I can hike the road with the poles when I get back.” And off she went.
Meanwhile, the Sun was transforming the western sky into orange. The temperature started dropping. Knowing it would be at least 8:00 p.m. before the poles arrived, I kept warm in the trailer. Back outside I booted up the computer and launched Starry Night. Because I find all objects using star hopping techniques, it is useful to have computer star charts so I can zoom in/out and flip to match the power and view of my finders and eyepieces. I also use Deep Sky 2003 to print charts containing objects that are on my “to do” list. I use these mainly to develop efficient star hopping plans.
By 6:30 p.m. Sirius in Canis Major was clear in the Southeast about 15 degrees above the horizon. The horizon was clear but somewhat obscured by smoke from some slash burning to the east. Orion’s belt came up next, then the Gemini twins, followed by the stars that mark the triangle. It always takes me a while to get my bearings in a new place, but I was soon able to align the tracking platform using a 50’ offset from Polaris. By 7:30 p.m. I was able to make out Asmidiske about 13 degrees above the horizon and one of the guide stars in Puppis. With binoculars I could spot Gamma Pyxidis 10 degrees above the horizon, a magnitude 4 guide star in Pyxis. Things were looking up, if I only had a telescope.
Soon blinding lights signaled an approaching vehicle on the road, which turned into the parking lot with lights on full bright. So much for night vision. It was the ranger: he asked where my car was and I told him that my spouse had gone home to get a piece of equipment. Then he informed me that I was not allowed to park my trailer in this area. Fortunately, he then said it would be OK for one night. Whew! Finally, at long last, about 8:00 p.m., a tiny light appeared in the distance. My spouse with the poles had returned!
We were now faced with setting up in the dark, not one of my favorite activities. When it’s below freezing things seem to go even slower. But somehow we managed to get the Dob up and collimated and by 8:30 I was ready to go Herschel hunting. Pyxis and Puppis were still low and in the light dome of Sequim, so I made a strategic decision to go after NGC 2775 in Cancer. I found the galaxy rather quickly by hopping from Zeta Hydra. In Leo Minor I found two more galaxies on my list, NGC 3277 and NGC 3344. NGC 3277 had eluded me this past summer and was not any less difficult this night--it required several averted vision attempts before I was able to make it out. It was really cold now and I had to melt the ice off both finders and the computer mouse with a 12-volt hair dryer. The heater vent from the trailer was useful in keeping the eyepiece and my fingers from freezing.
Around 10 p.m. I pointed the Dob due South to Pyxis to locate NGC 2613, an elusive galaxy, and a faint open cluster NGC 2627. Moonrise was approaching so I quickly moved to Puppis to bag as many clusters as I could before things got washed out. The Herschel objects in Puppis include 11 open clusters and two planetary nebula at magnitudes 11.3 and 11.5. The planetary NGC 2438 near M47 resides inside of NGC 2337 and amazingly was not hard to find. By midnight I had located another seven open clusters, but the moon was up, making guide stars hard to locate. It was time to pack it in and get some sleep. Even after the pole fiasco, it had been a good night.
Next morning we packed up and went to Sequim for breakfast and coffee at an Internet café. The weather was predicted to be even better, so back to the Spit we went to locate a legal campsite for the trailer and prepare for a second night of viewing. It turned out to be even clearer than the night before. I went after four galaxies in Sextans and then back to Puppis, where I finished up by finding some remaining open clusters and NGC 2440, a very faint and elusive planetary. Ground fog began moving in, and around midnight the moon began washing out the guide stars. Ice had formed over nearly everything, so I packed up the gear for the night, well satisfied, after logging 24 Herschel objects in two nights.
I would recommend the Spit as a viewing site. It is relatively close to Bainbridge, secure because the park gates are locked at night, flat with a southern horizon, and amazingly dark with only a slight light dome from Sequim. The disadvantages are few: a $14 overnight fee, sea-level viewing with potential fog
problems from the Strait, and no opportunity to leave your scope set up during the day. But all in all it’s an excellent deal, including great possibilities for daytime activities, including beach and mountain hiking and of course the Olympic Game Farm.
Which brings me to the lions roaring. I’m not making this up, while viewing; I heard a distinct roar. A lion’s roar from the Olympic Game Farm, home to a number of retired lion actors. We also heard coyotes howling, along with the sound of the waves crashing on the beach below. Good viewing, and a unique audio experience as well.