Well, the second installment was delayed a bit by connection problems. Charter finally got us hooked back up again, so here (as promised) is my second night's report.
The morning dawned clear, but by late morning was clouding up pretty significantly. The guest speakers for the day were quite entertaining and took our minds off the potential weather for a while, as did the Astronomy Bowl competition (with prizes), though if you are ever asked what Einstein's General Theorem deals with, the answer is "Gravity" AND "Acceleration"
As the afternoon wore on, our hopes lifted with the clouds. More and more clear sky, blue all the way down to the horizon. EVERYONE began the set-up process after dinner. Scopes, computers, star charts, and binos started coming out of the tents and trailers. So in the waning daylight I too began the set-up process (including double-checking the dew heater connection).
The moon which had been visible long before, was soon joined by Venus and the Summer Triangle as the sun's light faded. It was every astronomers dream, clear, cool, and DARK. Even the light dome from Springfield appeared to have dimmed (very low humidity). It was going to be a GREAT night for observing.
I pulled out my observing list and cranked through about 10 objects (ones I had observed from my backyard) before I even began to realize how much different they looked under pristine skies. For those interested, I was using the Saguaro Astronomy Club's "Messier Plus Marathon List" that they developed as a Fall event similar to the standard Spring Messier Marathon.
M13 looked like a diamond encrusted golfball. Even at low power, I could begin to pick out many of the bright blue-white gems from bright glow of the core.
M22, though dimmed a bit by the adjacent moon, still showed a lot of definition. Sagittarius would prove very difficult due to the moon that night, and a quick trip by the Lagoon Nebula (M8) did not reveal any nebulosity.
Slewing back around toward the overhead sky, M57 came out very clear, and a number of us compared views between each others scopes. The most definition was visible through one the the SLAS 6" Achromats. Very nice view even at high power, extremely sharp.
Other planetary nebula were like wise quite visible. The "Blinking" Planetary (NGC 6826) was a clear cold blue, and didn't seem to blink even once in any of the scopes on the field. The Saturn Nebula (NGC 7009) did indeed seem to have "dimples" reminiscent of a ring
Well, this focus on nebulas got some of the others going, and one of the group announced that he had the Veil Nebula (NGC 6960) centered in his 10" Dobsonian. Even without a filter streamers were visible on both sides of 52 Cygni. Adding in an LPR filter, and wisps were visible within the streamers. Well, this got me wondering if I could replicate ANY of this detail in the N8i. So slewing around to 52 Cygni, I went in search of the veil. I didn't have to search hard though, because the veil was right there streaming out one side of 52 Cygni. I thought I could detect some nebulosity on the opposite side but wasn't sure. Borrowing the LPR filter, I checked again, and nebulosity was most definitely visible on BOTH sides of 52 Cygni. I was thrilled.
One note here, at this time we compared the performance of a standard Orion LPR, an Orion SkyGlow, and an Orion O3 filter on the N8i versus a 10" Dob. The Orion SkyGlow made little to no difference under dark skies (though it helps in suburban backyard conditions). The Orion LPR helped bring out the contrast very nicely without darkening the field overly much in the N8i. The O3 filter made the whole view too dark through the N8i, but really made a huge difference in the 10" Dob. So if you have a big scope, an O3 is a great idea, but in a midrange scope, you might be better off with just an LPR filter.
Well, proud of my results so far, I swung over to the other section of the Veil (NGC 6992). A much more diffuse section, this was dimly visible WITHOUT any filters on the N8i, and with the LPR filter, some filamentary detail could be observed. On the other hand, the 10" could bring out complete whorls in the nebula which my humble N8i couldn't duplicate.
One more nebula made my "Never seen it before now" list with the N8i. I don't know how many times I have been frustrated by M1. It the first object on Charles Messier's list, so why have I never seen it. Well, at least now I know the answer to that question. As I swung the N8i around to Taurus, I was feeling bouyed by my success with the Veil. I was using the 38mm Erfle for the widest field possible. As I've long ago learned to refer to the N8i's GOTO capabilities as "Go-near", I prepared for another fruitless night of scanning for this elusive nebula. When The N8i finished slewing, I grabbed the controller and peered through the EP. Nothing was immediately apparent, but a slight slew (less than 1/2 a FOV) to the left, and I began to detect a faint patch of light. I quickly asked to borrow the LPR again, and dropped in a 32mm Plossl. Sure enough, I'd finally found the Crab. And frankly, I'm not really impressed. This nebula appears as little more than an unspectacular dim blob. For those that have still not located this elusive nebula, a filter definitely helps, so does a wide field, and a lot of apeture. Its definitely there, but don't expect to be impressed.
Well, the night continued spectacularly. I'm sure many folks stayed up until near dawn, but around 0130, my feet were damp and cold (tennis shoes and two pair of soaked socks). I had worked through about 2/3rds of the Messier Plus list with a few omissions (and a couple big omissions in Sagittarius and Ophiucius, thanks to the Moon), and had logged a total of 45 objects through the N8i, so I decided to pack it in for the night. My one regret was that I never did go back to Orion, and as I zipped close the door to the tent I took one last look at the Hunter as he rose over the eastern horizon ready to begin his hunt, just as I was ending mine. I could only make him this promise that I would return next year to this same location, and that he and I would meet many more times in the future.