Folks living in places like Arizona are fortunate in that we often have clear views of the eastern horizon after sunset and can appreciate the beautiful colors of the "Belt of Venus." The distant horizon and clear dry air in Portal combine to show beautiful colors as night approaches. The blue color just above the distant hills is the shadow of the Earth being cast on our atmosphere and slowly ascending as the Sun continues to descend below the horizon. As we say, often seen, rarely noticed!
At left is an image of the Milky Way running nearly vertical into the foothills of the Chiricauhua Mountains. This was taken at ISO 6400. It is somewhat noisy, yet that is currently my trade off for obtaining the most color in the Milky Way. Another reason why I need to get back to learning how to use Photoshop.
Below is an image of the Milky Way with a different composition, and I am not sure which I like better...And if you are a faithful reader that is not much into astronomy, I should point out that the reason that Milky Way is so bright in the south, is that we are looking toward the center of our galaxy in this area of the sky.
The image below was taken from a bit further back of the Ranch in order to capture some of gear. It was also a 25 second exposure, but with an ISO of 3200.
This next picture is a bit higher up in the sky and shows the Milky Way as it runs through Cygnus and the asterism known as the "Summer Triangle"
Despite all these pictures, I spent quite a bit of time looking through the telescopes that we had assembled within the circled wagons on the ranch: a 20 inch Dobsonian, two 12 inch Meade SCT's, an 8 inch Celestron orange tube SCT, a TEC 140mm refractor, and a Zeiss 62mm refractor. Truly, it was an embarrassment of astronomical riches. And while we all enjoyed the various views, Mike was in and out of the "command center" where he was checking in on the data streaming in from his remote imaging set up. Soon, I expect he will post a very impressive image of M 33, the Triangulum Galaxy, on his blog.
While he was imaging M 33, we observed it in nearly all of the telescopes on the field, save the 8 inch. In my own 12 inch SCT I was blown away by details I had previously not seen in this low surface brightness galaxy. Instead of the usual broad "S" shaped galaxy with two arms and a handful of bright knots, I was able to observe two additional spurs (arms) of the galaxy and more bright HII regions than I had ever seen. Realizing how transparent the night was I pointed the scope at M 31, the Great Andromeda Galaxy and was again stunned by the detail. Two dust lanes were easy and the edges of the lanes hinted at a mottled structure. As I panned around, I was awestruck my M110, a satellite galaxy that is undergoing a merger with Andromeda. As I pushed the magnification up to about 235X there was clearly mottling to this galaxy, and the bright nucleus was offset from center. As I continued to observe I realized that the reason the core seemed offset was that I was detecting an elongation of the galaxy back toward Andromeda. This "light bridge" was confirmed by both Bill and Jerry.
website of Steve Gottleib and using the chart at right I was able to observe many of the various labelled components. I started at the "Witch's Broom" NGC 6960 and was able to easily identify the knot labelled 'D'. I then moved back up to Pickering's Triangle also known as Simeis 3-188 and enjoyed the ethereal structure of this region while training my eye to pick out the fainter regions. I then panned south and was able to detect the brighter portion of the "Thin Thread" as well as the knots labelled 'J' and 'I'. I then relocated to the eastern portion of the Veil, NGC 6992 and 6995. This is my favorite section of the nebula and my most traveled. I made a point to observe IC 1340 and then located the star that would serve as a marker for knot 'A' which is Simeis 3-210. This proved to be a little tougher than I expected given the glare from the star, but after careful observation I was able to positively identify the thin wisp of nebulosity. Again, both Jerry and Bill were able to confirm this observation.
As the night wore on, we observed many targets from the popular Messiers, and double stars to interesting Arp galaxies, and of course Jupiter. One of the highlights for me was Chris locating Comet 2012 J1 (Catalina) in the 20 inch despite it being close to the "Dob Hole" near the zenith. This comet is cruising through Pegasus not far from Hergenrother and is approximately magnitude 14.5. I had attempted this unsuccessfully in the 12 inch SCT. I spent a few minutes revisiting some planetary nebula that I had observed from Portal two years ago with my buddy Christian (now back in Eurpoe), NGC 246 in Cetus, and IC 5148 in Grus See this post for sketches of these objects.
Finally, a picture that was hard to take and that I had to mess with in photoshop to try and bring out the subject. It is an attempt to image the Gegenschien, which is actually sunlight, back-scattered by interplanetary dust. This soft glow forms opposite the Sun within the zodiacal light band and is only subtly brighter than the sky. This is a phenomenon only visible under the darkest of skies.
All in all it was another great trip that ended all too quickly. As great as the skies and observing are, it is the great friends and the unparalleled hospitality of the proprietor of Rancho de Farrar that make the trip.