11:30 p.m. 13 February 2002 PST (2002–02–14–0730 UT)
I hadn't taken Opus out for a few weeks, aside from a brief foray into solar observing. On that day, which I didn't record unfortunately, there was a quite substantial cluster of sunspots in the leading southern half of the solar disc. Quite impressive, and in fact the Sun as a whole was very spotty that day. If I had had more time then, I would have sketched it, but it was more than I could handle in a half an hour.
But the little 5-inch SCT really hungers for the night sky, even an imperfect one as we had last night. It had been cottage cheesy in the sky all day, but it had cleared up sufficiently by late evening for me to take the scope out and let it cool down for a while. The stars were relatively steady and the air was calm—usually good signs for seeing.
Those good signs didn't carry the night last night, however. My first target, Jupiter, was an exercise in frustration. No matter how I moved the scope around, I couldn't get it so that Jupiter wasn't over some heat-emitting house or another. The seeing inherent in the area was obviously quite good—there were flashes of very good seeing, now and then—but the heat currents played havoc with the image.
Still, I was able to make out quite a bit. The two polar regions had greater contrast than I can remember in quite some time—probably since I first got Opus in 1998. Quite dark, relatively speaking, and even with the uncertain image stability, I could make out some incipient detail, but nothing I could hold onto. Both the NEB and the NTB were clearly visible; the NEB was distinctly orange, while the NTB was much less orange than I had remembered it in past years. Like the SEB, it was more of a grey with a brown tint. The NTB was also thicker than previously. I remembered it as perhaps one-third the thickness of the NEB; last night, it seemed about half as thick. The Equatorial Band was incomplete, it seemed to me; it was clearer in the trailing or following half of the disc.
I couldn't make out any sizable festoons; all the equatorial blemishes on the NEB were small, with no trails to the EB. The GRS was too far off to the leading edge to see. BA, which would be hard to see for Opus even on the best of nights, was plainly invisible.
Ganymede and Io were on the western or leading side of Jupiter, and as I mentioned elsewhere on SAA, Ganymede and Callisto, on the far eastern side, were quite noticeably larger in size than the stars (I mean the convolution of the Airy disc with the actual disc), and Io detectibly so. Europa was transiting the disc, and although I think I might have caught it once or twice, I can't be sure.
I took a quick peek at gamma Leonis (Algieba). How could I ever have thought these two were even similar in brightness? And yet I did, even though they're clearly at least a magnitude apart in brightness. (Tirion and Ridpath say 1.3.) Very similar in color, though; I hold to that assessment.
Since I was in the area, I decided to give M65/M66 a try, even though there was considerable humidity to the southeast and the whole area was awash in glow from Los Angeles. I would estimate the limiting magnitude in the area as about 4.0; much worse than the 4.6 or so at zenith. theta Leonis (magnitude 3.3) was easily seen, but not iota Leonis (magnitude 4.0). I could only see that about 20 percent of the time. M65 and M66 are just about halfway in between, and I had a devil of a time seeing either. M66 I could just barely make out; M65, despite my waiting around for a while, never showed up. NGC 3628, needless to say, was right out. And even M66 was just a ghost of its usual self; only the very center was visible as a small, barely elongated glow.
And even my last target, M53, which I usually count on as an easy city DSO, was unimpressive. Usually, I can make out some asymmetry in this globular, but it was not obviously anything but a faint throb close to alpha Comae Berenices.
Copyright (c) 2002 Brian Tung