Home
WASP

December 2002
Astro Chatter
Swap Shop
Halloween Star Party
Big Dob Shed
6th Grade Scope
VSNET News

Meeting Notes
Space Place
Treasurer report
Star Chart (75k)
Star Chart (250k)

Whats New?

THE HUNT FOR THE WITCH HEAD
By Bill Beers, W.A.S Treasurer 

      The first annual Halloween Star Party got off to a cloudy start.  The party was located at my cabin fifteen miles west of Cadillac, Michigan and the participants started to roll in on Halloween afternoon.  The weather forecast predicted snow all weekend, but I’ve learned over the years up there, the weather can change instantly and the only real way to get an accurate weather report is to walk outside and look up.  But I knew the odds were stacked against us.  Wednesday afternoon I received an e-mail from Dave Ciali explaining how he wouldn’t be able to attend the star party due to work issues.  The fact is, every star party Dave attends, we have clear skies, so I knew it would take some luck to get some cloudless nights, and even worse, we wouldn’t get to indulge in a batch of Mrs. Ciali’s homemade brownies.

      John Lines and Doug Bock were the first to arrive Thursday afternoon.  After discussing the cloud situation and trying to decide whether or not to set up the 22” Dobsonian telescope, we agreed to wait on the scope setup.  John proceeded to set up his campsite in the back room of my basement, and Doug sat down at the kitchen table, uncovered his laptop computer and commenced to play “blowup” games.  Cliff Jones and “Astro” Blaine McCullough showed up a little later, so we just hung out and talked astronomy, because the weather prediction had won out with snow flurries.

      Friday afternoon more people started to arrive:  Dennis Schmalzel with his traveling house with Joe VanPoucker riding shot gun, Vic Singh and his family, Jim Hubert, Jim Shedlowsky, Phil Sailor, and Bob Cuberly from Illinois.  I hope I didn’t forget anybody!  These are the diehards of the club.

      With the cloud cover still up on us, and everyone being depressed, I was able to phone home and get an Internet weather report.  When my girlfriend fired up her computer and got a satellite view that shows cloud tracking, she said, “You boys might be in luck.  It’s clear over Lake Michigan and west through Minnesota.”  Well that got everyone excited, so we started setting up our telescopes.  After Doug killed his final alien droid on the computer, he and I went outside and assembled the “Big Dob”.  Now it was just wait and see.  Everyone back inside.

      Joe VanPoucker, V.P. of Meridian Telescopes, (just kidding Steve) put together a very nice list of Halloween objects to observe, complete with sky charts, and enough copies for everyone.  We looked them over and decided that the Witch Head Nebula was the main object to find this weekend.  With it being Halloween, the Witch Head seemed very appropriate.  For those of you who have never seen pictures of the Witch Head, October Astronomy Magazine has a beautiful photo of it by Gary Stevens.  The nebula looks just like the profile of a witch’s head complete with the big nose, mouth and neck.  After doing some research a few months ago, I recalled that the Witch Head is very large, about three degrees, very faint, and extremely difficult to find, making it all the more of a challenge for us.  So, I passed around the astro photo of it in the magazine, and everyone agreed that this was one we wanted to see.  Doug and John, the computer gurus, were able to locate the Witch Head nebula on the “Sky” program on the laptops.  It is IC 2118, located in the constellation Eridanus, near the bright star of Rigel in Orion.  Armed with all kinds of information on where to look, we were ready for the hunt.  So, who would be the first to find the elusive Witch Head nebula??????

      8:00 p.m. and still cloudy.  The only thing to do is sit around, talk astronomy and listen to Doug play more “blow up games”.  Then Jim Shedlowsky walked inside with a guitar case, unbeknown to me, we have a few musicians in our club.  Jim proceeded to play some tunes and started singing.  Then most of us joined in.  Dennis Schmalzel grabbed the guitar and started playing his own collection of songs, one from his old “hippie” days, “Ina Godda Da Vida”.  Then Vic “Jimmy Page” Singh took over and played some Led Zeppelin.  It was very entertaining for the next couple of hours.  The music even drowned out the sound of the “blow up games”!

      People were in and out all night checking the sky for stars.  The “sucker holes” started to appear, so we all commenced outside to the yard.  We observed the best that we could through the holes.  It’s amazing what one shining star will do to a bunch of astronomers cooped up inside all night.  When midnight rolled around the clouds parted, it was an act of God.  Someone mentioned the reason for the clear sky was from Larry Kalinowski doing his Indian clear sky dance back home.  It would stay clear for the next three hours.  Even though the sky was not as dark as it normally is, probably due to a thin layer of transparent clouds, we still had plenty of stars.  The sound of slewing “go-to” scopes meant the observing night had begun!

 Some of the guys didn’t bother to set up their telescopes probably due to the lack of confidence in Larry K’s “sky” dance back home.  So the club’s 22” got a lot of attention that night.  But really, why would you want to look through anything smaller, when you have a 22” telescope to play with.  The Dumb Bell and Crab nebulas look remarkable in the big dob with the help of an O-III filter.  As usual, Andromeda filled the entire 32mm eyepiece.  After a little while, I was summoned to come help Astro Blaine collimate his 13” Dob.  This process took some time because anyone who knows

Blaine, knows that he is a perfectionist when it comes to aligning his scope mirrors, (I think he learned that from Steve).  And it shows because both of those guys get some very nice views through their scopes!

      I then wandered over to check out Cliff’s new 11” Celestron GPS.  Since I might be in the market for a bigger go-to scope, Cliff let me run it through the alignment process and play around with finding different objects.  Although I had set up my 8” go-to scope earlier in the day, I never got the chance to take the cover off because there were too many larger scopes to work with.

      The temperature outside was about 30 degrees with no wind.  You couldn’t tell it by looking at Blaine, because he was still in a tee shirt and sweat pants.  I was getting chilled, so I went down to the garage to make a pot of coffee.  After a short warm up and B.S. period in the garage, Astro Blaine finally decided to don a jacket and back to the observing field we went.  A quick look up at Orion showed that Rigel was high enough in the sky to try to find our prized Witch Head nebula.  Joe had finally finished “hogging” the 22”, so I went over to it to look for the giant nebula.  Knowing that the Witch Head is very large, I screwed the O-III filter into the 55mm eyepiece and stuck it in to the big Dob.  Using the charts that Joe provided, I moved the scope to where I thought she should be.  After some up–down, back-up, movements, nothing was in site except a lot of stars.  Another look at the chart revealed I was slightly off location.  More up–down, up-down, back-up movements.  Then suddenly, what was this?   Could this be it?  I could see a faint smudge-like object.  This could be the big one, the prize jewel of the Halloween star party, the elusive Witch Head nebula?  Find out in next months newsletter.  To be continued………………….

  

                            

 

              The Witch Head Nebula, IC 2118 by Gary Stevens

WASP
WASP
The Warren Astronomical Society Paper
WAS
Volume 34, Number 12 December 2002