A Messier Moment at Staunton River State Park

NOVAC Messier Marathon Challenge, by Dan Ward

….A wonderful 3-D view hit my eye with swirling streams of sparkling stars and dust lanes.  Even the tether to the companion offered a great view.  This was truly the most spectacular live galaxy view I have experienced in 55 years of observing… [Read More}

On Friday evening, April 1, 2022 at the Staunton River State Park Starparty (SRSP), the night began with a public observing event from 7:30 – 9:30pm.  I made a quick observation of Andromeda Galaxy M31 with Fujinon 16×70 binoculars as deep twilight began during the public event.  Close to the horizon, the view was mediocre and there was no trace of M110, so I do not include it in my count.

My more serious observations began as the public even ended.  The Pleiades M45 offered a good target in the Fujinon 16×70 binoculars and also in my Televue 102 telescope.  I used a 35mm Panoptic (25X) and a 22mm Panoptic eyepiece (40X).   What is there not to love about seeing diamonds imposed on a velvet background?  Nebulosity was slightly suggested in the telescope view.

Open cluster M41 in Canis Major is a favorite object,  The “little beehive” was a nice fuzzy ball in the binos, but the scope gave me the best view I’ve ever had of this object.  Resolving a loose ball of stars, the color of the red giant near dead center of the cluster really popped.  It was an “aah” eliciting view.  I returned to it several times during the evening to share that gorgeous view with others.

A neighboring observer asked whether the Leo Triple could be seen in these binos, so I moved the parallelogram to an uncomfortable overhead position   Skies were also temporarily a little less transparent, but galaxies M65 and M66 were easy, while galaxy NGC 3628 was viewed with averted vision.  In the scope, all three objects were easily viewed, centered in the field of the 22 Panoptic.

SRSP skies are not quite as good as Spruce Knob, but this IDA designated Dark Sky Park is much better than C.M. Crockett Park.  The Orion nebula, M42 was easily visible naked eye, nicely detailed in the binoculars, and just plain beautiful in the scope.  The trapezium stars were sharply distinct, while just to the north, M43 was a fat apostrophe shaped fuzzy star.

I shifted up and over to the Beehive open cluster, M44.  Having enjoyed it recently in 6×26 kids binos, it was a little disappointing at these higher powers.  A nice view, but it suffered in comparison with the earlier more compact open clusters – a little too spread out to fully appreciate in either the binos or the telescope.

Shifting further north, I visited M81 – Bode’s Galaxy and M82 – the Cigar Galaxy.  Bode popped easily in the binos, while the Cigar was slightly less visible.  I skipped the telescope view altogether, as I began hearing someone oohing and aahing about the view through a nearby super big light bucket.

This was the first time I’ve seen a Spica Eyes telescope with a SlipStream drive.  This massive instrument had a 30” f/2.76 Lockwood optics mirror.  This superbly crafted instrument was pointed at the Whirlpool Galaxy, M51.  As I climbed the ladder, I noticed a 17mm Ethos eyepiece.  Here was a chance to check out that legendary 100-degree field of view premium eyepiece.

A wonderful 3-D view hit my eye with swirling streams of sparkling stars and dust lanes.  Even the tether to the companion offered a great view.  This was truly the most spectacular live galaxy view I have experienced in 55 years of observing.  My somewhat tired brain sought the right words, but could only come up with “HOLY CRAP!”

After absorbing more than my fair share of photons, I spent the next ten minutes dragging a few other friends over to make sure they saw “something you are not going to believe.”  Finally trudging back to my more modest set up, I reluctantly shifted my scope to M51. Any other evening, I would have called the 4″ vision a really nice view, but the wow of the 30″ lingered.  High clouds were killing transparency at this point, so it seemed a good point to wrap up my night.

–Dan Ward, NOVAC

 

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