Like Paul D, I did not have an observing plan, since I anticipated long lines of folks wanting to see the Veil nebula all night. However, I took along a finder chart for Uranus and Neptune, just in case, as well as a quickly torn-out page from the latest Astronomy mag with a new (for me) planetary nebula, and a finder chart for comet 4P Faye (sorry, Mark, it wasn't comet Swan). After a cloudy and disappointing summer unsuccesfully chasing comet 177P Barnard, I really wanted to nail Faye.
Arriving just before 5pm, the field was already beginning to fill with scopes, so I set up next to my car and was surprised to have one visitor already on the field who came over to talk about my telescope. I thought that would augur for a good evening of guests, if they were already showing up before dark. Jim and James, and Bill L showed up shortly afterwards, followed by Paul D, and we all prepared for an evening of public viewing. Except the public hardly showed up at all. There was a trickle of 'public' most of the evening, but no lines despite steadily improving skies. The few people who showed up began to ask for certain targets, so most of us began swinging our scopes left, right and straight up from one target to the next, rather than stay on our intended targets.
A nasty cloud deck rolled in rapidly at around 8 pm, but the west edge of it was visible before the front edge reached the eastern horizon, and it seemed to usher out the last of the moisture, because the sky just kept getting clearer and clearer after that. During the rest of the evening, neither my telescope nor my Telrad got the least bit damp despite steadily falling temperatures that bottomed out at 38 degrees just after midnight.
As the requests rolled in, I variously viewed M31, with M32 and NGC 205 visible in the same FOV, M13, the Double Cluster, M45, M57, M33, M27, M11, M39, and my original target, the Veil nebula. I was really surprised that both the Witch's Broom and Waterfall segments of the Veil were very visible to all who observed them, including fairly young children and many adults. I feel that it helps in these situations to have a 'visual aid' in the form of a large-size schematic of the intended target, so that the uninitiated observer knows what the target looks like before they step to the eyepiece. In this way, I have had good luck showing targets as faint as M81/M82 to quite young children. For most of the nebular targets, I used an O-III filter, with a UHC filter for M27 (I feel that the O-III filter makes the Dumbbell so bright that it looks fake). I also used the O-III filter to good effect on the Merope Nebula in M45.
During a lull in the already slow action, I decided to find NGC 6781 in Aquila, the feature nebula of the Deep Sky segment of the latest Astronomy Magazine. Heeding the advice to search for this planetary with an O-III filter, I managed to find it within a few minutes of searching. Paul D also looked for it, but did not manage to find it without a filter. As soon as he put on an O-III filter, he found it immediately. We both agreed that this was an interesting planetary, with potential for dark sky observing.
By this time (perhaps 10pm) the Double Cluster and the Andromeda galaxy were both naked-eye visible, which is remarkable for the club site, and a faint but noticeable Milky Way was running from 45 degrees above the west horizon right through Cygnus to near Casseopeia. That is a remarkable event for this close to Providence. At this time, I had a few more requests, for M1 (inexplicably very dim even with filters - too low, I think on the bright eastern horizon), M33 (nearly invisible) and M74, similarly poor. My feeling is that there was a lot of upper-level turbulence that was giving poor seeing on dim objects. However, NGC 205, near M31, was easily visible to trained eyes in the same FOV as M31/32, and even to untrained eyes when centered in the FOV. Illogical, to quote my favorite Starfleet science officer.
Since the only remaining folks on the field were a few true astronomers and some diehard guests and members of ASSNE who had been cooped up in the clubhouse until just now, Paul D and I decided to commence the search for comet 4P Faye. My finder chart seemed clear enough, with several distinct asterisms to guide us, but the comet remained elusive. I had forgotten over the winter just how dim Pisces can be, so I found that I had chosen two guide stars incorrectly, and at Paul's suggestion moved to the two real Pisces stars that should have placed me within one Telrad field of the comet. Using nearby M74 as a measure of the seeing, I was ready to throw in the towel, blaming upper-level disturbances for my failure. Then Brian came over and said that he had seen the comet at his telescope, so that caused me to reconsider and seek out a new strategy. I had just started an 'expanding square' search when Paul called out that he had the comet in his eyepiece. Sure enough, when I glanced in the eyepiece the comet was very obvious even before I made my usual large focus correction. A comet just looks like a comet, and there is hardly any doubt when it actually has a tail and a halo around the coma, as this one does. Still having trouble with the dim Pisces stars, I finally located the comet about 15 minutes later. I was a bit shocked when I realized we had been searching for something like 90 minutes for this beast. But considering that it was about 4.5 to 5 degrees off of the predicted location, and mag 10.4, I'm surprised we found it at all. It is a tiny comet with a very ephemeral single tail, but it is bright and obvious once it is found. We both studied it for a while with no visible movement (it was centered between two stars which would have made movement quite visible).
Flush with victory, we decided we had had enough excitement for the night, and we retired to Dunkin Donuts to tank up and unwind.
I have some thoughts for future Rehoboth Skies, but that will be for another night.
15" f5 Starsplitter Dob/80mm Finder
6" f8 Celestron C6R w/Hypertuned CGEM
4" f13 Gibson Homebuilt Refractor
22x100 Antares Binos/'Pete's Pipes' mount
"He numbers all the stars, and calls each one by name." Ps 147:4