University Lowbrow Astronomers

Freezing for Faint Fuzzies

fy Fark Fefrest (by Mark Deprest, sorry - Ed)
Printed in Reflections:  March, 1999.

Well, another month has come and gone in this final year of the 20th Century, and if you didn’t get out to “grab some photons” maybe this will warm your heart.

The Lowbrows kept themselves quite busy through the month of February.  Hosting a wonderful speaker in The University of Michigan’s Assistant Professor of Astronomy, Pat Seitzer at our last meeting on February 19th.  Thank you, Pat, for a very interesting and enjoyable presentation on The University of Michigan’s “Lost Observatory.”

The Lowbrows also took part in the “Family Enrichment Night,” sponsored by Chelsea Public Schools on February 18th.  Special thanks to Reid Travis for his computer set up which was a nice addition to our Lowbrow Info kiosk.  We were one of 65 display and info booths, at this event and we passed out a lot of cards and leaflets.

We also managed to have two very nice, but extremely cold Public Open Houses, at Peach Mountain Observatory.  On February 13th, the evening started at 5:30 pm, when Dave Snyder and I met Lorna Simons and Charlie Nielsen at the gate.  The sky was clear, the wind was calm, and the temperature was cold! Venus was low in the west-southwest and by the time the first few visitors showed up it was below the tree line.  Jupiter was still high enough above the tree line that we were able to observe it until about 8:00 pm.  Saturn, always a crowd pleaser, was well up in the night sky and most of the first timers jokingly accused us of pasting some sort of decal on the end of our scopes.

The real fun came when I began to show a young boy some of my “favorite frozen faint fuzzies” of the winter sky.  With Charlie and Dave operating the 24” and Reid Travis with his 10” f/10 LX200, the worlds noisiest scope, (just kidding, Reid) keeping the small but enthusiastic crowd occupied.  I sat down with my 8” f/6 dob and started picking off some of winter’s best.  I would find one of these gems and then let this 10-year take a look.  As soon as he got the hang of the dob, I’d ask him to describe what he saw, to my great pleasure he was amazingly articulate and refreshingly accurate, with his descriptions.  When he looked at the Great Orion Nebula, he said it looked like “a bluish fan shaped cloud with 4 bright stars in the center that make kind of a squished square.”  He also said there was another “very faint up-side down coma shaped cloud just a little ways away from the fan.”  I doubt Messier himself could have described M41 and M42 any better.  I decided to see how he would describe M31, M32 and M110.  I swung the scope around to the west and caught this group of galaxies before they disappeared below the trees.  I told him that I was going to show him three galaxies in the same field of view.  I told him that they would look like fuzzy patches with bright centers, and I left it at that.  He took a look in the scope and he told me, he could only see two fuzzy things with bright centers.  I asked him to tell me where they were in the field of view.  He told me that there was a big one that ran up and down through the view.  I suggested 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock.  He agreed and continued by telling me the other one that he saw was “very small and roundish, but real bright and at about 2 o’clock.”  Then he saw it, the third galaxy, M110, he said he didn’t see it at first but while he was looking at the little bright one he noticed it.  He said it was “very, very faint and kinda spread out over at about 9 o’clock.”  I told him what he just did, was to use averted vision to see the “Faint Fuzzies,” a technique some of the well-seasoned observers use, he liked that.

His dad was getting cold and he was just getting warmed up, but dad had the car.  I decided to show him one of my favorite open clusters, NGC 2362 in Canis Major.  His view of this one went like this.  “There is a bright star in the center of a triangle shape of little stars and kinda brightish stars out at the points of the triangle.”  Now for those of you, who have not actually seen this cluster in a telescope, it was featured in the February issue of Astronomy magazine on page 73, along with a picture that really doesn’t do it justice.

Okay, there was time for one more test of this 10 year old’s descriptive power.  I nudged the telescope a little over a degree and a half-north and centered the double star Hershel 3945, an Alberio look alike.  Once again I relinquish control of the dob to my young pal and asked him to give me as complete a description as he could.  Here is his quote, “I see two stars about the same brightness the top star looks reddish-orange with a little bit of yellow in it, and the bottom one is bluish-purple with maybe a little green.”  I was floored; he saw more colors in these two stars than anyone has a right to.  Some how I wrestled my dob away from him and he and his frozen pop went home in the comfort of a too slow to heat up car, but I’ll bet the 10 year old didn’t notice.  I’ll bet his thoughts and his conversation were of the “Frozen Faint Fuzzies of February” and how much fun he had telling the “hot shot astronomer” what they looked like.  Well, after he left I noticed that Chris Sarnecki had shown up and had the “Cave” set up, we had a steady flow of guests throughout the evening and an incredibly clear sky.  With Lorna making sure the guests’ were greeted and properly parked, Charlie and Dave working the 24”, Reid and 10” LX200, Chris and the “Cave” all of our guests were happy they braved the weather.  Thank you all for making the first of two open houses in February a wonderful success.


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