Messier Marathon 2003 at King's Canyon Site
We had a great time at the Messier Marathon! This star party once again proved my theory on star party events... No matter how bad the valley weather is during the day, you can never tell how great it's going to be for observing that night.
An hour before sunset, Terry, Debora and I were the only people out at the new King's Canyon site, and the wind was blowing so bad that Terry's Easy-up was fluttering like a flag in a hurricane. Then as people started showing up, the wind started to die down, and within 30 minutes of sunset, it was dead calm for the rest of the evening.
Because of the wind, I didn't get out my big scope and had instead decided to just use my 11X80 binoculars to try for the Binocular Messier Certificate. I am amazed to say that I got 32 of the required 50, including 8 spiral galaxies! The highlight was seeing M65 an M66 side by side, one obviously at a 90 degree edge-on angle to the other one. I hadn't really realized that you could see that much through binoculars - I'm getting spoiled and snobby by aperture I guess. Another highlight was M50 above Sirius in Monoceros, a really big open cluster. For the first time I realized why Charles Messier thought that these objects looked somewhat "Comet-like". Through aperture this small the objects do look like fuzzy spots, but if you've observed them before, they take on a whole lot more detail to your eye. Maybe his telescopes didn't focus extremely well.
Although I never did get out the 18", I got some great views through Holland's 11", Matt's 16", Corine Cudney had the club's 10.1" Odyssey out there and Terry had the dream setup with the Astrovid video camera on his Televue Pronto that was riding piggy-back on his C-8. Terry had the whole rig connected up to a home computer, monitor, inverter and a huge battery only King Kong's big brother could lift.
The sky was a 6, transparency was a 6, later degrading to a 5. The temperature dropped as the evening went on to the low 30's. The site was moderately dark, slightly better than Saddleback Butte in my opinion, with light domes visible from Lancaster (10 degrees) in the east, Santa Clarita (15 degrees) in the south, Gorman (5 degrees) in the west and Bakersfield (10 degrees) from the Northwest. It was the cold (and some clouds from all directions) that finally ended the evening at about 1:30-2:00 am.
See you at the next event! Finding Messier Objects are a great way to learn the sky!