Monday, November 27, 2006

Arkansas Skies

This Thanksgiving we went up to my father-in-law's farm in NE Arkansas, around Fayatteville. It's quite a drive from home, about 9 hrs total. Add in toilet stops, lunch/dinner, the occassional photo stop and the usual mess on the major interstate highway, and it becomes a significantly longer ordeal. Still, it was nice to my wife's dad and the kids had a blast on his farm (a goat farm where he breeds Kiko goats (a breed from New Zealand)). It was very relaxing and we even got to go into Missouri for a visit to the "Silver Dollar City" theme park.

Anyway, I took my 6" Dobsonian and used it on the first night we were there. The moon set very early and the farm's location in a small, sparsely populated valley made for some very nice dark skies. I would say that the skies at the farm were slightly darker than at the local observatory site I went to last month. I could easily make out some clusters and other objects with the naked eye. The Milky way, oddly, wasn't all that prominent.

I trained the scope on a few different objects that I like, M36, M37, M38, M31 and the Double Cluster. I got some very nice contrasty views of these objects through the reflector. The Orion Nebula looked absolutely fantastic, as i saw some brilliant detail in the nebula cloud formations which were of various shades of grey. Saturn came up pretty quickly, and I got a good view of it around 1:00am. I picked out maybe 3 moons besides Titan, and could make out Cassini's Division relatively easily. For the next hour or so I just scanned the heavens, looking for some nice objects just by chance. I wasn't in the mood for a serious observing session due to the long drive I had just completed.

During the other nights that we were there, a strong wind persisted in the valley and it was difficult to steady the scope. So, I only managed to get one night's viewing for our whole visit. I was content with my viewing session that first night and was glad to have taken the scope with me. To get at least one good viewing session a month is fine enough for me, and this was it.

One other thing - I did not have to touch the collimation at all once I got the scope to Arkansas. A star test revealed the optics were in great alignment, and the images through it were tack sharp. After a 500 mile trip, I think that's pretty good! So kudos to Orion and their nimble XT6 Dobsonian!

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