LCAS Observer Challenge at Gran Quivira

Greg Lutes

The two-day drive to Gran Quivira is enjoyable. While you are anticipating the clear dark skies that are awaiting you, all the stress from work (if you are still working) seems to diminish with each mile as you get closer to GQ.

There are some traditions that have taken root over the years. The first day we leave at sunrise (6:00 am) and travel to Oklahoma City, OK (arrive about 8:00 pm). If we caravan together, we stop in Tulsa for supper at the Cracker Barrel restaurant and then proceed to the hotel in OK City which is about another 90 minutes down the road. The second day you are really pumped. We normally cross the New Mexico border by noon and then stop in Tucumcari for lunch at the "Lotta Burger" restaurant. We arrive in Gran Quivira by 4:00 pm.

The house that we rent (when available) is a little over 1000 sq feet with 3 bedrooms and one bath. Somehow with 8 or so people it works out. We bring our own sleeping equipment (air mattresses - cots). Within 10 minutes of our groups arrival the house has astronomy stuff everywhere. It is amazing how fast we "take over". I liken it to the "Inflation Period " during the Big Bang, astronomy stuff materializes everywhere spontaneously!

Observing Notes: I made an observing list prior to our departure date. Making your observing list really gets you mentally pumped up for the trip. Besides finding new NGC objects, I wanted to take time and study a selected list of "interesting" objects. First I wanted to see how well I could see the Horsehead nebula. The view through my scope was with a 19 mm panoptic ocular and H beta filter was fantastic! I could actually see a good portion of its horse head shape. Lesa A. and Kevin B. respectively let me use their ocular and filter to attain this great view.

I was also hoping to observe the two interacting galaxies NGC 4038 & 4039, known as the Antenna galaxy because of its shape. The galaxies are fairly easy to discern but I was hoping to be able to see the Antenna structure too. Two nights of good/steady/transparent seeing allowed me to see this. I was thrilled. Page 4 of the April S&T issue has good picture of these colliding galaxies.

A third interesting object was NGC 2217 a galaxy that has a star ring around the galaxy. I could only see three bright (actually dim) knots of the ring but was pleased. I think I needed Martin Willes 25" telescope to see this object completely but I felt good to see as much as I did with my 18" scope.

Also, I wanted to revisit a galaxy I had viewed in May of 2000. It is NGC 3621. It is a galaxy embedded in a group of 4 stars. The star's pattern is shaped like the "Southern Cross" with the galaxy in the middle of it. Because of its overall shape, I thought it could be called "Christ's Galaxy".

After viewing many "faint fuzzies", I also observed several of the brighter Messier objects, M51, the Orion Nebula, M13, and M46, and just enjoyed the view!

This year the viewing was excellent, we got to observe every night. I was very tired when I returned home, but that's good. We had a great group of people, wonderful night skies, and a lot of fun. I can't wait to go again!

Published in the June 2008 issue of the NightTimes