OR: Observing on the Modoc Plateau, 8/5 to 8/7/13
Steve Gottlieb

Last week (Aug 5-7), I joined Dennis Beckley, Ken Archuleta and Rick Linden for 3 nights at Likely Place Golf/RV resort (likelyplace.com). Likely is in the northeastern corner of the state, 17 miles south of Alturas on the Modoc Plateau at 4600 ft (about an hour east of the GSSP site). Dennis had made arrangements to stay at their 3-bedroom "Villa", with a fully equipped kitchen, comfortable living room, 1 1/2 baths and a covered deck looking out towards the Warner Mountains (highest peak nearly 10,000 ft). I knew about this location as it is the site of an annual star party hosted by StellarVue (http://stellarvue.com/Stellartrips/dssp2011/dssp2011.html ) and Tony Hallas had described had enthusiastically praised the site in an Astronomy magazine article (can be downloaded at likelyplace.com/attractions/#stargazing). Tony was also there imaging on Monday night and talked to us quite a bit about the site and local attractions.

On Wednesday afternoon, we drove up into the nearby hills and hiked around the South Warner Wildnerness area visiting Mill Creek Falls (http://tinyurl.com/kjfwpl4) and nearby Clear Lake. Another short drive to us to beautiful Blue Lake (http://tinyurl.com/mplw3xy). Besides stargazing, if you're into hiking, fishing and golf, this spot has it all.

Of the 3 nights we were there, Monday was the best as a weather system from the south moved in on Tuesday and we were completely clouded out (we did sit outside and admire the distant lightening). Wednesday also looked bleak, but the predictions were for the clouds to clear out in the evening and this time the forecast was right on schedule. We had another clear night (though with somewhat decreased transparency), with clouds not rolling in again until after 3:00AM. SQM readings were in the 21.55-21.7 range for me, though Rick had one in the high 21.7s. This is better than I've generally seen at the GSSP site (Adin). Seeing, though, started off poor and was somewhat soft all night, at least at the 375x I was using on galaxies, so although the skies were excellent (just inside a black light pollution region), some details were probably lost in the variable seeing.

As a treat, two "bright" supernovae were on display - a mag 13 type Ia supernova (SN 2013dy) in NGC 7250 and a mag 12.5 type II supernova (SN 2013ej) in M74. Although I've seen dozens of SN over the years, I don't recall having two relatively prominent ones visible at the same time. Here are some of the other highlights from both nights using my 24-inch f/3.7 Starstructure. Images are either from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) or www.wikisky.org (combined blue/red POSS)

Gyulbudaghian's Nebula
20 45 55.5 +67 57 45

After hearing that Gyulbudaghian's Nebula (GM 1-29) had brightened and was now visible again after several years of disappearance (since roughly 2006), it was high on my observing list for Likely Golf/RV Resort. It was immediately picked up at 200x as a faint, elongated glow, fanning somewhat (though not as much as I remember from '03) and extending NNE for ~25". There was slight brightening at the SSW tip, which contains the obscured Herbig Ae pre-main sequence star PV Cep, but as opposed to the earlier observation, PV Cep was not visible. A box or parallelogram asterism consisting of 4 mag 10-13 star is directly east, including a mag 10.5 star 2.4' ESE. This is an unusual H-H object, consisting of a variable reflection nebula or jet extending from the young, pre-main-sequence star PV Cephei. The nascent star is surrounded by a rotating circumstellar disk of material. At right angles to this disk are two jets of material, streaming away from the star at high speeds. One of these jets is visible (the other is obscured) on the north side as a stream of material intersects the surrounding gas in the interstellar medium. A 2012 paper provides evidence in support of a direct correlation between changes in the light output of the star and the brightness of the nebula.

Gyulbudaghian [G98] 171
21 03 56 +50 14 54
1.2' diameter
Fairly faint nebulous glow immediately picked up at 200x, extending southeast from 12th magnitude V1982 = LKHa 324. The glow is ~2:1 WNW-ESE and roughly 1.0'x0.5' in size. At the southeast end is a very faint "star" (LKHa 324SE), which generally appears stellar at 325x but sometimes appeared quasi-stellar. A mag 13.7 star is 1.7' E and a 15.5 star is 1.2' SE. The field to the west is mostly devoid of very faint stars (dark nebula), but includes mag 6.4 HD 200740 8' NW. LBN 408, a faint reflection nebula, surrounds a mag 11 star 8.6' WSW. See the paper "The Pre–Main-Sequence Population of L988" at iopscience.iop.org/1538-3881/131/3/1530/pdf/05011.web.pdf

KTG 71
20 44 10 +12 27 54
8' diameter
This trio of galaxies from the Karachentseva catalogue of "Isolated Triplets of Galaxies" forms an 8' equilateral triangle. NGC 6956 = KTG 7A, at the NW vertex, appeared moderately or fairly bright, elongated ~3:2 NW-SE, 60"x40". The view is somewhat hampered by a mag 11 star that is superimposed on the east edge and a mag 14.5 star is ~20" E of the bright star. Appears to be a barred spiral with a brighter bar oriented ~N-S extending down the middle of the glow. A brighter nucleus in the center of the bar is quasi-stellar (~5") and similar to the mag 14.5 star in brightness. A faint extension (spiral arm) curves east from the south end of the bar, extending south of the mag 11 star. Brightest in a trio (KTG 71) with UGC 11620 6.9' SE and UGC 11634 8.1' E. Located in a rich Milky Way star field 3.7' SSW of a mag 9.6 star. UGC 11620 = KTG 71B is the second brightest member and appeared faint/fairly faint, small, elongated 3:2 SSW-NNE, 21"x14". Two mag 13/14 stars are off the SE end and a mag 15.5 star is near the NNE end [22" from center]. Finally, UGC 11623 = KTG 71C, at the eastern vertex of the triangle, appeared fairly faint, fairly small, elongated 5:3 SW-NE, 36"x20", a small brighter core is embedded in a fairly smooth halo. A small trio of mag 13/14.5.15 stars is close preceding and a mag 10 star 5' S forms the vertex of an isosceles right triangle with UGC 11623 and 11620.

KTG 74
21 55 52 +05 51 30
7.2' diameter
At 375x, UGC 11851 appeared fairly faint, fairly small, slightly elongated SSW-NNE, 24"x18", very small brighter nucleus. Situated 1.1' N of a mag 10.5 star, which detracts a bit from viewing. Brighter of a very close pair with PGC 2801004, which is barely off the NE end, 33" from the center. PGC 2801004 = KTG 74C was very faint, very small, slightly elongated, 12"x10". Finally, CGCG 403-002 is 7' SW, detached from the pair. It appeared faint, fairly small, round, 20" diameter, low even surface brightness. The three galaxies lie at a distance of ~400 million light years.

KTS 71
23 14 20 -02 44 06
6.2' diameter
NGC 7532 = KTS 71B is the brightest and largest in a trio of NGC galaxies in a 6' string oriented SW to NE. At 375x it appeared moderately bright and large, elongated 5:2 NNW-SSE, well concentrated with a small bright round nucleus. A mag 10.7 star lies 2.3' S. Situated 6.8' SE of mag 7.1 HD 219200. NGC 7534 = KTS 71C lies 2' NE and was the faintest in the trio. It appeared fairly faint, small, elongated 5:3 SSW-NNE, 24"x15". A mag 14 star is off the south side. Finally, NGC 7530 = KTS 71A, 4' SW of NGC 7532, was fairly faint to moderately bright, fairly small, oval 3:2 NW-SE, 27"x18", moderate concentration with a small brighter core. The mag 10.7 star lies 2.7' ENE of this galaxy.

KTG 79
23 21 37 +27 05 42
3.3' diameter
This small triplet consists of three low surface brightness spirals with brightest member UGC 12546 = KTG 79B. At 280x and 375x it appeared very faint, fairly small, elongated 5:2 SSW-NNE, 30"x12", low even surface brightness. Forms a very close pair with UGC 12545 = KTG 79C 1.0' SSE. UGC 12545 appeared extremely faint, fairly small, elongated 2:1 E-W, ~24"x12". A mag 15.6 star is 40" W of center. UGC 12543 = KTG 79A lies ~2' NW of this pair and appeared extremely faint, small, very low surface brightness patch, ~15" diameter. A mag 15 star is 30" S.

AGC 2256
17 03 42 +78 43
NGC 6331 is the brightest member of this Abell cluster and first in a 6' string to the east containing a total of 6 galaxies. At 375x it appeared fairly faint, fairly small, oval 5:3 NW-SE, ~30"x18", broad concentration, brighter core. This is a very close double system (two nuclei on the SDSS) with a companion on the NW side. A mag 13 star lies 1.8' E and this star is attached on the SW side of CGCG 355-026. This small galaxy was faint, elongated 2:1 E-W, ~16"x8", low even surface brightness. PGC 84834, an extremely faint and small galaxy (Bmag = 17.4) lies 1.1' E on line with the mag 13 star. Also in the string is UGC 10726 2.7' ENE (faint to fairly faint, irregularly round, ~35" diameter, broad weak concentration), MCG +13-12-019 3.7' ENE (faint, fairly small, round, 18" diameter) and MCG +13-12-020 6' E (very faint, small, round, 18" diameter, low even surface brightness). In addition, PGC 59495 lies 2.4' SW (very faint, extremely small, round, 10" diameter). A total of 11 galaxies were observed in the core, at a distance of ~800 million years.

AGC 2666
23 50 54 +27 10
Although I had previously worked through this Abell cluster twice with my 17.5" and 18" scopes, it was covered by Ken Hewitt-White in the current issue of Sky & Tel, and I revisted the cluster again. NGC 7768, the dominant member, appeared moderately bright, fairly small, elongated 3:2 WSW-ENE, 0.9'x0.6', contains a bright core with a very small brighter nucleus. A mag 13.5 star is superimposed west of the core, just 13" from the center. A mag 11 star (GR Peg) lies 2.6' ENE. Surrounded by a number of faint galaxies including a N-S string of 4 galaxies to the north (with an additional 4 nearby). Another group of 3 or 4 galaxies (including NGC 7765, 7766, and 7767) are also arranged in a N-S string close west, so most of the cluster is in a 12' N-S chain. A total of 13 galaxies were logged.

NGC 6814
19 42 40.6 -10 19 23
This is the brightest of 11 NGC galaxies in Aquila. Fairly bright, fairly large, round, ~1.5' diameter. Well concentrated with a bright core that increases to a very bright nucleus. A mag 13 star lies 1' NW and two mag 14/14.4 star are a bit further northeast. Spiral structure is evident in the halo with an ill-defined segment of a curving arm on the east side and a counterpart on the west side. A very faint star (V = 15.6) is superimposed on the western arm.

00 44 34 +41 52 24
This large M31 stellar association was immediately picked up at 125x as a faint, fairly large patch with an ill-defined edge, though definitely elongated ~2.5'x1.5' SW-NE. The contrast was fairly low as A54 is embedded along the NE edge of M31 and glow from the galaxy merges to the east. With extended viewing at 200x the contrast varied - sometimes the glow was barely discerned and other times fairly obvious. Two mag 14/14.5 stars are just off the NW side and a mag 14 star is right along the eastern edge. There was a slight brightening noted near the SW end and at this position on the DSS are a couple of close mag 16 stars.

Cygnus A
19 59 29.3 +40 44 03
Cygnus A is a powerful radio source roughly 750 million light-years distant and containing a quasar in the core. This is the first discovered and closest powerful radio galaxy (brightest extragalactic radio-emitting source in sky). It contains two powerful radio lobes separated by some 400,000 light years. Wolfgang Steinicke has a nice write-up at http://www.klima-luft.de/steinicke/Artikel/cyga/cyga_e.htm and Bill Keel has information at http://www.astr.ua.edu/keel/agn/cygnusa.html. I've looked for this hidden giant previously with my 18" and was unsuccessful. This time with my 24", it was picked up at 375x as an extremely faint and small glow, round, ~8" diameter (viewed nucleus only). Visible over 50% of the time with concentration but too faint to hold steadily. This challenging radio galaxy is squeezed between a mag 12.5-13 star just 30" W and a mag 14.3 star 20" E within a rich Milky Way field.