Jenny Jump Observing Session, Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Reports by Bart Fried, Katherine Troche
AAA members Kat Troche and Jordy Perez joined me for this trip. See Jenny Jump Overhead Map inset. We arrived at Jenny Jump Observatory campus at about 8:15pm only to find that the access drive was gated and locked! HUH??? Apparently no one in any of the UACNJ clubs had the same idea as us. We checked at the entrance to the park and it was open for business, though they are not renting cabins at the moment. So…what to do, what to do? We drove north on State Park Road and found a wonderful open field with no streetlights, and the grass mowed. Any port in a storm…we pulled off the road and set up our scopes and chairs. It was very clear at that point. The view down the hill was sublime as the lovely crescent moon was setting in the west and we could see miles down into the valley. It was certainly private land, but we stayed right by the road and no one seemed to mind. That is, if they even realized we were there at all. A total of two cars came down the road all night.
The clear sky chart (below) showed perfect conditions. In fact, as soon as we set up, it began to cloud up to the east.
For most of the night, we ended up working the “sucker” holes. This was easier for Kat, who was putting her new Go-To SCT through its paces. Kat’s telescope pointing was pleasingly accurate. She was able to find things with very little effort, so she was able to catch quite a good number of deep sky and double star objects. I was observing with a 115mm (4-1/2”) f/15 old refractor by Brashear, ca. 1903 — decidedly low-tech, but immensely enjoyable to use. Optically, it is superb. Just after setting up, we observed the moon at 132X through the Brashear. Then I spent a little time viewing Epsilon Lyra, the “double-double”. Next on the list was M13, the great globular in Hercules, followed by M3, another showpiece globular northwest of Arcturus. I also spent time looking at an interesting and overlooked group of stars in Lyra: Delta 1 & Delta 2 Lyra. Easy to find naked eye, it’s a bright, very wide double star. D-1 is very clearly orange in color, while D-2 is more white-blue. It is quite a different type of double star from Epsilon Lyra. And in addition, I glanced at objects that Kat was pulling in. So all in all, it was still a fruitful expedition.
For Jordy, who doesn’t yet have gear, it was a night of imaging with his camera and tripod. I brought along a pair of 10×50 binoculars that he used while relaxing in a spare beach chair that I threw in at the last minute. I think he also enjoyed seeing all the objects in our scopes too.
From Jenny Jump, the Milky Way was becoming visible as Cygnus was rising. But the clouds coming in from the east and the overall cloud cover diminished transparency and were a hindrance. It was all a bit tricky, dodging the clouds and it’s a bit of a shame because the conditions in all other aspects were great: warm, no mosquitoes and no wind. The steadiness was an easy 8 out of 10 — when we looked at Iota Cassiopeia, a fine very tight and somewhat difficult triple star, it held up quite well and was actually reasonably easy to see. And we split all three components at only 132X. We also took a look at Mizar, the very pretty quad of stars in the handle of the Big Dipper.
We packed up around midnight and I was asleep well before 3am.
After what has seemed like an eternal hiatus on all things good, you finally seem to be letting up a bit. On a spur-of-the-moment trip, AAA members Bart Fried, Jordy Perez, and I donned our face masks, and went deep sky hunting at Jenny Jump State Forest, in New Jersey, on Wednesday, June 24.
Our original objective was to visit our friends at the United Astronomy Clubs of New Jersey, but we were quickly reminded that we haven’t quite escaped pandemic-days in the form of a very locked gate. After sheepishly checking in with two operators of UACNJ, we confirmed no one was home, so we turned tail and drove toward the campgrounds. A few minutes later, we spotted an open field area that offered great views of western skies and ample space for social distancing.
Once we managed to set up shop, we quickly spotted several Messier objects. In addition to a gorgeous waxing crescent Moon, I located M3, M13 (the Great Globular Cluster in constellation Hercules), M57 (the Ring Nebula), M81 (Bode’s Galaxy), M82 (the Cigar Galaxy), double stars Mizar and Alcor, Albireo, and the triple star system Iota Cassiopeia.
Fighting less than perfect conditions by 10pm (eastern clouds that were determined to stay put, ambient glow from the city and a burgeoning stomach bug), I snapped several of the dark sky items by hand with my iPhone XR using a Celestron 6SE telescope. With the field being relatively dark, and my phone brightness cranked way down, it was hard to tell if I actually got anything. Thankfully I did and I was far from disappointed. Thanks Photoshop!
Clouds finally took over by midnight, officially ending our session. We put our masks back on and headed back to New York City. Although our time was short, I left Jenny Jump with a renewed focus for astronomy, hungry for the next opportunity to come together under the night sky, feeling hopeful that we’ll cross that bridge soon.