Sunday, January 20, 2013


The Herschel Project (Slight Return) and O.A. Nights 1 and 2

 Mr. Wolfe says you can’t go home again, muchachos, but I feel like I have done just that. “Unk, what in tarnation are you going on about now?” What I’m going on about is me and Miss Dorothy’s just finished expedition down to Florida and the Chiefland Astronomy Village to revisit some of the spring Herschels and start a new observing project. Being back on the good, old Billy Dodd Memorial Observing Field chasing Herschels again darnedsure made me feel like I had come home.

Dorothy and I originally talked about making a CAV run in December, but a couple of things intervened:  the holidays—the new Moon would come just before Christmas—and the fact that the Herschels I wanted wouldn’t rise till pretty cotton-picking late in December. How about January, then?

I’ve been down to the CAV in January 'most every year, with a couple of memorable after-New Year’s expeditions coming to mind. Besides “which month?” there was also the question of “which days?” Wednesday - Sunday or Thursday - Sunday? Don’t know why I told D. “Thursday” instead of “Wednesday,” trimming off my usual fourth day, but I did. Hoped I wouldn’t live to regret that if a Thursday – Saturday skunk-out struck.

I loaded up our 4Runner, Miss Lucille Van Pelt, the night before, Wednesday night. That makes departure morning oh-so-much more pleasant. What did Unk load? The NexStar C11, Big Bertha, natch. I’ve used her more than any of my other telescopes down Chiefland way. Yeah, she’s on the heavy side for me these days, but the observing field payoff is well worth a mite of huffing and puffing. What else? Mallincam Xtreme, Orion digital video recorder, laptop, assorted equipment cases, EZ-Up canopy, observing and camp chairs, suitcases, eyepiece box (just in case)—you get the picture.

Hope I didn't forget nuthin'...
Even though the weather goobers appeared to be promising unseasonably warm weather, Miss D. and I ran by Bass Pro the Saturday before our trip and picked up bottles of butane for the Black Cat heater and thermal socks for Unk’s footsies. In addition to warm temps, the goobs were predicting partly cloudy skies for the duration, but I wanted to be able to go all night (which is 3 a.m. for your aged Uncle) in relative comfort if the weather became more seasonable and the skies cleared out.

Wednesday morning, we were up early and raring to go, bettering our standard departure time of 8 a.m. by a few minutes. First stop, as always, was the neighborhood Mickey D’s for a healthy breakfast—as such things go at Macdonald’s—for D. and a fried chicken biscuit and hashbrowns (well, that’s what they call ‘em, anyway) for moi. Getting breakfast means we can drive straight through without lunch, which is vital this time of year when darkness comes early--usually before Unk is ready for it.

Miss Dorothy and I cruised down I-10 to the accompaniment of Sirius XM’s Real Jazz Channel. If you do much driving and don’t have satellite radio in your vehicle, think about getting it; it makes both road trips and daily commutes mucho more enjoyable. How did the sky look as we traversed the Sunshine State? When we left The Swamp it was not only cloudy but slightly foggy, and it felt as if really bad weather might be on the way. The closer we got to our turnoff just past Tallahassee, however, the more the clouds scudded off.

Good old Sunoco. And lots of clouds...
When we stopped at the old Sunoco station at the Highway 19 (Florida - Georgia Parkway) exit, Unk turned a critical eye on the sky. The verdict was “not perfect, but…” I wasn’t ready to say I’d be huntin’ Herschels all night long, but there was never any doubt Dorothy and I would at least be able to set up the gear. Miss Van Pelt fueled for the final run-in to Chiefland, and Sasquatch Big Stick purchased for Unk, we hit the last 100-miles with a will.

No matter how the weather looks, we always stick to the hallowed Plan:  check into the Day’s Inn, head to the site for equipment set up if it ain’t raining, back to town for a supply run on Wal-Mart, early supper, quick stop by the room, and out to the field for, if’n we are lucky, a long night of deep sky voyaging.

That is just what we did after a bit of delay at the motel. The room we were given did not pass muster. Say what you will about the dadgum Chiefland Day’s Inn, the rooms there are usually clean. The one we got this time, though, well…STANK. Literally. It had a strong musty odor that slapped us in our faces when I opened the door. Back to the office for a change of room, one on the north side rather than pool side this time, which was fine. We unpacked and skedaddled for the CAV.

It being Thursday, I was not surprised to see quite a few of my fellow Chiefland Observers already onsite. After saying “hey” to John and Bobbie, Carl, Paul, and other folks I see too infrequently, we got to work. Up went the C11and the EZ-Up and out came the multitudinous gear boxes. After we were done, it was very pleasant hanging out with our friends in the warm (mid 80s, y’all) afternoon air and shooting the breeze, but it was already 4 o’clock and we had that Wal-Mart trip and supper to do.

Room number two at the Days Inn...
Our Wally-World visit was a record-breaker time-wise, with us in and out in 20-minutes. What did we get? Same-old, same-old including Jack Link’s beef sticks for field snacking, granola for the same thing in slightly healthier fashion, Kolorado Kool-Aid for after run relaxing, and a new Star Wars T-shirt to add to Unk’s collection. Thence to Taco Bell for supper. I wasn’t too hungry, maybe because the quickly setting sun was making me nervous, so I settled for a couple of standard tacos rather than the awesome Dorito Taco Supremes I normally favor.

I hate being rushed setting up, but there was simply nothing for it. Back on the field, I scurried to hook up the scope’s and computer’s and monitor’s myriad cables including the NexRemote line, the video cable for the Xtreme, the serial cable for the Xtreme, the wire for the telescope’s Motofocus, and power for computer, telescope, and video monitor (my portable DVD player). Figgered I’d better get the DewBuster cranking, even though a steady breeze seemed to be keeping the after-sundown dew at bay. Finally, plugged my Orion StarShoot digital video recorder into the switch I use to route video to either it or the monitor. By the time I was done it was well and truly dark.

It had been a long time since I’d been able to use the Mallincam—months—but the original software that shipped with the Xtreme is simple to use, and I had no trouble lighting off the cam and getting a set of crosshairs overlaid on the monitor. Telescope? You-all will not believe it, but I did the same thing I always do; I started NexRemote and tried to connect to Bertha before I turned her on. I didn’t fiddle around, just rebooted the computer, turned the NS11’s o-n/o-f-f to o-n, and that was that.

Xtreme in diagonal so it clears the drivebase.
Alignment went without a hitch. Bertha didn’t try to imitate a manic Ferris wheel during “finding level” as she sometimes does, she just leveled, found north, and went to Capella, the first of two alignment stars. I centered The Goat Star—the Xtreme-generated crosshairs are a huge help—and did the same for star two, Aldeberan. “Alignment success,” Bertha intoned via NexRemote. I never have any trouble with go-to accuracy on the NS11; she will invariably put anything I ask for on the small Xtreme chip, but I thought I’d send her to a “check” object before getting started on the night’s list.

My rear cell setup would be a little different this time. Usually, I’ve either had the Stellacam 2 in a visual back screwed directly onto a Meade f/3.3 reducer on the SCT’s rear port, or I have had a Celestron f/6.3 on the port, a diagonal after that, and the Mallincam with an f/5 reducer on its nose inserted in the diagonal. In alt-az mode, the Xtreme, which is longer than the Stellacam, will hit the base of the scope when it is pointed anywhere near the zenith, so a star diagonal is necessary.

Tonight would, I hoped, be mostly small galaxies, so I dispensed with the combined f/6.3 and f/5 reducers. Instead, I screwed my SCT style William Optics diagonal directly onto the scope’s rear port, inserted the f/3.3 reducer into the diagonal, screwed a visual back onto that, and slid the Xtreme, sans f/5 reducer, into that visual back. “Now hold on, Unk. How in hail did you insert a Meade f/3.3 reducer into the eyepiece end of a cotton-picking star diagonal?”

Easy, Skeezix. Easy with the addition of an accessory from Jim Henson’s, his 2" Eyepiece Barrel to Schmidt Thread Adapter. What that is is a 2-inch tube with SCT threads on one end. Screw the 3.3 (or any other SCT accessory) onto that end and slide the whole works into the diagonal. Simple, elegant, allows me to use the Meade f/3.3 with a diagonal (the camera will not reach focus if you put the reducer ahead of the diagonal).

Only down-check? I do not get as much reduction in this mode as I normally do. With the reducer set back from the rear port a fur piece, I’d guess the focal ratio is around f/5. Which was OK for small galaxies, though it didn’t produce images of diffuse nebulae as smooth and pretty as I am normally used to with the Xtreme. There are always tradeoffs in amateur astronomy.

Thursday Night:  Catch as Catch Can...

Alignment done, I sent Miss Bertha to M35’s tiny companion cluster, NGC 2158, for a test of her go-to accuracy at this longer than accustomed focal length. NGC 2158, which is composed of tiny, tiny stars, is also a wonderful focusing aid. Entered “2158” in the virtual hand control on the Toshiba laptop’s screen and away we went. When Bertha announced “target acquired” and the Xtreme’s exposures caught up with her, there was the cluster, dang near centered. Cool. Now to focus with my JMI Motofocus remote.

I tried to focus, anyway. Clouds, dadgum clouds, had begun rolling back in in substantial numbers shortly after sunset. I did the best I could, mashing the JMI paddle to get the stars as small as possible in 7-second exposures. When I was done, I figured “good enough for gubmint work.” Unless something changed in a right quick hurry, it didn’t look like we’d get much on this night anyway.

We didn’t. Orion’s area of the sky was in the semi-clear every once in a while, so I hung out there. M43 was a real wonder. At f/5 or so, it filled a substantial part of the screen, showing off countless dark lanes. Had to do the Horsehead, natch. It was OK, but was subdued in the building haze, even when I bumped the exposure up to 56 consarned seconds.

The clouds would come and the clouds would go. I took frequent breaks, schmoozed with my mates, and headed to the clubhouse for the occasional Monster Energy Drink, trying to hang in until the sky stopped teasing and decided whether it wanted to open up or close down. Nothing changed. I revisited the Horse a time or two, but it was never very good.

By 11 p.m., Urania’s final verdict was in:  “That’s all for you-all tonight, Unk, get on off to bed.” With yet another wave of thick clouds in the offing, I threw that accursed Big Switch, hopped in Miss Van Pelt, who I’d parked well off the field so as not to disturb anybody, and headed down the eerie old lane of mossy oaks and back to Highway 19 and Chiefland. At the motel, it was Kolorado Kool-Aid, Ghost Hunters, and Cloudy Nights. What? No Rebel Yell? Nope. Not a drop. The pea-picking Alabama state store did not have a single bottle of Unk’s fave beverage. I had greater faith in Florida’s package stores, and hoped I could rectify this disgusting want on the morrow.

Friday dawned to clear, if foggy, skies and we were up and about early for a day’s activities that began with a motel breakfast. Unk, you will not be surprised to hear, cooked himself a giant waffle, which he drowned in syrup. At least he only made one waffle and bypassed the sausage biscuits. I keep threatening to take Miss Dorothy across the street for a big old Huddle House breakfast some day, but in truth the Day’s Inn breakfast is sufficient.

Well before noon, we were out of the motel. Unk was fired up—not all my observing goals were celestial in nature, you see. Despite visiting their hangouts every time we’d been down in C-land over the last several years, Rod and Miss Dorothy had never yet seen a manatee. I swore I was going to spot one of the big, friendly aquatic mammals this time.

A little spooky in the wee hours, yeah.
‘Twas not to be. This is the correct time of year; it’s in the winter that the manatees seek sheltered inlets, but apparently the weather was not right. Too warm to encourage ‘em to head up into the springs, I suppose. The temperature was headed for the upper 80s and would fall only slowly as the day wound down. Needless to say, the butane and thermal socks were never unpacked. Anyhoo, we didn’t see a single manatee despite spending quite some time at Manatee Springs State Park. We did see plenty of fish, turtles, squirrels, and assorted birds as we wandered the grounds surrounding the crystal clear springs. Next time for sure!

And then, and then…it was lunchtime. If you are a faithful reader of The Little Old Blog from Possum Swamp, I don’t have to tell you where we went. If not? I’ll spell it out: Bar B-Q Bill’s. Funny thing? While Bill’s pork and beef are tops with me, I believe it is their salad bar I crave most. No purple lettuce or weird-colored pasta, just the same ingredients Mama put on her table in the 1960s. In profusion. Unk heaped it high, poured on the old-fashioned blue cheese dressing, and topped it off with the crunchy artificial bacon bits he loves. When the Pork Special Plate came, it was almost an anticlimax.

Friday Night and Operation Arp...

When Unk left the Day’s Inn at 4 p.m.—a wee bit early because I had got my time-zones mixed up—the signs all appeared favorable. The few clouds that had been touring the afternoon sky had mostly scampered off, and the liquor store, an adjunct to Chiefland’s other barbeque joint, Bubbaque’s, had Rebel Yell aplenty. And, indeed, the night started off strong, even if it didn’t quite stay that way. Computer and cameras were fired up and scope aligned without a glitch and we were “go” for Operation Arp.

“The whosits? The Whatsits?” Operation Arp is Unk’s new observing project, his quest to see all the Arp galaxies—and maybe even do a little more than just that. What’s an “Arp”? If you’ve been in astronomy long, the name Halton “Chip” Arp is probably familiar to you. He is an American astronomer who did most of his work in the 1960s and 1970s, but who is still active today. His most famous accomplishment is probably his Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies, which focuses on 338 galaxies that looked disturbed or strange or otherwise stood out for Arp.

No, the weather did not look promising Friday morning.
Most of these odd-duck galaxies are in the Atlas because they do not fit in with normal morphological types, with most no doubt being disturbed galaxies, galaxies that have suffered close encounters with their neighbors. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though; Arp divides his three-hundred plus galaxies into five major groups and nearly forty subgroups, which you can find listed either in his atlas or in the article here. Most interestingly, some of these galaxies appeared to Arp to have spit out quasars.

Back when the Atlas was published in 1966, the nature of quasars, which are now thought to be (extremely) active galactic nuclei in the early Universe, was very much unsettled. Even then, though, the redshifts displayed by these bizarre objects seemed to indicate they were far, far away, much farther away than the galaxies they were paired with in Arp’s atlas. Nevertheless, Dr. Arp was convinced “his” quasars, which sometimes even appeared to have streams of matter connecting them to their “host” galaxies, were indeed something ejected by these larger galaxies.

How did/does Arp explain the discordant redshifts between the galaxies and their supposedly ejected quasars? Largely with the theory that the redshift value of a galaxy is composed of two parts, a velocity component and an intrinsic redshift value inherent in the matter of the galaxy. If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Arp’s theories, have a look at his book, Quasars, Redshifts and Controversies.

Controversial? Darn tootin’, since Arp not only dismisses redshift as a reliable indicator of distance, but the Big Bang theory itself. While he does have his fans, it’s fair to say most astronomers do not put much credence in his theories today. The Hubble Space Telescope has, after all, revealed some quasars are the centers of very distant galaxies—you can see their galactic disks in Hubble images. Most astronomers are firmly convinced Arp’s galaxy – quasar alignments are nothing more than coincidence, chance alignments.

Whatever you think of Halton Arp’s theories about quasars and the Big Bang, one thing is sure, he has given us a splendid list of interesting and sometimes outré galaxies. It is also a list that can be pretty hard going. Some of his galaxies are easy showpieces like M51, but many of them are way too small and distant to have been included in even the NGC catalog. If you start the Arp list, you will soon be hunting Markarians, LEDAs, and PGCs.

Which put the complete Arp list beyond the reach of amateur astronomers till fairly recently. Then things changed. Huge Dobsonians came to the observing field, insanely sensitive deep space video cameras got into amateur hands, and the combination of the two made “too dim for amateur scopes” a thing of the past.

Not that you need a gigant-a-normous Dob to see all the Arps. A C8 will do it with a sensitive enough camera and long enough exposures. Yes, there are some terribly dim ones, but, as usual, the dimmest also tend to be the smallest, so that even a magnitude 16 Arp won’t be much challenge for a Mallincam. At not much bigger than fuzzy stars, these teeny-weenies show up easily. Dimmest object in the catalog? Arp 211 at magnitude 18. Will that be beyond Unk’s C11 and Mallincam Xtreme? That is one of the things I want to find out as Operation Arp goes on.

If you decide to follow me onto those distant Arp fields, you, like me, will need some help. In addition to the Atlas itself, there is an excellent book by Jeff Kanipe and Dennis Webb, and plenty of good pages on the Internet to help you attack these sometimes frighteningly dim objects. My fave website is this one here.

Why am I doing this? One reason is I need a project. I don’t do much fruitful observing unless I have a list, preferably a big list, to work. Since The Herschel Project has (more or less) ended, I’ve been bereft of one. The other reason is that the galaxies in Arp’s legendary atlas are weird and interesting—and sometimes beautiful.

Gotta have ground rules. What are the ground rules? Unlike the Herschel II part of The Herschel Project, there will not be a time limit. The goal here will not be to dash through the list, picking off as many as possible in one night, but instead will be comparatively leisurely contemplation. I don’t just want to say I’ve seen an Arp; if possible I want to be able to see for myself why an object was included in The Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies. If I have to come back to a galaxy again and again to try to find that out, I will do so. I will share my successes and failures with y’all right here. And that is that.

This first night out, I thought I’d focus on the “easier” Arp galaxies, those with NGC numbers. In addition to the fact that these would be the best targets for what might be a borderline night, there was another reason for confining myself to the NGCs in the list. It had been a long time since I’d had NexRemote’s virtual port working. The virtual port feature allows you to send the scope on go-tos using a computer program like SkyTools 3 (or Stellarium, or whatever) while you are using NexRemote. You specify a “virtual” port, which mimics the serial port on the “real” Celestron hand control.

I had not been able to get the virtual port to work since I switched to Windows 7. But I knew I had to get it going to do the Arps or give up NexRemote. You can’t punch “PGC 12053” into the NexRemote virtual hand control any more than you can punch it into the non-virtual HC. Neither has the PGC (or other obscure or “professional” catalogs) onboard. I planned to reserve Saturday night for tinkering with NexRemote, and figured it would take a lot of tinkering.

Anyhoo, as soon as it was good and dark, I brought up the Arp list on SkyTools 3 and got to work. Please note that an “Arp” may be a single galaxy, or a pair of galaxies, or a whole group of ‘em.

Good ol' Crabby.
NGC 1253 (Arp 279). At 28 seconds the image was detailed and the companion object easy.  The larger galaxy is 1253, while the odd shaped little feller is 1253A (aka "PGC 12053”).  This is an Arp because of the interaction between the two, I reckon.

NGC 1741 (Arp 259). This galaxy is dim, but looks pretty good at 28-seconds. It is a highly distorted irregular with a small companion close at hand. Streams of matter have obviously been pulled off the main galaxy by close encounters in this crowded field.

NGC 1241 (Arp 304) is a very pretty magnitude 13 spiral that shows a lot of detail. Why is it here? It's been messed with by the small nearby galaxy, NGC 1242. The arms are obviously misshapen from its encounter.

IC 1892 (Arp 332). IC 1892 is an attractive galaxy with an odd looking hooked arm, but that is not why it is part of an Arp. It's a member of Arp 332, which is the chain of galaxies that leads off to the northwest. Galaxy chains were another oddity that caught Dr. Arp's eye.

NGC 1097 (Arp 22) is one of my all time favorites, which I knew well from The Herschel Project. Even under less than optimum conditions, it's easy to see the effects in its arms and center caused by interaction with the companion.

NGC 1888 (Arp 123). This Arp is of Mr. Chip's "E-like galaxies perturbing spirals." 1888 is the spiral, while the little companion E is NGC 1889.

NGC 1875 (Arp 327). This is another galaxy chain consisting of a prominent (magnitude 14.6) elliptical and three little sprites. The whole shebang is also known as Hickson 34.

NGC 1232 (Arp 41) is a beautiful near-face-on magnitude 13.9 galaxy in Eridanus. The small companion, LEDA 816443, which is a barred spiral, may be interacting with the main galaxy.

NGC 1347 (Arp 39). This is in Arp's class, "spirals with low surface brightness companions on arms." Not much detail in the main galaxy, but this magnitude 13.9/16.2 duo makes a pretty sight.

NGC 2276 (Arp 25) is a nice spiral, if one with a weird shape, paired with a bright elliptical. It is in Arp's "one heavy arm" class, and on the original video I can see one arm is indeed pulled off in the direction of the elliptical (NGC 2300).

NGC 2300 (Arp 114) is a repeater. It is the elliptical in the field with Arp 25. It gets its own entry because it fits Arp’s class "ellipticals perturbing spirals."

NGC 2655 (Arp 225) lands in the class "amorphous spiral arms." Can I see signs of them? Maybe.

NGC 1097
NGC 2633 (Arp 80) is a pretty little thing. Arp places this in the group "spirals with high surface brightness companions on arms," but it's not clear to me, even looking at the atlas' POSS plate, what he was talking about.

NGC 2523 (Arp 9) is in Arp's "split arms" group. In the original video, I can make out that at least one of the arms is divided in two lengthwise.

IC 356 (Arp 213) is nice, but the reason for its inclusion in the catalog is that "faint straight absorption lanes lead toward nucleus, become triple". It's impossible to see such features in my picture, and derned near it in Arp's POSS image in the atlas.

NGC 1961 (Arp 184) is of the "narrow filaments" class, and it's pretty easy to see a couple of relatively thin arms (?) in the video.

NGC 1569 (Arp 210) is in the group that features "irregularities, absorption, and resolution." By "resolution," I assume Dr. Arp was talking about the knots/star forming regions along the disk of this interesting M82 like galaxy.

NGC 2608 (Arp 12) is a member of the "split spiral arm" class, with it being fairly easy to see that at least one of arms is divided lengthwise in the video.

NGC 2623 (Arp 243) Arp puts this one in the class "appearance of fission," and it is indeed possible to see the central region appears almost divided.

NGC 1232
NGC 2535 (Arp 82) is a strange and beautiful little thing. It's an Arp because it has a "high surface brightness companion on arms."  The companion is NGC 2536.

IC 2339 (Arp 247). This pair of small galaxies, which also includes IC 2338, is an Arp because of its "appearance of fission," to include a dim lane of material that seems to connect the two, but which is invisible in my image.

NGC 2672 (Arp 167). Supposedly this pair shows "diffuse counter-tails." But they are not only invisible in my image; I don't see them in the atlas’ image either. The smaller galaxy is NGC 2673.

NGC 2648 (Arp 89) is another member of the "high surface brightness companions on arms” group. The pretty and bright companion is MCG 2-22-6.

And so it went till about 10 p.m. Just as I was getting ready to head to the clubhouse to retrieve the second Monster of the evening, I noticed the sky background on my monitor had turned a sickly green. That means the camera is looking through considerable clouds/haze. Poked my head out from under the canopy and saw that, yeah, them suckers had come back. Gave it about an hour and a half, till a line of clouds appeared in the east and began to look positively threatening.

That was alright. Operation Arp was off the ground, 23 objects were in the bag, and I was feeling good. That good feeling was soon bolstered further by a shot of the blessed Yell and a Finding Bigfoot marathon on the cable TV. I also did a bit of strategizing about the NexRemote virtual port problem. I thought and I thought, but until I got out and tried it again and saw exactly what happened, it was hard to know how to proceed. I did know that if I couldn’t get it to work, I would not be able to use NexRemote for Operation Arp; I’d have to use the hardware hand control and connect it to SkyTools 3 with a non-virtual serial cable.

Saturday came with clouds, but mostly fluffy, drifting ones, not dark, threatening, stationary things. This would be the last full day of our Chiefland adventure, but there was still a lot to look forward to. In addition to a long night (I hoped) of deep sky work, this would be the day for our traditional visit to Duma Key (OK, OK, it’s really Cedar Key and does not involve haints and spooks).

Before lighting out for The Key, we had to make a last run on WallyWorld for AAs and AAAs for my red LED flashlights, which had got a fair amount of use Friday night. I noticed that while Wal-Mart’s benighted magazine rack did not have that greatest of all magazines, Sky & Telescope, it at least had Astronomy. Looked to be a fairly good issue (with a spiffed up format), but I figured my subscription copy would be waiting for me back at the Old Manse.

Cedar Key was great. The poor old Rusty Rim Bar and Grill, one of our former favorites, is still out of business and vacant, but we have plenty of other faves, like Steamers Clam Bar and Grill, which is where we wound up. Your Uncle chose the crab bisque, which is just crazy-good. I also ordered one of their to-die-for burgers, but that rich bisque darned near spoiled the massive assemblage of bacon and cheddar and beef for me. Oh, and of course I had a couple of cold brewskies to go with it. After lunch we hit one of the shops for Cedar Key t-shirts for the grandsons. 

Saturday Night:  Deep Sky Heaven (for a while)...

I tried to take a nap back at the motel, but was unsuccessful. I was feeling a mite jittery because of the obviously unsettled weather and because of my need to troubleshoot NexRemote’s virtual port. I managed to stick to the room till five, but at the stroke of, I jumped back in the truck and made tracks for the field.

Despite my nervousness about Saturday evening, all went surprisingly smoothly. When it got dark, Bertha aligned without complaint and I resolved to bite the proverbial bullet and find out what was what with the virtual port. When I started NexRemote, I selected virtual com port Com 5 and immediately got a “not available” warning. Rut-roh. Me being me, I just dialed up Com 6. Not only did I not get a warning, the laptop emitted a “bing-bong” sound just like you get when you plug a USB - serial cable in.

That didn't mean the virtual port was working again though. The problem, which reared its ugly little head not long after I started The Herschel Project, was not that I couldn't connect the computer to the  port; it was that gotos were lousy, and tracking soon went to Hades, too. Well, rubber meets road time, I thought.

I brought up SkyTools 3, connected it to Com 6, clicked on M43 in the Messier list, and mashed “slew to.” Off we went to it. Centered. M1? Same. Tracking? Excellent; everything remained rock solid in the field. And that’s the way it was for the rest of the night. Any Arp or anything else I clicked on in SkyTools appeared on my monitor and stayed there.

Why had I had trouble before? I was using a netbook when the virtual port hassles began. And I was using a no-name USB serial cable. I think I may also have been running an earlier version of NexRemote. Could have been any one of those things. I am, however, placing the blame on the little Asus netbook. It was a kinda sweet little PC, but I just don't think it had the horsepower I needed. Anyhow, the important thing is that the virtual port is now working and will make Operation Arp much easier.

And Arps, mostly non-NGC Arps, were just what I went after for a little while:

Arp 52 (PGC 17109). There’s not much to this little magnitude 15.5 fuzzie-wuzzie other than that it does have a "high surface brightness companion on arms," which I take to be the bright area near its center.

Arp 219 (MCG 0-10-9) is a cutie. It's an Arp because it fits in Mr. A's "adjacent loops" class. I was surprised to the see the loop on the south side fairly easily.

Arp 180 (MCG 1-13-34) is another member of Arp's "narrow filaments class." Can I see evidence of that? At first I don't think so, but one distorted arm is eventually visible in the video.

Arp 187 (MCG 2-13-40A) is also a member of the "narrow filaments" group. Can I see the feature? No way. This is a tiny 15th magnitude sprite.

NGC 2418 (Arp 165) is a "diffuse filaments” galaxy, and one of these is visible—barely.

When I’d finished recording (I do 30-second recordings of all objects) Arp 165, fetched a Monster, and spent a little time with various friends on the field, I noticed the sky was going south in a big way. Well, not really a big way, but there was increasing haze. I judged it not to be bad enough to shut down, but not good enough for more Arps. It looked clear enough to revisit some brighter Herschels, though.

Why am I redoing some of the Herschel objects I imaged with the Stellacam 2? It’s not that the pictures done with that black and white camera are bad, though they are noisier than those the Mallincam turns it. Mostly, it’s because many of the spring objects were imaged under poor conditions, especially the Leo – Coma – Virgo galaxies. Not only were some of ‘em shot under poor transparency, many of ‘em were too close to the horizon. With the pressure of the Herschel Project bearing on me, I would shoot a galaxy anytime it was in the clear, no matter how low.

It was just so nice to get back into that blessed Herschel groove. Find a likely candidate on SkyTools’ Herschel 2500 Project list, highlight it, click “slew to” on ST3, grab 30-seconds of video with the DVR, and on to the next. Just heaven, y’all, just heaven.

Until, like it had the previous night, the monitor’s background turned green. There’d already been a couple of cloudy interludes, so I decided to wait this one out. I waited. And I waited. Till I was sure that, while there was no threatening weather on the way, it wasn’t going to improve enough for more Herschels, much less Arps. But I’d done good, I thought. In addition to the Arps earlier in the evening, I had corralled fifty fracking Hershels. Not bad for an iffy night.

Back at the Day’s Inn, I wound down with something or other on the History Channel. No MeTV on the cable there, so I was deprived of my usual Saturday night fare, Svengoolie, who was showing Island of Lost Souls, dangit. Still, I was in a good mood even though I hadn’t got many Arps on this inaugural expedition, I thought. But a look at my logbook showed I had actually done plenty, 28. Which is probably about the right pace for Operation Arp, or maybe even on the high side. So, the final tally was 28 down 310 to go, y’all.

Next morning, we were sad, as we always are, to say aloha to Chiefland, but it would only be for a few months. The CAV and The Chiefland Observers are going strong; there were plenty of people on the field for a semi-cloudy January new Moon and everybody seemed to be having a great time. By the end, we had close to a dozen scopes onsite. What with me and Dorothy now resolved to stay in The Swamp after my retirement, I think we can look forward to many more CAV trips to come, which suits me just fine, muchachos, just fine.

And that’s the way it is, you-all, from good old Chaos Manor South out on the edge of The Great Possum Swamp. Oh, if you'd like to see more pictures from our trip, see Unk's Facebook page. Not a friend? Just ask.


What happened to Operation Arp? Not much. I was able to observe quite a few of its objects over the next year or two, but change was in the offing. As things evolved, Unk began to do most of his observing in his backyard and trips to dark sites including Chiefland became fewer and fewer. There were to be more Chiefland expeditions, but not the "many more" I prophesied, alas. Doing a good job on the Arps--actually seeing the details that intrigued Halton Arp--requires dark skies, Mallincam Xtreme or no. If Unk stages a return to dark site observing, Operation Arp could be revived, but unless and until he does, it's on ice, muchachos.

Good going with the Arps, it sounds a fun project.

I'm looking forward to reading future instalments.

Clear skies!

Hey Rod...Sorry I missed you at Chiefland this month.

I became fascinated with the Arp Catalog just about the time I got my 28" scope mated with a Mallicam!
Margie Wright and I were set up at Kissimmee State Park (and had just met Paul Lavoie for the first time).

The very first target was M-60 (Arp 116).
It was OBVIOUS (to us, at least) that there was a definite interaction between M-60 and NGC-4647, despite claims from 'Arp-denyers' in the astro-establishment that the two galaxies just happened to lie along the same line of sight and there was no connection. I guess they 'missed' the bend in 4647's spiral arm and the slight protrusion from M-60 towards 4647! On the other hand...a 28" scope with a Mallincam delivered images that were MUCH BETTER than the photos Arp and his contemporaries were using!

NOW, recent Hubble studies seem to indicate that there IS, indeed, an interaction. Duh!

Let's get together at CAV next time and GO REALLY DEEP on those Arps!

Mike Harvey

That was about 5 years ago
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