by Gene Allen
We show globular star cluster M13 a lot at the Observatory. AKA NGC 6205 and “the Great Hercules Cluster,” it’s just always up there. It’s viewable from April to November, our whole Public Night season. It’s one of the brighter deep sky objects, +5.78 visual magnitude and 23,000 light years away, according to Sky Safari. It’s available unless clouds or the Moon overwhelms it. Only one other globular is brighter, but M22 is in Sagittarius, viewable only June through August, and never much out of the weeds. We still like showing M13 to our guests, and the Ultrastar throws a great image up on the monitor, but for me, it’s become kinda “meh.”
Until last night. I had my SCT set up in the driveway, right next to an obscenely bright street light that stays on all night. I wanted Jupiter to collimate a RACI finder and laser I just added to the tube, and to get it in the back yard I’d be way out in the wet grass. Nah, I’ll shield my eyes.
Got the hardware aligned pretty quickly and put in the ASI224MC camera but couldn’t get any image. Realizing I have no idea where focus should be so I need a bunch more preliminary work, out with the camera and back in with the diagonal and eyepiece. Gazed at binary Mizar a bit, then remembered M13 was also at the zenith on Friday night and jogged over.
Wow. Like, what? How come it looks so detailed, so interesting? It’s just M13, but most of the stars are distinct, and golden ones, sparkling more brightly and feeling closer, are scattered about. I don’t think I have ever seen it looking like this in the much larger and more capable Observatory hardware. The view was captivating. It was like someone had turned on or tuned up my non-existent adaptive optics. Or maybe there was some kind of hole in the atmosphere above me. I had first looked through the Radian 18 mm, at 130X, and the view with the Nagler 6 11 mm at 214X was just as spectacular. Tried the 9 mm but that one dulled it a bit without adding to the depth, so 261X was apparently too much magnification for the seeing.
Pretty soon I quit pondering the how or why and just reveled in the sight. Found the wife still awake, reading, and brought her out. She was not as impressed as I. Oh well, over to Jupiter for her peek, then back.
It was almost 11 when I saw a neighbor’s TV go on, so I knew someone was awake. I tiptoed over and timidly rang the doorbell. He looked at me very sideways as I explained the invitation, but he and his son-in-law both came over to look. They had some trouble seeing M13 with the streetlight competing, but they also aren’t practiced at studying DSOs. Jupiter was a much bigger hit, and tiny Saturn, up by then, really blew him away. They both thanked me vigorously, and he was still exclaiming about it as he walked home.
That’s really where it’s at, isn’t it? I had a thrilling experience, but it wasn’t enough to just enjoy it by myself. I had to try to share it. Okay, so they didn’t catch the thrill I did, but they caught one of their own.