link to Home Page

Lowell Observatory

Subject: [tt-watch] My outing at Lowell Observatory
Date: Wed, 04 Apr 2001 03:06:45 -0000

On the night of Sunday April 1st 2001, I reserved the historic Clark 24" telescope at the Lowell observatory in Flagstaff, AZ, for my own private viewing. As it turns out, the telescope operator was unable to point the Clark in the direction of Orion because there was a scaffold in the way which only the operator's supervisor was allowed to move. I don't suspect conspiracy on this point but, heck, who knows ;). In any event the operator was determined to give me my money's worth and he opened up the McAllister telescope, a newer but smaller scope with a 16" mirror (f3 primary, f18 system, built in 1963). We trained the big do-hickey on the Coordinates given for April 1 2001:

RA 5.151245
Dec +16.55743

The operator told me he didn't see anything there. I asked if I could take a look. There were 3 stars (I assume they were stars) near the periphery of the viewable area but absolutely nothing near the middle. I had asked the operator earlier if this scope would be able to see something as far away and faint as, say, Pluto. He said he had seen Pluto with this scope once before but it was so faint (magnitude 17) he could only see it out of the corner of his eye. So I tried focusing on the periphery of the viewable area while directing my attention to the middle. Lo and behold, there appeared a faint blip not too far off center. I looked long and hard but wasn't sure if I was imagining it or not. I asked a friend who had come along to take a look and told him what to look for. He said he maybe saw something. I asked the operator if he would look in the same fashion. He looked carefully for a couple of minutes and confirmed what I saw. I took another look to satisfy myself. Yes, there was definitely something there. I had the operator center the telescope on the faint object so that we could get the coordinates more precisely and then I checked a third time to make sure we were talking about the same thing. We were; the elusive blip was centered now.