May 14 2004

  The sky was possibly the best it ever has been from my backyard. It was very cold and the weather folks are predicting frost. Usually our last frost is sometime around May 1st. The last couple days it rained and more rain is due the next three days but tonight it was crystal clear. I saw more stars visible naked eye from my back yard here in Eden Prairie MN than I ever have before.

  I started out around 11:15pm and started with Comet Neat (C/2001 Q4 Neat). It was moving lower in the west and almost into the trees. It was very large and bright and was easily visible in the 8x50 finder. It wasnít exactly round but there wasnít a large tail visible either. It was very near M44 The Beehive cluster which made finding it easy.

  Next I visited Jupiter. All four moons we visible tonight. I saw more detail than ever before. Not only could I see the two major darker cloud bands but the white bands on either side were obvious too. Hints of greater detail were there as well. If I had more time to prepare I could have collimated the scope and gotten better views. Iíll give that a try next time.

  Since the Big Dipper was high in the sky I decided to check out M81 and M82. These two galaxies are between the Big Dipper and Polaris, the North Star. M81 was a bright slightly oval fuzz but M82 was very obviously elongated like a bar. While in the area I stopped by M97 the Owl Nebula. It was very very faint but was definitely there.

  Before dragging everything back inside I swung the scope over to the globular cluster M3. It was  a bright fuzz ball overlaid with a beautiful blanket of individual stars. SEDS has more information at http://www.seds.org/messier/m/m003.html. It is composed of roughly half a million stars whose light filled my eye after traveling 33,900 years through space.

  I hope to be a bit more prepared next time. Iíd like to see my first asteroid. Iíve yet to see and confirm an asteroid and itís time for that to happen darn it. Iíd also like to make more progress on finishing the Messier list.