Well, not a REAL hill. More like a metaphorical hill. I’ll explain, but first we have to describe the terrain.
You’ll find Iota (ι) Leonis hanging around the middle of Leo the Lion’s rear leg, just below the Leonic hind quarters. On most charts this rear section is usually shown as a triangle made up of 2.1 magnitude Beta (β), 2.6 magnitude Delta (δ), and 3.3 magnitude Theta (θ) Leonis. But I prefer their real names — Denebola, Zosma, and Chertan.
Uh-oh — I recognize that inquisitive stare. It’s a “And what might those names mean?” look.
Well, according to Burnham (volume two of Burnham’s Celestial Handbook) and Kaler, Denebola means “the lion’s tail.” Zosma means girdle (as in belt) — BUT — according to both Burnham and Kaler once more, that’s a “transliteration” of the wrong word. The correct word is Duhr, which means “the lion’s back.” And Chertan means “ribs.” Again, from Kaler.
If you let your eyes travel south from Chertan the same distance that separates it from Zosma, and just a slight bit to the east, you’ll come to Iota (ι). If you continue to go south that same distance, you’ll come to fourth magnitude Sigma (σ)Leonis — which means you’ve gone too far. 😉
So let’s go back.
But hold it, let’s digress once more. Halfway between Chertan and Iota (ι) Leonis are three of the more famous galaxies in the sky — M65, M66, and NGC 3628 — which are known as the Leo Triplet. You can even glimpse the two Messier objects in a 60mm scope on a reasonably transparent night. It would take very good transparency and a very sharp eye to glimpse the ghostly and mysterious NGC 3628 in a 60mm scope — it’s no wonder Messier missed that one. But it can be picked out without too much problem in an 80mm scope or larger under dark, transparent skies. It has to be one of my favorites — just a long, very thin, very nebulous line barely visible against the background of a black sky that’s fun to ferret out of the darkness.
Ahem. Back to Iota (ι). Sorry. I’m distracted very easily. 🙂
Oh — before I forget! — included on the chart above are the locations of Tau (τ) Leonis and 83 Leonis, a very attractive pair of doubles which Greg has written up here. See how easy it is to get distracted in this area? I won’t even think about crossing the border into Virgo!
Iota(ι) Leonis (Σ 1536) HIP: 55642 SAO: 99587
RA: 11h 23.9m Dec: +10° 32′
Magnitudes AB: 4.06, 6.71 AB,C: 4.06, 11.06
Separation AB: 2.10″ AB,C: 331.30″
Position Angle AB: 95.9° (WDS 2015 Ephemerides, orbital chart and info here)
. AC: 346° (WDS 2000)
Distance: 79 Light Years
Stellar Classification: F4, G3
Now I came across this one last spring (2010) and never could quite pry it apart. I came close several times, but it disappeared over the western horizon and melted into the sun, so I’ve been waiting for it to return this year.
A few nights ago (March 6th), I gave it another tremendous try using a Celestron 102mm f10 refractor. The seeing was about a 3 (as in this chart at “III”), which just wasn’t quite enough to do it. I thought I could glimpse it at 83x in a 12mm Brandon, but it – or whatever I saw – kept disappearing just as my eyes locked onto it. I jumped up to 100x with a 10mm Radian — no luck — made a leap to a 7.5mm Tak (133x) — no luck — and then tried a 5mm Tak (200x) — and still no luck. But I saw something at about the correct position angle, even though the image was bobbing and weaving at the speed of light — but that was all my eyes would tolerate. They refused to participate any further.
And this is where we go over the metaphorical hill …… from March 6th to the night of March 7th/March 8th — to a night when for a short time the seeing was so out of this world I really thought I was on another planet.
This time I was working with my AR-5. I started observing around 8 PM and kept at it for about three hours under fairly transparent skies and average seeing. I took a break at about 11 PM to warm up, went back out at midnight, looked up into the sky — and saw one of the murkiest scenes I’ve ever seen. Yet not so murky I couldn’t see first magnitude stars, and even a few fainter than that. Hmmm, I thought, seeing can sometimes be pretty darn good in this situation.
Saturn’s yellow-orange glow was hovering in the southeast, so I turned the five inch Meade in its direction and sat in stunned silence for a good sixty minutes. I’ve never seen Saturn from my deck at 200x when it wasn’t jumping all over the eyepiece — but this time, it was just as still as a summer night without a breath of wind. It looked like a photograph. I just could not pull myself away. I literally didn’t move from the eyepiece that whole hour. Category V seeing without any question — finally!
But inevitably, the seeing finally started to slip a bit. When I saw the rings start to waver back and forth, like a plane dipping its wings, I moved north a short distance to Porrima, which was two very well separated and very smooth globes of light — another memorable view for the memory banks.
And then it was that Iota (ι) Leonis re-entered my seeing stunned consciousness. By this time, Leo was across the meridian and loping toward the west, so I hesitated because that part of the sky typically has poor seeing from my location. But I thought I would give it a try anyway just for grins. 😉 😉 😉
I still had a 6mm Radian (197x) in the AR-5, so after centering Iota (ι) in the finder, I leaned over to look into the eyepiece — and darned if the secondary wasn’t peering back at me! Just like that. Amazing. After all the times I’ve tried to dig this one out, it suddenly gave up without a fight. Maybe I had worn it out. I noticed the seeing had deteriorated a bit more, but I would still rate it a four.
The primary was very white, and I’m not sure about the secondary — some of that white light looked like it was leaping from the primary over to the secondary and then back again. So if it was white, it was a borrowed white. Beautiful sight, though.
About this time a chorus of coyotes went wild. There must have been about ten of the little devils, and they were calling back and forth to each other from a couple of different locations. As I stared at that petite point of dim light and listened to them singing and yipping to each other, I felt my adrenalin level start to increase — their energy was infectious! I felt the brain cells crystallizing into a single thought under my frost covered Star Splitter’s hat! I knew now that I needed something more stirring from this star! I needed ——- more magnification!
Yes, it’s true — I was lusting for a higher quota of Iota photons.
Now — I had just written a post a few days prior to this about coaxing the secondary of Eta (η) Geminorum (Propus) out of an uncooperative sky at 83x, in which I took great pains to point out how rare it is in my part of the world to get seeing that allows me to get much past 150x, and how critical it is for success under those conditions to rely on finesse. But as of this moment, I was finished with finesse! What I wanted now was enough s p a c e between these two stars to drive a truck through! Coyote music was roaring through my blood!
So I dropped a 4mm Astro Tech Plössl into the diagonal with a loud snap, leaped to my feet, and surged forward for a 295x view. If you’re going to forge a truck lane between two stars, you gotta have horsepower.
And I saw so much bouncing and dancing and spinning and hopping and leaping and shaking and squirming — that I had to look away to hang onto my dinner.
Geez, so much for truck traffic.
About this time I thought I heard a low growl …… and the coyotes stopped. Dead silence.
I could have sworn it was a lion’s growl, but the only lion within a few thousand miles of me was Leo …….. but no — no way.
Maybe it was time to call it quits. The temperature had slipped to a very cold 28 degrees and the frost on my Star Splitter’s hat had turned to ice. It was almost 3 AM, and I had been at this for three hours with no break, and my toes were about thirty minutes past numb and — well, hallucinations aren’t healthy when you’re all alone on a cold deck fifteen feet above the ground at 3 AM in a semi-frozen state.
So I went back to the 6mm Radian, soaked up the view for about ten minutes to see if the photons would warm me up — they didn’t — and decided to close up shop for the night.
It took a few trips to get everything moved off the deck, and the coyotes stayed quiet the whole time. The last piece was the tripod, and as I got to the door, I set it down for a second and looked up at Leo. That huge head was just starting to disappear behind some trees, and if I didn’t know better, I would swear I saw it wink at me.