Yet again, we had the usual aggregation of Amateur Astronomers from Chennai and Bangalore at Yelagiri Hills, near Vaniyambadi, Tamil Nadu.
The attendees from Bangalore were Hemant Hariyani, Amar Sharma, Neetesh, Pavan Kumar Sharma, and Mr. Byju. Dr. Suresh Mohan, myself and my friends Prasanna Ramaswamy, Vinay Hegde and Prakash Mohan drove down from Chennai, and Arun Bharadwaj joined us from Trichy.
Lots of equipment came along. There was Hemant's 12" Dobsonian, Dr. Suresh's 10" Meade LX200, Arun's 10" Meade Lightbridge, Dr. Suresh's Orion ED80, Hemant's Meade 80 ED, 10x50 Olympus binoculars and a 9x50 monocular - all this in just two cars! There were also many DSLR, SLR and prosumer cameras for astrophotography. Dr. Suresh brought along the Orion Atlas G-EQ 5 mount and Hemant brought his Vixen equatorial mount with Meade motors along.
Both parties from Bangalore and Chennai made it almost at the same time to Yelagiri. We reached there at about 7:00 PM, just after sunset. While I ran off to try out the low in the horizon Messier objects for a trial Messier Marathon, Dr. Suresh was setting up his telescope, Amar was setting up Hemant's 12" Telescope and Byju and my friends from IITM were setting up Arun's 10".
The skies were par excellence! Despite a lot of lights around in the resort where we stayed, which made life difficult for the observers, we could still see several objects with the unaided eye, including open cluster M48. The Orion Milky Way was pretty thick. One could see the Milky Way all the way down to Vela / Crux.
In no time, everyone was ready - Dr. Suresh was aligning his telescope, Hemant was ready to shoot M42, Amar was looking for Comet Wirtanen, I was trying out a Messier marathon attempt (which ended in vain) and so were my friends. Arun arrived a little late.
Dr. Suresh attempted quite a few photographs over the night - he could not capture M1 or Thor's helmet, but successfully captured the Leo triplet. He also tried out his newly acquired CCD camera. Hemant and Pavan Sharma together took photographs of Orion Nebula, Omega Centauri and Eta Carina nebula. While the Orion Nebula photograph did not come out well due to wind, the remaining two have been processed and uploaded here and here. Prasanna took quite a few fixed tripod exposures of various constellations with his digital camera.
Arun, Prakash, Prasanna, Vinay, Amar, Neetesh and me were observing deep sky objects as usual. I was trying out a Marathon, but ended up falling asleep after moonrise, with a score of 79 objects. Amar showed us comet Wirtanen and a few faint galaxies. Arun was browsing the galaxies in the Ursa Major - Canes Venatici region. As I traversed the Virgo cluster during the Marathon, I happened to come across the Markarian Chain galaxies M84 and M86. Through the 12", this region showed 10 galaxies in one field of view on the 12" - many were able to see 7 of these galaxies easily!! Sombrero galaxy was breathtaking. Prasanna observed the dark lanes, while I still couldn't make out anything distinct. Amar showed us NGC 4565 later in the night and it appeared really long! Eta Carinae nebula showed up very well through Hemant's scope with the UHC filter. Owing to the closeness of the moon, M8 and other nebulae in Sagittarius were a disaster.
Overall, everyone had a wonderful time and are looking forward to equally dark skies in future (without resort lights, please!).