Cabo-Style Observing

Jack Kramer and Greg Lutes

In early April this year, we took a vacation trip, along with our wives, to Cabo San Lucas at the tip of Mexico's Baja Peninsula. Since Cabo is around latitude +23o, this afforded an opportunity to view some far-southern celestial objects that are inaccessible from up north here, and even from the latitude where we normally go for the club's annual observing trip to the Southwest. Greg brought along his 6" Maksutov-Cassegrain scope and Jack brought a heavy-duty camera tripod for the telescope and binoculars. We also prepared ourselves with a current Southern Hemisphere star chart in S&T and some latitude-specific printouts from planetarium programs. So after days of fun in the sun, we were prepared for some time under the stars.


One concern was where we could set up the telescope so as to be away from the glare of all the lights in the area. It turned out that the solution was to get above the lights. The resort where we were staying had a veranda on the seventh floor roof with gym equipment and a jacuzzi. Normally this was closed after 7 PM, but the resort people agreed to open it up each night for us. This wasn't a totally dark site, but at least we were above the lights...and it was certainly convenient. In addition, the fact that we were seven floors up allowed a better vantage point for seeing above the hills to the south.

At least once we had to try something really degenerate - observing while enjoying the luxury of the jacuzzi. Taking the telescope into the jacuzzi was out of the question, but in the photo below, Greg is using binoculars to observe M42 in Orion.

On a more serious note, our telescopic search concentrated on the far-southern sky. The days were always sunny, but at night there was a persistent band of haze in the southern sky over the ocean, right were we wanted to observe. So we made the most of the situation and looked as far south as possible. On several nights we did observe Omega Centauri, the huge globular cluster in Centaurus. There was one night that was clear right to the horizon, and this gave us the best view of the Southern Cross. We also picked up some brilliant open clusters: NGC 2516 and IC 2602 in Carina, and NGC 4755, the "Jewel Box Cluster" in Crux. The bright navigation star Canopus just brushed the hilltops to the southwest, and as it set, it seemed to be following the slope of a large hill on the Pacific side of the cape. We watched it disappear, then moved about 20 feet to see it reappear then set again. We moved several times until we ran out of floor space on the hotel veranda. And to top things off, we saw several bright, slow members of the Virginid meteor shower. What a vacation trip!

Published in the May 2003 issue of the NightTimes