Last year, while I was in Texas, I got a chance to observe with Jimi Lowrey, Alvin Huey and Jimi’s huge 48″ dob up at Limpia Crossing, near the ranch where TSP is held. While we were talking over dinner before heading up to Jimi’s observatory, Jimi and Alvin told me about a discovery that Jimi had recently made while looking at the Sloan Digital Sky Survey images; Alvin had also been there at the time Jimi found it on the Sloan image. It was a small round green object in Draco and, due to its colour, Jimi nicknamed it the Sweet Pea. The Sweet Pea’s status isn’t certain at the moment although it’s believed to be a planetary nebula. The strange thing about the Sweet Pea is that it is in the galactic halo and not the disk, meaning that it could be an object captured when the Milky Way galaxy consumed a neighbour that came too close. Most stars – and planetary nebulae – are in the disk of the galaxy.
Later that night, May 11 2010, when we were observing, Jimi asked me if I wanted to see the Sweet Pea and, naturally, I said ‘yes’.
Sweet Pea, planetary nebula(?) in Draco, 18 41 41.9 +65 11 58 – The Sweet Pea was round and fairly faint. I didn’t sketch it, although I wished I had now! I initially saw it without a filter and it was tough, seen as a round brightening against the sky. It was definitely fuzzy, not stellar and a UHC filter helped a bit. 48″ Dob @ 488x. Jimi and Alvin had already seen the Sweet Pea before, so that apparently made me the third person ever to visually see it. That’s pretty amazing and what hard-core deep sky observing is about.
So, why didn’t I mention the Sweet Pea when I wrote about the TSP way back last May? Well, Alvin and myself were sworn to secrecy as, understandably, Jimi did not want anyone else to nip in and steal the discovery for themselves, until the astronomers up at McDonald Observatory had studied it and confirmed it. It has now been confirmed, using the Hobby Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory, is now in the public domain and Jimi was awarded the Lone Stargazer Award for the discovery at this year’s Texas Star Party.
I understand that the Sweet Pea was a major target for Larry’s 36″ and others at TSP this year, although I don’t know if anyone saw it or not. It was tough with a 48″ under dark and transparent Texas skies, it will probably be impossible with an 18″ or 20″ from the UK.
Jimi and professional astronomer Steve Odewahn from the HET feature in a program on Marfa Public Radio, talking about the Sweet Pea. Click here to listen. Go to Jimi’s Page on Dark Skies Apparel for more about the Sweet Pea and some of Jimi’s other observations.
I am hoping to catch up with Jimi and Alvin, as well as my other friends, at TSP 2012…