2004 December 30/31
I've had to deal with over a foot of snow since Christmas. There have been several brief clearing periods. Tonight was the best so far; I was able to get a quick look at Comet Machholz before moonrise. The sky wasn't that great (LM~6.3). The comet remains an obvious "fuzzy star" to the naked eye. I estimated its magnitude as 3.9. In binoculars, the coma was very large, with a diameter of ~40'. This diameter probably includes a superimposed dust fan. There was a stellar nucleus and a bright inner coma; the rest of the coma was fairly diffuse with several jets. A faint, thin ion tail extended for about 3 degrees to the ENE; it appeared to fork where it emerged from the coma but became diffuse and featureless farther out. The coma appeared compressed in the anti-tailward direction, and bloated perpendicular to the tail. (Sketch)
A 7mm type 6 Nagler arrived today. This eyepiece should give me 164x and a 29' field of view on my 10" f/4.5 Dob. Amazingly, the sky was clear, although I guess that's OK because of the bright Moon. How would the Nagler do on Luna? I popped it in. So far, lunar observing is the one arena where this widefield's eccentricities have shown themselves. The image is very nice and fairly contrasty; swapping out my barlowed 15mm Antares and 6mm UO HD Ortho, the Nagler at first seemed to have an edge. It seemed to reveal the main craterlets in Plato as more substantial pits rather than just bright spots. After more swapping, however, I concluded that this was just an artifact of the variable seeing. All of the eyepieces were capable of revealing this amount of detail during steady moments. What was obvious was that the Nagler's field of view was a lot wider, and that it was sharp even in the outer portions. The eccentricities? When holding my eye back from the eyecup so that the field stop was invisible, there was an orange ring around the edge of the visible field. When I tried to move my eye in close to see the entire field, kidney bean blackouts would occur. The edge of the field, while very sharp, showed false lateral color with lunar features tinged greenish and a thin blue ring right at the field stop. Slight pincushion distortion was evident at the very edge of the field when panning on the Moon. Adding a variable polarizing filter, even at a very light setting, eliminated the orange ring. I also tried barlowing the Nagler with my 2x Ultrascopic. It seemed to work well, although the image was not as contrasty as my beloved 9mm Ortho/barlow combination. I chalked this up to the seeing; the lower magnification of the Ortho combination was probably the optimum power for lunar viewing this evening.
With the Moon, deep-sky viewing was limited. Comet Machholz was still a faint naked-eye object; the Nagler showed a couple of jets or fountains that weren't obvious in the barlowed 15mm Antares because of the latter's narrower field, but the comet is mainly a low-power show at this stage. The Orion Nebula was also a legitimate target; as expected, the Nagler showed the same amount of detail as the Antares, but just allowed more of the object to be seen at once. The split of the 6 Trapezium stars seemed crisper in the Nagler, but this could have been another seeing effect. In any case, so far the Nagler has not shown the orange ring or blackouts on anything except the Moon. I can get my eye close enough to see the whole field, and it's quite comfortable.
Planetary viewing? Saturn was low at the beginning of my observation, but slowly rose into a better position. I repeated my eyepiece swapping, with a familiar theme: the Nagler seemed to give a better view more of the time, although all three eyepiece combos with similar magnifications gave essentially the same view during the best moments. Well, with an undriven scope, the planet will spend more time in the field of view of the Nagler than the others. The Nagler was essentially sharp to within a minute or so of the edge, about what I can say for my other eyepieces. That's about 27' of sharp field, compared to 17' with the Antares and 11' with the Ortho. The Nagler seemed to be easier to find best focus with as well, something I'll have to explore further. Steady seeing with Saturn high in the sky confirmed that the Nagler barlows well; I used this combo at 330x for a sketch.
There was only about an hour of moonlessness before morning twilight. The sky was really nice, however, so I had to go out. My main target was the supernova in the Ring-tail galaxies, NGC 4038/9. Images showed it in the pair's northern component, in one of the knots. It was actually a pretty easy stellar point for a 14th-magnitude star in a reasonably southern location. The detail in the galaxies this morning was amazing. I hopped around to some showpieces until twilight began, and then did my first sketch of Jupiter during this apparition. The most special thing was a large white oval in the STB/SSTB? with a poorly-defined northern border. Otherwise, there wasn't any intricate detail and the seeing was just average. Sketch.
December 21/22: Ursid Meteor Shower!
Prior to this morning, I had seen a grand total of one Ursid in my life, during a weather-aborted 2001 session. I'll be honest. Based on recent accounts of this shower, I expected two or three Ursids per hour. And that's if the skies were clear. I timed the start of my watch for moonset, but of course there was a cloud bank moving through then. So, I waited, and it cleared off. I immediately saw two Ursids in rapid succession, followed a couple of minutes later by an absolutely gorgeous Ursid fireball (-4, red, speed 2/5, 20-second train). OK, that was the highlight of the watch, but the Ursids did put in a really decent showing. I saw 22 Ursids in 1.38 hours of Teff. I had to take a break an hour in as the sky got really scuzzy, but there was some fitful clearing around the beginning of morning twilight that allowed me to confirm ongoing Ursid activity.
Observer: Wesley Stone (STOWE)
Location: Chiloquin, OR (42d 35m N, 121d 52m W)
Method: Counting: Watch/Tape recorder
Date: 2004 December 21/22
Interval UT Teff F LM URS COM Spo*
1209-1224 0.25 1.00 6.80 5 1 4
1224-1239 0.25 1.00 6.56 4 0 7
1239-1254 0.25 1.00 6.80 4 0 4
1254-1309 0.25 1.00 6.72 4 0 5
1346-1409 0.38 1.17 6.34 5 1 5
TOTALS 1.38 1.05 6.61 22 2 25
*Spo includes 1 Antihelion meteor, magnitude +2 at 1242 UT.
-4 -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5 Total (Mean)
URS 1 - 1 1 - 1 5 6 5 2 22 (2.4)
COM - - - - - - - 2 - - 2 (3.0)
Spo - - - - 1 2 5 10 3 4 25 (3.0)
I got revenge on a comet that had eluded me during my previous session. C/2004 U1 (LINEAR) in Lynx was reported at magnitude 13-14, a couple of magnitudes brighter than the ephemeris. My original chart had only one position; I hadn't realized how fast it was moving. Armed with this knowledge and a better chart, I was able to pinpoint its position this morning. The comet was faint and challenging, although most of the challenge was to keep my eyepiece from fogging/frosting up in the frigid chill. During those rare moments of clarity, the comet was sometimes visible directly. At other times, averted vision was required. This was a very compact object of 0.5' or less. Occasionally, a stellar nucleus was detectable. Motion over an hour was dramatic (sketch).
I pulled a morning session after moonset. I had just gotten through with a very long day, and it was really hard to convince myself to get out of bed after only a couple of hours of sleep. But, the scope was out cooling off, and once I was at the eyepiece I didn't feel too tired. My first target was Comet Machholz, of course. The comet remains an easy naked-eye object. I estimated its magnitude at 4.6 tonight and the coma diameter at 19'. Both of these values are a bit less impressive than on December 14/15. Perhaps the sky contrast was just a bit better on that night, although tonight wasn't bad at all (zenithal LM ~6.7, Seeing 5-8/10). The ion tail seemed fainter tonight; I could trace ~2 degrees in 8x56 binoculars. The dust fan remained prominent. In binoculars, the comet was dominated by a very bright nonstellar core. A bluish-green color was evident. In the 10" Dob, the comet showed a stellar nucleus and several jets in its bright inner coma. The dust fan had a long extension of >30' to the W, and a shorter extension of 20-30' to the NW which essentially joined up with the W edge of the ion tail. The ion tail, pointing to the NNE, seemed broader this morning. Sketch. The other comet that I viewed this morning was 62P/Tsuchinshan, in Leo not far from M65 and M66. Reportedly at 12th magnitude, it wasn't difficult in the 10" Dob. It showed up as a diffuse, round fuzzball about 3' in diameter, with a faint core. Sketch.
Aside from the obligatory winter and spring deep-sky showpieces, I looked at Saturn and Jupiter. When I first viewed Saturn, seeing was quite good with lots of crisp detail on the disk and in the rings. Unfortunately, I moved on to other objects, and when I came back the seeing had dropped a couple of notches. Later in the morning, seeing improved a little bit. For the first time in this apparition, Jupiter looked OK. The Great Red Spot was on display.
December 14/15: Comet Machholz Update
I observed Comet Machholz this evening. The comet was an obvious naked-eye object. Transparency was decent tonight; limiting magnitude high in the sky was ~6.8. Through 8x56 binoculars, the comet showed an obvious wide dust fan opening toward the west and extending for a degree or two. Much fainter and thinner was the ion tail to the NNE. With difficulty, I could trace it for 5 degrees. In binoculars, the coma diameter was ~30'. I couldn't defocus stars to this diameter in the binoculars, so I estimated magnitude with my naked eye. Surprisingly, I came up with m1=4.0, although this isn't strictly the magnitude of the coma (also includes the dust fan). In any case, the comet is becoming impressive!
It's a pretty big object for the 10" Dob, but I sketched it as seen through my marginal-quality 32mm widefield eyepiece. The comet has a fairly bright stellar nucleus surrounded by a bright greenish inner coma. The outer coma is very large and diffuse. A couple of faint jets protrude and form the bases of the dust and ion tails. (Sketch)
December 13/14: Geminids, Clouds and Rain
The evening of December 13 was mostly overcast. There were a couple of very brief sucker holes, but I wasn't able to observe more than a couple of meteors. I set alarms for 1:30 and 2:30am, but quick looks revealed no breaks in the clouds. I didn't set one for 3:30am, but I woke up at 3:29 and looked out the window to a partially clear sky. This looked like the real thing, so after knocking the sleep from my brain I set up for observing in record time. As soon as I got in position, I saw the brightest meteor of the morning, a blue -5 Geminid fireball. Several fainter Geminids and a sporadic followed. Sky conditions were variable; I had to take a couple of breaks due to my field of view being greatly obstructed. In the clear areas, LM was 6.5-6.8. At one point, a soft rain started falling, but I kept observing as my field was only 20% obstructed! Geminids were plentiful considering the conditions, and pleasingly bright. Sporadic activity was very high, although it didn't seem that way during the watch (perhaps because of these meteors' faintness). While the Geminid weather was mostly frustrating (again...), at least it wasn't a total loss.
Observer: Wesley Stone (STOWE)
Location: Chiloquin, OR (42d 35m N, 121d 52m W)
Method: Counting: Watch/Tape recorder
Date: 2004 December 13/14
Interval UT Teff F LM GEM MON Spo
1144-1252 1.02 1.34 6.7 41 2 21
-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 Total (Mean)
GEM 1 - 1 3 1 3 5 11 7 6 3 41 (1.8)
MON - - - - - - 1 - 1 - - 2 (2.0)
Spo - - - - - 1 - 7 7 3 3 21 (3.0)
December 12/13: Geminids and Clouds from Hell
It looked like there would be a miracle; just one more band of clouds to move from west to east on the satellite loop, and then crystal clear sky behind it. I waited outside, casually admiring meteors that appeared early in the evening, and pointing my binoculars and telescope at targets in the clear areas. Comet Machholz was really impressive when it was in the clear!
Just as it seemed that the last of these mid-level clouds was going to exit the scene, I started setting up for meteor observing. I went in the house to get my sleeping bags, etc. and when I came out a torrent of low clouds was pouring in from the north, looking like nothing so much as a giant gray fist with middle finger extended toward me. North was a bad direction; all the bad weather had been up to the north, and it was soon clear that there was an unlimited supply of this stuff.
It was too bad, as through the diminishing sucker holes I could see that the Geminids were really kicking into gear. For example, around 10:30pm, there was a burst of 5 Geminids in 30 seconds, all of them visible through the thinner clouds. I went in and had a cup of tea, hoping that this would all blow over. Instead, it just blew in. Occasionally, things would thin out; one flotilla of bright Geminids included a blue-white -4 in the NW, and a -6 blue fireball lit up the clouds to the E. But it was a losing battle. I drove around to see if I could get above the clouds, but was only successful in getting into the middle of them. It was a bit late to make a serious run to the south. I set hourly alarms, but it was completely socked in for most of the morning. This evening doesn't look good, either. Glad to hear that others got good rates.
December 11/12: Geminids and Cloud Breaks
The forecast has been doom, gloom and more gloom. Somehow, I wasn't entirely convinced, and I set a couple of alarms to tell me to look out my window. At 2:30am, I looked out and saw quite a few stars. In fact, they were visible all the way down to the western horizon, which meant that it wasn't foggy. Things looked to be improving, but when I got outside I saw that it was just a succession of sucker patches. Sometimes, the Winter Milky Way would be incredibly detailed in southern Gemini, hinting at a LM of 7+. Unfortunately, that would be the only clear area in that part of the sky. At other times, much of the sky would be clear but hazy, with an LM around 5. I wasn't about to try to keep track of LM and obstructions, but I did a one-hour casual watch from about 10:50-11:50 UT and saw 15 Geminids and 4 non-Geminids. All of the GEMs were between magnitudes 0 and 3.
After a hot cocoa break during a cloudy period, I went back out. Slowly, the sky started to open up, and the cloudiness was less chaotic. I started an official count at 12:29 UT. Clouds threatened at times, but never obstructed more than 30% of my FOV. Sporadic rates were very good for the conditions. Geminids were slow at times, but overall the rates were OK, especially if I was missing a lot of faint ones. There weren't any fireballs during the watch, but I did see a dramatic "peachy" -3 South Apex sporadic as I was packing up.
Observer: Wesley Stone (STOWE)
Location: Chiloquin, OR (42d 35m N, 121d 52m W)
Method: Counting: Watch/Tape recorder
Date: 2004 December 11/12
Interval UT Teff F LM GEM Spo
1229-1330 1.00 1.20 6.2 22 12
-1 0 1 2 3 4 Total (Mean)
GEM 3 2 4 3 7 3 22 (1.8)
Spo - 1 - 4 4 3 12 (2.7)
This looked like it would be a better night than it turned out to be, at least as far as transparency was concerned. I got home late and a bit burned-out from work, so I mainly concentrated on viewing several comets and did some casual observing. Limiting magnitude was a little below normal (6.5-6.6), and at times the sky seemed a bit washed-out.
Comet Tucker was high overhead in Andromeda. It was readily visible in the 10" Dob, but not in 8x56 binoculars. I estimated its magnitude at 11.0 and its coma diameter at 2.5'. There was a bright, somewhat irregular core with a nonstellar nucleus and brighter regions to the E and W. The outer coma was very diffuse. Overall the comet was round with no sign of a tail. Sketch.
Comet 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann was faint and ghostly, with little central condensation and an indeterminate diameter. It was a fairly difficult object under the conditions. I didn't sketch it.
Comet 78P/Gehrels was easy in the 10" Dob, and near an attractive asterism of 7th-11th magnitude stars in an otherwise sparse field. It showed a bright, round inner coma with a distinct stellar nucleus. The overall coma diameter was about 2', and I estimated its magnitude at 10.5. A faint, indistinct extension about 2' long pointed toward the west, and may have marked the beginning of a tail. Sketch.
As the Moon was rising, I looked at the showpiece open clusters in Auriga and Gemini, and messed around in Orion. It wasn't a bad night seeing-wise, although Saturn was just over a metal building and wasn't at its best. I could have stuck around longer, but I was getting cold and called it a night. I did walk out a bit later with binoculars to look at Comet Machholz; it was easily visible west of Lepus even with the Moon and without much dark adaptation. But, given some clear nights, it will be even better with the Moon out of the way and the comet headed north.
Transparency-wise, this was the best morning of the week (LM = 6.9), although the seeing was mediocre until 5:00am or so when it improved to average. Comet C/2004 Q2 (Machholz) was naked-eye visible! I put it at magnitude 5.9 with a 15' coma. In the 10" Dob, it showed a broad and faint tail with two components. Later, in morning twilight, C/2003 K4 (LINEAR) was visible in binoculars. In the Dob, I couldn't make out any trace of the reported antitail. The main tail was visible for ~15' in PA 270; there seemed to be a brighter patch about 10' W of the coma. I noticed this the previous morning as well. The coma also seemed to have a faint extension in PA~140. I was battling twilight throughout the observation, and the comet was low in the sky. Machholz Sketch. LINEAR Sketch.
Saturn was kind of shaky most of the time, although it firmed up nicely near the beginning of twilight. I confirmed my previous identification of Hyperion by noting its movement with respect to an 11th-magnitude star. Jupiter was still really low, but started to show signs of finer detail.
I also did a one-hour meteor session. I had seen a couple of Leonids when looking up from viewing other objects through my telescope, so I wanted to see what was going on. Only 3 Leonids appeared. North Taurids kicked in a surprising 4 meteors, and sporadic activity was pretty good. Alpha Monocerotids were conspicuously absent. The highlight of the session was a +1 Zeta Puppid earthgrazer that shot long (~40 degrees) and fairly low along the horizon from SW to W. The radiant elevation at the time was only about 4 degrees.
Observer: Wesley Stone (STOWE)
Location: Chiloquin, OR (42d 35m N, 121d 52m W)
Method: Counting: Watch/Tape recorder
Date: 2004 November 20/21
Interval UT Teff F LM STA NTA AMO zPu* LEO Spo**
1157-1258 1.00 1.00 6.9 0 4 0 1 3 13
*zPu = Zeta Puppids; radiant 8:12, -43
**Spo includes 2 Northern Apex meteors.
0 1 2 3 4 5 Total (Mean)
NTA - - 1 2 1 - 4 (3.0)
zPU - 1 - - - - 1 (1.0)
LEO - - 1 1 1 - 3 (3.0)
Spo - 1 3 4 4 1 13 (3.1)
I was out for a couple of hours on a frigid morning (13F; -10C). I viewed comets C/2004 Q2 (Machholz) and C/2003 K4 (LINEAR). Both were 7th-magnitude objects visible in 8x56 binoculars and interestingly detailed in the 10" Dob. I'll revisit them and stay longer in my next session. Both were low in the sky. I also viewed Saturn (nicely detailed at 275x in above-average seeing and sporting 7 visible moons including Enceladus and Hyperion), Jupiter (still pretty low and trembly), and some showpiece DSOs. I even squeezed in a half hour of casual meteor observing and saw 6 Leonids and 6 sporadics.
November 18/19 Leonids
I observed for 2.5 hours Teff this morning, from 10:45-13:18 UT (November 19; 2:45-5:18am PST). Limiting magnitude was ~6.8. I saw a total of 83 meteors, including 43 Leonids, 5 Taurids, 3 Alpha Monocerotids and 32 sporadics.
30 of the Leonids (and 50 total meteors) came in the last half of the session, from 12:01-13:18 UT. Sequential 15-minute breakdowns (number of Leonids) went as follows: 3, 4, 2, 2, 2, 5, 7, 8, 6, 4
Leonids were fainter on average than on November 16/17, with none in negative magnitudes.
Observer: Wesley Stone (STOWE)
Location: Chiloquin, OR (42d 35m N, 121d 52m W)
Method: Counting: Watch/Tape recorder
Date: 2004 November 18/19
Interval UT Teff F LM STA NTA AMO LEO Spo*
1045-1201 1.25 1.00 6.8 1 2 3 13 14
1201-1318 1.25 1.00 6.7 0 2 0 30 18
*Spo includes 6 Northern Apex meteors (2 in interval 1 and 4 in
interval 2) and 3 Southern Apex meteors (1 in interval 1 and 2 in
0 1 2 3 4 5 Total (Mean)
STA - 1 - - - - 1 (1.0)
NTA - - 2 1 1 - 4 (2.8)
AMO - 1 - 2 - - 3 (2.3)
LEO 3 5 14 11 6 4 43 (2.6)
Spo 2 3 8 8 9 2 32 (2.8)
It looked like it might be foggy, but most of the fog had frozen off by morning. A little bit of it hung around, along with some thin cirrus, to barely lower the limiting magnitude. I got in two hours of meteor observing. Leonid activity was mediocre but bright, with 9 seen in each hour. Sporadic activity was dismal at only 6 per hour. I saw 2 North Taurids, but no South Taurids or Alpha Monocerotids. I experienced a 22-minute barren period during the first interval. Highlights were a -2 violet Leonid and a -1 red Leonid that left a twisting 20-second train.
Observer: Wesley Stone (STOWE)
Location: Chiloquin, OR (42d 35m N, 121d 52m W)
Method: Counting: Watch/Tape recorder
Date: 2004 November 16/17
Interval UT Teff F LM STA NTA AMO LEO Spo*
1130-1231 1.00 1.00 6.6 0 2 0 9 6
1231-1332 1.00 1.02 6.6 0 0 0 9 6
*Spo includes 1 Northern Apex meteor (interval 1) and 2 Southern Apex
meteors (both interval 2).
-2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 Total (Mean)
NTA - - - - 1 1 - 2 (2.5)
LEO 1 2 1 2 6 5 1 18 (1.6)
Spo - - 1 1 1 6 3 12 (2.8)
I wasted a couple of hours of darkness eating supper and watching TV before I looked out at 8:45pm PST and saw:
A huge green auroral band spanning 120 degrees of azimuth, flanked by reds and yellows like some psychedelic rainbow. Occasional pillars to 70 degrees altitude, and features like dark absorption lines in a spectrum.
Over the next 2.5 hours, the display alternately subsided and perked up.
The aurora had several periods of enhanced activity; in between it subsided to a bright glow. I probably missed the first couple of hours of the display. At some times, the auroral curtain was well off the horizon. Big pillar displays came at around 9:05pm, from 10:20-10:30pm, and from 10:40-11:05pm. After that it receded to a pale glow. Some of the pillars in the last burst reached the zenith, but I never saw a corona. Also near the end of the display, the western end (in Draco) was a beautiful pure crimson with an occasional searchlight pillar running through it. The motion was slow and steady until after 10:20, when there were fast flickering bursts of light rushing up from the horizon along the curtain in the NE.
From 11:30pm-1:30am (7:30-9:30 UT), and then from 4:08-5:08am (11:08-12:08 UT), I counted meteors. Activity was normal; in three hours I counted 18 Taurids and 35 sporadics. I was hoping that the predicted early Leonid peak would be off by 10 hours but, oh, well :). I only saw one meteor that was well-aligned with the Nov. 8 Leonid radiant, and that could easily be attributed to sporadic pollution. Hope the other side of the world gets to see something in the next few hours. The brightest meteors were two Taurids of magnitudes -1 and 0. If you trust shoestring radiant association, North Taurids outpolled South Taurids 13 to 5.
I pulled off a quality observing session of about 3.5 hours this evening. My main observing targets included five comets and the Bubble Nebula (NGC 7635), interspersed with casual views of showpieces about to leave for the winter. Skies were decent (limiting magnitude ~6.8 at the zenith) as long as I stayed well above the local wood smoke and river fog that hugged the horizon. Seeing was average.
My first comet was C/2003 T4 (LINEAR) in Draco. It was detectable at 44x in my 10" Dob, although higher powers made it more obvious. The comet made an isosceles triangle with two 10th-magnitude stars, and appeared as a slightly condensed round fuzzball about 1.5' across. 13th magnitude seems about right for this one. Sketch. While in Draco, I paid my respects to C/2001 Q4 (NEAT). While this comet has faded to 11th magnitude, tonight found it in a really pretty star field anchored by yellowish and bluish 7th-magnitude stars. With other stars, these luminaries formed a cup- or sack-like asterism around the comet. C/2001 Q4 appeared nearly round, with a faint but distinct stellar nucleus. Coma diameter was about 3'. Sketch. After visits to M13 and M92, I swung over to the south, between Pisces and Pegasus. There I found 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann. This comet has undergone a couple of outbursts recently. Tonight, it was as diffuse as I have ever seen it. The comet appeared almost evenly illuminated, with a very low surface brightness and edges that faded into the background sky. It was about 3' in diameter, but elongated slightly NE-SW. Sketch.
The brightest comet of the evening was C/2004 Q1 (Tucker). High in the sky, near Pi Andromedae, Tucker was just visible in 8x56 binoculars. I had sketched it the night before, so I just took a casual glance in the Dob.
Slightly fainter than Tucker was 78P/Gehrels. However, Gehrels won the "most telegenic" award for the night by a tail. The comet's head was quite condensed, with a prominent stellar nucleus. The coma was only about 2' across. A faint but obvious tail extended to the west for up to 6'. Sketch. My final object of the night was NGC 7635, the Bubble Nebula in Cassiopeia. A couple of times within the past year I have observed this object without sketching it. The recent discussion on the starrynights Yahoo! Group spurred me to undertake a sketch. The nebula has two components. The first to be noticed at low power is a large and diffuse area of nebulosity, 7' x 3.5', extending mostly to the north of a 9th-magnitude star and flaring gradually. The surface brightness of this strip is slightly uneven; it shows a slight response to an Orion UltraBlock filter but is suppressed by an OIII filter. The second component includes the bubble structure and surrounds the 9th-magnitude star. At low power it appears as a roundish fuzz about 1.5' in diameter; at 114x, some structure is apparent. This component responds to both the UltraBlock and OIII filters; I thought the OIII was slightly better on this night. A brighter semicircle of glow with a fairly well-defined round edge encircles the star to the north. This semicircle is brightest and widest on the north side, its eastern end tapering and ending near a 12th-magnitude star. The western end also tapers but is fainter. Just west of the 9th-magnitude star, and inside the semicircle, is a very small bright bar of nebulosity with one star embedded. A dark lane appears to separate the semicircle from the diffuse nebulosity extending northward. South of the 9th-magnitude star, the nebulosity is very faint and diffuse. Sketch.
I did a quick evening deep-sky session to get the rust off after a three-week hiatus due to weather and moonlight. Skies were OK early, but fog and smoke soon encroached. I spent most of the time on casual views of showpieces, but also sketched comet C/2004 Q1 (Tucker). This comet was about magnitude 10.5 and situated in a pretty field that included Pi Andromedae even at 160x. The coma contains a fairly prominent central condensation, but the outer coma (2.5' diameter) is diffuse. The coma seems slightly elongated to the SE. Sketch.
Cruddy weather in Southern Oregon! Eventually, it would keep me from seeing the lunar eclipse, but it also washed out most of Orionid week. I got out for one fog-plagued session on the morning of the 21st.
Skies cleared overnight, but that just meant that fog replaced the clouds. I got a bit of helpful breeze to achieve almost an hour of observations with a couple of short interruptions. I spent another ~90 minutes of casual viewing under variably poor conditions.
Orionid activity seemed about normal; during the watch, activity was faint. I did note some brighter meteors (including a -3 Orionid) through the fog/clouds during casual viewing after the sky conditions prevented counting.
I counted from 2:58-4:06am PDT. My effective observing time was 0.95 hours after subtracting dead time due to fog. Average limiting magnitude was a very decent 6.7. I saw:
18 Orionids (mean magnitude 3.3)
11 Sporadics (mean magnitude 2.8)
1 Epsilon Geminid
I did a morning session for almost 3 hours. Skies were reasonably transparent ahead of an influx of high clouds, and seeing was about average. I putzed around through a bunch of Fornax Cluster galaxies, all of which are low in the sky from my yard. Afterwards, I viewed NGC 1535, a bright and detailed planetary nebula in Eridanus. I felt I should wait for a steadier sky before attempting a sketch.
Next, I attempted to view McNeil's Nebula near M78 for the first time this fall. The nebula wasn't any more difficult than it was in February, although it took quite a bit of concentration to find it. It is between NGC 2064 and Parsamyan-Petrossian 44 (sometimes shown as Herbig-Haro 24-26 4), so I placed them near opposite edges of the field at 160x and scanned the area in between. If you can't see these objects, you won't see McNeil's at its current brightness. The nebula looked like an elongated oval with a brighter center and possibly a two-lobed structure. I didn't see any stellar condensation in it. The magnitude 14.9 star near the nebula was only visible most of the time, a sign that the sky conditions were a long way from perfect.
I made the inevitable tour through the Belt and Sword region of Orion.
Abell 4, a faint planetary in Perseus, intrigued me when I read Jim Shields' account. It really wasn't that difficult in the 10", being detectable even at 76x with an OIII filter. At higher powers, it was barely visible without a filter, although the filters really helped to firm up the disk. The disk edges didn't seem to be very well-defined, and the SE and NW edges seemed vaguely brighter. C/2004 Q2 (Machholz), at about magnitude 9.0 in Columba, seems to be on its way to being a bright and attractive comet. Already, it shows a 3' coma with a bright core and faint stellar nucleus, and a tail up to 15' long.
Saturn looked pretty good considering the average seeing.
I did a late-evening session. Transparency was a bit on the poor side, so I didn't try any really challenging targets. I looked at some galaxies in Aquarius, and sketched the barred spiral NGC 7606. Faint arcs of spiral arms are visible in this galaxy in the 10" at 160x, but in my sketch the connections to the core are illusory. The actual spiral pattern is a clockwise S, and consists of tightly wrapped arms. Mottling and faint dark lanes are visible. I also sketched two comets, C/2004 Q1 (Tucker) and 78P/Gehrels. I star-hopped to both from Aries, but Tucker was in Pisces and Gehrels in Taurus. Tucker showed a rather bright 3' coma and a broad tail that faded rapidly after about 5'. Gehrels had a smaller 1.5' coma and a fairly conspicuous 3' tail.
This was my last morning at my house-sitting location near Agency Lake. I planned a short morning session. Unfortunately, a screw came loose in my focuser, and I didn't want to try to mess around with it in the dark. So, I was limited to manual focusing. One of the first objects I looked at was NGC 1851, a bright globular cluster in Columba. This cluster is down in the trees and buildings from my yard, but it is an easy binocular object. As a class II globular, it is extremely condensed. The core is extremely bright and unresolved, while a rather sparse halo of faint resolved stars surrounds it at 160x.
C/2004 Q2 (Machholz) wasn't too difficult in 8x56 binoculars. It was about magnitude 9.0, and showed a bright coma and faint but obvious tail in the 10".
My challenge object for the morning was NGC 1555, Hind's Variable Nebula in Taurus. I've heard that this is a hard object these days, but I found it slightly easier than Gyulbudaghian's Nebula and much easier than McNeil's Nebula. A faint 1' oval glow is visible to the W of T Tauri. I found it most obvious at 160x. With extended viewing, it looks like an irregular 90-degree arc, brightest near the star at its W and N extremes. Subtle detail is visible at the edge of perception. The UltraBlock filter did not seem to help. Sky conditions were good, with an LM close to 7.0.
During this evening session from a site overlooking Agency Lake, I made an attempt at Pease 1, the planetary nebula in M15. I used the charts at http://www.blackskies.com/peasefc.htm (Doug Snyder). Seeing was pretty good (7/10) and limiting magnitude was about 6.9. M15 looked good at 390x, and that's the minimum criteria I'd use for trying to locate Pease 1. If stars look blurry or bloated at high power, try again another night. The star hop posted at the above site is good to start out with, but what you're really trying to do is locate the right clump of stars. Once you do, come back to that location without going through the whole hop. When you use the OIII filter, the trapezoid and other stars are dimmed, and the hop isn't so obvious. The clumps are still there, though. I found that I could blink with the OIII filter even using my barlowed 6mm Orthoscopic, although I sacrificed a bit of field by holding my eye back farther. I did a slow blink, leaving the filter in place for a few seconds before pulling it away. I could get in several of these slow blinks before having to reposition my undriven Dob. The planetary clearly popped out most of the time as a stellar object when the OIII filter was in place. After that, I went after easier prey, including a sketch of NGC 7184 in Aquarius. This nearly edge-on galaxy shows an elongated core and a mottled halo.
I did a short evening session at a house-sitting site near Agency Lake. Transparency seemed a bit below average, and eventually the clouds rolled in. Seeing was good, however. I sketched C/2001 Q4 (NEAT), now a very diffuse 10th-magnitude fuzzball with a slightly elongated central condensation. I also checked on Supernova 2004et in NGC 6946; I estimated it at magnitude 12.4. I tried for the allegedly 13th-magnitude comet C/2003 T4 (LINEAR), but didn't find it. It should brighten and become an easy target over the coming months.
Uranus looked amazingly well-defined at 390x; the cleanest disk I have ever seen from it. I couldn't make out any surface detail, but it certainly seemed possible. Oberon and Titania were both easy. I swung through some galaxies and globulars. M15 looked so good that I interrupted my session to track down some Pease 1 finder charts. Unfortunately, this dealt a setback to my dark adaptation, and by the time I started to get it back the clouds were arriving.
I did a morning session, during which I forgot to take any notes. I spent most of the time hunting down galaxies in Eridanus. I made one sketch, of the diffuse but detailed barred spiral NGC 1300.
I did a split session, going out in the evening and again in the morning. The highlight of the Moon-soaked evening session was 4179 Toutatis, the near-Earth asteroid that will be making a close pass (4 lunar distances) on September 29. At that time, it will be strictly a Southern Hemisphere object, so I went out to catch it in Capricornus. Toutatis was easy in the 10" as a "star" of magnitude 10.5. I sketched the field at 114x and returned in 90 minutes; in that time, it had moved roughly 7 arcminutes to the SSW. Between my views of Toutatis, I viewed some double stars and bright deep-sky objects. Seeing started out as mediocre, but improved somewhat. I was impressed with my view of NGC 7009 (The Saturn Nebula), so I dug deeper and sketched it. This object, visible in any scope, was a bright greenish oval at low power. In the 10" at 230x, with some concentration, the faint extensions or ansae became visible. I was able to use 390x, my highest available power, for the sketch. I tried OIII and UltraBlock filters; they didn't make much difference in the view although the OIII may have slightly enhanced the "bulbs" on the ansae. The main disk is much, much brighter than the ansae, almost overwhelminly so. It is oval and elongated E-W, with a bright rim inside the edge and a darker central area. The major axis is about 30 arcseconds. The central star was not visible, and although there was a small fainter area beyond the rim I couldn't see an extended outer shell. I'll try another night when the Moon isn't there. The ansae are essentially averted-vision objects. The eastern ansa seemed to stand out a bit more at first, but after extended viewing they appeared equally difficult. Both are small, irregularly linear extensions with nearly stellar condensations or "bulbs" near their tips. They seem to be about 15-20" long. Before morning twilight, I went out again and viewed the three bright morning comets. C/2004 Q1 (Tucker) seems to have brightened slightly from my last observation. It was magnitude 11.7 by comparison to field stars, >2' in diameter and had a small central condensation and diffuse outer halo. It was essentially round. Sketch.
78P/Gehrels, like Tucker, was in Aries. It was a bit smaller and more condensed than Tucker, but about the same magnitude (11.8).
C/2004 Q2 (Machholz), in Eridanus, was brighter and more structured. I estimated its magnitude at 10.0, and the coma diameter at 2.5'. The coma was slightly fan-shaped, with a faint 6'-long tail stretching to the WSW. The coma's central condensation was bright but nonstellar. Sketch.
I looked at Saturn and Venus as twilight encroached. The seeing was mediocre to fair (Antoniadi III-IV). Saturn held up at 275x at times, but smaller details were blurred out. Five Saturnian moons were visible.
A spectacular night; rather surprisingly, as poor transparency and approaching clouds were predicted. Limiting magnitude counts in Lyra and Pegasus were 7.0 and 6.9. Seeing was mediocre for most of the night. There were lots of meteors, including several candidates for the minor Aries-Triangulid shower, a very slow Kappa Aquarid?, and four slow evening meteors that may have had a common radiant a couple of degrees SW of Gamma Bootis. There was even a probable fireball that I missed but saw as a background flash while I was looking through the scope.
My main goal for the night was to get my first observations of 3 comets: C/2004 Q1 (Tucker), 78P/Gehrels and C/2004 Q2 Machholz. However, I had to do something before the comets got high enough to view. I sketched a couple of deep-sky objects. The first was NGC 7023, a bright reflection nebula in Cepheus. At low power, the nebula presents as a milky glow brighter near the central 7th-magnitude star. Subtle structure is visible within, especially at medium-low powers. Just N of the star is a bright rounded hood of nebulosity, while a curving band runs through the star from E-W. An irregular wedge with several condensations juts south, while dark lanes are to the E and W of this core region. Beyond the dark lanes is an outer, squarish shell of nebulosity, and an irregular outer halo is farther beyond and fades gradually into the sky background. My next object was on the small side: PK80-6.1, the Egg Nebula in Cygnus, is the subject of a famous Hubble image. In the 10", it is a slightly nebulous-looking "double star". Pushing the power to 390x, the NNW component is brighter and oval, with a slightly elongated core of stellar intensity. The SSE component is dimmer and smaller, with a faint stellaring embedded near the northern edge of a slightly elongated gray nebulosity.
I did some casual viewing next. With the OIII filter, I got my most impressive view of the Veil so far in this scope. Stephan's Quintet showed five galaxies rather easily. NGC 246, a mottled planetary nebula in Cetus, and the Helix Nebula in Aquarius also stood out.
My first comet of the night was 78P/Gehrels, a 12th-magnitude object in Aries. It was easy to find and see, a fairly condensed object with a stellar nucleus. The inner coma was elongated to the WSW, and the outer coma took on a broad fan shape. Dimensions were roughly 1' x 1.5'. The star field showed an interesting triangular pattern, with the brightest star (magnitude 7.6) having a yellow-orange tint. The comet was about 1' SSE of a 12th-magnitude star at 7:50 UT; when I returned at 9:50, the comet was 1' E of this star. A faint field star had been uncovered by the comet's motion. C/2004 Q1 (Tucker) sat next to a 13th-magnitude star in a dim field. The comet was about 1.5' in diameter and round. Less condensed than 78P/Gehrels, it had a very faint stellar nucleus surrounded by a small inner coma. A larger outer coma was dim and faded gradually into the background. 100 minutes later, the comet had nearly merged with the 13th-magnitude star, making it look like a more impressive comet than it actually was. I hit a bunch of early winter showpieces, headed up by the Orion Nebula and the Pleiades. I also looked at NGC 2403, in which supernova 2004dj is holding its own. Saturn, Venus and a crescent Moon were all up by 4am, but I didn't spend much time on them due to the poor seeing. My final cometary target was C/2004 Q2 Machholz, rising late in eastern Eridanus. This comet looks to have a promising future, and is already at the head of tonight's class. Situated 5' NW of a magnitude 10.7 star, the comet is of similar brightness and has a coma diameter of over 2'. There is a stellar nucleus and a parabolic coma elongated for 4' to the WSW, suggesting the beginning of a tail.
Another nice night; a bit moist and possibly not as transparent as the last one. At times, seeing was better (as good as 7/10).
PK 116+8.1: Another fairly faint, mid-size planetary in Cepheus. Visible without filters, but edge definition helped by both OIII and UltraBlock. The nebula seemed slightly brighter in the UltraBlock at higher powers. The nebula is round, with slightly brighter edges suggesting annularity. IC 1470: This is a very compact emission nebula in Cepheus. A "stellar nucleus" is visible near the N edge, with a broad comet-like fan extending to the S. Several linear rays are visible in this "tail" at 390x, and there is a hint of a small, dark lane just SSE of the "head". The object is only about 1' in diameter, and holds up well at high powers. Filters are not necessary. NGC 40: A good-sized, detailed planetary with a bright central star. The nebula is misty gray and nearly round overall. It is brighter on its NW and W edge, along which runs a curious flattened arc with several condensations. The SE edge is also fairly bright. There is a hint of bipolar structure, with both of these bright areas joined to the central star by wedges of nebulosity. Dark lanes run inside the perimeter from W to S, and the N edge of the disk is essentially missing due to a dark triangular area extending from the central star. These details are most apparent at high powers (275x and 390x).
This was a really nice night. Everything seemed to be working well, I found what I was looking for, and made several sketches.
PK 103+0.1: This planetary nebula in Cepheus is no problem at 76x with an OIII filter, and shows as a small round disk. At 160x+OIII, it has a stellar spot on the NE edge. Removing the filter reveals a pair of stars NE-SW. The nebula just looks like a very faint haze around these stars. Closer viewing with the filter shows the nebula is brighter on the axis between these stars; the SW star is fainter and blends with the nebula when the OIII filter is in place.
Galaxy Trio # 125: This group in Lacerta consists of NGC 7273, 7274 and 7276. The first two are readily visible at 114x, while NGC 7276 is near a faint star and nearly stellar itself. Better separation and visibility are achieved at 160x. NGC 7273 is condensed in the middle and oval/elongated N-S. NGC 7274 is larger and brighter with a stellar nucleus; it is nearly round. NGC 7276 is small, faint and round.
IC 1454: This planetary nebula in Cepheus is easy to find, about 5' WNW of a 7th-magnitude star. It is detectable without filters, but an OIII firms up the view. At 230x + OIII, it shows a round, gray 0.5' disk that appears slightly brighter on the NW side. NGC 7538: This is an interesting diffuse nebula in Cepheus. It is obvious at low power without a filter. Both the UltraBlock and OIII filters help slightly, with a slight nod to the UltraBlock. A NE-SW star pair is embedded in the nebula. The nebula is a diffuse, roughly oval glow that is faint except on its SW edge, where there is a brighter hood-like structure. From the E, a slightly brighter finger of nebulosity curves S of the star pair, separated by a darker lane.
I fooled around for a couple of hours, getting back in the mode after Full Moon. I only did one sketch, of comet C/2001 Q4 (NEAT). Still hanging around in the evening sky, and still visible in binoculars, the comet was a faint smudge of magnitude 9.0, about 5' across. In the 10" Dob @ 160x, the comet was essentially round. It had a stellar nucleus surrounded by a very small core, a zone of medium brightness about 1.5' across, and a faint outer halo that faded gradually into the background. There was the suggestion of a little bit of structure in the inner coma, with slightly brighter areas to the N and NE of the core.
Otherwise, I viewed the globulars in Delphinus, NGC 6934 and NGC 7006. NGC 6934 looks bright and unresolved at low and medium powers; kicking up to 275x does wonders for resolution and makes it look like a Messier globular. NGC 7006 is fainter and less-condensed; only a few stars are visible even at high power. I looked at M31 at a range of magnifications; 76x and 114x showed a dramatically 3D effect of the two dust lanes cutting across the core at an angle. Lower powers showed more of the galaxy, but the view appeared flatter. I hopped up to the far-flung M31 companions NGC 185 and NGC 147; both were visible, although NGC 185 was a lot brighter. NGC 147 has almost no central condensation, which explains why it is so tough in mediocre skies. I hit a couple of other targets in the area as well, while the Moon began its inexorable rise.
With the Moon just past full, I took the scope out for a probable last view of C/2003 K4 (LINEAR). The comet was very low in the sky by the time it got dark enough to observe. It was easy to see; a round, greenish ball with a bright nucleus and short hint of a tail.
I got up in morning twilight to take a short but satisfying look at Saturn and Venus.
I did a short session beginning at midnight. Skies were indifferent, with some haze or smoke apparent. Seeing was fairly good. I managed to observe and sketch a couple of objects from my unfulfilled OSP list.
NGC 7354 in Cepheus is a fairly small planetary that is easy in the 10". It shows a round, gray disk with a bright condensation on the E edge. Extended viewing reveals a darker center and dimmer condensations on the W and NW edges. IC 289 in Cassiopeia is slightly larger but with a lower surface brightness. Its slightly oval disk is a little bit darker in the center, with well-defined edges.
I also viewed Uranus. Oberon was visible much of the time, and Titania intermittently. I'll need better conditions to catch Umbriel or Ariel.
I observed Supernova 2004dj in NGC 2403 (sketch). The SN was at about magnitude 11.7 and was an easy target. As the Moon was rising, I observed comet C/2003 K4 (LINEAR). I estimated its magnitude at 6.1 in binoculars, with a 20' coma. The 10" Dob showed a 20' tail in PA~80.
I made morning meteor observations for three dates around the nominal peak of the South Delta Aquarids. The morning of July 27 also featured a nice auroral display with some red color and some tall pillars. On that morning, I saw 52 meteors in two hours. Most (29) were sporadics, but there were also 10 South Delta Aquarids, 5 Perseids, 3 Alpha Capricornids, 2 North Delta Aquarids and an Alpha Cygnid.
On July 28, rates were comparable. In two hours I saw 48 meteors including 14 South Delta Aquarids, 5 Perseids, 3 Alpha Capricornids, 2 Piscis Austrinids and an Alpha Cygnid.
On July 29, I only watched for one hour. There was only 1 South Delta Aquarid, along with 6 Perseids, 3 Alpha Capricornids, 1 North Delta Aquarid and 2 Piscis Austrinids.
I began this moist, warm, slightly buggy night with some casual binocular viewing from my sleeping bag. After the Moon set, I pulled out the 10".
Following some discussion on the starrynights group, I sought out NGC 6540. This diminutive globular cluster lies in a very rich Sagittarius star field. The cluster appears as a highly condensed fuzzy spot in the middle of a clump of faint stars. At 230x, some irregular structure can be seen in the spot. It's easy to see how this could have been misinterpreted as a compact open cluster with a compressed center. Sketch.
I looked at Neptune and was able to see Triton nearby despite mediocre seeing.
I had casually noted my first Perseid of the year at 11:26pm. I did a meteor watch from 1:06-2:10am. I saw 15 meteors in 1.05 hours, mostly sporadics. One shower member each came from the antihelion, North Delta Aquarid, South Delta Aquarid and Perseid radiants. The brightest meteors were two magnitude 0 sporadics. I hope for better rates next week during the nominal maximum of the South Delta Aquarids. Limiting magnitude was 6.8.
Returning to telescopic observing, I looked at Uranus. I could see Oberon most of the time, and could glimpse Titania some of the time, but wasn't able to see Umbriel. I felt that the scattered light halo and diffraction spikes around the planet looked worse than they should have, and the seeing wasn't very good anyway. I'll keep trying.
I took casual looks at a few showpieces like M15, Zeta Aquarii and the Helix (I liked the OIII filter on the Helix). Then, I rounded out the morning with looks at three comets. C/2004 H6 (SWAN) has faded slightly since my last observation. At 44x and 76x, it looks like a round, diffuse ball with a slightly brighter center. 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann has also faded and gotten more diffuse; it was visible but not as conspicuous as before. I missed 88P/Howell a couple of weeks ago; it was not immediately apparent this morning but I eventually found a very diffuse and unconcentrated patch near several faint field stars. The comet was easiest at 76x with the UltraBlock filter.
This was my first observing session since returning home. The LM~6.7 skies appeared slightly washed out in comparison to the 7.0 skies I had been under.
Abell 39: This is a faint planetary nebula in Hercules near the Corona Borealis border. It was a fairly easy detection at 76x with the OIII filter. This magnification proved to give the best view. The nebula was faint, round and diffuse with fairly sharp edges. It appeared brighter on the edges (especially SE and E) without being distinctly annular. Several threshold stars were near the edge of the disk, the most prominent just off the W edge. The immediate surroundings were rich in faint stars. These stars were more prominent with higher magnification and no filter, at the expense of the nebula. Sketch. Palomar 8: This faint Sagittarius globular was an easy detection, even at 44x. Very reminiscent of NGC 7492 in Aquarius. 160x gave the best view. The globular was slightly elongated N-S, with a small and moderately brighter core. The overall texture of the inner halo was granular, and several faint stars were scattered over the disk. There was a diffuse, kidney-shaped brighter area separate from the core on the ESE side. The outer halo edges faded gradually into the background. Sketch. NGC 6742: This planetary nebula in Draco showed a small, round disk and was quite faint. It was visible at 76x, but best at 230x where it showed occasional glimpses of threshold stars near the N and NW edges. There appeared to be some diffuse streaky detail across the disk, as well as a hint of annularity. Sketch.
I spent most of my time on sketches of the Blinking Planetary and the Cat's Eye, but I started out by looking at a couple of globulars in Ophiuchus. M10 was very attractive at all powers. Its stars are bright and readily resolved. M12, a bit looser, seemed less intense and less sparkling. M10 is the nicer cluster at this aperture, the reverse of my opinion in the SOD. M22 in Sagittarius was a monster in comparison to both of these. I hopped around to a few other globs, and looked at the rich open cluster NGC 6791 in Lyra. The cluster's faint stars gave a real impression of being far behind the rich foreground field.
I sketched the Blinking Planetary, NGC 6826. Needless to say, the nebula and central star don't "blink" in a 10" at 390x! This is a nice object with a bright central star. Its 25" disk is almost round; just slightly elongated E-W. Two bright spots are visible near the E and W edges. Dark areas are visible just S and just N of the central star, and there are several subtly brighter streaks and patches in the disk. Sketch. The Cat's Eye Nebula, NGC 6543, is a multi-layered object. Its central star, though bright, competes with bright nebulosity and is not always obvious. The main disk of NGC 6543 is a strikingly greenish 15"x20" oval with extremely high surface brightness. At medium to medium-high powers, the central star's yellowish tinge contrasts with the nebula color. Outside this core is a large and ghostly halo that brings the nebula's total diameter to over 1'. This outer halo really stands out when viewed at 160x or 230x with an OIII filter. The filter also helps with IC 4677, a nebulous patch associated with the outermost halo and located about 2' NNW of the central star. At 390x, the central area is detailed. A small dark "hole" surrounds the central star, and the ends of the bright oval's major axis appear to have hooks. The hooks are the beginnings of the counterclockwise spiral structure this nebula is renowned for. With the OIII filter at 390x, the faint outer halo shows a few radiating streaks and patches. Sketch.
I looked at M57 again. Fatigue had set in, and the seeing had dropped a couple of notches from the previous night. The central star was only fleetingly visible at 390x (AV5).
I began the evening with telescopic views of the two bright comets. C/2001 Q4 was still fairly impressive in the 10" at 76x. It showed a 6' coma with a bright core containing a stellar nucleus. A fairly broad tail stretched for 10'-15' to the NE, with several jets and a central spine. The coma is also a bit elongated and diffuse on the SW side opposite the tail. Sketch. C/2003 K4 was even more impressive. Its coma was over 10' in diameter. The nominal tail direction was almost due east, and several jets extended for up to 10' in that heading. However, the coma was also sharply asymmetrical and extended to the S and SW, with faint jets visible in several directions. The bright inner coma was parabolic, and contained a stellar nucleus. The core region had a bluish-green tint. Sketch.
I again observed M57, and tried my hand at a sketch. The central star was the steadiest I've seen it, although it was still AV3-AV4. LM in the field was between 16.1 and 16.6. The Ring showed a lot of varied textures at 390x, especially in the bright parts of the nebula.
I got out at 1:00 am, but my first activity was to look at the two "evening" comets in binoculars. C/2003 K4 was pretty bright and large, but I couldn't catch it naked-eye tonight. DC~4. C/2001 Q4 continues to fade; it was smaller than K4 but well-condensed (DC~6) with just a hint of asymmetry in the 8x56 binox.
I admired M15 and M2, the two premier fall globular clusters. M15 has the brighter and more concentrated core, offset to the N of center. M2's core is larger but less intense. Both clusters show patterns in the stars resolved across their cores. M2's stars appear fainter; despite the average seeing I really liked the view at 390x.
Comet 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann: Appearance has changed since my last look in late June. It is still visible at 76x, but appears slightly larger and much less concentrated. A stellar core reveals itself only in faint flickers; the rest of the coma is round and evenly illuminated even at 230x. Diameter 1.5'; DC~6. Maybe elongated slightly N-S. Sketch. C/2004 H6 (SWAN): I got my first view of this comet. It was rather large (>8') and diffuse (DC~3). It was easy at 44x, but difficult in 8x56 binox. 76x showed a slightly brighter core of about 3' diameter. The halo was diffuse and elongated to the south, suggesting the start of a tail. Sketch. Near the comet were two NGC galaxies. NGC 210 appeared small and highly concentrated at 76x; at 160x, it was a 2'x1' oval with a sizeable core. NGC 178 was much fainter, an evenly-illuminated 30" disk. NGC 7492, a faint Aquarius globular, was readily visible at low power. At 114x, it showed a faint 3' disk with a small, slightly brighter core. Several very faint stars were visible within the diffuse halo. Sketch.
I observed from my house-sitting location on a hill near Agency Lake. Mercury and Mars were in conjunction during evening twilight, about 15' apart and at an altitude of about 5 degrees. Both were "slobbering blobs" in the poor seeing, but exhibited characteristic colors (Mercury bright and yellow-orange; Mars dull reddish-orange and dimmer). They were a nice sight in binoculars. Mercury was an easy naked-eye sight throughout; Mars became visible a few minutes before it set.
I tried to see the BA oval on Jupiter, south of the Great Red Spot. The seeing was poor (Antoniadi IV). The GRS was readily visible, and seemed to be darker on its following half and on the S edge. I caught a couple of fleeting, insubstantial glimpses of the BA oval at 230x; more noticeable was the abrupt darkening of the S. Temperate belts immediately following the oval. The oval seemed to be directly S of the following half of the GRS.
I visited a few double stars; as expected, Antares appeared merged in the poor seeing. Delta Cygni was split at 114x and nice at 230x. The primary was bluish white and the secondary a dull greenish-yellow. I also looked at Epsilon Lyrae and Alpha Herculis; both were nice at 114x.
NGC 6153: This planetary nebula in southern Scorpius was low in the sky. Nonstellar at 44x; poor response to OIII blinking. At 160x, it showed a round greenish-gray disk. The center looked darker. At 230x, bright spots were visible just preceding and following the center. Poor seeing complicated the observation.
NGC 6357: This diffuse nebula in Scorpius has a brighter central portion that is visible at 44x without filters. The OIII filter at 76x and 114x gave a bit of irregular detail, darkened the sky and possibly revealed some of the faint surrounding haze. The Ultrablock filter gave a view that was slightly inferior to the OIII.
C/2003 K4 (LINEAR): Now a very faint naked-eye object in magnitude 7.0 skies. Coma diameter ~15'. At 76x, several tailward jets were visible in a 15'-long fan. The stellar nucleus was surrounded by a small, bright inner coma, and then a zone of medium brightness. The outer coma was very large and diffuse. A blue-green tint was noticeable in the inner coma.
Abell 2151 (Hercules Galaxy Cluster): 18 galaxies were visible at 160x/230x during extended viewing. The central NGC 6040 area was interesting. NGC 6041A was the most prominent object. With averted vision, it appeared double, with the nonstellar NGC 6041B faintly visible on the SW edge. NGC 6040A was less concentrated than 6041A. Adjacent NGC 6040B was occasionally visible as a stellar object at the AV5 level. Between 6040A and 6041A, IC 1170 was an AV4 nonstellar spot. To the SE, NGC 6042 was a highly concentrated small spot with hints of a stellar nucleus.
M57: I spent some time doing LM determinations and trying for the central star. This area was near the zenith, and seeing had improved to 7/10. A magnitude 16.6 star was AV4, and a 16.8 star was at AV5. The central star was intermediate between these in difficulty; mostly invisible but sometimes glimpsed for up to 5-10 seconds at a time. All of this was at 390x. Naked-eye LM in the area was 7.0. Sketch.
M13: At 160x and 275x, I glimpsed the nearby galaxy IC 4617 (situated between the brighter galaxy NGC 6207 and M13). It was a bit difficult due to its proximity to a field star, and came in at AV3.
The first observing session after more than a week off tends to be a bit useless, but this was an enjoyable 2-hour endeavor. After a pleasantly warm day, it really cooled off and got a little moist, but all in all the sky was good. I spent most of my time on one area in Ophiuchus. I sketched planetary nebula IC 4634, a little guy that needed OIII blinking to be recognized at low power but showed a bit of structure at 230x. My other sketch was of the irregular-looking globular cluster NGC 6235. Afterwards, I did casual hops to globulars NGC 6287, NGC 6284, M19, NGC 6293, NGC 6316, NGC 6355 and NGC 6325. I investigated a few other objects across the sky. My grand finale was the Blinking Planetary Nebula, NGC 6826, at 390x. It was really awesome at that magnification, with some delicate texture. I'll have to come back for a sketch sometime.
I'm house-sitting for a couple of weeks, so this page won't be updated for a while (again).
I caught 5 comets this morning. C/2001 Q4 was fairly low in the sky and showed its two faint tails in the 10". C/2003 K4 was almost as impressive, high overhead. C/2003 T3 (Tabur), 29PSchwassmann-Wachmann 1, and 88P/Howell all looked about the same as they had during my last observation of each. The highlight of my showpiece hop in twilight was NGC 6543 (the Cat's Eye Nebula), which was really nice and detailed at 390x.
I did a short morning session, with most of my attention on casual views of showpieces. I also caught comet 29P/Schwassman-Wachmann 1, which is in outburst again at magnitude 11-12. At 160x, the comet appeared highly condensed, with a bright stellar nucleus immediately surrounded by a small bright zone. A very faint outer coma was visible with averted vision, but the comet's total diameter was still only ~1 arcminute.
June 22/23: June Bootid Meteor Shower
I didn't get out for the first part of the night, as thunderstorm clouds were still abating and I needed to get some rest. The sky was pretty nice when I got out at around 2 am. I watched for a bit over 2 hours into morning twilight, hoping that this would give me the best chance to see some June Bootids. There was some activity, but it was almost buried in a strong sporadic background. In 2.1 hours Teff, I counted 54 meteors, 13 of which fit the radiant alignment and velocity parameters for June Bootids. None of my JBOs were brighter than magnitude 1. Aside from slowness (but there were a lot of slow or medium-slow sporadics, especially in the first hour), the outstanding characteristics were an abundance of wakes or short trains (6 of 13 JBOs, 6 of 41 other meteors) and orangish or reddish color (4 of 13 JBOs, 2 of 41 other meteors).
Observer: Wesley Stone (STOWE)
Location: Chiloquin, OR (42d 35m N, 121d 52m W)
Method: Counting: Watch/Tape recorder
Date: 2004 June 23 UT
Observed shower radiants:
JBO June Bootids 14h 48m +48
XDR Xi Draconids 18h 44m +55
SAG Sagittarids 18h 52m –23
Interval UT Teff LM JBO XDR SAG Spo*
0905-1007 1.00 6.7 5 2 0 14
1007-1115 1.10 6.5 8 0 1 24
Total 2.10 6.6 13 2 1 38
*Spo includes 2 Northern Apex meteors, 1 in each interval.
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 Total (Mean)
JBO - 2 3 3 3 2 - 13 (3.0)
XDR - - - - 2 - - 2 (4.0)
SAG - - - 1 - - - 1 (3.0)
Spo 1 2 12 12 7 3 1 38 (2.9)
I did a reasonably long session starting during evening twilight. I sketched comet C/2001 Q4, which is somewhat faded but still shows two tails and some jet activity. Also, C/2003 K4, which has a bright core surrounded by a large coma and an indistinct tail. My only deep-sky sketch was of the annular planetary nebula NGC 6894 in Cygnus, although I checked out a few other nearby DSOs.
Transparency was great tonight for a late evening session, with LM reaching 7.0 at the zenith. Seeing wasn't so hot due to some atmospheric instability, but diffuse objects looked nice. My two showpiece sketches were of M81 (a familiar object; the spiral structure was better-defined than normal tonight) and NGC 5746 (a detailed edge-on galaxy with a dust lane in Virgo). Afterwards, I took a grand tour of many of the showpiece globulars and a few other objects.
Another morning session. This one was mostly a mop-up session, in order to get in a 3rd observation of Pluto for my sketch and a second observation of 88P/Howell for AL Comet Award purposes. I did get to view a few showpieces as well, and also had my best view yet of the Bubble Nebula (NGC 7635).
I did a short morning session. My first order of business was to find Pluto as part of my 3-night sketch. I next tried to find Comet Bradfield, but this spring wonder had faded to the limit of my scope's reach under the conditions. It didn't help that I was using an incorrect finder chart, but even after correcting my error the comet was invisible in fields rich with threshold stars. I had better luck with comet 88P/Howell. This comet, much brighter than expected, is just now attaining a favorable elevation at the start of morning twilight. It was rather easy in the 10": a 3' coma with a slight central condensation and a diffuse, gradually fading halo. Sketch.
A nice night, not as moist as the previous one but with the complication of work the next day. I looked at the comets; both C/2002 T7 and C/2001 Q4 have faded a bit. My main work was to sketch a couple of interesting asymmetrical galaxies, and to find Pluto.
NGC 4618 in Canes Venatici at first looks like a one-armed barred spiral. An arm to the S of the elongated and patchy core curves westward and ends in a conspicuous knot. The northern portion of the halo is much fainter and shows only a hint of structure. NGC 4625 is a faint but substantial round glow to the N. Sketch. NGC 5248 in Bootes is a rather small galaxy, but shows some rewarding structure at 160x. It is elongated E-W with a bright core, and shows a conspicuous triangular knot to the west. A couple of knots to the east, along with some patchy dark areas (especially S of the core) hint of spiral structure. Sketch. With a bit of map work, Pluto was fairly easy to find in Serpens Cauda. I started a 3-night sketch.
Finally, a clear night, but boy was it a moist one. The moisture combined with a bit of dust on my Dob's azimuth bearings, and eventually made it a real bear to track with. A cleanup job the next day improved things greatly, but I still may end up covering the laminate with Ebony Star or FRP. In any case, the sticky situation reduced the night to a showpiece-hopping session.
The weather hasn't been cooperating lately. Tonight looked good, but a layer of clouds started to roll in during evening twilight. The western half of the sky was pretty useless. I looked at some of the summer showpieces in the better eastern half, and then sketched comet C/2003 K4 (LINEAR). This comet is no longer just a morning object, and is favorably placed between Lyra and the head of Draco. It was a fairly easy object in 8x56 binoculars at about 8th magnitude. In the 10" Dob, the comet showed a 3' coma with a fairly condensed core and diffuse halo. The broad, faint tail was about 5' long, pointing SE. Sketch
Despite some stubborn high clouds, I observed both of the bright evening comets. C/2002 T7 (LINEAR) is still a captive of bright twilight and low elevation. It is a couple of degrees below Alphard (Alpha Hydrae), a second magnitude star. Tonight was the first time that I turned my 10" Dob on the comet during this part of its apparition. LINEAR displays a diffuse 15' coma with a fairly small core and faint stellar nucleus. Several jets arise from the core area and point in PAs 300, 250, 200 and 170 degrees. A thin 15' tail in PA ~130 was just barely visible near the end of the observation. The comet is also visible in binoculars; my magnitude estimate was 5.3. Sketch. C/2001 Q4 (NEAT) is much more favorably placed in Ursa Major. I took advantage of a short window between the end of twilight and moonrise. The comet is still a naked-eye object; I estimated its magnitude at 5.2. Up to 3 degrees of tail are still visible in binoculars, and two tail components are still visible. In the 10", NEAT shows a 15' coma that is highly condensed toward a nonstellar nucleus. Parabolic hood structure is visible, as are several jets. The main tail stretches in PA~90, gradually broadening. The broad dust fan seems to be centered around a spine at PA~155. Sketch.
A mostly moist day contained some clearing periods, one of which happened at just the right time. When I first went out at 9:20pm, the sky looked discouragingly bright, but with my 8x56 binoculars I easily found 4th and 5th-magnitude guide stars a few degrees above the comet. Unfortunately, there was a band of clouds just below them. The cloud band seemed on the verge of breaking up or moving off; the big break finally occurred at 9:42pm, and I spotted the comet almost immediately. It was essentially "deja view" from my first sighting of C/2001 Q4 (NEAT) just over three weeks ago. The comet appeared as a silvery, fuzzy sphere with a bright nucleus and diffuse coma. There was a bright spot or jet just SE of the nucleus, but very little elongation and no visible tail. It looked to be about 4th magnitude; obviously the twilight was drowning out the outer portion of the coma. I observed it until 9:55pm. Sketch.
I didn't disappear to any exotic locale, but I did spend the last two weeks house-sitting for some friends ~10 miles from home. I had a list of ~60 showpiece galaxies to sketch, but the weather limited me to 6 of those. I was able to observe on 10 out of 14 nights, but many of those were quick glances at C/2001 Q4 (NEAT) between cloudy periods. The best nights were May 22/23 (morning session), May 23/24 (evening session), and May 24/25 (morning session). I got in at least a couple of hours on each of these nights.
C/2001 Q4 (NEAT)
The weather wasn't great for the close passage of the comet near the Beehive. On Friday evening, May 14, the sky got really hazy just as twilight was ending. The comet and the Beehive made a nice pair, but the limiting magnitude in binoculars dropped enough to take a lot of the luster out of the cluster. I felt like I was observing from a very light-polluted inner city. Still, all three tail components were visible near the beginning of the observation, with the ion tail stretching for 3 degrees. On Saturday evening, I couldn't believe how many more stars were visible in M44. Unfortunately, heavy clouds rolled in almost immediately. My next decent look at the comet occurred on the evening of May 18. By this time, the comet had clearly faded, to magnitude 4.0. The main tail looked a little broader, but I still could see 3 degrees centered at PA~100. The wide dust fan was about 1 degree long, with a central spine in PA~170. This time, the clouds relented enough for me to make a binocular sketch. Two evenings later, I got good conditions again for a sketch through the 10" Dob. On May 25 and 26, I took quick looks. Moonlight had begun to interfere; the comet was still an easy naked-eye object on May 25, but more difficult on the 26th. Through binoculars, however, NEAT was still impressive with an obvious tail.
Three reasonably bright comets were visible in the morning sky.
C/2004 F4 (Bradfield), long past its prime, was about 9th magnitude when I observed it on the morning of May 23. It had a 1.5' diameter coma, moderately condensed with a nonstellar nucleus. The tail, still visible in the 10" Dob, stretched for ~45' to the NW, becoming broad near the end. The comet was barely visible in 8x56 binoculars. C/2003 T3 (Tabur) was a few degrees from the bright open star cluster M34 in Perseus. Fainter than Bradfield, it was about 10th magnitude on May 23. The coma was about 1' across, with a faint fan-shaped tail extending for about 2.5' in PA~275.
C/2003 K4 (LINEAR) was hanging out in Cygnus. Also 10th magnitude, it was similar to Tabur but a bit more symmetrical. Unlike the other comets, this one should brighten throughout the summer.
All of this was very casual; I had a couple of good looks at Jupiter, as well as the thinning crescent of Venus and the last hurrah of Saturn for the season.
I caught a few brief glimpses of C/2001 Q4 (NEAT) between clouds. The comet is impressive in 8x56 binoculars. I estimated its magnitude at 3.2. The first 3 degrees of tail seemed brighter tonight, and there were three components: 1) a long, kinky ion tail with a central spine that starts out at PA 105 and then turns southward in PA 125; 2) a rather narrow dust tail, about 1.5 degrees long and with a distinct southern border, in PA 135; 3) a faint, broad fan south of the main dust tail, stretching for up to 1 degree and extending to PA 180. There was a possible short antitail in PA 340. This gave the inner coma a bit of a skewed look. Sketch.
Tonight provided my best view so far of C/2001 Q4. There were a few small patches of fog/low clouds, but they moved through quickly. The comet is an obvious naked-eye object (m1 estimated at 3.1). In binoculars, it shows a 20'-diameter coma that is fairly well-condensed. There are two tail components: a stubby, fan-shaped dust tail that stretches for 0.5 degrees in PA~130 and a narrower ion tail that I traced for at least 2.5 degrees in PA ~115. At times, I thought I could see over 5 degrees of the ion tail. In the 10" Dob, the coma is very bright and parabolic. The predominant hue seems to be yellow-green rather than bluish-green. The central condensation seems less prominent than two nights ago, and gives rise to a small, bright sunward fan. Several other jets are visible in the inner coma. Sketch.
My 10" begged to be let out tonight, and I acquiesced. There was a nice break in the weather, so I was able to observe Comet NEAT for over an hour. At 9:30pm, in fairly bright twilight, the comet showed a diffuse bluish-green coma with a pattern of jets surrounding a bright, yellowish stellar nucleus. I used magnifications between 44 and 160x. As the sky got a bit darker, a very faint and diffuse tail emerged. The tail had a broad component in PA~140 and a faint, straight and narrow component (ion tail?) in PA~115. Sketch. The comet was an obvious naked-eye object tonight. In 8x56 binoculars, the coma seemed a bit smaller (~15') and more condensed than last night. My magnitude estimate was the same at m1=3.0. The tail was more obvious tonight due to the comet being higher in a darker sky, but I still saw only 1 degree. The two tail components were visible in binoculars. The comet was nicely placed in the same binocular field as open clusters M46 and M47. Sketch.
After the comet set, I turned to a few deep-sky showpieces (including M3, M13, M5, M67 and M104) and then did some leisurely hopping through the Virgo Cluster. The seeing wasn't great, but Jupiter was putting on its best face. The Great Red Spot was visible, with splotchy wake turbulence trailing it in the SEB. The large white oval is still visible in the SSTB, and seems to be creeping up on the GRS. The NEB also showed some nice structure, including one very prominent "creature from the blue festoon."
After an unsuccessful attempt to find Comet C/2001 Q4 (NEAT) last night in bright twilight, I was able to observe the comet tonight. I first acquired it at 9:00pm PDT with 8x56 binoculars. The comet was a diffuse, round blob with a slight central condensation. It gradually became more structured as twilight deepened. The brightest portion of the coma was elliptical, cyan-tinged, and elongated 2:1 parallel to the horizon. A stellar nucleus was embedded. Several faint extensions fanned out from the core. The most prominent were to the SE and SSE, while there was a diffuse extension to the NE. As the sky got darker, I could see the beginnings of a tail, extending for 1 degree to the SE. Binoculars were my instrument of choice throughout; I couldn't see the comet naked-eye, and the SOD at 27x didn't add anything to the view. I estimated the comet at magnitude 3.0 with a coma diameter of 20 arcminutes. At 9:40pm, the comet dropped into some clouds and the show was over. Binocular sketch.
During the daytime, the transparency was incredibly good. Even if that had held into the nighttime, it would have been wasted with the bright Moon. Some high clouds rolled in anyway. That was just fine and dandy for a nice, short and sweet 1.5-hour planetary session. Venus was a pleasing crescent. Saturn was mushy most of the time, but firmed up for a nice view on occasion. I spent most of the time on Jupiter. While the seeing was average at best, the planet was nice and contrasty at 190x, and Ganymede's shadow was on the disk. I sketched it. A quick view of the Moon was dessert.
2004 April 30; 4:20am PDT
Comet Bradfield seemed to have faded slightly over the past 24 hours; my magnitude estimate was 5.6. Early on, I had to deal with a bit of moonlight interference for the first time; also there was some smoky murk near the horizon. Initially, I thought the tail was fainter and narrower, but by the beginning of twilight it didn't look much different than yesterday. There were still over 10 degrees of tail visible in binoculars, with over 5 degrees visible naked eye.
The murk foreclosed on the possibility of sighting C/2002 T7 this morning. I need a break from these morning sessions, so I won't go out tomorrow.
2004 April 29; 4:20am PDT
Comet Bradfield is hanging in there; subjectively, the coma has only faded slightly from yesterday morning. My Morris method magnitude estimate is 5.3. Over 10 degrees of tail are visible in binoculars; over 8 degrees are visible naked eye.
I observed Bradfield again this morning. The good news is that I could see at least 10 degrees of tail in binoculars, and over 5 degrees naked eye. The bad news is that the comet's head has faded from magnitude 4.4 yesterday to 5.2 this morning. This could be the beginning of the end... I did another binocular sketch. As for C/2002 T7, the other morning comet in this magnitude class, I was finally able to observe it this morning in very bright twilight at 5:03am. A ridge to the east of my yard has been making my life difficult. I was able to see a slightly nebulous star in binoculars, then I swung the SOD "between those two shrubs, under the bird feeder, and just above that funny-looking gap in the trees on the ridge." I was rewarded with a slightly asymmetric fuzzball with a stellar nucleus; a few minutes later it disappeared behind one of the aforementioned shrubs. (Sketch) April 26/27 (Comet Bradfield: Wow! Sketch)
This comet has real staying power; it has hardly faded at all as it gets higher in the sky. It's running about 1.5 magnitudes brighter than predictions (sort of a change from the usual). This morning, I was able to see almost 10 degrees of tail from Chiloquin in 8x56 binoculars.
I pulled a split session, observing the Moon and planets, some double stars and a few showpiece globulars in the evening. In the morning, I got up for my now-routine comet watch.
In the evening, seeing varied from iffy to pretty good. Venus was a nice, brilliant crescent. During one of the steadier periods, the full-disk view of the Moon at 90x in the 10" was just amazing. Saturn was also nice, with the Encke minimum often visible at 275x. Jupiter didn't hold up as well, but even dropping back down to 160x there was some nice detail visible, including delicate scalloping on the southern edge of the South Equatorial Belt.
I tracked down a few nice and easy doubles, including 54 Leonis, 88 Leonis, 90 Leonis, 24 Comae Berenices, Delta Corvi and my personal favorite this time of the year: Cor Caroli. I see the primary as bluish-white and the secondary as a delicate, unique greenish-yellow. Despite the moonlight, several of the showpiece spring globulars looked really nice, especially M3. Absolutely exquisite stardust even at 90x. After jumping to M13 and M92, I looked at M51, M81 and M82. The high-surface brightness M82 didn't seem to suffer at all from the Moon; the others lost a bit but were still impressive.
In the morning, I pulled out the scope for Bradfield. Subjectively, the comet didn't seem to have faded over the past 24 hours. My magnitude estimate was 4.5. Four or five degrees of tail were still visible in binoculars. In the 10", the first couple of degrees of the tail appeared a bit wider than yesterday, with more of a bright central thrust. Comet Tabur was barely visible in the murk below. For the first time, I was able to see Bradfield with my naked eye. C/2002 T7 again eluded me; I'm not sure if I want to make a trip just to try to see it (especially since I've already seen it many times in 2003 and earlier this year, and from this latitude it was probably more impressive in December and January than right now).
This looked to be a bit of an iffy night, poised to make me regret whatever I'd done to make myself sick before. Transparency wasn't in the same league as it was the previous night. There had been some high clouds all day, but they seemed to be gone, replaced with some smoke from local burning. Seeing was also poor. I prodded myself out of bed a bit past midnight. I sketched the galaxy pair NGC 3786/3788 (no supernova visible in NGC 3786), and then the bright galaxy M94. But I was really just killing time to get to comets. The first comet was C/2003 K4 (LINEAR). This was a small, easy object in Vulpecula, compact but without an obvious nucleus. It was about magnitude 11. Sketch. What to do? Should I pack the scope into the car and search for a site with a better horizon, or should I make my stand here? I hoped to see comets Bradfield and Tabur in the same field of view, and also catch C/2002 T7 for the first time in its morning apparition. Based on the amount of atmospheric extinction I was seeing near the horizon, I wasn't sure traveling would make much difference. But, in the end, I decided to give it a shot. It wasn't easy to find a decent spot. The places I remembered with open eastward views were really southeastward, and most spots were obstructed by trees. In the end I found a marginal site at about 4:30am. Bradfield's tail was already poking up above the horizon, visible for about 5 degrees in binoculars. I set up the scope and got to work. Bradfield's coma had a highly-condensed, nonstellar (almost planetary disk-like) nucleus. The sweeping tail showed large-scale brightness variations, with one bright fountain projecting from the coma. Tabur was difficult to see at 76x, but I was pretty sure I spotted it. I moved to 114x and confirmed it; a small, round, poorly condensed fuzzball of about magnitude 9.7. At the higher power, I couldn't fit it in the same field with Bradfield's nucleus, although it was nicely placed next to the smooth, bright tail. (Composite sketch) The sky was brightening rapidly at this point; by 4:53, I lost Tabur. Once again, I dallied too long to catch C/2002 T7, although I made a valiant effort with binoculars. While not visually impressive due to Tabur's faintness, the comet pairing was certainly worth the drive.
This was a beautiful night. However, I was a bit under the weather and decided not to answer the dark sky bell at midnight. Instead, I settled for getting up at 4:30 with binoculars. By the time I stumbled out the door, Comet Bradfield was already above the horizon. Subjectively, the comet's head seemed to have faded a bit, but the tail really stood out with over 4 degrees visible in the darker and more transparent sky. I still came up with a magnitude of ~4.4; likely yesterday's estimate was too faint due to the bright twilight. Sketch.
Once again, I missed LINEAR. It just doesn't clear the local ridge early enough. I really hope that the sky is decent tomorrow (and that I can find a site with a good horizon in the right place).
I got up in the morning to see if I could see comets C/2004 F4 (Bradfield) and C/2002 T7 (LINEAR). My yard doesn't have the best eastern horizon, and there were some clouds near the horizon. Nonetheless, I was able to see Bradfield in bright twilight from 5:05 to 5:25am Pacific Daylight Time. The comet had an intensely concentrated coma with a stellar pseudonucleus. I estimated its magnitude at m1~4.4. A tail stretched for over a degree to the upper right. The tail was very bright near the coma. I was using 8x56 binoculars. I couldn't see it with the naked eye, but didn't try too hard.
I didn't see C/2002 T7; apparently the sky brightened too much while I was looking at Bradfield. I will try to get to a better site to view both of these comets on Sunday morning.
April 21/22: Lyrid Meteor Shower
The Clear Sky Clock predicted a rather sudden and miraculous localized clearing, after a very wet and snowy day. Surprisingly, the fog held off except on a few brief occasions. I watched for 3.25 hours from midnight to 3:20 am local time. Early on, the Lyrids were pretty sparse (the first hour included a 26-minute meteorless period). There were some bright meteors, however, including a really brilliant -6 sporadic that was all the more impressive because it occurred near the center of my vision. Most of the fireballs I catch are near the edges of my field of view.
The Lyrids seemed to get it into gear during the third hour, so I extended the watch a bit longer. Over the duration of the watch, I saw 25 Lyrids, 3 Sagittariids and 16 sporadics.
A damp, frosty morning, but it was nice to get out under a clear, dark sky after the recent cruddy weather.
Observer: Wesley Stone (STOWE)
Location: Chiloquin, OR (42d 35m N, 121d 52m W)
Method: Counting: Watch/Tape recorder
Date: 2004 April 21/22
Interval UT Teff(h) LM F LYR SAG Spo
0700-0803 1.00 6.8 1.00 5 0 5
0803-0904 1.00 6.7 1.00 7 0 4
0904-1020 1.25 6.7 1.00 13 3 7*
*Spo includes 2 N. Apex meteors in the third interval.
Mag. -6...-3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 Total
LYR - 2 - 2 2 - 8 5 6 - 25 (mean 1.9)
SAG - - - - - 1 - - 1 1 3 (mean 3.3)
Spo 1 1 - - - 1 5 4 1 3 16 (mean 2.1)
April 2/3 and 3/4
Venus passed in front of the Pleiades during these two nights. On the evening of April 2, I used the 10" and the cheap 32mm GS Widefield. The view was OK, but of course the astigmatism and field curvature over the outer portion of the field was annoying. I liked the binocular view better.
With the bright Moon, deep-sky observing was out of the question. I did spend some time on Jupiter. Seeing was poor early, but settled down enough for a sketch. Lunar observing was enjoyable as well.
On the evening of April 3, I pulled out the SOD for a rare nighttime excursion. Like the 10", the little 60mm refractor barely got Venus and the Pleiades in the same field of view at its lowest power. At f/11.8, it was fairly sharp to the edge with the 26mm Plossl, although Venus showed a lot of chromatic aberration. I guess I'd give the edge to the SOD on this observing challenge, but the 8x56 binoculars gave the best overall view because their wider field compressed the cluster into a small portion of the field and made it appear richer. I looked at Venus, Saturn, Jupiter and the Moon with the SOD; Saturn was pretty dim and dull. Jupiter and the Moon were both attractive, but the detail fell far short of that visible in the 10".
This was the night of the big triple-shadow transit of Jupiter. Would the weather cooperate? The short answer is in this sketch. I went out at 8:30pm, 3.5 hours before the culminating event. It was clear but a bit turbulent. Saturn and the Moon both looked really nice at 160x, but degraded at higher powers. The seeing seemed to be gradually improving. At 8:56pm, I turned to Jupiter for the first time. Callisto's shadow was already notching the North Polar Region, a few minutes ahead of schedule. The 4 moons were in a neat, tight formation around the planet. After a while, Ganymede began its transit. Seeing was still variable. I tried polarizing and nebula filters, but like the unfiltered view best overall. 190x and 230x were both useful. At 10:20pm, Ganymede showed up well as a dark grayish-brown dot at the latitude of the North Temperate Belt. I started a sketch at 230x, then bumped it up to 275x. There was a lot of activity in the Equatorial Zone. One of the festoons in the following portion of the North Equatorial Belt was very blue. The southern edge of the South Equatorial Belt also had a blue tinge. The South Polar Region also had some interesting detail. Sketch. Europa disappeared behind Jupiter during my sketch.
At around 11pm, Io began its transit. Seeing seemed to be getting a bit better. At 11:31pm, Io's shadow transit began. I could still see Io occasionally as a brighter notch in the S edge of the NEB. My last positive glimpse of Io was at 11:37pm. Some high clouds passed occasionally, but were no real threat. Mainly, they created a 22-degree lunar halo, often crowned by an upper tangent arc. The view held up at 390x, but 275x was more consistently useful.
A few minutes before midnight, Ganymede's shadow added the final dark mark to the disk. Three shadows and Ganymede were visible at the same time. Seeing worsened slightly, but I pulled off a sketch at 275x. Callisto's shadow slid off the disk at around 12:19am; I finally retired at 12:50am to remove the frost from my scope and catch some shut-eye.
This night promised an unexpected window of opportunity in an otherwise unfavorable weather pattern. While the night was remarkably free of clouds, transparency suffered, possibly due to smoke being blown over the mountains. Seeing was well below average. The twilight offered a chance to see all the naked-eye planets and the Moon. Mercury showed an orange disk, very slightly more than half-illuminated. A variable polarizing filter helped to cut through the seeing and made the phase more apparent. The Moon was still a thin crescent, with earthshine making for nice full-disk views. Venus was a clean half-moon with the polarizer. Mars was markedly closer to full than the last time I observed it, but under the conditions no detail was visible on its tiny disk. Saturn and Jupiter were their usual bright selves, but the seeing really cut into the views.
Accordingly, my deep-sky explorations were mainly of the casual showpiece type. I spent most of my time in Coma Berenices, Canes Venatici and Ursa Major to stay clear of the poor transparency near the horizon.
Hmmm. A double shadow transit on Jupiter. Must be time for clouds and poor seeing. Yes, that was the case, but once again I was able to make an observation. My first concern was the thickening clouds, but at 9pm they were still thin enough to not be much of a problem. Seeing was OK (Antoniadi III), and both Ganymede (a gray disk near Jupiter's preceding limb and just N of the NEB) and its shadow (a very prominent dark circle at the same latitude following the central meridian) were quite visible. The degree of cloudiness waxed and waned, but everything was still looking good as Io began transiting the disk. The innermost moon was visible as a small, bright yellow orb against the limb darkening just S of the NEB. In less than 25 minutes, its shadow would join the party to make for a spectacular foursome, right? And I would punch the magnification up to 275x to better appreciate it, right? Wrong! The seeing suddenly went to heck. Ganymede's shadow was bouncing off the NEB like a ping-pong ball. Ganymede was hard to hold, and I eventually lost Io. Almost all fine detail was lost in turbulence. On top of that, the clouds started to thicken. As Io's shadow began its ingress, Ganymede slid onto the limb darkening and became bright and prominent. I made a quick sketch and got out of there before things got even uglier. As it was, the view with my 10" was almost down to the level of some of the better views I've had through the SOD. That's how bad things were.
Before conditions went south, I noticed that the South Polar Region was pretty interesting. The following half of the region was darker, almost blackish, and more heavily banded.
I skipped Thursday night/Friday morning to get some rest, and because clouds were in the forecast. It stayed clear for most of the night, and I only barely restrained myself with the help of very bad seeing conditions. Friday looked like it might be cause for regret, as there were some clouds from mid-morning on. Often thick clouds. The Clear Sky Clock forecast had been too pessimistic for most of the week, and was at it again. The NWS still said "mostly clear". As usual, the night ended up somewhere in between. After preliminaries, I moved right to two galaxy trios near the head of Leo.
Trio #60, a 5' grouping of putatively 14th-magnitude galaxies, is led by NGC 2929. The galaxy is vaguely spindle-shaped with a slightly brighter extended core. 5' to the NE is NGC 2931, fainter but still readily visible. NGC 2931 is roundish with a faint stellar nucleus and diffuse outer halo. The third member of the trio, NGC 2930, is notably smaller, but has a high surface brightness with a stellar core and a halo elongated NW-SE. During the sketch, a cloud patch passed through. I turned my attention to Jupiter, which featured the Great Red Spot near the preceding edge and the Big White Oval in the southern temperate region just following the CM. Seeing was fairly good at the time, but would degrade later. Trio #62 nearby contained a pretty tough nut to crack. Two bright galaxies, NGC 2994 and NGC 2991, were easily visible even at low power. The DSS image shows the third galaxy, NGC 2988, to be immediately to the west of NGC 2991. A couple of faint field stars in the area complicate matters. At 230x, I was occasionally (AV4) able to see 2991's evil transparent twin. NGC 2994 appeared rather large, with a slightly brighter extended core and a gradually fading halo elongated NW-SE. NGC 2991 was smaller, more concentrated with a bright core, and elongated slightly in the same direction. When visible, NGC 2988 appeared as a very small, diffuse, uniformly illuminated N-S oval. Sketch. I finished my sketch of M61. This is a very nice galaxy. Even in the SOD, it was a standout in the Virgo region. With the 10", it shows an extremely intense nucleus and a very bright mottled halo with spiral structure apparent at little more than a glance. The stellar nucleus is surrounded by a bright core, then the halo dims a bit in all directions. To the N, a bright knotty extension juts out and forks to form two spiral arms. One of these curves eastward almost immediately, while the other continues north for a short distance before curving at a bright knot and nearly fading out. With averted vision, the northern arm can be seen as a diffuse border to the halo further east, and contains one bright knot in its NE extreme. The closer eastern arm soon curves southward, and the gap between the arm and the core is seen as an obvious dark oval patch. Several knots are visible in this arm as well, as it continues southward past the core and nearly mingles with an arm projecting from the south side of the core. This southern arm is broad and bright, and wraps around to the west and southwest. It fades and broadens as it passes a field star, and is marked by several knots. The gap between the west side of the core and this arm shows up as a dark finger-shaped intrusion into the halo from the NW. M61 is subtly spectacular! Two companion galaxies are just out of the sketch field to the NE and NW.
I looked at a few other notable galaxies with visible spiral structure: M66 (wow!), M99, M95 (could make out bar for first time), and M100. Conditions were deteriorating rapidly, however, so I swung around to M13 and M5 as closure to the night.
This week has been something of a blur. I've recently developed the unfortunate habit of not recording each of my observing sessions in my notebook. I'm sure I'll break myself of that at some point, but one of the contributing factors has been the chance of clear skies each night. Sometimes iffy, but always there. So, I've been spending so much time observing (or sleeping off the previous night's session) that it has taken up all my free time. There are lots of things I can't remember; can't even remember whether I went out on a couple of nights! What I do remember is getting a look at the planetary nebula/open cluster pair NGC 2452/2453 in Puppis (but not sketching due to bad seeing), watching a faint satellite tumble across the Rosette, admiring the brilliant open clusters of the winter Milky Way, and looking at NGC 2169 (the 37 cluster) and noticing that the brightest star in the 3 is a nice double. I also remember getting up early on Thursday morning and debating about whether to take the scope out, then battling clouds for two hours. I saw lots of objects, but it was difficult to do any serious observing. Seeing tended to be poor-fair, so I didn't do any planetary sketches. I tried to sketch M61, but clouds intervened. I did get to try the OIII filter on the Veil, although it was still pretty low. Surprisingly, the OIII didn't blow away the UltraBlock on the Veil, although it did give a slightly better view. I also visited some of the other summer objects for the first time this year.
Yet another clear night. I was flagging a bit from the previous morning's cloud adventure, but perked right up under a clear dark sky. After preliminary dabbling down in Canis Major, Puppis and Pyxis, I went right for some good stuff...in LYNX! NGC 2444/45 looked like a really interesting target, an interacting galaxy pair with the southern portion (NGC 2445) distorted into a shape like some multinuclear cell on a stained microscope slide. At least that's what it looks like in Miles Paul's trio atlas (these two are grouped into a trio with 14th-magnitude MCG+7-16-15, in a bit of a stretch). It actually does look something like the image. NGC 2444, the northern half, is a bit more conventional. It is oval with a bright core. I noticed a vague extension to the ENE, and checked to see that it was present in the DSS image. Some faint cytoplasm spreads south to NGC 2445, which is broadly oval but contains 4 or more stellar spots. The galaxy is brighter just W of the brightest of these spots. Finally, M+7-16-15 is a faint, compact spot that is nearly stellar except with extended averted vision. It is right next to one of the brighter stars in this surprisingly rich field. Sketch.
While in the area, I checked out the NGC 2340 group. The lead galaxy is magnitude 11.6, and everything else is quite a bit fainter. I was able to see 13 galaxies, though, and I'll be back again.
My last Lynx object was NGC 2537, which seemed to be a cousin of NGC 2445. Several stellar spots were visible around the edges of an oval object that was fainter in the middle. Sketch. Finally, I notched another comet with C/2003 H1 (LINEAR). Low in Hydra, it was still readily apparent at 75x. It appeared round at first, but higher power revealed a brighter center and a diffuse elongation toward the NNE. The coma was about 1' in diameter and maybe magnitude 11.5. Motion to the west was apparent within 20 minutes. Sketch.
I hit a few of the brighter Virgo galaxies, and then called it another morning.
I was mainly interested in observing the double shadow transits on Jupiter. The night didn't figure to be much for deep-sky, but it was OK for a while so I did do some galaxy and nebula hunting. My first target was IC 2149, the bright planetary nebula near Beta Aurigae. This is a nice, oval, bluish planetary that can handle a lot of magnification. It has a bright central star surrounded by a bright inner ring that is elongated E-W and seems to have faint extensions at each end. There is a narrow and faint outer ring surrounding the inner ring. Sketch.
There are some faint galaxy trios in Gemini. I had observed NGC 2385/88/89 before, with NGC 2385 being a challenge. I picked it up pretty easily tonight, then went on to the trio of NGC 2373/75/79. NGC 2379 has a high surface brightness and is almost evenly illuminated. It is slightly elongated N-S. NGC 2375 is fainter and smaller, with ill-defined edges. It is elongated E-W. Finally, NGC 2373 is smaller yet, and nearly round. It sits next to a faint star. Sketch coming soon.
When the clouds started thickening, I went to Jupiter. Seeing was initially pretty good. Europa was visible in the NEB for most of the way toward the middle of the planet, and of course lots of detail was visible in the belts and zones. I went in at midnight for a warm-up and when I came back out the clouds were really thick. Often, Europa's shadow wasn't visible due to lack of contrast with the NEB (it was almost like the clouds had taken aperture away from my 10" and turned it into the SOD!). Io's shadow was more visible against a lighter area on the southern edge of the belt. Luckily, there was a nice break in the clouds that eventually allowed me to view the shadows in their full glory.
I only made two sketches tonight, but I did a lot of casual sweeping and hunting around in Orion and Monoceros. I revisited the NGC 2245 region, for instance, and looked at NGC 2264 and the Rosette. I also spent some time near Orion's belt and head. Some of the objects I looked at were the Flame, IC 423, IC 424, IC 426, and NGC 2022. Oh, yeah, and M42.
I finished an unfinished sketch of the Duck Nebula, NGC 2359 in Canis Major. This is really an amazing object, especially with the OIII filter. Its structure and texture are reminiscent of the brightest parts of the Veil. In addition to the main shape, IC 468 is a thin ribbon of nebulosity that trails off to the NW. To the east, there is a large, detached patch of faint nebulosity. Sketch. My other sketch was of galaxy trio #50, a group that straddles the Canis Minor/Cancer border. NGC 2513 is the brightest galaxy in the trio, and is easily visible at medium power. It is a very smooth oval, elongated N-S with a bright core. NGC 2510, 5' to the NW, is faint and evenly illuminated with ill-defined edges. It appears to be elongated NW-SE. NGC 2511, 2' SW of NGC 2513, is small with a stellar nucleus and a faint halo. Sketch.
Afterwards, I explored a few other galaxies and hit some showpieces like M51, the M66 area, and the globular cluster M3.
I sketched a few deep-sky objects, and browsed over a few more.
My first sketch was of the galaxy trio NGC 2292/2293/2295 (# 43 in Miles Paul's atlas). These galaxies are in Canis Major. NGC 2293 and 2292 are interacting, while NGC 2295 lies a few minutes to the west. NGC 2293 has a bright core and a pretty bright halo slightly elongated NW-SE. NGC 2292 may be a bit larger, but is much less conspicuous with a faint stellar nucleus and a nearly round halo that is faint and evenly illuminated. NGC 2295 is thin and elongated NNE-SSW between two faint stars, and is brighter in the middle. Sketch. Next, I headed up to Monoceros to look at the reflection nebulae NGC 2245, NGC 2247 and IC 2169. NGC 2245 looks a lot like Hubble's Variable Nebula, with a star at the head of a comet-like shape fanning to the SW. Several "jets" are faintly visible. A yellowish 8th-magnitude star lies a couple of minutes to the east. 10' to the northeast of this star is NGC 2247, a faint roundish glow surrounding a 9th-magnitude star. A couple of streaks are visible in the nebulosity SW and NW of the star. Sketch. Nearby IC 2169 is readily visible as a large, diffuse, amorphous glow with a bit of internal structure. While in the area, I decided to sketch Hubble's Variable Nebula, NGC 2261. Sketch.
This night didn't have any dark time between twilight's end and moonrise; I did look at a few deep-sky standards anyway. Seeing was variable, but fairly good at times. Saturn was Saturn; nothing new there. I poked around a few of the showpiece double stars while waiting for Jupiter to get higher. My Jupiter session was interrupted by a spate of bad seeing while the GRS was near the central meridian, but this passed and soon I was able to begin a sketch and use 275x throughout. Sketch. Main features: the dark spot preceding the GRS continues to evolve and now seems to be associated with a thin dark belt at this latitude. A very large, very conspicuous white oval in the STB/SSTB is visible near the following limb when the GRS is near the preceding limb. Perhaps this is the same oval I observed on Feb. 11. The pale rift and turbulence in the SEB continues to be conspicuous. The Equatorial Zone is chock full of detail.
I had my eye on this night for a while, as it looked like it might be a clear night early in the week. Things got less optimistic for a while, but as twilight deepened it was clear! I putzed around in twilight with views of C/2002 T7(LINEAR), which remains essentially unchanged. I also looked at Saturn, M31, M74 and M42/43. I wasn't sure how this night would hold up, as it was very moist and seeing was a notch below average. However, when I saw the amount of detail visible in M43, I said: "I'm going to go back to McNeil's Nebula." Naked-eye LM was about 0.2 magnitudes worse than on Feb. 11/12 (6.7-6.8), and seeing was just a bit worse (4/10). I had more trouble holding onto faint stars, and the sky background didn't seem as black, but the power of experience made up for it. Instead of 50 minutes to see McNeil's, this time it took about 5. I skipped around to the south this time and located the nebula that Bill Ferris notes as Herbig-Haro 24-26 4 (now corrected as Parsamyan-Petrossian 44). I had unceremoniously plotted it as stellar on my previous sketch. It does have a stellar center, but there is a distinct nebulous haze around it. I ended up putting it near the top of my field and NGC 2064 near the bottom, and looked in between to find the patch that is McNeil 1. (Sketch.) The nebula looked the same as it did before; I was able to hold it better with averted vision, but I'll chalk this up to the experience factor. I could hold the 14.9 star just ENE of the nebula for extended periods at times, but got exactly one glimpse of its 16th-magnitude companion. I did notice some other things by focusing on the southern portion of the region. Specifically, while I was looking at PP 44, I saw a faint detached haze to the N. This is apparently the blotchy area labeled as Herbig-Haro 19/27 complex on Jay McNeil's images (could be called just HH 24?). A really satisfying repeat observation.
After that, I fooled around with some showpieces. The night was getting drippier, wood smoke started to infringe, and Jupter grew a haze around it. It looked like there were some scattered clouds moving through as well. Meanwhile, my eyepieces were fogging up at the blink of an eye. I did get a good look at Hubble's Variable Nebula (NGC 2261), but didn't sketch it due to the variable conditions. My final view was of Jupiter. Although the planet was still low, seeing had improved a bit, and the Great Red Spot and Io's shadow were prominent on the disk. After that, I decided it was time to warm up and dry out.
This was the last night in a six-night run. I don't even do this in summer, and there are reasons. First, the probability of clear nights is so much greater in the summer that I feel better about skipping a few. Second, during the winter it's possible to go out for a few hours at the end of twilight and still get to bed at a decent hour. During summer, the end of twilight is already approaching an indecent hour, so I usually don't pull long sessions on consecutive nights when I need to work the next day. But in February, all that goes out the window. This was about a 3-hour session, filled with a lot of putzing and low-power viewing. Transparency was a little off from the previous few nights, and seeing degraded from mediocre to poor as the night went on.
My first target was C/2002 T7, which held essentially steady at magnitude 7.2 and 25' of tail visible. I toured a number of the open clusters of the winter sky at 36x, then did my only deep-sky sketch of the night. The emission nebula/open cluster NGC 2467 is prominent without filters, although they help (OIII best). The cluster is not conspicuous in a very rich star field dominated by the nebula. The brightest part of the nebula is nearly round, with a 9th-magnitude star at its northern edge and a 10th magnitude star at its southern edge. The southern border is bright, and the center is hollowed out by a dark lane. A scattering of faint stars is on the eastern edge. The nebula extends to the west, although this portion is faint. Another faint portion lies to the north of the 9th magnitude star, separate from the bright portion and strongly elongated E-W. Sketch.
This was the best night, transparency-wise, in a six-night run. I got limiting magnitudes of 6.9 in Taurus and 7.0 in Gemini. Seeing was just average. After a couple of warm-up objects, I hit McNeil's Nebula. NGC 2064 was easy with direct vision, but I still struggled to see the faint guide stars that would lead me to McNeil's. After 50 minutes, all I had to show were a few indistinct glimpses of the nebula at powers between 114x and 230x. At about that point, sightings of both the nebula and the stars became more consistent. I stuck with 160x, and used the next 30 minutes to do a rough sketch. By the end of this period, McNeil's was almost easy. It still required averted vision, and rated an AV4 (averted vision only, seen less than 50% of the time). When it was visible, it appeared brighter in the southern portion and vaguely tapered to the north. I didn't see any stellar condensation within it. Sketch. The components of the double star just east of the nebula could sometimes be held at the same time, although they were AV4 as well. I've heard some pretty faint estimates for the fainter of the two, but personally doubt that it's fainter than 16.0. The brighter one looks to be about 14.5-15.0. After that exhausting observation, I went mostly for casual views, although I did sketch a couple of Messier objects, M97 and M82.
How about another clear night? I started out with filter tests again. The first object that I sketched was M1, the Crab Nebula. This is often called a boring object, or one that looks about the same at any aperture. I'll admit that this is a pretty uniform first impression, but I'm not a fan of first impressions. There is detail to be dredged out at 10". What role do filters play? This is an object where the unfiltered view, UltraBlock, and OIII all scored points. The unfiltered view showed a more extended, with faint structure at the extremes. The UltraBlock cut out some of the periphery, but laid bare more of the structure in the bright parts. The OIII gave the dimmest view overall, but emphasized some bright areas that weren't distinct in the other views. Cut back to the unfiltered view to appreciate the rich starry field. I put them all together and I got this sketch. From a familiar object, I made the transition to an object I'd never seen before. NGC 2346 is a planetary Nebula in Monoceros which for some reason isn't included in the Night Sky Observer's Guide. I ran across the number in David Knisely's filter test, and it intrigued me. I had a Cartes du Ciel finder chart printed out, and it was certainly easy enough to find. This planetary has a bright and conspicuous central star that tends to overwhelm the nebula. As a result, the OIII was the winning filter here. I also cranked up the power to 230x. I didn't know what kind of structure to expect, although Knisely mentioned a hint of annularity. I found a bright, bar-like feature running WNW-ESE around the central star, with faint curving projections from each end. The rest of the disk was fainter. Neat object. Sketch.
Jay McNeil recently discovered a "new" nebula on a CCD image of the M78 area. I printed up a finder chart and did a little exploratory hunt. The nebula was predicted to be at about the limit of visibility for a 10" under dark skies. When I looked at the M78 area, I was able to see the nearby dimmer nebulae NGC 2067 and NGC 2064. This was sort of a signal that the sky was good enough to try for the new nebula. I thought that 190x would give enough power to darken the sky background and reveal the faint guide stars, but the field was too narrow, especially without tracking. A couple of times, I caught a glimpse of the double star near the nebula, and probably the nebula itself, but I wasn't certain. 160x seemed to be a good compromise power, but I had trouble with eyeball fog on the eyepiece lens. I shelved the search until another night, and immediately afterwards the sky started fogging up.
The fog was transitory, but never really left the lower part of the sky. I went higher, to Gemini. Minkowski 1-7 is a planetary that I first read about in an article by Jay McNeil in Sky and Telescope (1/99). I decided to search this one out. It's fairly easy to find. There is a bright, compact, elongated splash of stars in the low-power field. The planetary itself hides near a field star, and looks a lot smaller than its 30" listed diameter. I went all the way up to 390x on this one, and it still looked small. It was elongated NW-SE, and brightened to a nearly stellar center. The ends tapered, but I didn't see the sharp ansae mentioned by McNeil. Sketch.
I putzed around a bit until moonrise. I planned on taking a break and coming back to see Io transit Jupiter. I had over an hour until that began, but I pointed at Jupiter to see how the seeing was. The seeing was very good. There was a strikingly well-defined white oval in the preceding part of the South Temperate Belt, and lots of other structure. I still managed to take my break, although it was shortened considerably.
For a brief time, the seeing was excellent. I was able to use 275x and even 390x on Jupiter. Even when a bit of unsteadiness kicked in, 275x was comfortable. A sketch is here. Details, south to north: The very southern tip seemed lighter than the surrounding South Polar Region (SPR), a pseudo-polar cap effect that I've never noticed before. There were several broken minor belts in the SPR. The South South Temperate Belt (SSTB) was strong on the following half of the disk, then seemed to curve northwards to join the South Temperate Belt (STB), although a thin remnant of the SSTB was visible to the preceding limb. The STB was variable in thickness and darkness, with the darkest parts near the preceding limb (encircling the previously mentioned white oval) and about halfway between the CM and the following limb. The South Equatorial Belt showed a lighter center stripe for most of its length, as well as subtle projections and festoons from both north and south edges. The Equatorial Band was visible across most of the disk, joined by festoons from the adjacent Equatorial Belts. The North Equatorial Belt (NEB), was particularly richly festooned along its southern border, the festoons often rising from dark projections in the belt. Several of the projections had a bluish tinge, including the one that temporarily housed Io's shadow. Io itself was visible against the northern part of the NEB and the limb darkening, but I soon lost it. A very thin, skeletal North Temperate Belt was visible, with a couple of festoons joining from the NEB. The North Polar Region was a mostly featureless yellow-gray.
The promised clear night finally arrived, and I had a good time even though there were only a couple of hours between twilight and moonlight. My first target was Comet C/2002 T7 (LINEAR). The comet doesn't seem to have gained in brightness since my last observation on January 21. It did appear a bit more condensed, though, and I could see more tail. In 8x56 binoculars, I estimated the magnitude at 7.3 and the degree of condensation at 5, with a coma diameter of ~6 arcminutes. In the 10" Dob, the tail appeared to be about 30 minutes long and pointed ENE. Some faint jet structure was visible in the inner coma around a prominent pseudonucleus. The comet generally looked better at 114x than at 76x, with the higher power giving a darker sky background and more contrast. Sketch. I did the filter comparison on a couple of objects. Limiting magnitude was about 6.8. NGC 896 and IC 1795 were new ones for me. This pair of emission nebulae in Cassiopeia was visible without a filter at 76x. NGC 896 is a small, elongated, two-lobed gray patch, while IC 1795 is a larger and more diffuse haze. The Orion UltraBlock increases the contrast of NGC 896, and increases the size and detail visible in IC 1795. The Astronomik OIII increases contrast and detail over the unfiltered view, but the nebulae don't stand out nearly as much. With prolonged viewing, the UltraBlock view was nicer. The nebulae lie in a busy star field, so field star extinction wasn't an issue. Sketch. My next target was NGC 1514, a planetary nebula in Taurus. This planetary is rather large (~2') but diffuse, with a very bright (magnitude 9.5) central star. It appears as a roundish haze with sharp edges without a filter. The UltraBlock darkens the sky background, making the nebula's edges stand out more. Some asymmetry and dark areas can be seen. The OIII provides additional contrast, and the dark areas are more plain. There's a lot of subtle detail in there, much of it at the edge of perception. The OIII won this one. Sketch.
I looked at a couple of other nebulae, but didn't give the filters an official workout because moonlight was beginning to affect the sky. I visited Saturn and Jupiter; seeing was average at best on Saturn and mediocre on Jupiter (still fairly low in the sky). I decided to go to bed early in preparation for a longer deep-sky session on the following night. Amazingly, at 10pm there wasn't any frost on the scope. It was about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, but very dry (dropped to 12 degrees by morning).
This was supposed to be the first in a long string of clear nights. Unfortunately, a large cloud bank hadn't heard the forecast and moved in from the north. Broken cloudiness ruled from twilight until moonset, essentially ruining the night for deep-sky observing. I did get awesome views of the Orion Nebula during one clearing. Seeing, well, seeing wasn't great either. I wound up capping the scope and taking a nap. I got up after local midnight to look at Jupiter. Europa's shadow was in the NEB, and I also saw Europa's bright little disk against the limb darkening and the northern edge of the NEB.
(Sketch) Seeing was about average, with some periods of deterioration. Many festoons were visible extending from the southern edge of the NEB, creating a wealth of detail in the Equatorial Zone. One of the festoons emerged from a distinctly bluish barge in the NEB, and there was also a blue tinge to the southern border near Europa's shadow.
I focused on Jupiter tonight. Seeing was initially frustrating, but steadied significantly as the planet rose higher. The GRS was transiting near the beginning of my sketch. Much more detail was visible around these longitudes than on my previous sketch of January 21, so the seeing was better tonight. Sketch.
The South Polar Region (SPR) was dark and fairly uniform except near the pole (a darker area) and near the northern edge where the South South Temperate Belt (SSTB) formed a darker margin. The SSTB was thin except near the following limb, where it seemed to be a bit wider. No ovals were visible. The small dark spot in the South Temperate Belt (STB) was less prominent than on 1/21, and has now moved even with the preceding edge of the Great Red Spot (GRS). It appeared vaguely hook-shaped, with the preceding edge convex, and elongated N-S. The STB was only visible following the GRS, and was faint.
The South Equatorial Belt (SEB) showed a lot of structure. The northern border was thin and very dark except near the preceding edge. Oval-like pale turbulence was visible following the GRS, and an elongated pale oval region preceded the GRS in the northern half of the SEB. The GRS was pinkish-orange, and slightly paler than the SEB. The interior of the GRS was much lighter than the borders. The GRS was not well-separated from the SEB along most of the borders.
The southern border of the North Equatorial Belt (NEB) displayed many festoons. Most of these connected with a broken Equatorial Band (EB) in the southern part of the Equatorial Zone (EZ). A couple of white oval bays were present between festoons. At a longitude nearly even with the following edge of the GRS, there was an extremely intense dark spot in the southern portion of the NEB. The festoon south of this spot was not very prominent, but seemed to reach all the way to the northern edge of the SEB. Following this spot were a white bay and then another dark area, not as intense but more elongated with a dark and curving festoon projecting to the south and trailing toward the following limb. A dark reddish wedge was in the NEB near the following limb.
A broken, faint North Temperate Belt (NTB) was visible north of the NEB in several places, connected to the NEB by small festoons. The North Polar Region (NPR) was lighter and warmer than the SPR, and contained a fairly prominent belt (North North Temperate Belt?)
With the bright Moon, I observed the four bright planets, the Moon, and a few double stars and open clusters. Seeing was generally mediocre, and clouds interfered with Jupiter later on. I started out with Venus in blue skies (sketch). Mars is getting ever smaller and more distant, but the Syrtis Major complex was easily visible on the gibbous disk. Saturn was Saturn, and the Moon was a pleasure. Jupiter showed lots of detail including Io's shadow, but was only intermittently visible between the clouds.
A variable night with a good supply of clouds and fog, but a decent amount of good skies in between. I didn't complete any sketches, as it's discouraging when you start sketching and then the object disappears. Despite the conditions, I couldn't resist trying a cursory comparison between my Orion UltraBlock and my new Astronomik OIII. I tried both filters on several objects. The OIII was significantly better on two: NGC 2359 (the Duck Nebula or Thor's Helmet) in Canis Major and Abell 21 (the Medusa Nebula) in Gemini. The filters performed roughly the same on the Rosette Nebula and NGC 2174. I also looked at several objects in the OIII alone, and was somewhat surprised to be able to detect the faint supernova remnant IC 443 in Gemini.
Leaving the filters behind, I caught Jupiter for a relatively short time between cloud banks. Lots of detail despite mediocre seeing, including a large festoon complex in the NEB and some structure in the STB/SSTB near the preceding edge. Then Jupiter disappeared and the session ended.
I managed to get some observing in on three consecutive nights, and roughly quadrupled my number of observing hours so far this year. Conditions were never pristine, but the seeing was fair to very good, and at least on January 20/21 the transparency was decent enough to allow some satisfying deep-sky views. It was cold and damp; every session ended with a de-icing of the Dob tube and base, and a gradual warm-up. The morning of January 21 dropped to the upper teens. The next morning, the low was 8 degrees F, but I spared myself by packing it in before midnight due to fog and fatigue. The evening of the 22nd remained in the balmy mid-20s for my rather short planetary session. Most of the yard still had 1-3 feet of snow, so I was forced to observe from driveway sites that were both more obstructed and more exposed to porch lights than my preferred spot. Oh, well, you take what you get during the winter.
On the evening of January 20, my first target was Mars. I did a sketch of the rather limited detail available. Aurorae Sinus was the most prominent marking, followed by Mare Sirenum; it was difficult to make out Solis Lacus. Perversely, the seeing got better after I made the sketch. But I would retaliate on the evening of January 22, when the seeing was a whole world better.
With the sky dark(er), I turned to C/2002 T7 (LINEAR). This comet keeps getting larger and more diffuse. It was very prominent this evening in 8x56 binoculars. I estimated the comet's magnitude as 7.2, with a coma diameter of 7.5' and a DC of 4. A tail was visible in binoculars; in the 10" Dob it stretched for about 15'. The pseudonucleus is less prominent than before. Several low-contrast jets are visible in the inner coma, and the tailward ones continue as linear features in the tail. The tail starts out in PA ~80, then curves gracefully northward about halfway from the coma. Sketch.
The LM in the area was about 6.5. I moved over to comet 43P/Wolf-Harrington; it was visible as a very faint, small fuzz.
After visiting some showpieces, I decided to see how many galaxies I could track down in Abell 426, the Perseus Galaxy Cluster. The maps I have are inadequate, and I'll have to supplement them with a DSS image to make a definitive observation, but even under the conditions I was able to find 16 galaxies. I spent quite a while observing Saturn. Six moons were visible. Seeing conditions were pretty variable, and often I was limited to 275x. Later, Jupiter cleared the trees, and while it was still pretty unsteady I could easily make out Callisto's shadow. Everything was starting to frost up, and I realized that I had spent 4.5 hours while not doing a whole lot. I decided to pack it in and catch a few hours of sleep, and then do a morning session with an emphasis on Jupiter.
That few hours of sleep went by really fast, and my alarm woke me at 2:30am. I put the scope back out to cool off. I decided to start out with a deep-sky sketch, and after visiting several galaxies I settled on NGC 3628. This faintest and largest member of the Leo Trio has a reasonably prominent dust lane and lots of mottled structure. As I was finishing the sketch, fog started rolling in. The fog wasn't a problem for Jupiter, but the view still wasn't that impressive. I think part of it was that the seeing left something to be desired, and the other part was that this was my first attempt at a serious Jupiter observation in many months. The Great Red Spot was easily visible, with its southern border darkest and the interior quite light. There was a darker, dusky discontinuity just south of the following edge of the spot, extending toward the South Polar Region. There was also dark southward protuberance on the South Equatorial Belt just preceding the spot. However, I couldn't make out the usual flocculent turbulence structure in the SEB following the spot. The NEB was likewise fairly blah, with one dark barge just preceding the longitude of the GRS. A couple of dark segments of the Equatorial Band were visible, especially north of the GRS and near the following limb, but nothing too prominent or continuous. No NTB or NNTB was visible, just a nearly featureless gray North Polar Region. Sketch.
The fog remitted and relapsed, never leaving well enough alone. I visited a few morning showpieces. M3 looked great at 230x. By 5:00 am, I was ready to call it a morning and try to get just enough sleep to put on a good show at work.
January 21/22 was supposed to be a better night for transparency, but high clouds were present all day long. I managed to observe a few objects in the evening before thick fog set in. My "cooldown sketch" was a return visit to Collinder 21, the "toy boat" or "putter head" cluster in Triangulum. This time, I was able to track down the adjacent galaxy IC 1731, a faint fuzz that makes the field that much more attractive. I spent some time sketching Saturn. Seeing was OK, but not great. I spent most of the time at 275x, jumping up to 390x when conditions permitted. A lot of detail was visible, including the Encke Minimum. The belts on the disk also repaid prolonged study with their subtly beautiful colors. Sketch. My final sketch of the night was of the Eskimo Nebula, NGC 2392. In good seeing, this is a very interesting object with detail visible in both the inner and outer rings. It also has one of the most prominent central stars, with a fine blue tint. 390x does wonders for the detail. Sketch.
I hit a few other objects during brief clearing periods, then gave up. Eventually the fog would freeze out and leave clear skies, but I needed the sleep.
January 22/23 was supposed to be cloudy, and indeed there were lots of high clouds around. However, they were thin enough to let me take advantage of good seeing conditions. I focused on Mars and then on Saturn. I was able to use 390x without a filter almost continuously. On Mars, this power showed me the Mare Erythraeum complex in the center of the disk, along with a lot of other features. I was really impressed by the amount of detail visible on the gibbous disk only 7" across. Sketch.
Saturn was better than on the previous night. I didn't repeat the sketch, though. I just soaked in the majestic ringed planet until the clouds got thick enough for me to call it a night.
You take any reasonably clear night you can get in January. Fog and clouds threatened, and the sky wasn't that great. I looked at C/2002 T7 (LINEAR) first. The comet appeared to have a larger but more diffuse coma, while the tail looked about like it did on the 26th. There were several jets around the pseudonucleus.
Mars is still hanging on; Mare Sirenum was the most prominent dark marking on its shrinking gibbous disk.
The seeing was OK; not great. I split a few medium-brightness, medium-close double stars (minimum separation 1.5") for fun.
Saturn was OK; not great. At times it was steady enough to reveal lots of detail, but most of the time it was pretty unsteady.