2003 December 25/26: Merry Christmas Observing!
I was out walking the dog before dinner, watching the clouds roll by, when one of them removed the
veil from a silvery point of light against the blue sky. Venus! A minute or so later, the thin crescent Moon appeared as well. The weather was still uncertain, so I held off on getting the scope out until later. By that time, Venus and the Moon were gone, but there were other things to see. I took a break from sketching.
C/2002 T7 (LINEAR). This comet is nice for mid-sized scopes, about 8th magnitude with a bright pseudonucleus, a fan-shaped coma and a brightening tail.
NGC 1023. This lenticular galaxy in Perseus was always a boring little fuzz in the SOD, but I revisited it after seeing an image
of it. It's really nice, once you can see the extensions. NGC 1003, a couple of degrees away, is faint and evenly illuminated. There are lots of little galaxies in this area that I'll have to look for sometime.
NGC 1491. Overlooked little emission nebula in Perseus; easy to see with a neat shape and some structure.
M76. The Little Dumbbell is a bright, easy target with quite a bit of structure packed into its small shell.
NGC 2174. Large, interesting nebula near the Orion-Gemini border. Responds well to the Orion UltraBlock filter.
M42 (of course!) Really Technicolor tonight.
Saturn: Seeing was just average, but there were steady moments with nice detail on the disk and in the rings.
After 2.5 hours, I was fighting a losing battle with frost/dew on my eyepieces and filters, and frost was apparently causing annoying increased stiction on my Dob bearings. So, I packed it in, a bit reluctantly because clear skies
in December ARE a rather rare gift.
Tonight was plagued by fog, and didn't even offer the consolation of good seeing. I stayed out long enough to get a decent view of C/2002 T7 (LINEAR). The comet is gradually becoming a more exciting object. It has a bright, slightly nonstellar pseudonucleus within a broadly fan-shaped coma that measures ~3' x 2'. 160x reveals several jets within the coma. An eastward-pointing tail springs from one of the jets; it is bright at first, then rapidly fades. With difficulty, I could trace it to a length of 9'. Sketch above.
I looked at Mars in hopes of seeing the current dust storm, but the seeing was poor (Antoniadi 4). The Mare Erythraeum complex was visible, but smaller details were only vague and fleeting.
I enjoyed a few showpiece open clusters that were above the worst of the fog. I turned to Saturn, but the seeing was horrible. I left the scope out while I went inside to warm up. When I came out an hour later, the sky was essentially opaque. So goes December.
December 14/15: Geminids
The night of the 13/14 was washed out for me with rain, then freezing rain, then several inches of snow. I had hopes for the evening of the 14th, although snow kept up for much of the day and set the stage for fog.
I went out at 7:15pm and did a quick setup. I observed casually for about 40 minutes and saw 9 Geminids and 1 sporadic through variable conditions with rolling fog and wood stove smoke. Things finally cleared up consistently, and I began two hours of counting at 8:00pm. There were still some high, thin clouds, and a low fog bank in the east; these limited my LM to 6.2-6.3.
The Geminids weren't plentiful, but were bright on average. I counted 16 Geminids and 1 sporadic in the first hour (8:00-9:00), and 18 Geminids and 7 sporadics in the second hour (9:00-10:00). Average Geminid magnitude was 1.7, compared to 2.8 for the sporadics. The second hour featured a gorgeous -5 blue Geminid fireball, while a -2 in the first hour showed a color combination I've seen several times during the Geminids: yellow in front, with the trailing part of the head violet.
2003 was sort of an off year for meteor showers; with a little luck from the weather, 2004 should be better. Prospects are in a new article on my website: Major Meteor Showers in 2004.
Observer: Wesley Stone (STOWE)
Location: Chiloquin, OR (42d 35m N, 121d 52m W)
Method: Counting: Watch/Tape recorder
Date: 2003 December 14/15
Interval UT Teff(h) LM F GEM Spo
0400-0501 1.00 6.3 1.11 16 1
0501-0502 1.00 6.2 1.11 18 7
Mag. -5...-2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 Total
GEM 1 1 3 4 2 8 11 4 34
Spo - - - - - 3 4 1 8
I made a quick observation of Comet Encke. I wasn't expecting it to be clear, and I lingered at work and got home with limited time to spare. I took the 10" out and jumped on the comet without the niceties of collimation and cooldown (probably no great loss; the collimation was OK later and thermal problems were probably dwarfed by the bad seeing). The Moon was bright and glaring, and there was a bit of a haze. LM near the comet was worse than 5.0. Encke wasn't visible in 8x56 binoculars, but showed up as a diffuse blob at 36x. The best view was at 76x with the UltraBlock filter. Under the conditions, Encke looked dimmer than on Nov. 21/22, but its shape and characteristics were about the same. Coma diameter was about 7', and there was no tail, just the familiar fan shape in PA~275. There was a small condensation near the point of the fan, and the fan seemed to have a central spine. There also seemed to be a slightly brighter jet at PA~200 (this part of the coma was relatively brighter than before). I made a rough sketch, but was only able to observe the comet for about 10 minutes before it slipped behind a tree.
I went to Mars; the detail was still pretty good. Aside from the gibbous shape, Mars at 10.7" diameter looked about the same as it did with the 60mm SOD at opposition. In fairness to the 10", the seeing wasn't very good tonight and this was a slightly less detailed face of the planet. Still, Maria Sirenum and Cimmerium were visible, as well as the SPC. A northward extension from the following edge of Mare Sirenum was noticed.
Seeing took a rather abrupt turn for the worse as I moved to the Moon, so I followed with some casual observations of deep-sky showcases. Not bad, considering the conditions. M15, M2, M45, M36, M37, M38, M34, the Double Cluster, NGC 457, NGC 663, M103, and M39 were on the menu. The Moon exhibited both a tight corona and a 22-degree ice crystal halo.
I put in a pretty heavy session in weather that dropped to 20 degrees F before midnight. I was quickly rewarded with another comet for my AL observing list. 43P/Wolf-Harrington, which eluded me a week ago, was an AV1-2 object tonight. It appeared to have a round 0.7' coma, DC=3/9 (slightly condensed to an inconspicuous nonstellar nucleus). The coma appeared very small at first glance, but extended viewing revealed it to be larger. The comet's motion to the SE was apparent within an hour. Sketch.
I took a look at Mars and was pleasantly surprised. I was able to use 390x with the polarizing filter much of the time, dropping back to 275x without the filter during more turbulent spells. The planet's best face was on display, featuring Syrtis Major, Hellas, Sinus Sabaeus, Mare Serpentis, etc. The SPC looked small and round.
C/2002 T7 (LINEAR) has become a more interesting object since I last observed it. It is still compact, but looks like a comet even at 76x. That being said, I preferred the view at 160x. The comet has a brilliant blue nonstellar nucleus surrounded by an elliptical 1.75'x1.25' coma. The coma is elongated NW-SE. Short, curving jets define each end of the coma, and a broad tail with a faint central spine extends for ~4' in PA=105 from the middle of the coma.
Saturn was fairly steady later on. As with Mars, I was able to use 275x regularly and 390x some of the time. Steadier moments revealed good detail, but withheld the really fine stuff.
It wasn't a great deep-sky night, especially lower in the sky. It got cold, and it was hard to keep the eyepieces from dewing up. Nevertheless, I poked around a number of galaxies in Cetus and Eridanus, and visited some familiar showpieces.
I observed Comet Encke through broken clouds. The comet is somewhat brighter than it was a week ago, but retains much the same appearance. The coma is broad and fan-shaped, opening to the NW, with a brighter inner portion that takes up about 1/3 of its diameter. There is an indistinct central condensation. The northern wing of the coma appears brighter, and there are subtle jetlike spikes to the N and W. At 44x, there is just a hint of a tail to the SW, maybe 20' long and at the threshold of perception under these conditions. Sketch above.
Leonids: November 17/18 and 18/19
I watched meteors for 1.25 hours before morning twilight on the 18th. Rates were not the greatest, with 10 Leonids, 10 sporadics and 1 Taurid. Limiting magnitude was 6.4, and my view was 10% obstructed by a building to block the Moon. There was a very fast blue -2 Leonid, and a slow yellow-orange -3 Taurid.
On the evening of the 18th, I planned to go out at 11:25pm PST to see if I could catch any earthgrazers, watch casually
until 12:30 or 1:00am, and then do an hour of serious observing. There was a fog bank in the NE when I started, occasionally extending over about half the sky, but then it sank down for almost an hour, leaving clear skies. There were no early Leonids; my "over/under" for the first Leonid under these conditions was midnight PST, but it wasn't even close. A magnitude 2 Leonid appeared at 12:32am, by which time the fog had returned and dropped the LM below 5. The next Leonid was a magnitude 0 after 1:00. Skies showed some sign of improvement, but I figured I had lost too much sleep already. I woke up a couple of times to clear skies later, but didn't feel like going out (and didn't see any meteors out my window, which is usually what draws me out of bed).
Non-Leonid activity was OK, with about 12 sporadics and 4 Taurids during 1.75 hours of casual watching. There was a long orange +1 that appeared to come from somewhere in western Cetus, and a -2 from Pegasus, but most of the activity was faint.
I pulled off a short session between evening twilight and moonrise. There was a bit of wood smoke, and a lot of moisture in the air. I saw comets Encke and C/2002 T7, and missed comet 43P/Wolf-Harrington. I ended the night with a look at Mars.
Comet Encke has grown and brightened since I last saw it. It is now faintly visible in 8x56 binoculars. It is an obvious and interesting object in the 10", with a coma that is about 15' in diameter. The coma is diffuse, with a small and faint central condensation at the tip of a vaguely parabolic inner coma. The inner coma also shows a faint central spine pointing toward the NW. Sketch.
C/2002 T7 remains much as before: a small, very condensed object with a stellar pseudonucleus and a hint of a tail. It formed a neat triangle with a couple of field stars.
Mars is a shadow of its August self, but I could still make out ample detail in better-than-average seeing at 275x. Sinus Meridiani, Margaritifer and Aurorae Sinuses, Mare Acidalium, the SPC, and the NPH were all prominent.
November 13 Leonid Report
I watched meteors for two hours this morning. The Moon was very bright and glaring off frost on the ground. Luckily, the sky was clear except for minimal wood smoke near the horizon. I chose to observe in the shadow of a tall tree to get the Moon out of my FOV (hence the 20% obstruction).
Meteor activity was faint, with nothing brighter than magnitude 1. Sporadic rates are about what I would expect under the conditions. There were two Leonids in the first hour, the first one coming at 4:16am PST. The second hour featured 6 Leonids. The last four meteors of the watch were Leonids, but there were no meteors for the last ten minutes of the watch so it wasn't like activity was increasing steadily. I watched on through twilight until 6:00am (1400 UT) but did not see any more meteors.
Observer: Wesley Stone (STOWE)
Location: Chiloquin, OR (42d 35m N, 121d 52m W)
Method: Counting: Watch/Tape recorder
Date: 2003 November 12/13
Interval UT Teff(h) LM F Tau LEO Spo
1145-1247 1.00 5.6 1.25 2 2 4
1247-1348 1.00 5.6 1.25 0 6 7
Mag. 1 2 3 4 Total
Tau 1 1 - - 2
LEO - 2 5 1 8
Spo 2 3 2 4 11
October 28/29 Aurora Report
I did some deep-sky observing last night, and ended my session at 10:30pm (ironically about the time the CME arrived). To this point, the only auroral activity was a rather normal weak glow in the NE that has been present for much of the past week. Also, there were some dark clouds in the north and west.
I set my alarm for 3:00. When I finally came to my senses about 25 minutes later, I looked out my window and saw a distinct red glow low above the trees in the NW. Skies were about 50 percent cloudy, but began to clear. I went out and found the NE part of the sky well-lit in yellow and green. I watched for about an hour and a half. There wasn't much structure to the aurora. An occasional pillar did shoot up, one reaching 60 degrees altitude. The pillars swayed and moved slowly, although at one point the red glow in the NW did take on a pulsating motion. Most of the time, the aurora was just a glow, and sometimes it would die down to a general brightening below 15 degrees altitude. Typical of fall mornings, there were quite a few meteors to add to the display.
I wish I had been out earlier; it sounds from reports like the main display might have come a few hours earlier. Still, this is only the second bright display I've seen in the 2.5 years since I returned to Chiloquin, and any aurora is a good one down here.
I had high hopes for this night. Early in the day, the sky was crystal-clear. If such conditions had prevailed, I would have tried an all-nighter. Unfortunately, the bugaboo high clouds returned in the afternoon, and nighttime conditions were ho-hum. I settled for a half-nighter, much to my body's relief, but had another productive session.
NGC 7541 and NGC 7537 are a cool pair of galaxies in Pisces. NGC 7541 is nearly edge-on, and contains a mottled barlike core with an apparent stellar nucleus. It is elongated WNW-ESE 4'x1'. 3.5' to the SW is NGC 7537, quite a bit fainter and more diffuse. NGC 7537 has a weak elongated core and a faint outer halo elongated SW-NE 1.5'x0.5'. NGC 7741 is a barred spiral galaxy in Pegasus. It shows up at low power as a rather large, diffuse fluffy patch immediately SE of a conspicuous double star. At 160x, there is a prominent, unevenly illuminated bar running E-W for 1' through the galaxy's center. The bar is brightest in the middle, and a bright knot is at its W end. Extended viewing shows a brighter patch in the halo N of the core, separated from the bar by a dark patch. A less-distinct dark patch is present S of the bar. With difficulty, a clockwise spiral pattern can be discerned. Overall, the galaxy spans 2.75'x2.25', slightly elongated E-W.
NGC 1 and NGC 2 are a galaxy pair in Pegasus. NGC 1, though small, is well-condensed and readily seen. It contains a bright core and a high-surface brightness halo elongated E-W 0.75'x0.5'. NGC 2 is harder to see; it is very diffuse and evenly illuminated, with about the same dimensions and orientation as NGC 1.
C/2001 HT50 seems to brighten and fade irregularly. When I last observed this comet on September 1, it seemed to be fading away. In recent days, the comet has been reported as brighter, and indeed it was rather easy to see. It seemed to be about m1=11.5, with a prominent stellar nucleus of m2~14. The coma was ~2' in diameter and slightly elongated N-S. There was a hint of jet structure in the inner coma. The comet's westward motion was obvious over 2 hours.
2P/Encke was easier tonight, and seems to be getting larger. I estimated its coma diameter at 8', and it is now quite visible even at my lowest power of 36x.
I tried for a couple of Hickson groups, but only saw the A galaxy in Hickson 95 and the A and B galaxies in Hickson 96. The night just wasn't transparent enough to pick up the faint MCG galaxies. I did see all three members of Galaxy Trio #17: NGC 426/429/430. NGC 430 is rather bright and somewhat condensed, with a nonstellar core. It is elongated NW-SE 1'x0.5', and is near a conspicuous field star. NGC 426 is more diffuse and slightly smaller; elongated 0.75'x0.5' NW-SE. The toughest of the trio is NGC 429, evenly illuminated and situated near a faint field star. It is also the smallest of the three, elongated N-S 0.75'x0.25'.
Sky conditions were below average (LM=6.5), but I had a productive night. The biggest catch was Hermes. This fast-moving minor planet was located in Cetus and listed at magnitude 13.8. It seemed a bit brighter. When I first checked the star field, I narrowed it down to two candidates and sketched the field. Half an hour later, the interloper was revealed. When Hermes passed near a field star, motion was obvious after about 10 minutes.
The NGC 7385 galaxy group was also on my list. I was able to identify 6 galaxies. NGC 7386 and NGC 7385 were immediately obvious. NGC 7389, NGC 7383 and NGC 7387 were rather easy once I found them. NGC 7390 was an extreme AV5 object. NGC 7386 presented as a bright NW-SE oval object with a stellar nucleus, a small core and a large halo. NGC 7385, near a field star, was very condensed with a nonstellar core and a bright halo elongated N-S. NGC 7389 was poorly condensed, with the outer halo evenly illuminated. NGC 7383 and NGC 7387 were very small, condensed (NGC 7383 more so) and round.
2P/Encke looks to be gaining in size and brightness, although it was no easier tonight than three nights ago. The central condensation was small and weak, and no stellar nucleus was noted. The brightest part of the coma was about 1' in diameter, surrounded by fainter 5' halo with no clear edge. The motion of the comet westward was quite apparent over 1 hour. The surrounding star field was very rich and attractive. Surprisingly, an UltraBlock narrowband filter made the outer halo easier to see. Those who have access to broadband and Swan band filters might want to try them as well. (Sketch)
I watched meteors for an hour before trying to observe Comet 157P/Tritton.
The meteor session began very slowly at 3:35am, but really picked up near the middle of the hour. Orionids put in a respectable 9 meteors, but that was only half of the sporadic background. The Taurid radiants were quite active with a combined 7 meteors. The activity was very faint, and good transparency (LM=6.8-6.9) allowed me to pick up the fainter meteors. I did see a -1 sporadic after I finished my watch.
2003 October 24, 1035-1136 UT Teff=1.00h, LM=6.8
Magnitudes: 0 1 2 3 4 5 N (mean)
NTA - - 1 - 1 1 3 (3.7)
STA - - - 1 3 - 4 (3.8)
ORI - - 1 4 1 3 9 (3.7)
Spo 1 1 2 5 7 2 18 (3.2)
I tried for comet 157P/Tritton, in Leo not far from Regulus. This allegedly 12th-magnitude comet was a tough catch. I suspected it at both 114x and 160x, and sketched the field. At times, a small nebulous fuzz at the AV4 level popped into view for 30 seconds or so. Most of the time, I just couldn't see it. Mediocre seeing was partly to blame, and the zodiacal light also interfered. I didn't know the comet's exact position relative to the faint stars beforehand, so I considered it powerful confirmation of my detection when I checked later using a DSS image and found that my position was correct. Additionally, there were no faint galaxies or asterisms that I could have mistaken for a comet in this location.
I found both of my cometary targets tonight: 2P/Encke, which I last saw in 1994, and C/2002 T7, which I last saw at OSP.
Encke was predictably a pretty tough object, but I was able to detect it at 76x. I used a composite of 114x and 160x to sketch the star field. The comet was very faint (AV1). It had a stellar central condensation that was occasionally visible, surrounded by a faint 0.5' coma that seemed elongated E-W. The coma looked larger at lower powers.
C/2002 T7 was bright and easy, although quite compact. It had a strong, nonstellar central condensation displaced to the NW of a bright coma elongated NW-SE. There was a hint of a central spine extending from the condensation, and a subtle irregularity to the shape of the coma. (Sketch.)
Galaxy Trio 129 is a neat little threesome in Pegasus. At low power (44x), only a single galaxy is visible. This is NGC 7463, which seems brighter than the magnitude 13.2 listed in NSOG and the Trios atlas. Moving to 160x, NGC 7465 is apparent (though brighter than 7463, it appeared stellar at low power). Averted vision brings out NGC 7464, a very faint and small round glow near NGC 7463. NGC 7463 is interesting, elongated 4:1 E-W. A stellar nucleus is displaced to the S of center, and the halo bulges slightly here. The W end is squarish while the E end tapers to a point. Aside from the nucleus, the galaxy is evenly illuminated. NGC 7465 is highly condensed with a bright stellar nucleus. The halo is small with high surface brightness, and is slightly elongated NW-SE.
It was mostly cloudy through sunset on the 20th, but cleared after dark. I decided to catch a few hours of rest and then do an Orionid watch beginning at 1:30am PDT. Sky conditions were excellent when I got out, even better than suggested by the LM with the gegenschein and part of the zodiacal band easily visible. Seeing looked pretty steady as well, and made me regret not putting my scope out to cool. But, I decided not to change horses in the middle of the stream, and I went ahead with my meteor count. Activity was so-so for these conditions, and there were no meteors of negative magnitude.
2003 October 21
Interval (UT) Teff(h) LM NTA STA ORI EGE Spo
0830-0931 1.00 6.8 1 2 7 0 12
0931-1032 1.00 6.7 0 2 12 1 11
Mag. 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 Total
NTA - - - - 1 - - 1
STA - 1 - 2 1 - - 4
ORI 3 1 5 5 1 3 1 19
EGE - - - 1 - - - 1
Spo 1 - 4 10 6 2 - 23
Transparency similar to last night, but seeing was atrocious much of the time. Often, I could not get decent star images at 230x. Remarkably, I was still able to track down some faint galaxies.
I started with NGC 7331. The bright galaxy has some mottling and structure that I need to explore and sketch. Tonight, I looked for companion galaxies. NGC 7335 and NGC 7337 were fairly easy, NGC 7340 a bit less so. The chart in Galaxy Groups and Clusters shows NGC 7336 superimposed on a 14th-magnitude star; I just saw one very faint and nearly stellar object. I'll check other images. Amazingly, I saw 3 of the 4 other galaxies plotted in GGC for this field: MCG +6-49-44, UGC 12132 and CGCG 514-79. 230x was best despite the seeing problems. While in the area, I checked out Stephan's Quintet. Five galaxies were visible at both 160x and 230x.
I turned to a composite sketch of the Pegasus I galaxy group. Including the northern outlier NGC 7612, which didn't make it onto the sketch, 12 galaxies were visible. The faint galaxy UGC 12522 (mag. 14.7 according to GGC) surprised me by being visible, while I missed the allegedly slightly brighter UGC 12510. I decided that a deep M33 sketch was beyond my capabilities for the night, so I explored a few of the fainter objects in Triangulum. The galaxy pair NGC 672/IC 1727 was nice at medium and low powers. These two galaxies have fairly low surface brightnesses and are both highly elongated. IC 1727, elongated 3' x 1' NNW-ESE, has a couple of brighter spots in its ESE portion, while the NNW end is wider but more diffuse. NGC 672, elongated 4.5' x 2' NE-SW, has a bright bar running along the major axis, and a very faint halo that is teardrop-shaped and wider to the SW. At the SW end, a tiny extension curves due S. The galaxy is contained in a triangle of 12th-magnitude stars. A prominent W-shaped asterism containing a triple star is ~12' ESE of NGC 672. I also saw galaxy NGC 684 in the general vicinity. Collinder 21, visible as a small boxy splash of stars in 8x56 binoculars, was an unexpected treat. Did you know that there is a bright open cluster in Triangulum? Eight stars, two of them brighter, form a "C" shape open to the E. My viewing position put West at the bottom, so the bend of the C looked like the keel of a ship. Several stars form a mast and flag sticking up to the E. About 15 stars in a 10' diameter area appear to be part of the cluster. I didn't look for galaxy IC 1731 nearby, and NSOG didn't give good directions, so I'll have to revisit this one. Sketch. NGC 750-1 is an interacting galaxy pair that appears as a double-lobed object elongated 1.5' x 0.75' N-S. The N lobe, NGC 750, is brighter, larger and more concentrated with a stellar nucleus. It appears round, while the fainter NGC 751 to the S is fainter and slightly elongated NE-SW. NGC 751 has no core, but is slightly brighter to the W. 230x showed this pair best. Galaxy NGC 736 is prominent in the same low-power field to the SSW.
I passed by NGC 925, a fairly bright but low-surface brightness galaxy, then meandered down to M77 and NGC 1055 in Cetus. I had to stop at NGC 253, another subject for a future showpiece sketch. Amazing detail!
I decided I was up for one last pre-observation challenge. I turned to the Perseus I galaxy cluster (Abell 426). NGC 1275 and NGC 1272 were immediately visible, and I could make out a few more members without much effort. I'm sure I'll see a lot more when I go into this one in detail.
My first serious deep-sky observing since OSP. I thought this would be a great night based on daytime sky clarity, but transparency was slightly below average and seeing was mediocre. A few of my observations were really "pre-observations" for a better night, but I did manage to make two sketches.
NGC 7015 is the brightest galaxy in the minuscule constellation of Equuleus. It isn't much, just a 12th-magnitude fuzz that is visible at 76x. At 230x, it is oval and elongated 1.5' x 1' E-W. There is an indistinct stellar nucleus surrounded by an oval core and a gradually fading halo. A faint star nearly touches the halo to the SE. NGC 6946, best known for its low-power pairing with open cluster NGC 6939, is revealed as a spiral through the 10". The object has low surface brightness, and the central portion is not much more distinct than the outer arms. The central portion does respond better to averted vision, though. It appears as a N-S 6'x2' bar with an irregular, non-stellar nucleus. The N end of the bar stops just short of a triangle of field stars, then an arm curves E and finally S. The outer edge of the arm follows an arc of faint stars. The arm is broad at first, then splits in two. The outer section is better-defined and tapers to a curving point. The inner section is short and diffuse, with a couple of faint knots. From the S end of the bar, a very broad and diffuse arm curves to the W and then N. The gap between this arm and the bar is indistinct except near the N end. The result is a faint but attractive counterclockwise spiral pattern in a rich star field. Sketch.
I viewed the Pegasus I galaxy group again, and got 10 galaxies this time, but didn't feel like sketching it. Ditto for the nearby barred spiral NGC 7479, in which I couldn't really make out the spiral arms. I had a finder chart for globular G1 in M31; I found it, but it appeared nearly stellar even at 390x. Better seeing would have helped.
I found NGC 770 next to NGC 772; I've looked at the bigger galaxy several times but never noticed its companion.
M33 looked really nice tonight. I could make out a lot of the HII regions and stellar associations labeled in NSOG. A deep observation session and sketch is in my future.
Mars? Well, it steadied up a bit later in the session, but I've seen better. The disk is noticeably gibbous now.
I have been out observing, but usually for short glimpses without sketching. I did sketch Mars on the morning of September 11 in fair seeing conditions (sketch). This was my best view so far of Sinus Meridiani near the central meridian. I was house-sitting for a week, and with the bright Moon I mainly focused on Mars. The best seeing came early on the morning of Sept. 15. I wasn't really up to a sketch, but I did notice a bright patch in NW Hellas. Weather looks good for the coming weekend, so I hope to get some serious deep-sky observing in.
I wasn't planning to go out tonight, but I woke up at 2am and couldn't go back to sleep. Besides, I looked out the window and saw the sky was clear and steady (it was partly cloudy and unsteady when I went to bed). I didn't like the thought of dragging the 10" out to cool off for over an hour, so I turned to the 60mm Scope Of Death instead in order to catch Mars around the precise time of perihelic opposition. I figured it would be a consolation for the little scope, which I won't be taking to OSP for the first time since 1994.
The resulting sketch is here. Not bad for a 60mm, but for perspective note that no feature with the epithet "Lacus" is readily distinguished, whereas at least four (Solis, Melas, Phoenicis, and Tithonius) were visible in the 10" on the morning of the 25th. This still should provide inspiration for those with smaller scopes.
Off to OSP!
The night started out inauspiciously. Lights were still on at the high school football stadium, creating a huge glow to the south. I tried for Minkowski's Footprint using a Cartes du Ciel chart. I identified the location on the chart and saw a bright yellow star with a dim gray star next to it. There was no nebulosity visible around the brighter star. I thought the fainter star looked a bit nebulous, but even at high power it remained essentially stellar. It looked absolutely nothing like the sketch in NSOG, which really didn't look like the same star field. Back to the drawing board on this one.
Mars initially suffered from low altitude and poor seeing. Most of the major surface details were visible. I pulled out the SOD for its first nighttime session since I got the Dob, just to see how it would handle Mars. The SPC was easily visible, and there were vague, irregular dark markings north of the cap. Even under poor seeing, however, features had more definition in the 10". I could easily see Solis Lacus as dark and round in the larger scope, and I could actually identify the albedo features. I left Mars for a while, planning to come back later.
Meanwhile, I tried to slay a couple of other dragons on my list. NGC 7094 is a low surface brightness planetary nebula in Pegasus. I think I missed it before because I wasn't sure exactly where I was looking. This time I came armed with a CDC finder chart, and found it rather easily. The magnitude 13.7 central star really stands out, and with averted vision a ghostly shell blinks on. The shell is large and round, and maybe a bit brighter around the edge. Sketch
I didn't really expect to see PK47-4.1 in Aquila, but I test-drove my finder chart anyway. I could almost make out a glow, but couldn't convince myself. If we get magnitude 7+ skies at OSP, I bet this one will fall.
NGC 6852 in Aquila was fainter than I expected. It was easily visible at low power, but didn't give much more than a hint of ring structure in its very faint disk when I raised the magnification.
The stadium lights went out, and I pointed at Neptune. Seeing was still poor, but I could make out Triton next to Neptune's very small, shimmering disk at 275x. I had never tried for any satellites of Uranus, but I had looked up their positions. At 275x, one moon was visible in a diffraction spike to the south of Uranus. At 390x, two moons were visible. Titania and Oberon were separated by about 9", and were each about 30" from Uranus. Titania, the first moon I saw, appeared a bit brighter. Sketches: Uranus; Neptune.
Back to Mars. While I was viewing and sketching the Uranian satellites, I noticed the seeing was getting better. Occasional moments of calm provided breathtaking detail, especially around Solis Lacus. Melas Lacus and Tithonius Lacus appeared etched on the surface. Aurorae Sinus was partly enveloped in limb haze, but its northern extension was visible. Argyre showed up as a brighter patch in the limb haze. Following Solis Lacus, Araxes and Phoenicis Lacus were visible (no clouds, though). Mare Sirenum was dark as always, with some complex structure on the northern edge. A large, bright oval was in the position of the feature marked "Daedalia" on some maps. Between Mare Sirenum/Solis Lacus and the SPC, there was fantastic mottled detail. To the north, southern Tharsis was bright. Northern Tharsis, Arcadia and Amazonis were slightly darker, with some fleeting linear and patchy structure. Nothing resembling a North Polar Hood was seen. I did just a quickie sketch, as by this time the CM was about the same as in my sketch of 8/21 and it was getting late. Interesting, though.
I went for Mars earlier this evening/morning, hoping to catch a glimpse of the blue-white cloud near Phoenicis Lacus. I didn't succeed (I don't have a blue filter, either.) Seeing was fair to good (Antoniadi 3) and there was a lot of detail anyway. Here is a sketch. I looked at Neptune, and am pretty sure I spotted Triton at 275x.
I took Sunday night off and, as a consequence, missed the aurora. Monday night was decent. I just tooled around, and made two sketches of obscure objects. NGC 6453 is a globular cluster near M7; it appeared as an irregularly-shaped diffuse haze with a fairly prominent core and several stars superimposed. NGC 6778 is a planetary nebula in Delphinus. It has an irregularly bright bluish oval disk of about 20" m.a. Three nearly stellar spots are visible along one edge of the disk, and the center is darker. Can't post the sketches right now.
I got up in the morning to look at Mars. Seeing was variable, with some rippling almost always visible on the planet's limb. However, on brief occasions, it was steady enough to support 390x. I was able to see some faint extensions on Mare Cimmerium at the higher power (sketch, labeled version). Mostly, I stayed with 275x. Hesperia dominated the area around the CM. The SPC continues to shrink; I didn't note any interesting internal structure in it. Eridania was conspicuously lighter than its surroundings. There were two narrow dark features in the northern hemisphere, and the NPH was obvious.
The Moon was awesome, although seeing wasn't that great. Saturn wasn't too shabby either, considering its low altitude.
A very short, relaxed observation that focused entirely on showpieces: I got OK views of M8, M57, M27, NGC 457, M11, NGC 7789, the Veil Nebula and a few double stars. There was only a short interval of darkness before moonrise.
I had some family obligations that kept me from beginning my Perseid observations until 11pm (local, PDT) Tuesday night. I don't think I missed much. I initially planned to observe from 11pm-12:30am and then again from 3:30am-4:30am, with a bit of sleep in between.
11pm-12am: Hey, the sky wasn't really that bad. As I started to dark-adapt, I caught a magnitude 5.9 star in Ursa Minor. Limiting magnitude was 6.0 when I started counting. There was actually nice structure to the Milky Way from Aquila to Cassiopeia. Meteors were slow in coming, as I waited 9 minutes for my first one. The first hour produced only 12 Perseids and two sporadics, but had the most colorful meteors. Two of the Perseids were bluish and another was violet. The brightest were two magnitude 0 Perseids. Most of the Perseids had trains.
12am-1am: I decided to stretch the count out for another full hour. Activity was pretty decent at first, including a beautiful yellow magnitude -3 Perseid with a 7-second train at 12:14. Unfortunately, the last 20 minutes of the hour were miserable with just one Perseid and one sporadic. There was actually an 18-minute period without a Perseid. Ouch! Overall, the hour yielded 18 Perseids and 4 sporadics.
3:05 am: I woke up, shut off my alarm, and my body vetoed my attempt to get up and go out. 4:05 am: I woke up and realized what happened. I knew I couldn't get in a full hour before bright morning twilight, but I decided to go out anyway for 20 minutes or so to see what was up. I eschewed time-consuming tasks such as putting down a sleeping bag and observed from a deck chair.
4:14-5:00 am: The sky was still decent, 5.8-6.0. The radiant was high in the sky. The Perseids seemed sharper, with fewer trains. Rates improved somewhat. I stretched this observation to 45 minutes until the sky really started to brighten. I caught 22 Perseids and 4 sporadics.
Overall, rates were about half what I expected. In any case, next year will be better because the Moon will be a less-intrusive waning crescent and the traditional maximum will probably occur during our morning hours (of August 12, leap year).
Observer: Wesley Stone (STOWE)
Location: Chiloquin, OR (42d 35m N, 121d 52m W)
Method: Counting: Watch/Tape recorder
Date: 2003 August 12/13 UT
Interval Teff(h) LM PER Spo*
0600-0700 1.00 6.0 12 2
0700-0801 1.00 5.9 18 4
1114-1200 0.75 5.8 22 4
*All non-Perseids noted as sporadics
Mag. -3 ... 0 1 2 3 4 Total (mean)
PER 1 3 4 9 11 2 30 (2.0)
Spo - - 1 1 3 1 6 (2.7)
Mag. 0 1 2 3 4 Total (mean)
PER 1 5 4 9 3 22 (2.4)
Spo - 1 - 2 1 4 (2.8)
I observed meteors for 2.25 hours Sunday morning. The Moon was 10 degrees above the horizon at the start of the session and blocked by trees. Despite the decent LM, the first hour was pathetic. After that slow start, activity got better. Perseids were far and away the dominant shower with a total of 30, and well above the sporadic background (18). The Aquarid radiants were very quiet until a "flurry" of three North Delta Aquarids in the last fifteen minutes.
Note: All times are UT (PDT + 7h)
A magnitude 0 Perseid at 0943 appeared near the radiant and was
about one degree in length with a train lasting 4 seconds.
A magnitude 0 Perseid at 1009 was a beautiful deep yellow and cut across the Great Square.
A very fast -1 Perseid appeared at 1053; its train was disrupted midway along its length.
Observer: Wesley Stone (STOWE)
Location: Chiloquin, OR (42d 35m N, 121d 52m W)
Method: Counting: Watch/Tape recorder
Date: 2003 August 10 UT
Interval Teff(h) LM NDA SDA PER Spo*
0934-1034 1.00 6.4 0 0 8 5
1034-1151 1.25 6.6 3 1 22 13
**Spo includes 1 Northern Apex meteor (interval 2) and 1 Southern Apex meteor (interval 1)
-1 0 1 2 3 4 5 Total
NDA - - - - 2 - 1 3
SDA - - - 1 - - - 1
PER 1 3 3 9 8 4 2 30
Spo - 0 3 3 6 5 1 18
NDA = North Delta Aquarids
SDA = South Delta Aquarids
PER = Perseids
Spo = Sporadics (random meteors not associated with a known shower)
I planned a planetary session followed by some meteor observing. Instead, I overslept and got up at 3:40am with a dilemma about how to use the remaining hour of darkness. By the time I got set up for meteors, it would be a pretty short session, so I devoted this time to deep sky instead. I did see 5 Perseids and a nice sporadic while I was setting up the scope. I previewed some autumn objects in Aries, Cetus and Pisces. The highlight of the session was picking up faint spiral structure in M74. Other targets included NGC 772 in Aries, NGC 1073 and M77/NGC 1055/NGC 1027 in Cetus, and the star-covered planetary nebula NGC 246 in Cetus.
As twilight brightened, I turned to Mars. Seeing started out OK, but definitely a notch down from yesterday. The major surface markings had good contrast, though. I didn't do a sketch.
This morning, I got my first chance to play with my new toy, a 6mm University HD Ortho eyepiece. I happened to get up while the Moon was still above the horizon, so rather than turning immediately to deep-sky objects I started with Mars. I could immediately tell that the seeing wasn't half bad, even with the scope cooling down. I tried the HD sans barlow at first; it is a nice, sharp eyepiece without the ghosting problems of my Antares Ultras. There is a flare from bright objects just outside the field, which can be eliminated by changing eye positions. There is a bit of astigmatism at the edge of the field, but field curvature and lateral color are negligible. The field stop is nice and crisp. There is less light scatter than with the Antares, and about as much as with my 9mm Orion Ortho. Still, the barlowed 10mm Antares showed slightly better surface detail due to its higher magnification (230x vs. 190x). The barlowed 9mm Ortho was better yet (275x). The barlowed 6mm gave a nice, big Mars, but much of the time it was fuzzy due to the just-fair seeing. Still, there were moments of clarity when the higher magnification (~390x) gave better definition, especially on light albedo features next to dark ones. I putzed around with a double star and FOV measurements, which I'll eventually use for a review.
I went back to deep sky for NGC 6891, a small planetary nebula in Delphinus. Here, the barlowed 6mm HD was a winner. Compared to the barlowed 9mm, the nebula was more clearly bisected into two concentric rings, and slight irregularities in the inner ring were more visible (sketch). At 275x, this rather bright bluish planetary looks more uniformly illuminated with one bright ring around its central star.
The Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543 in Draco) told a similar story. The helical detail was just hinted at with 275x, but 390x made it much clearer. The central star was also steadier at high power, although seeing flutuations did interfere. I'll mark this one down for high-mag viewing when it is higher in a steady sky!
Back to Mars, which had been haunting me after I turned away. While not the greatest conditions, and deteriorating while I sketched the planet's following portion, it was still a great sight. Lots of definition around Syrtis Major, with such features as Syrtis Minor, Moeris Lacus, Crocea, Sinus Deltoton, and Harmonis Cornu visible. Also some SPC detail. Sketch.
I got up in the middle of the night, hoping to observe some nebulae and then turn to Mars. Unfortunately, the thunderstorm-causing instability hadn't died down yet. This produced Antoniadi 4-5 seeing at Mars' altitude as well as passing clouds and distant lightning flashes. I did manage to sketch two nebulae in the steadier air near Dobson's Hole (the zenith). NGC 6857 (sketch) is a small emission nebula in Cygnus that has a lopsided shape and irregularly bright center with an imbedded star. NGC 7027 (sketch) is a very bright, elongated bluish planetary nebula that is partially divided by a dark lane. The brightest part has a point of stellar intensity. There was a haze around the nebula; I wasn't sure if this was an outer shell or scattered light from this high surface-brightness object.
The Bug Nebula (not), part II: While looking at the Helix, I switched to the 15mm and screwed in my UltraBlock filter. It was quite a shock to see a black, leggy form bowing to me. I unscrewed the filter and found an earwig stretched across the eyepiece's field stop.
This morning was meteors-only: I observed for 1.5 hours and saw a total of 47 meteors (a satisfying 31/hour):
4 Alpha Capricornids, 1 Alpha Cygnid, 1 North Delta Aquarid, 14 South Delta Aquarids, 4 Perseids, and 23 sporadics.
I planned two hours of meteor observing followed by an hour of deep-sky observing. After one hour, some stubborn clouds moved in, halting my meteor session. Even when they retreated a bit, there seemed to be a high haze that made deep-sky observing unappealing. That left Mars as the alternative. The Mare Erythraeum complex was nicely displayed, with Sinus Meridiani near the terminator and Solis Lacus appearing over the following limb. Seeing was fairly good early, then deteriorated as I sketched the features on the following third of the planet (sketch).
Meteor activity was not as impressive this morning, with the following totals for one hour:
4 Alpha Capricornids, 2 North Delta Aquarids, 5 South Delta Aquarids, 1 Perseid, 7 sporadics.
The highlight was a white -4 Alpha Capricornid fireball.
I partitioned a 4-hour morning session into meteor observing and Mars observing. I took meteor data from 2:00-4:00am (9:00-11:00 UT). I observed a total of 55 meteors, 27 of which were sporadics. As expected, the South Delta Aquarids were the most active shower with 11 meteors observed, 8 in the first hour. Perseids came in second with 6 shower members. There were also 5 North Delta Aquarids, 3 Alpha Capricornids and 3 Alpha Cygnids. The brightest meteor was a -1 SDA. This was typical activity for the date.
Despite variable and usually mediocre seeing conditions, there was a lot of detail on Mars (sketch). The South Polar Cap is getting smaller. There was an extension or bright limb haze on the following limb, separated from the SPC by a narrow darker bridge (likely the cap collar proper). Solis Lacus was prominent during steadier periods and seemed to have a darker center. At times Tithonius Lacus could be seen in thin, spidery detail. The Mare Erythraeum complex dominated the southern hemisphere, while a dark feature (probably Nilokeras and part of Niliacus Lacus) was visible near the terminator in the northern hemisphere. The North Polar Hood was well-defined and seemed to have a reddish border. I looked at Saturn as it cleared the trees: the seeing was pitiful and made me appreciate Mars even more.
I spent an hour and a half on Mars (sketch). Seeing was variably mediocre.
Tonight's warmness had a price in blood and annoyance. The mosquitoes were horrible. Aside from the bites, there was the complication of trying to keep slapped carcasses off my equipment and sketch pad.
I tried for a tough object right off. Sharpless 2-101, an emission nebula described as a faint haze around 3 stars, was barely visible. With the UltraBlock filter, I could make out a little haze around 2 of the stars and a slight curving projection, but there really wasn't much there.
NGC 7026, on the other hand, is a very bright planetary nebula. The central portion is bright, bluish, round and annular. The E and W sides of the ring are very bright; in fact, they look like two halves of a shell with a dark gap between them. Both halves have a point of nearly stellar intensity within, brighter in the W half. To the N an S, faint extensions greatly increase (triple) the major axis of the nebula. The extension to the N is longer and tapers somewhat. The S extension is longitudinally bifurcated, by an extension of the dark lane through the inner shell. (Sketch) NGC 7048 is a large and diffuse planetary. The disk is elongated N-S between a bright star to the S and a fainter one to the N. The W half of the nebula is brighter, consisting of two broad lumps with a dark E-W lane between them. The northernmost lump contains a faint star. The E half of the nebula appears hollowed out, with a couple of brighter arcs around the perimeter and a slightly brighter diffuse area on its S edge. Very nice texture in this smoky gray object. (Sketch) NGC 7008: This planetary is both large and bright, and shows a lot of structure. Elongated NE-SW, it is brighter along is N and NW perimeter which is broken into lumps. A star (presumably the central star) is situated in the middle of the nebula. To the SE of this star, the nebula is hollowed out, so the overall shape of the perimeter is that of a fish hook. Three other faint stars are involved, and a bright N-S double star is just to the S. (Sketch)
This came really close to being an unproductive session. I had a list of observing targets in Cygnus, but started with two of the fainter ones that took up most of my observing window. I tried for Minkowski 1-92, the Footprint Nebula, but couldn't identify it with the chart I had. I tried to make a double star into a nebula without success. I'll try again with a DSS image in hand.
Minkowski 1-79, on the other hand, was fairly easy. This planetary has its own open cluster-like retinue of field stars, and is situated along the S side of a square that has quite a few outlying stars and a couple within. At 229x, the nebula reveals a cometlike disk with a brighter "head" to the W and two arcing "tail jets" to the E that nearly meet up with the SE corner star of the square. When an UltraBlock filter is added, a faint rectangular outer halo is suspected, and the inner portion fills in and becomes more annular. (Sketch)
I couldn't make Comet 65P/Gunn's dim light shine through the horizon muck and Milky Way tonight. I poked around a few globulars, and then noted the sky brightening as moonrise approached.
I caught the occultation of a 6th-magnitude star in Bootes (SAO 100819) by the 16th-magnitude asteroid 1263 Varsavia. Since the asteroid was not directly visible, it was a disappearing act for the star.
Location: Chiloquin, OR
Latitude N 42d 34' 36"
Longitude W 121d 52' 01"
Crude timing results:
The occultation occurred at 11:03:35 pm PDT and lasted
I was using my 10" at 76x.
The orangish 6th-magnitude star faded out sharply, but with a brief pointlike afterimage like a TV going out (probably still on my retina). Reappearance was very sudden. On my tape, after saying "out" and "on", I gather my thoughts for a few seconds and then sum up the experience. "Well, that was it..."
After this, I barely tracked down comet 65P/Gunn, a 12th magnitude object in Sagittarius near the globulars NGC 6652 and M69. This was a pretty tough comet in a very rich star field (not to mention far to the south and low in the sky); I initially tried magnifications from 44x to 114x with no success. I could make out a small hazy patch at 160x, and afterwards could see the comet at 114x as well. It was about 1' in diameter, round and evenly illuminated with at least a couple of faint stars involved in the coma. I had to check myself with a DSS image afterwards to make sure I wasn't just picking up an unresolved bit of Milky Way, but it really was the comet.
I caught Mars under steady skies when I got out at 3:45am (10:45 UT). Instead of beginning a sketch immediately, I noted that my scope hadn't quite reached equilibrium and looked at the Moon for a few minutes. Unfortunately, the seeing dropped a notch during that time. There were still some occasional moments of calm when lots of detail was visible. (Sketch)
I spent an hour and a half on Mars this morning. Seeing was frustratingly variable and mostly mediocre. There were a few moments of calm, but not enough to really soak in the detail. Seeing improved late in the session. I produced this sketch. Detail in the SPC was not as prominent this morning, but I got a better look at the Hesperia region. The northern limb was very bright and whitish. The Eridania region was a light yellowish, dust-like color.
A pleasant morning session. I started out with a sketch of planetary nebula NGC 6905 in Delphinus. This planetary has an interesting dumbbell-like internal structure. The overall shape is roundish, but is dominated by two broadly triangular lobes to the E and W. The E lobe is brighter and converges to a point ner the faint but rather easy central star. The W lobe has two sections separated by an ill-defined darker lane. Bright arcs extend around the perimeter to the N of each lobe. The E arc has a faint star or knot embedded in it. To the N and S of the central star, the disk is faint and evenly illuminated. Overall, the planetary has a nice bluish-gray tinge. I tried for the planetary nebula PK 47-4.1 in Aquila, but this "challenge object for large scopes" evaded me on this morning. I turned to another new object for me, the emission nebula NGC 6813 in Vulpecula. This is a compact, hazy spot at low power, but 230x seems a bit too much. I settled on the view at 160x with the UltraBlock filter. The nebula has a bright central portion elongated in a N-S oval around a faint star. A couple of bright streaks are visible within. Surrounding this is a faint outer halo that stretches farther to the N to another faint star. With twilight encroaching, I turned to Mars. Seeing was fair (Antoniadi 3). The disk was dominated by Mare Cimmerium and Mare Tyrrhenium. Some interesting structure was visible in the South Polar Cap. The following limb of the cap was bright, but about halfway to the CM a dark lane bisected the cap. A perpendicular dusky feature stretched from this lane to the terminator, and the southernmost part of the cap was also fairly dark. Hellas was bright on the following limb. Lots of detail was visible in the dark maria, more than the sketch shows because I was trying to hurry in order to catch a bit more sleep. The northern hemisphere was mostly bright, with dusky gradations extending north from the maria and a couple of ill-defined darker streaks. There was a heavy bluish-white northern limb haze that extended down the following limb and to a lesser extent along the N terminator.
A quick Mars-only session under not-too-impressive seeing. The dust cloud appeared to have spread somewhat in N. Hellas but was less conspicuous. Sinus Sabaeus and Sinus Meridiani were washed out despite a more favorable position than on July 3. Limb haze was strong near Sinus Meridiani. Sketch here.
I spent four hours soaking in the Milky Way. My main accomplishment was a "showpiece sketch" of M20. I'll revise my assessment of the effect of the UltraBlock filter on this object. While the filter does increase contrast, dark nebulosity between and surrounding the lobes is more visible without the filter. The solution, as with most objects, is to view both with and without the filter. Note the color contrast between the two lobes, which was quite easy to see tonight (better without the filter, but surprisingly still noticeable with it).
Other objects too numerous to mention, but I'll be back to them.
Mars didn't look as good this morning, more due to eye fatigue than poor seeing. Dust appears to have spread out a bit over northern Hellas, but wasn't quite as prominent.
I spent 3 hours on two objects: M17 (sketch) and Mars (sketch). Despite just-fair seeing, the detail on Mars was incredible at times. The dust in northern Hellas was easily visible.
June 29/30: UltraBlock Filter Test, Round 1
Time frame: 10:30pm-2:30am
Weather: clear, a bit of haze/smoke late
Moon: Not in sky
LM: not estimated, ~6.7 Seeing: 4-7/10
Objects noted: NGC 6058, IC 4593, NGC 6072, NGC 6309, M8, M20, M17, M16, NGC 6357, Veil Nebula, NGC 6888, Cocoon Nebula, M27, M57, PK 36-1.1, NGC 6781, Mars
I set aside tonight to test my new Orion UltraBlock narrowband nebula filter.
My first object was the planetary nebula NGC 6058 in Hercules, and object I had viewed before. It was in Dobson's Hole, and filter results were equivocal. The nebula may have stood out a bit more with the filter, but no additional detail was revealed and the central star was suppressed.
The next target was another PN, this one a new object for me. IC 4593 in Hercules is a more concentrated object with a central star that can be seen with and without the filter. The nebula looks larger with the filter, and is defined into an outer halo and a bright inner core. The bluish color also seems enhanced with the filter. The filter performed well even at 230x.
NGC 6072: This rather large (50") and diffuse planetary in Scorpius was just above the roof of my house. It went from an amorphous patch to a well-defined round disk when the filter was added. There was also a hint of annularity with the filter.
At this point, I accelerated my pace and zipped from object to object.
NGC 6309 (Box Nebula [Planetary]): Internal structure and bluish color very slightly enhanced with filter.
M8 (Lagoon Nebula [Emission]): Wow! The first diffuse emission nebula I pointed at went through a major transformation. Not only were the brighter areas of nebulosity filled out and firmed up, but the faint surrounding nebulosity grows to stretch beyond the 40' field at 76x.
M20 (Trifid Nebula [Emission/Reflection]): Significant improvement in contrast, although no new nebulosity is visible. Rather, edges are more distinct. The dark lanes are easily visible with and without the filter. The reflection nebulosity is improved about as much as the emission part. Here as with the Lagoon, stars are painted blue and the third component of multiple star HN 40 is extinguished at 76x.
M17 (Swan Nebula [Emission]): Significant improvement in contrast and internal detail. Fainter surrounding nebulosity easier to see against a black sky background.
M16 (Eagle Nebula [Emission]): Very significant improvement in contrast. Nebula edges well-defined. Gross detail of "eagle" structure seen with difficulty, except for a prominent dark spot at the beak. Fine structure as seen in Hubble image remains elusive :).
NGC 6357 (Emission): Another rooftop object. Nebulosity barely visible without filter; more apparent with it. Needs better skies.
Veil Nebula (Supernova Remnant): Structure and detail which are just hinted at without filter are all over in the UltraBlock. Rivals M8 for level of improvement; fainter sections of nebula visible. Deserves a full session.
NGC 6888 (Crescent Nebula [Emission]): Only the brightest portion visible without filter. With the filter and some patience, full "Van Gogh's ear" can be apprehended.
Cocoon Nebula (Emission): Very faint with and without filter; darker sky background only improvement noted.
M27 (Dumbbell Nebula [Planetary]): Fill-in of "ears" more apparent with filter; degree of enhancement similar to M20.
M57 (Ring Nebula [Planetary]): Appears slightly brighter with filter, but additional magnification more helpful for revealing structure.
PK 36-1.1 (Planetary): A large, very faint planetary with a relatively bright central star. Benefits noticeably from filter. Oval shape better-defined.
NGC 6781 (Planetary): Half-ring shape more apparent without filter; filter fills in remainder of ring leaving a central dark spot and reveals some irregular structure in the brighter portion of the ring.
Mars: Definitely not improved by filter, which turns it green. South Polar Cap stands out well, but filter makes even Syrtis Major difficult to see! Seeing/low altitude essentially spoiled even the unfiltered view, and I needed to get to bed.
Verdict: From a dark site, the UltraBlock significantly enhances most diffuse emission nebulae. It also works well on some planetary nebulae, although the effect is generally not as dramatic. On sale at under $60, it is a good buy and has earned a place in my case.
June 26/27: Stone Family Reunion Star Party
My 10" had a big day, taking its first road trip and participating in its first star party. Our family reunion was held this week near the town of Keno, OR, 39 miles by road south of my home. I left at 5pm after work, and the scope traveled well under cover in the back of my car. Temperatures did approach 90 degrees F, and when I removed the dust caps after the Sun was out of the way, I could feel the heat pouring out of the tube. So, I gave it extra time to cool.
Our campground was at the Pacific Power recreation site on the Klamath River. A really suitable spot for viewing would have been quite a distance away, so out of respect for the elderly I set up closer to the restrooms and campsites. I found a spot that dodged most of the streetlights and left big gaps in the trees to the NE, SE and NW.
Group members ranged in age from 12 to 76; 14 persons attended with some dropping in and out. Since Jupiter had long since exited the scene, I started in deep twilight with Albireo (double star in Cygnus). I could sense that I had a pretty tough crowd without a lot of foreknowledge of what they would be looking at. I finally coaxed them into concentrating on the two bright stars (the 10" reveals so many field stars) and go the usual range of color perceptions.
The next object, M11 (The Wild Duck Open Cluster), was probably the hit of the night, as everyone was impressed with the number of stars visible. I tried to communicate how small and dim these objects appeared without a scope, as we looked at the Milky Way and I pointed out the Scutum Star Cloud. "That cluster you're looking at is near there and its angular size is about half the width of your fingernail at arm's length."
I went for M57 (The Ring Nebula) next. I had been using my 15mm Antares (76x) and I barlowed it for this smaller object. A few people had more trouble getting a handle on this one, presumably because of the smaller FOV. I got the feeling that some people were holding their eyes too far back to see the whole FOV.
M13 with all its glorious star chains was a winner for most, although one elderly aunt could only see it as a "ball of lint". I really had to coax use of the focuser for those who removed their glasses, and couldn't get anyone to try to manually track the scope.
I was going to close with M51, but I found that pointing NW brought an annoying street light into view right across the tube from the eyepiece. I did M17 (the Swan Nebula) instead. The crowd thinned out, and I went back to M51. The spiral structure was pretty easy, so the skies were pretty good. I stood in front of the streetlight, and was able to coach one cousin into examining the fine structure of the galaxies. Among those remaining, M51 was at least as popular as M13, perhaps because of its sheer distance.
I then talked size and scale and cosmology with the die-hards before finally putting the scope to bed. All in all, it was a successful outing. I hadn't done sidewalk-style astronomy in about two years, and I had to relearn a few things since I have a feeling I'll be doing more soon.
A 2.5-hour session on a cool summer night. I focused on galaxies in Draco.
NGC 4291: A small, nearly round object with a stellar nucleus and compact halo. Elongated slightly NW-SE. Two dim stars nearby, including one involved in S edge of halo. Forms a trapezoidal asterism with three moderately bright stars.
NGC 4319: Larger and less concentrated than NGC 4291 in the same field. Contains a faint stellar nucleus and a core elongated N-S, surrounded by a cottony outer halo. The quasar of Markarian 205, located just to the S of the S tip, is a faint stellar object fleetingly visible with direct vision. Sketch of the field.
Prominent, comet-like NGC 4386 and less prominent NGC 4133 were short hops away.
NGC 5907: Remarkable edge-on galaxy, beautifully framed in the 18' field at 160x. Contains a bright, rectangular nucleus in an elongated core. Greatly extended NNW-SSE, with several condensations in each extension. Dust lane to W of core weakly hinted at. Sketch. NGC 5866: Very nice lenticular galaxy. Bright oval core with barlike extensions inside a double-tapered halo elongated NW-SE. Weak dust lane across core, just N of a faint stellar nucleus lends a "mini-Sombrero" vibe. Sketch.
A very brief evening session. My main mission was to see Callisto in transit across Jupiter, a first for me. Despite mediocre (Antoniadi IV) seeing, the moon was easily visible against the Equatorial Zone.
This turned into a nice night after the Moon was out of the way. I went out in twilight, but not quite early enough to free Porrima from its glare. I was rewarded by the usual appearance of two Airy disks like peas in a pod of shmmering diffraction rings at 229x and 275x.
I took brief looks at the Moon and Jupiter, and did some eyepiece measurements on my new Antares Plossls.
I viewed the NGC 3158 galaxy group in Leo Minor while the Moon was still up. 9 galaxies were visible but NGc 3150 and MCG+7-21-19 were really stretching it. Contrast also seemed to be lacking in some of the other galaxies I looked at. I sketched NGC 4725, which showed a bright elongated core connected by diffuse bars to spiral arcs at each end of its elongated faint halo. Also, M64, which wore its black eye and fluffy mottled texture proudly.
Correcting my mistake from last time, I found Seyfert's Sextet visible as a faint fuzz even at 44x. 229x and 275x revealed a triangular haze with 3 separate nuclei.
Also in Serpens, NGC 6118 was a faint oval haze with a stellar nucleus but otherwise evenly illuminated.
At night's end, I viewed M57, which was quite impressive and showed streaky structure in the donut hole. I did an LM check of the surrounding field, and caught occasional glimpses of magnitude 15.6 and 15.7 stars. 15.3 magnitude stars were held pretty steady.
May 31/June 1
The night was somewhat hazy; except for brief periods, sky contrast was never that great, and LM again topped off at 6.7. Nonetheless, I got out for four very productive hours.
NGC 4490/4485: This is an interacting galaxy pair in Canes Venatici. NGC 4490 is a large, bright, galaxy. It is listed as irregular, but shows a hint of incipient spiral structure. There is a bright, very elongated core with a stellar nucleus. The outer halo is extensively mottled, especially to the south and along the bar-like extensions from the core. There is a hint of dark lane on the NE portion of the halo. On its NW end, the halo tapers and there is a vague curve to the N toward the companion galaxy NGC 4485. Small and nondescript at lower powers, NGC 4485 comes alive at 229x, showing a diffuse central condensation offset to the SE and surrounded by a relatively large oval halo of low surface brightness. Sketch. Comet 116P/Wild 4: This 12th-magnitude comet is lurking in Libra. I found it in a pretty star field, with the comet along the western side of an equilateral triangle of 9th-magnitude stars and just north of a 12th-magnitude star. The comet was somewhat similar to a faint planetary nebula, with a small circular disk vaguely brighter to the south. Sketch. Speaking of faint planetaries, my next object was NGC 6765 in Lyra. This little planetary looked best at 229x and had an oval shape, elongated E-W and brighter along its northern edge and just north of center. Sketch.
I looked at Campbell's Hydrogen Star in Cygnus; oddly, the central star didn't appear orangish to me. The surrounding nebula was a round, smooth faint disk.
Later in the early morning, I went for Pluto. A misreading of one of my finder charts (one of no less than three such blunders during the session) made it more difficult than it should have been. However, I found a dim star in the right place, and sketched the star field for later checking. It looks like my ID was correct.
My final serious observation of the session before I slipped into showpiece mode was the Box Nebula, NGC 6309 in Ophiuchus. This one got picked because it was so close to Pluto, but it is a pretty nice object at high power. It looks like a 2:1 elongated NW-SE, somewhat rounded quadrilateral, slightly pointed on its ends. A bright streak runs most of the length of the nebula's NE side, halfway from the center to the edge. The nebula is also slightly brighter at its NW end and along the SW rim, while a dark indentation juts into the SE end of the nebula from the north. The sketch explains it better than words.
Tonight was my night to be obsessive. I allowed myself two hours before bed, and I spent most of it on a sketch of M101. Limiting magnitude was 6.7 high in the sky, while the horizons were compromised by smoke and haze (May 31 is likely the last day outdoor burning will be allowed). But, everything was nice up high. M101 is an absolutely HUGE galaxy, with spiral structure and several HII regions immediately apparent. It takes longer to work out the exact appearance of the arms. The galaxy fills the field at 114x, looking a bit like a ghostly spider skin. The core is fairly prominent, and the arms are superimposed on a faint unstructured halo that fades evenly outward. Both 76x and 114x gave good views.
Otherwise, I looked at a few globulars and planetaries. I also saw the companion of Antares for the first time, though seeing was only occasionally better than average.
I spent an hour on Mars this morning. Seeing was iffy at times, but at times I was able to use 275x. (Sketch).
Breaking my rule against long sessions on consecutive nights, I went out for 3 hours. I spent two of these on the Coma Galaxy Cluster (Abell 1656). After last night, I printed out an image from the Digitized Sky Survey and compared it to my other finder charts in order to resolve some inconsistencies and especially to identify any stars that might cause confusion. The sky seemed a bit less contrasty (perhaps partly due to tired eyes) and the seeing was slightly worse as well, but the LM was still 6.8 so I sucked it up and ran the gauntlet. In the end, I found about 36 galaxies in the area covered by my chart (neglecting about half a dozen outlying NGC galaxies and a few ICs as well). Labeled sketch. Unlabeled sketch. I missed several IC objects and one NGC object in my field, and was not able to snare anything not included in these catalogs (we'll wait for that LM 7.1 night for those). I'll make this into its own page soon.
Two new eyepieces arrived in my box: 15mm and 10mm Antares "Plossls". I've often opined that these would be a good combination along with a 2x Barlow, so I decided to put my money where my mouth is. At $56 each from meridiantelescopes.com, I figured I was taking a minimal risk. These eyepieces are allegedly identical to the Orion Ultrascopic series. They have a nice look and feel to them, with a sharper field stop than my 9mm Orthoscopic and better eye relief to boot. My 26mm Plossl vignettes slightly when Barlowed (not really noticeable at the telescope), but neither Antares showed this. How did they work in the scope? Right away, I encountered the one significant drawback: On Jupiter, and other bright objects against a dark sky background, there is an annoying point-like reflection that dances around the field of view as I move my eye around. The ghost doesn't interfere with seeing detail, but it's there. Both eyepieces exhibited the problem, which thankfully didn't get worse when the Barlow was added. A bright half-ring is sometimes visible at the edge of the field of view depending on eye position, and there seems to be more scattered light around an object than in my Ortho and 26mm Plossl. Coatings may have been overemphasized on the Antares, while internal baffling and blackening were neglected. Again, these only show up with bright objects against a dark sky. Otherwise, the eyepieces are nice, and more comfortable to use than the Ortho due to the wider apparent field, crisper field stop and longer eye relief. Under a critical eye, though, the views are very similar, with all three eyepices showing some astigmatism and field curvature at the edge of the field (in addition to the coma inherent at f/4.5). The Ortho and Antares seem equally sharp in the middle of the field, Barlowed or not, with any differences being due to the magnification gap and transient seeing conditions. The 15mm Antares seems a bit more contrasty than the Barlowed 26mm Plossl. I like the winged rubber eyeguard that is included with each Antares. I still need to do TFOV measurements.
Back to the sky, the deep sky in this case. One of my targets was the Coma Galaxy Cluster. I had briefly explored it earlier in spring, and felt that I needed a bit more magnification than the 127x of the Ortho but less than the 275x I get when I Barlow the Ortho. In went the 15mm Antares and the 2x Ultrascopic Barlow. Wow! First off, this is a very comfortable combination. The field is roughly the same as with the 9mm Ortho, but so much more immersive for the reasons listed above. Immediately, I was seeing a couple of IC galaxies that I hadn't seen on my previous jaunt. The magnification (~153x) was just about ideal. I sketched the field, with about 15 galaxies surrounding the two brightest members, NGC 4874 and 4889. I did experience some confusion with stars not plotted on my finder charts.
I also looked at the NGC 5350 galaxy group in Canes Venatici, a bright Hickson group with all five members readily visible and nicely framed in the Barlowed 15mm. After a sketch, I went into showpiece mode for the rest of the evening session (which dragged on until after 2am). The Antares eyepieces give me what I needed most, a wider selection of magnifications. Two standout views in the 15mm were the Trifid Nebula with its contrasting hues and Veil Nebula (yes, an OIII is still in my plans).
After a nap, I went out in twilight for Mars and the Moon. Against the blue backdrop, the ghosting in the Antares wasn't visible. The seeing could have been better, however. Mars is strikingly gibbous right now. The South Polar Cap was nice and bright. Seeing was poor at first, improving to mediocre. At best, I was able to use 229x (10mm Antares Plossl with 2x Barlow) with decent results. There were dark features near the middle of the disk, presumably Mare Serpentis, Sinus Sabaeus and Sinus Meridiani. (I looked it up on Sky and Telescope's Mars
Profiler.) Aurorae Sinus was prominent near the limb. The northern hemisphere showed mostly light-colored plains, with Chryse being a light yellow. The northern limb was a bright bluish-white.
Great... The first deep-sky-worthy night of the month, and I have a headache from being sunburned and windburned. Enjoying that 60-degree midday heat wave. I made the questionable decision to go out anyway. I was alternately miserable and OK. The pain affected my eyesight and concentration, so I mainly looked at showpieces and the objects around them. Try again...
May 15/16: Total Lunar Eclipse
The Moon was up a bit earlier down here compared to Portland, but we have a ridge to our east; consequently, I got my first view at 8:55pm PDT. The totally eclipsed moon was dusky and ghostly, a brighter orange crescent surrounding a dark hole. Then a cloud bank came along... I observed periodically throughout the evening, catching it a bit after the end of totality, then at the halfway point, then watching as the last of the umbra exited the disk, leaving a dark penumbral stain over the highlands and maria on one side.
So far, May is continuing in the grand tradition of March and April. It cleared up just in time for the Moon to be out all night.
I took a look at Saturn in twilight; maybe the last view of the spring from my yard, as there are trees to the NW. Seeing was mediocre, but Cassini's Division came through loud and clear.
Jupiter was pretty jangly early on. There was an occultation of Europa by Io.
I looked at a few double stars, including Izar (epsilon Bootis). I did some collimation tweaking. The Double Double pairs were cleanly split despite only being 20 degrees up.
Limiting magnitude was 5.0-5.2. I looked at globulars for fun. M13 was well-resolved at 127x; contrast wasn't great. I remember that when running scopes at the college in SW Portland I would often use M92 rather than M13 as a public viewing object, because M92 is more concentrated. M92 was indeed more impressive to the casual glance, and stayed great as I pushed the power to 127x and 275x. There was an interesting rectangular pattern in the outer core that I don't remember noticing before.
Jupiter got better, so I made a sketch. There was a lot of detai in the NEB, including a glaring white elongated patch just south of the belt and bordered by connecting festoons to the south. The Equatorial Zone showed tantalizing hints of tremendous detail, if only the seeing had been a bit steadier. The GRS was just coming into visibility on the limb.
Clouds threatened this split morning/evening session. Before sunset, ice crystals in high clouds provided a beautiful sun halo display with impressive sundogs, a colorful circumzenithal arc and even a faint supralateral arc. The crescent Moon was between the ends of the circumzenithal and supralateral. Wow! The clouds passed, and by nighfall the sky was mostly clear. Transparency was OK overhead, but poor below 45 degrees. Seeing was mediocre; the Moon didn't even look that great tonight.
So, I poked around showpiece objects and their companions, without doing any serious observing. M81 looked nice, as did the Leo Trio. I observed the Cat's Eye Nebula for the first time with the 10", and it showed tantalizing detail but also suffered noticeably from the seeing.
NGC 5907 was a nice streak with mottling and hints of a dust lane. NGC 5981-2-5 were as nice as advertised: three very contrasting galaxies in the same field at 127x. M51 gave up its spiral structure quite easily, being placed near the zenith.
If I had known that it would cloud up in the morning, I would have stayed out for another couple of hours. Instead, I closed with Jupiter, M3, M5 and M13. Despite the seeing, Jupiter was attractive at 5:48 UT with Europa just off the leading edge and Callisto just off the trailing edge, while the GRS was transiting.
I did a morning meteor session for Eta Aquarids. From 10:41-11:12 UT, I saw 2 ETAs and 3 sporadics under gradually increasing clouds that forced an early end to the session. Last year on the same date, the ETAs didn't really pick up until after 11:20 UT.
April 30/May 1
Sketched the Sombrero and hit two faint galaxy groups. Running behind on my log updates.
April 22/23: Short session; saw NGC 2385 tonight (see 18/19 entry), sketched NGC 4038-9, poked around Coma Cluster, poked around Virgo Cluster...
With the current weather regime, I'll grab a clear night when I can, even if there's only an hour and a half between twilight's end and moonrise.
Jonckheere 900: This fairly small planetary in Gemini is identifiable at 127x mostly due to size contrast with an adjacent star, noted as 13th magnitude in NSOG. At 275x, it shows a nearly circular grayish disk without obvious detail. If anything, the rim of the disk may be slightly brighter than the center. The surrounding field, even the 9' field of my barlowed Orthoscopic, is rich in faint stars.
NGC 2389 galaxy trio in Gemini: NGC 2389 is a faint oval at 44x, and retains this impression at higher powers, without much central condensation. Nearby NGC 2388 is not obvious at 127x, but is more prominent at 275x, in line with two faint stars. Nearby NGC 2385 was suspected a couple of times, but not for sure. I forgot to bring out a DSS image to navigate between the faint stars.
NGC 3115: The Spindle Galaxy had somehow managed to elude my observing lists with the new Dob, so I sketched it tonight. It is a bright and obvious, strongly elongated object at 44x. At 275x, it shows a lot of detail, though not quite what I had expected. The core has a stellar nucleus, but also a couple of non-centered bright spots. Bright bars stretch from each side of the core. Around this is an impressive though faint oval halo, the brightest part being a bulge around the core. Some mottling is visible NW of the core. The SE side of the galaxy seems more abrupt, as if cut off by an unseen dust lane. Overall elongation is NE-SW: the SW extension is a bit longer, while the bar on the NE side curves slightly northward. Photographs tend to show the bulge and core as an overexposed, sharply lenticular blob; visually, what the galaxy loses in sharp edges it gains in internal detail.
I did a brief jaunt to M13 and M92 while the Moon was beginning to brighten the sky. I especially admired the former, with its high degree of resolution even at 44x, its curving star chains, and the nearby galaxy NGC 6207.
NGC 3242: The Ghost of Jupiter at 275x shows a bright, large, slightly oval outer halo of even brightness, with sharp edges. Even without the inner ring it would be an impressive planetary. But there is a very bright inner ring, elongated NW-SE. The ring is pointed and thicker at its ends, and also comes to an obtuse point on its NE side. There is a point of almost stellar intensity inside the SE end, while the ring is faintest on its SW side. Inside the ring, the brightness is the same as the outer halo. A central star is visible but not always obvious against the bright nebulosity.
Jupiter: The 63% eclipse of Io by Ganymede was exciting and not at all subtle like the previous ~25% eclipses I've seen during the mutual events. Ganymede was clearly visible as it transited Jupiter's disk. Callisto slowly slid toward the preciding limb as it approached occultation. Off the following limb, Io looked much brighter than the glare-drenched Callisto and somewhat fainter than Europa farther out. Seeing was variable, disrupting the moons' disks. At 6:18:55 UT some dimming of Io appeared to be underway, and it reached a minimum around 6:20:45. Io then appeared slightly fainter than Callisto and its color oddly seemed a bit colder. By 6:21:30, brightening had obviously begun, and by 6:23:30, I was ready to say Io was at full brightness again.
Besides Ganymede, Jupiter's visible disk also hosted the Great Red Spot. The seeing was mediocre, but I made a rough sketch anyway.
Early evening had the thick crescent Moon. Seeing was middling to poor. I watched a couple of stars get
occulted. I need to do some baffling on my scope, as when I'm a couple of degrees off the Moon, it glares off the inside edge of the focuser tube. Aside from the focuser tube, I want to put a slip-on ring baffle on the primary end, and some flocking inside the eyepiece end and opposite the focuser. When I'll actually get to this is a big question since I'm so lazy about such things.
The sky was actually pretty dark in the east even with the Moon up (a little altitude does nice things). Despite this, I left the deep-sky stuff until the morning and caught about four hours of sleep. I got out again at around 3am, and my first target was the NGC 4169 galaxy group in Coma Berenices, also known as Hickson 61 or "The Box". This
group has four galaxies in a rectangular pattern. Only the brightest, NGC 4169, is visible at 44x. At 127x, it is joined by the wispy streaks of NGC 4173 and NGC 4175, two faint edge-on galaxies. NGC 4174, the fourth galaxy, appears stellar at this power. At 275x, it turns into an edge-on galaxy with a bright, bulging core, reminiscent of the Sombrero through binoculars. NGC 4175 shows an elongated core and tapered, mottled ends at the higher power. NGC 4169 is an oval with an intense nucleus. The remaining galaxy, NGC 4173, is the largest but faintest. It is long and irregularly illuminated, reaching toward NGC 4175 but not getting there. (Sketch)
Those were the only "difficult" objects I observed, for the skies of summer were on the rise. So, I cut a swath through the showpiece globulars, open clusters, and nebulae (reminder: Get OIII and UHC filters sometime in the near future). More absorbing than observing; just relaxing. As the sky started to get a bit bright, I swept up
Comet Juels-Holvorcem near Alpha Andromedae. The view was compromised by twilight, but the comet is now a well-condensed object with a faint but visible tail. (Sketch)
A variable night, again, with decreasing high clouds and a bit of fog. After tracking a pass of the ISS in twilight, I just poked around without documenting anything, until later in the evening when it got pretty nice (zenithal limiting magnitude ~6.8). Then I went after supernova SN2003cg in galaxy NGC 3169 in Sextans. Using a chart from the American Association of Variable Star Observers, I could see stars of magnitude 14.4 and 14.9 rather easily, and caught an occasional glimpse of the magnitude 15.5 star with averted vision. The supernova was not visible, but I kept at it, relaxed and tried to take the scene in. I tried to increase the contrast between the point-source supernova and the background galaxy by pushing the magnification to 275x. Seeing was average. After a while, it worked and I saw a faint star in the right place. Eventually, it was almost steady with averted vision. I'd estimate its magnitude at 15.1. Apparently, it was near maximum brightness at the time.
I haven't had a good deep-sky session in almost three weeks, due to the clouds and the Moon. Conditions were variable, but not bad at all high in the sky. It was moist and frosty. While I hopped to a couple of faint objects, and checked out the planets, I concentrated on making a couple of sketches of showpiece spiral galaxies.
NGC 2610: This planetary nebula in Hydra is visible at 127x, but I quickly moved to 275x for a better view. At first glance, it looks like a comet tail extending N from a faint star. With averted vision, it is a round, diffuse, evenly illiminated disk with a cottony texture. Impressive size, but no internal detail. Situated in a nice star field. Sketch. NGC 2903: A nice object for all apertures. A bright, elongated core and extended oval halo are visible at 44x. At 127, the core shows a stellar nucleus and bar-like extensions. The outer halo is bright and mled, with a bright patch north of the core and perpendicular to the bar. Just north of this bright patch, a rather obvius spiral arm can be seen. Similar structure is visible to the south of the core, but is much more subtle. The eastern edge of the halo seems more sharply defined. The halo bulges around the core, nearly touching a star on the eastern edge. Sketch.
The Bug Nebula? Well, not quite. While observing M51, I switched eyepieces and saw a strange sight at the edge of the field. A hideous, slightly transparent brown thing slowly extended a couple of legs. I took the eyepiece out and shook it vigorously, but the thing remained. I looked at the eyepiece under red light and saw a spider, barely 1mm long, making its way across the field lens. Another round of shaking dislodged the little bugger.
The last two nights have been semi-clear. With the bright Moon, I spent most of my time on Jupiter and Saturn. Monday night really wasn't worth much as far as seeing. I thought Tuesday night would be the same, but it eventually settled down. At times, Saturn was pretty darn sharp at 275x. I'd still give it a 7/10 as the A ring was shimmering enough that I couldn't tell if the brightness minimum I observed in the middle of the ring was seeing-related or a manifestation of the so-called "Encke Minimum" (not Gap). The Crepe Ring, varied belts on the disk and a dark S Polar region were visible, as was the impressive shadow of the disk on the rings. I decided I should sketch the detail, but about then the seeing deteriorated.
I poked around at some double stars, and then went over to Jupiter. Seeing was variable, but I was often able to use 275x. Io's shadow was exiting the disk, and the GRS was coming around the other edge. Eventually, the seeing got a bit better.
The North Polar Region (NPR) has a distinctly darker southern edge to it.
The area between the NPR and the North Equatorial Belt (NEB) is essentially devoid of detail. No NTB or NNTB segments at these longitudes.
The NEB has a diffuse northern border and lots of brightness variations as usual. A dark barge was seen near the preceding edge of the planet, and another one coming around the following edge. Several festoons reach from the southern edge into the Equatorial Band (EB), setting off a couple of white bays in the NEB.
The EB appears unbroken in the longitudes preceding the GRS, but is discontinuous and harder to see beginning at the longitude of the GRS. There are also darker, low-contrast bands in the Equatorial Zone to the north and south of the EB. The Equatorial Zone is brighter just north of the South Equatorial Belt (SEB).
The SEB has a slightly bisected apperance, with a couple of areas preceding the GRS showing low-contrast light spots. The southern border is darker just preceding and south of the GRS. The GRS showed more detail than usual tonight, with a well-defined preceding border. The interior of the preceding half of the spot was very light, while the following half was irregularly darker. Overall, the spot remains a pale pinkish-orange.
The South Temperate Belt (STB) is most prominent as a short dark segment preceding and following the GRS. During moments of good seeing, the STB can be seen as separate from the southern border of the GRS. The preceding end of the STB hooks southward. The SSTB is visible, with a broken white zone between the two belts. This latitude is much less detailed on the preceding half of the disk.
The South Polar region is visible; at times, at least two more belts can be distinguished south of the SSTB.
Tonight I continued my march through the galaxies, then took a short look at Jupiter and sketched the Horsehead. I sketched my mystery object from the night before, and ended with a real comet.
NGC 2139: This galaxy in Lepus is fairly bright and conspicuous at 44x. At 127x, it shows a rather large core surrounded by a diffuse outer halo. No stellar nucleus or internal structure is visible. The halo is elongated SSW-NNE. The core looks to be a bit brighter on its northern side.
NGC 2179 was briefly noted on the way to 2196. It is visible with some difficulty at 88x. 127x shows a diffuse, evenly illuminated oval between two faint stars.
NGC 2196: This galaxy in Lepus is visible at 44x. At 88x, it is barely oval NE-SW and dominated by a bright core. The outer halo is small and diffuse. Seeing was poor enough to make higher magnifications impractical.
Jupiter: Europa's shadow was visible at 127x. Seeing was variable and often poor, but at times revealed a string of white ovals in the SEB following the GRS, and hints of similar structure south of the STB. A huge festoon reached from the NEB to Europa's shadow.
NGC 3665 is a bright oval galaxy with a bright oval core, between 55 and 57 UMa. A UFO (unidentified fuzzy object) less than 20' SW proved to be NGC 3658 and not, alas, a comet.
For a real comet, I hopped over to C/2001 HT50 (LINEAR-NEAT) near the bright double star Epsilon Monocerotis. The comet was rather easy at 127x, a diffuse glow about 1' in diameter. The coma has a stellar central condensation, and flares to a mini-tail on the ENE side. Sketch.
I started off with more southern galaxies, then moved on to a planetary nebula, an open cluster (perish the thought) and more galaxies. I took a detour to check up on Jupiter, and then ended with a comet.
NGC 2090: This galaxy in Columba is a rather faint and diffuse misty patch at 44x. At 127x, it shows a stellar nucleus surrounded by a fair-sized core elongated N-S. A low surface brightness halo surrounds everything.
NGC 2188: This edge-on galaxy in Columba is delicate and needle-like. With the low altitude and variable seeing conditions, it required some patience. At 44x, it is not that obvious next to an 8th-magnitude star. At 127x, it is strikingly elongated N-S. The galaxy has a somewhat ill-defined core, without a stellar nucleus. There are a couple of stars or bright knots embedded in the halo. The halo seems to bulge around the center of the core, but the ends fade off into the sky backgroun. At times, there seems to be a bright streak or bar along the major axis of the galaxy, extending in both directions from the core.
IC 418: This planetary nebula in Lepus is nonstellar at 44x. At 275x, it has a bright bluish central star surrounded by an irregularly bright core region. The edges of the core fade off gradually to form a small outer halo. Several spikes seem to reach out of the core into this halo. Overall, the nebula is slightly elongated NW-SE. The predominant color in the nebulosity is a slight bluish tinge, although I was looking for the pink that others have reported.
NGC 1662: This open cluster in Orion is on the Herschel List. It is also on the Binocular Deep-Sky List, so I've run across it before. It contains a tight trapezoid of stars, as well as a loose crooked star chain that gives it a spread eagle appearance. The brightest star in the trapezoid is a fine yellowish-orange. There is a loose semicircle of field stars to the south that may or may not belong to the cluster.
NGC 1618-22-25: These three faint galaxies form a loose trio in Eridanus, next to Nu Eridani which is in the field at 88x. NGC 1622 and 1625 are about equally bright, although only the larger 1625 is obvious at 44x. NGC 1618 is a fainter object near a star grouping. NGC 1618 appears broadly oval and evenly illuminated. NGC 1622 is elongated NE-SW and has a bright core. NGC 1625 is elongated NW-SE and has an elongated core and a fairly large halo of high surface brightness.
Jupiter showed some nice details at moments, but the seeing was predominantly poor.
C/2001 RX14: This comet may be slightly fainter than at my last observation. It retains its irregular appearance. The coma is roughly triangular, with two tailward spikes. A diffuse, curving tail extends westward for about 4' at 88x and 127x. While in the general area, I checked out NGC 3665, a bright oval galaxy at low power. There was another fuzz in the field which was not plotted in NSOG or SA2000.0. I didn't pay much attention at the time, but later decided to check it out.
There was a slight bit of haze at the start of the night. I've been observing winter objects before they get too low. Tonight, I observed a grand total of one before the transparency seemed to worsen.
NGC 1964: This galaxy in Lepus is a fuzzy spot at 44x, with a very condensed center. 127x elongates it slightly. 275x reveals an elongated core around a brilliant stellar nucleus. The core is elongated 3:1 SW-NE and extends a bit farther to the SW. There is a faint, bulging halo around the galaxy's center. The core appears to have an incipient spiral structure, with the SW extension curving to the west and the NE one curving eastward. There is a faint star WNW of the halo, and an even fainter one N.
Seeing wasn't very good to start out with. I knew that there was a Ganymede transit, and wrote down the times, but neglected to look at them as I turned to Jupiter. I absent-mindedly assumed that the dark spot I saw through the seeing was Ganymede's shadow. I was going to hop over to the Big Dipper, but as I arrived so did the first clouds. I went to Polaris instead, and touched up the collimation. Seeing was still mediocre, but the diffraction patterns seemed to behave themselves a bit more as time went on.
I turned back to Jupiter, and saw a bloated tick or animated watermelon seed crawling its way onto the following limb. No, THAT was Ganymede's shadow. The spot nearer the preceding limb was Ganymede itself. Wow. maybe the seeing wasn't that bad after all. Things quickly settled down, and the rest was history. There was so much detail visible at 275x that I worked too slowly on the preceding limb area as it rotated out of view. As a result, my sketch is a little vague there, and feature sizes are somewhat exaggerated. However, it still gives a decent impression of the view. Other than Ganymede and its shadow, the most impressive detail was the string of ovals following the GRS. The ovals appeared in irregular sizes, and one was kidney-shaped. An isolated white spot was also visible following Ganymede's shadow (not shown in sketch). At least one oval was visible just south of the STB. When Ganymede exited the disk, it first became difficult to see before becoming brighter than the darkened limb. Soon afterwards, it passed by Callisto, but there was always clean separation between the disks. The contrasting disk sizes and brightnesses were stunning.
A good, though cold night. I caught the end of the Europa transit on Jupiter, but decided to throw my effort into deep-sky objects. I have a priority list of objects to get done during this evening moon-free period. Tonight featured selections from Eridanus and Orion.
NGC 1723 group: NGC 1723, a galaxy in Eridanus, is visible at 44x as a small fuzz, just inside the W edge of a tight right isosceles triangle of stars. At 127x, it shows a decent-sized diffuse oval halo, slightl elongated NW-SE. The galaxy brightens suddenly toward a small core with a stellar nucleus. A 13th-magnitude star is just N of the halo.
To the south, near a field star, lies the trio NGC 1721-25-28. I found NGC 1725 to be the least prominent of the three due to a lack of central condensation. The other two galaxies were near-twins, with brighter cores and small halos slightly elongated E-W. All are direct vision objects. Sketch of group.
NGC 1637: This galaxy in Eridanus is a large, diffuse oval at 44x. At 127x, it is impressive, elongated 3' x 2' NE-SW. It contains a core that is elongated almost to the point of being bar-like, with a stellar nucleus. The outer halo is irregularly brighter at the edge, giving it a mottled appearance.
NGC 1700/1699: This is a contrasting pair of galaxies in Eridanus. NGC 1700 is readily visible at 44x, a very bright and condensed object. At 127x, it contains an intense stellar nucleus inside a core slightly elongated WNW-ESE. It seems brighter in its southern half. The outer halo looks small with direct vision, but extends to 2' x 1.5' with averted vision.
NGC 1699 is much smaller and more diffuse, with only a vague central condensation. It appears to be round or amorphous.
NGC 1999: This bright nebula in Orion, near the point of the sword, looks like a round planetary nebula with a bright central star at low power. At 275x, however, it is full of intricate detail, packed into a shell 1.5' in diameter. Most apparent is a complex dark lane in the nebulosity just west of the involved star. A dark finger reachs part of the way around the star to the N, but the lane extends farther to the west and is roughly triangular in shape with several extensions. Bright nebulous spikes extend from the SW and SE sides of the star, with a dimmer area between them. This E side of the nebula is smaller and less-detailed. North of the star, just E of the dark finger, a swirl of bright nebulosity curls around to the west to intersect the larger portion of the dark lane. All of this is enveloped in a faint, circular outer halo. Sketch.
NGC 1788: Briefly noted, need to re-observe.
NGC 2022: This planetary nebula in Orion is slightly greenish at 275x, and is elongated NE-SW in a double-tapered egg shape. It is strikingly annular with a bright rim inside the outer edge. Sketch.
Tonight featured a visit by the clouds from hell. As I was setting up, the sky was completely clear. By the time I got the Telrad aligned, the clouds were coming fast. It was mostly cloudy for an hour and a half. Afterwards, I did get good looks at a few objects.
NGC 1535: This planetary nebula in Eridanus shows a small, round, bright disk at 88x. Increasing the power to 275x reveals a faint bluish-green tinge and shows the disk divided into two concentric rings, each taking up about half the total diameter. The inner shell is bright with well-defined edges and seems somewhat elongated NE-SW. It is evenly illuminated, with possibly a hint of darkening around a bluish central star. The outer ring is rather diffuse and basically round, its edges less pronounced.
NGC 1600 group: NGC 1600, a galaxy in Eridanus, appears as a small, condensed fuzzy spot at 44x. At 127x, it has a fairly diffuse outer halo slightly elongated N-S. The outer halo is evenly illuminated. The core is small and condensed, with a stellar nucleus visible during moments of good seeing. NGC 1601, nearby to the NNE, is an AV1 object on the Morales scale. It appears as a dim fuzzball. NGC 1603 is an AV3 object that appears as an even fainter featureless fuzz. NGC 1606 was not successfully identified.
NGC 1832: This galaxy in Lepus is a well-defined patch very close to a 10th-magnitude star. At 127x, it shows a diffuse outer halo that is more or less round. The halo is evenly illuminated, with ill-defined edges. Within the halo is a small, faint core that may be slightly elongated N-S and shows no sign of a stellar nucleus.
NGC 1888-9: This galaxy pair in Lepus was glimpsed, but was too low in the sky to give a good view.
NGC 2149: This reflection nebula in Monoceros is a small nebulosity around an 11th-magnitude bluish star. At 127x, averted vision reveals an irregularly oval patch of nebulosity; very diffuse without well-defined borders. Not very impressive.
Jupiter actually held up OK at 275x near the end of the session, although the seeing was still variable. Sketch.
This morning, the thin clouds provided a very inspiring Sun halo. Both parhelia were visible, with the right one more intense. At one point, a short portion of the parhelic circle extended from the left parhelion. Parts of the 22-degree halo were visible, and there was a nice upper tangent arc. The most impressive part of the display was a faint but colorful circumzenithal arc, only the second one I've seen.
Variable clouds tonight. I wanted to catch the shadow transit of Ganymede. The shadow was very prominent, but the seeing was mediocre and often worse during the early evening. Even Saturn was pretty sad at 127x. The clouds kept this from being a good deep-sky night, but early on Orion's belt and sword remained in the clear for an extended period. M42-43 were spectacular, appoaching technicolor at times. When I turned to the Zeta Orionis region, the Horsehead was visible.
Seeing on Jupiter settled down a bit after the GRS transited. I made a sketch just as Ganymede's shadow was about to leave the disk, but elected not to scan it.
February 9/10: Plumbing the Murky Depths
I got up for a post-moonset morning session. The temperature remained around 20F for most of the 3-hour tour. The sky was fairly transparent, and even reached LM=6.8 at the zenith, but seemed to be lacking in contrast. A haze came and went, visible to the naked eye as increased glow around Jupiter and bright stars. The horizon looked pretty washed out.
I went to Jupiter; the seeing was rather poor and the scope was still chimneying a bit. Fine detail was all but wiped out by the roiling, although the GRS was easy and I saw Ganymede emerge from eclipse.
I just let my imagination meander. I turned to the M96 group; the major galaxies were bright and showed some detail. I couldn't make out the bar in M95 though. I looked in the Night Sky Observer's Guide, and for some reason Abell 1367 caught my eye. I popped over to 93 Leonis. NGC 3861 was easily visible at 44x. I increased the power to 127x, and hopped through the field. The following galaxies were visible: NGC 3837, 3840, 3841, 3842, 3844, 3845, 3851, 3860, 3861, 3862, IC 2955, UGC 6680, 6697, 6719, and maybe CGCG 0907-90 which I may have confused with a nearby star. All of this in an area about 1 degree in diameter. Several of the galaxies showed interesting shapes; others were on the edge of perception. The faintest galaxy with NSOG data was uGc 6697 at magnitude 14.3; it was faint but noticeably elongated.
At one point, I let myself wander back to 93 Leonis, and I noticed a fuzzy glow near one of the nearby pointer stars. Nothing was shown in that location in NSOG or Sky Atlas 2000.0 (1st ed.). A comet? Possibly, but faint galaxies are a dime a dozen in Leo. This one was about 12th magnitude and oval, without clearly defined edges and with a possible stellar nucleus. Stranger things have happened, so I sketched it as a comet suspect and looked back later to see if it had moved. It hadn't; during daylight I used online tools to confirm it as spiral galaxy NGC 3884. I also saw that I had missed NGC 3883 nearby, a slightly dimmer and larger spiral just outside my field at 127x. I think I'm coming closer to accepting that an 11mm or 9mm Nagler Type 6 is in my future.
I made an attempt at Copeland's Septet near 92 Leonis. At 127x, at least two blobs could be seen around a 12th-magnitude star as shown in NSOG. At 275x, at least 3 and possibly 4 separate objects were visible: NGC 3753 (m13.6), 3751 (m13.9), 3746 (m14.2) and maybe 3748 (m 14.8, close to 3746, but I thought I saw 2 objects at some times). 3753 and 3746 were on the borderline between direct and averted vision; averted vision was definitely required to try to make sense of things.
After that, I noticed that it was very cold and that my DHQ tube looked about as white as a Meade Starfinder due to a thick coat of frost. I took a quick look at comets C/2001 RX14 and C/2002 Y1. They hadn't changed much since last week. I looked at the showpiece objects M13 and M51, but the cold limited my ability to appreciate their grandeur, and I quickly called it a morning.
I did a short session to look at comet NEAT before it set in the trees. The telescopic appearance has not changed much. In binoculars, the tail stretched for at least 4 degrees. I took a quick look at the Moon and M42 before ging in to let the scope cool down some more.
My second session was devoted to Jupiter. I went out at 8pm (4 UT), as Io was about to begin its transit. The moon looked like a glowing white ball against the limb darkening. Io was followed rather closely by its shadow. The ingress of the shadow was spectacular, appearing as a black wedge cut into the limb at the Equatorial Zone. I tried to capture this effect in the sketch. Soon, Io disappeared. The shadow remained, always easy with direct vision at 127x. At times I thought I saw a spot preceding the shadow in its transit, but was never sure if it was Io or a piece of detail in the EZ.
Seeing was fair at best (Antoniadi III), but there was detail to be seen. Multiple festoons reached from the NEB into the EZ, sometimes connecting with diffuse detail there. There was a dark barge in the NEB, just north of a white contrast feature. North of the barge, and apparently connected to it by a festoon, was a short brown streak that really stood out. Traces of the NTB were visible, and there were some diffuse streaks in the NPR. The SEB was more uniform, with some broad bays and subtle, ribbonlike variations in brightness. A bright South Tropical Zone separated the SEB from the thin, prominent STB. South of the STB, the SPR resolved into multiple parallel belts and zones, more conspicuous on the leading half of the disk.
This session was cut short by clouds; I probably needed the rest.
C/2002 V1 was about as bright as the night before. I increased the power a bit to 88x, and during steady moments the coma structure was amazing.
M79 is a really nice globular in this size of scope, well-resolved around the edges at 127x, with a dense core.
I looked at M31 at 127x, and picked out a few of its globulars including G76, G73 and G280. At this power and aperture, M110 is a very impressive galaxy in its own right.
M42 was simply amazing again. The dark nebulosity spreading out to the north was spectacularly 3D tonight. Jupiter showed fleeting glimpses of nice detail, but the seeing limited these.
Comet C/2002 V1 (NEAT) was significantly brighter tonight. I put its magnitude at 4.9, easily visible to the naked eye despite low altitude and a crescent Moon. At 44x in the 10" Dob, the comet shows an intense stellar nucleus that takes on a yellowish tint in contrast to the surrounding blue-green coma. The coma color seemed more muted than two nights ago. Several jets can be seen. The tail structure is complex, with a bright fountain erupting from the nucelar region and subtle filamentary detail farther down the tail. The tail extends beyond the 1.1 degree field at 44x; in binoculars its length exceeds 2 degrees.
Sky contrast was very good tonight. M42 showed a world of detail, so I hopped over to the Horsehead and damned if I didn't see it. I suspected it at 44x. At 88x, the dark nebula was definitely seen. At times, its shape was apparent as well.
I decided to go for a morning session (3:30-6:00am), and it was a good one. Not only were sky conditions generally better, but I wanted to see how the Dob would do on types of objects not visible in the evening. Specifically, I wanted to see M51 and M13. While the scope was still trying to cool, I checked these objects and found that (check) the spiral pattern of M51 was easily visible and (check) M13 resolved into a myriad of glittering stars. I just had to see these two showpieces.
I pushed the scope over to M101 and saw a faint smudge, rather small and dim. I quickly realized that this was the fainter galaxy 5474. The real M101 showed a ghostly spiral. I worked around the area and identified all 12 galaxies plotted on finder chart 62-14 in The Night Sky Observer's Guide. The faintest was NGC 5443 at mag. 12.3; all were obvious at 44x.
Two of my main targets were the comets C/2001 RX14 and C/2002 Y1. RX14 was in Canes Venatici. I ran across a couple of galaxies on my way to the comet; another galaxy was in the comet's field. Sketch of the visual impression. The comet had a round coma, stellar nucleus, and a broad diffuse tail. C/2002 Y1 was very different: large and diffuse with a small central condensation. It was difficult to detect any elongation, although there was some subtle structure in the coma. Sketch.
I flipped around to some other showpiece objects, all of which were awesome. I'll sketch them at a later date; unlike the comets, they're not going anywhere.
A crystal day looked promising for transparency. Unfortunately, a few clouds rolled in around sunset, and everyone seemed to start their wood stoves at once. There was still a lot of moisture in the air as well. Sky conditions varied through the evening hours. Seeing was 6/10 improving to 7/10 about the time I quit at 10:15pm. Transparency was suburban-quality most of the night; later on, it improved high in the sky although the horizons were still pretty washed out.
My first target was Comet C/2002 V1 (NEAT). The comet had a straight tail that stretched for over 1 degree, and was quite impressive at low power. A blue-green hue pervaded the object. There was a bright nucleus, but little detail in the inner coma. (Sketch)
I really dinked around in the bad sky conditions. I was able to see the main spiral pattern in M33. I did some quick hops to the big open clusters in Auriga and Gemini. I also had brief looks at Hubble's Variable Nebula, NGC 2371-2, M46/NGC 2438, and a few other objects. I search for C/2001 HT50 (LINEAR-NEAT). At 44x, nothing was visible. I almost gave up at 95x, but then I noticed a glow near a 9th-mag. star. 127x confirmed it as a separate blob, very small and without a bright nucleus.
I dug out the telescopic LM chart for M67 (Sky and Telescope, March 1989). At 275x, I definitely saw the magnitude 15.0 star M. I dipped on 15.3 N. I doubt I would have seen it, but I was looking at a porchlight when it came on, and that really ended my search.
Again, the planets were the highlght of the night. On Jupiter, there was a dark barge in the NEB. Several condensations were visible in the latitude of the NTB; one of these was really dark. A festoon connected the NEB to one of these condensations. The EZ showed a wealth of flocculent detail during steadier moments; it was difficult to tell whether this represented projections from the NEB or an Equatorial Band. A white oval was visible in the S part of the SEB, and the SPR broke up into fine bands when it was steady. On the whole, however, it wasn't very steady (Antoniadi III). 275x was too much power tonight, but I got the sense that 127x was not enough. I did use the higher power to watch Callisto occult Europa. This total event was interesting to watch. I could see separation within a minute after the end of occultation, and elongation soon after the end of totality. Callisto appeared grayer and dimmer than Europa.
Saturn showed the same amount of detail as last time; it just didn't show up quite as often. I tried a sketch. I'll keep working on it; I got carried away with the yellow in the B ring.
January 27/28: FIRST LIGHT WITH 10" DOB!
I'd planned for first light to take place on an average night. I'd put the scope out to equilibrate around supper time. Instead, it happened last night. I had to work late, and got home about 7pm. It was nominally clear, but very moist with fog threatening. Seeing looked pretty bad to the naked eye: 4/10 on my scale. Since another clear night in the near future is not a sure bet, I decided to go for it.
Telescope: 10" f/4.5 Discovery DHQ Dobsonian
26mm Celestron/Vixen Plossl: 44x
9mm Orion Orthoscopic, 1992-vintage, 0.965" size, barrel wrapped with electrical tape to make it fit 1.25": 127x
Orion 2x Ultrascopic Barlow
I hurriedly got the scope set up and pointed at Polaris. Scintillating blob. No surprise with the scope coping with a
30-degree-F temperature difference. I turned to the Orion Nebula. At 44x, the nebula was gorgeous, with shades of blue and lavender. The Trapezium was still blobby. Barlowing the 26mm gave a decent view. The 9mm was not useful due to turbulence.
The Cassini Division was not visible on Saturn. Constant wavering and a diffuse glow showed that the scope had not cooled down. Jupiter actually looked better than Saturn despite its low elevation: explanation in the Sept. 2000 Sky and Telescope.
Star images at 88x looked triangular. Intrafocal and extrafocal images were a world apart. Great. Signs of pinched or astigmatic optics plus severe spherical aberration, if I had been doing a real star test at a high magnification. But, the scope hadn't finished cooling down.
I looked at M81 and 82, a few open clusters, etc. The transparency and sky background contrast weren't that great. So, it was difficult to judge the "okay, but..." views.
About 40 minutes in, everthing started to settle down. I could now see the Cassini Division at times. 127x was now useful. I even barlowed the 9mm and at brief times the view was passable.
Everything kept getting better and better. The Eskimo Nebula was a fierce blue ball with a slightly brighter inner ring and a brilliant central star. The barlowed 9mm was eminently useful here.
Returning to the Trapezium, both the E and F stars were easy at 127x. The star image sizes were like night and day compared to before. Rigel was very cleanly split, although some chimneying was still evident in the out-of-focus image.
The haze lifted away from Jupiter and Saturn, even as the fog rolled in. Even against a bright background, extreme detail was visible on Jupiter, especially in the SEB. The Great Red Spot was obvious, and was bordered by dark markings above and below. A glaring white oval trailed the GRS in the middle of the SEB. Low-contrast projections
were visible from the NEB into the Equatorial Zone. And so on... The barlowed 9mm rocked!
Saturn: Cassini Division, Crepe Ring, shadow of the disk on the rings, varying zones of brigtness in the A and B rings, nice banding on the planet, great 3D effect. Five moons obvious; I probably would have seen Enceladus if I'd known where it was, or the sky had been a bit more contrasty.
I stayed out until the fog became pea soup. Everything was covered in frost, with the air temperature at 30F.
The scope is vindicated as a planetary performer. It was so neat and dramatic seeing the seeing go from 4/10 to 8/10 at the same time as the scope was nearing equilibrium. The verdict is still out on its deep-sky capabilities. ;0
I'll have some more critical notes on the scope and accessories later.
Last night, I concentrated on Jupiter and the mutual events going on between Io and Europa. Unfortunately, the seeing was uncooperative for the most part. I went out at around 11pm (6:00UT) and noted the mediocre seeing. Io and Europa appeared elongated and very occasionally split at first, and I noted a change in the direction of elongation as the moons drew closer together. By the bottom of the hour, they looked like a single object, and elongation was visible again after the occultation. I followed the moons right up to the disk of Jupiter, but lost them in the turbulence. I briefly caught a glimpse of at least one shadow, but never saw two separate shadows. The atmosphere calmed down a bit at 1:05am (9:05 UT), not long before the eclipse of Io by Europa. More often than not, I could glimpse the combined shadows of the moons, looking like a single object. If the shadow was larger and blurrier than usual, I think I can chalk that up to the seeing. I looked for any indication of another "shadow" from the eclipsed Io, but couldn't see a thing.
Aside from that, it was a nice night for looking at the open clusters in the winter Milky Way. M1 was easy as pie,
now removed from Saturn's glare with Iapetus just to the north.
I struggled out of bed at 5am to view C/2002 X5. No fog problems this morning. The comet remains below naked-eye visibility for me. The tail was easier to see this morning, and at 79x it showed a wealth of wispy structure over the first half of its 40' length. A possible disconnection event was 15' tailward from the nucleus. Sketch.
This evening, I had my first view of Comet C/2002 V1 (NEAT). The comet is an impressively large fuzzball in binoculars, with a coma diameter of over 10'. At 27x, it resembles a face-on spiral galaxy with an inconspicuous nucleus and a large halo elongated slightly to the NE. Magnitude is about 8.0. Sketch.
I looked for M1 near Saturn and Titan, but was unsuccessful. There was just too much scattered light from the planet, and possibly some dew on the optics as well.
I set the alarm for 5:15am and was able to get up without a hitch. The sky was clear to the west, but there was the predictable river fog bank to the east. There were some gaps in the fog, and it appeared to be moving, so I stuck it out in hopes of seeing C/2002 X5. I struggled, however. For some reason, I couldn't find the guide stars in binoculars, and certainly couldn't see the comet itself, even though the sky appeared to be clear to the horizon between sheets of fog. Eventually, I realized that there was an invisible band of stratus or related cloud type right across the comet's position. More patience, and the comet rose above the top of the cloud. Conditions weren't great, and were variable. The comet appeared to be 6th magnitude. Telescopic examination of the comet showed a bright coma with a prominent non-stellar central condensation and up to 30' of faint tail. (Sketch). The inner coma looked distorted at 79x, probably due to jets, but I didn't see any structure. The seeing was pretty bad at the time.
2003 January 1
Somehow, after staying up late, I woke up at ~4:30 on New Year's Morn and peered out the blinds to see somewhat hazy clearing. I said: "Hmmm... I'll wait a little bit to see if it gets better." Then I promptly went to sleep, and dreamed that I was rummaging through my debris in the dark to find the finder chart for Kudo-Fujikawa. (Curious note: on my dreamed-up chart, the comet was in Bootes, not Hercules.) After about twenty minutes of this, I woke up and repeated the adventure for real. I went out with binoculars and found that there was a fog bank in the east that cut off right at the comet's elevation. The density of the fog varied, however, and I thought I glimpsed a dim fuzzy. I went back inside, grabbed my SOD, and got used to using a scope again after more than a month of weather-induced idleness. Just after I confirmed my sighting of the comet, the clouds took hold for good. I didn't see any detail, and the comet appeared fainter than expected. Given the sky conditions, though, a magnitude estimate was out of the question.
Observations prior to 2003 are now in the archives.