Author Topic: Observing in Australia October 15-22  (Read 350 times)

sgottlieb

  • Observer
  • Posts: 136
    • View Profile
Observing in Australia October 15-22
« on: October 26, 2017, 09:28:58 PM »
During the October new moon period I hopped on the 15-hour flight from SFO to attend the week-long Spring OzSky Star Safari (ozsky.org/spring.asp), which took place on the 6300 acre Markdale Homestead (https://tinyurl.com/yd9ju9q5), a 3 to 3 1/2 hour drive west of Sydney in the Central Tablelands (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Tablelands).  I know several TACos have participated in these fantastic star parties (this one was my 4th, out of a total of 8 pilgrimages to the southern hemisphere), but here's the background.

A group of Sydney amateurs, in conjunction with the Three River Foundation (3RF) Australia (www.3rf.com.au/) offer this twice-a-year event, with the main star party hosting 3 dozen or so attendees in the Fall (that's around March-April downunder) at Coonabarabran NSW, near the Warrumbungles National Park and the Siding Springs Observatory.  It's mostly attended by U.S. amateurs and I'd guess half are repeaters, who are itching for more of the same.  What's the draw?  If you've been to the southern hemisphere, you know it beats the north, hands down, in terms of open clusters, globular clusters, emission nebulae and the single most impressive external galaxy in the sky -- the Large Magellanic Cloud.  And experiencing the center of the Milky Way at the zenith (with typical skies ~21.8+ SQM) and the jet-black dark nebulae forming the Aboriginal "Emu in the sky" is flat-out jaw-dropping.

The locals, led by Lachlan McDonald and Tony Buckley, provide the telescopes -- ranging in size from 14.5" to 30" (that's me on the ladder of the 30" on the first link), equipped with Argo Navis and Servocats if you don't want to star hop in unfamiliar skies, as well as a collection of Televue eyepieces.  Really all you need to do to prepare is sign-up in advance, download some of their showpiece observing lists, pack your clothes and join the party!

Two years ago we had a very small, private event.  Only three Californians (John Hoey, Kemer Thomson and myself) attended the Aussie Spring event, which took place at Markdale -- a large working sheep ranch and country estate with a beautiful Heritage garden.  Last October there was closer to 16 attendees, including locals Bob Douglas and Dennis Beckley, but this year we were back to another small group with just 4 U.S. amateurs (a 5th dropped out at the last minute).  That matched the number of scopes that Lachlan carried to the site in his trailer -- two 18's, a 25 and a 30", a one-to-one ratio!  Lodging was in two stone guest cottages, built in the late 1800's.

In mid-October, the galaxy-rich constellations of Fornax, Pisces Austrinus, Sculptor, Phoenix and Horologium pass nearly overhead from Australia and eye-candy galaxies in Pavo, Dorado,  and Reticulum are well placed.  But Sagittarius is still higher than we see it from home, and once you get used to seeing the constellation's Teapot outline completely upside down, its easy to track down obscure globulars and even Sagittarius galaxies that would be difficult from home.  But the biggest treat for me is the LMC, as there is absolutely nothing remotely comparable in the northern sky -- as well as the magnificent globular 47 Tucanae, which must be seen to be believed at high power.

We were pretty fortunate with the weather - 4 straight all-nighters to start the week, then 2 nights of clouds, and a clear 7th night.  So, 5 for 7 overall and enough observing time to log about 250 objects.  I came prepared with a list of 300 deep sky targets, but a subset of 34 NGCs had a special meaning.  These were the only ones I had remaining to observe and record out of the 7840 entries in the 1888 New General Catalogue.  Not sure if the entire catalog (covering +89 to -89 dec) has been attempted or previously completed by other obsessed amateurs. This huge project been percolating a long time -- I've been slowly working on it (along with many others such as Hicksons, Arps, Palomar globulars, Flat galaxies, Abell planetaries, rich galaxy clusters, etc. etc.) for quite awhile -- 37 years to be precise!  And along the way, the instruments evolved from a 6" f/5 Edmund, C-8 Schmidt-Cass, 13.1" Odyssey I, 17.5" Sky Designs (early truss-tube dob), 18" f/4.3 Starmaster and 24" f/3.7 Starstructure, along with a little help from Jimi Lowrey's 48-inch  ;).

Four or five years ago I finished all the NGCs accessible from northern California (down to -40° declination), but there was still over 300 remaining far southern objects.  After a couple more trips to Oz that number was whittled down to 34, of which 32 were well placed this time of year (that's why I missed them a year and a half ago from Coonabarabran).  The final two would have to be caught low in the sky either at dusk or dawn, but I knew they would be doable.  But first a bit of background on the NGC...

Roughly 2500 deep sky objects in the NGC were discovered by musician-turned-astronomer William Herschel from England and another 1700 by his son John, at Slough, England and later the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.  Their discoveries were made with 18.7-inch speculum reflectors -- roughly equivalent in light-grasp to a modern 14- or 15-inch.  The next largest contributors in terms of visual discoveries were Albert Marth (over 500 using a 48-inch speculum reflector on the island of Malta), Lewis Swift (over 450 galaxies from Rochester, NY and southern CA using a 16-inch Clark refractor) and Edouard Stephan (over 400 from Marseilles using a 31-inch silver-on-glass reflector).  The largest scope that contributed to the NGC was Lord Rosse's 72-inch Leviathan and the discoveries made with this scope go down to mag 16.5V.  Within the next few years after the publication of the NGC, the golden era of visual deep sky discovery would wind down as long-exposure photographic plates revealed thousands of dim galaxies beyond visual reach and which now have IC (Index Catalogue) designations.

During the first two nights I logged 33 of the remaining objects (mostly galaxies in Phoenix and Tucana) using the 25" f/5 Obsession, leaving only one target remaining for the third night -- NGC 2932 -- which is nothing more than a Milky Way star cloud in Vela that captured John Herschel's attention.  He called it "an enormous cluster of 1 deg or 1.5 deg, very rich in stars of all magnitudes, from 8m downwards, which merits registry as a sort of telescope Praesape.  It may be regarded as a detached portion of the milky way."  With so many more mouth-watering targets nearby, most amateurs would probably put NGC 2932 in the "Why bother?" bin. But this one was a little more special to me.

I tracked down the field after 3:00 AM on the third night using an 18-inch Obsession at 79x (1° field of view).  I looked up and noticed Orion was 50° up and of course, turned topsy-turvy on its head!  Sirius and Canopus, the two brightest stars in the sky, hovered at 60° altitude and dominated the eastern skies. Truthfully I didn't find the star field of NGC 2932 very exciting, but I carefully examined it and a 1/4 degree richer section caught my eye as appearing more cluster-like.  The next day I checked the online SIMBAD database and was pleased to find this collection was catalogued as the 1,694th Milky Way cluster in a 2012 compilation (https://tinyurl.com/yb37vzva). So perhaps a real cluster is actually embedded in Herschel's star field.

During the daytime we toured the property, panned for gold, and watched mobs of 'roos bounding across as the fields when we drove by (actually this was a serious road hazard whenever we returned to the estate at twilight) and closely examined some of the other natives (two attached).  A bit scary, though, was a visitor who slithered very close to the observing field in the late afternoon -- an Eastern Brown snake, the second most venomous in the world!  For some false sense of security, I took all of my notes that night (some highlights will follow) at the shelf on the top of a tall ladder, instead of my usual observing table  ;D


« Last Edit: October 29, 2017, 09:00:39 PM by sgottlieb »

Marko

  • Administrator
  • Observer
  • *****
  • Posts: 131
    • View Profile
    • Marko's Astronomy Site
Re: Observing in Australia October 15-22
« Reply #1 on: October 26, 2017, 10:09:58 PM »
YEE HAWWW!     Major Congrats on completion of the NGC Steve!   Way to go!

Agree that southern sky is well worth the trip with spectacular objects and yes, the LMC is close enough so you actually have a huge number of NGC objects in it, many with great detail but in another galaxy!   

Again, AMAZING long term goal !
Marko
Let me roam the deep skies and I'll be content.

mccarthymark

  • Observer
  • Posts: 127
    • View Profile
    • observing blog
Re: Observing in Australia October 15-22
« Reply #2 on: October 26, 2017, 10:17:58 PM »
Congratulations Steve!  I hope the last one was not too much of a disappointment; maybe not much to look at but special for the milestone it is.

Do you remember what your first NGC was, and how you described it?
Mark

sgottlieb

  • Observer
  • Posts: 136
    • View Profile
Re: Observing in Australia October 15-22
« Reply #3 on: October 26, 2017, 11:15:00 PM »
In 1978 I was in full swing with Edmund 6" on a fork mount and did most of the Messiers, but my notes were pretty primitive.  Before that in 1976 I was just poking around the sky with a 60mm refractor in Lafayette.  In the summer I'd point and scan around the Milky Way (yes, there was a Milky Way in Lafayette back then) and "discovered" the showpiece emission nebulae and clusters in Sagittarius and Scorpius.  I thought they were awesome in that little scope.

BTW, I'll post my visual descriptions soon for the entire NGC, but except for the missing 34, they're available now at http://www.astronomy-mall.com/Adventures.In.Deep.Space/steve.ngc.htm
« Last Edit: October 27, 2017, 01:26:18 PM by sgottlieb »

DDK

  • Moderator
  • Observer
  • *****
  • Posts: 361
    • View Profile
Re: Observing in Australia October 15-22
« Reply #4 on: October 27, 2017, 03:34:34 PM »
"Not sure if the entire catalog (covering +89 to -89 dec) has been attempted or previously completed by other obsessed amateurs."

You're being cautious, Steve. And of course we don't know what some nutso German observer might have been quietly doing on his own over decades. But - Terence Dickinson years ago named you as the one person who was in reach of finishing the New General Catalogue as an observing project. It's a credit to your family and friends that you haven't gotten a swelled head.

It was Jeff Blanchard, also years ago, who said, "Gottlieb! He's an astro animal." So here The Unwashed can see the secret origin of Steve being now and forever The Animal. Let it be said as well that your buddies love you for who you are, far more even than for what you do.

Still ... thanks heaps for posting that url for your Adventures NGC page - http://www.astronomy-mall.com/Adventures.In.Deep.Space/steve.ngc.htm
The NGC/IC project pages are still going thru their slow rebuild.
TAC - astro anarchy at work <*>