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Topics - mccarthymark

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TAC Visual / Asteroid 2014 JO25
« on: April 19, 2017, 12:23:21 PM »
Hoping the weather will hold out long enough to catch this tonight.  At 11pm it makes a close approach to M64 -- maybe same FOV?

Observing Reports / Rustling up some galaxies at the ranch
« on: April 04, 2017, 10:52:57 PM »
Getting out on a Tuesday night was rather a necessity to cure my photon deprivation.  I didn’t mind the resulting sleep deprivation, even at work the next day.  A great variety of objects seen, the ones which left the greatest impression here:

Stone 61, Double star in Pyxis.  Pretty blue and orange pair, PA to south; close but well split, I’d guess 5-6”.  Can't find any online references for this, even in Stelle Doppie.  Close to Minkowsky 3-6 (which showed as a very small green orb with OIII). 

NGC 2818/A, OC and PN in Pyxis: Cluster is large and loose with wide range of brightness; 12 brighter stars scattered over a mist of fainter; moderately rich.  People complain the cluster is too sparse and not detached, but it seemed pretty well detached to me.  The planetary is on the western edge of the cluster and is a foreground object.  No central star, it is rather large with a diffuse halo and slightly out of round N-S.  The halo brightens on the southern rim, and a little less bright brightening on the SW side.   Seeing did not support higher than 205x.

IC 2469: Sc Spiral: 4 degrees north of 2818, a long edge on, large, pretty bright, 12b mag.  Small round nucleus, less bright round and prominent core, with a long halo 4:1 NE-SW which averted vision brightens and lengthens, especially to the north.  Southern extension is shorter and dimmer.  Star in middle of southern arm.  John Herschel missed this one during his South African foray; was discovered by Lewis Swift in 1897.  It's very strange: the image of this galaxy in Aladin doesn't show any other galaxies, even faint ones, nearby; IC 2469 is big, bright, and on its own. 

NGC 2784: Very bright stellar nucleus, bright oval core and long 5:1 E-W faint halo with hints of spiral and is twisted – like the blur of a coin spinning to rest on a table.  Star at the northern tip.

NGC 3132 Eight burst nebula, PN in Vela: Bright central star, oval NE-SW halo with a soft edge, darker central ring around the central star.  OIII gives an impression of spiraling turbulence in the brightened halo.  NBP filter has a better view, with a brighter CS and shows the same halo swirl, which may be brighter sections of an inner ring with a diffuse halo surrounding it.

NGC 3495: Large, lovely tilted spiral.  Strong impression of spiral arms.  Sharp cut-off edge on the east side; the west side of the halo is larger.  Slowly brightening to the middle, to a small bright nucleus.  4:1 NNE-SSW.

Hydra I Cluster / AGC 1060: Steve was working on the Hydra I Cluster and invited me to join with my scope.  He pointed out the 5th magnitude star at the center of the cluster.  If one finds the cup of Crater and follows a straight line through the cup and its holder, there are two bright stars -- the star to the NE is the one to aim at.  Boom! Galaxies everywhere!  I followed the detail chart in my Interstellarum and could find every object I tried.  NGC 3311 / 3309 dominate the space between the two bright stars in the center of the cluster; 3311 had a bright core with a mottled halo, likely spiral, and 3309 was a fairly bright elliptical.  A much fainter and smaller NGC 3307 lay to the west.  They form a string with smaller and fainter NGC 3312, and NGC 3314 and its excessively faint and small companion A.  Off to the east was NGC 3316-1, a relatively bright and large patch.  Steve called out instructions for finding some excessively faint ESOs which were not plotted on the chart, 501-47 & 501-49, which were mere small smudges seen with averted vision only.  One really has to work to find such objects.  I scanned about in the 1 degree circle around this main group, and found a few more NGCs and ESOs and ICs.  The most interesting one was IC 2597, which seemed to be an interacting pair with a smaller galaxy to its south, which I find on Aladin is ESO 501-59; I had the impression that the halos were somehow touching, but this was illusory as the gap in redshifts is too large; likely just overlapping in line of sight.  To really explore these clusters I need larger scale charts but especially a scope that will track, since it was distracting to bump the scope along with the sky, and limited the power I could apply.
NGC 3162: Nice!  Obviously a face on spiral, though small and fairly faint.  Stellar nucleus.  Brighter on the southern rim, which must be an arm.

NGC 3227 / Group: Bright, large, NW-SE 5:2, with a bright core and very small / stellar nucleus.  Mottling in the halo hints of spiral.  Its NE tip touches NGC 3226 on the outer edge of that galaxy's core.  3226 is fainter but about as large and also with a bright core and stellar nucleus, SSW-NNE, 3:2.  Very striking scene.  NGC 3222 is to the west on edge of FOV, faint, small and round.

Arp 291 = UGC 5832 & CGCG 65-90. Pretty faint irregular oval, pops with averted vision. Asymmetrical shape; some brightening glow within the halo with averted vision.  It is a closely paired double galaxy which Arp classified as having "wind effects."

NGC 3501: Very long and thin edge on; 6:1 or more, SSW-NNE.  Faint but brightens and shows a twisted halo with averted vision.  Another galaxy, NGC 3507, faint and round, close to the NE.

Arp 191 = UGC 6175A & B (MCG+3-28-63): Arp classified as "Narrow filaments."  Two glows next to each other, very faint and small, no detail.

NGC 3666: Nice edge on, brightens greatly with averted vision.  Large uniform oval core, no nucleus, long diffuse edges.  Bright star to NE, and a second fainter star very close to W tip.  E-W 4:1.

NGC 3705: Stellar nucleus, very small bright core, diffuse halo.  No end to it; 5:1 NW-SE.  Looks like it has a double nucleus? 
NGC 4742: Small intense stellar nucleus and a very faint & diffuse halo elongated 3:2 E-W.  Pretty bright and small.  To the SE is yellow & blue double star STF 1682, which made a wonderful sight with the galaxy.

My last object was M3, found by Telrad and memory.  Enormous, bright, very well resolved with tiny points for stars; many yellow and red stars seen.  Isn't it a kicker, than my mirror settles down just when I'm too tired to continue.  It was 3am and time to sleep.

Observing Reports / Some doubles around Gemini
« on: March 05, 2017, 10:08:31 AM »
Last week we had three nights of better than average seeing, so I spent the time splitting doubles with my 12.5-inch f/7.  The perimeter of the mirror is masked down to 11.5-inch to deal with a turned edge, so I suppose it is correctly stated as an 11.5-inch f/7.6.  On such nights I focus primarily on very close and fainter doubles, for which I print out AAVSO finder charts since most of them are not plotted in my Cambridge Double Star Atlas.  I stayed at 553x the whole time; here are some of the highlights, which are my observation followed by the confirming data in brackets (A/B magnitudes, separation, position angle) I retrieved from Stelle Doppie afterward:

Propus (means "forefoot") = Eta Geminorum = B 1008: So cool!  Bright orange star with a very close B, ~1.5", just preceding, ~3 delta mag. B is in diffraction but is well separated & has its own bluish white airy disk.   [3.52, 6.15, 1.6" 252°].  06H 14M 52.69S +22° 30' 24.6"

STF 942: Faint near equal brightness stars, well split, PA W-E.  [10.07/10.1, 3.4", 246°] 06H 37M 40.87S +23° 38' 54.2"

BU 100: !! Pretty orange and blue.  4 delta mag, PA to west.  Wide separation ~3".  B is just seen, a very fine point. [7.34/11.1, 3.2, 143°.  Burnham's discovery in 1873 was at 2.5" separation.  Last WDS observation in 1978 -- deserves another measure now] 07H 00M 56.55S +12° 24' 00.4"

HO 342: ! Yellow-orange and blue stars, PA to the east, 1 delta magnitude; tight but well split ~1".  [7.99/8.71, 1.1", 87°] 07H 02M 50.54S +13° 05' 21.7"

WEI 14: A yellow-orange, B blue, 1 delta mag, PA to south.  Nice!  [7.77/8.91, 2.1", 160°]. 07H 12M 48.16S +15° 10' 41.9"

STF 1068: Pumpkin orange pair, near equal magnitude, PA to north.  Well separated ~4".  Nice.  [AB 9.29/.8, 4", 349°] 07H 19M 49.31S +13° 22' 22.4"

STF 1116: Pretty tight white, near equal magnitude, 2-3", PA to east.  Nice pair.  [7.81/8.5, 1.8" 96°] 07H 34M 32.02S +12° 18' 16.9"

STF 981: Very close orange pair, equal magnitude.  Clean split, ~1".  Worth the hop from Tau Geminorum.  [8.72/8.97, 0.95", 292.3°] 06H 55M 28.54S +30° 09' 42.3"

STF 1014: !! Tough find, faint field.  Very faint near equal brightness pair, ~3", PA to the SW.  [9.91/9.93, 2", 219°] 07H 05M 44.95S +26° 08' 25.3"

A 674: B more a blue haze than a point off the yellow A.  I believe I have it, very close and faint.  PA to SE.  [8.21/9.77, 1.1", 125°] 07H 44M 38.11S +31° 06' 50.1"

STF 1147: Very fine 2", equal magnitude blue - white pair, PA to south, ~2".  [9.66/9.68, 2.2", 174°]. 07H 50M 19.69S +24° 31' 55.8"

STF 1126: !! Wow, very close <1" hair-split, near equal brightness; almost overlapping disks.  [6.55/6.96, 0.8", 175°]  07H 40M 06.99S +05° 13' 51.9"

STT 182: Very close, ~1", near equal brightness white.  [7.82/7.93, 0.8", 11°] 07H 52M 42.12S +03° 23' 02.2"

STF 1210: Pretty wide greenish yellow pair, wide separation, 2 delta mag.  [AB 7.25/9.45, 15.5", 113°.  AC is 13.5 mag and 68", not seen] 08H 15M 48.54S +02° 48' 05.0"

STF 1182: White and reddish, 1 delta mag, PA due east.  [7.48/8.76, 4.7", 74°] 08H 05M 24.43S +05° 49' 38.9"

It struck me that I was having trouble detecting any close pair of more than 10th magnitude when it was close to a brighter star.  Examples of my negative sightings are A 2527: 8.58/11.85, 2.2”; BU 579: 7.95/12.3, 1.1"; and AGC 2: 7.76/9.73, 1".  I wonder if it was due to light pollution?  The SQML from my back yard is 18.60.  Maybe it's just bad timing with the seeing?  I used my full aperture through the session, so perhaps a mask would have helped?  I have a 5-inch off-axis mask but I rarely use it since my impression is it dims the stars too much and I lose resolution.  I’m interested to know what others think.

Observing Reports / Frosti
« on: February 04, 2017, 10:04:34 AM »
Last week I observed at the Chaparral Trailhead parking lot at Pinnacles.  Many curious people asked about my scope as they came back from their hikes.  The lot emptied out after dark, after which a chorus of coyotes started up.  They seemed to be among the High Peaks and were purposely echoing their calls off the rock cliffs.  First one group, then another, until the sky was loud with their calls.

Transparency was poor and dew formed quickly; the shroud on my 20-inch scope was well-soaked.  Around 11pm I noticed it was crinkly -- it had frozen.  There were ice crystals forming on every exposed surface.  I had to scrape ice off the plexiglass window of my chart holder.  I myself was not cold, wearing a down jacket and snow boots.  It was 25°.  It made me think of Bjork's song "Frosti," which I replayed in my head through the night (

NGC 2521: Gx in Lynx: Three galaxies in view.  Brightest is NGC 2521, fairly bright, small, bright core, elongated 2:1 NE-SW.  The other two are UGC 2421 and MCG+10-12-070.  The UGC is small, pretty faint, brighter core with AV, elongated NW-SW 3:1.  The MCG is very faint, small, and round.  These three plus a star, Z Lyn, in the northern corner, form a nearly perfect square.

NGC 2488: Gx in Lynx: Bright core, stellar nucleus, 3:1 edge on NW-SE; overall faint and small.  I see two other galaxies in the field, one to N and another to SW.  Both small round and very faint, though the one to the north (UGC 4164) has a stellar nucleus.  [The one to the SW is a close galaxy pair MCG+09-13-112 & -111, both of which are 17B and ~0.5" square, but perhaps became visible to me with their combined glow.]

NGC 2469: Gx in Lynx.  Four galaxies in a string.  NGC 2469 is brightest and comparatively large (though itself small), elongated 3:2 nearly N-S.  The others -- NGC 2463, NGC 2462, & NGC 2458 --are small, faint and round.  Near a bright star which hinders the view somewhat.  The galaxies have a range of redshift from 0.01 to 0.047, so this is a chance alignment than a cluster If I had panned my scope a little beyond NGC 2469 I could have seen a fifth in this string, NGC 2472, an extremely faint and small item.

NGC 2347 + IC 2179:  Nice.  Both galaxies near stars and look like a double-double but with galaxies as the B components.  NGC is a little brighter and larger, with a bright core enhanced with AV, 3-1 N-S.  The IC has a stellar nucleus and is small, round, fairly faint.

NGC 2517: Gx in Puppis: Bright core, stellar nucleus, small, 3:1 ENE-WSW with tapering tips.  Some mottling in the halo and core.  Very dense field; I'm sure this is highly obscured by the Milky Way.  Did not see nearby PGC.

NGC 2525: Pretty large, diffuse, low surface brightness.  Irregularly oval shape with mottling; in a dense field of stars.  It is an SBc.

IC 2375 / 77 / 79: Three galaxies piled up, in different orientations.  Seen direct vision, brightens with averted -- call them all fairly faint, all of them small.  IC 2375 was noticeably elongated 4:1 E-W. IC 2377, in the middle, was oval, NE-SW.  IC 2379 was also oval but pointed NW-SE, and had a brighter core.

NGC 2881-1 / -2 = Arp 275: Pretty faint, fairly large, irregular tear-drop shape with a wing coming off it to the west -- a double system.  Mottled halo with several superimposed stars.  IC 2782 is to the south, fairly faint, small, with a stellar nucleus and a round diffuse halo.

MCG-2-25-6 = Arp 221: Two faint stellar nuclei with a lopsided, diffuse halo brighter to the east.  Faint -- can see with direct vision but averted brightens.  Used 333x to better resolve the second nucleus.  There is an extremely faint, very small condensation on the west rim of the halo.  Arp classes this under "amorphous spiral arms."

NGC 2993, 2992 = Arp 245: Two galaxies seem to have a connecting bridge.  NGC 2992 is small, elongated NNE-SSW and moderately bright, the brighter of the pair.  NGC 2993 is smaller and round [did not see the streamer whisking from it to the east.  Arp says of these: "Appearance of fission"].

NGC 2775, Gx in Cancer: Looks like a more distant version of M31; it is 62mly away.  Bright & large, it has a bright compact round nucleus with brighter elongated core and diffuse, slowly fading halo, 3:2 NW-SE.  I see subtle hints of spiral structure.  The galaxy sits above the bowl of a mini big dipper asterism.  It is a Sa spiral and forms a trio with two other galaxies: NGC 2773 to the NW and NGC 2777 to the NE.  NGC 2773 is a small, fairly faint rice grain of even brightness 3:1 orientated E-W on the edge of the FOV.  NGC 2777 is small, faint, and nearly round but with a small stellar nucleus.

NGC 2936 & 2937 = Arp 142: Small, faint bean shaped glow with two brighter condensations; used 333x to clearly separate the two galaxies.  NGC 2936 is the northern component and is larger, with the brightest part near the NE edge and a faint smudge of a halo trailing to the SW, like a smeared fingerprint.  NGC 2937 is the second component and is small, faint, and round and is tucked underneath the other, like an eye under an eyebrow.

NGC 2291 / 2294 / 2290 / 2288 / 2289: I was attracted to this group as it lies in region near the Gemini-Auriga boarder relatively devoid of DSOs.  Five galaxies in a wedge shape, all more or less the same faintness and smallness, differing in the brightness of the cores and diffuseness of their halos.  Four were in a nice little arc, starting with NGC 2991, small, faint and round.  Next, heading south, NGC 2289 was the brightest, with a round core and very faint halo E-W.  Very close to it was the very small and very faint round glow of NGC 2288.  Last in the string and bright was N2290, with a small brighter core and a very faint diffuse halo 3:1 NE-SW.  NGC 2294 was to the NE, very small and faint patch.  Interstellarum plots IC 2173 as a sixth galaxy in this area, which I could not find (other than suspecting a couple faint round things which were likely threshold magnitude stars).  I found later that NGC 2288 is the same as IC 2173

NGC 2874 / 2782 = Arp 307: The western component, NGC 2872, has a small bright core, with a regular, if diffuse, halo, 3:1 NNW-SSE.  The eastern component, NGC 2874, is larger but fainter, with a stellar nucleus sitting lopsided to the north end of a clearly disrupted halo, which has a bright rim to the south and a very faint arc sprouting from the southern tip and headed toward NGC 2782.  I failed to notice three other NGCs in this field: NGC 2785 a small bright dot at the northern tip of NGC 2874's halo; NGC 2871 a similar point at the NW tip of NGC 2872's halo; and NGC 2873, a small and faint galaxy to the north of the main pair.

NGC 2911: Fairly bright, even surface brightness cloud with a small bright core and quasi-stellar nucleus.  3:1 NW-SE.  There’s something strange about the halo, maybe some spiral or mottling, mirrored on each side of the halo along the major axis.

NGC 3016 / 3024 / 3020: Nice! a trio.  Faint -- can see with direct vision, but averted adds to brightness.  NGC 3020 is to the north, has a bright elongated core and the largest halo of the three, diffuse and elongated 4:1 E-W.  NGC 3024 is to the east and is nearly an edge on, with a quasi-stellar nucleus.  NGC 3016 is to the far SW and is the smallest but with a sharply brighter core.  I did not see NGC 3019 which sits in the middle of the triangle.

UGC 4881 = Arp 55: At 333x, very small, very faint irregular glow, slightly elongated E-W, with a slight brightening in western edge of the glow.

Observing Reports / galaxies galore
« on: January 04, 2017, 12:40:08 PM »
I had the good fortune to get out observing the night of 12/28-29.  I reported on some of my experience here  But I wanted to share some other remarkable observations:

WLM (UGCA 444) & WLM 1: Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte is an irregular dwarf galaxy in the Local Group but far enough away from the others to not feel the exertion of the Group’s gravitational forces. Since it has not been jostled so much, forcing new star birth, it is thought most of its star formation occurred 13 billion years ago. It appeared as a large, ill-defined, low surface brightness oblong glow orientated N-S. There are several faint stars superimposed on the galaxy and around its halo. One of these is actually a globular cluster in the dwarf’s pull, WLM1. Using a finder chart to identify the correct point of light, it popped in and out with averted vision and seeing conditions, I could only hold it a moment or two; at 533x it was non-stellar. According to studies, the metallicity of the globular indicates its age is 15 billion years – which is amazing, if difficult, to comprehend.

NGC 1128-1 & -2: Overlapping halos, very close small round glows, each with bright cores, very small and faint. These are a pair of galaxies and are part of AGC 400. There were two other very small, extremely faint round patches glimpsed with averted vision in the field: to the SW (2MASX J02573365+0558371 15.1B) and to the south (MCG+01-08-028 15.7B). I suspected another one to the NE but not sure. Someday, I need to go into the AGCs better prepared, with finders, and really spend more time tracking components down.

NGC 1218: Fairly faint, round, stellar nucleus and diffuse edge halo. Halo mottled to south and north – could be a spiral? [It is an S0a Seyfert I – 397 mly away!]

IC 302: Fairly faint, fairly large diffuse glow, halo is round and mottled, with a bright small core, 3:1 N-S. Star just off southern tip of halo. [DSS shows a lovely face on spiral, 13.81B, SBc, 2.6:1.1]

IC 315: Very small, very faint, low / even surface brightness glow, brightens overall with averted vision; very slightly elongated NE-SW. Finely split, equal magnitude double star to the NW.

IC 1918: Small, very faint elliptical glow, even brightness, very slightly elongated NW-SE. Near an asterism of six stars shaped like a kite to the west. 427 mly distant – quite far! It must be very intrinsically bright.

I had a look at galaxies in Orion. Naturally most of us view Orion’s nebulae, but I thought I would spend some time with the galaxies to make them less lonely. I took a quick look at M42 then swung slightly west:

NGC 1924: Bright, pretty large, oval NW-SE, slightly mottled – must be a spiral. UHC seemed to lighten up a knot in the northern rim of the halo. Brighter, small core. [It is a lovely face on SBbc spiral, 1.6’x1.2’, 12.5V]

IC 421: Fairly faint, pretty large diffuse glow, mostly even surface brightness. It’s another impressive face on spiral in DSS.

MCG-1-14-12: Very faint, small, round, diffuse glow. Inside a triangle of similar magnitude stars. Another face on spiral, this one with disrupted arms.

UGCA 102 = Mrk 1094: Very small oval, gradually brighter to middle, pretty faint. It’s a blue compact galaxy, which [cribbed from Wikipedia] are often low mass, low metallicity, dust-free objects. Because they are dust-free and contain a large number of hot, young stars, they are often blue in optical and ultraviolet colors – and indeed the DSS image shows a bluish galaxy. They are not necessarily young galaxies; they might have been “well mixed” and thus efficiently used up its dust during its initial star forming period. Many show signs of recent interactions with other galaxies, and in DSS UGCA 102 does show some warping (its morphological classification is not straightforward: SABcd).

HGC 31: Hickson galaxy cluster. Component a/c was seen as a single irregular glow, not split. Component b was clearly seen, though small, very faint, slightly elongated. Component d, 18th magnitude, was not seen.

UGC 3271 = Mrk 1095: Very faint, very diffuse small 3:2 NNE-SSW glow with a small but bright quasi-stellar nucleus. A line of stars runs out from each tip in line with the major axis. It is a Seyfert 1 galaxy, which have quasar-like nuclei—which can be as bright as all the light output from a galaxy like the Milky Way. 444 million light years distant! And such a bright nucleus!

UGC 3258: Small, fairly faint, 3:2 N-S, quasi-stellar nucleus with star on northern tip. SBbc 12.9v. DSS image shows this as almost a ring galaxy, with perhaps a very bright knot on the northern rim?

CGCG-395-16: Lozenge shape 3:2 glow, gradually brighter to middle. I guessed a star was superimposed on the east rim but find in the DSS image it looks like a very bright knot running along this edge. It lies in a triangle of bright stars, one of which is STF 654. This needed to be out of the view for me to pick up the galaxy, but once seen I could hold the galaxy with the 4.62 magnitude STF 654A in view; the double is well split, yellow and yellow orange 8.5 magnitude B, 7”.

IC 413 & 412: at 333x, IC 413 is fairly faint, small, has a bright core & very faint but clearly disrupted halo. IC 412 right next to it [34”], faint and also small, and seems to be an interacting system. Star very near the northern edge. [It is indeed interacting, VV 225 – and tidal tail north of IC 412 might be visible with more concentration – need to revisit].

HGC 34 = Arp 327: The brightest component, a, is NGC 1875 and was round, very faint, very small. After looking at my Hickson guide photo, I tried very hard to see the very small 17-18B mag b-d components; at 553x I still could not make them out; I had a feeling of an excessively faint streak coming off NGC 1875 to the southeast, but this was probably wishful seeing since I had already studied the photo. 419 mly.

After a break I changed directions to the north to take in some galaxies in Ursa Major:

NGC 2805: Astonishing field, and quite a change from viewing many dim objects. NGC 2805 is a large, fairly faint oval, brighter core but without nucleus, mottled – hint of spiral arms [it is an Sc]. 10’ to the NE are three more galaxies: NGC 2820 is a long edge on, pretty bright with a brighter sliver of a core and long tapering tips, ENE-WSW 5:1. At first I thought the SW tip had a hook to it pointed SE, but this is IC 2458, a small, faint elongation, and it overlaps the 2820’s SW tip, like the Hockey Stick galaxy (NGC 4656/57 in Canes Venatici). NGC 2814 is to the west of this pair, small, faint, elongated 3:1 NNE-SSW, with a star just to its SW. All three are interacting with each other, along with NGC 2880 and IC 2458 which I didn’t observe.

NGC 3079 offered up another amazing view. It is a long, lovely bright edge on 6:1 N-S with plainly seen turned up tips: the southern tip lifts east, the northern tip lifts north-east.  This makes it look like the galaxy is descending through space, with the perimeter of the halo being swept upward as it falls.  NGC 3073 was to the west in the same field, and was pretty bright, small, round, with a bright core and hazy fringes.

NGC 2756: Oval, 3:2 N-S. Brighter core, no nucleus. Mottled; seems to be a dark lane running N-S along the eastern hemisphere. [It is an Sb spiral, so this may have been a hint of arms.]

Shakhbazian 98: NGC 2675 was easily visible (pretty faint, small, obround, even surface brightness elliptical) and served, along with a pair of stars to the east, as a finder for the Shk 98 galaxy chain. I searched a while but did not see anything on my own. After checking a finder for the group, which are eight very small and very faint galaxies forming a gentle sickle between the galaxy and pair of stars, I searched again, switching between 333x & 553x. I wish I could say I saw it but no; my eyes were pretty strained at this point in the night.

NGC 3756: Large, 3:2 N-S, fairly bright with a brighter core. The halo is layered like filo dough—striking texture in the halo giving strong impression of wispy thin spiral arms [ScII]. Double star off the northern tip to the north-west.

NGC 3738 = Arp 234: Rather large, moderately bright, 3:2 NW-SE, with a distinctive tear-drop shape—the core appears brighter and rounder to the NW, while the SE tip curves up from the core and tapers off. Is an active galaxy nucleus.

NGC 3733: 5.6 magnitude star SAO 28064 interferes with the view; the galaxy sprouts from the star as a 3:1 elongated glow NNW-SSE with a slightly brighter core. Too bad; the galaxy is Sc spiral and would probably show nice structure if it weren’t for the star being in the way.  Maybe wait a few thousand years for a clearer view!

NGC 3687: Small, pretty bright, 3:2 N-S. Seems to have a dark lane running its major axis. The whole brightens with averted vision. [As a pretty much face on spiral it should be round; I may have not seen some sections of the outer halo to give it an elongated shape; the dark lane may have been hints of spiral structure.]

NGC 3359: Large, generally round diffuse halo, stellar nucleus and a brighter core which runs in a bar NNE-SSW. Halo appears windblown and tattered. It is a SBc II spiral, however I did not discern the arms, only the impression of disarray in the halo.

Observing Reports / Late report on Dino 12/1
« on: December 13, 2016, 04:31:20 PM »
It’s been a while since this session but I finally had some time to do a write up of the visit to Dino on 12/1.

As we waited for dark we were able to pick out Mercury a couple degrees above the horizon, with binoculars (thanks to George for finding it). It formed a long line with Venus and Mars, all about the same distance apart. A very picturesque scene along with the two-day old moon, round with earthshine.  A while later we saw the ISS pass. Joe Bob happened to see it rising from the western horizon. We watched as it rose and were excited to see it transit the earthshine part of the moon. The others began to track it with their binoculars, wondering if they could see any structure. I decided to try tracking it with the 10-inch f3.8 @ 37x, and I was able to fairly easily. It was bright, but appeared boxy. It was very cool to see it barreling through fields of stars -- it was headed for zenith and the Cassiopeia Milky Way region. As it passed zenith it began to slowly dim, and eventually I saw it as a small orange tube. I kept on it as it grew fainter, still able to track it easily with the Springsonian, even as it became fainter than most of the stars. Eventually it disappeared, and my telescope was pointed about 15° from level.

I didn't have any specific plan for observing, and I made few notes. SQML was 21.18, a little low.  While it was a chilly 40°F, there was no dew, and I had dressed for the weather anyhow. I knew I wanted to exploit the scope's wide FOV and to try large scale objects.

I saw Blanco 1, which I wanted to see as a whole for a long time. It was a disappointing, large loose cluster of a dozen or more stars in a triangle pattern. Meh. I started out with this object thinking I would go to the Sculptor Dwarf and then the Fornax Dwarf, but the light dome from the Los Banos Reservoir lights washed out the horizon to 15°. There were light domes all around, sadly. So I abandoned the lower elevations and went high.

George suggested I try the Helix nebula.  He shared the view in his 13-inch, and showed me a good way to find it with a reflex sight: make a right triangle with Fomalhaut and Skat (Delta Aquarius). I found it straight off.  It looked nice with a UHC -- annular, with a large darker round interior.

My next thought was to try IC 342, the notoriously difficult face-on spiral in Camelopardalis. I wanted to start from Kembel's Cascade, an asterism in lower Camelopardalis near Cassiopeia. After some checking of my charts I did succeed in finding the straight line of stars making the asterism, and the small open cluster NGC 1502 at the end of it. Some nice colorful stars in the field. I then carefully star hopped through the eyepiece up the few degrees north to IC 342. I immediately saw an oval glow behind a rather dense field of stars -- if wasn't sure of my star hop I would have assumed this was an open cluster. It was the galaxy's relatively bright small core and nucleus. The arms were not apparent; there was a very subtle change in grayscale around the relatively brighter haze, but nothing certain.  It was like looking for a soluble fish.  I want to try this one again with the 20-inch to see if I can discern any arms.

I did some lazy sweeping around the Milky Way. The North America Nebula filled more than the field, and was billowy and cloud-like. I could see a large chunk of nebulosity hooking away from Mexico to the east. The Pelican Nebula (IC 5067 & 5070) was large and almost bright. And I could see the three condensations beneath the Pelican (IC 5068). The Gamma Cygni area was turbulent with nebulae and dark nebulae, too much for me to describe well. Same with the Mu Cephei area (IC 1396 etc.). And the Flaming Star Nebula (IC 405) -- which was quite astonishing. IC 405 appeared as a wide comma, with IC 410 on the other side of the bright elongated star cluster Mel 31. M38 looked great, and I could see the small faint cluster NGC 1907 at its rim, not unlike the small cluster at the edge of M35.  It was very special to try some comet sweeping, coming across clusters, asterisms, vacancies and crowds of stars in the sky.

I shared a view of the California Nebula (NGC 1499) with the others, with an H-beta filter. In this scope it appears large, bright, with many tendrils. It does not quite fit in the field -- panning east or west reveals the thinly tapering ends. So far this is my favorite object to view in this scope.

Around 11pm I happened to take a rest from the eyepiece and looked up.  I noticed a bright white flash and assumed it was a plane.  I watched it for a minute.  It flashed again but this time it was dimmer, more yellow.  And it seemed to be moving more slowly than a plane would.  Then again the bright flash -- I was sure it was a satellite.  So I asked Jamie and Peter to take a look.  We were wowed by the bright flashes, which came in irregular intervals.  We believed it to be a tumbling satellite or space debris; it was moving below the "W" of Cassiopeia roughly west to east.  I tried to find out what it was next day at the Heaven's Above website, but don't find any matches.

Near midnight some thin clouds moved in from the north. It was time to pack up, but I wanted some more looks through the scope – who knew the next time there would be clear weather? I took a quick look at the Flame Nebula (NGC 2024) which was very distinct, even with Alnitak in view. We tried the Horsehead (B33/IC 434), which we could see as a dark thumbprint -- but not very well. I tried for the Witch Head Nebula but only suspected some grayscale changes -- needs a darker and more transparent sky. Finally, George wanted to see M81/M82, so we pointed the scope up there. It was just seen at the edge of some clouds. I could see NGC 3077 hiding out next to a nearby star. Very nice view of the trio and a nice way to end the night.

Observing Reports / CalStar 2016 Observational Highlight Reel
« on: October 06, 2016, 04:10:40 PM »
It’s one week since CalStar and I’m still transcribing and confirming my observations.  There are many dozens of them, a rich harvest from three consecutive nights of binge observing.  I echo everyone’s praise for the site, the facilities, and friendly company.

Following amounts to a highlight reel of the observations I remember most vividly, and were special to me in some way.

Mars & M8 in same FOV: I had made a 10-inch f3.8 telescope in a unique Springsonian mounting, which permits a 35x 2.3° FOV with seated viewing from horizon to zenith.  The first night I tracked Venus as it set and watched it blink out at the horizon while sitting in my chair.  After dark I viewed Mars and panned to see M8 in other side of the FOV, with globular cluster 6544 in between.  This view happens to be the 10/6/16 APOD, though at 5° to include M20, too.  The little scope had breathtaking views of dark nebulae, Milky Way star fields, M31 and the IFN that surrounds it, the California Nebula, and so much more.  I loved observing with the scope.

In my 20-inch:

NGC 410 & friends, in Psc: Fairly bright, fairly large elliptical, elongated 2:1 NE-SW, with a bright large core and stellar nucleus.  Other galaxies in FOV: NGC 407 to SW, a fairly faint small streak 4:1 N-S with a bright core; NGC 414 to the SE, small, faint, round; CGC 501.119 to the NE, small faint and round.  I missed seeing NGC 408, which would have been a small hazy point just to the west of NGC 410.

NGC 499 & friends, in Psc: Area crowded with galaxies!  499 is pretty bright, pretty large, with a bright oval core and faint halo; oval shape E-W.  Also in field: NGC 501 to the SE, bright, small round, non stellar; NGC 498, to the north, fairly bright, small and round; NGC 496 further north still: very faint, small, elongated 3:1 NE-SE, gradually brighter core; NGC 495 to the west, fairly small, fairly faint, elongated a little N-S.  There are another couple smudges on my sketch which I'm trying to identify, and other galaxies seen panning around beyond the FOV.

NGC 5985, Gx in Dra: Astonishingly beautiful field, with three galaxies in view.  5985 is a large mottled oval halo suggesting spiral structure, 4:3 N-S, with a very bright nucleus.   5982 is to the WNW and is a fairly bright oval, small, 3:2 SSE-NNW, with a very bright nucleus.  Further up WNW, in a row with the other two, is 5981, a long 6:1 faint streak NW-SE; its core brightens with averted vision.

NGC 6166, in Her: Moderately small, diffuse 4:2 core with very faint thin halo around it; orientated NE-SW.  Fairly bright patch to the West is another galaxy, MCG+07-34-055.  There are many other non-stellar / faint patches surrounding the galaxy, which I matched later from my sketch to Aladin: MCG+07-34-076, -048, -050, -056.  This is AGC 2199, so no wonder!

NGC 7562, in Psc: Pretty bright, large oval core elongated 2:1 E-W with a faint halo fading gradually to the edges.   7562A was seen to the SE: small, very faint, round.  Also in view is NGC 7557 to the NE, which is small, fairly faint, and 3:1 N-S.

NGC 7619, in Peg: Several galaxies in the FOV and more seen sweeping the general area, it being the Pegasus I galaxy cluster.  7619 is bright large elliptical, with a bright core and stellar nucleus, with a faint diffuse halo, elongated 3:2 NE-SW.  NGC 7617 was close by to the SW, faint and small, elongated very slightly NE-SW. 

NGC 7626, in Peg: Bright, moderately large, round to oval with very thin diffuse edges.  To its SE near edge of FOV is another galaxy, very faint and very small, a thin streak, seen mainly with averted vision [this is UGC 12535].  Comparing to my sketch later, I also saw 7611 (extremely faint, seen with AV, small, elongated 2:1 NW-SE); IC 5309 (very faint, very small, round to a little elongated but too small to tell the PA); NGC 7615 (very faint elongated patch); NGC 7634 (small but fairly bright core, rice shaped E-W elongation).  My logbook has more galaxies drawn outside the field which I'm still trying to identify.

EGB 1, PN in Cas: @ 333x Rather large but excessively faint glow, no central star, seen with OIII & averted vision only; difficult

NGC 6781, PN in Aql: Wow!  Direct vision unfiltered @ 333x as a pretty large, unevenly illuminated round glow with some thicker bands in the shell and on the rim.  OIII brightens the shell and reveals stronger banding structure.  A faint star flashed within the nebula but was not centrally placed.

Pease 1, PN in M15: Using finder charts from Doug Snyder's website, I quickly identified the trapezium finder stars, and from there the triangular arrangement of finder stars pointing to an unresolved, cone-shaped star mass at the NW rim of the core of M15.  Seeing was not perfect but patient waiting while blinking with OIII revealed a very small, blue-green point which flashed in and out like a beacon.  I let M15 pass through the field 5 times and was able to glimpse the planetary two or three times on each pass.  It is very small and stellar, easy to miss if you don't know exactly where to look.

Zwicky's Triplet (Arp 103), in Her: Noticed on Interstellarum while star hopping to something else (Interstellarum calls it Zwicky's Triplet, but I find it also referred to as Zwicky's Connected Multiple System--but this doesn't have the same ring to it).  Seen as a very faint glow with two condensations; a third very tough patch was separated from the pair.  The brightest was very faint and round; on its SW edge there was a fainter knot; to the north of these two, some distance away and close to a star with an extremely faint small patch, seen with AV only.  Researching this later, the brightest is mag 14.6g, next to it is 15.71, and the faintest is 16.2.

NGC 7463 / 7464 / 7465: Three galaxies strikingly arranged near a bright star.  7463 is pretty bright, pretty large, 3:1 E-W, even surface brightness.  Just off the SE side is 7464: small, round, faint.  Further ESE is 7465, pretty bright, small, 3:2 NNW-SSE, with a just stellar nucleus.  There is a bright star to the west of the group; best kept out of view but can still see the trio with it there.

Pal 11: Faint, but quickly detected with direct vision.  Near a bright star to the NE.  Four stars seen over the face (just foreground?) of the faint glow of unresolved stars which seems larger than I expected.

HGC 96: a: very faint, small and round; c noticed with patient AV as a knot in a's glow.  b: small round glow, very faint.  d: suspected as a non-stellar point with painful AV, but uncertain (17.13b)

HGC 100: a: fairly bright glow, rice shaped E-W.  b: fairly faint patch to the east of a.  c: extremely faint, AV only small glow.  d: suspected as a condensation / very small extremely faint glow.

Shakhbazian 84: My first Shakhbazian object.  @ 333x I noticed a very small, excessively faint curved glow in which I could detect two condensations, only with averted vision.  There are in fact four very tiny galaxies in a curve.  It was a very tough observation, but exciting to be able to see it, and perhaps gives me a future direction to pursue.

Sh 2-216: I saw this plotted in Interstellarum as a huge (more than 1° across) planetary nebula to the NW of Capella.  I tried it in both the 10-inch and the 20-inch.  The 10-inch lacks a finder so I struggled to be sure of the correct field; I tried various filters but nothing certain.  In the 20-inch at 87x 1° TFOV I needed to scan about; I "think" I detected a relatively brighter arc to the NE of where the PN's rim was plotted, but not certain.  I'll be interested to go after this again.

Observing Reports / Pinnacles
« on: September 06, 2016, 02:57:31 PM »
Sunday night joined Jamie Dillon at the Pinnacles National Park at the Chaparral Trailhead parking lot, beneath the hoodoos.  While driving above Soledad on Route 149 I noticed smoke from the Soberanes fire in the mountains to the west.  The winds from the north / north-northwest blew it away from the Pinnacles.  We had an impromptu star party for some hikers who came to the parking lot after dark – they said they got a little lost on the trails and were relieved to make it back.  After turning off their flashlights they enjoyed the starry sky; two of them lay down on the pavement, to both rest and take in the Milky Way.

Seeing was not great in the beginning of the night, but it got better.  I estimated Pickering 6 by 10pm and 7 after 11pm, and I daresay up to 8 after 1am.  Transparency was merely good; minor dewing persisted through the night.  It was surprisingly cold, low 40s at midnight dipping into the upper 30s very late –along with the rise of the Hyades, it was a herald of the approaching winter.  I should have just taken the best views near zenith, but the tyranny of my lists drove me to Sagittarius and environs.  Toward 2:00am Jamie was able to make out the Gengenschein just below and to the east of the Circlet in Pisces.  I could not discern it despite Jamie’s careful description; I have never seen it and didn’t know quite what to see.  Here are some other highlights, all in my 20-inch reflector:

NGC 6620, PN in Sgr, 12.7v, 5.3” x 3.8”: @ 205x a small bright disk, bluish grey unfiltered, more strongly blue-green with OIII.  Soft but consistently round rim; no central star. 

NGC 6629, PN in Sgr, 11.3v, 16” x 14”: @ 205x it appears as a smallish hazy disk with a bright central star.  Has a ragged blue-green outer shell [others report seeing sharp edges, so my view may have been distorted by poor seeing].  Very dense field.

IC 4732, PN in Sgr, 12.1v, 3”: @205x, small and faint somewhat bloated star in line with two other brighter stars.  OIII makes it blink as a PN.  No central star seen.

NGC 6526, Bright Nebula in Sgr, and part of M8, 40’ size: A real stunner and an easy Telrad find.  @ 121x the M8 complex filled the field; UHC was best filtered view, bringing out much detail.  6526 is the SW portion of M8, and was a bright sweep of nebulosity, providing contrast for the dark nebula dividing it from NGC 6523, the NE portion of M8.  A very bright bow-shaped nebula appeared at the end of three stars near the SW tip of the dark nebula, which I took to be 6526 but which I find out now is the Hourglass Nebula.  Panning around the scene, there was more, fainter nebulosity to the north and east, and many pretty groups of stars.

NGC 6309, PN in Oph, 11.5v, 20”: “Exclamation Point Nebula”: Bizarre looking bright cigar shaped PN elongated 3:1 NNW-SSE with a bright star off the NNW tip, making it appear as an exclamation point.  Used 333x; UHC helped contrast.  The NNW portion of the PN is brighter.  According to Wikipedia it is quadrupolar but I did not resolve the separate portions.

M 2-9, PN in Oph, 13.2v, 60”x30”: “Minkowsky’s Butterfly”.  @ 333x a small, elongated 3 or 4:1 N-S.  It looks rather like a galaxy, overall very faint but with a brighter round central region with quickly fading and tapering tips.  A central star flashes with averted vision and brief moments of good seeing.  Filters don’t seem to help the view.   

NGC 6712, Globular Cluster in Sct, 8.1v, 7.2’:  @ 333x, pretty large and irregularly round, with a couple dozen stars resolved in front of the misty grey core, and more stars sparking out to the west side.  Very dense field of stars mixing up with the cluster’s stars.  (I used M11 as the start of the star hop to this object, and had a nice if not picturesque view of the center of the cluster, its red star reigning over the crowds of faint and fainter surrounding stars.)

IC 1295, PN in Sct, 12.5v, 102”x87”: Unfiltered at 333x a large round haze, mottled through the central region.  OIII and UHC both help.  The edge appears uneven at first but it is really round, with some parts dimmer than others; the south / southeast edge is brightest.  The center is more strongly mottled with the filters.  A second planetary, K 4-8, was plotted on the atlas just to the NW, and I found it blinking with the UHC filter.  A nice contrast in sizes of planetaries in the same field of view.

NGC 6604, OC with nebulosity in Ser, 6.5v, 4’: At 86x and 1° TFOV, the large nebulosity is an irregularly round fairly bright patch around a handful of stars in a shallow arc, with chains of stars stretching to the north and south.  UHC brought out more faint wisps of nebulosity.  Nearby to M16 which was visible in the 80mm finder.

Peimbert Costero / PC 19, 12.2v, 14”: PN in Ser:  At 333x, small, fairly faint, bluish, blinks with OIII.  Two close fainter stars make a string with it pointing NW.  I think this was put on the AL PN list to make people research it: Digital images of the PN reveal it looks something like a spiral galaxy with bright “arms” in the SW and NE part of its oval “halo”.  It is a “Point-Symmetric” PN, meaning the star’s material is being ejected by a bipolar rotating episodic jet, giving it its weird shape. 

NGC 6572, PN in Oph, 8.1v, 16”x13”: “Emerald Nebula”: Very bright and a very beautiful deep green color.  Out of round and orientated N-S.  I think I saw a central star flash out of the very bright central region when using averted vision, very brief.  The edge is hazy and seems to be a diffuse outer shell. 

I made another unsuccessful attempt for Pease 1 in M15.  The globular itself bristled with resolved stars down to the brilliant core, and was very impressive at 333x.  My main struggle to find the planetary is to pick out the “trapezium” stars to begin the star hop on the finder chart.  I eventually just tried blinking with my OIII in the general vicinity of where I thought Pease 1 was, but with no certainty.  Today I went back to and found a good picture of the trapezium stars’ location – turns out I have been searching for them too far away from M15’s core.  I’m hopeful next time out I will be able to find the PN.

NGC 7042, GX in Peg, 12.2v, 2.0’ x 1.8’: I found this easier to hop to from Gamma Equuleus than from M15 where I just was.  @ 205x, fairly faint, pretty large, 3:2 elongated NW-SE, bright core and clearly disrupted diffuse halo [Sb spiral].  Another galaxy in same field, NGC 7043 to the NE as a small, faint round glow with a brighter core. 

NGC 7177, GX in Peg, 11.4v, 3.1’x2.0’: Immediately see a strange sight: the bright core is elongated (barred?) and sits at a sharp angle SW-NW compared to the faint halo, which is E-W 2:1.  Pretty large overall.  The halo has diffuse edges and is mottled. 

NGC 6991, OC in Cyg, 6’x4’ & 12’x8’: At 125x, open cluster whose brighter loop of stars form an omega or octopus shape, with a bright red star as one of the arms.  A mini little dipper asterism is to the south.  Loose, poor, no concentration or nebulosity.  [It seems I observed John Herschel’s cluster, rather than William’s, which is close to a 5.7 magnitude star to the NE.]

NGC 6997, OC in Cyg, 10.0v, 6’: In the east coast of the North America Nebula; so viewed without filters otherwise it would be obscured.  At 125x, roughly circular arrangement of ~60 stars within a couple magnitudes of each other.  A distinct “S” shape runs through the middle.  Nebulosity apparent even without filters.  A poor, loose, but pretty cluster.   

NGC 6946, GX in Cyg, 9.1v, 11.5’ x 9.8’: “Fireworks Galaxy.”  Its brightness spread over a large area so appears dim; seen through a heavy sprinkle of foreground stars.  Bright small core with three arms easily seen, the most prominent of which sprouts from the core and heads north in a thin line before sweeping and spreading to the east.  Its opposite heads west and is much thicker.  A third is tucked under the north arm in a tighter arc to the core.  I know from prior reading there are several HII regions to be seen in this galaxy but did not bring a finder.  I see one in the NE rim of the northern arm [A4]; a bright oval in the third arm between the north arm and the core [HB481-486]; a nearly detached cloud at the tip of the eastern arm [H1-2]; and a very faint cloud in the gap between the eastern and northern arms [A36-41].  [Identified come HII and star clouds with a finder from Deep Sky Forum.]

NGC 7008, PN in Aquarius, 8.0v, 44” x 23”: Unappealingly called the “Fetus Nebula,” which does, however, describe its appearance fairly well.  Pretty large, it would be oval shape if the SW side of it wasn’t raggedly missing from the rest, with some extensions hanging down from the remaining nebula.  It reminds me a little of one of those broken heart pendants, which is supposed to be matched with a corresponding, missing half.  The NE side is smoothly oval round, and has a bright rim.  Bright star at the SSW rim, the nebula seems to rise up from it like a genie from a bottle.  There are a few stars superimposed on the nebula but there is one in the geometric center.  What a weird sight.

Observing Reports / View from the Peak
« on: August 28, 2016, 10:58:58 AM »
Last night I went to Fremont Peak to support the public viewing night and to give my nearly finished 10-inch f/3.8 a darker sky try-out. I built a Springsonian mount for it; similar to a dobsonian but the axis of altitude rotation is at the eyepiece, not near the primary. I can sit comfortably and view, and move the scope to targets in that hour of right ascension without having to get up from my chair. I used an adjustable observer's chair so when the public guests came to my scope I could have them all sit for a view, no matter what height they were. The configuration proved it's worth when I was able to track the Jupiter/Venus conjunction all the way to the horizon while sitting, not having to contort or scrouch to reach the eyepiece. I used low power the whole night, 35x at 2.3° TFOV (with Paracorr). I have a fantasy about becoming an old school comet sweeper, and this is a good scope for it. It's wonderful for large extended objects and for dreamily scanning the Milky Way, which is pretty much what I did for the night.

SQML at zenith ranged from 20.7 to 20.9 from midnight to 2am. There was a marine layer to help with light pollution but we seemed to lose about half a mpas2 due to light scatter from the smoke. Winds were from the WSW so smoke was blowing over the site, and sometimes we could smell it. The sky from -10° down was badly obscured. When at meridian I could see the major stars making the Capricornus "smile," but no others within it. Fomalhaut shown brightly but I could not see any stars whatsoever below it. I found the Helix Nebula in the scope but it was a formless splotch. In the morning I hiked up to the summit. The sky to the south had very thick smoke haze as one would expect; here's a couple pictures.

The haze, of course, is merely an inconvenience, and will pass.  Those who have lost property and the family who lost their father to the fires deserve our compassion and support.

Observing Reports / Lake Sonoma 30 July
« on: July 31, 2016, 04:55:59 PM »
I drove up to Lake Sonoma the night of 30 July to get out from under the Soberanes Fire smoke haze blanketing the south bay.  The drive took about three hours from Fremont, with some unusually heavy traffic on 880 to Oakland and 101 by Petaluma.  But any frustration was softened by the sky, which became bluer and bluer the further north I travelled.

Dennis Beckley was setting up when I arrived, and we were joined a short time later by Renato del Rosario and Caroline Scolari.  Mark Toney and his party of four and more arrived at nightfall.  Seeing improved as the night went on, and transparency variable from good to average; SQM was in the 21.4 range.  Our equipment started dewing up at nightfall and I’m glad I wired up my telescope for it.

While setting up I noticed a small white thing in the sky to the north-north east; I assumed it was a balloon that broke free from a car dealership’s parking lot display.  Several minutes later I noticed it again, and thought it was weird it was the same size as before and near the same place, drifted just a little east.  About 20 minutes later Caroline called out that she had it in her 4-inch refractor: it was a Google Project Loon balloon.  She said she saw one from Chabot a few days ago and others had identified it there.  We were looking at it from below, so it was white, round, and you could see the webs in the balloon radiating from its center.  It looked like a strange round jellyfish.  The payload, where the WiFi and LTE electronics are carried, was not visible other than a whitish gap in the ribs of the balloon bottom.

I took a rest in my van while waiting for it to get dark, and emerged just in time to see the end of the unusually bright ISS pass to the north.  I tried to observe the Io shadow transit of Jupiter which was in progress that hour, but the seeing was too soupy low down and I only glimpsed a dark smudge.

Here are my astronomical observations with my 20-inch reflector:

NGC 1184, galaxy in Cepheus: Very pretty, small edge on.  Stellar nucleus with a fairly bright bulging core; halo is tapered to the tips and has a diffuse edge.  4:1 NNE-SSW.

I tried to find Comet 9P/Tempel which was about 3° ENE of Spica.  Since early June it travelled from behind Leo straight through the Virgo cluster and provided ample opportunity for views paired with galaxies – but I missed all of that.  In early July it was still bright enough to be seen in an 8-inch telescope.  Tonight it was to be close by to M-2-35-11, a 1.5’ x 1.5’ 13.1 V magnitude spot between 76 and 82 Virginis.  After scanning about at 100x, with and without a Comet filter, I could find neither the galaxy nor the comet.  I’ll blame the bad seeing present near the horizon, as even Dennis could not find it despite his computer driven 18-inch scope.

I re-observed M 1-64, “The Other Ring Nebula” in Lyra.  I had about as much trouble star hopping to it last month, which was a lot given the density of the field, but was obvious once picked up.  It was not as strikingly comet or triangle shaped as last time, and I recall the star its rim touches being brighter.  I picked it up at 205x, then went to 333x, and finally 667x.  This time I could distinguish the round shape of the nebula and not merge it to the star as a triangle shape.  It is small, round and grey, with a fat ring shape and slightly darker middle.  Its edges are defined but soft.  OIII hurt the view but UHC was the best.

NGC 6826, PN in Cygnus, “Blinking Planetary”: At 333x, the bright central star is obvious, a nice button of a star.  The shell at first appeared of even surface brightness with a bluish tinge.  It doesn’t really blink but stays steady – I can force it to blink with averted vision but it’s not necessary to blink to see the PN well.  While blinking with AV, I see the edges are diffuse and some annularity W-E.  With UHC, there is no central star but there are swirls in the blue disk, and I detected what appeared to be a very diffuse detached outer shell.

Nearby to the Blinking Planetary is double star 16 Cygni (aka ΣI 46), a sixth magnitude pair 39” separated.  The A has a “C” companion red dwarf with a separation of 73 AU.  Both the A and the B are sun like yellow dwarfs, and in 1996 an extrasolar planet was discovered around the B star.  But that’s not what brought me.  5.5” to the north are two galaxies.  UGC 11465 is 326.6 mly distant, B magnitude 14.4, at 333x was the brighter and larger of the pair, being an oval halo of uneven brightness, with a quasi-stellar nucleus and a brighter core with averted vision.  2.3” to the south (toward 61 Cygni) was a second galaxy, MCG+08-36-003, visual magnitude 14.0 but smaller (0.85’x 0.72’) 349.2 mly distant.  In between the two I noticed another very small, extremely faint patch, which when I match my sketch to Aladin appears to be 2MASX J19414452+5-37151; but it is hard to believe I saw this…likely it was a very faint star at my visual threshold.

NGC 6833, PN in Cygnus, at 333x was a very small, fairly faint not stellar point which blinked strongly with OIII.

NGC 6884, PN in Cygnus, at 333x was a small bright disk with diffuse soft edges.  Blue-green color, no central star.  Seen well without filter; it blinks with UHC.

Open Cluster AI J2005.2+4732 is plotted on the chart nearby so I stopped for a look.  It appeared in the 80mm finder as a small faint knot of stars.  I still had 333x loaded in the scope; the cluster had about 15 stars of similar brightness in loose concentration.  The main group formed a rectangle with an “L” shaped stream of stars near the middle; 6 other stars trailed off to the west.  I don’t get any hits on this on the internet.  I’d hazard a guess of Trumpler II1p

UGC 11500, galaxy in Cygnus, at 333x was a small elliptical with a brighter core in a very dense field.  [B mag 14.4 0.89’x0.748, 335.4mly].  Best to keep bright star 26 Cygni out of field of view.  It strikes me that it took modern photographic surveys to reveal many of the galaxies seen through the Milky Way stream, even though some of them are bright enough to be NGCs.  I suspect earlier visual observers could not sort out all the surrounding stars.

IC 1301, Galaxy in Cygnus: Small, faint, 2:1 elongation with diffuse edges and a brighter core, stellar nucleus.  AV needed to see it well.  5” to west of relatively bright [10.6 mag] star.  I’m surprised to see today on Aladin it is a spiral galaxy; 1.4’x0.99’ – I seem to have only detected the core region.

NGC 6764, Galaxy on the Cygnus – Draco border: Very interesting!  Not small but not very large, and rather diffuse, orientated ENE-WSW, 4:1.  It has four stars intersecting the slightly brighter core perpendicularly, three in a line and one to the east [turns out the northernmost star is the stellar nucleus].  There seems to be an arm reaching out from the ENE tip back around to the north.  [The galaxy is a barred spiral, and there is an arm here along with its opposite member to the SW which I did not notice].  2.5” to the SW is a small, diffuse round patch seen with averted vision [this is PGC 214715, 0.473 x 0.388].

NGC 6742, PN in Draco, at 333x medium size, bright, round with sharp edges.  No central star; blinks with OIII.

NGC 7076 (aka Abell 75) PN in Cepheus:  At 205x, a bit small, very diffuse, irregularly round with a kind of tail coming out of the southern end and swooping east.  Barely there unfiltered; UHC required for contrast.  Brighter in the middle of the glow, and a couple of stars in the north and east ends but not centered.

NGC 7139, PN in Cepheus: At 205x unfiltered it is an irregular round glow, medium size.  Disappears with OIII but UHC makes it bright.  Soft irregular edge and an unevenly bright middle.  No central star. 

Minkowsky M2-51, PN in Cepheus: “Little Ring Nebula”: Detected at 205x and seen well at 333x.  Picked up as a diffuse small round patch unfiltered, on the edge of a keystone asterism.  Not visible with OIII but UHC it was cleanly seen.  Central star seen with averted vision, and it pops out a fat ring, grey color, with soft edges.

Minkowsky M2-52, PN in Cepheus: Very faint irregularly round small glow, diffuse edges.  UHC best contrast; in a dense field.  No central star seen.

Around 1:00 am dew formed on my 80mm finder scope’s objective.  Luckily I had a chemical hand warmer packet in my gear box and I rubber banded it to the outside of the tube near the objective.  I did some low power Milky Way scanning for a few minutes while the warmer cleared the dew, and then I was back in business.

After so much faint stuff, and before trying more of it, I stopped by NGC 7789, Open Cluster in Cassiopeia, Caroline’s Cluster.  A distinct patch in the finder, the scope at 86x, 1° field revealed myriad stars, with whorls of dark lanes running through it.  It was spectacular.

Abell 82, PN in Cas: At 205x, the central star seen right off, with two other stars involved in the shell, which was a moderately large diffuse round glow best seen with UHC.  Lies in the western corner of a triangle of stars.

Vy 1-1, PN in Cas: Small bright slightly bloated star unfiltered.  Blinks best with UHC as a small grey disk with well defined edges, no central star.

NGC 7419, small open cluster in Cas: 30 faint stars fanning out from a brighter star in two directions forming an overall triangular shape. 

NGC 7635, “Bubble Nebula” in Cas: At 86x, and a UHC filter, it appears as a pretty large irregular grey mass with 4 stars crossing it in a string.  Streamers of nebulosity arcing around and away from it, primarily in a NW to SW direction.

NGC 6217 = Arp 185: Barred spiral in Ursa Minor:  Viewed at 205x and 333x.  Stellar nucleus with a 2:1 NE-SE pretty large halo, brighter core along the major axis.  There is an arm from the northern end going east then south, very faint.  Brightening on the SE part of the halo [which turns out to be the root of a second arm, oddly emerging from the same side as the first].

While I was studying this last object the others noticed fog welling up from the valleys surrounding the site.  It was 2:30am and we were forced to stop.  I made a quick sketch before packing in and heading home.

Observing Reports / Some planetaries and more
« on: July 05, 2016, 07:16:46 PM »
The night of July 2nd I met Mark Wagner and Mark Johnston for another session at Willow Springs 3000.  Transparency was very good with some haze around the horizon.  Seeing was variable – pretty good near zenith but not too great lower down; however it did improve overall after midnight.  Besides some of my Astronomical League project list targets, I did some free-range observing, wandering to objects on my Interstellarum Deep Sky Atlas which seemed interesting.  That led me to some unusual finds.  My thanks to Bob Ayers for the use of his property.

All in my 20-inch f/5.25 reflector:

NGC 6070, spiral galaxy in Serpens, @ 205x: Pretty large, fairly bright oval, SW-NE 2:1, with a clearly disrupted low surface brightness halo [which are the SA type spiral arms].  Brighter elliptical core with some knotting.  Faint star on SW tip of halo and two on the NE tip -- could be star forming regions?  [Aladin doesn’t say].  Best to keep bright star to north [HD 145204, 6.64 V] out of FOV.  I failed to notice NGC 6070A or B, just 4' and 5' to the NE.

UGC 10288, edge-on galaxy in Ser, 16 14 24 '-00 12 27, 14.2 V, Sc spiral, 4.023' x 0.483'. @ 205x: Faint edge on of mostly even brightness, gradually brightening to a small elongated core in the middle.  Quite long, 6:1 or more orientated precisely E-W.  DSS image shows a dust lane running the length and even disrupting the eastern tip. Surprised this is not an NGC!

Shane 1 = PN G013.3+32.7, @ 205x: Not too faint (12-13 mag) bloated star; OIII made it into a small round disk which blinks in and out.  Central star tentatively seen.  UHC has a good response.  Small arc of three faint stars just to the west.  Moderately rich field.

NGC 6172, elliptical galaxy in Ser, 12.9 V, 1.0' x 1.0', @ 205x: Small, round bright core with a very small / diffuse halo.  Forms a box with three other stars which lie just to the west.

NGC 6118, "Blinking Galaxy," Spiral galaxy in Ser, @ 205x: [Grand Design Sc II spiral, 4.7' x 2.0', 83mly].  Large, easily seen DV.  Halo is diffuse with ill defined edges, but I detect a gradually brightening center for a core.  3:1 NE-SW.  Why is it nicknamed Blinking?  Perhaps because AV helps it pop out a little from its surroundings; or helps it appear at all in moderate apertures.

NGC 5882, PN in Lupus, @ 205x: Very low (-45d 38m 58s)!  Unfiltered appears as a yellow-white sphere, boiling in the poor seeing with red flashes.  OIII pops it out strongly as a bright, even surface brightness disk with well defined edges.   No central star seen.

Havlen-Moffat 1, open cluster in Scorpius, @ 205x: Spray of 11 brighter stars in field, looks like a miniature Hercules constellation.  Hint of fainter small grey mist of unresolved stars at the bottom of the "keystone."  Bright star preceding.  [III 2 p]

NGC 6453, globular cluster in Sco, @ 333x: GC to 20' NE of M7, in same low power field.  Bright but not very resolved; moderately large irregular mass of unresolved stars behind a scattering of faint stars.  Two brighter stars on the eastern edge of the mass.

Minkowski M1-64, PN in Lyra, @ 333x:  Appears like a comet; fan shaped nebulosity with a star on the northern tip; almost a triangle.  [It is in fact a thick-ringed PN -- round with a dark interior.  The triangle may be an illusion due to the bright star on its rim.  I probably needed to use more magnification to see the ring.  It is, after all, referred to as "The Other Ring Nebula".  13.3 mag / 17.5'' x 17''].

NGC 6713, spiral galaxy in Lyra, @ 333x: [S0 13.4 v, 0.4' x 0.3'] Small, faint, oval slightly elongated ENE-WSW, slightly brighter to the middle with averted vision.  Rich star field.  Interesting to see it given the Milky Way plane is in the way.

Minkowski M1-92, PN in Cygnus, @ 333x: [Pre-planetary nebula, star drives high velocity collimated winds which shape and shock its shell.  11.7 v, 8’ x 16”.]  Very faint, small bloated star.  OIII elongates it very slightly, maybe NW-SE but hard to tell.  It brightens ever so little with blinking.

NGC 6853 / M27, Dumbbell Nebula, PN in Vul, @ 205x: Visible as irregular small grey patch in 80mm finder.  In the scope it is very large, nearly fills the field.  Bright bi-polar lobes SW and NE; apple core shape apparent; SW lobe is brighter.  Central star seen unfiltered in exact center, along with 8 more foreground stars scattered about.  Fainter nebulosity streaked with filaments fill in the empty core sections to complete the overall round shape of the nebula.  Streaks, knots, and condensations throughout the apple core area.  UHC has the best view; more stars and balance with the nebula.

IRAS 19477+2401, 19 49 54.5 +24 08 51, PN in Vul, @ 333x: "Cloverleaf Nebula".  This is plotted in Interstellarum and I “thought” I found it: a faint star which turns into a very small bluish blinking irregularly round glow with OIII; it is part of a triangle of stars of similar brightness.  But, looking at DSS images later I found the nebula is an extremely faint point just to the north side of one of these stars in the triangle, and not the one I thought was the PN.  It would be very cool if it were visible: it is a Pre-Planetary Nebula, a short-lived transition object between AGB stars and aspherical PNs.

Kohoutek K 3-35, PN in Vul, @ 333x: "Seahorse Nebula" [Very young planetary nebula with characteristic S-shaped radio emission morphology… one of two PNs with water maser emission detected -- means it's ejecting water into space!  See link for discussion of how the shape is being formed.]  In the scope, it appeared very small, extremely faint, out of round, and blinked with OIII.   It is the brighter of two very close stars; the other star is to the north and appears as an optical pairing; it doesn’t blink.  This one matched my sketch and a DSS image so I’m fairly confident of the sighting – but feel such an obscure object deserves a return visit for confirmation.

NGC 6857, emission nebula in Cyg, @ 205x: Pretty bright and large, it is irregularly round with diffuse edges.  OIII helps to bring out more nebulosity especially to a faint smudge heading west from the main body.  Very dense star field.

NGC 6888, EN in Cyg, @ 121x: “Crescent Nebula”:  Wow!  Amazing and large.  Triangle of bright stars to NE with a bright, thin band of nebulosity sweeping west and then south in an arc.  Continuing to the south, the nebula widens into a cloud with a prominent condensation at the SW rim.  Many faint stars interspersed within the nebula.  OIII makes it instantly brighter and completes the arc into an overall oval shape with streaks of nebulosity reaching back from SW to the NE.  But, UHC had the best view given the greater number of stars visible in the dense field.

NGC 6894, PN in Cyg: Unfiltered appears as a thick ring, slightly darker middle.  No central star.  OIII brightens the ring and adds highlights to the center.  There are differing bright and dark areas in the smooth round nebula; it looks like a primary mirror under Foucault test!

NGC 6723, GC in CrA, @205x: "Chandelier."   Large, bright, well resolved to the core.  Chains of stars seem to hang down from a concentration in the northern part of the core, thus its nickname.  Beautiful object. [7.3 V, 11' diameter].

NGC 6726-7, Bright Nebulae in CrA, @ 205x: Two fairly bright stars with nebulosity.  The one to SSW is 6726 [7.2 mag star] and NNE is 6727 [9.5 mag star].  Both nebulae are irregularly round and contact each other; look like porch lights in a fog, one house further away than the other.  To the SSE in the same field is another star with short cone-shaped nebulosity coming from it, appearing like a comet's tail [this is NGC 6729].  To the SW at the edge of the field is a pair of stars with more, fainter nebulosity; this is IC 4812 and it is illuminated by a double star.  There is general haziness in the sky in the view, part of the Corona Australic Molecular Cloud.

IC 1297, PN in CrA, @ 333x: Bright bloated star unfiltered, blinking disk with OIII.  Disk is bright with an even brightness, defined edges.  Central star seen, with very subtle darkening in the middle.  Very faint star on western rim.

NGC 6891, PN in Delphinus, @ 333x: Unfiltered, can see central star with averted vision.  Direct vision it is a disk with defined edges; seems to have an apple core shape within the round shell.  With OIII it has a bluish tinge and the "apple core" inside the disk is better defined.

Patchick 23, PN in Sge, @ 205x: Large (filled 60% of the 0.5* FOV), excessively faint, irregularly round.  Seen only with OIII, appears as a subtle greyscale difference less dark than the dark sky background, and moves with the telescope.  I offer this as a tentative observation; frustratingly I cannot find any information on the internet, even on the Strasbourg ESO catalog – though I’m probably entering “wrong” search terms.  I find some research papers written by Mr. Patchick, but none that reference #23.

Before turning in I made a half-hearted attempt at Pease 1 in M15; but is was past 4am and for the life of me I could not find the “trapezium” of stars which are, on my finder, the starting point to star hop to this object.  Will save it for another time.

Observing Reports / Willow Springs
« on: June 14, 2016, 11:05:23 PM »
I was very happy to join the others at Willow Springs, so beautifully described by Mark Wagner in his post.  With the recent cloudy nights I've finally caught up with my recordkeeping, so here's my contribution.

I used my 20-inch and tried to make some headway on the H2 list but I was a little bit unfocussed in my observing.  I noticed some interesting things on the chart and spent time observing those.  I took some views of different things on the others' scopes.  I especially enjoyed Copeland's Septet in Marko's scope; I'll have to come back to it on my own.  Here are my recorded observations, all at 205x except the Hercules Cluster at 333x:

SN 2016coj in NGC 4125, galaxy in Draco: 4125 has a smallish bright elliptical core with very faint halo, WNW-ENE 2:1.  Supernova 2016coj was just to the east of the core, still well within the halo; a bright point, brighter than the core itself.  I read the day before it was 14.3 magnitude, but it could have brightened.  3.8' to SSE is NGC 4121, small faint roundish patch.

NGC 3065, Gx in Ursa Major: Small, bright round core, stellar nucleus.  Round haze hints of halo.  NGC 3066 3' to the SSE, a little fainter but about as large, round.

NGC 3516, Gx in UMa: Small.  Bright core, very slightly out of round ENE-WSW; very diffuse round halo.

Arp 329, Galaxy chain in Dra: A small, faint mist, shallow-S shaped, 1.2' long, with three condensations seen.  I should have tried higher magnification; these are three of five members of the galaxy chain, 16.88 mag to 18.03.

NGC 3622: Gx in UMa: Need to keep 6.2 mag star SAO 15478 to SSE out of FOV.  2:1 N-S elongation, fairly bright core appears disrupted with a couple bright patches on the west end of the core.  Very faint halo appears a little longer to the south of the core.  Said to be an inclined spiral.

NGC 3735, GX in Dra: Lovely bright long edge on, 4:1 NW-SE.  Stellar nucleus is a little SE of center and is like a ball floating on the halo.  Bright elongated core and uneven brightness halo which fades imperceptibly to the tips.

NGC 4133, Gx in Dra: Face on spiral.  Needed to keep nearby bright star to south (HR 4627, 6.34 v mag) out of the FOV.  Rather small and faint, the core is oval and of uneven surface brightness, faint.  Seems to be a dark lane on the west side.  Diffuse halo is elliptical, NW-SE.  11' to SE near edge of FOV is UGC 7189, 14.8 b mag, a small faint oval patch with brighter core NNW-SSE

NGC 4236, Gx in Dra: Large, long maybe 6:1 NNW-SSE elongation, low surface brightness halo with a gradually brightening core and a sudden sharp stellar nucleus (which could be a fortuitously placed foreground star). Several foreground stars and perhaps fainter non-stellar patches on the SSE tip. Detected with AV and then can hold in DV, there is a bulge in the halo on the SW facing side of the NNW tip.  The "bulge" I find in Aladin using the NED filter are identified as HII regions (the brighter being HK83 16, 17, & 18). One of the brighter "non-stellar patches" on the SSE tip (it is in line with the major axis of the halo) Aladin has as VII Zw 446, mis-identified by Zwicky as a separate compact blue galaxy.

NGC 4250, Gx in Dra: Stellar nucleus, bright oval core NNW-SSE.  Very diffuse roundish halo.  AV widens and lengthens the amount of halo seen.  It is a barred spiral seen face on.

NGC 4256, Gx in Dra: Beautiful, bright long edge on.  Stellar nucleus and tight round core which floats on the long halo, gradually fading to its tips.  Extends 2/3rds the FOV, 5:1 NE-SW.

NGC 4291, Gx in Dra: Bright round core, round faint halo; slight mottling in outer edges of core.  Lies as one corner of a rectangle with three foreground stars.  With 4319 and 4386 in view.

NGC 4319, Gx in Dra: Fainter than 4291, has an elongated rice grain shape N-S core and a faint roundish halo.  Markarian 205 quasar is a stellar point just S of core, 1 billion light years away!  To the north on edge of FOV is NGC 4386: Bright round core with elongated halo piercing it, NW-SE 3:2.

Abell 2151, the Hercules Galaxy Cluster: I started out with the string of galaxies comprised of 6040A/B, 6041A/B, and 6042. It was easy to find and brighter than I recall at Fremont Peak the prior week. The A/B pairs were more clearly split, and IC 1170 popped out consistently with AV, and I could barely hold it DV. I used this group as my home base as I searched around the area. Letting the sky drift a little to the east, I could easily make out NGC 6045 following a wedge of stars, the two ends of which were hazy patches NGC 6043 and NGC 6047, respectively. 6045 had a very slightly brighter elongated core and very faint halo; stare as I might I could not see small 6045B attached to the following tip.  NGC 6050A followed this group and appeared as a small round mist with a pretty bright core; 6050B (IC 1179) appeared as a small bulge to 6050A’s halo. NGC 6054 was very faint & small, with a NE-SW elongation just detectable. IC 1182 and 1184 following it were faint small non-stellar patches, forming a triangle with 6054. IC 1178 and 1181 appeared as a slightly larger than small irregularly round haze with two very hazy slightly brighter areas for their cores. NGC 6044 was very faint, small, round. I had the sense of seeing of the other ICs and PGCs, though I was straining a bit to detect the very faint small glows and could not describe them well – I have to get more used to viewing these very faint objects.

NGC 6026, Planetary Nebula in Lupis: Central star seen easily.  Faint small round shell.  OIII makes shell disappear at first but can bring it back with more contrast by blinking.  Inner part of shell is brighter, with a thin diffuse haze around it.  OIII loses the CS

NGC 5986, Globular Cluster in Lup: Bright, pretty large; string of resolved stars runs E-W along the northern half.  Bright star at NE edge.  Highly concentrated and compact.  About 50 resolved stars in front of grey mass.

NGC 6072, PN in Scorpius: Pretty bright, brighter central glow; overall diffuse and round.  Ill defined edges; greenish color.  OIII enhances view and reveals mottling in the shell and an inner ring structure.

HP 1, GC in Ophiuchus:  Haute-Provence 1, mag. 12.1, size 1.2'.  According to one "Dennis" who posted his image of the object in IceInSpace: "Globular Cluster HP 1 was discovered by Dufay (1954), and sometimes referred to as "HP" for the Haute-Provence Observatory where the discovery occurred (e.g., Sawyer Hogg 1959). This designation was mutated to HP 1 as more globular clusters were discovered at that observatory in the 1960s by Terzan.  Until recently, it was thought that HP 1 is situated close to the Galactic Center, but recent estimates have put it as far as about 20,000 light years beyond, to a total distance of 46,000 light years from us."  In my scope it appeared as a very faint, small irregular splotch at the western rim of a shallow upturned arc of 5 stars.  The greyishness began to turn grainy with AV, hinting of some resolved stars

At ~3:30am I was too tired to focus on chasing particular targets, though the sky was chock full of them.  I put in my lowest power eyepiece (1 degree TFOV) for some sweeping through the Milky Way.  The grey sky background became grainy with resolving stars.  Dark cracks appeared in the graininess, dark nebulae or just gaps in stars.  Then, a giant globular cluster came to view, bright, concentrated, and well resolved, with streamers of stars radiating out into that dense grainy Milky Way field.  A sight I hope not to forget.

TAC Visual / SN 2016coj in NGC 4125
« on: June 03, 2016, 10:37:20 AM »
I just heard about this one, in Draco; will give it a try this weekend (along with SN 2016cok in M66 Marko highlighted yesterday).  14.8 mag.  Discovered at Lick a few days ago!

Observing Reports / Fremont Peak May 29th
« on: May 30, 2016, 10:58:10 PM »
To follow on to what Peter said in his OR, we were very fortunate the weather turned in our favor.  The marine layer and good seeing combined to make the trip up the Peak totally worth the effort.

All three of us watched Io start to transit Jupiter, its bright disk still visible contrasted against the North Equatorial Belt.  It was a fun way to spend the time until it grew fully dark.  Peter pointed out how one could tell the relative size of the moons from their disk sizes, which I hadn’t noticed before. 

I continued through my AL H2 and PN lists.  Despite darkness coming so late in the evening, I made many observations which I am still sorting through.  Here’s some of the more striking, all in my 20-inch:

NGC 5850, barred spiral galaxy in Virgo, 205x: Lies at the eastern end of an east to west row of four galaxies in the field.  Pretty large, with a brighter round core and a very faint round halo with extensions seen sweeping from the eastern end headed northwest, and from the western end headed southeast.  Elliptical NGC 5846 is next in line to the west, with a bright round core but a very diffuse halo, with extensions which seem to sweep from the east and west sides to the north; 5846A appears as a nonstellar patch involved in the southern rim of 5846’s halo.  NGC 5845 is a very small faint elliptical patch further west.  SO galaxy NGC 5849 is on the far west of the field, and has a stellar nucleus with a small, very faint halo. 

Globular cluster 5053 in Coma Berenices, at 205x appeared as a large grey cloud of unresolved stars, very much like the smoke from a spent firework.  Resolved stars are in a loose concentration generally radiating from the center.  The grey arms spread in all directions but are longer and denser east and west.

Elliptical NGC 5129 was small, with a stellar nucleus and a bright core, elongated 3:2 north to south.  Barred spiral NGC 5132 was to the north-northeast, fainter, small, stellar nucleus and a round halo with a slightly brighter bar appearing as a NE-SW condensation within the halo.  Elliptical NGC 5136 was to the southeast edge of the field, very faint, averted vision needed to clearly discern 3:2 W-E elongated halo and to brighten the core.  Three excessively faint nonstellar patches surrounding a star just southeast of NGC 5129 I find today are 13th magnitude 2MASS designated galaxies.

Sc Spiral NGC 5523 was very striking: Pretty large, low surface brightness halo, 5:1 west to east elongation inclined spiral, with a slightly brighter core.  Some mottling noticed in the halo, hints of spiral structure. 

NGC 5529 was a pleasant surprise: A lovely long Sc spiral seen nearly edge on, 6:1 or more WNW-ESE.  Long core is brighter on the southern edge (dark lane across the north?).  Halo fades imperceptibly to the tips.

NGC 6210, “Turtle” Planetary Nebula in Hercules was visible in my 80mm finder as a rather bright star.  At 333x the inner shell is bright green, slightly oval shape NW-SE, with a diffuse edge.  With averted vision, a fainter larger rectangular outer nebula becomes apparent.  More time with averted vision brought out very faint extensions to the corners of the rectangle – two tending north and two tending south, which are the Turtle’s “legs”.  No head, though....  OIII seemed to enhance these extensions.  Without filter, the central star shown through the inner shell very briefly with averted vision as a bright button, just following the geometric center—held about 20% of the time.  533x revealed some additional mottling in the shell but oddly I could not see the central star – must have lost the seeing.

When Peter mentioned he was looking at the Hercules Cluster (Abell 2151) it reminded me I had planned to look at it too.  I used a finder printed from Paul Alsing’s website.  Suffice to say all were near threshold objects, and took all my concentration to see at all.  The finder helped me confirm the star fields and then observe the objects.  Using 333x, I saw NGC 6040 as a very faint longish streak with 6039 as a extremely faint condensation at its tip.  NGC 6041 barely split from 6041A; IC 1170 was not seen.  NGC 6042 was relatively easy as a very faint patch.  Nudging the scope a little east, NGC 6045 appeared as an extremely faint streak; but MAC 1605+1745 was not seen.  NGC 6043A was a very faint patch, as was NGC 6047.  NGC 6050 was an excessively faint slightly larger than a patch haze, and 6054 were excessively faint very small haze.   This was the hardest I’ve worked for an observation yet. 

From around 2am I spent time in M101 and found all the objects noted in Howard Banich’s S&T article “The Determined Observer’s Guide to M101,” with the exception of SN 2011fe.  It was wonderful to explore this amazing object.

I spent the rest of the night viewing galaxies in Ursa Major’s handle until finally I had enough.  Last looks at Mars and Saturn, then a little rest in my car before dawn broke and it was time to head home.

Monday night I used the Challenger telescope on my own for the first time.  I knew it wouldn’t be a great night transparency wise, but I really wasn’t expecting to accomplish much serious observing.  I just needed the time to learn the ropes.  The maritime metaphor is apt: a thick marine layer spread over all the surrounding valleys and looked like a ghostly ocean, its slow swells tinted by the setting sun.  As I stood high atop the wooden rolling steps holding the massive yet smoothly moving telescope in my hand, the wind blowing and the wood observatory creaking, I felt like a sailor atop the rigging of a ship setting off on a voyage.

I made the usual rookie mistakes.  I’d forget to change the secondary’s position after shifting the telescope to different parts of the sky, so I’d have to lower it back down and reset.  Or I’d forget to remove the 3” to 2” reducer from one focuser to the next.  Or I’d remember to change the secondary’s position but left my eyepiece in the wrong focuser.  I struggled to find a good position for the wooden rolling steps, and I rammed the concrete pier more than a few times.  I slowly learned which focuser position would be best for different angles of the scope.  It was weird looking at an object with my back to it and me on the steps looking up.  What is worse, I couldn’t get the key to open the cabinet to retrieve the finder scope eyepiece, so I was left to use just the Telrads to find targets.  The number of objects I can find with the Telrad is limited, but it was enough to get me through the night.  To use the Challenger effectively in the future I will need to learn how to use its digital setting circles.

I started out with the Leo Triplet, just to get orientated; both of M65 & M66 were bright and large, and NGC 3628 showed up well despite not being fully dark. 

Once darkness came I wandered about the sky, practicing how to move the telescope.  Omega Centauri was pale, but it was submerged in low haze.   M68 was bright and broken apart, well resolved to the core.  There was a very faint round haze with a brighter core, just to the side of a nearby star: it was galaxy ESO-506-29.  M4 looked like a barred spiral galaxy, with many curving loops and bands twirling away from the core, which has a bright red star just off center. 
Around midnight coyotes started singing to each other from two distant hilltops, and I noticed that the telescope had become pretty well drenched with dew.  I rolled the roof back over it and went into the observatory's classroom for a rest.  I fell asleep in a chair, and surprised myself awake at 2:30am.

By then the scope was dry, and the sky was still and much improved, registering a respectable 21.36 on the SQML.  Summer targets were higher.  There was Daneb, last seen sinking to the west on New Year’s night.  And what is Cassiopeia doing, rising already in the east?

NGC 6528 & 6522, twin globular clusters off Gamma Sagittari, the tip of the teapot’s spout, seen at 118x in the same FOV.   I experimented with different eyepiece combinations and filters while scanning around the summer Milky Way.  What does the core of M22 look like at 1463x?  Like shining from shook foil.

The core of M13 at 915x is a spangle of stars surrounding a small, grayish round cocoon of yet unresolved stars, with many dark paths twisting away from it.  All those dark lanes really surprised me.

M57 was pretty high so I gave it a try.  It was a fat greenish tube, with annular wisps pinched off the NE and SW rims.  Its companion star was a bright steady button.  I increased magnification to 915x and, while bringing my eye to the center of the eyepiece, glimpsed the shy central star, which quickly withdrew into the dim central nebulosity.  I coaxed it back out with my averted eye.  It appeared for a while as a nebulous condensation, then the small round button of star flashed out, held with averted vision for about five seconds.  Tendrils of nebulosity reached from the inner ring into the dimmer center.  The Challenger’s spot-on tracking really helped because I could concentrate on looking rather than bumping the scope along to keep pace with the sky.  What is more, I was able to see IC 1296 as an extremely faint, small elongated glow off to the west of the Ring while viewing at 281x. 

In the morning I gazed over the marine layer as the sun tinted it, now from the brown brink eastward.  I hiked to the top of the Peak to take in the full panorama, and to add my small shadow to the shadow the Peak cast on the ocean of clouds below.

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