Saturday, September 19, 1998

A Night with the Little Bear (long)

A Night with the Little Bear.

(To skip to the observation list, go to the ****)

Getting there...

On the afternoon of Saturday, September 19, 1998, my observing partner Alan Nelms and I headed out of town to join other observers at Fiddletown, at the invitation of a couple regulars at that site. Neither Alan or I had ever been to the Fiddletown Observatory, but I knew roughly where it lay, as I had been scouting the area just south of there a few months before, a trip where I happened to run across the historic California site of the state's first recorded amateur astronomical observatory a few miles west of the quaint town of Volcano and Daffodil Hill. After a few hours of driving the back road highways across California's breadbasket, we entered the gold country town of Ione and were soon were on our way to Plymouth. Plymouth was once neighbors, during the gold rush, with another town named Pokerville. Plymouth lies along the aptly named highway 49, and is the jumping off point toward the small hamlet of Fiddletown. The drive along Fiddletown Road is one of pastoral beauty, with ancient oaks lining the drive over the rolling hillsides. The dry grasses, stretching far as the eye can see, gives the landscape a golden hue, leading some to believe it is the derivation of California's official name of "The Golden State." I tend to believe the Gold Rush had a bit to do with the name.

Passing through Fiddletown, one cannot help but look at the old buildings, street names, and surrounding area and feel immersed in California history. It is, in a real sense, a time machine. Welcome back to the days of the real 49'ers. To give a bit of the flavor of the time, I will quote from one of the travel books I recently purchased:

"Fiddletown's fame must, in part, rest on its name. Founded by Missourians in 1849, it was named by an elder in the group who described the younger men as "always fiddling." It kept the name until 1879 when it was changed to Oleta at the insistence of a Judge Purinton, who was embarrassed to be known in Sacramento (California's governmental capitol) and San Francisco as that "man from Fiddletown." The old name, whose charm was quickly recognized by Bret Harte and immortalized by him in An Episode in Fiddletown, was restored in the 1920's.

It was here that a certain Judge Yates reached the limit of his patience in listening to an outlandish whopper and created a classic in courtroom procedure. After hearing all he could stand, he finally turned to the witness, banged down the gavel, and said, "I declare court adjourned. This man is a damned liar." After this statement, he again banged his gavel and stated, "Court is in session."

Another bit of Fiddletown history tells of a man who was accused of stealing $10,000 from the town's Wells Fargo safe. "A mob quickly assembled to hang the supposedly guilty party. They strung their man up several times but sympathizers kept cutting him down. He protested his innocence and finally the deputy sheriff and a doctor arrived on the scene. They cut him down and revived him, but he was paralyzed for months. It was later discovered that their victim had not even bene in town the night of the robbery, and that one of the members of the hanging mob was the culprit."

When I visit this area, visions of Mark Twain's stories, stagecoach bandits, gunfights, bustling bawdy saloons and brothels, and gold rush fever come to mind. It is a great place to "get away" to, and provides darker skies than can be had back home, in "civilization."

Soon, we were unpacking our scopes on the historic ground, ready to pan the night sky for treasure. At nightfall, it would be a few observers, the sweet smell of the countryside, and the heavens...


Being there.... u The site is dry. There is an observatory where a few telescopes are stored. There is a building that was intended as a place to sleep and perhaps get out of the day's heat, but is now inhabited by bats. It is not a large observing area, but was able to handle the perhaps one dozen scopes that were there. The observing group ranged from the greenest newbie to some of the most experienced deep sky aficionados on our little rock. The equipment ranged, in ascending aperture, from 20X80 binos on a binocular mount, to two 10" f/5.6 dobs, up to three 17.5'ers, and 18", and two 20". Other equipment remained in the observatory.

The sky was mostly clear, except for a few bands of cirrus to the northwest.

I was using my new telescope for the first time, a 20" f/5 Obsession that was previously owned by my other close observing buddy. I would begin the night using a 27 Panoptic at 94x, but soon found I enjoyed the greater contast with my regular eyepiece, the 19 Panoptic, yielding 134x. I used no other eyepieces, and my finder was a Telrad.

We were going to work an area of the sky that suffers brightness at Fremont Peak, and would play in the den of the Little Bear for the evening. This too is fitting, from a historic perspective, since the state's flag's most prominent feature is a bear.

My observing program is the Herschel list (not the 400). Alan and I have now completed many of the constellation's entries on the list, but have neglected the far northern skies due to brightness in that direction at our usual observing location. Tonight we would begin and complete Ursa Minor's Herschels, along with some interesting diversions and surprises. I use a list generated with Gary Dean William's DOS program NGP (New General Program), sorting the Herschels first by constellation, then in decreasing magnitude (mags are listed in .5 mag steps).

I will list the objects by in the order we viewed them, by NGC name, and with this additional information: I used Software Bisque's _The_Sky_ level IV, version 4.0 (noted as "TS" in my notes) as a chart.. Alan had brought his laptop too, so we used both simultaneously, one showing a wide-field (50 degree) view of the sky with the object centered, the other computer displaying the FOV of a 20 Nagler in an 18" F/4.5 telescope (a bit of a wide view for my purposes). Here is a key to the descriptive notes below:

Other names Type / Class RA2000 / Dec Size / PA VMag - BMag - SB (surface brightness) U2000 / NGC description. (Information generously provided by Steve Gottlieb, only the descriptions that follow are mine)


U10470 = M+13-12-008 = Arp 185 
16.32.7 +78,12
11.2 11.8 13.2
11 B,cL,lE,slBM
This object stood out without difficulty. It is a round galaxy with a bright core, located between to naked eye stars (SAO8257 at mag 5.6 and SAO8612 at mag 6.0) off the handle side of the dipper's cup. Two bright stars in the FOV point right at this fairly good sized galaxy. If you are in the neighborhood, toward a grouping of six stars (two bright, to dimmer, two dim) forming a noticeable V asterism, sits UGC10509 (mag 15.1 on TS).



U08420 = Mrk 256 = 7Z 511 = M+12-13-005 
GX Scp
13 22.9 +70 31
1.2x0.9 150
13.1 13.4 13
26 cB,S,R,g,sBM
This object is located by finding 6 Draconis (mag 4.0) and 4 Draconis, along with Thuban (11-Alpha Draconis at mag 3.7) and its close neighbor10 Draconis. Using these stars as to describe a line, it is easy to find two dimmer stars back toward the end of the dipper. The target stars are SAO7854 (mag 5.7) and more difficult SAO7814 (mag 6.1). Placing a Telrad such that SAO7854 is just outside the middle circle, just away from 4 and 6 Draconis, should put you in the area of NGC5144. This is a round galaxy with close neighbor CGCG336-7 (KUG1318+709 or PGC46524, mag 15.5 on TS). It is easy to find the dimmer galaxy as there is a "box" configuration of bright stars in its direction from NGC5144.



U09649 = M+12-14-015 = Z337-025
14 57 45.3 +71 40 55
3.7x2. 245
12.1 12.9 14.2
27 pB,cL,iR,bp,r
This galaxy appeared large and diffuse, having no readably discernable features other than an amorphous shape. It is easy to identify the correct field, as there is a mag 6.2 star (SAO8140) in the same FOV, which is a very bright lighthouse. This object is easy to locate with a Telrad by placing Pherkad (13-Gamma Ursae Minoris, mag 3.1), the dimmer of the end stars in the bowl of the dipper, just inside the outer Telrad circle, then get mag 2.1 Kochab (7-Beta Ursae Minoris) just outside the other side of the Telard circle. The line described with these two stars should just about split through the centerline between the outer and middle Telrad circles. SAO8140 should be very close to the center of the Telard.



U10124 = M+12-15-038
15 57.5 +70 41
2.2x1.7 140
12.3 13.3 13.7
28 F,R,bM
This object was a blast to observe, as it has a good number of neighbors in or very near the FOV. Other objects viewed along with NGC6048 were, UGC10142 (mag 15.4), NGC6071 (mag 14.8), MCG12-15-47 (mag 15.0), MCG12-15-45 (15.8), IC1187 (mag 16), all mags from TS. Most of these were at the limits of averted vision. But, all these are not available if you don't know how to get there from here. Using Pherkad (mag 3.1) and it's side of the dipper bowl as a landmark, your Telrad circle should be lined up along the ling described by Pherkad and Kochab, such that it parallels the long axis of the bowl of the dipper on Pherkad's side. The closest outer Telrad circle should be about 2 degrees away (the distance between the outer and middle Telrad circles). Magnitude 5.3 SAO17062 and mag 5.4 SAO16962 should sit outside the opposite side of the Telrad circles, by a distance of roughly one degree. Also, using a line described by Kochab and Pherkad, roughly the same distance out past Pherkad, sits mag 5.6 star SAO16794, which should be located just outside the outer circle of your Telrad. Good luck finding these galaxies... it is great fun tracking them down!



U10126 = M+13-11-019
15 55.4 +79 00
1.1x0.7 155
12.8 13.6 12.4
11 vF,vS,lE0,r
You know the old real estate saying "location, location, location...", well, NGC6068 has location going for it. It is a very easy find, located virtually on the line from mag 4.3 16-Zeta Ursae Minoris (the bowl star that attaches to the dipper's handle), to mag 4.4 22-Epsilon Ursae Minoris (the first handle star away from the bowl). The Telrad should be placed such that 16-Zeta is just outside the middle circle. In fact, the outer circle should be just inside the from the star 15-Theta Ursae Minoris (a naked eye double with 16-Zeta). That will place you "right-on" NGC6068. This galaxy is round, and has a dimmer companion (NGC6068A) a short 2' away. 6068A is listed in TS as mag 15.0, but it is not difficult to detect. Along with this pair, UGC10119 and UGC10132 are in the area, but I was unable to detect them.



U10725 = M+13-12-016
17 05.4 +75 24
0.9x0.5 78
12.8 13.8 11.9
11 vF,S,E,S*s
Where NGC6068 had easy location, NGC6324 is completely lacking in any good markers to aid in detection. Yes, there is a mag 6.3 star next to it (SAO8607), but that is getting pretty dim for naked eye. The best method I found to arrive at this NGC is to use the line of the bowl of the dipper described by 16-Zeta and mag 5.0 21-Eta Ursae Minoris, extend the line out further that direction about the same distance, and place the edge of the outer Telrad circle right on the imaginary line. the other outside Telrad line should be in the direction of mag 5.0 star 35 Draconis, which is about as far from the other edge of the Telrad is as 16-Zeta is from the first star in the handle of the dipper (22-Epsilon). In the field with NGC6324 will be mag 8.3 star SAO8710 and mag 10.8 GSC 4568, the two brightest stars in the center of the field. The galaxy is located midway between the two stars.



U08295 = M+12-13-001
13 12 19.1 +70 38 58
0.9x0.7 15
13.2 14.2 12.6
26 vF,vS,R
This round galaxy is located by placing the Telrad outside circle on two dim stars. Almost midpoint between the end stars of Draco (Thuban and mag 4.1 SAO15532 aka Giausar, aka 1-Lambda Draconis) is the jumping off point to find mag 5.8 SAO7814. The Telrad should be placed between the two Draconis stars noted above, with SAO7814 being on the opposite side of the Telrad outer circle. Also, have the outside Telrad circle toward Thuban rest on mag 5.5 star SAO7854. This will place you directly on the lone round galaxy NGC5034. It is easy to identify the location in the eyepiece, as the field has about six stars of equal magnitude, to that are a close pair.



U08867 = M+13-10-014
13 54.4 +78 13
2.0x1.5 120
13.3 13.9 14.3
10 vF,pL,iR,vgvlbM

This round galaxy is in an easy location to drop on. Looking at the end stars in the dipper's bowl, proceed from Pherkad to Kochab, then arc slightly to mag 4.4 SAO8024 (5 Ursae Minoris). Continue on the arc to SAO7958 (5 Ursae Minoris). Drop slightly away from the dipper, just off the line described by 4 and 5 Ursae Minoris. Keep star 4 on the middle circle (2 degree) circle of the Telrad. You should now have NGC5452 in your field of view. The field itself has a few pair of stars to help you identify the galactic location. One pair is next to a bright star, and the other pair is on the opposite side of the field and contains a bright star (but dimmer than the other bright star).



U09189 = Mrk 286 = 7Z 547 = M+12-14-001
14 19.5 +71 35
13.4 13.9 12.8
27 pF,cS,iR,bM,er
This galaxy is the second Markarian I had run across during the night. The other was U08420, viewed when I found NGC5144. The galaxy has a bright core, and its relatively small size makes it stand out even though it has a rather dim magnitude. From this spot, it was a very easy 20' "walk" over to the very dim CGCG337-9, listed on TS at mag 15.7. These galaxies were also easy to locate, as the stars 16-Zeta (where the handle connects to the bowl of the dipper) and Kochab point almost exactly at their position. There is a mag 5.4 star (SAO16035) on the noted line, and by placing your Telrad's outer circle on that star such that the circle's furthest point is just to the right of this star, you will be in the proper position. Try it and let me know if it works for you.


By now, the little bear was becoming a very familiar friend. I was quickly learning the approximate boundaries of the constellation, and its dimmer components off the main asterism of the dipper. I shared views of some brighter objects with other members of our group. The new telescope was an absolute joy to use. Fortunately the observatory had a few extra ladders, as I had wrongly assumed I would be tall enough to reach zenith on my short step ladder. I also made the rounds, filling everyone's cups with my customary observing beverage, which everyone gladly accepted. The party was relaxed and friendly, the sky dark, the temperatures just verging on cool, but thoroughly comfortable. It was not even midnight, and things were going great.

After a short break, I went after...


U10501 = M+14-08-010
16 32 31.8 +82 32 16
12.6 13.6 13.7
11 cF,S,bM,p of 2
This one was a snap to get to, and yielded a treasure of other objects. Round galaxy NGC6251 is almost on the first handle star from the bowl of the dipper. Go to 22-Epsilon Ursae Minoris (SAO2770) and you're there (okay just a tick off the star inside the arc of the handle, toward Polaris. Your field of view will include NGC6251, and right off it will be the small galaxy NGC6252 at mag 15.24 (TS). Traveling form 6251 to 6252 and beyond in that direction, you will find UGC10464 (mag 15.50) at the end of a noticeable chain of stars that begin with a bright field star. Going back to the original pair, look for the side 90 degrees away from your last traverse where there are fewer bright stars. Travel that direction, you will come to several noteworthy pairs of stars that will eventually lead to a line of three stars very close together and descending in brightness, right next to MCG448-5 (mag 15.50) spiral galaxy (I did not detect the spiral, I feel fortunate to detect anything that dim). Coming again back to the original pair, and Traveling the opposite direction from UGC10464, you will see a line of four stars that point to two. When at the two stars, you will see another chain of four, with a noticeable chain of three almost 90 degrees different in orientation, with a tight dim pair off the last star. You are in the neighborhood now of mag 15.2 CGCG367-15. This one was tough to pick out, requiring lots of patience an averted vision.



U08719 = M+13-10-012
GX Sab
13 45.6 +76 50
1.4x0.4 163
13.5 14.4 12.8
10 vF,pS,lE0
Moving on, Alan and I went after NGC5323. This one is at another easy to locate position. Going from Kochab toward the mag 4.3 star arcing away from the bowl (5 Ursae Minoris), you can use their angular distance to go beyond 5 Ursae and ever so slightly away from Polaris. The galaxy should be in your field. This one stands alone in the eyepiece, but it is easy to identify due to the "V" string of stars almost pointing at it. Across form the V is a tight triangle of stars, one of the brightest in the field. If that is not enough, there is a group of three stars (bright, dimmer, bright) just at the edge of the field. No problem hitting this target.



U09095 = Z353-031
GX Dbl
14 09 45.0 +78 36 04
13.5 14.5z 12.2
10 UMa eF,vS,E0
Here is a discrepancy. Gottlieb's notes show the constellation as UMa, yet TS and NGP show it as UMi. Seeing at it is much closer to Draco than the Big Bear, I'll go with it being in the constellation du jour. Again we go back to the arc of stars from Kochab bending back toward Polaris on the acute side of the dipper's handle. Continuing the arc just past the last star (mag 5.0 4-Ursae Minoris), and keeping that star on the 2 degree Telrad circle, will place the target in your view. It is easy to identify this galaxy from the star patters, as one side has a chain of five very evenly spaced nearly identical mag stars, the other side has the two brightest stars in the field pointing from brightest to dimmer right at the galaxy. Piece of cake!



U09297 = M+12-14-006
14 27.7 +69 42
1.7x1.2 45
13.3 14.1 13.9
27 vF,pL,R,bM
Located off the end of the dipper, almost centered between Kochab and Pherkad, and is halfway from Kochab to Thuban (Draco). This galaxy is in a field with three bright landmark stars, although the galaxy lies midway between four stars in a line (two on each side) of equal magnitude. Within easy reach of NGC5671 are UGC9295 (mag 15.5) near the end of a noticeable arc of stars, MCG12-14-4 (mag 14.88) which lies in the chain of stars, and NGC5620 (mag 15.07), found by following the closer pair of bright stars away from NGC5671 toward another bright triangle.



U09778 = M+13-11-010 = Z354-021 = NPM1G+75.0113
15 11 28.1 +75 23 02
1.1x0.5 52
13.7 14.7 12.9
11 vF,vS
NGC5909 should be another easy to locate galaxy. Place the outer Telrad circle on Kochab and place the center of the circles just a tick inside the line between Kochab and 16-Zeta Ursae Minoris (the joint of the bowl and handle of the dipper). It should be that easy. It is not that easy though. Alan and I kept working the field over and over. I would see two galaxies near the edge of the field, as if they were involved with three stars. In fact, the planetarium program showed them as three stars, and no galaxies where they should be in the center of the field. It was driving us nuts, no galaxies where they should be, two galaxies where two stars should be. NGC5909 and NGC5912, very close together. Finally I called Steve Gottlieb over and asked what he thought. he looked in the eyepiece, then at the computer. Finally, he suggested clicking the first of the three stars, and it said "non-stellar"... then clicked the second ... "non-stellar".... then Steve said "click the third star, it will be stellar." It was. We had identified two galaxies that were mis-plotted. After returning home, Steve e-mailed me that the error seemed to go back to the CGCG catalog, and was just copied from catalog to catalog. However, Steve's database had the locations correct. Amazing!



U10047 = M+12-15-016
15 46.6 +72 10
2.0x0.7 110
13.5 14.3 13.8
28 vF,S,E90,vS*f
By placing the Telrad's outer circle in between Pherkad and its closest neighbor (mag 5.1 SAO8207), and the middle circle almost on the line between Pherkad and the dimmest of the bowl stars (mag 5.0 SAO8470), with the center circle to the outside of the bowl, you will be on NGC6011. The galaxy is elongated, about 2.0 x 0.7 minutes. Close by is a bright star with a dim pair on the opposite side from the galaxy..Another somewhat bright star, on the side where there is a small triangle of stars, points toward IC1145. This one is listed on TS at mag 15.0, as a spiral galaxy.



U10228 = M+12-15-052
16 06 33.8 +72 29 40
1.8x1.4 120
13.2 14.2 14.1
11 vF,vS,lE
Another easy target. Seems like the Little Bear is very friendly, making it easy to see its treasures. This object is found by placing the outside circle along the line between Pherkad and the dimmest of the bowl stars (mag 5.0 SAO8470) The Telrad circle should be just slightly toward the dimmer bowl star. That easy step should put the object in the field. It is easy to tell if you're there, as at the edge of the field is a line of four equally spaced, equally bright stars in a near perfect line.



U09664 = M+12-14-016 = Z337-026 = VII Zw 576
14 59 31.1 +73 53 36
13.9 14.7 13.9
10 eF,vS,lE,2* inv
Another easy one! You all have to try this, its toooooo easy! ;-) This location is a naked-eye'er. Look at Kochab, put your Telrad circle just off it to the Pherkad side, you're there. It is 39 minutes from Kochab, and just inside the line to Pherkad. Easy stuff (but dim). The galaxy itself is round, and TS claims it as mag 14.7.


By now we were winding down. There were just a few objects left in the constellation before we completed its Herschel list members. We stopped, took a break, looked at some of the big bright stuff that had risen. The Veil Nebula was astounding with an Ultrablock (guess I will need to get an OIII now), M35 and its little NGC neighbor were spectacular. NGC253 showed loads of dust, even the little planetary nebula in Orion's puny pin-head was interesting, showing distinct greenish hue. M42, event though down low was astonishing... six Trap stars without problem, the wings looking like smooth wet gray clay, M43 showed mottling in its comma shape. I was having a great time with the new scope. Can't wait to get it out again!

But, with only three or four objects to go, we pressed on.

Next, to...


M+13-10-021 = Z354-005 
14 29 41.6 +78 51 51
14.3 15.3z
10 vF,S,R,S Cl p
Oh well, so they're not all easy to find. This one is on the arc side of the bowl of the dipper. However, if you have really sharp vision and can see a mag 6.4 star, then you may find the galaxy easily. Looking at the two stars at the handle end of the dipper's bowl, go from the end without the handle, to the handle star, then about the same distance past (about 4 degrees). The mag 6.4 star is SAO8054, and it should sit just inside the middle Telrad circle. Remember the last star in the arc of stars coming off Kochab, it should be sitting just inside the outer Telard circle. You will then be in the area. The eyepiece view will reveal not only NGC5612, but also (moving away from 5712) IC4470 which is a mag 15.1 spiral galaxy (no, I didn't see spirals), an open cluster also noted as IC4770 (no magnitude noted), and MCG13-10-18 (mag 15.64, which I have noted as observed). Also in the area, but I did not observe it, is UGC9453 at mag 15.59.



M+13-12-015 = Z355-024
17 03.6 +78 38
14.4 15.4z
11 eF,S
This was the last object on the list in Ursa Minor, and what a way to end the Little Bear's Herschels. NGC6631 is in a rich cluster of galaxies. TS lists the object at mag 15.53, and as bright in a rich cluster. It was not very difficult to see this one, and I was able to also see MCG13-12-17 (mag 15.62), UGC10726 (mag 15.02), but not MCG13-12-20 (mag 15.98). However, close by is UGC10704 at mag 15.19, which also was detectable. The location was not too difficult. Looking at the handle of the dipper, on the obtuse side of the curve, I found that I could use the first star in the handle of the dipper away from the bowl (22-Epsilon Ursae Minoris) as a marker for placing the edge of the Telrad's outer circle. The Telrad would circles would be on the side toward the bowl. By imagining another larger circle two degrees outside the outer circle, I would place the imaginary one on the line between the handle star and the star connecting the handle to the dipper (SAO8328, 16-Zeta Urae Minoris, mag 4.3). This placed the center of the Telrad circles virtually on NGC6331.


Ursa Minor is rich in galaxies. In a reasonably dark sky, it is easy to star hop the brighter stars in the constellation. The number of times I ran into multiple galaxies in a field of view made the evening exciting and rewarding. But now, at about 3:30 a.m., after driving from the Bay Area to the Sierra foothills, and doing several hours of intensive observing, I was beat. But the little bear was mine.

As I run out of Herschel objects in the constellations that are currently visible in the night sky, I had begun wondering what I would do for an observing program. I think I now have the answer. First, a larger aperture telescope certainly makes things interesting again (yes, I know Jay would go smaller and have a great time, but I still want to go deeper). Secondly, I have discovered that the SAC deep sky database will list a wealth of non-Herschel object in each constellation. Until the winter sky is more accessible, and I can again resume the Herschel hunt, I will print out non-Herschel lists from the SAC information, and search new classes of objects.

It seems there is nearly an endless number of objects available. A fitting thought with which to call it a good night and get some well earned rest.

In the morning, the group would arise, break camp and descend on Pokerville/Plymouth, visit a local greasy spoon for breakfast together, and leave California's old gold rush towns for the current center of the gold rush... Silicon Valley, and our bright sky homes.

Until next time, clear skies!

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