Friday, October 8, 1999

Horse Bits and the Hunter Hunted

Friday afternoon the traffic on highway 152 out of Gilroy was miserable. The other main highway south was closed for some reason I was unaware of, and all traffic was now heading down the dozen or so miles of two lane rural highway 152. I came to a stop just outside the Gilroy Garlic Works (I'm sure that is not the correct name), and sat, in a big city traffic jam, right next to the factory that loves the Stinking Rose. And there, traffic crawled, giving me ample time to divert my attention from the drive, to what I would do that night.

Just as one take a lemon and makes lemon aide, I had enough negative impetus to try something I'd never done on that drive. I saw some other drivers turn down a small side road, and there I went too. It was an adventure, as I didn't know where it led to, but I knew it was going the right direction and I had a 4 wheel drive vehicle. Bloomfield Road is a beautiful detour from the tedium of heavy Friday afternoon traffic. The road bisects a broad valley, 152's stationary vehicles to the east, and highway 101 somewhere to the west. We rode between, on this small thread of blacktop between fields of tomatoes and peace.

What a relief... of the beaten path!

And that's what I decided to do with my weekend, get off the beaten path. I would set my sights on logging objects within two constellations, using a printed copy of the Saguaro Astronomy Club's Deep Sky Database as my list. I had downloaded the list and sorted it by constellation and then diminishing surface brightness. It is a very healthy sized two folder set of objects in small font, mostly off the beaten path.

I had my 18" Obsession, a laptop computer with the current version of The Sky, a deep cycle marine cell batter and inverter, a Telrad and would use two eyepieces, a 20mm Tele Vue Nagler and the 12mm Tele Vue Panoptic.

The observing site is Pacheco State Park, near the top of the eastern portion of California's Coastal Range mountains. The park itself is an exquisite piece of California's heritage and is historically significant from the time of the great land grants to the gold rush, to modern day commerce and transportation as a crucial link between the San Francisco bay area and southern California. Horizons at the park are outstanding, access is excellent as good freeway virtually drops you at the location, and it is farther removed from light pollution than other local observing sites.

As the sun set, our group prepared and watched the Milky Way appear, and it did so very quickly after the Summer Triangle became obvious. An hour later black clouds of interstellar dust and gas stood out prominently, especially north of Deneb. There was the slightest breeze, the temps were cool but not unseasonably, and other than the sound of highway 152 to our north we were alone. Perhaps 25 observers shared the location that night.

I began in Pegasus. I'd completed logging Herschel's in Pegasus, so now I was down to the Horse's bits and pieces. I would also change the way I observed, deciding to take detailed notes while observing, rather than using The Sky to log objects.

NGC 7594 is located almost a little south of mid-point between 10-Theta Piscium, which is the member of Pisces' Circlet closest to Pegasus, and Alpha Pegasi, which is the southwestern-most member of Pegasus' great square. The object is very faint, in fact The Sky lists the magnitude as 15.6. It was very difficult to get even a glimpse of it. There are a pair of dim stars, perhaps 12th magnitude, pointing at the galaxy, and other pair of mag 10 stars almost paralleling the dimmer ones a few arc-minutes west.

An easier object in the same field was IC 478, a mag 14.7 galaxy that showed well, and give hints of N-S elongation when I bumped up my magnification with the 12 Nagler. I am not trying to give dimensions on most of the objects, as it is enough of a challenge right now to estimate angular distances accurately. I'm sure the ability is earned. Anyway, IC 478 is much easier than NGC 7594. It sits just minutes NE of a noticeable chain of 3 dim stars. The thee dim stars are just NE of the brighter and dimmer pair mentioned before.

NGC 7244. This is where the difficulty lies in non-DSC/GoTo amateur astronomy. Objects like NGC 7244 that lie in no-mans land, away from any good asterisms or lack bright stars that put the object on a "line"... But there was a way. 42-Zeta Pegasi is the brighter of the stars in the horse's neck. Using it with the "bend" star in the neck, and the nose star (Enif), you can create a parallelogram. With the SW corner of the Telard's 4 degree circle on "the spot" where the 4th star of this imaginary parallelogram should be, you will be in approximate position. The first thing you'll notice is the rich field of view. There are lots of stars in the field. There is a nice bright chain of 3 stars 6 to 9 arc-minutes almost due east, then a much dimmer arced chain of stars just south. The galaxy appeared small and elongated, and a difficult find at mag 15.0.

I found NGC 7360 to be dim, round and small. There was a small chain of stars pointing with equal brightness at the galaxy in a very tight formation minutes to the NE. The object is located close to the intersection of Aquarius, Pegasus and Pisces. A tight grouping of three stars above the Y of Aquarius was my key to logging this object.

NGC 7584 is just northwest of the wonderful Pegasus 1 Cluster. It is located on the same line as NGC 7594, but closer to Pisces. NGC 7584 is very faint. It sits between two bright field stars, and appears as the westernmost member of a dim triangle of stars between them. Also in the same field is NGC 7587, an elongated mag 15 galaxy approximately 14 arc-minutes north of NGC 7584.

NGC 7712 is a moderately dim galaxy, mostly round but with a slight elongation N/S. About 14 arc-minutes NNW of a nice pair of stars, each being a double, both having relatively equal brightnesses in their components. To the ESE is another double about 10 minutes away. To find NGC 7712, look for 68-Upsilon Pegasi, two-thirds to the center of the Great Square from the northwest corner star (Beta Pegasi), and place the 3 o'clock position on your Telard just east of Upsilon. Happy hunting!

Next we head northwest, out toward Ophiuchus and Serpens Cauda. From Beta-Pegasi, find the "leg" stars of the horse, Matar (44 Eta-Pegasi) -- which many of us know as a pointer to NGC 7331 and Stephen's Quintet, and further out on the same line to 29-Pegasi (mag 4 star). The target is NGC 7275, one-third the way from 29 to 44 Pegasi, and a tick north. The galaxy appears very dim and small, 7 minutes W of a bright pair and 3 minutes E of a very tight dim pair of stars. The bright pair of stars also point at NGC 7270, which is bright and about 12 minutes west of the westernmost star. NGC 7270 appears to be either round or a small face on spiral.

NGC 7803 is very dim, sitting 3 minutes W of a pointer pair of stars. On a really good night, there would be several other galaxies in this field. This night, there was one other, NGC 7810, which I saw as dim and involved with at least one star. These galaxies are found by placing the Telrad's outer northern edge so it just touches three degrees west along the line from Alganib (88 Gamma-Pegasi) to Markab (Alpha Pegasi).

All the while this was taking place, people would come over and look, asking where the object was in the field, and when told would give a knowing "ah-ha"... Maybe they see them, maybe they don't. I do. I would take a break, go over and look at the new AP Voice-controlled 1200 mount set up next to me, have a peek at Jupiter (with my non-deep-sky eye) through a friends 180mm AP, and then visit with some old and many new friends. It is relaxing (but tiring on a Friday night).

Back to observing, I hit NGC 7286 next. This was a bit dicey to find. Again taking the line from 29-Pegasi to 44-Pegasi, as we did on NGC 7275, but instead of one-third in from 29 and north, we come in one-third from 44 and place the northern 4 degree Telrad circle just south of that line. The galaxy appears dim, small, and perhaps elongated. A bright star sits 24 minutes E and another 20 minutes W. The first star has a nice double pair close to its N.

NGC 7362 is not as dim as the others, I call it moderately dim (holds steady with averted vision), roundish and easy to see. There is a bright wide pair of stars 10 minutes N and NW, another pair S and SW by 12 minutes. Finding this made me feel as if I was running around the horse, since each object seems to be alternating corners. This one places the N edge of the Telrad Circle on Homam, the bright star in Pegasus' neck (Zeta Pegasi). The top of the Telrad circle is just slightly east of this star.

NGC 7387 treated me to other objects visible in the same field. Just a bit NE from Homam is the star 46-Xi Pegasi, at mag 4.2 it is an easy pair with Homam. The middle Telrad circle should touch this star, and the outer one should be just east of Homam, and the center of the Telrad south of the "neck" of Pegasus. NGC 7387 is 4 minutes W of a nice tight pair of stars, but the galaxy is dim. NGC 7386 is easy at about 11 minutes NNW of the pair. NGC 7385 10 minutes due W of the pair and right next to an equally bright pair of stars. NGC 7383 is 7 minutes SW of the pair. UGC 12202 is 30 minutes S of the pair and an easy find.

By this time of night, Pegasus was in full descent to the west, and the Hunter was well up.

I would spend a few hours on Friday night or Saturday morning hunting the Hunter.

The first object in Orion was a welcome change of pace, a stellar planetary nebula! The object catalog is PK190-17.1, for which I used an OIII filter. The object is also catalogs as J320. It is nearly stellar using my 12 Nagler (to my friends, yes, I promise to buy a 7mm eyepiece), but a bit roundish and has distinct coloration compared to the surrounding stars (with the OIII filter on). The planetary is 7 minutes N of a bright star and about 18 minutes W of a bright pair. I would not have identified this at lower power, and especially not without the OIII filter.

On to PK198-6.1 (Abell 12), also in the Hunter. This was a neat object, and very easy to find! If you know where to find Betelgeuse, you can find this one. The first star in Orion's "club" is mag 4.12 61 Mu-Orionis. That's the spot. On a high power eyepiece and OIII filter, and in the glow of the bright star, when you avert your vision, you'll see a nice small planetary nebula, ghostly in the glow.

By now I was beginning to become weary. I would walk and feel almost as if I were stumbling, but I could still stand at the eyepiece, and what a wonderful night it had been already. My notes reflect my condition, as they were scribbled and short.

I went to NGC 1719, south of Orion's bow (or shield). The last two stars in the bow bend sharply east compared to the others to their north. We want the last two. Place the northern edge of the outer Telard circle on the last and most eastern star at the bottom of the bow. The center of the Telrad is slightly east of due south. In the field, you will find not only NGC 1719, but 25 minutes W is the elongated galaxy UGC 3214, ghostly but there. About 8 minutes N of 1719 is mag 15.5 MCG0-13-61, just popping in and out, and involved with a star on the way to our UGC buddy is MCG0-13-51, between two bright stars about 16 minutes apart. Very nice field!

I was on to another dim planetary, but other observers were now dropping like flies. There were three left standing. Many had left for home, other crammed into places too small to really sleep, and a few in tents and sleeping bags. My tent and sleeping bag waited. I was doing two nights and intended to be comfortable.

PK197-14.1 is not too bad to find. I used an OIII and found it was not stellar (what a relief!). It is 25 minutes E of a bright star with a chain of dim stars to the ENE. This object also carries the designation of Abell 10. To find it is pretty easy. Take Orion's western shoulder, mag 1.6 Bellatrix and place it just inside the western outer Telrad circle. Now, place the center 2 degree circle's S end on the line between Bellatrix and Betelgeuse. There you are.

I had two objects left in me. The remaining observers were closing shop, and I was tired. I moved on toe NGC 1691, positioned so the bottom two stars in the bow (we've used these two before) are on the outer and middle circles of the Telrad. The southern more star sits on the outer Telrad circle just east of south. Notes describe NGC 1691 as bright and compact, elongated E/W, and with a chain for 3 stars 7 minutes to its ESE.

NGC 1819 was good sized, elongated NE/SW, with 3 bright stars at the perimeter of the field of view, forming a large triangle. The brightest of the 3 stars has a dimmer triangle of stars pointing directly at the galaxy. You can also see CGCG421-36, in and out, between a two pair of stars. These are located back toward Bellatrix from the bottom of the bow. The S edge of your Telrad should almost touch naked-eye star GSC 103:2874 (mag 4.6).

Finally, I observed NGC 1875. This was an easy find, as the inner 2 degree Telrad circle's eastern edge almost touched Bellatrix (it sat just east), and the center of the Telrad lay on the line to the center star of the bow (mag 4.3 2-Pi2 Orionis). I did not make any note on 1875 other than I observed it. I was probably too wasted to write any longer.

I soon was in my tent. Mimi, my daughter was sleeping well in her bag next to me. The top of the tent is mesh, and as I lay back, the sky was brightening in the east and Orion was visible overhead. I had enjoyed a great night of challenging objects... bits and pieces Pegasus, and later in Orion. I would hunt these areas again the next night.

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