Tuesday, March 21, 2000

Left foot of Gemini

The sky looked so good all afternoon, around sunset I hauled my 10" f/5.6 Dob out back and set up for what would be a short night of urban deep sky observing. I had so much fun last time I did this, using the new finder (11x70 U.O.) and the Messier series Astro Cards, I decided to do the same.

As darkness settled in, I got out the Messier card for M35, and went about hunting the many small open clusters in the area. It was lots of fun. Matching star patterns off the card in the finder scope, I found it fairly easy to navigate. Of course, having such distinctive star patterns as those around M35 made for familiar territory, adding to my success for the night. Aside from a spectacular view of the curving strings of stars in the giant cluster, I logged five that are not so easy from an in town location.

I started off with NGC 2129, a smallish open cluster off the toe of Gemini's left foot. In the finder, I could see the end star in the constellation, and a short distance away, a pair of doubles equidistant and with almost equal separation. On my Messier card, it showed the cluster at the location of one of the doubles. Looking in the eyepiece, at first all I saw were the doubles. Then, as I looked more carefully, one of the doubles began showing a fairly nice condensation of stars surrounding. NGC 2129 has many stars. It is small, with the bright double involved in the cluster. It is quite a nice cluster and would be worth revisiting in better skies and with more aperture.

I then tried for IC 2157, only because it was on the Messier card. It was fairly easy to star hop to the position, and surprisingly I saw something. At first I thought I had inadvertantly gone too far and was on NGC 2158, which was my next target... the distant open cluster that is such a nice contrast with M35 in the same field of view. I was quite sure of this, until I nudged the scope over toward M35 and saw the real 2158. I could hardly believe it... I had IC 2157. It was toward the double side where the second double had shown in the finder when looking for 2129. It was very dim, what I describe as light frost on a window pane, barely showing some form, it was quite diffuse. It lay in a north/south orientation and seemed to be about 15'x 10' in size. There were perhaps six or seven brighter members to the cluster, with many dim stars interspersed.

Next is was easy to get to NGC 2158. This target eluded me earlier, when I had made it my first target for the night. However, after looking at IC 2157, this one literally jumped out at me. It is much brighter, round with many stars and seemed involved in some of the outliers of M35 on the big cluster's SW side. It is an interesting object as it is thought to be the same size as M35, but its great distance makes it small and dim by comparison.

Another object that I had never tried for previously was Cr89. This one was above the foot, west of M35. Very large, perhaps larger than M35, it is a poor cluster perhaps 60' in size, containing several bright stars set apart from one another in arcs, with diffuse and dim stars between. There was a definate hazy feeling to the entire area probably indicating many dim stars. After some careful study, I felt it was greater in size than M35 with several distinct chains.

The last object I counted for the night was NGC 2175. It was difficult to locate, diffuse, perhaps up to 18' in size with a possible 12' knot of stars 12' to its NW. Perhaphs five brighter members stood out from the stellar foam that glowed lightly between and within the larger portion of the cluster.

Objects I did not count for the night were M42, M65 and M66, some dim galaxies in the belly of Leo and NGC 2903 in the tip of the Lion's nose.

It was good to be outside. I've left the scope set up to encourage my going out with a solar filter in the morning.

Let's hope the weekend fools us with pristine dark and transparent skies!

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