Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Saturn and the Moon close together.

I had my 14.5" Dob looking at Saturn when my daughter Mimi came home with her friend Andrea. They came out back and Andrea looked first. She liked the view of the moon, and I asked her what she saw. "The moon" she said. I told her there was more, not mentioning what the "more" was. She looked again, and excitedly said "I see it! I see it!" Andrea didn't say what "it" was... so Mimi could try to find "it" herself. At first Mimi didn't see it... just the moon. Then it suddenly popped out, across the field of view from the moon. She was very pleased.

Just then my 17 year old son Daniel came home and seeing us outside joined us. He looked and saw Saturn and thought too it was a very cool sight! Kept looking and talking. I had to ask him to get off the ladder so I could have another look. Daniel was still there talking. Then I realized that while he thought the view through the scope was pretty cool, Mimi's friend was even more effective at holding his attention!

Saturday, February 9, 2002

Good While It Lasted! Observing at Coe

On a last minute whim I packed up the truck and headed south at 4:30 p.m. last Friday, January 19th. The sky looked great when I arrived just after sunset from Henry Coe State Park. There was a light breeze from the east, and haze hung over San Jose helping dim the light dome. After dark Marsha Robinson, Bob Czerwinski and Bill Schultz joined me.

I did not have much of an observing program in mind, I am still waiting for the galaxy rich areas of Coma B, Virgo, Canes V and Ursa Major to be better positioned earlier in the evening, so I can continue on the Herschel list I've been working over several observing seasons. So, I helped Marsha with her Herschel II project, she using her 10" Dob, me with the 18" Obsession.

The first object was a nice cluster in Orion, NGC 2112. It is a nice view, located about 2 degrees east of M78, the famous reflection nebula in Orion. The cluster has many dim members, noticeable in the 18, but the fun part about the grouping was noticed by Marsha, who pointed out the bright members made a perfect question mark, with the "dot" at the bottom defined by the brightest star in the group. In dark skies, the proximity to M78, along with four naked eye stars ranging from mag 5.2 to 6.4 close by to the NE makes this cluster easy to find.

We next moved to M78, which shown beautifully. In fact, I found this object fascinating. With two stars clearly embedded, one side of the nebula had a very well defined edge, kind of a hard edge, to it. This was the side that aligned with several other dim nebulae in the area that defined a rather straight line either side of M78. The side of M78 facing away from the "line" of nebulae was quite diffuse, seeming to bleed out into space unevenly. This was probably the most detailed view I've seen of this object.

Next we moved to the three other reflection nebulae in close proximity to M78, namely NGCs 2071, 2064 and 2067. These were obvious using a UHC filter, although none would draw the attention of most observers without knowing where to look. The view of these three other nebulae around M78 reminded me just how active a star forming region this entire area really is. The views of the dimmer nebulae juxtaposed against the bright nebula of M78 reminded me how fleeting and rather ghostly many objects we view are. Conditions were certainly good this night!

The next stop was called the "Tank Tracks"... but I know it better as The Flame Nebula. Without a filter I moved over to the position, so easy to find just sitting just east of Zeta Orionis. Now, I've seen The Flame a good number of times, with results ranging from just visible and not very exciting, to "oh yeah.... it is flame shaped"... This night was special. Not only was it there, but I could see well defined edges all around it perimeter and in the dark central section. The definition was so good, it was like looking at the jagged edge of a leaf and seeing somewhat of a saw tooth pattern all around. And, it was bright. And, there was no filter on the 20 Nagler.

Man o man, I almost jumped out of my many layers of clothes with excitement. I said "hey... this is a night for the Horsehead'.... and so, from The Flame, I south to a pair of bright stars that formed a nice "L" with Zeta and looked for the bright nebula NGC 2023, which appears to be involved with one of the pair of bright stars. Once that was identified, I knew to move west along a chain of stars until I reached a double, which pointed back somewhat in the direction from where I'd just come (NGC 2023) but a bit south, right to the Horsehead.

Well, it wasn't hard to find. IC 434 shown easily as a bright swatch of light glowing across the field of view from SSE to NNW. And there, buried in the glow was a hole. Not just a hole... it had shape. It was upside down in my view, with the neck being up top to the east and a hook shape forming the other end bending toward the north. There was no doubt. I stayed on this view for quite some time, absorbing it, letting some of the subtleties work on my brain. I am sure my UCH filter helped bring out details, but I really wondered what this would have been like using an H-Beta filter. Maybe next weekend at Lake San Antonio.

I called Bill Schultz over to look. He'd never seen the Horsehead and said it was one of the objects that he'd really hoped to see. I also have to admit, after several years of observing at looking at this object through other people's scopes, this was the first time I'd found it myself. Bill celebrated by offering me some of a very nice herbal extract drink he brought along. I don't recall the name, but it is made with yarrow and vodka. Zippy! It is quite good!

Now was time to move away from the shores of our home galaxy. Gone are local points of interest like reflection and dark nebulae. I was moving toward some galaxies Marsha had on her Herschel list.

The first was NGC 1670 is in Orion, tucked in the southwest corner by the northeastern limit of Eridanus. I use the naked eye stars Nu Eridani (mag 4) to point to nearby Mu Eridani (also mag 4), then across the border about 1/2 that distance and slightly north. The galaxy is reasonably bright, when considered with other ones on the complete Herschel list. At mag 12.1 with a surface brightness (sb) of 13.4, the galaxy appears mostly round but with a bit of elongation east to west. Initially I had landed on two other galaxies to the southeast, NGCs 1682 and 1684, and once identified, I was able to quickly work my way along a zig-zag of brighter stars that form somewhat of a Cassiopeia (but with a long western leg) back to 1670.

A notable double star lies about 20' east of NGC 1670, providing direction to mag 13.2 (sb 12.8) galaxy NGC 1678, which appeared round and small, along with galaxy MCG0-13-18 at mag 15.26 (from The Sky database), small and elongated N/S when averted vision allowed the view to pop in.

Now this was fun! There were galaxies all over the place.

Off one of the stars in the zig-zag of the false Cassiopeia, the western star in the base of the W, sits MCG 1-13-22, a little edge-on galaxy at mag 15.13. This one was no problem. It was quite easy to note the long E/W elongation, perhaps 4:1 in ratio. Very nice!

Moving about 10' north I found, and barely, MCG-1-13-17, one of the dimmest finds of the night at mag 15.63 (The Sky). If there was any detail in this ghost of the deep, it was a hint of elongation NW/SE.

Back to the W asterism, and I was back at what originally caught my eye. NGCs 1682 and 1684. This actually describes a bit about how I hunt galaxies. Something bright or notable will catch my eye... a galaxy, a pair of bright stars with some unique grouping very close by, a chain... it is not usual that I just drop on the object I'm after and see it right away. No, I need guideposts, and have learned to look for them. I must admit, a laptop computer in the field is quite nice for helping identify those guideposts.

Anyway, the two NGCs were very prominent, with 1684 being the larger and easier of the two to identify. Around 7' north of 1682 is a very dim galaxy, NGC 1683 at mag 14.8 flicks in and out of view... what helps is its small size and generous sb of 13.5. It is elongated N/S at about a 2:1 ratio.

Easier was NGC1685 8' to 1683's NE. It was much larger, about twice 1683's size, and both mag and sb are in the high 13's. This galaxy appeared round.

A pair of bright stars lie just ENE of 1685 another 7'. I used these as a guide to move east fo 1685 to find galaxy MCG-1-13-33, a mag 15.3 (The Sky) roundish galaxy with a slight elongation E/W. Not much detail, but still, fun to see hints of dim and distant giant traveling galactic families of stars. All relatives in a big travelling group.

By now the wind had begun picking up. No dew whatsoever, and transparency that could not be beat. I'd had a couple hours of great observing. I struggled against the increasing breeze from the east. Leo was rising. Maybe it was the breath of the lion approaching. I couldn't keep the scope still. After a few more galaxies bounced through the field of view, I tipped the scope down to the west.

The wind blew for over 3 hours. I was talking with Bob and Marsha, both sitting in Marsha's car to protect them from the incessant wind, and suddenly, it was dead calm.

I noticed it first, but didn't say anything. Bob then said "hey... I don't want to say anything, but something has changed out there" ... he too noticed the wind die.

We went back to our scopes, and all exclaimed how lousy the stars looked! Round, oscillating, blinking and winking!

About midnight, with high clouds approaching from the northwest, I packed up the truck. I was home in less than an hour.

I still don't know how other locations were that night. I think people went to Montebello. But I can tell you, two hours of exquisite transparency and steadiness provided some of the finest observing I've had. I crawled into bed telling myself that that might be it for the weekend. But it was good while it lasted!

Observing at Dinosaur Point - 2/9/02

We had a great turnout at Dinosaur Point Saturday, as spring-like conditions brought out many observers, old and new, for late afternoon BBQ and picnic dinners followed by a full night of stars for desert. One of the better winter nights I can recall.

I had my 18" f/4.5 Dob and used a combination of 20mm and 12mm Naglers with an occasional 6.7mm Meade Ultrawide, Rigel Quickfinder and 10x70 finder, TheSky by Software Bisque along with The Webb Society's Atlas Of Galaxy Trios. My main targets for the night were remaining objects on the Herschel 400-I and 400-II.

Since the Herschel targets were in Puppis and points east, I spent the early evening chasing some of the galaxy trios.

My first target was the galaxy trio of IC1534, IC1535 and IC1536 in Andromeda. These are actually in a rather empty part of the sky for starhopping. I began in Cassiopeia making a line from Nevi (the center star in the W) to Shedar and extending twice that distance beyond. The star SAO 36236 was just visible at mag 5.86 and put me within a short hop of the correct location. A nice pair of bright stars, SAO 36148 at mag 6.1 and SAO 36151 close by at mag 7.6 marked the beginning of a chain of stars that led east then south next to the target galaxies. I moved to the bend in the arc and hopped off. Immediately I saw NGC 51 to the northeast of the IC galaxies. Then, sitting just at the end of a NW/SE chain of four stars IC1534 came into view. It was dim and small, elongated in a mostly E/W direction. Stepping across a star just to its NE I quickly found IC1535 also faint but more extended and laying almost due N/S. Almost immediately to the E is an asterism that forms a Y. Sitting atop the open end of the asterism is the third galaxy in the trio, IC1536, the faintest of the three. It seemed mostly round and more compact than the others, but offered no additional detail.

To the north of the IC trio sat the next trio. A real treat, seeing these six galaxies in the same field. The next three were NGC51, NGC48 and NGC49. As already mentioned, NGC51 jumped right out and provided a starting point with which to tease out the other two NGCs. A slight 2' to the W sat the faintest of the three, NGC49, round and diffuse. A short hop further W was NGC48 which appeared extended N/S with some slight hints of structure.

Here is a link to an image of the field:

Next I move to NGC996, NGC999 and NGC1001, a galaxy trio in Perseus. Thank goodness for bright stars! They make navigating the sky so much easier! My target was located almost dead center between the famous variable star Algol in Perseus and the excellent double star Gamma Andromeda. But what really sealed the deal getting dead-on location was using my 10x70 finder. I found a distinct haze at what I thought was the correct location and upon looking in the eyepiece found an outstanding open cluster. This was NGC1039, and was stunning. How could such a treasure be just an obscure NGC number I wondered? Well, it is not obscure. Now I know it is easy to get to the galaxy trio by first locating M34. Just a degree to the SSW the galaxies shimmer into view. But aside from the trio, there were another six galaxies in my 47' field of view. What a great sight! Other objects seen were MCG7-6-53, UGC2111, NGC995, NGC1000, NGC1005 and the toughest of the bunch was UGC2135. Here's the image link:

The last galaxy trio I observed for the night was NGC1024, NGC1029 and NGC1028 in Aries. This target is in another easy to get to area. If you've found M77 in Cetus, you can find this group. The "head" of Cetus is comprised of Alpha, Gamma, Lambda and Mu Ceti. Hopping of Mu opposite Lambda put you in the area. Making it even easier, there is a pair of stars off Mu to the WNW, close by. Cross those and go the same distance beyond that you went from Mu to the pair. Easy stuff! NGC1024 and NGC1029 are easy and bright elongated galaxies capping off the ends of a Mercedes symbol of stars. NGC1028 is misplotted on TheSky 1'50" SW of its actual position and took some work to find... it was very dim and elusive. Here is an image.... I am curious if anyone can comment on the fuzzy double star SW of NGC1029:

Aside from the galaxy trios above, there were a few objects that were notable of the over 60 logged during the night. They were:

NGC2525 - Galaxy in Puppis, large and amorphous with some mottling. Sitting close by an easily identifiable zig-zag string of 4 stars.

NGC2539 - Open cluster in Puppis, gorgeous - large with many stars of almost equal magnitudes, offset by a bright blue and gold double star of differing magnitudes touching the SE perimeter of the cluster. Go see this one, the double is like two jewels atop a rich setting.

NGC2610 - Planetary Nebula in Hydra. This is an unusual object visually. Part of what appears to be a small bright open cluster, the planetary is round and solid with a star touching its eastern boundary. With about 280X the planetary appears to somewhat ragged on its western edge and have a few very dim stars involved. I did not try any filters.

NGC2613 is a bright edge on galaxy with a notable bulged central core in Pyxis. It is a bright galaxy, so even moderate instruments should reveal its shape. I felt as if there was more eastern extension of the arms than western, but the image shows a fine spiral with much dust in its tightly wound arms. I had asked one of the imagers to shoot this thing, but the seeing had softened by then, and especially so in the southern sky. Still, this is a beautiful object, as this image shows:

NGG3073 - Galaxy in Ursa Major. This one provided some eye candy as a bonus. The target was a small but reasonably bright target, but when landing on the field my eye immediately fell onto NGC3079. NGC3079 is a large, thin, long disturbed looking slash of a galaxy. I could hardly believe its appearance. Have a look, and at the same time take in NGC3073 and sitting perpendicular to the major axis of the big galaxy you'll find MGC9-17-9. This is a very interesting field.

NGC3115 - Galaxy in Sextens. A wonderful large elongated galaxy with a stellar core. The DSS images do not do this one justice... another web-site refers to it as the Spindle Galaxy, and their image of it shows why

NGC3158 - Galaxy in group in Leo Minor. This is a wonderful field. I counted 9 galaxies. NGC3158 is easily the brightest of the group and stands alone just NNW of a chain of several other galaxies running E/W in close proximity. Others observed were MGC7-21-19, NGC3159, NGC3161, NGC3163 (four in a line), NGC3151, NGC3150, NGC3152 and NGC3160. The seeing had softened so I did not try for the dimmer ones in the area. Check this out (15 arcminutes wide/tall):

NGC3254 - Galaxy in Leo Minor. This is a large tilted spiral that gave hints of dusty arms. Nice pair of stars off the eastern edge.

NGC3513 - Galaxy in Crater. This one is paired visually with NGC3511. Both are bright and mottled with dust. NGC3513 is a great example of a barred spiral. My notes refer to dark intrusions on NGC3513 from the E and W, which may be the dark areas between the arms and bar. I want to review this one under more magnification. The image is a hands-down winner:

The last object I'll write up is NGC3621, a nice bright galaxy in Hydra. It is large and bright, and framed beautifully by a cross of four stars that surround its core almost at the cardinal points of the compass. The actual extent of the galaxy far overruns the framing stars, but visually, only the core could be seen. The image is another winner:

I don't really know what time we called it a night. I was having a great time. The only thing that stopped me was feeling unsteady walking around. Someone said they heard us talking still at 5 a.m.

Been a long time since I had an observing session like that one!