Monday, January 6, 2003

Backyard 1/6/03 (It's so very lonely...)

Last night I worked late again, so I was unable to join my friends at Fremont Peak to take advantage of another night of clear skies.

But I had left my 8" f/7 Skelescope set up out back, collimated and cooled, waiting for my return from the prior night. A quick walk of Jones - Destroyer of Terminaglers ( and I headed out back at 22:45 PST.

The prior night I had hunted a few targets in Auriga and Gemini. This night I would pick up my list where I'd left off, but I also went back to find an object that had eluded me the night before.

I began by looking at Jupiter. With the 20 Nagler is was "okay" but I could tell it would not hold up well to high magnification. Two of its moons were nicely positioned close to each other, and I was convinced that during the evening one would occult the other. Jupiter - the seeing it where it was, how it was, about 30 minutes before. 30 light minutes. Neighbors.

I looked too at Saturn - wiggly. Didn't bother trying for any real detail. I did look for M1, but I realized how futile it was. Still, I thought about the distance. About 66 minutes old. If I marked the spot where I saw it at that time, and came back out an hour later, I'd see just how far behind I had seen the planet's real position. So, those moons of Jupiter.... by the time I saw them "merged" into a what looked like a single moon... they had really done that about the time I saw them sitting close to each other.

Mind-bending... thinking about where things appear to be, and where, or in some cases, what they, or if they really are. Things just aren't what they seem. Kind of unsettling, kind of lonely.

I went back to NGC 2266 in Gemini, a target that eluded me the night before. This night I brought out my Uranometria 2000 to augment the Edmond Mag 6 Atlas. U2000 allowed me to star hop effectively to the spot where 2266 should be. And darn if it wasn't there. A medim dense open cluster containing a chain of 3 stars aligned nearly N/S at the western end, with the brightest one leading the way. I thought the cluster was rather triangular, with another dim knot of stars forming a chain back to the east. A nice image exists at I didn't think it was particularly easy from my backyard, but with some study it showed reasonable detail. The cluster sits 11,000 light years away in the disk of the Milky Way Talk about lonley... imagine being that far from home!

Next was one of my favorite little celestial goobers. NGC 2371 and NGC 2372 is a single object. A nice bipolar planetary nebula in Gemini. It has two bright knots along an elongated body that lies WSW to ENE. The brighter knot is the former. I used a 7 Nagler and Orion Ultrablock to see this one, and turned on my Equatorial Platform in order to study it comfortably at high power. Sitting just under 4000 light years, this one (like many planetaries) is really local to us. Part of the thin disk of the Milky Way. Without the filter at low power, there was only a hint of this object. Here is an interesting image:

Whereas the Peanut was a dim planetary at low power, NGC 2392 - The Eskimo - was easily identifiable at low power. The central star stood out in a small bright core. An inner shell showed, extending about half way out to the edge of the dimmer outer shell. A nice bright star sits close to the north of the planetary. Using the 7 Nagler and Ultrablock I felt there was some distension of the brighter inner core to the north and south. This is a lovely object - closer than the Peanut at 2900 light years.

I began thinking of an old Stones song:

Sun turnin' 'round with graceful motion
We're setting off with soft explosion
Bound for a star with fiery oceans
It's so very lonely, you're a hundred light years from home

Freezing red deserts turn to dark
Energy here in every part
It's so very lonely, you're six hundred light years from home

It's so very lonely, you're a thousand light years from home
It's so very lonely, you're a thousand light years from home

Bell flight fourteen you now can land
Seen you on Aldebaran, safe on the green desert sand
It's so very lonely, you're two thousand light years from home
It's so very lonely, you're two thousand light years from home

Made me miss my buddies at the Peak!

Next in Gemini was another target that has eluded me in my backyard. NGC 2420 is an open cluster just under halfway from the Eskino to Kappa Gem. Kappa is the bright star directly south of mortal Pollux. I was quite surprised to find this cluster bright and easy. Certainly bigger and brighter than NGC 2266 was, better resolved with more bright components - a dozen or so bright stars overlaying a dense swarm of dimmer components. My 12mm Nagler really brought out the dimmer background stars. This cluster is physically closer than 2266, but not all that much - 8600 light years. Here is a nice image of the cluster and an accompanying article in last year's NOAO news about similarities to our own sun evolution: At least the similarities made me feel it was a less lonely place!

I finished the night on a upnote. I recall in the past using my 8" Dob from my (Los Gatos) backyard, hunting for the IGW. I have had some success, but it is not an object one would expect to log from suburbia. Still: shows I did it. Other nights I know I was skunked. This evening I decided to try a new tact to find it, since I had only a Telrad and there are no good guidestars to jump off of nearby. So I looked at Pollux and Castor, used their distance apart, drew an obtuse angle (determined by looking at U2000) the same distance north, then I continued half that distance NW.


My 20 Nagler was too much eyepiece to use for identifying star patterns. And no magnifying finder!

Then I remembered I have a 50mm plossl. In it went.

Same star hop and, there was the star pattern I was looking for, brightest, dim, bright, in a slight arc. To the north I saw it, two bright stars, the eastern one a double, with a dimmer star hanging off the eastern end. Directly west and in line with the bright stars I could easily see the glow of NGC 2419. Honestly, I was astonished. It was no trouble at all to see it. Using the 12mm Nagler I felt it showed some mottling. The cluster is amazing.... it sits 300,000 light years from us, on the far side of our galactic halo. I'd settle for 2000 light years from home any day - this one is the most distant globular we know of in our own galaxy. Here are the details: and a nice image at

Midnight, and more work the next day. 6 a.m. would come fast.

I packed up my books and closed the eyepiece case.

Walked them over the deck humming the song.

Its so very lonely...

It took me only 18 steps to be back home. This was anything but lonely!

I love backyard observing.

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