Monday, March 14, 2005

Objects observed from Chile

Here are some observing notes from the trip (left many out). There are *many* objects I didn't get to, but that's fine, there will be future trips to southern skies... I'll write some other time about *being* in Chile... it was a wonderful experience...

All objects viewed with 10" f/5.7 CPT except as noted.

From La Silla airport in the southern Atacama Desert

47 Tucana12 Nagler. Fills 90% of FOV, very dense and resolved to the core with slight elongation in the outer spray of stars to the E/W. Seems less dense NNE & WSW - several dense arms extending straight out - ENE, N, SSE, E and SW. Extremely long reach W and N.
M4212 Nagler. Object is at about 75 degrees elevation. Very bright, E&F stars very steady. Green hue around Trapezium, ochre hues in "wings". With 7 Nagler dark intrusion behind the Trap shows bright channel near tip - reminds me of the Horsehead Nebula, Stars just outside to the S with dim dark lane running to the E going N/S. M43 nearly attached to M42, contrast difference in dark lane between M42 and M43. All sorts of dark mottling in M43.
Eta Carina20 Nagler with UHC. NE portion of E section is very thick and bright nebulosity, has dark knots with embedded star clusters. Wisps trail off in a large oval to the E with thickest section to the S. Clusters are in the N & S ends of the thick N/S section. Wide dark lane runs along the SW/NE side of the brightest section. Incredible detail. Dimmer yet still bright nebulosity is E of the thick section - separated by the large wide dark lane, arcs around paralleling the N/W-S/E bright section. Dark lanes extend S & E in very large diffuse nebulosity on the E end. More dark lanes - wide ones, extend E of the E end of the nebula - a bright section arcs all the way around. I drew a picture, but it doesn't do it justice.
IC2602Southern Pleaides - overflows the 20 Nagler. About 20 bright stars over 1 degree field with several in nebulosity. 4 bright stars to W run N/S. 4 bright stars E run N/S. This is a beautiful cluster. Mel 101 is close by to the N - nice evenly bright cluster.
NGC3132Eight Burst Planetary - 7 Nagler with 2X Barlow. Very bright central star with dark area surrounding it. Very bright edges, brighter on the E & W edges. W is brighter edge, seems ragged on the outside. This is a great view.
JupiterThe seeing was so steady, we looked at it. The view was rock steady with tons of detail. GRS was jumping out and had great detail itself. There were many bands - I'm not a planetary observer, but to my count I came up with 20 bands alternating dark and light. The bands has tremendous amounts of mottling. All four moons were easy very steady discs.

La Frontera

NGC4833open cluster - bright- looks like a globular. Dense center diffusing out. Near a bright star.
NGC4372open cluster - large, dim, rich, with bright star embedded. Also near a bright star.
NGC5189planetary nebula - large, obvious. W/NW - E/NE bar with strong condensation to the NW. Responds well to OIII.
IC2944open cluster. Large, bright, fairly even mags, in rich Milky Way field. Obvious in 9x50 finder.
NGC1300 and NGC1297larger is large and moderately bright galaxy WNW/ESE. Other is NE, dimmer, smaller, elongated mostly E/W and may be showing some spiral structure.
NGC1316 and NGC1317galaxies - Very bright, nearly stellar core with large flattened halo and diffuse arms edge on extending E/W. Other is close by to E, smaller, round with stellar core.
NGC2207 and NGC2163galaxies - very close together and oriented E/W. W galaxy seems to have stellar core, E galaxy may be larger and disturbed.
NGC1566galaxy - large fairly bright spiral galaxy with 2 obvious arms terminating to N & S. Stellar core with large halo.
NGC1546 and NGC1602galaxies - 1546 was bright and easy, I could not find 1602 in my 10" (hints of it in Ray's 13").
NGC2467Emission nebula - large, bight, round glow with bright star embedded. Ragged on the N side, W of faint nebulosity that extended over large distance to the E.
NGC2997galaxy - large face on spiral, bright with little detail at low power. Slightly brighter core. With 7 Nagler the core is obvious, round, smallish. Arms curve to E & W in backwards "S".
NGC3109Irregular galaxy - very large and diffuse, runs almost E/W. Several stars overlay it with the brightest star just off center to the W.
Jupiterwe had a shadow transit followed by the moon visible on the disk of the planet. GRS was just past meridian.
NGC3100 and NGC3095Both galaxies appear irregular. W galaxy appears to have a dark band, E has a visible core.
NGC3115galaxy - nice elongated edge on spiral with a stellar core, good tight central bulge - long extended thin arms SSW/ENE - similar to NGC4565 but a bit thicker core. May have dust lane on E side. Viewed with 7 Nagler.
ScorpiusNaked eye; Arch is laying over the eastern Andes - hugging the mountaintops. Stinger is curving down eastward and around, pointing N. Thick band of dark nebula crosses into the curve of the tail from the south, spreading out and ending near the stinger. Attaches to great dark swath of dark neb W of the eastern curve of the tail, extending S and curving W, ending by Alpha Cent, before the bright southern Milky Way, before the Coal Sack and Southern Cross. This dark nebula behind Scorpius looks like the Shadow of the Scorpion!
NGC6397globular cluster - Large and bright globular in Ara, may be the equal of M13 for beauty. Mag 5.7. Very tight circular central core with many outliers and stings extending outward.
NGC7269, NGC3271, NGC3267, NGC3268...and more. Galaxies. Amazed that in my 10" Dob I could count up to 15 galaxies all close together in tight clumps. This is a VERY interesting cluster of galaxies, and made me pine for my 18" Dob!
NGC3354, NGC3358, NGC3357galaxies - the center galaxy was the brightest, all evenly spaced apart in a row from E to W. W is the dimmest.
B92dark nebula and open cluster - laying just over the top of the eastern Andes, it is a tremendous sight. Dark lanes are all over the place from this southern view - extending all around the cluster rather than just to one side as I am accustomed to from home. The dark neb seems rather square around the cluster. There are huge black areas of dark neb.
NGC2516open cluster - very large and bright. Naked eye. Many bright stars, coarse, fills most of the FOV, evenly distributed and round.
Shapley 1planetary nebula - large, annular. Brighter in W part of ring, slightly elongated E/W.
NGC2808globular cluster - Nice glob, nicely condensed core, perhaps elongated N/S with more stars to the W than E.
Vela SN remnantFills half the FOV with 20 Nagler and OIII in Ray's 13". Long thins strips run N/S.
NGC2867planetary nebula - small planetary is round, bright, with small dark center. Possible mottling. With 7 Nagler and 2X Barlow - disk seems to change in areas of brightness, seeming to indicate areas of internal structure. Very blue planetary.

Limiting magnitude star count in Corvus (nearly at zenith) - mag 7.7

NGC3114open cluster - beautiful, large rich OC with bright star to E of center and striking arc of stars curving from N to W to S that seemed to define leading edge. Bright star at N tip. A dark "moat" seems to encircle cluster and run inside the edge of the arc of stars.
M83galaxy - in 13". At zenith - best view ever. Bright core with distinct N/S bar. Arms trail off ends of bar - haze fills in between arms and bar. Core is very bright.
NGC3199nebula - locally called the Gabriella Mistral Nebula - or Southern Crescent. With OIII, large half circle - actually full circle, very large. SW portion very bright. Elongated N/S. N part of bright section is ragged. Rest of bright section is faint by comparison. 1 degree E is round blob of neb with dark mottling, about 1/4 size of 3199. To E of that is dim N/S swath of neb to the S of a bright star.

Cool view! Omega Centauri in 20 N with top of Andes silhouetted in same FOV!

NGC3293open cluster - Nice open, medium size with many bright stars, compact - jewel-like. In same FOV with 20 Nag and OIII is a crescent of nebulosity larger than the cluster, W side very bright, perhaps a complete circle. The OIII shows round nebulosity surrounding this cluster. A bright star is on the S edge of the neb (the wide edge), neb dims around the E and S edges, with no neb on the NW edge. Great view!
NGC3324nebula - described in NGC3293 above.
NGC3352open cluster - huge! fills FOV in 20 Nagler. OIII reveals N half of cluster is in faint nebulosity - like M45, so cluster is really E/W 2 to 1 in somewhat of a box shape.
NGC3576nebula - very complex mix of bright and dark nebulosity - large faint swath running WNW/ESE with 2 bright sections that appear similar to Flame Nebula with extensions N/S. E section is smaller extending E/W. Large dark lane on N and S sides, not dark lanes after all (higher mag) - actually another large area of dimmer neb to the N running E/W. With 12 Nagler & DGM filter W section is four individual pieces of nebulosity - S part is smallest but brightest section to the WNW of a bi-lobed section - actually 2 sections of neb at right angles to each other. E section, removed from the complex part is "tadpole" in shape with a dark lane W of an embedded star. Even more complex in Ray's 13".

At this point we had 11 people out looking through the telescopes - the two imagers, property owner and his 21 year old son, and Cecelia (the chef).

NGC3766open cluster - bright, right and fairly large. Many curving chains and streamers. Brightest 3 stars are red and yellow on the W, E and SE side of the cluster.
NGC3915planetary nebula - bright, blue - with 7 Nagler central star is in and out. With 7 Nagler and 2X Barlow it is bright with a large even disk with a dark ring around the edges, elongated E/W. Outside is a very large oval halo elongated E/W and off center with more to the W.
NGC4755open cluster - The Jewel Box - 7 bright stars over a fairly rich medium sized cluster. 3 stars in the center have outstanding color - red, blue and gold.
NGC4945galaxy - huge elongated galaxy reminds me of The Slug. SW/NE with possible disturbed NE end. Dim core with possible mottling along the length and hints of HII regions. Nearby dim planetary with visible star, small dim round halo and dimmer outer halo elongated N/S, not on my charts, may be galaxy?
NGC5128galaxy - Centaurus A. Large, round, bright with bifurcated dark dust lane across entire galaxy running NW/SE. Split in dust lane in more pronounced in SE end.
NGC5139Globular Cluster - Omega Centauri at 75 degrees elevation in 20 Nagler fills over 1/2 FOV. Stars are resolved across the object. Inner 1/2 is a dense ball. It is difficult to believe the size of this cluster. Not as dense looking as others, but truly enormous (and naked eye).
Gum 12SN remnant - huge, wisps are very long and curving, criss-crossing back onto itself. At times there are 2 sections in the same FOV. This object is so large, Ray and I "walk" around it in his 13".
Naked Eyewe put our equipment away and Ray and I sat looking naked eye at the southern sky. The Southern Cross overhead with the Coal Sack seeming to be its shadow, equal in size. The False Cross, Omega Centauri, dark lanes from the bottom of Scorpius south, the barrens of Antlia, Eta Carina region, Alpha and Beta Centauri, the LMC and SMC circumpolar on the southern horizon, Scorpius laying along the peaks of the Andes to our east, Canopus blaring away. The sky is black, there are no light domes, the air is crisp and clear at 6,000 feet. The southern sky is just now beginning to become familiar and friendly. I look forward to seeing it again...

Clear (southern) skies,

ps: thanks to m, who gave me the incentive to make this trip a reality.

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Southern Sky

Sitting in an internet cafe in La Serena, decided to check e-mail and send a short note. Megallanic Clouds are beautiful naked eye. Eta Carina in a 12 inch LX-200 at an new observatory at 5000 feet, the Tarantula stole the show. Globs kick *ss on what we have back in the northern hemisphere. Tomorrow a tour of La Silla, observing tonight with some locals.

Having a great time, wish you were here.

Send money. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

ps - beers are all in liter bottles!

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Stalking The Bear

Clouds hung dark over the eastern hills south of San Jose as I drove toward Henry Coe State Park, Saturday afternoon, the 1st of March. It sure looked like winter, and all I could do was hope that the weather forecast for mostly clear skies would prove correct. So, I pressed on, enjoying rare light traffic on 101 south through the construction zone. Breezes out of the west greeted me in Morgan Hill, as I turned up East Dunne Road for the final part of the drive.

Climbing the hills and passing Anderson Reservoir, over the bridge and along the shore, begins my favorite part of the drive. Here is where I leave behind the city and am greeted by nature's changing seasons. The hills are now green, and the wildflowers are not far behind. Old gnarled oaks branch contortedly reach toward the sky on the uphill side of the road. Passing Jackson Ranch, the climb begins, with views of the south county valley, San Jose, the Diablo Mountain Range toward Mount Hamilton and south to Pacheco Peak, and the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west. Each turn is a scenic treat, cleansing the mind and spirit.

The view from Coe's overflow parking lot, where local amateur astronomers meet on 3rd quarter and new moon weekends, is the a wonder. The horizons are unparalleled among bay area observing sites... an unobstructed 360 degree panorama, save for the single oak at the south end of the lot. This observing site offers the best combination of area and elevation... 2600 feet high and large enough for perhaps 40 telescope and vehicles. When the fog is in, it is as dark as any site within an hour of the south bay. It offers easy access... no gate combinations needed, no need to leave during the night, or to arrive before dark. A friend joking said last night "we have to get Mark to like Fremont Peak again".... but why? I know others are happy there, but to me it does not compare either in set up area (for a group) or ease of access. Likewise with Dinosaur Point... since gatekeepers have become a necessity, I find it significantly less appealing... even though the drive there is easy, it has great horizons, paved surface and is darker on average than other local spots. Yes... I am sold on Coe.

Sunset came with a clear sky. Golden and red tones over the western hills. The scene was idyllic. By now there were maybe ten of us set up, mostly long time TACos along the eastern edge of the lot. A few newcomers were there too. A nice 7" TMB marked the northern end of the scopes, a 6" AP and Tele Vue Genesis to the south. My 18" f/4.5 Obsession was probably the largest aperture there, but other reflectors included a 10" Starsplitter, C11, M210(?) Takahashi Dall-Kirkham, and assorted other setups that arrived after dark, that I did not see. By the time people stopped trickling in, we had 18 or 20 telescopes set up.

One observer stopped by and showed a few of us his sketches of the Herschell 400-II. What a magnificent job... worthy of publication. A binder thick with visual impressions. I was extremely impressed. This is a hint at what type of projects observers, albeit the more serious of them, are involved. in.

I was continuing a long term project too. I had under 400 targets left on my until recently, stalled program of observing all the 2500+ Herschel objects. What I had left were the spring targets, the ones that suffer most from inclement weather. Tonight, I began low in the northeast as the Big Bear poked its nose up. I had the dimmest forty four Herschels in Ursa Major remaining.

As darkness overtook us, it was time to stalk the bear.

I certainly don't want to describe forty four objects, but the night was successful. I finished the list in Ursa, finding many of the object either visually interesting, or quite challenging.

But before I mention some of the highlight objects, another observer brought over a binoviewer made by Denkmeier (?) and was interested in what it would do in larger aperture. The binoviewer was equipped such that it did not require any modification to my Dob, and only magnified 1.2X. We used it on M42, NGC 2903, M81 and M82, and a few other objects. I thought these were fantastic, being that they worked without any mods to my scope. The views of M42 (with a pair of 19 Panoptics) showed all six stars in the Trapezium very easily. It was a highly detailed and relaxing view. What I did note though was what I already knew about binoviewers - there is a significant reduction in light throughput. The big bright stuff is *great* ... but there is NO way these would be effective for hunting the dimmest bits of fluff - stuff I was after last night in the Bear.

NGC 4511 is an example of the scenery getting there being better than the destination. A long string of bright stars run north to south due east of this dim galaxy. Nice to see... but there is also a wonderful pair of parallel curved star chains extending west from the midpoint of the bright string.... ending with the galaxy cupped, centered, just outside the end pair of stars in the chains. Distinctive star patterns are both visually pleasing and very useful in locating dim targets. NGC 4511 is a mag 14.77 irregular galaxy.

NGC 2820a was one of those targets that just seemed to be exactly where I wasn't looking. I could not believe the difficulty I had locating it! It is really in an easy spot, but sometimes the old hand/eye/brain thing just seems to snooze. But I finally did find it, and with my 7 Nagler at 280X I was able to obtain a very pleasing view of three galaxies in all within 6' of each other. NGC 2820 is a large highly elongated galaxy (4.1'x0.5') at mag 13. Nearby is NGC 2814, west of 2820, at mag 14.3 and elongated N/S 1.2'x0.3'. Although it is not marked as NGC 2820a, I believe IC 2458 is it. This was so fun to see, as it is a little pinch of amazing creation sitting not even 8" off the SW tip of the 2820. NGC 2820a is a mere 0.5'x0.2' in size, shimmering at a ghostly mag 15.5.

The next one I'll mention is NGC 3552, which apears to be part of Abell 1185. This was simply a pleasing view. A chain of six galaxies running predominantly north to south, ranging in magnitude from 13.9 to 15.6, with a pair of close galaxies just 6' to their east (and some dimmer ones around those).

About this time another observer came by and asked to check NGC 2261 on my computer. She was having some difficulty finding it using printed charts. What fun! This is Hubble's Variable Nebula, an object I hadn't looked at in years. I swung my 18" around and soon had what we used to call "Richard's Comet" in the field of view. Darn, if it doesn't look like a stubby comet! This is a target to check out this time of year.

But, back to the Bear.

Doing a Messier survey? Bored with M40? NGC 4362 is in the same widefield view. So are NGCs 4364 and 4358... forming a tight threesome with 4362. NGC 4358 weighs in at mag 16.4... requiring my 7 Nagler to tease out. Bracketing these three diminutive specks of galaxy are two other larger ones, roughly to the east and west - UGC 7534 and NGC 4335. This is a fun group, and easy to find off the "famous" Messier. BTW... there are other galaxies closer to M40, my target last night was NGC 4362.

Another nice but dim group is NGC 4967, 4974 and 4973. These range in magnitude from 15.0 to 15.5. If the night is good enough you can perhaps ten galaxies in this location, all within about a 1/3 degree field of view. I think this area was my favorite of the night.

For sheer star hopping "pretty" stuff, I enjoyed finding NGC 5294. Two bright stars are part of a quasi-chain running east to west, with several double and triple stars curving to the south the west, leading to the little galaxy. NGC 5294 is listed at mag 15.29.

Maybe someone can tell me what NGC 2810B is. I don't know! I sure found NGC 2810 - bright at mag 13.1 and 2810B seems to share its RA and Dec, but there is no sign of anything else there. A mystery.

NGCs 4547 and 4549 are interesting. A question mark asterism of stars is to the west of this pair. To the east of the top of the question mark is a bright star I used to mark the distance out to the galaxies. At 280X both galaxies were visible as shadowy glows, at mag 15.9 and 16.5. MCG 10-18-71 seemed almost bright nearby to their northeast, at mag 16.2.

The last object I'll report on was NGC 3930a, and finished my Herschel list for Ursa Major. NGC 3930 is an interesting object due to its low surface brightness. It is fairly large, especially at 280X. But what is 3930a? I looked for a while and eventually concluded I could see some spiral arms structure, and that there seemed to be a star involved. But then, after more inspection, I felt I was detecting an HII region glowing to the west of the core, in a spiral arm. Could this be the "a" in 3930a?

I felt great. It must have been 3:30 a.m., but I was not tired. In fact, it had been some time since I'd observed like this. No big note taking, locate, look, move on. Kind of a slash and burn style, but it was fun for a change. I did change eyepieces when I felt there was something possibly worth digging the detail out of, but it had been exhilarating. I had stalked the bear, and came away with a great night's experience. I have to do more of this!

Other than one or two other observers puttering around, I was the only other one still awake. The fog had filled the valleys and Coe was dark, and nary a hint of dew. Some light lit the underside of the low clouds blanketing Morgan Hill below us. But Gilroy and San Jose were gone.

One of the observers came by and asked how I was doing. We chatted briefly and I said "look at the clouds in the east"... he looked..... and I said... those over there.... the ones 20,000 light years away.... The summer Milky Way was billowing up.... and the Big Bear was heading down.

It was the perfect finish to the night.

I turned in and slept peacefully. When I woke in the morning the valleys were all under fog.

I drove down the hill and, entering the fog, felt it was somehow taking me from my life as an observer, back to what I do the rest of the time.

I'll be back though. I need to take out the Hunting Dogs, next time.