Band of Brothers

The Brothers Star Party normally takes place in September, after the more-famous Oregon Star Party but before the clouds of autumn close off the sky for those of us who spend our nighttime hours reaching into the Universe beyond our planet.  This year, however, OSP is later on the calendar in order to coincide with the August 21 solar eclipse, and Brothers was moved (perhaps not only for this reason) into the July new-Moon week.

BSP takes place just west of the “town” of Brothers, which is actually an unincorporated area with nearly zero population and very little activity, day or night. The star party is situated a couple of miles south of Highway 20, in a dusty high desert region near a prehistoric dry riverbed; whereas OSP is covered with rock, making it very difficult to anchor one’s ground cover, tents, or equipment, the BSP site is soft and covered with crumbled pumice. By my guess, it was probably 70% pumice and 30% dried jackrabbit shit.

I’d been able to pack better than I had for OSP the previous year, and managed to get both main scopes in the van in addition to my 70mm Pronto and a twin mattress. My plan was to spend the first two nights at Brothers using the 18″ to track down Hickson and Shakhbazian galaxy groups, various and assorted galaxy trios and flat galaxies, and a few very difficult globular star clusters. The third night was to be spent with my own 12.5″ scope, hunting down globulars and planetary nebulae; the final night was going to be reserved for the Pronto and my 11 x 80 binoculars, browsing the Milky Way and sweeping up dark and bright nebulae.

I arrived at the site on Thursday afternoon, having overshot the gate to the site and having had to turn around after (finally) programming my GPS to take me to the exact spot. The off-road driving was smooth and easy to drive on, until I hit the electric “fence” that crossed the road at a right-angle turn–I didn’t notice the single wire that crossed the road at windshield level, and had no idea what to do about it until the rancher whose property bordered the BSP site drove past and kindly let me through. He’d been wondering what the campers and tents at the site were doing there, and in exchange for an answer he showed me how to unhook the electric wire if I needed to leave or enter the site.

I was in a bit of a foul mood as I pulled up among the other four or five vehicles at the site, having wasted time trying to find the place (the star-party sign had been too small to see from the road, even though I’d been looking for it, and no-one had warned me about the electric fence). That mood simmered down after I found a space to park and began to unload my gear: 18″ scope, 12.5″ scope (Bob the Dob, now with functioning tracking platform), Pronto, and various and sundry other bits (table, chairs, book-and-small-gear trunk, etc.). This time, I’d set a tarp down tight on the ground to minimize the blowing of dust onto the scopes and gear; only a few patches of scrub-brush or sage resisted my efforts to make my personal site perfectly flat.

As it turned out, I had parked next to Thomas from Grant’s Pass, a member of my tribe from OSP 2016. Thomas had quite a camp: a pickup truck with cap (where he was sleeping); a trailer for his gear, which he had detached and left about eight feet behind the truck; a canopy bridging the space between truck and trailer; and a set of “solar panel” tarps/shades, each made of a multitude of silvery strands woven together, so that the wind could blow through them while reflecting away the Sun’s heat. Thomas recognized me right away, and came over to talk as I was finishing my setup.

To the other side of my van (the side where I’d set up) was a motor home owned by a fellow named Norman, and we sat in his shade for about an hour while waiting for the Sun to fade and the warm day to turn cooler. I’d be sleeping in the van, with a couple of tarps and a canopy Jerry had loaned me as shade.  Thursday was to be the coolest day of the four, but I’d slept in the van before at OSP and had survived the heat–I even had a comfortable mattress to sleep on this time. I had no trees for shade this time, though, and it would definitely make a difference.

 

IMG_2140

Half of a panorama of the Brothers site, facing east, with my van and Norman’s camper.

A number of the other attendees stopped by to check out my scopes as the sunset advanced: there was another Thomas there, an older gent with a long grey Dumbledorish beard (I recognized him from the BSP website, holding a sign displaying the site’s coordinates); his wife was there with him. There were also Robert and his wife; they and bearded Thomas and his wife were parked a little farther east at the site, and I’d passed them on the way in. There was another vehicle parked west of (Grant’s Pass/OSP) Thomas, but I didn’t meet its owner. Amusingly, there were as many Porta-Potties at the site as there were observers–we could each pretty much claim one for ourselves.

The sky was slightly cruddy with cirrus as it got dark; I rated the transparency at about a 4/10–a bit of a disappointment after a 3-1/2 hour drive, but I suspected successive nights would be progressively better. Two things were nonetheless already apparent as day faded into night: the BSP site was indeed extremely dark, and (as I’d already gone to my heavy winter coat) it was going to be very chilly at night here in the desert. I’d prepared for the cold and anticipated the darkness, having prepared an observing list designed to maximize the grey-zone (Bortle 2) skies.

I got to work quickly—unlike at OSP 2016, where it had taken a few hours to get moving. I had memorized the position of M9 earlier in the summer, having searched for it with Randy B at Eureka Ridge, and added this cluster to my usual retinue of falling-twilight objects: Jupiter, Saturn, M80 (usually my first deep-sky target in summer, given its high surface brightness), M4, M5, M13, M11, and M 10 and M12, the latter two of which I’d also memorized the positions of.  Sunset these nights had been approximately at 8:45, and by the time I’d worked through the list of twilight objects (hitting some of the bright summer nebulae—M8, M20, M17, M16, M57, M27, the Veil Nebula—along the way), it was usually dark enough to start on my observing plan.

I spent a chunk of each night letting others look through the 18″—it was the biggest mirror and tallest scope at the site the first night, although its aperture was superseded the second night. I’d just found Shakhbazian 16 in Draco–somewhat to my surprise–when bearded Thomas stopped by, so we compared notes on the group; by the time he came down from the ladder, he’d spotted one of the elusive six galaxies in Shk 16, although he acknowledged that his eyesight wasn’t what it had once been.

Shk 16 was the only target I recorded notes on the first night–as with OSP the year before, I ran out of steam a bit early, even though I stayed up until 3 AM in the 40˚ temps.

BROTHERS STAR PARTY

7/20-21/17

43˚ 47’ 55” N, 120˚ 39’ 0” W
MOON: 27 days (10% illumination); rose at 4:05 AM
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 5; Milky Way bright but lacking in detail
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.5
WEATHER CONDITIONS: 80s falling to low 40s; light dew late, air still

Others present: 8

Notes with EAS 18” f/5.5 Dob

11:46
Shakhbazian 16 (Dra): very faint—couple of very faint glows S and slightly P a 10th-mag star—picking up two fairly close together, one farther S—should be six, but only getting larger ones—trail away toward 14th-mag star to S—bright star is part of a triangle that extends not quite halfway across field to P and N side of field—now three glows visible—one between but F previous two—galaxies separable

By the time I crawled onto the mattress and closed up the van for the night, I was pretty damned cold. Even though I’d “prepared” for it, I hadn’t really—I’d spent more time planning my observing lists and packing telescope gear than I did warm clothes. I threw a couple of blankets on and slept in both of my jackets, adding my winter coat as a third blanket.

***

Day Two started about 7:30, when the van had warmed noticeably. I ditched the two jackets, checked my phone for the time—surprisingly, I got terrific reception and Internet there at the site; we discovered a batch of cell towers on a “nearby” mountain which were likely the reason for this. I then went back to sleep for a couple more hours until the van was hot, then rolled down the front windows and opened the back vents on the van, adding a breeze from my portable fan to circulate the air. I woke up with a low-level headache that stayed with me for much of the day, and I spent the day in the van, watching the strong breeze spin the scopes in slow circles, eating various dried meats and fruit, and generally living in a van down by the long-dry river.

 

If OSP has a classic revival-meeting atmosphere—complete with tents and speakers and events and raffles—BSP is more like a yoga retreat. There were no events, no formal organization; Pat, the organizer, stopped by at dusk to note that I was the only pre-registered attendee at the site, and wondered where the others were. The only event at BSP was observing. I spent less time socializing at BSP for some reason, although I spent a good chunk of the second evening over at Thomas’ camp, talking about work and travel.

As I was moving some of my gear around, to minimize the effects of both Sun and wind, I noticed a rather large moth anchored tightly to the tripod of my Pronto. As it didn’t fly away when I moved the tripod, I put the tripod in the van’s shade and left the moth to his/her own devices. I also chose not to set up Jerry’s canopy—the wind was gusting hard enough at times that I didn’t want to risk the canopy getting damaged. Had it been mine, I might’ve gone ahead, but I wasn’t going to have someone else’s property get exposed to the unfavorable elements if I could avoid it.

IMG_2142

Mothra, a two-day visitor to my Pronto tripod.

I noticed that the site had gotten more populous throughout the day—two more vehicles had pulled in to my east, and another two to my west. To the west were Warren and Rod; Warren was a fellow CloudyNights member, and came armed with a 12″ Zhumell dob, while Rod came to BSP in a motor home that probably cost as much as my house and was  observing with a gorgeous 20″ f/3 (or so; I never asked) Dob whose frame was made entirely of scarlet, silver, and gold hand-machined aluminum. Rod wanted a scope short enough that his wife could observe through it without needing a ladder when it was pointed at the zenith. It was one of the most beautiful telescopes I’ve ever seen.

(I should note that I generally feel about telescopes the way most people feel about sports cars; while cars do nothing for me, I find a gorgeous scope as drool-worthy as most guys would find [for example] an Aston Martin.)

To my east was Ted J, a Bay-area observer who usually observed at Pinnacles National Park in California; he’d come to BSP at the behest of a couple of other observers, Dave and Cal, who were parked just east of him. Ted had (IIRC) an 8″ Dob, and had included the star party as part of a trip north. He’d attended the Golden State Star Party the month before—I had intended to go to GSSP, but finances and time had made doing so a poor choice this year.  Ted and Warren would both stop by during the night, taking looks through the 12.5″ and 18″ scopes at various targets.

The second night was more productive, with better transparency. I even broke out the sketch kit to make a couple of sketches as a memorial to two of the more-exotic objects I swept up (having returned to Shk 16 specifically to get its appearance down on paper).

7/20-21/17

43˚ 47’ 55” N, 120˚ 39’ 0” W
MOON: 28 days (4% illumination); rose at 5:07 AM
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 6-7; haze kept low on horizon; Milky Way moderately detailed
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: upper 80s falling to mid 40s; light dew late, some breeze until midnight

Others present: 16 (inc. Thomas, Peggy, Thomas, Rod, Cal, Ted, Warren)

All notes with EAS 18” f/5.5 Dob

10:50
NGCs 5714, 5717, 5722 (Boo)—5714: very thin galaxy with two stars just N of it—elongated S slightly P-N slightly F—2.5’ x 0.25’—not much central brightening or nucleus—to N of 5714 and slightly F by 1’ is an 11th-mag star; due F that star by 0.5’ is a 13th-mag star—S slightly P galaxy by 3’ is another 13th-mag star—P and slightly N of galaxy by 3’ is another 13th-mag star—F 5714 and N a bit are two more galaxies—5722 is most distant from 5714—closer one [5717] is brighter—roundish—stellar nucleus—fairly obvious central brightening—elongated a little bit—0.75’ x 0.5’—elongated SP-NF but hard to tell—pretty faint—about 5’ from center of 5714—5722: F and very slightly S of 5717 by 3’—much more difficult—much smaller—obvious stellar nucleus—very compact—0.3’ round at best—poorly-defined—easy to see but hard to get a “fix” on—N slightly P of 5722 by 6’ is a pair of 13.5-mag stars; one closer to galaxy is a tiny bit fainter; stars separated by 0.4’—with 5714 centered, a 10th-mag star is 13’ S of galaxy—N of 5714 by 9’ is a 12th-mag star

11:19
NGCs 6120, 6119, 6122 (CrB)—6120: much the brightest of group—maybe 0.75’ tops—roundish—has a brighter central core but no real visible nucleus—NP by 2.5’ is 6119: most difficult of trio—no more than 0.3’ round—no central concentration but a very faint star (16th-mag?) in contact with it on SP edge—NF by 2’ is a 15th-mag star—SP 6120 is a pair of stars, brighter of which is due P the fainter; brighter is 2.25’ SP 6120 and is 11th-mag; fainter is F that one by 1’ and is 14th-mag—P and N of 6120 by 14’ is a 9th-mag star—F 6120 by 5’ is 6122: edge-on thin streak—elongated N very slightly P-S very slighty F—hint of a nucleus popping into view on occasion—1.0’ x 0.25’—2.25’ F and very slightly S is a 16th-mag star—threshold star due N of galaxy by 3’—field dominated by a number of bright stars (7th/8th-mags) P and N of galaxy group on edge of field

12:40
Hickson 82 (Her): not the most difficult of Hicksons I’ve seen—galaxies between two bright stars; star to SP of group is 7th-mag; other is NF galaxies and 9th-mag; two stars separated by 20’—two of galaxies about halfway between the two stars—P-most galaxy slightly brighter; NF that galaxy is third component; fourth component of group not seen at this magnification—galaxy to SF [6163] appears elongated P-F—has a brighter core—not more than 0.75’ x 0.4’—6161: slightly brighter than other two—separated from 6163 by 2.75’—brighter core—very slightly elongated SP-NF?—0.5’ x 0.25’—possible substellar nucleus—6161 best defined of group—6162: F and slightly N of 6163 by 1’—much more diffuse—not much concentration

1:04
Hickson 55 (Dra): spectacularly difficult!—group is elongated SP-NF—very difficult to tell—1.25’ long?—very faint—averted necessary to hold—0.125’ wide?—one distinct glow, no real separation—does look a bit brighter in middle as if brightest galaxy in middle—brief flash of separation on N end as if one galaxy separable—P group is a trio of stars in an isosceles triangle with two added fainter stars—SP star (farthest S of three) is brightest at 11th-mag; other two at 12th and 13th mags with dimmest in middle of triangle—long side of triangle is 9’—galaxies are 7’ NF that 11th-mag star—with 10mm Delos: hints of separation—tiny flash of stellar nucleus to one of galaxies, as faint as can get—SF group by 3’ is a 14th-mag star 

 

Hick55BSP

Hickson 55, as seen with the 18″ f/5.5 scope at 178x. All five galaxies are crunched together in that tiny, faint streak above center. Preceding side is indicated by the arrow.

Shakh16BSP

Shakhbazian 16, as seen with the 18″ f/5.5 scope at 178x. The three brightest galaxies are seen here; three more lie closer to the bright star and one more between the galaxy to the lower right and the star closest to it. Preceding side is indicated by the arrow.

The second night was slightly warmer than the first, but I was still thoroughly chilled by 3 AM when I crawled back into the van. It had been a great observing night quality-wise, if not as much quantity-wise. Hickson 55 had made the whole trip worth it, to say nothing of the other targets.

***

Day Three was more of the same, but even more so: windier, hotter, clearer. I awoke early to gusting winds, and as I’d intended to spend the evening using the 12.5″ scope, I took the 18″ down, stowing the truss poles under my observing table and the secondary cage on the passenger seat of the van. It had already lost a strip of the secondary-cage flocking, which had blown loose and folded up on itself, so it was better to break the whole thing down than to leave it exposed to the wind. I also noticed tiny footprints on much of my gear, perhaps from a chipmunk or something slightly larger. (I had heard little footsteps on my tarp the first night, although those sounded heavier than a mere chipmunk.)

I went back into the van—still surprisingly cool to stay in during the punishing days–and went through my copy of the interstellarum Deep-Sky Atlas (previously reviewed here) looking for globular clusters and planetary nebulae (and a few other objects) to comprise a list for the evening. Among them were AL3, a globular I’d never heard of, square in the Sagittarius Milky Way “steam”, Abell 39, a gorgeous round planetary in Hercules, Sharpless 2-71, an odd planetary in Aquila, and Hickson 86, a group of faint galaxies in extreme eastern Sagittarius. Thomas had given me a mirrored mylar tarp to use as a sun shield on the side of the van, and between the portable fan, the mylar tarp, and my still-cool supply of water, I wasn’t at all uncomfortable lying in the van under the blazing desert sun.

The wind grew particularly violent, waking me up from a quick doze. It took me several minutes to react after it died down; a quick look out the van window nearly made me ill.

Bob the Dob had blown off of its tracking platform and was lying on the ground beyond the edge of the tarp. I had wrapped the scope with an old duvet cover to keep it protected from the sun, but the cover had given it more surface for the wind to act against. Normally, I would pull the scope’s shroud down to let the wind pass through the truss poles, but the cover had made this a moot point, and the wind had simply tipped the whole assembly over. The tracking platform lay on the tarp, the moving top section tipped over onto the base.

A brief inspection relieved my concern over the condition of the 12.5″. The primary mirror was fine, despite the mirror cover having fallen off. The scope had landed on its Telrad finder, which was broken (a look would indicate that the reticle had been knocked loose and would possibly be repairable). I would find, when collimating the scope that evening, that the secondary mirror was loose on its rotational axis, and collimation would prove difficult—I had dealt with this problem before, and it was surmountable with patience.

I lifted the scope back into its rocker box, took off the duvet cover, lowered the shroud, and bungeed the scope to my trunk of books and tools in order to prevent it from moving too much. All that was left was to wait for dark to see if there was any unseen damage. My Milky Way browsing night with the Pronto might have come a night early. (Thomas would later tell me that a dust devil had come through; my site must’ve gotten the brunt of it.)

IMG_2146

Full twilight panorama of BSP, with Bob the Dob near center, Ted’s car to right, and Rod’s motor home to left. The Three Sisters mountains, still snow-covered, can just be seen in the far distance just to the right of the road.

As night encroached, I discovered the collimation issue (and that the primary was way off collimation-wise), and another I wouldn’t be able to diagnose: the dew heater for the secondary mirror was no longer working. Perhaps the battery had died, as I had left it on the entire day before, Given the knock the scope had taken, though, I suspect that there’s a more-serious problem with the heater. (I haven’t yet checked.)

Getting the secondary collimated was tricky, but it stayed well-collimated the whole night; in fact, some of the views that night were among the sharpest I’ve had through the scope. And the night was clearly shaping up to be stunning.

As twilight faded, Ted stopped by. We marveled at the clarity and three-dimensionality of the Milky Way, especially in the area around Cygnus; Le Gentil 3, the dark nebula “behind” Deneb, was Coal Sack-like, and the stars in Cygnus seemed to have a depth that I’d never seen before, as if their relative distances could be gauged simply with a naked-eye view. We took a long look at the Fetus Nebula, NGC 7008, which lay in the midst of LG3 and was superb even without a filter, then poked around the giant North America Nebula complex for a while before Ted went back to his scope and I started on my list.

Abell 39 was the first target, and was surprisingly easy with a UHC filter; it was better in the UHC than in the OIII, counter to expectations.

7/20-21/17

43˚ 47’ 55” N, 120˚ 39’ 0” W
MOON: 29 days (1% illumination); rose at 6:15 AM
SEEING: 8
TRANSPARENCY: 8; Milky Way bright and detailed into Ophiuchus; Cygnus Milky Way brilliant and 3-dimensional
SQM: not checked
NELM: 7+
WEATHER CONDITIONS: upper 80s falling to mid 40s; light dew late, some breeze until midnight

Others present: 16 (inc. Thomas, Peggy, Thomas, Rod, Cal, Ted, Warren)

All notes with 12.5” Dob (Bob the Dob)

One of my best-ever nights of observing in terms of production of difficult targets.

10:48
Abell 39 (Her): NF a large diamond of 8th and 9th-mag stars—UHC does better job on nebula than OIII?—nebula 2.5’ diameter—using 24mm SWA and UHC (best combination?)—pretty round—SF by 14’ is a 10th-mag star—hints of annularity in 14mm that vanish at 24mm—just a broad glow like Helix Neb in 24mm—no central star visible even at higher powers (didn’t see even w/o filter)—surprised that UHC better than OIII—on P edge may be a threshold star or stellaring—interesting field of stars of various brightnesses—to N of nebula is a pair that may be a wide-separated double of equal mags (edge of field, 30’ from nebula)—to NP and SF are faint (13th/14th-mags?) stars 6’ each from edge of nebula

11:18
NGC 6563 (Sgr): “Southern Ring Nebula”—very fine planetary—very low in sky—0.75’—round—annularity only suspected in 14mm—P nebula are two bright stars; one (8th-mag) 18’ due P; other brighter  (7th-mag) 15’ P slightly N—S of nebula by 13’ is another 8th-mag star—S slightly F nebula by 6’ is a faint double; hard to split, 11th and 12th mags—1.25’ NP from center of nebula is 11th-mag star—F nebula by 8’ is an 11th-mag star—in middle of diamond of 13th/14th-mag stars

NGC 6563 was a very difficult observation, with the scope pointed near the horizon and the observer not wanting to sit in the pumice-dirt; the southerly declination of the nebula required some awkward contortions of my neck and shoulders to look into the eyepiece while sitting on my chair (which was adjusted to its lowest position).

11:54
AL 3 (Sgr): didn’t even know about this one until earlier in the afternoon—much easier than expected—direct-vision object—N of an upside-down dipper-shaped asterism by 3.5’—globular may be granular; may also have field stars overlaying it—1.25’—small triangle of 14th/14.5-mag stars NF cluster—two 8th-mag stars form almost-equilateral triangle with cluster; F slightly N and SF cluster;  almost equidistant at 16’ from globular—globular at P point of triangle; opposite side to F side of field—several stars from 14th-mag and lower around S edge of cluster; including one star P and one F of cluster

12:05
NGCs 6440, 6445 (Sgr)—6440: SP 6445—in a line of four equally-bright (12.5-mag) stars—line extends NP-SF—star closest to globular a bit F of line—bright—pretty highly concentrated—core region 0.75’, whole globular 2.0’—CC 4?—10th mag—faint (15th-mag) star SP globular by 2’—2.25’ NP globular is one of 12.5-mag stars; NP that star by 5.5’ is another of the 12.5-mag stars; SF globular by 4.5’ is another of the 12.5-mag stars; SF that one by 3’ is last of those 12.5-mag stars—6445: N slightly F 6440 by 22’—even at low mag, not round—elongated NP-SF—has to NP tip by 0.5’ a 12.5-mag star—no central star visible—0.75’ x 0.5’—S very slightly F by 0.5’ from edge of planetary is a 13th-mag star—P slightly S by 2’ is a 14.5-mag star—planetary is therefore in long non-hypotenuse side of right triangle of stars—due F nebula by 5’ is a 8th-mag star that has a 14th-mag star due S by 0.75’—nebula certainly annular, but there may also be hints of “bridge” between two lobes—outer edges slightly fuzzy—N edge is brightest part of nebula

NGC 6440 has long had a peculiar significance to me; it was the object I observed during a moment of astronomical moksha—a moment when, with my 8″ scope back in Cincinnati, Pink Floyd’s “Coming Back to Life” had come on the radio and everything but the globular cluster had ceased to exist. It was almost a religious moment, a moment of transcendence that forged a bond between me and the Universe, in which I knew that the Universe had chosen me to observe it in depth. NGC 6440 is not a particularly impressive cluster, but it will always have that significance, a reminder of the spiritual experience that comes with making contact with the wider universe of which our planet has sprung.

12:30
NGC 6629 (Sgr): expecting something bigger?—nebula very small but pretty obviously not stellar, maybe 15”—well-defined central region in OIII—fringy outer region that’s quite small—no central star seen, but central area of nebula very bright—cool nebula—no color noted—without filter, nebula is easy once found with filter—NP a large diamond of 10th/11th/12th-mags—nebula NP 10th-mag star by 2’—NP nebula by 4’ is a 12th-mag star—due N of nebula by 8’ is a 8th-mag star—N slightly F nebula by 5’ is a 14th-mag star—P and slightly S of nebula by 12’ is an 11th-mag star

1:53
Hickson 86 (Sgr): not easy—galaxies P a triangle of 10th-12th-mag stars—wedge shape that points toward galaxies—to SP on edge of field is another triangle that’s very skinny and points toward galaxies, also of 10th/11th/12th-mags—a number of galaxies in field, some hovering around a 11th-mag star that is pointed to by triangle to SP; those galaxies are just F that star; N of that star by 5’ is the Hickson cluster—consists of a couple small contacting glows almost due N of that 11th-mag star—galaxies very ghostly; number of galaxies hard to tell as seeing varies—almost impossible to define any of these galaxies—“main” group or pair about 0.75’—P that group by 5’ is the brighter (12th-mag) of a double star; 14th-mag companion SP the brighter by 15”—galaxies visible but tough to discern any details

2:27
Sh 2-71 (Aql): TriAtlas and Sky Safari had incorrect position—nebula quite bright with an OIII filter—quite impressive—2.0’ x 1.0’ [elongation direction?]—central star fairly obvious even with filter—nebula is in a lopsided diamond of 8th to 11th-mag stars—brightest star in diamond is to S slightly P end—diamond 8’ major axis—nebula toward F end, nearer to stars in minor axis (minor axis 3’)—nebula is very diffuse—doesn’t have much definition or edges—interior brightening is irregular, especially on S side—nebula has uniform background haze and some internal mottling that’s brighter over top of haze—14’ SP is a 7th-mag star—nebula somewhat visible without filter; central star even more obvious

3:02
Abell 70 (Aql): very faint, round—OIII necessary to see it—not really picking up annularity—F the nebula by 3’ is a 12th-mag star—almost due P by 8’ is a 10th-mag star—NF by 6’ is a double star; brighter component (11th-mag) has a dimmer (14th-mag) NP by 0.5’—nebula has well-defined edges—0.75’ round—details not easy to winnow out—galaxy on N edge not visible—nebula visible without filter once located with OIII—no central star visible—maybe a star in contact on N edge but not galaxy?

By the time I finished observing this night—one of my best-ever in terms of quality of observations—I was elated. Despite the cold, despite not having had a decent amount of sleep over the past three days, I could’ve kept observing until dawn. I looked around the sky: not only were the Pleiades well-risen by this point, Venus looked like the light from an oncoming train, a painfully-brilliant silver-blue glare low in the northeast. The autumn sky, my favorite quarter of the night, had crept up on me; given the awful observing conditions that had dominated the past two autumns, this might be one of my best times to observe the Celestial Oceans (the water-themed constellations of the fall).

But Abell 70 had been a good target to end on. I had decided a bit earlier in the evening that I was going to make this my last night at Brothers for this year; the forecast for Sunday night was not promising, and my brain was pretty full after the past three nights.

***

I reluctantly packed up the next morning, but I wasn’t the only one—many (if not most) of the others were heading out as well, spurred by the poor forecast and the need to work Monday. (I was off for Monday anyway.) I said my goodbyes and exchanged media contacts with Thomas and Ted—Thomas cut the tag off one of his silvery canopy-shades so that I could look it up online; Ted and I had a light discussion of my Miskatonic University t-shirt and the Jack Chick parody that featured Cthulhu (“Who Will Be Eaten First?”).

Repacking the van went exactly as packing it had, with everything in its same place. My moth, which had disappeared for a day, had returned to its spot on the Pronto tripod, and needed to be shooed away. I was impressed by how easily my personal observing spot had disappeared, leaving not a trace except for some slightly-flattened scrub-plants. Having awakened at about 9 AM, I was on the road by 12.

Leaving behind the Brothers Star Party had a sense of finality. With being in Carbondale for the August new-Moon phase, it’s likely I won’t get any deep-sky observing in until September and—given the horrid weather conditions of Willamette Valley autumns, it’s possible that even September may be a wash. Should that be the case, I might not get to observe until April 2018, when the autumn/winter clouds finally break… in which case it will be a long, dreary hibernation from seeing into the Universe beyond us.

 

 

 

 

The Door Into Summer

It was already summer, to be sure; the first days of 90-degree temperatures had come and gone, and perhaps the last vestiges of spring rains had ended at the beginning of the month. This last two weeks of June called for clear skies, to coincide with the Moon-dark cycle, and the cancellation of several days of work (due to being too efficient and finishing the job earlier than expected) meant that it was time to clear the spring slate of Herschel galaxies for the mid-summer Milky Way run. Galaxies to the west, galaxies to the east, with the thick star clouds of summer bisecting the two extragalactic realms.

I had 51 galaxies on the Herschel 400 and Herschel II lists on my observing plan. These included those galaxies in Virgo from Spica (at RA 13h 26m 07s) on east to the Serpens border, and the Herschel galaxies in Draco, Hercules, and Boötes (basically every Herschel in those three constellations that I hadn’t done, with the exceptions of NGC 6058 in Hercules and NGC 6543 in Draco, both planetary nebulae; I’d seen 6543, the famous Cat’s Eye Nebula, numerous times but had never taken notes on it). Accomplishing this, I could either move on into the non-galaxy Herschels of summer, or could use the 18″ EAS Dob to work on galaxies in the Astronomical League’s Flat Galaxy, Local Group, Galaxy Groups & Clusters, and Arp Peculiar Galaxy programs, having decided to keep using Bob the (12.5″) Dob for the remainder of my Herschel work for consistency’s sake.

June 18th was a Sunday night. Bob, my father-in-law, had finished his weekend’s work and was looking for something to do, so he and his 4.25″ StarBlast came along to Eureka Ridge; as my work wouldn’t formally be canceled for a couple of days yet, I’d planned to go to Eureka due to the half-hour drive (vs. the hour drive to Eagle’s Ridge). Jerry was also heading to Eureka, for similar reasons of proximity.

It turned out to be something of a Three Bob Night, as we encountered a bobcat at Simonson Road on the way to the site.  The cat ran along the road for about a hundred feet before vanishing into the roadside underbrush. It was my first sighting of a largish predatory animal here in Oregon, but it wouldn’t even be the last of the week.

With work the next day, I didn’t have the interest in a full night’s observing, and having worked all weekend, Bob didn’t either. I got to a good stopping point near 12:30 AM, and so we all called it a night at that point.

6/18-19/17

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 23 days (43% illumination), rose 2:33 AM
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 6
SQM: 21.3 (midnight)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in 60s; moderate dew, wind breezy on ridge but not at ground level

Others present: JO, BE

11:02
NGC 5493 (Vir): not at all what I was expecting—pretty small, reasonably bright—has a very bright stellar nucleus but not much core—no more than 1.0’ but should be more than that?; sky is still not totally dark—round—looks like, off to P side of nucleus just by hair, an extension of nucleus to P slightly N edge? or double nucleus?—in immediate vicinity (7’) around it, a lot of threshold stars up to about mag 13.5—brightest star (11th mag) in field is N and slightly P by 18’—star has a 13th-mag companion due F by 2’—another 11th-mag star F and slightly S of galaxy by 18’

11:16
NGCs 5506, 5507 (Vir): both brighter than 5493—separated by 4’—5506: S-most of pair—quite diffuse—2.5’ x 0.75’—elongated P-F—slightly brighter, largish core region, brightness doesn’t extend down arms, only about middle third of galaxy—5507 almost due N of 5506—distracting pair of bright stars in field—SP 5506 by 10’ is an 8th-mag star—NP by 19’ is an 8.5-mag star—5507: much smaller—very bright substellar nucleus—better defined than 5506—1.0’ x 0.75’—elongated NP-SF by a bit—need averted vision to see it as extended—4.5’ due N is a 12th-mag star—F 5507 by 20’ is a 9.5-mag star—that star and two P the two galaxies make a bright triangle that frames field

11:41
NGCs 5363, 5364, 5360 (Vir): 5363: brightest of three—compact and well-defined—more northern of two major galaxies (w/5364)—bright—distractingly bright small core and bright stellar nucleus—2.0’ x 1.75’—elongated NP-SF—NF galaxy by 4.5’ is a 9th-mag star that’s also distracting—due N of galaxy by 9’ is an 11.5-mag star—S and slightly F of galaxy by 15’ is NGC 5364: big diffuse sprawl—brighter core—pretty round—halo is round, brighter central region elongated SP-NF—3.25’ halo—central region runs across halo, about 1.25’ wide—just outside NP edge of halo is 12th-mag star—maybe a faint hint in averted of a substellar nucleus—12th-mag star is about 4’ from center of galaxy—just on NP edge of halo is a threshold star halfway between center of galaxy and 12th-mag star previously noted—P and slightly S of galaxy by 15’ is a 10.5-mag star—just visible NF that star (in line with 5364) by 5’ is a long thin very difficult streak (5360): requires averted—elongated SP-NF—difficult to tell size, very ghostly—maybe 1.0’ x 0.5’?—difficult!—sky not good enough for galaxy—very little concentration, even in averted—stellar nucleus that’s very tenuous

12:01
NGCs 5560, 5566 (Vir)—5566 is much brighter of two, 5560 skinnier—5566: has bright bright core and bright substellar nucleus—elongated SP-NF—2.0’ x 1.0’—pretty well defined, not much extra in averted—to P and very slightly S of core by 1.5’ is a 14th-mag star—2’ due F core is a 12th-mag star—5560: NP 5566 by 6’—elongated NP-SF—thinner and more diffuse than 5566—2.0’ x 0.5’—brighter but unconcentrated core—core is half the length of the galaxy—just to N of core by 0.4’ is a 14.5-mag star—P galaxy by 6.5’ is a 10th-mag star—2.5’ NP that star is a 12th-mag star—supposedly another galaxy (5569) on NF end of 5566, but not visible enough here

12:08
NGCs 5576, 5574, 5577 (Vir)—5576: brightest of trio by far—smallish, 1.25’ x 1.0’—elongated P-F—very bright core—stellar nucleus that’s also brightish—NP the nucleus by 1.75’ is a 13th-mag star—SP galaxy is 5574: halo as bright as 5576’s but core much fainter, only slightly brighter than its own halo—elongated SP-NF—core doesn’t seem uniformly bright, as if threshold star embedded in SP end—no nucleus visible—separated from 5576 by 3’—N and very slightly F 5576 by 10’ is 5577: elongated SP-NF—pretty obvious—2.5’ x 1.0’—pretty diffuse—doesn’t seem to have much central brightening/core/nucleus—forms a right triangle with 5576 and a 11.5-mag star NP 5576 by 8’—star is SP 5577 by 11’—back to 5576: NF galaxy by 7.5’ is a double star with 12th- and 14th-mag components—brighter is due N of dimmer by 0.25’—due N of that 12th-mag star by 3.25’ is another 12th-mag star

12:25
NGC 5668 (Vir): big diffuse galaxy—roundish—2.75’—very diffuse—reasonably bright and obvious—to F edge of galaxy (not quite to edge of halo) is a 14th-mag star that makes it difficult to see if there’s a nucleus; don’t think there is one—3.5’ S very slightly F galaxy’s center is a 14.5-mag star—NF galaxy by 6’ is a 9th-mag star; 2’ due N of that star is an 11th-mag star—NP galaxy’s center by 6’ is a 12.5-mag star; NP that star by 6’ is a 12th-mag star—SP galaxy by 13’ is another 12th-mag star—galaxy’s halo fairly indistinct—not a specific core but some mottling/uneven illumination in galaxy’s interior

 

I hadn’t really been sure I’d be able to make it the next night, with a number of shifts coming up, but after my morning shift (and a lot of caffeine), I got the cancellation e-mail: we were done with the field study, giving me a full week off. Good for the astronomy, bad for the bank account. There was no sense not taking advantage, though, so I made sure to be out for Night Two of the run.

The sky was already pink to the east as I started setting up; I hadn’t been able to convince anyone else out to Eureka, so it was just me on this night. They missed the huge pink thunderhead low in the southeast, the one that flickered brilliantly with far-off lightning until after midnight. In some ways, I wished it was happening in town; the thunderstorms are one of the things we miss about life in Carbondale (aside from the people, of course).

As I started observing, it was apparent that the sky was pretty much turbulent all over, as the seeing was pretty lousy all night. The air was more transparent than the previous night, with greater definition in the Milky Way, though, and as transparency is more important for deep-sky observing than seeing, it was an okay trade-off.

6/19-20/17

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 24 days (33% illumination), rose 3:07 AM
SEEING: 3
TRANSPARENCY: 6-8; Milky Way brilliant at times and in spots
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in 60s, quite suddenly falling to low 50s; moderate dew, no wind; lightning storm visible on SE horizon

Others present: none

11:01
NGCs 5638, 5636 (Vir)—5638: decent-sized galaxy—roundish—brighter core but nucleus hard to separate from core—seeing very poor—1.75’ round—halo seems well-defined—almost like a faint NGC globular; elliptical?—pretty bright—not perfectly dark yet—almost due N, visible in direct but better in averted, is another galaxy (5636): ghostly—a little bit of central brightening, but not much brighter—elongated P (slightly S)-F (slightly N)—very hard to tell due to faintness of galaxy—not much definition—1.5’ x 1.0’, but hard to tell dimensions—transparency decent ATM—NP 5638 by 4.5’ is a 12.5-mag star—F and slightly N by 12’ is a 12th-mag star—a bright triangle N and P the two galaxies; closest vertex is 11’ NP 5638 and is 11th-mag; NP that star by 6’ is an 11th-mag star; due N of first star in triangle by 10’ is third vertex (10.5 mag)—if 5638 centered, there is a 10.5-mag star just on N slightly F edge of field (about 21’ from galaxy)—SP 5638 by 12’ is a large spread-out group of 12-14th-mag stars in irregular shape, take up much of S part of field

11:14
NGC 5634 (Vir): Virgo globular (one of two)—long a favorite—terrible seeing, so hard to resolve—hints of granularity, but not much—fairly smooth except in brief moments—cluster is 2.5’ across—bright central region about 1.75’—bracketed by a triangle; halfway in the N edge of triangle—triangle points N slightly F-S slightly P—stars due P and F cluster—due P star is 2’ from center of cluster at mag 12.5—star F is 2’ from cluster center and is 10th-mag—cluster slightly S of line between two stars; third star in triangle is S of cluster center by 4.5’ [super-slow satellite moving through field to SF edge]—cluster seems moderately concentrated; CC 8?—not picking up much resolution at all—just off S edge of halo is a barely-threshold star—0.5’ N and slightly P of cluster’s halo is a threshold star—P and slightly S of the cluster’s center by 2.5’ is a 14th-mag star—NF cluster by 22’ is a 9.5-mag star—NP cluster by 20’ is an 11th-mag star

11:25
NGCs 5746, 5740, 5738 (Vir)—lovely group, even in shitty conditions—5746: elongated almost N-S (very slightly NP-SF)—extremely long—necessary to keep 109 Vir out of field to see everything well—5’0’ x 0.5’—has good central brightening along legth, bright core and substellar nucleus that pops in averted—F side is slightly better defined, even in poor conditions—NP-NF of galaxy is an arc of four stars ranging from 10th-mag (NP galaxy) to 12th-mag (due N of galaxy); 10th-mag star is 6’ from galaxy’s nucleus—very well-defined galaxy, very “present”—SP nucleus of 5746 by 9’ is an 11.5-mag star; SP that star by 10’ is NGC 5740: also quite bright and obvious—elongated N a bit P-S a bit F (more than 5746)—much more diffuse, more broadly concentrated than 5746—1.75’ x 1.0’—halo less defined than 5746—brighter core region but no sign of nucleus, core may be too bright—full extent hard to tell in seeing—better than many Herschels—NP galaxy by 6’ from core is a 13th-mag star—P slightly N by 3’ from core is a 14.5-mag star—N of galaxy by 3.5’ is another 14.5-mag star—another threshold star 4’ SP galaxy’s core—8’ SP from 5740’s core is 5738: much more diffuse, difficult in direct vision—much smaller than 5740—very tough—0.75’ x 0.5’—very ghostly—has a threshold star just off F edge, about 1.25’ SF center of galaxy—star makes observation of core/nucleus difficult; galaxy may have a stellar nucleus (or threshold star very close to NP of galaxy’s center)

11:45
NGC 5750 (Vir): elongated (slightly S) P- (slightly N) F—galaxy has very obvious stellar nucleus; not bright but obvious—broadly concentrated galaxy—1.75’ x 1.25’—edges are fairly well-defined—galaxy is in middle of group of 12.5-14th-mag stars that occupy central region of field—brighter star SP galaxy by 14’—one SF by 20’—12.5-mag star P and very slightly N of galaxy by 8’—due N of galaxy by 5.5’ is a 13th-mag star which has a threshold star F it by 20”—5’ to NP of the galaxy is a 13.5-mag star

11:58
NGCs 5775, 5774, 5770 (Vir)—5775: excellent edge-on galaxy—elongated N somewhat P-S somewhat F—long and thin—pretty well defined—3.5’ x 0.75’—SP and NF center of galaxy are 14th-mag stars; star to SP is 0.75 from center of galaxy; one to NF is 1.25’ from center of galaxy—galaxy is unevely illuminated along length—no obvious nucleus—some “interruptions” in brightness—SP galaxy by 12’ is a 10th-mag star; another 10th-mag star S of that star by 13’—NF galaxy by 20’ is a 10.5-mag star; NF that star is a tiny equilateral triangle of 13th/14th-mag stars about 1.25’ on a side—N and somewhat P 5775 is 5774: much dimmer, still fairly obvious—elongated SP-NF—1.25’ x 0.75’—much more diffuse—very slight central brightening (especially in averted) but no nucleus— to NF just off edge of halo is a 14th-mag star—suspect 5774 is quite larger, but seeing/transparency makes it hard to tell—25’ N of 5775 and slightly P is 5770: pretty round—maybe slight elongation or something near nucleus that makes it look extended slightly NP-SF—halo of galaxy 0.75’ roundish, central brightening elongated?—substellar nucleus with embedded threshold star nearby?—4’ NF galaxy is a pair of widely separated stars of 13th and 13.5 mags; dimmer one slightly NP brighter star by 1’—4.5’ due N of galaxy’s center is 14th-mag star—not poorly defined; tight and compact galaxy, rather obvious but not overly distinctive

12:15
NGCs 5806, 5813, 5814 (Vir)—5806: elongated N-S—bright but not as bright as 5813 but more condensed—better defined—2.25’ x 1.0’—has a reasonably bright obvious central region and a substellar nucleus—due N by 4.5’ from nucleus is a 14.5-mag star—another 14.5-mag star SF galaxy by 4’; 15th-mag star P that star by 1.5’—NP galaxy is a small right triangle; hypotenuse is edge closest to galaxy; hypotenuse is 5.5’ long; triangle consists of 12th/13th-mag stars; brightest (12th-mag) is vertex on opposite corner from hypotenuse—S and very slightly P galaxy by 10’ is a 12th-mag star; 10’ S and very slightly that star is a 10th-mag star—SF 5806 by 21’ is 5813/5814 pair—5813: large with bright round diffuse halo—brighter central region elongated NP-SF—has a small but bright core that becomes suddenly bright—substellar nucleus—inside diamond pattern of 12th-14th-mag stars—edges of halo not well-defined—halo 1.5’ roundish—SF 5813 by 5’ is 5814: barely distinguishable—hareder to see now—very small, not even 0.5’—little bit of central brightening and a fainst substellar nucleus—halo is difficult—maybe extended P-F?—seeing very poor now

12:27
NGC 5831 (Vir): diffuse, round glow—some definite central brightening—brighter region takes up inner 50% of galaxy—halo poorly-defined—roundish—1.25’ round—bright core and a faint stellar nucleus—N and slightly F core by 2’ is a 14th-mag star—SF galaxy by 24’ is a 9th-mag star (just outside edge of field)—field otherwise fairly barren—S and very slightly F galaxy by 12’ is a 11.5-mag star—chain of 11th/12th/13th-mag stars on S and slightly F edge of field; triangle with extra star on end or flattened kite

12:48
NGCs 5854, 5864 (Vir)—5854: very small—1.0’ x 0.5’—elongated SP-NF—sits at SF end of a 20’-long rectangle of stars which is 7’; 9th-mag star on SP end of rectangle; stars in rectangle 9th-13th-mags—galaxy faint and small—brighter central region—maybe substellar nucleus—SF galaxy’s nucleus by 3’ is a 14th-mag star—SF galaxy by 7’ is a 14.5-mag star—NF 5854 by 40’ is 5864: much bigger—2.0’ x 1.0’—irregular central brightening—substellar nucleus in averted vision—elongated P slightly S-F slightly N—off SP tip, just separated from the halo about 1.25 from core is a 15th-mag star—another 15th-mag star just on SF edge of halo that makes reading interior of galaxy difficult—14.5-mag stars 6’ due S of galaxy and 4.5’ NF galaxy—galaxy set inside large triangle of 10.5/11th-mag stars; brightest (10.5) star NP of galaxy by 18’—11th-mag star 16’ NF from galaxy’s center, and has a 13.5-mag companion 0.5’ F; 11th-mag star S of galaxy by 13’—between two N stars is a scattering of 12th-14th-mag stars of irregular shape and spacing—S side of field is much more devoid of stars

1:02
NGC 5600 (Boo): round—fairly bright—1.5’ across—not very concentrated—brighter central region makes up 80%—maybe a hint of visible nucleus when seeing steadies—some clouds moving in—galaxy pretty easy to spot—galaxy inside a diamond that is pointing P (slightly S)-F (slightly N)—star to NF is brightest at 11th mag; other three stars in diamond are 12.5/13th-mag—line of 11-14th-mag stars S galaxy by 18’ that runs P-F

 

The next night was, according to the Clear Sky Chart, supposed to be reasonably good. The CSC was pretty damn accurate, but this day showed the heavy cirrus clearing by 6 PM; by 9 PM, the gunk was still covering the sky. Bob and I decided to head out anyway.

Jerry and Dan R were there already, setting up the TriDob. Bob had his StarBlast, and I spent most of the night observing through those scopes rather than my own. Even better, Jerry, Dan, and Bob provide(d) a pretty astounding discussion group on a huge range of topics. The observing took a backseat to the conversation, as the 80% sky remained socked-in for most of the evening. (The areas that remained socked-in varied; the Scorpius-Sagittarius region was the area that stayed the clearest, and where we concentrated most of our observing.) It was well after 1 AM before we gave up on observing and headed home.

***

The night of the 22nd was better, in both seeing and transparency, than either of the two previous excursions. The seeing was still poor, but the transparency was as good as it had been so far in the run. The big difference was the constant heavy wind that howled from behind the Ridge; it was much ado about nothing on my side of the Ridge, fortunately, and it wasn’t until I was driving home and rounded the first bend in the BLM road that I found how constantly strong the wind actually was, as it lashed the trees and underbrush into a verdant frenzy.

(The official predator of the night was a weasel of some sort, sitting on the side of the BLM road just after the turn from Simonson Road.)

It was another solo night at Eureka Ridge, as no-one else was free to come out; Jerry was at the Golden State Star Party, and the other Eureka regulars were busy with life.

As I waited for evening twilight to draw to a close, I spent the darkening hours scouring the southern horizon to see how far down in declination I could observe deep-sky objects. I had surmised earlier in the week that NGC 5128 (Centaurus A) would be visible from Eureka Ridge early in May, and I’m now sure that’s the case. On this night, I managed to snag NGC 5896 in Lupus, a globular cluster I’d observed from Carbondale, but which was here down low in the Roseburg light-pollution dome. As I observed the cluster, sitting on the ground (for which I’d often been semi-mocked by the other members of AASI), the sky behind me lit up with a sudden flash, and my shadow was visible on the ground and on Bob the Dob for a split-second. As I spun around and got to my feet, there was no trace of the light source; an Iridium flare could get that bright (as we found out the next night), but would probably still be very faintly visible as it crept out of the Sun’s glare entirely. If the flash was a meteor, it would have been an unimaginably-bright one. Even a query on the EAS e-mail list turned up no other observations of the flasher.

But to work:

6/22-23/17

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 28 days (2% illuminated); rose at 5:23 AM
SEEING: 4
TRANSPARENCY: 7; Milky Way bright and detailed but less “resolvable”
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.5
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in 60s; no dew, heavy winds which did not affect observing (except regarding seeing)

Others present: none

11:14
NGC 5523 (Boo): not easy for a Herschel—quite elongated—not particularly bright, although some twilight still visible—elongated P (very slightly N)-F (very slightly S)—2.0’ x 0.5’—has some faint central brightening—no real core or nucleus—slightly brighter streak down the middle—not particularly well defined—1.75’ NP from NP tip of galaxy is a 12th-mag star—N and very slightly F galaxy by 9’ is a 10th-mag star—another 10th-mag star P and somewhat S of the galaxy by 6’—almost due F galaxy by 11’ is another 11th-mag star—not easiest of galaxies—P and N of galaxy by 18’ is another 11th-mag star—15th-mag star due F by 4.5’ from F end of galaxy

11:27
NGC 5533 (Boo): in field with the very bright A Boö and an interesting wide “double star”—necessary to keep A out of field—A is F and N of galaxy by 24’—galaxy is elongated SP-NF—1.25’ x 0.75’—has a bright not-quite stellar nucleus and brighter central region that becomes suddenly brighter from halo to core—bright galaxy with “presence” in field—NF galaxy by 5’ is a 13th-mag star; N and very slightly F that star by 3.5’ is a 13.5-mag star—NF from galaxy toward A Boö by 14’ is the slightly-brighter component of pair (12th-mag); dimmer is 12.3-mag; separated by 2.5’ with brighter component P and slightly N dimmer component—N slightly P the brighter component by 6’ is another 12th-mag star—those two (double and star NP) are part of a diamond of which the galaxy is to the SP point; third star is N and very slightly F the galaxy and is also 12th-mag—major axis of diamond points NF-SP

11:37
NGC 5529 (Boo): razor-thin edge-on streak—elongated NP-SF—2.25’ x 0.3’—not particularly well-defined—ghostly—barely apparent central brightening along length—no obvious core—N of galaxy by 3’ from center of galaxy is a 13th-mag star—S of galaxy by 2.25’ is a 15th-mag star—off SF tip of galaxy by 4.5’ is a “triple” star; brightest of three (12th-mag) is in middle, all in a line; P and slightly N of brightest by 0.5’ is a 14.5-mag star; F and S of brightest by 0.3’ is a 14.5-mag star—N and slightly F center of galaxy by 6.5’ is a 12.5-mag star—NP center of galaxy by 9’ is an 11th-mag star—P galaxy by 10’ is another 11th-mag star—no companion galaxies seen

11:54
NGC 5582 (Boo): small, brightish—has a bit of SP-NF elongation—1.0’ x 0.75’—has a bright core and a substellar nucleus—reasonably well-defined—[very slow satellite P-F through field]—SP galaxy by 2’ from core is a 14th-mag star—SF core of galaxy by 5.5’ is a 12.5-mag star—SF galaxy is a 14th-mag star that is 5’ from core of galaxy—F and slightly N of core of galaxy by 1.75’ is a 15th-mag star—galaxy part of a tiny pentagon—F galaxy by 14’ is a 10.5-mag star—NF galaxy by 18’ is an 11th-mag star—NP galaxy by 20’ is an 11.5-mag star

12:10
NGCs 5899, 5900, 5893 (Boo)—5899: obvious blur of 2.25’ x 0.75’—elongated S very slightly P-N very slightly F—not overly well-defined although averted helps define halo—has obvious brighter core, perhaps a substellar nucleus—just to NF of the nucleus, still inside halo, is an extra brightening; halo maybe “lumpy”—NP of galaxy by 12’ is a 7th-mag star—P and slightly N by 4’ is a 12th-mag star—due P and very slightly S by 4.5 is a 13th-mag star—S and slightly P that star by 2.5’ is a threshold star—N of 5899 by 9’ is another galaxy (5900): forms a triangle with 5899 and 7th-mag star—very difficult galaxy—averted vision necessary—7th-mag star makes difficult to see—1.5’ x 0.5’—brighter center and a flickery stellar nucleus?—SP 7th-mag star by 13’ and P slightly S of 5899 by 18’ is another galaxy (5893): in a line of 13th and 14th-mag stars—P galaxy is a 13th-mag star and F galaxy is a 14.5-mag star, each 2.5’ from galaxy—galaxy 1.0’ round—slight central brightening but no nucleus—very ghostly, quite diffuse—between 7th-mag star and 5893 and slightly P that (NF galaxy) by 8’ is a 12.5-mag star 

12:32
NGC 5676 (Boo): bright—elongated SP-NF—2.25’ x 0.75’?—interesting field of stars of many brightnesses—has a large halo—long brighter central region and a substellar nucleus in a core that’s not particularly brighter than rest of central region—core not very large—almost looks at moments to be texture in halo, irregularly bright—well-defined but outer edges of halo a bit diffuse—N and slightly F galaxy’s nucleus by 6’ is a 12th-mag star—another 12.5-mag star due F nucleus by 7’, these form a right triangle with galaxy—P galaxy and a bit N by 10’ is an 8th-mag star—F and slightly S of galaxy by 19’ is a 6.5-mag star—S of galaxy by 16.5’ is a 9th-mag star; F and slightly S of 9th-mag star by a couple of arcsec is a 14th-mag companion

12:43
NGCs 5689, 5693, 5682 (Boo)—5689: small, elongated and brightish—elongated P-F—1.75’ x 0.5’—in middle of a region 9’ in radius that’s almost barren of stars, only a couple of dim stars—galaxy set in triangle of which closest star is 9’ from galaxy—bright core and stellar nucleus—reasonably well-defined—in averted, stretches more to P end—“things are happening in this field”—NP galaxy by 13’ is a 12th-mag star—12.5-mag star 11’ NF the galaxy—S of galaxy by 9’ is a 13.5-mag star—14.5-mag star 6.5’ S and very slightly P galaxy—12’ S and slightly F galaxy is another (5693): very diffuse and ghostly—appears best in averted—roundish—1.25’—super diffuse—has a stellar nucleus, no: a threshold star on S edge of halo—very slightly brighter core—2.5’ N of galaxy’s halo is a 14th-mag star—back to 5689—SP 5689 by 10’ is an averted-only flash of a galaxy (5682): looks elongated NP-SF—just a phantasm of a galaxy—size impossible to gauge?—15th-mag star just S of galaxy that’s throwing off observation—no central brightening or nucleus? maybe 1.5’ x 0.5’?? [just under half those dimensions; 15th-mag star “just S” of galaxy might be NGC 5683 to SF of 5682]

1:01
NGC 5687 (Boo): weird appearance, stars all over it—elongated P-F—fairly small, 1.1’ x 0.5’—dotted with stars—brighter core region but can’t tell if there’s a nucleus—inside halo is one star on each of P and F sides of nucleus—star to F side is barely threshold—star to P side of core is 15th-mag; another star just on P (slightly S) edge of halo that is 14.7-mag; due S that star by 1.25’ is a 14.5-mag star —S of core by 3’ is a 12th-mag star—F and somewhat N of galaxy by 6’ is a 13th-mag star; 7’ NF that star is another of equal magnitude—P galaxy and slightly S by 8’ is a 12.5-mag star

1:19
NGC 5480, 5481 (Boo): 5480: larger and brighter of the two by a bit—elongated N-S—1.25’ x 0.75’—more diffuse of the two—larger core than 5481—large core region, much brighter than halo—pretty well defined—doesn’t have a visible nucleus—5481: small—NP-SF elongation—reasonably roundish—0.6’ x 0.5’—substellar nucleus that’s pretty bright—core not much brighter than halo—less-defined halo than 5480—would’ve thought 5480 was the Herschel object—galaxy cores separated by 4’, due P-F—due N of 5481 by 7’ is a 12th-mag star—F and slightly S of 5481 by 5.5’ is a 13th-mag star which has another 13th-mag star F and slightly N by 5’—F 5481 is by 22’ is a 9.5-mag star—NP 5480 by 16’ is an 11.5-mag star—S of 5480 by 12’ is a 12th-mag star

1:36
NGC 5490, IC 982, IC 983, NGC 5490C (Boo)—5490: small, 0.75’ round—[very bright satellite through field]—bright stellar nucleus and small, faintish, but obvious core—galaxy in middle of triangle of 13th- and 14th-mag stars—halo is tenuous—to S by 4’ is a 13th-mag star—P and slightly N of galaxy by 3.5’ is a 14th-mag star—F and slightly N of galaxy by 4.25’ is another 14th-mag star—SF galaxy by 10’ is a 12.5-mag star—N and slightly F galaxy by 11’ is a 10.5-mag star; that star has to P side two tiny glows, one (IC 982) SP by 4’ and one (IC 983) P and slightly N by 2’—glow to SP is a bit larger; both very faint—glow to NP of star has a very very faint tiny nucleus—between 10.5-mag star and 5490, about 5’ N and slightly F 5490 is a very ghostly averted-vision glow (5490C) that offers no elongation/size estimates—ghostlier than ghostly

1:55
NGC 5548 (Boo): getting low in sky—roundish galaxy with very bright substellar nucleus—slightly-brighter core region—1.0’ round?—halo very tenuous and ill-defined—not much detail—3.5’ S of galaxy is a 14.5-mag star—N and very slightly F galaxy by 7.5’ is an 11th-mag star that has a 13.5-mag star P and very slightly N of it by 2’—SP galaxy by 8’ is an 11th-mag star [did not see NGC 5655]

2:10
NGC 5602 (Boo): small, not particularly impressive galaxy in Boötes’ pipe—elongated N-S—brightish substellar nucleus and small core that’s gradually brightened to—0.75’ x 0.5’—among an interesting field—brightest star in field is 11th-mag star P and somewhat N of galaxy by 11’ and second brightest is 11.5-mag star N and somewhat P galaxy by 20’—S of galaxy is a straightish line that stretches from SF galaxy to almost due S of galaxy and consists of one 12- and three 12.5-mag stars—halfway between galaxy and line is a widely-separated pair of stars; one is due S of galaxy by 6’ and is 12.5-mag; other is S slightly P galaxy by 5’ and is 13th-mag—SF galaxy is another pair; brighter is 13th-mag and is F and slightly S of galaxy by 7’ and 13.5-mag star due S of that star by 3.5’

2:19
NGC 5520 (Boo): elongated SP-NF—1.25’ x 0.66’—halo not overly well-defined—brighter core region and substellar nucleus that appears slightly offset to SP—pretty non-descript galaxy—F galaxy are two bright stars; NF by 6’ is a 9th-mag star; due F galaxy by 5’ is an 11th-mag star—SP galaxy by 3’ is a 14th-mag star—14.5-mag star NP galaxy by 6’—brightest star in field is an interesting double that is SP galaxy by 15’; brighter component is 9th-mag and fainter 10th; separated by 0.2’, with fainter SP the brighter

2:39
NGC 6106 (Her): pretty diffuse—brighter core region that has “Footprint Nebula” shape to it—galaxy elongated NP-SF-ish—concentration seems divided into two parts with larger part to S end, as if line dividing it across middle—no nucleus? maybe a hint of a stellar nucleus in averted—1.25’ x 0.75’—to SP and S slightly P of galaxy, almost equidistant at 9.5’ from galaxy and forming an isosceles triangle with galaxy are two bright stars; star to S slightly P is 9.5-mag; star to SP is 10.5’; separated by 7.5’—SF galaxy by 18’ is a 10.5-mag star—double star F galaxy by 15’; 13.5 and 14.5 components separated P-F with brighter star to F; separated by 0.5’—13.5-mag star due N of galaxy by 5’

 

Friday the 23rd brought the observers out in numbers. Randy, his ladyfriend Annette, and her grandson Calvin were there, with Randy’s zero-gravity binocular chair and Orion–the club’s homemade 14.7-inch project scope–in tow; Oggie G was there with his 10″ Zhumell Dob, and one of Oggie’s co-workers, Dan S, had brought his 8″ Schmidt-Cassegrain scope, his daughter Ruby, and their shiba inu… who could only have been (and in fact was) named Doge. My daughter suggested via text that I somehow bring Doge home with me, as if two dogs weren’t enough already.

The seeing was still barely-average, but the transparency was quite good, and the little clearing bustled most of the night. I was less social than I like to be, as I was pretty intent on finishing my list of Herschels before the Moon became an issue. So I apologize to any of that evening’s observers who might read this for any rudeness I may have projected.

6/23-24/17

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: New
SEEING: 5
TRANSPARENCY: 7; Milky Way bright and detailed
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.5
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in 60s; no dew, mild winds which did not affect observing (except regarding seeing)

Others present: OG, RB, AB (Annette), CB (Calvin, AB’s grandson), Dan S, Ruby S, Doge

11:07
NGC 6015 (Dra): really nice galaxy!—elongated S very slightly P-N very slightly F—large, 3.25’ x 1.25’—obvious and bright—has a bright core with the occasional flash of a substellar nucleus—pretty well defined—halo has some mottling or texture—brighter central region is not evenly illuminated—just off S very slightly F tip of galaxy is a 14th-mag star—P the galaxy by 2.5’ from the nucleus is a 13th-mag star—to S of galaxy by 3.5’ is a pair of 13.5-mag stars separated by 0.5’; one S and one S very slightly P of galaxy—SP center of galaxy by 12’ is a 10.5-mag star; another 0.5-mag star due F galaxy by 8’—P and slightly N of galaxy by 20’ is a 9.5-mag star

11:19
NGC 5907 (Dra): one of most spectacular edge-ons, a five-star galaxy!—8’ x 0.5’—elongated N slightly P-S slightly F—central 2.5’ much brighter—tiny hint of faint stellar nucleus, but also to P side by 0.75’ is a 14th-mag star—NF galaxy is a scattering of 12th- and 13th-mags; brightest star in group is on SF end of pattern, which is elongated NP-SF; brightest is 12th-mag and separated from nucleus of galaxy by 15’—SP nucleus by 19’ is a 10th-mag star—P galaxy by 22’ is a 9.5-mag star—a group of very bright stars just out of P edge of field—F and slightly N of nucleus by 3.5’ is a pair of 14th-mag stars separated by 0.75’; oriented P-F to each other—off NF end of galaxy, just off end of halo by 5’ from nucleus is a threshold star—off SP end of galaxy by about 7’ from nucleus is a 14.5-mag star

11:39
NGC 5879 (Dra): brightish—elongated N-S—2.0’ x 0.75’—bright core and bright substellar nucleus—well-defined halo—is gradually brighter to core—threshold star just P nucleus on outer edge of halo; only visible when seeing “flashes”—6’ F and a little bit N of nucleus is a 13th-mag star; 13.5-mag star S very slightly F that star, separated by 2’; brighter star has a 14.5-mag star F it by 3.25’—brightest star in area is 8th-mag star NP the galaxy by 7’—NF the galaxy by 10’ from nucleus is an 11th-mag star

11:49
NGC 5866 (M102) (Dra): extremely bright—elongated NP-SF—3.0’ x 0.75’—very bright core—no nucleus?—ends are nicely tapered—very well-defined halo—just off P end to N and S and froming a little isosceles triangle with core is a pair of 12th-mag stars (one to N maybe 12th and one to S 12.5) each 2.25’ from galaxy’s center—brightest star in field is 7.5-mag star SP galaxy by 11’—NP galaxy by 13’ is a 10th-mag star—11th-mag star NF galaxy by 9’; S and very slightly F the 11th-mag star is a 13th-mag star sepearated from 11th-mag star by 4’—N and slightly F the galaxy’s center by 2.5’ is a 15th-mag star—S slightly F galaxy by 5.5’ from core is a 14.5-mag star

12:02
NGC 4236 (Dra): gargantuan—very very faint but pretty obvious—elonagted N slightly P-S slightly F—almost too diffuse to judge size—at least 17’ x 2.5’—very very little central concentration—inner 8’ are a bit brighter, a different “gradient”—a bit of lumpy, irregular mottling along much of N 2/3—P the galaxy halo by 1’ about midway down its length is a 14th-mag star—off S end of galaxy by 5’ is an 11th-mag star—NF galaxy’s N end by 8’ is a 9.5-mag star; two 11th-mag stars S of that star that form an arc that bends toward middle of galaxy; third star in arc (closest to galaxy) is 5’ from edge of halo—off N end of galaxy are a pair of 11th-mag stars P and F N end of galaxy—couple of threshold stars embedded in N outer edges of halo—(difficult observation; no chair)

12:18
NGC 4256 (Dra): long, spindly, very nice edge-on—elongated SP-NF—very bright core and substellar nucleus—3.25’ x 0.5’—well-defined—N edge a bit better defined than S edge?—due F galaxy by 5’ is a 14.5-mag star—S of galaxy by 7’ is a 13th-mag star—7.5’ SP galaxy’s nucleus along line of axis of galaxy is a 12th-mag star—SF galaxy by 7.5’ is a 13.5-mag star—those three stars form an arc—N slightly P galaxy by 13’ from nucleus is a 9th-mag star—S very slightly P by 16’ is an 11.5-mag star

12:30
NGCs 4210, 4221 (Dra)—very different, very interesting—4210: round and diffuse—no visible nucleus—1.25’ round—might have a slightly brighter central region—N of galaxy’s edge by 4’ is a 12.5-mag star— threshold star on SP edge of halo?—P galaxy by 6.5’ is a 14th-mag star—brightest star in field is 7th-mag star NP galaxy by 12’—galaxy is NP 4256 by 26’; can get both in field together—back to 7th-mag star; NF star by 15’ is 4221: much brighter than 4210—elongated slightly SP-NF—has bright core compared to halo—reasonably well-defined—1.25’ x 0.75’—between 4221 and 7th-mag star is a nearly-equilateral triangle of one 11th- and two 12th-mag stars; 11th-mag star is P and slightly S of galaxy by 6.5’

12:47
NGCs 4291, 4319, 4386 (Dra): interesting pair near a 5.5-mag star—4291: tiny round galaxy—0.75’ across—forms a rectangle with a 12th- and two 13th-mag stars—12th-mag star is F galaxy’s core by 2.5’; 13th-mag stars S very slightly F galaxy’s core by 3.5’ and SF galaxy by 4’—galaxy well-defined—no nucleus—just on P edge of halo is a threshold star; star flickers with seeing—5.5-mag star is 14’ SP galaxy—SF galaxy by 7’ is 4319: elongated NP-SF—larger and more diffuse than 4291—has a gradually-brighter core and a substellar nucleus—1.0’ x 0.6’—not well defined—14.5-mag star NP galaxy’s nucleus by 2’—F galaxy by 4’ is a 14th-mag star; S very slightly F galaxy’s nucleus by 4’ is a 14th-mag star; galaxy forms an equilateral triangle with last two stars—NF 4391 by 18’ is a larger, brighter galaxy (4386):—1.25’ x 1.0’—elongated slightly NP-SF—reasonably well-defined—bright substellar nucleus and gradually brighter but not bright core—forms an equilateral triangle with a 14th-mag star to NP and a 13th-mag star NF each by 4’—NF galaxy by 14’ is a 7th-mag star—N very slightly P galaxy by 13’ is a 10th-mag star with a 12th-mag companion NP by 1.5’

1:08
NGC 3147 (Dra): nice bright large galaxy—big halo—brighter core and stellar nucleus—classic (brightness) profile of face-on galaxy—2.25’ round—SF galaxy by 20’ is a 7th-mag star—S of galaxy by 15’ is a 12th-mag star—SP galaxy by 15’ is a 12th-mag star—F and slightly S from nucleus by 4’ is a threshold star—SP by 4’ is a 14.5-mag star—N of galaxy nucleus by 5’ is a 13.5-mag star—NF galaxy nucleus by 5’ is a 13th-mag star

2:04
NGC 6181 (Her): small, bright—elongated N-ish-S-ish—1.0’ x 0.75’—has a well-defined halo—brighter central region (too big to just be core)—don’t see a nucleus—P galaxy by 3.25’ is a 12th-mag star—S slightly P galaxy is a 14th-mag star 1.5’ from galaxy’s center—occasional flicker of stellar nucleus?—N slightly F by 4.5’ is a 14th-mag star—F galaxy by 10’ is a pair of 12.5- and 13th-mag stars—12.5’ is N of two; separated by 0.75’—NP galaxy by 14’ is an 11th-mag star

2:28
NGC 6166 (Her): small, faint, ghostly glow—elongated SP-NF—has a slightly brighter core, not much nucleus—in middle of Abell 2199 cluster but can’t wander too much from task—14’ N is a 10th-mag star—arc of 11th-14th-mag stars SP galaxy that swing from due S to due P—halfway between galaxy and 10th-mag star is a close pair of 14.5- and 15th-mag stars; brighter is SP fainter by 0.3’—NF galaxy by 3.5’ is a 14.5-mag star—straight line of six 12-14th-mag stars F galaxy by 14’ that runs N slightly F-S slightly P in field

2:52
NGCs 6548, 6549 (Her): in middle of Hercules edge of Milky Way—near stunning double star 95 Her (equal mag 5 components of bluish white)—6548: roundish—bright substellar nucleus—1.0’ round—very diffuse halo—[meteor through field]—core is quite suddenly bright—SF galaxy by 4’ is a 10.5-mag star—SP by 10’ is an 8th-mag star—N slightly P by 3.5’ is a 12.5-mag star—NP by 2.5’ is a 13th-mag star—6549: between 8th-mag star and 6548, about 3.5’ from 6548—very faint—elongated SP-NF—1.0’ x 0.3’—difficult to judge size—sometimes requires averted to hold—no central concentration— to S and slightly F is a smattering/line of 14th-mag and fainter stars; line passes 8th-mag star to S

 

The following few nights were also clear, but I only made use of the next. It was a pain to have to constantly control my diet, watching every single bit of food for lactose, and between the slowly-advancing Moon and the tiredness that was inevitable after a week’s worth of pursuing faint galaxies until the wee hours of morning, I was ready for a break. With only a few Herschels left on my list, I was pretty sure this was to be my last night of the run.

The night before, I had noticed a pile of scat on the paved section of the BLM road, and this night, I came nearly vehicle-to-snout with the pile’s likely creator: a rather large black bear, who scurried across the road fifty feet in front of my van as I was taking it down to 3rd for the climb up the road. I had suspected it was a pile of bear residue, but hadn’t expected to meet the bear itself.

Although the nearby presence of a bear wasn’t going to deter me from observing, it was a   point of obvious concern. We were still three miles from the observing site proper, so I was less concerned than I might have been had we been closer to where I’d be spending most of the night.

Oggie showed up not long after I got to the top, and was less-enthused about the bear. Neither of us was to be put off observing, though, despite a bit more heightened awareness of the sounds in the surrounding foliage.

I had barely eaten during the day, and my stomach could be heard frequently on the recordings of my notes throughout the night.

I started with a reobservation of a Libra galaxy I’d observed the year before; it was now the host galaxy of an impressively-bright supernova. I also went off-script a bit for an observation of the superb NGC 5409 group in southern Boötes, a group which will get a deeper look with the 18″ scope when I next get a chance

6/24-25/17

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 1 day (1% illumination); set at 9:37 AM
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 8; Milky Way bright and detailed into Ophiuchus and eastern Hercules
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in 70s; no dew until after 2 AM, moderate winds which did not affect observing (except regarding seeing)

Others present: OG

11:07
NGC 5861, SN2017erp (Lib): galaxy elongated NP-SF— S and slightly P the S end of galaxy by 2.25’ is an 11th-mag star—galaxy pretty large, diffuse—brighter central region but no real nucleus visible—2.75’ x 1.5’—between center of galaxy and 11th-mag star is the supernova—right on SP edge of visible halo—interesting dim double star NP galaxy by 7.5’ from center of galaxy; brighter component of double is 12th-mag; dimmer 13th mag; separated by 0.25’; brighter component is NP dimmer component—NF galaxy by 12’ is a 10th-mag star—SN is 13.5-mag—couple of other 13th-mag stars to S and SF galaxy’s halo

11:44
NGCs 5409, 5416, 5424, 5423, 5431, 5434, 5411 (Boö)—centered in and around an arc of three bright stars—N two stars are starting point—from N-most star S and very slightly P between two brightest stars, 13’ S and slightly P N-most star is first galaxy (5409): diffuse—0.75’ round—difficult—not much central brightening—N-most star in arc of three is 6th-mag, second in arc is 6.5-mag—6’ S of N-most star is a pair of 13th-mag stars separated by 0.75’—second galaxy (5416) is SF first galaxy by 7’—slightly brighter than first galaxy and a bit more concentrated with brighter central region—slightly elongated P slightly N-F slightly S—0.6’ x 0.25’—NF galaxy by 5’ is a 13th-mag star—13.5-mag star S of galaxy by 3.5’—F that galaxy by 12’ is another galaxy (5424): elongated P-F—just under 1.0’ x 0.75’—14.5-mag star 0.75’ S of galaxy—also S slightly P by 5’ is another galaxy (5423): roundish—has a stellar nucleus and a small slightly-brighter core—a threshold mag star due P galaxy just outside halo [maybe PGC 50019]—field teeming with little galaxies—F last galaxy is a very faint, tiny galaxy (5431): quite diffuse and may have stellar nucleus—threshold magnitude nucleus—back to N-most of last group of galaxies—NF that galaxy by 7’ is another (5434): slightly larger—1.0’ round—bracketed by two stars to SF and NP; star to SF is 4’ SF and 12th-mag; star to NP is 8’ from galaxy and 10th-mag [didn’t see 5434B??]—back to 5409/5416—dropping S to bottom star of arc, which is 6th-mag—galaxy (5411) is NF that star by 8’—between star and galaxy is an arc of three stars of 11.5- and 12th-mags that bends to the NF from the star—galaxy is pretty diffuse, not well defined—has a substellar nucleus—0.5’ and round—has a couple of 15th-mag stars nearby, one to NF by 1’ from galaxy’s nucleus, one due F by 1.25’—group needs more aperture

12:17
NGC 3682 (Dra): not a particularly-impressive galaxy—framed in a field of bright stars—galaxy is elongated P-F—small, 0.75’ x 0.5’—bright core and substellar nucleus—not all that well defined—halo pretty diffuse—bright stars in field: N of galaxy and very slightly F by 22’ is a 9th-mag star; NP galaxy by 18’ is a 10th-mag star—P and slightly N of galaxy by 15’ is a 9.5-mag star—SP and SF galaxy equidistant at 12’ are 11th-mag stars—SP galaxy by 7’ is a 14th-mag star—N of galaxy by 8’ is a 13.5-mag star

12:45
NGC 4133 (Dra): brighter than 3682—diffuse, poorly-defined halo—brighter core region but no trace of a nucleus—1.0’ x 0.75’—elongated NP-SF—P galaxy and slightly N by 4’ is a 12th-mag star—due N by 3.5’ is a 13th-mag star; another 13th-mag star F galaxy—NF galaxy by 7’ is a 12.5-mag star—NP galaxy by 14’ is a 10th-mag star—SP galaxy by 17’ is a 9th-mag star; 7th-mag star 15’ S and slightly F galaxy; distance between last two stars about 14’

Here I got careless, reobserving the NGC 4291/4319/4386 trio I’d observed the night before. Having started using Post-It flags to indicate the Herschels on Sky Atlas 2000.0, I’d forgotten to remove the flag for 4319 from the previous night, and spent a fair amount of time that I didn’t need to waste.

1:27
NGC 4250 (Dra): roundish—1.0’ halo—quite diffuse and poorly defined—gradually comes brighter to a core that’s not overly bright, but has a bright substellar nucleus—SP galaxy by 15’ and 20’ are 10th-mag stars; more N star is slightly brighter; separated by 5’—S slightly F galaxy by 6.5’ is a 12.5-mag star—N of galaxy by 10’ is a 12th-mag star—NF galaxy by 6’ is a 13th-mag star—NP galaxy by 5’ is a 14th-mag star—SF galaxy by 15’ is an 11th-mag star

2:18
NGC 6239 (Her): longish thin streak—1.25’ x 0.75—elongated NP-SF—has a brighter central region and no real nucleus—SF end looks like it turns S a bit at end of halo?—halo well defined—core is obvious—N by 3’ is a 15th-mag star—15th-mag star NF by 2.75’—F galaxy by 5.5’ is a 12th-mag star—[meteor through field]—NF galaxy by 16’ is a 9.5-mag star—P and slightly N of galaxy by 7’ is a 12th-mag star—NP galaxy by 12’ is a 11.5-mag star—S of galaxy is a line of stars running P-F; stars broken into pairs; brightest star on P end, SP galaxy by 15’

2:31
NGC 6155 (Her): diffuse—relatively unconcentrated but reasonably obvious galaxy—elongated NP-SF—1.0’ x 0.75’—pretty well defined—has brighter core but no nucleus—SP galaxy by 3.25’ is a 10th-mag star which has a 12th-mag companion to S slightly F by 0.75’—F galaxy by 3.25’ is a 14.5-mag star that might be double—NF galaxy by 7.5’ is a 12.5-mag star—NF galaxy by 16’ is a 9th-mag star—SP galaxy by 14’ is a 9th-mag star—galaxy therefore bracketed to SP and NF

3:05
NGC 6340 (Dra): after a long search—round, obvious galaxy with very smooth gradual gradient from halo to substellar nucleus—1.3’ round—pretty well-defined despite diffuseness of halo—to NP by 2’ from nucleus is a 12th-mag star which has a 13th-mag star NP by 15”—15’ SP galaxy is an 8.5-mag star—F and slightly N of galaxy by 8.5’ is an 11.5-mag star—bright star to SP has a trio of stars not quite halfway between it and galaxy and stretching S toward star in an arc of three 12-14th-mag stars—P galaxy and S by 9’ is the brighter of a pair (10.5-mag); NF that star by 1.75’ is a 13th-mag star

With the observation of NGC 6340, I finished the list I’d been working on. It had taken quite a search to find the galaxy, but had been worth it to close out another lengthy list of targets. Along the way, I’d recaptured some of the focus I’d been missing for a while, proving that I could get through a self-imposed list, one more arbitrary than May’s Virgo project.

And now, some summer driving music:

 

One of the truly wonderful people I’ve met has left this Earth, leaving the world a little bit dimmer and less kind.

Farewell, Catherine.

Setting a New Standard

I’m not really much of an equipment reviewer; I rarely know (or care) that much about the details or specs of the gear that I use, and I don’t generally obsess over what my gear can or can’t do. Every now and then, though, a product intrigues me enough to examine its various qualities in such depths as to want to write a lengthy appraisal, so I review the item in the context of what I need to use it for.

One such product is the interstellarum Deep-Sky Atlas, produced originally in Germany by Oculum Publishing. The review that follows was written in 2016 for CloudyNights, but time has only reinforced how I feel about the atlas, while failing to bring forth further examples of the most-serious charge leveled against the atlas (that of the sticking/peeling pages); this seems more and more to be a fluke circumstance, despite the fact that it was published on every major English-language internet astronomy forum.

The review here is an unedited version of that which ran on CloudyNights; only some of the formatting has changed.

****

INTERSTELLARUM DEEP-SKY ATLAS (FIELD EDITION) REVIEW
interstellarum Deep Sky Atlas (Field Edition)
Ronald Stoyan and Stephan Schurig, authors
Published by Oculum-Verlag; English-language editions produced and distributed by Cambridge University Press
MSRP: $244.99

The author is an Oregon-based deep-sky observer with three decades’ experience at the eyepiece and a semi-Luddite approach to observing—wires make him very, very nervous. He has no connections to the authors or publisher of the work under review.

 

Background

Unlike many CloudyNights members, it seems, I’m not normally one to embrace new technology—I own five telescopes, ranging from a 12.5″ Dobsonian to a 70mm achromat—but my use of electricity in the field is usually limited to anti-dew devices.  More recently, I’ve started using an iPad in the field, but even that is in a low-tech manner; I generally use only the Tri-Atlas app for astronomy, which is basically a paper atlas on-screen.  (I have Stellarium and Sky Safari, but haven’t really used them yet at the eyepiece.)
Since 1988, my main atlas in the field has been Tirion’s deluxe Sky Atlas 2000.0.  With the first edition, I completed the Messier catalogue and stepped out into the NGC (mostly planetary nebulae and globular clusters) from my horribly light-polluted Cincinnati suburb.  Sky Atlas 2000.0 is of a decent size and scale, is easy to take and keep scope-side, had the right amount of detail for the scope I had at the time (an 8-inch SCT), and still worked well when I went up an aperture level.  With the second edition, I completed the AL’s globular cluster program and began pushing the envelope of what I could find with my 12.5” Dobsonian from a Bortle green zone, moving into Hickson groups and Arp galaxies.  I’ve used a copy at my scope for almost 30 years.
I also own both editions of Uranometria 2000.0; the first edition occasionally ventures out into the field with me, and has an ideal depth in terms of deep-sky objects.  The second edition of U2000.0 stays at home, as it seems almost sacrilegious to take it out into 90% humidity night after night.  It’s a beautiful piece of work.  It has one major drawback for me, though—it has thousands of non-NGC galaxies (many of which are within range of my scope), but almost nothing to distinguish them from brighter galaxies.  On its own, this wouldn’t be a huge flaw, but in the field, with only a very dim red light to read by, it would be a hassle to weed through the tiny labels and symbols if I decided to take a side trip from a previously-selected object.  Ideally, the brighter objects (mainly the galaxies) in U2000.0 would’ve had some way of indicating which objects are more obvious in the eyepiece and which were barely detectable.
Enter Ronald Stoyan and Stephan Schurig’s interstellarum Deep-Sky Atlas [hereafter iDSA].  Originally only a German-language edition published by Oculum, the iDSA was picked up by Cambridge University Press and translated into English.  Available as a paper Desk edition or a waterproof Field edition, the English version of the iDSA was released by Cambridge in late 2014.   Designed specifically as an observer’s atlas, the iDSA covers the middle ground between Sky Atlas 2000.0 and U2000.0, adding a host of observer-friendly features, solving a few issues other atlases have, and staking a claim as possibly the last great print atlas.

 

Physical aspects

The iDSA consists of 114 double-page charts, organized by declination.  The charts measure 10.2” x 11.0” (26 x 28 cm) per page, covering the sky at a scale of 1.5 cm per square degree.  Each of the double-page charts covers two hours of right ascension and 15 degrees of declination. The center-point of each chart is indicated on the charts’ edges, and each strip of declination is identified on the edges of the pages for easy indexing in the field.  There are six index charts (one for each celestial pole and four seasonal indexes) toward the beginning of the atlas.  In addition, crowded fields of sky are shown on 29 detailed charts of varying scale; these are indicated on the main charts themselves (although the detail charts don’t indicate on which “main” chart they can be found—this would have been useful).  These detail charts are arranged at the end of the atlas, after the main charts; a grey strip running along the length of the detail-chart pages allows for them to be flipped to fairly easily under red light.

At the back of the atlas is a 15-page index of all deep-sky objects contained within the atlas itself.  These are organized by object class.  This is fine if you know the class of an object, but might be problematic if you don’t know anything about an object beyond a catalogue number.  (Adding a general index would, of course, add another fifteen pages to the index, which would probably be impractical.)

The atlas is housed in a black polypropylene cover with silver lettering; it’s a classy-looking package, and comes housed in a cardboard slipcase.  The slipcase isn’t waterproof, but is sturdy enough to transport the iDSA.  Pages are spiral-bound with a coated wire. I’d be concerned about preventing rust here, as it might bleed onto the pages should the wire get damaged and wet (one CloudyNights user has reported that the wire binding broke in his copy of the atlas).  A polypropylene card containing the atlas legend is included in a clear plastic pocket in the inside cover of the atlas; my atlas came with the side of the pocket torn by shifting of the card during transit.  The legend card is a nice feature, but sits loosely in the pocket—be careful that it doesn’t fall out unnoticed while using the atlas.

One of the notable features of the iDSA Field Edition is that it’s not printed on standard paper; it’s printed on a matte-finished plastic paper-like material (Polyart) that is ostensibly completely waterproof (the atlas’ webpage mentions that the iDSA is perfectly unharmed by dunking in an aquarium; given one CNer’s experience [see below], I’m not likely to test this).  The iDSA website refers to this material as a plastic “foil.”  It has a kimdura-like finish and feel.

The “foil” material can indent slightly with a fingernail but is fairly tear-resistant (I didn’t try too hard to rip it, but exerted enough pressure to tear regular paper easily).  My copy had a few pages with small wrinkles in them from (I suspect) being run through the printing press.  These wrinkles had a minimal impact on the atlas’ usability and only a very minor impact on it aesthetically, although they really shouldn’t be there at all.  The matte finish of the material makes it a bit of an issue to get the pages all jogged up evenly so that the atlas can fit into the slipcase.  I also found the pages to be slightly tricky to grip and turn with cold fingers.

My copy of the iDSA has a printing issue: some of the star symbols (and a few of the constellation lines) got an extra-heavy ink load, and soaked through the page slightly.

InkBleed

Images from charts 67 and 68.  On the left, Chart 67 shows extra-heavy ink coverage on the stars Nu Scorpii, Beta Scorpii, and Sherbourne 213; this can be seen in the image as high reflectivity of the star symbols under a light held at the correct angle.  (The star symbols appear black and normal when viewed directly.) On the right, Chart 68 shows where the ink bled through the page from Chart 67; ghost images of Nu Scorpii, Beta Scorpii, and Sherbourne 213 can be seen.

This is a problem, but not one for which I was willing to return the atlas overseas (it was shipped from England). However, had it been more widespread or distracting, I would certainly have returned it.

The charts run straight to the edges of the pages; there are no gutters here.  The makers of the atlas did this to maximize the amount of overlap among the charts.  To me, however, it makes the atlas look slightly unfinished, with printing running straight up to the holes through which the spiral binding runs and to the edges of the pages, with labels and symbols cut off abruptly.  I’d have preferred a border or gutter around each page, simply for aesthetic reasons.

 

Contents

So what’s actually in the iDSA?  Well, it’s a substantial step up, deep-sky content-wise, from Sky Atlas 2000.0.  The iDSA plots and labels the following deep-sky objects:

iDSATable

(Object-class breakdowns were unavailable for Sky Atlas 2000.0.)

Stars are shown to magnitude 9.5.  In theory, this should be deep enough, but in practice it isn’t enough for detailed star-hopping.  It’s a difficult trade-off: increasing the magnitude depth would’ve made the atlas even more useful, but it also would’ve made the charts more cluttered with stars.  (By comparison, U2000.0 goes to magnitude 9.75 and adds over a third more stars… and even it isn’t quite enough for detailed star-hopping.)

A number of less-known deep-sky object catalogues are represented.  The iDSA especially shines on open clusters, including the complete Basel, Bochum, King, Stock, Tombaugh, and Trumpler catalogues, as well as a number of even more-obscure targets.  Among globular clusters, all of the Terzan and Palomar globulars are included, along with Whiting 1, the Koposov clusters, an obscure cluster in Pegasus (Balbinot 1), and the recently-discovered globular cluster in Crater (which may eventually turn out to be something other than a globular).  Clusters of both types are labeled in yellow, using the same symbols as in Tirion.  Asterisms are a nice addition to the atlas, and one that no other major atlas plots in such quantity; they’re marked here with a dotted circle, which at first glance is a bit difficult to differentiate from the open-cluster and galaxy-cluster (q.v.) symbols.

Diffuse nebulae are plotted with their visible extents marked, rather than what is extrapolated from photographs.  This is apparent in comparing the outlines of Simeis 147 (in Taurus) from the iDSA and the Jumbo Pocket Sky Atlas:

S147Compar

Simeis 147 as rendered in the iDSA (left) and the Jumbo Pocket Sky Atlas (right).  Note that the print quality of both atlases is much higher than indicated by these low-quality scans.

This is particularly helpful, as it provides a better representation of what may reasonably be seen in the eyepiece.  Additionally, nebulae are labeled on the chart with a small box indicating which type of filter may be of greatest use on each nebula.  I compared those filter recommendations in the iDSA with those of CN’s David Knisely, a respected filter guru; of 55 nebulae, the iDSA disagreed with Knisely only nine times, with only two of these disagreements being instances where Knisely referred to the iDSA’s recommended filter as being “not recommended.” [1]  (In five instances, the iDSA listed a given nebula as a reflection nebula and offered no filter recommendation, whereas Knisely did recommend a filter, due to the nebulae being a combination of emission and reflection types.)  Diffuse nebulae are colored red here, rather than green, as is often the case; reflection nebulae are marked in blue.  (It’s nice to see an atlas that indicates the distinction on the page.) Dark nebulae—including the entire Barnard catalogue—are plotted here also, in dotted outlines filled with black or grey [see below].

Planetary nebulae are plotted in green, including the entire Abell catalogue.  It’s nice to see an atlas that uses labels other than the outdated PK or the current PN designations, as these are less commonly used by amateurs.  One of my gripes with Uranometria was that the PK numbers were used on the charts in the 1st Edition, so that finding a planetary by an alternate name required using the Deep Sky Field Guide—then, when they issued the 2nd Edition of Uranometria, they used the PN numbers, relegating the PK numbers to the “Alternate Names” column in DSFG and ignoring the other catalogue names entirely; if you wanted to find Jones-Emberson 1 and didn’t know the PK number, you had to use the 1st and 2nd Edition DSFG to find JE-1 in the 2nd Edition Uranometria.  The iDSA wisely circumvents this.

Galaxies, like reflection nebulae, are drawn in blue.  The entirety of the Arp and Holmberg catalogues, as well as those objects that are members of the Local Group, are plotted in the iDSA.  Also included are all Hickson groups and a few of the Shakhbazian and Klemola groups, as well as all Abell galaxy clusters with members brighter than 13th magnitude. (Oddly, NGC 3290 is charted separately from Arp 53, when in fact the two are one and the same.)

Double and variable stars are plotted with standard symbols.  Tick marks indicate separation distances, magnitude differences, and position angles in double or multiple stars.  Many doubles are marked with their Struve/Otto Struve numbers, unlike in the Tirion atlases.  All of the doubles in the Astronomical League’s Double Star observing program are included in the iDSA (although N Hydrae isn’t identified as such; it’s labeled as 17 [Crateris] and Hill 96 instead), although this is likely a coincidence.  Variable stars are marked with circles and dot sizes indicating their maxima and minima.  Carbon stars are not labeled or given a symbol as such; this is an unfortunate omission.  52 of the 100 stars on the Astronomical League’s Carbon Star Observing Program are nonetheless included among the variables plotted in the iDSA. It should be noted that while the Pocket Sky Atlas specifically labels carbon stars, it only does so with 55 of them—not much more than the iDSA, although the latter doesn’t assign them a special symbol.

Stars with exoplanets—those discovered before April 2013—are labeled with an oval drawn around the star symbol.  Indicating stars with exoplanets is curious for an atlas with a visual emphasis, as exoplanets aren’t exactly a visual target for amateurs.  While it’s certainly of astrophysical interest—and the iDSA is the first atlas I know of to indicate exoplanet-bearing stars—I’d have preferred to have carbon stars marked instead, as it would be of greater observing interest.

The use of nicknames for deep-sky objects is a bit problematic.  Sure, there are the common ones (Lagoon, Trifid, Swan, Dumbbell, etc.), but there are also a number of less-accepted or unfamiliar ones that add clutter to the charts (Patrick Starfish, the Condom Nebula)—perhaps these are used more in Europe, where the iDSA was first created and marketed.  (In one instance, the nickname “The X-Rated Galaxy” is ascribed to the wrong object—NGC 5557, instead of the NGC 5544/45 pairing that usually gets the nickname. Do yourself a favor and DON’T do a Google Search for “X-Rated Galaxy.”) I understand that nicknames can’t achieve common status without being used repeatedly, but some of these probably shouldn’t be used in an atlas that will outlive the references. There’s also at least one typo among the nicknames, as NGC 4627—The Cub or The Pup—is referred to as “The Club.”

Unlike the Tirion atlases, the iDSA draws lines to outline the figures of the constellations.  This might also be problematic for some users, who adhere to certain constellation outlines; a glance through the index charts, though, shows that the iDSA uses constellation figures that are pretty recognizable, if not entirely universal.  A few constellations—eg. Puppis, Pisces Austrinus—are a bit unusual at first glance, but there’s nothing here that’s totally unreasonable as a constellation figure.

One element that’s missing from the iDSA that’s present in Sky Atlas 2000.0 is Milky Way isophotes, marking the extent and density of the Milky Way as seen in the sky.  This isn’t a major drawback, although I’m sure a number of users will wish they were present in the iDSA.  As the iDSA uses red, green, yellow, blue, and black/grey for deep-sky objects, it’s hard to envision how the isophotes could have been represented anyway, without making the charts confusing or hard to read.  (I somehow don’t think purple or orange isophotes would have cut it.)

The main innovation of the iDSA is the manner in which it denotes an object’s visibility.  Using an extensive list of observations—the basis for the Eye & Telescope software, on which the iDSA itself is based—the authors have sorted all of the deep-sky objects in the iDSA into four visibility classes: objects visible in 4-, 8-, and 12-inch telescopes, and a selection of targets for telescopes larger than 12 inches.  Visibility is indicated by the font size and weight of the object’s label, the line weight of the object’s symbol, and the density of the color used in the symbol. (The legend card inside the front cover can be used as a reference, if needed.) This system is intuitive enough that it quickly becomes second nature, although the symbols for asterisms, star clouds, groups/clusters of galaxies, and open clusters in the 12”+ class can be rather easily confused at first (and sometimes second) glance. Objects’ visibility was determined by the authors using skies of 6.5 NELM and/or SQM 21.3 mag/arcsec^2 as a benchmark.

Some reviews of the iDSA have criticized these visibility classes as being a gimmick, or as something useful only to beginners.  Both criticisms are unwarranted, implying as they do that needing such information in the field is a sign of inexperience, poor research, or a lack of observing skill.  Yes, the visibility classes would be helpful for beginning observers (although they’re less likely to shell out $200 for their first star atlas).  In many instances, though, a spontaneous observing session is either a necessity or a pleasant change from routine for a seasoned observer, and knowing which objects might be suitable targets for a given scope simply by looking at the chart can make such spontaneity productive, efficient, and enjoyable.  And for those who work from an observing list, it can be helpful to see at a glance what potential targets might lie within a few degrees of a recently-found object.

In assigning objects to their visibility classes, the authors have opened themselves up to a great deal of nitpicking and second-guessing, but their methodology seems to have paid off, judging from the initial reviews and comments from users.  Not everyone is going to agree on the visibility of every object, given the variables involved. Stoyan and Schurig should nonetheless be commended for bringing a new level of usefulness to the millennia-old science of uranography.

 

In the field

With all this buildup, how does the iDSA actually work in the field?

Initial concerns about the use of red light with the iDSA‘s color coding are pretty much for naught.  All of the object symbols are readable in red light; emission nebulae (printed red in the atlas) and open and globular clusters (yellow) turn varying shades of light orange, while galaxies, reflection nebulae, and planetary nebulae (blue, blue, and green, respectively) are varying shades of blue when lit by red light.  If you depend on the color coding to determine object types in the field, you might be somewhat less happy with the colors printed here, but between the colors and the symbols, there shouldn’t be any confusion. The iDSA loses none of its usability when read by red [2].

The atlas definitely works better laying flat than being held at the eyepiece.  The spine of the atlas is creased so that it can be folded back on itself, but I found it a bit awkward to comfortably hold that way.  It’s not impossible, but certainly not as easy as with, say, Erich Karkoschka’s Observer’s Sky Atlas, Peter Birren’s Objects in the Heavens, or the ubiquitous Pocket Sky Atlas (even the new Jumbo version), all of which are smaller, lighter books. CloudyNights user Carol L recommends putting the iDSA on a music stand, which is an excellent idea.

Some commenters have indicated that they found the fonts used for right ascension and declination (if not those used for object labels themselves) to be too small for easy reading in the field.  While this wasn’t my experience, I can certainly see how it would be for many observers. Very small type is appropriate for the faintest objects in the atlas, but less so for important general information. Future editions of the iDSA might do well to take this into account.

The visibility classes seemed to be fairly consistent with my own experience under similar skies to those of the authors, at least in the 8″ and 12″ classes.  I did find the visible extents of some of the nebulae to be a bit ambitious as drawn in the atlas, but this certainly requires more testing than I was able to give it.  I’ve had the atlas for nearly a year as of this writing, but have only had a couple of chances to use it in the field (2015 was a miserable year for observing!).  In working through some crowded galaxy fields (e.g. Abell 347 in Andromeda), though, I found the iDSA‘s symbology to be pretty much on the money with what I observed under average conditions.

In some crowded fields, it can be difficult to discern which label goes with which symbol, as in the case of the NGC 2462 group in Lynx:

iDSA2462

The field of NGC 2462 as seen in the iDSA (Chart 17). Note that the print quality of the atlas is much higher than indicated by this low-quality scan.

The trade-off here is between keeping the labels directly next to their object symbol or working around the star symbols in the area.  Indicator lines could have connected labels with their corresponding symbols, but these, too, could contribute to crowding and clutter.  I’m not sure there’s a compromise that will appease a majority of users.

One criticism of Uranometria 2000.0 is that, while it has an exceptional amount of depth with regard to deep-sky objects, it lacks sufficient stars for star-hopping.  The same is true with the iDSA: it’s certainly fine for using patterns and geometric figures to close in on a target, but there simply aren’t enough stars for star-hopping from an eyepiece.  This is a logistical trade-off; having enough stars in the atlas for such detailed hopping would make the atlas, at this scale, so dense with stars as to be unreadable.  For deep, very detailed star-hopping, either a planetarium program or something like the TriAtlas app (with stars to 13th magnitude) will be needed to supplement the iDSA.  Those who are comfortable star-hopping with less-detailed charts, however, will find the iDSA perfectly adequate for the job.  In many instances, I found that the iDSA was plenty “deep” enough for hopping through moderately-crowded fields.

The most serious criticism of iDSA (the Field Edition) has been leveled by a fellow CloudyNights user whose atlas had pages stick together after getting wet with dew and being left to dry for several weeks; ink had peeled off one page of his atlas and transferred to the facing page. [3]  In searching on the Internet, I haven’t yet found any other cases like this one being reported, so perhaps this was an isolated occurrence with an early printing of the atlas. (A couple of other users have reported sticking pages, but the problem has gone away once the pages have dried, and they had no issues with peeling ink.) This is the worst possible flaw a waterproof atlas could have, so it’s worth taking seriously.  I’m not inclined to leave anything to chance, given that the iDSA Field Edition is a $200 book, so mine stays in a clear turkey bag when out in the field to keep the dew and frost off of it.  It’s also recommended that pages be wiped off after use and that the atlas be dried out at home after a session before being put away—all good advice, although I’m sure many will find that such caution somewhat defeats the purpose of having a waterproof atlas.  Again, though, only one instance of this problem has been reported so far.

 

Conclusion

So, all things considered, would I recommend the interstellarum Deep Sky Atlas?  The answer would be a mostly-resounding “yes.”  As the user of a 12.5″ scope, I find that the atlas provides an appropriate depth of coverage in terms of what I might expect to see, and, backed up with the TriAtlas and/or Sky Safari, I could identify any objects in a given field that are not labeled in the iDSA. The atlas is extremely user-friendly aside from its size, which largely precludes being hand-held at the eyepiece, but is more convenient than strictly using a tablet in the field; the small size of some of the type is a minor inconvenience at worst.  The only hesitation that I have regarding the iDSA is the sticking pages/peeling ink issue, which may well prove to be a single-occurrence “outlier” among the body of iDSA users; as the atlas becomes more popular, this may turn out to be an isolated unfortunate instance, and it may in any case be preventable with the kind of care one takes with one’s optics after a night’s observing.

Stoyan and Schurig have produced an atlas that, while not perfect, may be the most user-friendly field atlas available to amateur astronomers with moderate-sized telescopes—an atlas that might stand as the apotheosis of the printed atlas in a day and age dominated by astronomy apps and planetarium programs.

[1] David Knisely’s filter recommendations for various nebulae can be found at  http://www.cloudynights.com/page/articles/cat/user-reviews/accessories/astronomical-filters/filter-performance-comparisons-r1471

[2] It should be noted that the author has issues with colorblindness in the red end of the spectrum, so others may see these colors somewhat more or less strongly.

[3] The account of this can be found at http://www.cloudynights.com/topic/488677-interstellarum-oculum-deep-sky-atlas-it-is-here/?p=6462792

The Past, As Prologue

With a bit of spare time this week, I’ve been sifting through my observing notes from past years, making sure that everything’s up-to-date and in order. And having recently given a talk on the Astronomical League’s observing programs, I’ve also been a bit nostalgic for the earlier days of my observing, when I started on the Herschel lists and plowed on through the globular cluster program in a single season. (In retrospect, I should’ve done that one more slowly and enjoyed it more—although I would’ve missed out on a lot of the more-southerly globulars after moving to Oregon.)

One thing that I realized was that many of my notes on those early objects, primitive as those notes were, never made it here to the site. So here they are, providing a glimpse into the early stages of my “notetaking proper.”

I do miss observing at Giant City and at Crab Orchard, the two spots we used in AASI. The parking lot at Giant City State Park—soon to be inundated with eclipse-chasers—was ringed with trees, but these functioned as much to limit the extensive light pollution from Carbondale and the surrounding towns as they did to block our access to the horizons (because, really, that low to the horizon the sky was always mucky anyway). But it was twenty minutes from home, and easy to drive from after an all-night session… of which I did several in the shadow of the visitors’ center. We had used Giant City before, pre-Blagojevich, when the park had someone willing to work evenings so that AASI could host public events in the lot; I had also done my first real set of observing notes in the meadow on the park’s southern end (a.k.a. Tickville). And although Crab Orchard’s wildlife-viewing loop was right in the middle of the Carbondale-Marion conurbation (if a bit south), it was nearly-perfect from an ergonomic standpoint: flat, clear terrain on which to set up, and views right down to the horizon from the northeast to southwest. I found Omega Centauri there in those yellow-zone skies, and the Milky Way was occasionally a striking sight, despite being only half as bright as at Giant City. (Which is itself just a fraction as stunning as here at Eagle’s Ridge.) My best shot at the Messier Marathon took place at the loop, with Fred Isberner and I catching 87 of the 110 Messiers between hours of clouds and one horrific battle between two large, loud predators just beyond the treeline from our observing spot.

A few side notes on these notes: in my first session there, I snapped up NGC 6118, often considered the most difficult of the Herschel 400; given that the sky was impressive that night, I made a concerted effort to go for this spiral galaxy in Serpens Caput, for fear of not getting a better shot (hah!).

The week of June 30-July 5 was one of my most productive, as I did much of my work on the AL globular-cluster program that week, scouring the southern horizon for clusters in and below the coils of Scorpius and the northern reaches of Corona Australis… neither region of which I could reach here around Eugene. It was also the week that I began carrying a spare van key in my wallet, as I locked myself out of the van (with my phone in the van), and only the timely arrival of the awesome Len Wenzel enabled me (and Bob Morefield) to rush home and get the spare (with my house key also in the van!). That was not an easy one to live down. The last two weeks of the month continued the great fortune astronomy-wise. By the time July was over, I had caught 40 of the 50 globulars I needed for the AL’s globular-observing program. It was a good thing, too—August was completely clouded and rained out, and it wasn’t until September that I was able to finish the program; I didn’t formally complete it until November.

Those were good days; that July was one of the best months of observing I’ve ever had, due to the cooler, less-humid weather and the lack of clouds. I observed around the Moon, utilizing three of the four weeks of the month to observe and avoiding the ten days around Full. And my notes had greater focus then on the object I was observing, less on the star field around said object. Less verbiage. More rock, less talk.

But enough….

 

6/30/14

GIANT CITY VISITOR CENTER PARKING LOT
MOON: absent (3 days, already set)
SEEING: 5
TRANSPARENCY: 6
NELM: 5.7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: windy, lightning to south, not humid

with RM

9:49
NGC 6144 (Sco)— 14mm— 3-4’— touching 11th mag star— fairly diffuse like 5466—CC 10?—mag 10— star touching is part of a line with 10th and 8th mags— slightly granular on bground haze— a little more granular w averted, a couple of stars in crescent shape around edge

10:13
NGC 5053 (Com)—as faint as 6/3, slightly more obvious, w averted, 6’ diam—sprinkling of quite faint stars w averted moving scope makes 2 or 3 vis with direct—not much concentration–CC 12?–almost too tenuous to estimatemag.11, probably less

10:26
NGC 5694 (Hyd)—little, no more than 2’ diam— at end of line with two stars— almost stellar core, small halo, almost has nucleus—no indiv stars visible in cluster— small triangle of brighter stars to S— w/averted still 2’, not much improvement—tightly concentrated, CC 5?—mag 10?

10:37
NGC 5466 (Boo)— 8-9’, like 5897—lot of faint stars, low concentration—CC 11?—noticed immediately with direct—30 stars with direct—not quite round, caved in on preceding–mag 10/11?

11:18
NGC 6118 (Ser)—not impossible—vF, diffuse glow—3’ x 1.5’—v Bright star off to F side, small isoc triangle of 11-12 mag stars to S of galaxy—quite elongated, faint, suprisingly large—not a lot of sweeping needed—Alvin + Tri—averted:slightly brighter core, ever-so, nothing of outer edge—trickles into background space

 

7/3/14

CRAB ORCHARD WILDLIFE VIEWING LOOP
MOON: 6 days, still present at beginning
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6
NELM: 5.4
WEATHER CONDITIONS: v. damp (humid); ground fog as departing

with RM and HT

10:01
NGC 5824 (Lupus)—M80-ish—bright (mag. 9)—almost stellar “core”—v small, 2’ diam, high concentration (CC 3?)—not much in way of halo—w/averted, maybe 1-2 uncertain stars across face—to N a pair of 10th/11th and 13th mag stars, if cluster on S edge of field, bright star to N

10:07
NGC 5986 (Lupus)—much larger, more diffuse, brighter than 5824—mag 8?—low concentration (CC 8?)—5’ diam—1 quite bright star to F side—averted brings out several stars across face—bright field star off edge at 2:00 and another at 7:00 on edge—quite mottled with averted—only a few cluster stars with direct vision

10:37
Iridium 12 in Cygnus  mag -2.3

 

7/4/14-7/5/14

CRAB ORCHARD WILDLIFE VIEWING LOOP
MOON: 7 days, still present at beginning
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 4-6
NELM: 5.3 faint MW, not much detail in Rift, not much ddefinition over by M7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: v. damp (humid); ground fog as departing

with LW and his friends (Jeff & Tammy??)

10:42
NGC 6139 (Sco)—about 3’ diam—sky v. poor this low—mag 11?–looks almost like elliptical galaxy or core of spiral — no stars visible—only a couple of field stars—CC hard to tell, maybe 4?—only a few degrees above horizon at this point

11:02
NGC 6325 (Oph )—not one of easier/more impressive globs—mag —about 3’ diam—no brightening at all w/direct, slight bit of central brightening with averted—CC v. difficult, maybe 6?—no stars visible at all—faint, tenuous haze—in field with some indistinct dark neb?, but background fairly sparse—easy to pass over—maybe 11 mag?

11:12
NGC 6369 (Oph) Little Ghost—v bright planetary, no filter, swept up super easily—about half an arcminute maj axis—seems to be annular (traces of)— no cent star—bright ring with tiny bit of fringe halo—slightly oblong in P-F direction—forms tip of almost equal triangle with 10th/11th stars—seeing not good enough for higher power

11:29
NGC 6401 (Oph)—2’ diam—bright star in middle/stellar nucleus—w/averted, hints of granularity—reasonably bright (mag 9), easily seen—w/averted almost like double nucleus/two bright stars in middle—not much resolution—CC 8?

11:39
NGC 5986 (Lup, redux)—even better, very granular—few visible in averted, one bright—cluster lower in sky—5’—slightly squashed on P side, bright star on F, NF side

12:11
NGC 6380 (Sco)—spot easy to find, cluster not—cluster is 2’??—very diffuse, CC impossible to tell—barely visible above background—only slightly more visible w/averted— bright (8th mag) star to P side of field—globular just on edge of perception around 11th mag star—star is just off S edge of globular—globular is just a haze, very difficult, perhaps 13th mag

12:21
NGC 6441 (Sco) right off by 10’ from g Sco—really bright, mag 8—like M80 brightness (seems)—4-3’—large core—small sprinkling of halo stars—remarkably smooth gradientwise—not much gran—light falls away smooth like elliptical galaxy; guessing at CC 4—bright star off P edge by 4’—“bright, impressive tableau”—no real resolution even w/averted

12:36
NGC 6453 (Sco)—off M7—3’—11th mag—stars vis with direct—granular—8-9 stars w averted—brighter section of core forms cresecent—not round—core slightly like Ringtail Gal—moderately concentrated (CC 6-7?)—very interesting

12:54
NGC 6541 (CrA)—nice bright glob (8th mag), v low—4’—set in bright scalene triangle—has outliers to 6-7’—well resolved—numerous stars (15 at least with averted, bunch with direct)—presents triangular aspect—reasonably bright field star to F side—wedge shape of field stars pointing to NF side—v loose concentration (CC 8)

NGC 6496 (Sco)—can’t say I saw—p. negligible—found correct field—don’t know that I saw globular

1:09
NGC 6388 (Sco)—just above horizon—2.5-3’—faint halo surround brighter core—hard to focus on so low in sky—smooth gradient; high concentration, CC 3?—little bit granular—10th mag star to N side—almost off-center nucleus star toward P side, pretty faint—fairly bright glob; mag 8?

1:16
NGC 6118 (Oph, redux)—just after security—glow 4 x 3’—using junky pattern on Tri to bright star, just S of bright star—small triangle off to S,F side—galaxy fairly uniform, v. faint tonight (well past meridian—def there with direct—pA?—slight (ever so-) bit of central brightening

1:30
NGCs 6928, 6930; Delphinus trio (Del)—two glows visible, both v. tough—each about 1’, two in contact—thrid not visible clearly?—6928/30—never have found wo Tri—v. fleeting, but brightens w seeing 1 x 2’ total, two tiny cores—no real central brightening—steallr nucleus in P galaxy only fleeting—hard to separate—“that’s a bitch”

1:58
NGC 6907 (Cap)—24mm (stupid)—one of those “not sure at first”—about 2 x 1’?—funky spade-shaped asterism off to F side—brighter w/averted—not much central brightening—sketchworthy—w averted 2.5 x 1.5’?—fades gradually into background–no stellar nucleus—10th mag star to following by 2-3’

 

7/18/14

CRAB ORCHARD WILDLIFE VIEWING LOOP
MOON: Last Quarter, absent until 12:21
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6-7 (horizons 5)
NELM: 5.6
WEATHER CONDITIONS: v. damp (humid); ground fog as departing

With RM and LW

Locked keys in van

11:57
NGC 6535 (Ser)—faint glow about 4-3’—11th mag—averted shows 7 stars visible, two-three quite bright on P side even w direct—loose cluster, maybe CC 10—rich field—several 7th/8th stars in field

 

7/19/14

CRAB ORCHARD WILDLIFE VIEWING LOOP
MOON: 22 days, absent
SEEING: 4-5
TRANSPARENCY: 5-6, variable
NELM: 5.3, MW not well visible through Sagitta/Vulp. Star clouds still obvious
WEATHER CONDITIONS: v. damp (humid); ground fog as departing

With HT

10:52
NGC 6355 (Oph)—on edge of tadpole-shaped asterism (P side)—4-3’ diam—resembles a comet—halo stretches to about 4’—inner 3’ is considerably brighter—averted doesnt help much for size—stellar point toward center—no indiv stars at all—CC 5-6?—not quite round—with averted, double “core”?—core elongated to N-S—halo not particularly round but rounder than core

11:17
NGC 6304 (Oph)—considerably smaller than M62 (starhopped from; why no notes?)—3-4’—has definite graininess—4’ with averted—mag 9—core seems almost triangular—averted makes this more apparent—doesnt have stellar “nucleus”—nested in triangle of 9th/10th stars—bright pair (wide double?) toward S F of field—on better night, resolution?— CC 4-5? —more power would resolve some stars?—Seeing v. soft

11:23
NGC 6316 (Oph)—2’—to SF side is a 10th/11th field star 1-2’ from cluster—smaller considerably than 6304—with averted halo stretches anothe arcminute 3-3.5’ (more like 3’)—double gradient—core makes up 50% of face—not much grain, pretty smooth glo even w/ averted—rounder than 6304—pair of faint field stars (10, 11) to P side; 11th (12th?) 1’ from halo of cluster, 10th is 3’ from cluster)—smooth, not much granularity even averted—like M80 in small refractor—CC 5?—maybe 8th mag?

11:43
NGC 6293 (Oph)—starhopped to from previous—brightest, best resolved of recent group (mag 8)—to P side of zigzag of 10th/11th stars—about 5‘ with halo—inner 2’ much more concentrated/brighter—loose cluster—with averted 10 stars in cluster, inc. one 5’ from center, right on N F edge of halo—field star to S F 7’ from cluster center—“M15 style”—CC 5?—bright core, halo falls away pretty rapidly

11:52
M19 (Oph)—far and away brightest this evening, mag 7—extends to 7’—elongated N-S v. apparently—inner 4’ make up brighter core, no nuclear “point” like M15—8 x 7’—to N side are two brightest stars in cluster—bright field star S P by 10’—to S F side 8/9 mag field star—fairly evenly distributed across face, pretty well resolved—CC 7-8

 

7/21/14

CRAB ORCHARD WILDLIFE VIEWING LOOP
MOON: 24 days, absent 
SEEING: 5 (improved considerably, to 6/7)
TRANSPARENCY: 5 (horizons 4) MW very indistinct, Great Rift difficult
NELM: 5.4
WEATHER CONDITIONS: v. damp (humid); ground fog caused early end to session

with RM and HT

9:48
M107 (Oph)—nicely resolved—in trapezoid shape of stars—8’-7’—not completely dark yet—14mm—three distinct layers of brightness—interior 5’—couple of brighter stars (13th) across face—cluster 8th mag—fairly loose—CC 8—sitting insquashed trapezoid of 9th-10th stars—averted gets 20+ stars—wedge shape of brighter stars poiunting N across face—not sharp central concentration like M15

10:08
Me 2-1 (Lib)—one of smallest PN looked at—just off short side of rt. triangle of 8-10th mag stars—almost stellar (15”) but slightly fuzzy—easy to hop to w TriA—found w/o filter—OIII brightens neb a fair bit—reasonably sharply defined edges—no detectable color—visile w/direct—no central star—about 10th mag?—quite bright—in 6mm Radian, w/OIII, completely lost target—w/6mm and no filter, slightly diffuse edges—UHC w/14mm better than OIII—maybe 10”?—may have seen core/nucleus of IC 4538 as a “star” in the field; tried to confirm but seeing wasn’t good enough

10:57
NGC 6572 (Oph) Harry says blue—greener to me in 14mm—10” (?) and bright w/o filter—at tip of “smashed Ursa Major” asterism—nebula off “nose” of asterism—bowl of “dipper” to F side of neb.—w/OIII looks fuzzy around edges, like condensation on optics—w/o filter, fairly sharp on edges—filter blows this out, as if edges are “cottony”—not as green as Saturn Neb—OOTW on DSF—other two stars are 8’ to F side—neb too small in 14mm to show as anything but not-quite-stellar

11:31
NGC 6426 (Oph)—brutally nasty glob—v.v. weak, indistinct glow—sky at zenith a bit better—one of toughest NGC globulars—2-3’ diam, maybe 4’ w/averted—difficult even w/averted—no stars at all, no graininess—halfway and a bit preceding long edge of rt.triangle made of 9-10th stars—jiggling scope makes it more visible—as bad as 5053—12th mag—doesn’t look quite round, but too faint to judge exact shape—CC impossible to tell; cluster barely visible

11:49
NGC 6717 (Palomar 9) (Sgr) —4’ S P from Nu Sgt—cluster is about 1.5’ diam—mag 9—almost looks like a trio of stars with haze/neb around them—doesn’t look much like glob—definitely three bright “condensations”, one to NP, one to NF, one S on face of cluster, rather than indiv stars—averted doesn’t change this—averted gives extra fringe of halo—odd looking glob—CC 9

 

7/24-25/14

GIANT CITY STATE PARK VISITOR CENTER PARKING LOT
MOON: 27 days, absent 
SEEING: 7 (4 at horizon)
TRANSPARENCY: 7 (horizons 6) MW very brilliant and detailed; temporary cirrus influx
NELM: 6.1
WEATHER CONDITIONS: good; temps in 70s, somewhat humid
many sporadic meteors

With RM

10:15
NGC 6791 (Lyr)—proverbial patch of unresolved haze with couple of stars sprinkled on top—14mm—caught between bands of thick cirrus—cluster is 10’—a number of brights stars atop—cluster haze visible with direct on/off (cirrus)—hard to tell concentration—reasonably well detached, V rich—wouldn’t have noticed right away—crowded field

10:49
NGC 6760 (Aql)—just grainy, near resolution—about 4-5’ with direct, 5’ with averted—averted hints at resolution—core 80% of diameter—looks moderate concentration—8 CC?—11th star to NF side just out of edge of halo by 2’?—fainter star (13th) to NP edge—mag 9-10—satellite through field—field has ring of brighter stars to N edge of FOV, grouped in pairs

11:09
NGC 6749 (Aql)—just on threshold of direct—just barely there, 13-14th mag?—better seeing than before—V tough—3’ diam?—has rhombus shape of faint (10-11th) stars overlaid across it—globular CC??? too faint to say—just coming and going—2 on averted scale—sometimes visible w/direct—“definitely there”—more than suspected—2 parallel arcs of 3 stars each on each side making up rhombus—moving scope makes glob definite—no definition, just a glow

11:23
NGC 6642 (Sgr)—S of M22—small (2.5-3’) glob—nicely resolved—pretty well resolved—grainy all around—core not quite centered— 5’ N is 10th star—core small compared to halo—two gradients—averted shows many stars across field—center has bright condensation—CC 4-5—8th mag—nice glob—slightly triangular—almost has nucleus—F side flatter—opposite vertex in middle of P side—field littered with stars—to S is asterism (triangle inside line)

11:58
NGC 6638 (Sgr)—more diffuse than previous, but not by much—well grainy—good resolution into tiny stars—bright core, no stellar nucleus—mag 8—core 75% of face—quite concentrated (CC 4)—SP side has one star brighter than other in cluster—with 6mm Radian, cluster is very much more resolved (poor seeing that low)—easily overlooked by prox to M22—4’ in 6mm—brightest part of cluster to NF side—slight elongation of core in NP-SF direction

12:08
NGC 6723 (Sgr)—V large, V well resolved—8-9 CC—lots of little stars visible even low to horizon—10th mag on edge of halo just to NF side—cluster 7-8’—well resolved across face—words fail with globs like this—7th mag—too many stars to count, at least 100—inner 80% makes up core which has a couple of “dark or “star-poor” spots in it—averted really brightens, but does not increase size

rest of Eps Cor Aus region—wow—whole area covered with visible nebulosity—lots of backgrd glow—cometary nebula (6729) visible through treetop—to S of one of bright star pairs in nebulosity—equal brightness double to S, also one to N [wrapped in 6726/7]—nebula has dim starry tip [R CrA]—losing into tree—nebula 4-5’ long trails away from star at tip to star at SF side [T CrA]—almost looks like galaxy???—giving short shrift to region in description due to loss in treetops

12:23
NGC 6907 (Cap) redux—much more obvious than at CO (14mm this time)—still finding w/trowel asterism—elongated NP-SF slightly, PA 30˚???—fairly bright—definitely wouldve noticed in passing—to FS side is 10th star—galaxy has brighter core that’s 66% of size—halo extends slightly NF [this is spiral arm NGC 6908], not perfectly uniform, core not perfectly centered—looks like spiral—every now and then a flicker of a stellar core—V obvious in averted—to SP is faint double star about 6’ from P edge of galaxy—to SP (1:00 from double by 3-4’) is another 11-12th star

12:46
NGCs 6928, 6930; Delphinus trio—6mm Radian—larger (6928) galaxy elongated N-S—2’—fainter (6930) in contact to F side, has stellar nucleus [seeing sloppy]—definitely 2 objects—longer G doesn’t have stellar nucleus—3rd galaxy (27) not visible

12:56
NGC 6934 (Del)—bright (8th mag), well-resolved—lots of stars with averted—CC 7—has bright star (9th) to P side—core only 50%—lots of little stars across face—small line of stars on N side of core—5’, inc. halo

1:10
NGC 7006 (Del)—long search—tiny, V concentrated—CC 2-3—not much halo—core 90% of cluster—fairly bright, esp for distance from us (9th mag?)—little more halo with focus—core becomes 80% with averted—2-2.5’—to P side, by 3’, faint double—to F and N sides by 4’, faint individual stars (12-13th), so inside a triangle—several 7-8 field stars, esp. around edges of FOV

1:57
IC 5148/50 (Gru)—w/UHC (better than OIII?)—found with 24mm SWA—14mm best view—5’ diam—to S edge a bright field star touching edge—averted extends to 6’—V round—suspected annularity; ring thick—V low in sky—to F side is a bit of brightening of ring—w/OIII, biggest brightening is on P side [?!]—no central star with or w/o filter—definitely annular w/averted—ring 2-3’ thick, opening V small—with OIII, star at S edge is within nebula [not really]

2:06
M30 (Cap)—beautiful!!—M15 style (stellar nucleus)—7th mag—8-9’ across, halo spread out, comes to blazing center—CC 5—two distinct chains of stars leading from center to N —chain from center due N has four stars—other chain off to edge of core also has four stars—two outliers on NF side—cluster squashed along S side, halo compressed on S side, core not at center—10’ to P side is 7th-8th star—cluster V well resolved around edges—halo spectacular—jellyfish-like with chains

2:30
WLM (Cet)—really coming and going—visible mostly as slight brightening of background—V large (15’ long)—oval running almost N-S—on S end is 11th-12th field star touching glow—most visible by rocking scope [V low in sky!!]—tough to hold in direct—12’-15’, 15’ in averted?—to P side by 9-10’ of star at S end is another brighter star—another star off N end, one 7-8’ to P side of N end star—shape hard to determine—rectangular??—not quite to middle of P side is slight starlike brightening, P a line between N-S stars—can’t tell what brightening is (too faint)—v slow satellite going through N side of field—evenly distributed glow—VVV faint—12-15’ x 4’ wide at widest—hard to tell dimensions

3:08
NGC 7026 (Cyg)—fuzzy star in 14mm with no filter—in 6mm w OIII, v bright—3/4’—10th star directly F by 1’—nebula core has two equally bright segments in halo to NP-SF—whole envelope extends well beyond core—no color—fuzzy edges—no central star visible—found w/o filter

Also observed M4, 6144, M80, Veil, 6118, M22, M28, 7479, Stephan’s Quintet

 

7/27-28/14

GIANT CITY STATE PARK VISITOR CENTER PARKING LOT
MOON: 1 day, absent 
SEEING: 7 (5 at horizon)—improved to 8 around midnight
TRANSPARENCY: 8 (horizons 6) MW very brilliant and detailed; bulge into Ophiuchus obvious; M13 visible w/averted, N.A. Nebula visible
NELM: 6.3
WEATHER CONDITIONS: excellent; temps in 70s-60s, very low humidity (no dew), much lightning (heat lightning or distant to S?); wind gusting for two hrs prior to midnight
many sporadic meteors—some Delta Aquariids?

With JR and FI

10:43
M10 [actually M12] (Oph)—7-8’—V loosely concent—has streak of stars spilling out toward N—averted expands halo to 8-9’—glob inside triangle of 8-9th mag stars—CC 9-10—on N edge of triangle—chain of stars from center to N—glob is squarish w/averted—core more concentrated toward S edge—core about 60% of diam—halo extends more to N—many small stars arranged in pairs in broad flattened ’S’ shape N-S—N end of ’S’ to P side, S end to F side—glob 8th mag?

10:53
M12 [actually M10] (Oph)—little more concentrated than M10—looks like fainter M13 with chains and arcs—7th mag—one bright star to SF side (maybe cluster member?)—chains stretch directly P-F—w/averted, rest of halo fills in—10’ diam, 11’ w averted—to P side of edge of halo, faint double star, also same to N and F sides—region around periphery littered w very close pairs—two arcs (like parentheses) lead from S side of cluster—core 80%, but lots of stragglers—14’ with stragglers—too many stars to count—CC 7-8?—several bright field stars toward edge of field— a wide triangle of 7-9th mags halfway between cluster and edge to F side

[Accidentally got M10 and M12 reversed; descriptions should be switched]

11:09
NGCs 6522, 6528 (Sgr)—22 larger of two, almost double size—3’—two clusters separated by 23’?—btween them is wedge-shape pointing due S—22 brighter, granular—9th mag—one cluster star to F side of core by 1’—core is 50%—quite small cluster—averted makes 4’?—7th mag field star 15’ to N—CC 8—doesn’t have stellar nucleus—granular on edges—averted brings a couple stars around periphery?

-28—smaller, more diffuse—2’—10th mag—to S by 5-6’ faint pair (12-13th)—to SP, 13th mag, maybe cluster member about 1/2’ from core of cluster—hints at resolution—almost looks like refection neb with granular edges—CC 6?

11:41
Terzan 7 (Sgr)—brutally faint (14th mag???)—small kite-shaped asterism of 7-9th stars, two brightest to NF—off S side of kite is pair of 12-13 mags spaced about 5’—something between those and just to N—barely detectable—2-3 [3] on averted v scale—about 2-3’??—not visible w/direct, but definite—position hard to hold—N of two stars—no CC possible—windy—lightning to SE—80% positive it’s there—easier than I thought?????—w/6mm, better look at field—wind playing havoc holding scope steady—“three and then two”

12:06-12:18
Palomar 8 (Sgr) —starhopped to, found w/direct vision—in crowded field—diffuse glow; 12th mag?—fairly loose concentration—to S edge, embedded just in halo (not that there’s a real halo)—very faint (13th) star—off to F edge is another of similar brightness—easy visible cluster—holdable w direct—brighter than some NGCs—many faint field stars around cluster—3.5’-4’?—impossible to tell CC—w/averted almost wants to seem on edge of being granular, esp. on P side—quite large glob—looks like F-side star may be v. close pair—brightest star in field to SF by 12’, 8-9 mag—had JR confirm—in 6mm Radian star to F side is double/pair—star on P side may be double

12:47
NGC 6822 (Sgr)—dim amorphuous glow—number of stellar points across face—12’ x 6’ elongated N-S—found in 24mm, where it was easier—to P side there is dim pair (12-13th?) on edge—to F side, a little pentagon of which brighter stars are on F side of galaxy, just on halo—in 14mm, became tougher, of course—in 24mm, considerably brighter—to S edge, unusual angled ‘E’-shaped asterism, used for finding—seeing haze that extends way to F side that shouldn’t exist, toward bright pair (8th) of stars—w/UHC, brightening of a couple of spots on P side—also on N P—3-4 little “areas”—also a couple well off F side—galaxy still visible in UHC

1:13
M72 (Aqr)—bright little glow, 8th mag—4-5’—lots of little stellar points—core 60% of cluster—pretty loose—CC 7-8—to NF side, there is 12-13 mag field star about 1’ from halo—to N is pair of stars separated by 3-4’, 11th mag, one 3’ from cluster’s edge, other 3’ from that—pair of bright (10th and 11th) field stars to F side—slow-moving satellite in field—meteor through field—about 7’ away on P side, a pair of stars sep. by 7’, the one to S is double/pair—lots of tiny star points

2:31
NGC 7492 (Aqr)—after long search—about 4-5’—about halfway between pair of 11-12 stars, one to NP, other to SF—another v faint star to F side—no resolution, no central brightening—CC… 10?—fainter than Pal 8?—v. faint, even averted doesn’t help much—12th mag?—maybe 5’ in averted

2:54
Jones 1 (Peg)—enormous—at least 5’ on major axis, not quite round—nebula is definitely bi-lobed, pair of broken arcs—extending long-wise 5 x 4’—rocking field helps— arcs on N-S sides—looks like stoma on plant—w/averted, annularity is stronger—10th mag star to N side—really tough to tell—

3:03
Hickson 92 (Peg)—4 glows—using 6 Radian—largest of glows is one to farthest preceding—seems to have star involved—stellar nucleus or star?—1 x 3/4’—one to farthest P does have stellar nucleus—about 3/4 x 1/2’—two v. involved with each other, 3’ from brightest, to NF—definitely double nucleus—whole envelope is 3’ x 2’, double nucleus (directly S?)—to S, almost touching field star, is fifth glow

3:37
NGC 7015 (Equ)—elongated 3:2, about 2’ x 1.3’—to NF side, faint pair—to N, field star 11-12 mag?—uniform halo—core lumpy—core is 80%—pretty obvious, moderately bright—about 8’ to SP, 8th mag star

 

 

Six Nights at Virgo’s

I.

One never knows what weather forecasts will bring, and, indeed, it was nearly a month since our last excursion before I was able to return to observing. This time, the forecast called for more than a week of nearly-perfect weather for astronomy and—as circumstances (read: $$$) had insisted that I skip a planned trip to Goldendale, WA for the annual Pixieland Star Party that occurred during the second weekend of the upcoming dark-sky run—I planned to be at Eagle’s Ridge at every opportunity, despite the fifty+ minute drive each way to the site. I had two days of work early in that timeframe, but I had worked before after a night’s observing; it wasn’t easy, as my job is sedentary and mentally taxing, but allowed for no physical movement and little contact with others to help me stay awake, but I could manage. Besides, I would have to take at least one night off during the week to recuperate. And given that I’d had a whole three dark-sky observing sessions since September—this was the single-worst season for astronomy I can ever recall—having a week to observe was the height of luxury.

Back in March, with the spring galaxy field still on the rise, I had hatched a plan to work on one of the areas of sky I had long avoided, save for some brief trips during my annually-futile attempts at a Messier Marathon: the Virgo Cluster. I wasn’t overly intimidated by the difficulty of star-hopping there (“galaxy-hopping” is a more appropriate term, given that the density of galaxies there made it possible to avoid using stars as signposts), I was simply more-intrigued by other parts of the sky and more-obscure targets. But with working on the two Herschel lists (there were sixty or so galaxies on the the Herschel lists in the Virgo Cluster), as well as the Arp, Flat Galaxy, and Galaxy Groups lists for the Astronomical League, there was no better region of sky to plunder, no real reason not to dig through the masses of relatively-nearby galaxies–Virgo is our Local Supercluster, after all, the one to which our Milky Way and its closest neighbors belong—and, even by April, no real time to waste.

My plan had been to plunder the Interstellarum atlas’ two charts of the Virgo cluster, observing every galaxy in the region and noting especially those objects on the Herschel 400 and Herschel II lists. But by the time I was able to undertake the project, Virgo was already past the meridian and–from our best observing spot—it was already low in the sky and heading for a bank of trees as twilight would be ending. So I cut back on the numbers of galaxies and changed charts; instead of Interstellarum, I used the now-infamous Chart B from Tirion’s Sky Atlas 2000.0, which I usually used for my thwarted attempts at Messier Marathoning. There were 150 or so DSOs on Chart B, including the globular cluster NGC 4147. I ended up with 176 galaxies total, including several obvious ones that weren’t on the Tirion chart. Ignored were the hundreds of threshold-level galaxies that filled in the spaces between the brighter ones; I simply didn’t have time to search for the more-difficult objects if I wanted to get those that were labeled on the chart.

A few wispy clouds seemed a bit ominous as I pulled up to the crossroads on Eagle’s Rest Mountain; the spur road that branched to the northwest, which had flatter terrain, had room only for four vehicles, and we may have been expecting a few more than that. I preferred the spur road a bit, having started to find my balance in the dark to be a bit suspect, and the slope of the crossroad was also problematic for finding a good level spot for my scope that wasn’t interfered with by the trees facing southwest. Had the Virgo region been ten or fifteen degrees more northern in declination, the trees wouldn’t have been a problem; they usually weren’t. Now, though, they might cut my Virgo explorations short.

I had scanned the Tirion chart into two sections, and had circled the individual galaxies and small groups with circles that represented a single eyepiece view. Doing so revealed several large clumps and arcs of galaxies that I could use to keep my star-hopping to a minimum. I would start tonight in the western side of the cluster, using the star 6 Comae and the two nearby Messier galaxies (M 98 and M 99) as my leaping-off points. The idea was to work a different large chunk each night, following the arcs south and then back north, using the Messier galaxies in each section as starting points when possible (in part because they would theoretically be visible earlier in the twilight than would the smaller, fainter non-Messier objects).

All observations were conducted with a 12.5 f/5 Discovery Dob (a.k.a. Bob the Dob) and a 14mm Explore Scientific Nagler clone (yielding 113x and a 42′ field). Many of the objects cried out for higher magnification, but I just didn’t have time; with twilight ending around 11 PM, I had 3 hours each night before the Virgo Cluster was lost in trees and southern-sky haze. And due in part to the long layoff from observing (and the fact that I’m still working on it), my estimates of that various galaxies’ dimensions are somewhere on the order of 25% too large. Embarrassing.

5/19-20/17

EAGLE’S RIDGE
MOON: 24 days (rise at 2:58 AM), 33% illumination
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 8 (variable, especially early on)
SQM: not taken
NELM: 7+
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid-40s, air still, very dewy

Others present: JO, BM, BB

10:11
M98 [notes said M100] (Com): very long galaxy—9.0 x 2.0’—very long—elongated NP-SF—small brighter core maybe 1.0 x 0.25’—mottled along length of arms, has a “lumpiness” that’s indistinct—arms fade away into background—little better defined on P edge—NF galaxy by 5.5’ from galaxy center is 10.5 mag star—on opposite edges of field, SF and NP  are 9th-mag stars—NP galaxy and still in line with galaxy by 16’ is 10th-mag star—10’ NP of galaxy is 11th-mag star—SF galaxy is a group of stars; three 11th-12th stars are clumped together in SP-NF line—line is 4’ long and stars unevenly spaced

10:17
NGC 4237 (Com): pretty bright—galaxy elongated not quite due P-F; PNP-FSF—smallish, 2.0 x 1.5’ —doesn’t have stellar nucleus, but does have brighter core that makes up 3/4 of galaxy’s interior—halo seems to have well-defined edges—is in field of a few very bright stars to SF, one of which is 7th-mag about 16’ SF galaxy—next star is 8th mag 20’ SF galaxy—almost due F galaxy by 18’ is a 10th-mag star—due NF by 18’ is an 11th-mag star—NP galaxy by 12’ is a 12.5-mag star—sky not perfectly dark yet

10:25
M99, NGC 4262 (Com): M99: large, roundish galaxy—very bright—6’ x 5.5’—slightly elongated almost due P-F—has a 2.0’ round core and a difficult nucleus—appears to be a spiral arm stretching to NP side of galaxy—dark “jut” in halo makes it look like spiral arm sticking off—halo pretty diffuse, fades away—spiral arm sometimes “pops”—to NF and SF of galaxy are 13th/14th-mag stars—one to SF is 3.5’ from galaxy’s core—one to NF is 5’ from core—galaxy set in large scalene triangle of 7th and 8th-mag stars that dominate field—20’ P and slightly N is a 7th-mag star—NF by 10’ is brightest field star, 6th mag—F  and slightly S of galaxy by 15’ is a 7.5-mag star—just just on N edge of field is a 9th-mag star—P galaxy is small triangle of 12th-mag stars, long side 7’ long, points to P side of field—N and F M99 by 30’ is NGC 4262: v. small and v. bright—maybe 0.75’ round—very bright stellar nucleus and core that dominate view of galaxy—indistinct halo due to brightness of core—to PSP of galaxy by 10’ is a 10th-mag star—an 11th-mag star NF galaxy , which is SP end of long zigzag-like mini-Cassiopeia that stretches to NF edge of field—to P and slightly N of galaxy by 8’ is a 12th-mag star—with 4262 centered, 7th-mag star (one that is brightest in field of M99) is about 20’ S of 4262

10:39
NGCs 4298, 4302 (Com): excellent pair!—not easiest ever—face-on and edge-on very close together—4298: roundish—if seeing wobbles, galaxies blur together slightly—galaxy very diffuse—builds v. gradually to brighter core—halo almost textured—elongated NP-SF, 3.0 x 3.25’—11th-mag star just on F edge, between two galaxies, makes it hard to tell if there’s a nucleus to galaxy—halo fades into background—more indistinct is 4302: due F 4298—long and skinny, not quite “flat”—4.0’ x 0.75’ —elongated N-S—no discernable nucleus or core, just an even glow—on N tip of galaxy is a 14th-mag star; F on N edge about 2.5’ from previous star is a 12th-mag star—to NP of 4298 by 11’ is an 10th-mag star—almost due P galaxies by 8’ from 4298’s core is an 11th-mag star—pair of stars on NF edge of field—about 3.5’ apart, 11th/12th mags—SF galaxies by 18’ are pair of 11th-mag stars

10:49
NGC 4212 (Com): large and bright—fairly diffuse—comes to brighter core that takes up much of galaxy’s dimensions—no stellar nucleus—[really bright satellite through field]—galaxy elongated SPP-NFF—3.0 x 2.0’—averted may reveal stellar nucleus but very uncertain—galaxy is just N of a 12th-mag star that is the end of a bent line of 12th-mag stars trailing to F edge of field—next star in line is 7’ SF galaxy—final star in line 10’ due F galaxy—brightest star in field is 9th-mag star on NF edge of field—interesting faint pair of stars NP galaxy by 16’—very faint (13th & 14th-mags)

10:59
NGCs 4206, 4216 (Vir): great pair of close edge-on galaxies—4206: smaller and reasonably faint—3.0 x 0.5’—no central brightening or nucleus even in averted—elongated almost due N-S—in middle of line of four 10th and 11th stars—two stars to due N slightly P and two more S and slightly F—brightest of stars is 10th-mag 8’ N of galaxy—11.5-mag star 6’ N of previous star—two to SF of galaxy are both 11th-mag, closer one (slightly dimmer) 4’ SF galaxy, other 9’ SF galaxy—NF 4206 by 12’ is NGC 4216: much larger and brighter, easy core and stellar nucleus—elongated NNF-SSP—in averted, about 7.5’ x 1.0’—both could be flat—core very small and bright with stellar nucleus—core and nucleus slightly off-center to N, spiral arms extended a little to S—v. v. bright!—4216 about halfway between 4206 and an 8th-mag star (star about 13’ NF 4216)—between galaxies, about 7’ FNF 4206 is a 13th-mag star—excellent galaxies!

11:14
NGCs 4193, 4189, 4168 (Com [4189]; Vir): 4193: smallest and faintest of trio—pretty diffuse—elongated (slightly N)P-(slightly S)F—2.0’ x 0.75’?—slightly-brighter core—pretty non-descript—edges fade pretty sharply, well-defined—3’ to NP galaxy’s center is 14th-mag star—to NF by 5’ is another 14th-mag star—4189: to N and slightly P 4193 by 17’—much larger, pretty round—3.25’—fairly diffuse—evenly illuminated; not much core, no nucleus—very flat triangle of 13th-14th mag stars surrounding galaxy—brightest is 13th-mag star F and slightly N galaxy’s core by 4’—others in triangle are 14th-mag stars 5’ N and 6’ S of galaxy—4168: almost due P 4193 by 24’—brightest of three galaxies—most concentrated of three—round, 2.25’—very well-defined core—stellar nucleus in averted—core is about half diameter of galaxy—elliptical?—pretty well defined, halo drops off pretty cleanly—to NP of galaxy by 7’ is a 10th-mag star—SP by 16’ is brightest star in field, 9th-mag—between 4193 and 4168 is mini-Perseus asterism of seven stars, with “open end” to SP and “tip of wishbone” pointing almost due N—S of that is group of widely-spaced brighter (9th/10th-mags) stars sprinkled across S edge of field—[another bright satellite through field]

11:27
NGC 4267 (Vir): bright but small—very bright core, not-quite stellar nucleus—galaxy 1.0’ round—almost looks like star with diffuseness around it, like a planetary nebula with a bright central star—diffuseness fades away, core pops—to P side of field, starting 12’ from galaxy and stretching due S-due N is a line of five stars of 10th and 11th mags—those stars stretch along P side of field and N-S—galaxy is in distorted pentagon of 12th-14th mag stars—from long side of pentagon to other is about 12’—N (slightly F) galaxy by 19’ is a pair of 11th/12th-mag stars about 2.5’ apart

It was at this point in the evening that I first looked up—really looked up—at the naked-eye sky. With twilight fully faded, and the Milky Way beginning to rise in the east and northeast, the sky was dense with stars. It’s always a spine-tingling sight to see the Milky Way rise, but here, where the skies are so dark, it’s downright breathtaking. As a kid stranded in a big-city suburb, the Milky Way was never more than a threshold-level streak in a perpetually-grey sky. I couldn’t then imagine how I would see it as an adult, right now, billowing across the sky like a stream of glowing cumulus clouds, textured and brilliant and humbling. It was almost a pity to have to return to the eyepiece, to put off (for a few hours, anyway) rummaging through the glorious sights of the summer sky, Saturn gleaming just on the edge of the mountain, the globular clusters and shimmering nebulae near Galactic Center possessed of their own celestial siren song.

But back to task….

11:43
M 100, NGC 4312 (Com): M100: big, splashy, mottled face-on galaxy—about 9.0’ x 7.0’—big, bright very diffuse halo—very bright small core—edges fairly well defined—on SP and SF edges are 13th/13.5-mag stars—core about 1.0’ diameter—galaxy is the vertex of the hypotenuse and short side of right triangle with two 8th-mag stars—hypotenuse is 20’ long, short side 9’—to NF galaxy is pair of 9th-mag stars separated by 8’, almost parallel to short side of right triangle—taking M100 and other vertex on short side of triangle, about 9’ S slightly P from that vertex is 4312: an edge-on streak about 4.0 x 1.5’—elongated NP-SF—some slight central brightening in inner half of galaxy—no stellar nucleus—irregularity to brightness along length of galaxy—F galaxy by 4’ and very slightly S is a pair of 13th-mag stars separated by 45”—putting short side vertex star in middle of field frames both galaxies well in field

11:54
NGCs 4379, 4396, 4421, 4419 (Com): 4379: taking hypotenuse/long side vertex of triangle that includes M 100 and moving 20’ almost due F that star brings 4379—bright, small, possibly elliptical galaxy—pretty round—stellar nucleus and small very bright core—nucleus better in averted—1.5 x 1.25’—elongated slightly P-F—fairly non-descript galaxy—with galaxy centered, and star from triangle on P edge, to NF edge of field by 20’ from galaxy is 6th-mag star that has orangish tinge—to NF of galaxy by 4’ is a 14th-mag star that’s on threshold—FNF galaxy by 12’ is an edge-on galaxy [4396, not on SA chart], very difficult, much better in averted—elongated NP-SF—quite diffuse—2.5’ x 0.75’—not much brightening at all, just a streak—seems to have a 14.5-mag star just visible in averted on NP tip of galaxy—due N of galaxy about 2’ from galaxy’s center is a 12th-mag star that makes observation of galaxy difficult—4421: 30’ SF from 4379—very diffuse round blot—1.5’—very obvious stellar nucleus—slightly elongated N-S—to P edge of galaxy by 4’ is a 10th-mag star that makes observations tougher—with averted perhaps 2.0’—to NP edge and NF edges of field are 9th-mag stars, make an almost equalateral triangle with star close to galaxy—S slightly F 4421 by 27’ is obvious elongated galaxy [4419]: NP-SF elongation—almost miniature M104—2.5’ x 1.0’—brightness cuts off on N edge more abruptly, more diffuse on S side—brightish core, stellar nucleus in averted—due S of galaxy by 3.5’ from nucleus is a 13th-mag star—NP by 10’ is a 10th-mag star—an 11th-mag star to NF of galaxy by 10’—interesting edge-on

12:17
NGC 4377 (Com): small elliptical (?) galaxy—1.25’ round—bright stellar nucleus—another non-descript one—bracketed N (slightly F) by 6’ by an 11th-mag star and S (slightly F) by 10’ by a 10th-mag star—due P galaxy by 15’ is the short side of a tiny right triangle of 11th and 13th-mag stars—galaxy reasonably bright

12:23
NGCs 4383, 4405 (Com): 4383: small, maybe elongated—1.0 x 0.75—N-S elongation—bright stellar nucleus, another “haze around star” type galaxy—stars due P and F—13th-mag star due P by 6’, 12th-mag star due F by 9’—SP galaxy by 2.5’ is another 13th-mag star—zig-zag S of galaxy composed of a 6th, two 7th, and a 9th mag stars on S edge of field—like Gun asterism in Scutum—dominant structure in field—4405: off F edge of “Gun”—larger than 4383—more diffuse—1.5’ x 1.0’—elongated N (very slightly F)-S (very slightly P)—star on SF corner of Gun lies 11’ P and very slightly S of galaxy—N (very slightly F) of galaxy is an 8th-mag star—due F that star by 3’ is a 12th-mag star—S slightly F galaxy by 22’ is a 6th-mag star that is slightly bluish

12:32
NGCs 4340, 4350 (Com): very close together, separated by 8’—4340: rounder, fainter than 4350—2.5’ round—small bright core and sub-stellar nucleus—halo diffuse, fades away gradually—4350 is more elongated—very bright stellar nucleus—elongated NP-SF—2.0 x 0.75—good amount of central concentration that runs 3/4 of the inner dimensions of galaxy—NP 4340 by 12’ is an 11th-mag star—SF 4350 by 14’ is a pair separated NF-SP, NF star closer to galaxy and is 11th-mag, SP star is 12th mag—SF from the more-southern of those two stars by 7.5’ is a 10th-mag star

12:42
NGC 4450 (Com):  a treat after last few—largish and bright, unmissable in field—galaxy is elongated not quite due N (slightly P)-S (slightly F)—3.5’ x 2.75’—bright core offset toward N side of galaxy—nucleus not quite stellar—inclined spiral (?)—hard to define edges of halo, falls off diffusely—to SP by 7’ is a 9th-mag star—7’ due S of that star is a 12th-mag star—NF galaxy by 20’ is a 7th-mag star

12:48
NGC 4489, 4498 (Com): form a not-quite isosceles triangle with an 8th-mag star to SF of 4498—4489: core is bottom of capital-Y asterism that opens to N and consists of three 12th/13th-mag stars (star at center of ‘Y’ is 12th-mag, other two are 13th-mags)—galaxy is tiny, no more than 0.75’—v. slightly elongated P-F—slightly brighter tiny core, maybe a stellar nucleus in averted—star in center of ‘Y’ is 5’ N of galaxy—brightest star (8th-mag) in field is 10’ SF galaxy—NF 4489 is 4498: three times the size —elongated NP-SF—quite diffuse—3.5’ x 1.0’—faint stellar nucleus—hard to define edges of halo—full extent hard to tell and bright star is distracting—F galaxy and slightly S by 9’ is a 12th-mag star

12:59
NGC 4293 (Com): a beauty!—long, diffuse, but bright galaxy—elongated almost due P-F, slightly SP-NF—4.5’ x 1.5’—irregular concentration—not a definable core, maybe middle third is diffuse core—edges of halo fade off a bit—no visible nucleus—long line of stars cascading away from the N edge of the galaxy off to the F edge of the field, getting brighter as they head away from galaxy—to SP of galaxy by 16’ is an 11th-mag star—to NP by 12’ is another 11th-mag star—due P galaxy by 6’ is a 12th-mag star

1:05
M 85, NGC 4394 (Com): transparency a little less than earlier—M 85: not as large as many Messiers but very bright—5.0’ x 4.5’—elongated N (slightly P)-S (slightly F)—very bright core and stellar nucleus—core is about 0.75’ round—galaxy diffuse but core is v. suddenly brighter—on N end of galaxy is a star embedded in halo, about 12.5-mag, about 2’ P core—to SF of core by 6’ is 11th-mag star—S very slightly P galaxy by 13’ is a 12th-mag star—4394: FNF M85—pretty bright—elongated NP-SF—2.5’ x 2.0’—bright core and stellar nucleus—halo fairly indistinct, fades away gradually—S slightly F galaxy by 6’ is a 12th-mag star—due N of M85 by 16’ is another 12th-mag star—with M85 centered, just on S slightly P edge of field is an 8th-mag star

1:17
NGC 4539 (Com): in field of 24 Comae, which lies NF galaxy by 17’—elongated P-F—difficult to see with 24 Comae, which needs to be out of field—galaxy diffuse, definitely edge-on—2.25’ x 0.75’—faint, even with 24 Comae out of field, but not terribly hard—very little bit of central concentration, no nucleus—off SF tip of galaxy by 1’ is a very difficult threshold star, maybe 15th-mag—between galaxy and 24 Comae is a string of three evenly-spaced 12th-mag stars in an arc—SP galaxy by 12’ is another 12th-mag star

1:26
NGC 4561 (Com): not one of best of night—small, non-descript—elongated slightly P-F—1.5’ x 1.0’—[tumbling satellite in field]—not much core but does have stellar nucleus that flickers in direct vision—an elliptical (?)—NF galaxy by 12’ is a 9th-mag star—10th-mag star SF galaxy by 8’—12th-mag star F that star by 8’—brightest star in field is 9th-mag  20’ due N of galaxy

With tonight’s work, I had observed a large clump of the northwest quadrant of the Virgo Cluster; at current pace, it would take at least five nights to complete the chart. I spent another hour or so exploring some of the spectacular sights of the late spring and early summer skies, as I would do each night before leaving. And then it was time to go—I didn’t want to be so exhausted after the first few nights that I couldn’t get through it all.

(Another superb time lapse by Bill “DrLapser” Basham, from that first night—including a couple of brilliant Iridium flares. Thanks to Bill for his wonderful work, and not minding my usage of it.)

II.

We reconvened the next night at the same spot; this time, there were even more of us. Pam, Steve F (tribe member from last August’s Oregon Star Party), and Cory joined us there—“us” being regular attendees Jerry, Frank, Alan, and my Australopithecene self.

The skies were not quite as sharp and clear as the previous night—this was obvious both from a naked-eye glance at the fully-dark sky, and from observing the image “boil” around Jupiter just before I started into the galaxies—although that was a difficult standard to measure up to. They were certainly good enough for plowing onward through Virgo.

5/20-21/17

EAGLE’S RIDGE
MOON: 25 days (rise at 3:30 AM), 23% illumination
SEEING: 8
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.6
NELM: about 7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in 40s, air still, dewy

Others present: JO, PH, SF, FS, AG, CW

10:27
M84, M86, NGCs 4387, 4388, 4402 (Vir): Downtown Markarian—M84: bright galaxy to P corner of smiley, brighter internally than M86—5’ and quite round—has a bright core but doesn’t seem to have a stellar nucleus—due P M84 by 10’ is a 9th-mag star—SP by 6’ is an 11th-mag star—due F M84 by 21’ is M86: larger than M84—6.5’ x 5.5’—slightly elongated NP-SF—slightly dimmer core than M84’s—hint of substellar nucleus in averted, quite bright core that’s 0.5’ across—due N by 7’ and SF by 7’ are 12th-mag stars—in between M84/86 and S is NGC 4387: nose of face—quite small, 1.25’ x 1.0’—slightly elongated almost N (slightly P)-S (slightly F)—reasonably faint but obvious—has a stellar nucleus but not much core—nucleus obvious—to N of nucleus by “a hair“ is a faint star embedded in halo—halo poorly-defined—2.5’ N of the nucleus is a 12th-mag star—NGC 4388: mouth of face—15’ S of 4387—long spiral elongated (slightly N)P-(slightly S)F—has a slightly brighter elongated central region that’s only a bit brighter than halo—halo falls away into background—nucleus flickers into visibility very briefly—3.5’ x 1.0’—N (slightly F) by 1.5’ is a 14th-mag star—due S by 5’ is a 12th-mag star—due N of M 86 by 12’ is NGC 4402: long spiral elongated almost due P-F—diffuse—4.0 x 1.5’—not much central brightening—S edge seems better defined than N edge—fades away slowly into space—no obvious core or nucleus, just a long diffuse smear—in moments of good seeing, N of galaxy’s center by 1’ is a difficult 14.5-mag star

10:41
NGCs 4413, 4425, 4435, 4438, 4458, 4461 (Vir), 4473, 4477, 4479, 4459, 4474, 4468, M88, NGC 4516, M91, NGC 4571 (Com): 4413: about 16’ FSF 4388—diffuse, roundish—not much central brightening, almost like a faint unresolved globular—2.0’ round—nestled in a line of stars—no core or nucleus visible—due N by 1’ from galaxy is a 12th-mag star; N of that star by 3’ is a 10th-mag star—another pair of stars (13th/14th-mag) S of galaxy, first (13th-mag) slightly P by 3’, second due S of galaxy by 4.5’—second galaxy is FNF 4413–4425: much brighter—elongated SP-NF—[bright satellite through field]—bright inner region—stellar nucleus—halo well defined—edge-on spiral?—due P that galaxy by 1.5’ is a 13th-mag star—almost due N by 4’ is a 14th-mag star—F galaxy by 7’ is a 12th-mag star—due S of that star by 3.5’ is a 13th-mag star—going N from there, bring us to The Eyes: NGC 4435 and 4438: 4435 is considerably smaller of two—4438 is NF 4424 by 20’—4435 is about NP 7’ from 4438—4435: elongated N-S—bright, with bright core and sub-stellar nucleus—2.0 x 1.5—nucleus really pops when seeing good—well-defined halo—4438: twice as large—4.0 x 2.25—elongated N (v. slightly F)-S (v. slightly P)—has a more-diffuse core region that’s brighter and substellar nucleus that’s easily visible—P both galaxies and slightly S of 4435 by 12’ is a 12th-mag star—F two galaxies by 20’ is a 9th-mag star—NGC 4458 and 4461 N and slightly F that star—4461 is N slightly F that star by 10’—4458: NP 4461 by 6’—smaller and dimmer than 4461—1.5’ round—brighter core region—halo not well-defined—has a stellar nucleus (as does -61)—4461: elongated N (very slightly P) S (very slightly F)—2.25’ x 1.5’—very obvious small core—F and very slightly N of 4458 by 4’ is a 12th-mag star—NF 4461 by 19’ is NGC 4473—NGC 4477 is NF 4473 by 14’—4473: smallish—1.5’ x 1.25’—slightly elongated P-F—bright core, indistinct halo that doesn’t show well—possible stellar nucleus—SF galaxy by 8’ is an 11th-mag star—SP galaxy by 6.5’ is a 12th-mag star—12’ N slightly F is NGC 4477: larger, 2.25 x 2.0’—more diffuse than 4473—smaller core that’s not as bright, with a substellar nucleus—elongated N-S—P and slightly N of galaxy by 9’ is an 11th-mag star, another almost due N by 12’—SF 4477 is another that’s not on the chart (4479): 1.5’ x 1.0’—elongated N-ish-S-ish—halo not easy to gauge shape or size of, very diffuse—has very faint nucleus, not much of a core at all, nucleus is apparent—SF 4479 by 10’ is a 10th-mag star (maybe same star as when talking about 4473)—NP from there are 4459 and 4474—NGC 4459: 28’ NP 4477—bright—bright core, small halo—1.25’ round—core region fairly obvious—no stellar nucleus—SF galaxy by 4.5’ is a 10th-mag star—another 10th-mag star 10’ almost due P galaxy—NF 4459 by 15’ is 4474: quite diffuse—small, 1.25’ x 1.0’—slightly elongated P-F—not a bright core but brighter than halo—tiny sub-stellar nucleus that’s reasonably obvious—N of  galaxy by 4’ is a double star, brighter component 12th-mag, fainter 14th, separated by 0.5’—NP galaxy by 8’ is an 11th-mag star—between galaxies is another galaxy [4468]: P and slightly N of 4474 by 7’—quite diffuse—not much central brightening at all—has a stellar nucleus—1.0’ roundish—obvious but faint—M88: 39’ NF 4474—very impressive!—not as bright as some Messiers—elongated NP-SF—7.5’ x 3.5’—very bright core region that’s 2.5’ x 0.75’ and hint of stellar nucleus—on SF tip of halo is a 13th-mag star—just off NP tip of halo by about 6.5’ N of core is a 12th-mag star—almost due S of galaxy is a pair of stars 11th and 13th mags; 11th-mag star is 7’ due S of galaxy and 13th mag star is 1’ SP the 11th-mag star—galaxy’s halo irregularly bright and “shimmery”—NP galaxy by 14’ is a 9th-mag star—NF M88 by 20’ is a faint galaxy [NGC 4516]: elongated N-S—very diffuse, faint—1.5’ x 1.0’—dim flash of a nucleus, not much central brightening—NP by 5’ is a 12th-mag star—due S of galaxy by 7’ is another 12th-mag star—F that galaxy and S by 38’ is M91: elongated just slightly NP-SF—4.0’ x 3.75’—bright core—no stellar nucleus visible—maybe a nucleus but not centered—may be a faint star near core to NP side of galaxy—halo dissipates into background quickly—big diffuse set of arms—almost due P by 8’ is a 10th-mag star—P and very slightly S by 14’ is an 11th-mag star—28’ SF M91 is NGC 4571: very diffuse largish glow—4.5’ roundish, but so diffuse it’s hard to tell shape—to NF of galaxy just off halo by 1’ is a 10th-mag star that makes seeing details in galaxy more difficult

11:33
NGC 4595 (Com): diffuse glow—not much central concentration—slightly elongated NP-SF—1.5’ x 1.0’—not much detail at all—well-defined halo—F and slightly S of galaxy are a pair of 12th-mag stars about 3’ apart—N-most of these is 4’ F galaxy—smattering of brighter stars on all sides of field—N very slightly F by 1.5’ is threshold star

11:55
NGC 4540, IC 3528 (Com):—difficult jaunt from 4595—4540: forms bottom of slightly irregular diamond/wide kite-shaped asterism, or SP corner of a triangle formed by two 9th-mag stars—galaxy is large, 3.0’ round —elongated slightly NF-SP—very diffuse—in averted not only a stellar nucleus but also a star embedded in NP edge of halo—one of 9th-mag stars NF galaxy by 13’, the other N slightly F by 19’—[third star in diamond , 10th-mag, 18’ NF of galaxy]—due N of galaxy by 8’ is an 11th-mag star—good galaxy—starhopped from 25 Comae—1’ from P (slightly N) edge of galaxy is a 14th-mag star—something on F side of halo; star? or something tiny and fuzzy, companion galaxy? on NF side of halo [IC 3528]

12:08
NGC 4651 (Com): bright, distinct glow—2.5’ x 2.0’—very blank field—nice brightish distinct halo—bright core region but no nucleus—elongated P-F—13th-mag star SF galaxy by 6’—galaxy forms end of a flat-topped kite asterism that is about 14’ from galaxy to top of kite—kite stars all 10th/11th-mags—star to N slightly P side of three stars (which are all SP galaxy) is double; 10th and 12th mags separated by 1’—with galaxy centered, that kite makes up the majority of the stars in the field—11th-mag star SF galaxy by 17’

12:31
NGCs 4440, 4436, 4431 (Vir): 4440: brightish—very small—1.0’ round—non-stellar nucleus or tiny brighter core—in middle of a zigzag pattern made up of 11th-mag stars with a 10th-mag star at S end—SP and NF galaxy by 8’ SP and 9’ NF are two of the 11th-mag stars—7’ P the 11th-mag star SP galaxy is another 11th-mag star—SF that star by 9’ is the 10th-mag star—curious: two other galaxies nearby?—to NP of 4440 by 6’ is a 13th-mag star—just to the SF that star is an elongated glow [4436]: elongated NP-SF—1.25’ x 0.75’—quite faint, hard to gauge dimensions—no central concentration—star nearby is distracting—P that galaxy by 4’ is another glow [4431]: quite indistinct—seems elongated SP-NF—1.0’ x 0.5’—slightly brighter than previous but equally diffuse—to F edge of this last galaxy by 1’ is a 14th-mag star—due N of galaxy by 3’ is a 13th-mag star

12:41
NGC 4452 (Vir): S of 4440 group—long thin streak—2.0’ x 0.5’—impressively flat—elongated SP-NF—interesting splinter of a galaxy—brighter streak along length (core)—no nucleus—to SP and NP of galaxy is right triangle of bright stars, with hypotenuse of 12’ and sides of 10’ and 8’—non-hypotenuse long side elongated due SP-NF—brightest triangle star 9th mag (to NP) and other two are 10th

12:47
NGC 4429 (Vir): big, bright galaxy with non-stellar nucleus and bright core—elongated P slightly N-F slightly S—4.0’ x 2.5’—bright core region—core seems slightly offset to P side—seems to be flashes of a stellar nucleus with averted, maybe illusory—galaxy bracketed by pair of 10th-mag stars, one NF, one S—star to N 3.5’ from galaxy, star to S about 8’ from galaxy; 11th-mag star 9’ S of the star S of galaxy; another 12th-mag star S of the previous two stars, 9’ from second star—to F and slightly S edge of galaxy by 6’ from galaxy’s core is a 13th-mag star

1:00
NGCs 4313, 4371 (Vir): 4313:—seeing has gone to hell—definitely edge-on—elongated NP-SF—thin unconcentrated streak—4.0’ x 1.0’—ghostly—maybe stellar nucleus but not much core—well-defined edges, pretty much stops on all sides—NF galaxy by 18’ is a 11th-mag star—S by 16’ is an 11th-mag star—P that star and slightly N by 16’ is another 11th-mag star—galaxy forms isosceles triangle with those 11th-mag stars—NP is another 11th-mag star 10’ from galaxy—4371: round, maybe elliptical, 2.25’ round—faint halo and brighter core region—don’t think I’m seeing a nucleus, rather a very small core—pretty non-descript—S and slightly P by 14’ is an 11th-mag star—PSP is a 12th-mag star about 9’ from galaxy—brightish but without much detail—NF galaxy is diamond pattern of 10th-12th-mag stars whose major axis is SP-NF—major axis 12’, minor axis 7’—two stars on minor axis are brighter; star on F side of minor axis is brightest at 10th-mag and has companion of 14th-mag to NF side by 1.5’

1:12
NGC 4351 (Vir):—overlooked it a couple of times—difficult, pretty non-descript—very diffuse—faint—2.0’ round—no central concentration at all—F galaxy by 6’ is a 13th-mag star—a 14th-mag star 7’ NF galaxy—really tough galaxy compared to others here—bright star NF edge-on 4313 is SP 4351 by 20’—N edge of field has interesting line of eight 11th and 12th-mag stars evenly spaced across field

1:19
NGC 4299, 4294 (Vir): also not an easy pair, sky deteriorating this low now—both diffuse—4294: edge-on—elongated NP-SF—4294 is brighter of two—little bit of central brightening, maybe bit of core in averted—no nucleus—2.5’ x 1.0’—SP galaxy by 15’ is an 11th-mag star—4299: F and a little S by 7’—round, extremely diffuse—no brightening at all, ghostly—1.75’ round—in averted, maybe a hint of extension slightly P-slightly F, but not enough to say it isn’t round—to SF following 4299 is grouping of 12th-mag stars, six in a flyswatter pattern with handle to N and blade SF—end of “handle” is about 3’ SF 4299—occasional flicker of possible threshold star between galaxies, hard to tell—F and a bit N of 4299 by 9’ is an 11th-mag star

Having now conquered Markarian’s Chain—simultaneously the most-daunting and easiest portion of the Virgo Cluster—and its immediate surroundings, the next session would be time to charge into the hinterlands of the local galaxy stream. As it would turn out, that next session would have to wait until Monday night (skipping Sunday night due to both exhaustion and some predicted cloud cover). And should the rest of the week not totally cooperate, I had already completed the densest part of Virgo; stopping there would probably be the best place if I wasn’t able to continue for the week.

III.

Night Three of my Virgo Run (Kessel Run, my caveman ass) took place up the spur road, a slightly-better spot for observing than the crossroad area—flatter ground, less-intrusive trees, but slightly more light-pollution from Eugene due to the lack of a treeline to the northwest. The light dome from the city was fairly localized, though, and once away from it, the sky was equally dark as at the junction.

As I had to work the next two days, it would be necessary for me to leave upon finishing my Virgo rounds for the night—no real time to spend on the showpiece objects. Kathy was there with Jerry, and Wade pulled up just after me in his own Dodge Caravan; I was glad I wasn’t the only one crazy enough to use a Caravan as an ORV on these gravel roads. (To be fair, the road to Eagle’s Ridge is paved for all but the last half-mile, and was better than the road to Eureka Ridge; it’s just that the last unpaved half-mile is a doozy.)

As always on these nights of the run, I set up using Jupiter as a Telrad alignment tool and an indicator of both the seeing and my scope’s level of thermal equilibrium; a warm mirror is going to create turbulent air as it cools, and such turbulence creates havoc on the steadiness of an eyepiece image until the mirror has reached the temperature of the ambient air. Tonight the seeing was pretty good; I could see the disk of Jupiter’s moon Io as it crossed onto the planet’s own large disk, the tiny bright moon just a shade brighter than the planet, and this was followed very shortly by the appearance of a moon shadow (that of Europa) on the disk of Jupiter as well, the shadow a tiny black pinprick against the looming sphere of the King of Planets. And then we waited, the four of us, for twilight to give way to darkness.

Tonight started with the massive elliptical galaxy M87. I didn’t pause to look for its very difficult-to-spot emission jet.

5/22-23/17

EAGLE’S RIDGE (spur road)
MOON: 27 days (rise at 3:30 AM), 7% illumination
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 6
SQM: not taken
NELM: about 6.5
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in upper 50s, air still, no dew; cirrus early in evening

Others present: JO, KO, WR

10:27
M87, NGCs 4478, 4476 (Vir): M 87: big bright Messier galaxy—large very bright core, 2.0’ across—don’t quite get nucleus—6’, pretty round—edges of galaxy not well defined, fade away into background—in moments when seeing is solid, there may be a glimmer of stellar nucleus in averted—9’ N is an 8th-mag star—12’ SF of galaxy is a 12th-mag star—SF that star by 7’ is a double star of 12th and 13th mags separated by 0.75’; brighter component is NP fainter component—brightest star in field is just on SF side of field (22’ from galaxy)—P and a little S of M87 by 12’ is another galaxy, NGC 4478: much smaller but very obvious—1.5’, roundish—bright core and substellar nucleus—still a bit twilighty—edges a bit undefined—to SP by 6’ is a 14th-mag star—NP 4478 by 8’ is another galaxy (4476): half again as small (0.75’ x 0.5’)—not a particularly bright core but a substellar nucleus visible—slightly elongated NF-SP

10:42
NGC 4531 (Vir): really diffuse—still fairly brightish and obvious—no stellar nucleus, very faint bit of central brightening that’s amorphous—elongation NP-SF—4.0’ x 2.5’—almost ghostly—NP galaxy by 8’ is an 11th-mag star—SF by 16’ is a 10th-mag star, brightest in field—on NP edge and running N-SP on edge of field is a row of evenly-spaced 11th and 12th-mag stars—four evenly spaced in a row and one on NF end of that row

10:50
M90, NGC 4584 (Vir): M 90: very large, very elongated galaxy—pretty bright spiral—stellar nucleus but not much of a core—9.0’ x 3.0’—elongated N slightly F-S slightly P—to SF by 16’ is a 10th-mag star—NP galaxy is a tiny right triangle, the right angle vertex 9’ from galaxy’s core, short side of triangle is 2.5’, long side 5.0’; right angle vertex 13th mag and other two are 12th mag—to NF by 8’ is another 13th-mag star, and almost due N of that one by 7’ is another 13th-mag star—SP galaxy by 13’ is an 11th-mag star—S of galaxy, running NP-SF, is a line of 11th-mag and fainter stars—F and somewhat N of galaxy by 22’ is a very faint glow (4584): diffuse—maybe 1.25’ x 1.0’—extended NP-SF—no real concentration—ghostly glow—15’ N of this galaxy is a long string of 10th-11th stars running P-F in the field—10th-mag star SF M90 is 18’ SP

10:59
M89, NGCs 4551, 4550 (Vir): interesting field—lots of stars of various brightnesses in it—M89: not one of the brighter Messiers—4.5’ across, pretty round—has a diffuse halo—brighter core region and very bright sub-stellar nucleus—core not super bright—galaxy comes suddenly bright to the core—halo gradient, core gradient, nucleus—NF core by 4’ is a 13th-mag star—N slightly F by 10’ is a 10th-mag star—SP galaxy by 15’ is a 9th-mag star—S of the galaxy by 19’ is NGC 4551: smallish, 1.25’—bright substellar nucleus, not much core—fairly diffuse—to NP by 4’ is a 14th-mag star—halfway between M89 and 4551 is a 12th-mag star—S slightly P 4551 is 4550: brighter, larger, more obvious than 4551—1.75’ x 1.0’—elongated N-S—separated from 4551 by 5.5’—has a long brighter central streak—stellar nucleus visible in averted—SF by 5’ is a 13th-mag star—S slightly P by 7.5’ is another 13th-mag star

11:11
M58 (Vir): another fairly smallish Messier—not as bright as M89—5.0’ x 4.0’—elongated SP-NF—has a diffuse halo, not well-defined—has a bright core region—substellar nucleus—core looks elongated, as if a central bar—due P galaxy by 9’ is a 9th-mag star—N and slightly F by 7’ is a 12th-mag star—SP galaxy core by 13’ is a pair of 12th-mag stars separated by 4’; distance measured from core to SF of stars, rather than NP star

11:20
NGCs 4564, 4567, 4568 (Vir): 4564: a skinny, small streak—elongated NF-SP—2.0’ x 0.75’—has either a very small bright core or a bright substellar nucleus, probably the latter—P and very slightly S of galaxy by 9’ is a 9th-mag star—N of that star by 6’ is a 12th-mag star; two stars form a right triangle with galaxy—interesting galaxy—S slightly F that galaxy by 12’ are the Siamese Twins—obviously interacting—P-most of those two (4567) is largish and round—3.25’ and pretty round—very diffuse but fairly obvious—separating the two not easy—some central concentration—not sure there’s a nucleus visible—every now and then something flickers?—4568: F and a slight bit S of 4567—longer, thinner—elongated NF-SP—3.5’ x 2.0’—stellar nucleus visible but not much of a core—F and slightly N by 6’ from nucleus of 4568 is a 12.5-mag star; F and slightly S that star by 3.5’ is a 13th-mag star

11:33
NGCs 4528, 4503 (Vir): 4528: tiny, 1.0’ x 0.75’ round—bright but almost planetary-nebula-ish—maybe a bit of N-S elongation—F and slightly S by 10’ is a 10th-mag star—galaxy has a bright substellar nucleus—forms a diamond pattern with three 12th-13th-mag stars off to F side—to NF by 19’ is an 8th-mag star—P and slightly N of galaxy by 15’ is an 11th-mag star—non-descript galaxy—P 4528 and S by 34’ is 4503: considerably more impressive—elongated N very slightly F-S very slightly P—2.5’ x 1.25’—brighter core of 0.5’ and a subsetallar nucleus in averted—S of galaxy by 5’ is a 12th-mag star; another S of that and slightly P by 7’—13th-mag star SF galaxy by 5’—brightest in field is a 10th-mag star NF galaxy by 16’—[misidentified 4503 as 4501 in notes]

11:49
NGC 4710 (Com): way cool edge-on—off in forbidden reaches of Virgo Cluster—textbook edge-on—bright—core region looks wider than disk of galaxy—occasional flicker of a substellar nucleus—elongated SP-NF—4.0’ x 1.5’—along the length of galaxy the central brightening is irregular—core looks like it bulges out the side of the galaxy—F galaxy by 3’ from center of galaxy is 12th-mag star—S of galaxy by 8’ is a 13th-mag star—N and slightly F galaxy by 15’ is an 11th-mag star—P galaxy by 13’ is a 10th-mag star; P that star by 8’ is an11th-mag star—brightest in field is 9th-mag star 20’ NP the galaxy—NP that star by 2.5’ is a 12th-mag star

11:55
NGC 4689 (Com): also in Nowheresville—south of 28 Comae—big and very diffuse—4.0’, almost round—fades completely away into background without much definition—has a substellar nucleus in averted—vague but large core/central region about 3’— field bracketed by diamond of 6th-7th-8th-mag stars to NP-NF-SP-SF on edges of field—7th-mag star to SP 19’ from galaxy, 6th-mag star 18’ SF from galaxy, others on NP and NF edges of field—to N and NF of galaxy are two 13th-mag stars; N star 6’ from galaxy, NF star 5.5’

12:01
NGCs 4654, 4639 (Vir): two long galaxies—both angled to NP-SF—4654: 4.5’ x 3.0’—irregularly bright—brighter central region but not a core?—looks as if there’s a segment on NP tip of galaxy that extends S then to F side; detached arm?—star on SF edge of halo right on threshold, only visible 10% of time—hint o’nucleus—NP galaxy by 5’ from middle of galaxy is a 10th-mag star—NF galaxy’s center by 7’ is an 11th-mag star—due N of galaxy is a pair of 12th-mag stars, one of which is 3’ from center of galaxy and the other 3’ N from that star—N and slightly F of galaxy by 16’ is brightest in field, 9th-mag—NP by 17’ from 4654 is 4639: also elongated NP-SF—has a 13th-mag star embedded in SF end—2.75’ x 1.75’—more of an obvious central brightening than 4654—in averted is a sub-stellar nucleus—N and slightly F by 10’ is a 12th-mag star—another NP galaxy by 16’—small zigzag of stars SP and due S by 14’; star at NP end of zigzag is brightest at 11th-mag

12:14
M59, NGC 4606, M60, NGCs 4647, 4638 [4667], 4660 (Vir): M59: bright but small for a Messier—elongated N-S—4.0’ x 3.5’—very bright small core—maybe a substellar nucleus; core may be too bright to see—due N of galaxy by 4’ from core is a 13th-mag star—P and slightly N is a 12th-mag star 6’ from core—N and slightly F by 8’ from core is an 11th-mag star—NF by 20’ is a 9th-mag star—NP galaxy is a pair of stars; brighter is 14’ from core and is 10th-mag; other is 2’ closer to galaxy and is 13th-mag—due P those stars is a double star of 13th and 14th-mag components separated by 0.75’—N of M59 and P by 22’ is NGC 4606: edge-on—elongated SP-NF—quite diffuse—4.0’ x 0.75’—central brightening not much brighter than halo—obvious stellar nucleus—14th-mag star just on S tip of halo—NF nucleus by 7’ is a 12th-mag star—13th-mag star SP about 4’ from nucleus—NP galaxy by 9’ is an 11th-mag star—SP galaxy by 13’ is a pair of 12th and 13th-mag stars—M60: halo in contact with 4647—roundish, about 4.0 x 3.75—elongated P-F—very bright core, substellar nucleus—well-defined halo—12th-mag star NF by 8’ from core—SF by 9’ is the northernmost vertex of a small triangle of 13th-mag stars—4647: almost in contact with NP edge of M60’s halo—some central brightening in averted, glimmer of nucleus—3.0’ x 2.75’—elongated slightly NP-SF—SP M60/4647, making a long isosceles triangle with M59 and M60 is 4638 [a.k.a. 4667]: SP M60 by 18’—2.0 x 1.5’—elongated NP-SF—bright nucleus—not much core—another well-defined galaxy, probably elliptical—NP galaxy by 7’ is an 11th-mag star—another 11th-mag star S of galaxy by 7’—with those two galaxies on N and NP edges of field, NGC 4660: SF M60 by 26’—very lonely field—not much in field—1.25’ x 1.0’—elongated P-F—brighter core—tiny sub-stellar nucleus—S and slightly P by 20’ is a 10th-mag star—SP galaxy by 9’ is a 12th-mag star—sprinkling of 14th-mag stars and maybe a couple 13th-mag stars in field

12:32
NGCs 4754, 4762 (Vir): 4762: interesting edge-on—elongated SP-NF—5.0’ x 1.5’—bright core, stellar nucleus—bracketed on P and F sides by 11th-mag stars; P star 6’ from nucleus, F star 5’ from nucleus—3.5’ S of galaxy core by a 13th-mag star—definition better on F edge of galaxy, maybe a dust lane?—arms toward SP end of galaxy a bit “longer” than on NF end, as if core off-center—NP of galaxy by 12’ is 4754: smaller, roundish—2.0’ round—quite bright—has a diffuse but brighter core that takes up middle 1.0’—bright substellar nucleus—pretty well defined—has a 13th-mag star 5’ P and slightly S; 12th-mag star 5’ P and S of that star—N by 9’ is a 10th-mag star—interesting pair of galaxies

12:44
NGC 4880 (Vir) : a tough one—very very diffuse—roundish—not much shape at all—very little central concentration—some core in averted but no nucleus—maybe 2.0’ across—needed TriAtlas—would have swept over—P and S by 4’ and 5’ are a “set” of 14th and 15th-mag stars—S and SF is an arc of 10th and 11th-mag stars about 14’ from galaxy making an arc from SP to due F—two stars on SF side are brighter, 10th-mag—not a lot here

12:49
NGC 4866 (Vir): 25’ NP an 8th-mag star—elongated P-F—edge-on—4.0’ x 0.75’ —diffuse—has obvious small core and brightish nucleus—on P side, slightly N, halfway between nucleus and tip of galaxy is a 14th-mag star (still in halo)—S edge of galaxy better defined than N—almost a double nucleus with that star embedded—NF galaxy by 10’ is an 11th-mag star—NF that star by 12’ is a double star/wide pair of stars angled N-S—star to N is 11th-mag and S star is 12th-mag, separated by 0.5’’

12:59
NGC 4158 (Com): S of 5 Comae (just out of field)—faint and diffuse—only a little central brightening—has a smallish core visible better in averted but no nucleus—1.0’ x 0.75’ and roundish, maybe slight P-F elongation—F and slightly S of galaxy by 3’ is a 12th-mag star—not much of a galaxy here—NF galaxy by 17’ is a double star/pair; brighter star is 10th-mag, fainter star (0.75’ NF brighter) is 13th-mag—SP galaxy by 14’ is a 10th-mag star

1:05
NGC 4147 (Com): globular—3.0’ diameter—not a lot of concentration—tight, brighter center, but not high concentration—CC 8?—real granularity, very near resolution—one brighter star just S of center, maybe 15th-mag—cluster makes a small right triangle with a pair of 13th-mag stars, one 9’ P cluster and the other 4’ N of cluster—NF cluster by 15’ is a 9th-mag star—NP cluster by 10’ is an 11th-mag star

1:11
NGC 4064 (Com): edge-on or highly inclined—2.5’ x 1.0’—elongated NP-SF—some central brightening, skewed toward NP end of galaxy—no visible nucleus—galaxy set in long side of an isosceles triangle whose shorter sides are 11’ and 12’ and long side 16’—galaxy in middle and just N of long side—long side faces NP edge of field, opposite vertex to SF side—vertex to NF on long side is 11th-mag, closest in a line of evenly-spaced 10th/11th-mag stars trailing toward NF edge of field

1:21
NGC 4152 (Com):—really non-descript galaxy—1.0’ roundish—maybe a bit of elongation NP-SF—has a brighter small core—no nucleus visible—F galaxy by 15’ is a 10th-mag star; SF that star by 7’ is a 12th-mag star—on very NP edge of field is a 9th-mag star that’s part of a triangle of 8th/9th-mag stars, but others just out of field

1:30
NGC 4037 (Com): exceedingly difficult without TriAtlas—transparency poor this low—1.0’ round—no central concentration at all—very very faint—10th-mag star 6’ F galaxy; 7’ F 10th-mag star is a 12th-mag star—SP galaxy by 12’ is an 11th-mag star

I had to tear myself away after the M87 “string” and the few objects I’d missed on the northern fringe of the chart: work beckoned in the morning, and I didn’t want to have to rely on a gallon of Dr. Pepper to keep me awake. It would be three nights before I could get back out, choosing not to go the next night with work looming for a second day, and the following night ruined by poor transparency. But the Virgo Cluster remained, vast and nearly eternal and waiting for me to return.

IV.

As it would turn out, the second of my consecutive work shifts was canceled due to lack of tests to score (this wasn’t a rare occurrence; mid-week shifts seemed especially susceptible, as we had finished the batch more quickly than expected). I skipped Tuesday and Wednesday nights anyway, rather than keep a laser-focus on the amount of lactose in my diet for such a sustained length of time—early hominids being unadapted to digesting that particular sugar, it was necessary for me to watch my diet like a hawk when planning an excursion to the wilderness. In any event, the forecast for the next several days was excellent, and by that point I needed the sleep.

Night Four (of seven) seemed to have the poorest sky of the run, and yet it was evidently better than it appeared; Jerry averaged 21.68 on his Sky Quality Meter throughout the night, although we’d have bet it to be far inferior than that. Not that it was bad at all, but it didn’t seem up to the sky-standard set at the beginning of the run.

Bill was there too; he would create another superb time-lapse record of the night.

The last object on tonight’s list was the obscure III Zw 66, plotted on the Tirion chart due to a foreground star superimposed over the galaxy’s nucleus; this resulted in the galaxy being listed as bright enough to warrant entry in Sky Atlas 2000.0.  (This also happened with a Zwicky galaxy in the fluke of Cetus, II Zw 5.) Although I knew the galaxy itself was probably out of reach, I felt it necessary to do due diligence and look for it.

5/25-26/17

EAGLE’S RIDGE (spur road)
MOON: new
SEEING: 4
TRANSPARENCY: 6
SQM: 21.68
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid 40s, air still, dew heavy until midnight

Others present: JO, KP, BB

10:22
NGCs 4596, 4608 (Vir): Sky not totally dark yet—loctaed following Rho Vir—with Rho in field both galaxies in field—NGC 4596: kind of a “typical” small NGC galaxy—fairly obvious in field—has a stellar nucleus—elongated P slightly N-F and slightly S—1.5’ x 1.25’—small core—S of the core by 2’ is a 13th-mag star—SF that star by 4’ is a 14th-mag star—due S of that star by 1.5’ is another 13th-mag star—galaxy not quite halfway between a 10th-mag star to the N slightly P by 13’ and a 12th-mag star S very slightly F galaxy—NP the galaxy by 12’ is an 11th-mag star—4608: 20’ F and a little bit S of 4596—P and a little S of Rho by 12’—smaller than 4596—1.0’, round—in averted may stretch 1.25 x 1.0’; elongated SP-NF—has a substellar nucleus and small, slightly brighter core—due P the galaxy is a line of stars, all faint—closest to galaxy is a 13th-mag star 2.5’ from core, next is 14th-mag star 7’ from core, last is a 13th-mag star 12’ from core—S and slightly P the galaxy by 5’ is another 13th-mag star—Rho is at center of ‘Y’ shape of bright stars with 4608 in center, star NP Rho is near N edge of field; star S Rho is 20’ SF galaxy; star N of Rho is about 20’ N

10:40
NGCs 4694, 4733 (Vir): 4694: smallish, 1.5’ x 1.0’—elongated NP-SF—brighter core, occasional flash of a stellar nucleus, can’t hold—outer edges of halo fade away—in moments of better seeing, a threshold star 2’ due P galaxy—NP galaxy by 9’ is 12th-mag star—SF is a pair of stars oriented NP-SF, separated by 2.5’; NP of these (13th-mag) 10’ from galaxy; other is 12th-mag—N of galaxy by 15’ is a 12th-mag star—due P galaxy by 8’ is what at first glance looks to be a double star with 14th-mag components, separated by 0.75’, oriented (slightly S) P-(slightly N) F—this double may have a bit of “fuzz” like a faint galaxy in/among the two stars [there is actually a threshold star (15th-mag?) between them]—still not totally dark—F galaxy by 20’ is an 11th-mag star; following that by 9’ is a 10th-mag star; F and S of the 10th-mag star by 21’ is 4733: much larger—more diffuse—roundish, 2.25’ across—small but not bright core—occasional flash of a stellar nucleus—on P edge of galaxy, just on edge of halo, is a 14th-mag star which makes it difficult to observe core/nucleus of galaxy—S of galaxy by 18’ is an 11th-mag star—P and NF that star each by 5.5’ are 11th-mag stars—F and S of galaxy by 12’ and 14’ (respectively) are 13th-mag stars—NF galaxy by 35’ are NGCs 4762 and 4754 observed previously

10:55
NGC 4698 (Vir): S of 33 Vir—interesting galaxy—quite bright—elongated N (very slightly P)-S (very slightly F)—3.0’ x 1.5’—bright core—pretty well-defined halo—[distracted by ISS pass]—P and slightly N of galaxy by 7’ is an 8th-mag star—N (very slightly P) and S of galaxy, each 3’ from galaxy nucleus, is a 12th-mag star, one to S maybe 11.5—across NF edge of field is a long arc of stars of mixed mags—interesting field

11:04
NGC 4578 (Vir): in a field full of stars ranging from 10th-mag to threshold—very rich field—galaxy is small, pretty round, 1.25’—has brighter inner region and an obvious substellar nucleus—pretty bright—P galaxy by 7’ is a 12th-mag star—from that star is a 13th-mag star 6.5’ S and slightly P—P and somewhat N of the galaxy by 12’ is a 10th-mag star—F and N of galaxy by 12’ is another 10th-mag star—N and slightly F galaxy by 20’ is another 10th-mag star—N of galaxy by 17’ is a 12th-mag star

11:15
NGC 4522 (Vir): a battle to star-hop to, needed TriAtlas—ghostly-faint thin streak, probably technically “flat”—very little central concentration at all, no visible nucleus—elongated SP-NF—3.5’ x 0.75’—forms an equilateral triangle with a 10th-mag star SP galaxy and a 10.5-mag star S of galaxy—both stars are 15’ from galaxy—N of galaxy by 10’ is an 11.5-mag star

11:22
NGCs 4519, 4535, 4526 (Vir): with 4522 at N edge of field and the 10.5-mag star S of it toward center of field, 4519 is S and slightly P of 4522—10.5-mag star is N of 4519 by 17’—very diffuse galaxy, but pretty obvious—seeing deteriorating—galaxy roundish, maybe slightly elongated NP-SF—3.5’ across, maybe 3.5’ x 3.25’—SF galaxy by 10’ is a 10th-mag star—very little central brightening at all—to NP and N by a couple of arcminutes each are some threshold stars that distract from seeing galaxy details—P galaxy, stretching N-S, is a kite-shaped asterism with a couple of extra stars off the top of the “kite”—whole asterism composed of 11th and 12-mag stars and stretches about 20’ from end of “string” to tail of “kite”—with 4519 at the N edge of the field, about 32’ SF is 4535: huge galaxy!—oriented N-S—6.0’ x 5.0’—galaxy has a tiny core and substellar nucleus—core is not very bright—on the N end of galaxy, about 2’ from the core is a 13th-mag star—a 14th-mag star directly on S edge of halo—P and slightly S of galaxy by about 5’ from core is a 13th-mag star—NP galaxy by 10’ is an 11th-mag star—two 12th-mag stars P galaxy and a bit S, one 9’ and the other 13’ from the core—SP galaxy by 21’ is a 9th-mag star—S of galaxy by 12’ is a 12th-mag star which has a threshold companion F and slightly S by 0.25’—NP from that 12th-mag star by 3.5’ is a 13th-mag star—S and very slightly P 4535 is NGC 4526: interesting spiral—elongated NP-SF—large, 4.5’ x 2.0’—bright core, substellar nucleus—S edge of galaxy seems better defined than N; N more diffuse—bracketed to P slightly S and F slightly N by two 9th-mag stars, each of which is 8’ from galaxy—N of galaxy by 7’ is a 12th-mag star—13th-mag star due S of core by 2’—NP galaxy by 19’ is a 10th-mag star

11:39
NGC 4570 (Vir): edge-on?—bright impressive galaxy—elongated NP-SF—3’0 x 0.75’—very bright substellar nucleus, brighter core region; about inner half of galaxy is brighter—well-defined halo—may have a couple of faint condensations along inner region—NP galaxy by 7’, in line with galaxy’s length, is a 12th-mag star—F galaxy by 11’ is a 12th-mag star—NF galaxy by 17’ is an 10.5-mag star; NF that star by 4’ is a 13th-mag star—due F galaxy by 19’ is a 12th-mag star which is the SP vertex of a small isosceles triangle; other two stars are 13th-mags; long side of triangle is 5’ long and runs SP-NF in field

11:46
NGC 4532 (Vir): highly elongated N (very slightly P)-S (very slightly F)—3.25’ x 1.0’—larger, somewhat brighter interior region—halo pretty small—in averted, looks to be some difficult condensations along interior region—no nucleus visible—just F galaxy, just on F edge in middle of galaxy’s length is a threshold star, looking like false “nucleus”—N of galaxy by 5’ is a 14.5-mag star—S slightly P of galaxy by 4’ is a 13th-mag star—S of galaxy by 6.5’ is 10th-mag star

11:55
NGCs 4612, 4623 (Vir): 4612: very small, fairly bright galaxy just off SP tip of interesting line of 10th and 11th-mag stars—1.0’ across, round—has a stellar nucleus that’s difficult, brighter core—halo fairly well defined—1.5’ from nucleus, almost due F, is a 12th-mag star; NF that star by 6’ is an 10th-mag star; NF that 10th-mag star by 3.5’ is a 10th-mag star; N slightly F 10th-mag star by 6’ is a 11.5-mag star with a 14th-mag companion 0.5’ F and slightly N—N of galaxy by 23’ is another galaxy, 4623: pretty faint—elongated N-S—2.0’ x 0.75’—has a brighter core region—substellar nucleus, but also a sub-threshold star embedded in N end of galaxy—N of galaxy by 5’ is a 13.5-mag star—P and N by 6’ is a 14th-mag star—N slightly P by 7’ is a 14th-mag star—P and slightly S by 11’ is an 11th-mag star [satellites through field twice]; due N of that 11th-mag star by 9’ is a 10.5-mag star

12:13
NGC 4580 (Vir): fairly large, very diffuse—no nucleus visible—some slight central brightening—maybe a bit of elongation N (very slightly P)-S (very slightly F)—3.0’ x 2.75’—ghostly—in moments of good seeing, maybe a substellar nucleus visible, difficult to tell—F and slightly S of galaxy by 4.5’ from halo is an 11.5-mag star—NF galaxy by 6.5’ is a 12.5-mag star—13th-mag star almost due N by 8’—brightest star in field (10th-mag) is SF the galaxy by 16’—10th-mag star due S of galaxy, but just outside field at 24’ distant—N slightly F galaxy by 16’ is an 11th-mag star

12:22
NGCs 4586, 4576 (Vir): 4586: longish—3.5’ x 1.25’—elongated P (very slightly N)-F (very slightly S)—definite central brightening, faint core, stellar nucleus that comes and goes with seeing—not well-defined, but getting lower in sky—P and slightly S of galaxy by 10’ is a 7th-mag star—P galaxy by 6’ is a 14th-mag star; two stars are in line with galaxy—SP galaxy by 11’ is an 11th-mag star—F galaxy and slightly S by 14’ is a 12th-mag star—15’ P and slightly N of 4586 is another galaxy, 4576: very difficult, mostly averted object—elongated NP-SF—galaxy is NP the 7th-mag star by 7’—roundish?—1.25’—maybe elongated NP-SF, but too hard to tell—has two 13th-mag stars near; one due N by 3’; other due P that star by 3’—not much concentration at all—completely disappears sometimes

12:40
NGC 4178 (Vir): faint, long streak—5.0’ x 1.25’—elongated SP-NF—another ghostly galaxy—not much central brightening—substellar nucleus?—to SP by 4.5’ from galaxy is an 11th-mag star—F galaxy by 9’ is an 8th-mag star—due F from S tip of galaxy by 5’ is a 13th-mag star—N of galaxy by 14’ is a 10th-mag star

1:01
III Zw 66 (Com): not seen—used 4.8mm Nagler and 6mm Radian as well—field is occupied by a 10th-mag star and an 11th-mag star aligned SP-NF respectively—between them is a 12th-mag star which is the location for the galaxy—no trace of anything fuzzy in vicinity of 12th-mag star—10th-mag star has a 14th-mag companion 1.5’ to NF—11th-mag star has 13th-mag companion 3.25’ to NF—NP 12th-mag star by 10’ is a 13.5-mag star—N of 12th-mag star by 19’ is another 11th-mag star—almost due P 12th-mag star by 9’ is another 13th-mag star—with that 12th-mag star just P center of field, NGC 4459 is visible in field

At some point after finishing Virgo for the night, the ground was lit up by two transient sky events. The first I caught out of the corner of my eye—the brilliant flash of a tumbling satellite, the brightest I’d ever seen, like an Iridium flare that flickered for only a split-second for every ten degrees of sky it traveled. I’d seen tumbling satellites before (and plenty of satellites bright and dim had traversed the Virgo Cluster while I was staring into the eyepiece). We marveled at how bright this particular satellite was; I made a note to check out which one it was, and then never remembered to do so when I returned home.

The second “event” was even more spectacular. While I was looking at Chart 15 of SA 2000.0, I heard Jerry shout “Fireball!” and looked up to see an incredible meteor that disintegrated into a shower of brilliant sparks, like a Roman candle shot, crossing through the Big Dipper. It’s a rare meteor that lasts long enough to catch after someone thinks to call it out; this one was among the best I’ve ever seen, including the great Leonid storm I’d witnessed at the late lamented Star Hill Inn in New Mexico back at the end of the century. (According to another EAS member who witnessed it from town, the fireball took place at 4:03 AM. Alas, the fireball was the opposite direction from Bill’s camera in his wonderful time lapse below.)

And then it was back home, to recover for the homestretch and the final 35 or so targets that remained before the Moon made its presence felt and the Virgo Cluster slipped toward the horizon for another year.

V.

Night Eight of the dark-sky run—Night Five by my own schedule—yielded the most spectacular observing conditions I’ve ever had in 30+ years of observing. The air was clear and steady (a combination that, in my experience, seems to be two mutually-exclusive variables) and the Veil Nebula in Wade’s 17.5″ scope looked absolutely like a high-quality photograph, with more filamentary detail than I’d ever thought possible to see visually. Saturn, too, was stunning, even low in the sky as it was, with five moons easily visible.  I’ve never seen the Milky Way so vast, spilling into neighboring constellations that aren’t traditionally considered “Milky Way constellations”; even Hercules was overflowing with galaxy-glow.

We were back on the main road this time, a noisy family having asserted camping rights on the spur road. I’d learned over the years that nothing is more intrusive or potentially dangerous in the woods as humans, and though the campers were most-certainly harmless, I preferred not to take any chances in the dark.

But that was no matter.  For the three of us at the junction, the Earth temporarily ceased to exist.

5/26-27/17

EAGLE’S RIDGE
MOON: 1 day (set at 8:41 PM), 1% illumination
SEEING: 8
TRANSPARENCY: 8; Milky Way well into Ophiuchus; star clouds brilliant; Hercules keystone awash in faint background stars
SQM: not checked
NELM: 7+
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in upper 40s, air still, light dew after midnight

Others present: BB, WR

10:22, 10:36
M 61, NGCs 4292, 4301 (Vir): M 61: sky still not totally dark, but no time to waste—starhopped from 16 Vir—really bright satellite through field—galaxy is roundish—nice bright halo that’s unevenly illuminated or mottled—6’ round—galaxy has a weak small core with a bright substellar nucleus—a dark notch on NP side that makes it look like a spiral arm unwinding to NP side toward due N—beautiful galaxy!—to SP by 5’ from nucleus is a 14th-mag star—just on P edge of halo is a threshold star—14’ P and slightly N of galaxy is a 9th-mag star—P galaxy by 8’ is a 12th-mag star; S and slightly P that star by 5’ is another 12th-mag star—N of galaxy by 23’ is a 9th-mag star—13’ NP is an 11th-mag star—just S and F that star is another galaxy [4292]: almost in contact with star—center of galaxy is 1.5’ SF that star—galaxy is faint—has a core about half size of galaxy—no stellar nucleus—elongated N-S—1.5’ x 1.0’—not super obvious because of star—a 13th-mag star is NF M61 by 10’ from core—due F that star by 3.5’ is a very dim faint roundish glow [4301]: maybe a bit of P-F elongation—1.5’ x 1.25’—very diffuse—just a little bit of central brightening—no nucleus—difficult due to evening twilight—diffuse enough that it fades into background—S slightly F the galaxy by 6’ is a 12.5-mag star—NF galaxy by 14’ is a 10th-mag star

10:43
NGC 4324 (Vir): N of M 61—galaxy 10’ F and slightly S of a really pretty double star, 17 Vir [another bright satellite]—17 has a whitish primary and a bluish secondary; primary is 8th-mag and secondary 11th-mag; separated by 1’; secondary P and a little N of primary—elongated SP-NF—has a brighter core region and a substellar nucleus—1.5’ x 1.0’—well-defined halo—S of galaxy by 12’ is a 10th-mag star—SF galaxy by 19’ is an 11th-mag star—P and slightly S of galaxy by 3.5’ from core is a threshold star—S and slightly P galaxy by 5’ is a 13.5-mag star—N slightly F galaxy by 8’ is a 10th-mag star—12th-mag star 6’ NF galaxy—busy field—star that’s 6’ NF and star due N make up short side of right triangle, about 7’ long; third vertex is 17’ F and slightly N

10:52
NGC 4378 (Vir): 28’ SF 4324 is a 9th-mag star; galaxy is 12’ SF that star—elongated P slightly N-F slightly S—small, 1.0’ x 0.75’—has a substellar nucleus—not much core—compact halo—NP and SF the galaxy each by 5’ is a 10th-mag star—NP galaxy by 2.5’ is a 12.5-mag star—S and slightly P by 6’ is a 12th-mag star—galaxy sits in middle of upside-down capital ‘Y’ with fork opening to S slightly F and “stalk” reaching to NP side

11:01
NGCs 4270, 4273, 4281, 4268, 4259 (Vir): 4270 N-most—four galaxies in a ‘Y’ shape—one other faint one P the other four—Y opens to NF side, stalk to SP—galaxy in middle is 4273: largest of group—elongated N-S—2.5’ x 1.75’—brighter core region—substellar nucleus that’s difficult—halo is diffuse—F and slightly S by 3.5’ from core is a 14th-mag star—N and slightly P is 4270: third-brightest of main three—elongated P and very slightly N-F and very slightly S—1.0’ x 0.5’—NP by 6’ is a 10th-mag star; NF that star by 10’ is a 8th-mag star; NF that star by 8’ is a 10th-mag star—NF 4273 is 4281: brightest of group—little smaller than 4273—elongated P-F—has a very small bright core—stellar nucleus—pretty well-defined halo—2.75’ x 1.25’—almost looks to have double nucleus—on P side of galaxy may be a stellaring in halo—S and slightly F galaxy by 7’ is a close double star of 14th-mag components; separated by 0.3’; because they’re close they look brighter at first—NP double star by 2.25’ is a 14th-mag star—NF galaxy by 16’ is a 10th-mag star—back to middle galaxy of group (4273); S and slightly P 4273 is smallest and second-faintest of group [4268]: not on chart—round—0.75’—has a substellar nucleus and brighter core—nucleus is 4.5’ S of 4273—obvious in field but not well-defined—SF galaxy core by 5’ is an 11th-mag star—another galaxy in field [4259]: P and slightly N of 4273 by 8.5’—faintest of group—visible with direct, but much better in averted—0.5’ round—may have threshold star on N edge—not much central brightening—visible substellar nucleus that needs averted to hold

11:22
NGCs 4261, 4264, 4260 (Vir): 4261: more southerly, larger, and brighter by a good margin—has a companion galaxy to FNF—quite bright—round—2.5’ across—diffuse halo and bright core—maybe substellar nucleus—to F side is a line of bright stars and by centering middle star in field, can see 4270 and 4283 in field—brightest star (7th-mag) is in middle of line—10th-mag star is one closest to 4270—back to 7th-mag star; 11th-mag stars P and NF that star by 7’ and 8’ respectively from star—10th-mag star is 15’ SF galaxy—moving N to 4260: elongated SP-NF—has an 8th-mag star SF by 8’—11th-mag star NF by 8’—2.0’ x 1.0’—has a pretty distinct halo—faint not obvious core that’s about 30” across—bright stellar nucleus—NF by 4’ is a 15th-mag star that disappears under direct vision—another 15th-mag star N of galaxy by 2’—companion to 4261 [4264]: 5’ NF 4261—0.75’ round—diffuse halo and a substellar nucleus; not much core—pretty non-descript

11:34
NGCs 4215, 4241 (Vir): 4215: small sliver—elongated N-S—1.0’ x 0.5’—fairly obvious—small diffuse halo, brighter central region, definite substellar nucleus—NP by 4’ from core and SF by 10’ from the core are 12th-mag stars—S and a little F the star SF galaxy by 7.5’ is a 9th-mag star—NF galaxy by 7’ is a 12th-mag star—P and slightly S of galaxy by 9’ is an 11th-mag star—4241: also elongated NP-SF—1.0’ x 0.75’—has a faint but obvious core and stellar nucleus—nucleus surprisingly obvious—S of galaxy by 3.5’ is a 14th-mag star—farther S by 10’ from nucleus is a 12.5-mag star—SF galaxy by 7’ is a 10th-mag star

11:42
NGCs 4235, 4246, 4224, 4233 (Vir): S-N: 4235, 4224, 4233, and another dimmer one in field—4235: obvious edge-on—elongated SP-NF—3.5’ x 0.75—has a bright core but no nucleus—there are stars surrounding galaxy to N, P, and F sides—galaxy reasonably well-defined—to N by 2.5’ from core is a 14th-mag star—6’ N slightly F the galaxy core is a 12th-mag star—NP galaxy by 4’ is a 13th-mag star—F and slightly N by 4.5’ is a 14.5-mag star—F galaxy and a bit S by 12’ is a very faint round glow about 3’ across [4246]: very ghostly, no concentration to it—almost wouldn’t notice it—NF that galaxy by 2.5’ is a threshold star (galaxy itself slightly threshold)—S is a 12th-mag star 8’ from galaxy’s edge; SP that star by 3.5’ is a 13th-mag star—4224: another edge-on—also NF-SP—2.75’ x 1.0’—8’ N of a 10th-mag star; 4.5’ SF that star is a tiny triangle of 13th-mag stars—galaxy is 7.5’ NP a 12th-mag star—galaxy pretty diffuse—small brighter core—hard to tell if there’s a nucleus—N of galaxy by 2.5’ is a 14th-mag star—4233: 13’ NF 4224—1.25’ x 0.75—elongated N-S—makes up P-most vertex of an equilateral triangle with 10th- and 12th-mag stars NF and SF respectively—sides of triangle are 10’—substellar nucleus but not much core

12:06
NGC 4339 (Vir): forgot to hit ‘record’ the first time—tiny, round galaxy—either a small bright core or substellar nucleus—0.75’ round—S of galaxy by 3’ from core is a 13th-mag star—another 13th-mag star P and very slightly S by 8’—P and slightly N by 8’ is an 11th-mag star—16’ SP galaxy is a 9th-mag star; a 10th-mag star due F that star by 4.5’—SF galaxy by 12’ is a 9th-mag star—S and slightly P the galaxy by 13’ is the brighter of a pair of 11.5- and 12.5-mag stars separated by 1.75’; the 11.5-mag star is P and very slightly N the companion

12:16
NGC 4430 (Vir): round, ghostly glow—2.75’ across—very dim—reasonably obvious in field but still difficult—seeing exceptional tonight—with averted, there is a minor bit of central brightening—could almost pass as a Palomar globular—inner 15” is brighter—galaxy fades away; hard to tell edges—SF galaxy by 9’ is a 10th-mag star; N and very slightly F the 10th-mag star by 5’ is a 12th-mag star—SP galaxy by 5.5’ is an 11th-mag star—N of the galaxy by 10’ is a 12th-mag star

12:23
NGCs 4343, 4341, 4365, 4370 (Vir): 4343: tiny and compact—elongated NP-SF—0.75 x 0.5’—faint but fairly obvious—brighter (but still faint) tiny core—seems well-defined—SP by 10’ is a 10th-mag star—P and very slightly N by 8’ is a 12th-mag star—13th-mag star N of galaxy by 8’ [star is NGC 4342]; very faint galaxy NF that star (NGC 4341): elongated SP-NF?—0.75’ x 0.5’—faint faint core, no nucleus—would be easy to miss this galaxy—28’ NF 4343 is 4365: almost Messier bright!—4.0’ and round—bright core and bright substellar nucleus—pretty well-defined galaxy—NP galaxy by 5’ is a 13th-mag star—SF by 7’ from galaxy’s core is an 11th-mag star—NF galaxy by 11’ is another galaxy (NGC 4370): elongated SP-NF—2.0’ x 1.5’—much fainter (not on chart)—has a large faint core but no visible nucleus—N and F galaxy is a small triangle of 13th- and 14th-mag stars; 13th-mag star NF galaxy by 4’; 13th-mag star FNF galaxy by 8’; 14th-mag star 3.5’ F and slightly N of galaxy; galaxy forms a diamond with those three stars

12:34
NGC 4434, M49, NGCs 4470, 4464, 4492, 4488 (Vir): 4434: small, dim, and round—brighter stellar nucleus in a compact not-overly bright core—0.75’ round—in a field of several bright stars—almost due S of galaxy by 11’ is a 10th-mag star—an 11th-mag star 15’ SF galaxy—a 9th-mag star 22’ S and slightly P galaxy; NF that star by 4’ is a round faint glow—fairly evenly illuminated—2.25’ across—not on chart—between the 9th and 10th-mag stars noted earlier—M49: very bright—somewhat small for a Messier—4.5’ round—bright large core—substellar nucleus—F and slightly N on edge of halo is a 13th-mag star—N slightly F galaxy by 7.5’ is a 13.5-mag star—not a lot of brighter stars in field, but several galaxies—S and slightly P M49’s core by 12’ is 4470: elongated N-S—1.25’ x 1.0’—fairly evenly illuminated—no visible nucleus—6’ N (toward M49) is a pair of threshold stars—F galaxy by 10’ is a 12th-mag star—SF galaxy by 8’ is a 13th-mag star—galaxy forms an isosceles triangle with those two stars—NP M 49 by 13’ is a very small round galaxy (NGC 4464): bright substellar nucleus but not much core—0.75’ round—3.5’ from core to P slightly N is a 14th-mag star—S slightly F galaxy by 8’ is a13th-mag star; SF that star by 9’ is another 13th-mag star—NF M 49 by 20’ is a larger galaxy, NGC 4492: bracketed by two 13th-mag stars, one on N and one on SF edges of halo—galaxy is 2.5’ round—irregular brightness to interior—maybe some slight NP-SF elongation—core looks off-centered to NP edge of galaxy [due to threshold star?]—diffuse core—no nucleus—N slightly P that galaxy by 19’ is 4488: edge-on or highly-inclined galaxy—elongated N slightly P-S slightly F—1.5’ x 0.75’—not well-defined—irregularly bright—no real definable core or nucleus—SP by 1.5’ is a 14th-mag star—N and very slightly P by 7’ is a 10th-mag star; NP that star by 8’ is an 10.5-mag star—S and very slightly P that star by 5.5’ is a 12th-mag star

12:53
NGCs 4469, 4483, 4411B (Vir): 4469: quite a long thin galaxy!—4.5’ x 1.25’—elongated almost due P-F—has a large, somewhat-brighter core region—no real nucleus, thought there was at first glance; maybe a flicker?—the P end of the galaxy seems narrower than F end, as if a sharper “point”—F galaxy and slightly S by 10’ is the brighter component of a double star of 14th- and 15th-mags; fainter star NP the brighter by 0.5’— F galaxy by 5.5’ from core is a 15th-mag star—NF galaxy by 21’ is an 11th-mag star; due F that star by 8’ is another galaxy (NGC 4483): elongated P slightly S F-slightly N—1.0’ x 0.5’—substellar nucleus but not much core—F galaxy and slightly N by 10’ is a 12.5-mag star—7.5-mag star P slightly S 4469 by 32’—P and slightly N of galaxy by 28’ is a 9th-mag star—those form triangle with 4469—on other side of triangle, 25’ P the 9th-mag star is 4411B: round, dim, ghostly—no real central brightening—2.0’ across—F and slightly N of 4411B by 12’ is a 12th-mag star

1:05
NGCs 4424, 4417, 4442, 4445, 4451 (Vir): big field of galaxies—4424: long thin galaxy— elongated P-F—not overly bright—3.5’ x 0.75’—has some central brightening but not a “core”—flickers of a faint stellar nucleus—S and F galaxy is an arc of three 10th and 11th-mag stars; closest to galaxy is 11th-mag and 10’ SF galaxy—N slightly P galaxy by 4’ is a 13.5-mag star—NP 4424 is 4417: NP by 10’—elongated SP-NF—3.25’ x 0.5—much brighter than 4424—very bright substellar nucleus—just to P side by 2.5’ is a threshold star—interesting galaxy—ends of arms taper off dimly—inner 2’ is the brighter portion—NF by 23’ is 4442: is brightest of three—elongated P slightly S-F slightly N—very bright core and bright substellar nucleus—3.25’ x 1.25’—in triangle of 14.5-mag and 15th-mag stars—one to P slightly N, one to F, one to SF—P galaxy by 9’ is a 12th-mag star; S of that star by 7’ is an 11th-mag star—galaxy forms right triangle with those stars—back to 4424 and arc of stars—F 4424 and very slightly N by 15’ is another galaxy (NGC 4445): P-F edge-on—much more ghostly—10th-mag star at F end of arc lies 9’ S and very slightly P—galaxy has very little central concentration—2.5’ x 0.75’—not well-defined—P and very slightly N by 3’ is a 15th-mag star—not terribly difficult in averted—SF that galaxy by 13’ is a round dim glow (NGC 4451): some central brightening—no nucleus—brighter core that makes up 3/4 of galaxy’s area—1.0’ x 0.75’—slight NP-SF elongation—to SF by 1’ from galaxy’s halo is a 14th-mag star—NP galaxy by 7’ is another 14th-mag star

1:19
NGC 4380 (Vir): back to 4417 and the bright star NP it—18’ N slightly F that star is 4380: large—4.25’ x 3.0’—elongated N slightly P S slightly F—large brighter inner region that’s still pretty faint—no nucleus visible—1’ from the S edge of the halo is a 15th-mag star—probably an inclined spiral—very dim, ghostly—N and very slightly F by 8’ from the edge of the halo is a 14.5-mag star—NP by 17’ is an 11th-mag star

1:25
NGC 4307 (Vir): really getting low in the sky now—galaxy is a long thin uniformly-dim streak—elongated S very slightly P-N very slightly F—3.75’ x 0.75’—central brightening difficult to detect, if any—reasonably well-defined—NF galaxy by 6’ from the N tip of galaxy is a 13.5-mag star—N of galaxy by 9’ is a 14th-mag star—NP galaxy by 11’ is a 13th-mag star—SP by 17’ from galaxy’s edge is a 13th-mag star

I hated to leave such magnificent skies, so I didn’t, staying on to whirl through a number of the sky’s highlights. And though each evening had left me tired of taking notes (and dreading the hours of transcribing them!), I did take notes on three further objects: a favorite galaxy, an easy target near M13 that I’d observed dozens of times without taking notes on, and the last NGC globular in Ophiuchus that I hadn’t yet made notes on:

1:50

NGC 5248 (Boo): lost Virgo Cluster into trees—a favorite galaxy—bright, Messier-bright—elongated NP-SF—very tiny brighter core and substellar nucleus—5.25’ x 3.5’—S very slightly P the nucleus by 3.5’ is a 14th-mag star—N by 6.5’ from core is a 13th-mag star—14th-mag star NF by 8.5’—11th-mag star SP by 8’—spiral arm seems to wrap from P edge around to N, other arm from F edge of core to SP direction—in averted, can see arms much more clearly 

2:10

NGC 6207 (Her): galaxy 20’ almost due N of 7th-mag star F M13—elongated S very slightly P-N very slightly F—2.75’ x 1.5’—very bright—8th-mag star N of galaxy by 13’—galaxy has a very obvious stellar nucleus—well-defined—brighter region along inner third of galaxy—F by 9’ is a 12.5-mag star; SF that star by 3.5’ is an 11th-mag star—8th-mag star to N has two faint companions; to NF by 1.75’ is a 14th-mag star; F the 8th-mag star by 2’ is a 13.5 star—M13 is as good on this night as I’ve ever seen it

3:17

NGC 6287 (Oph): one of the last globulars I need—hard to find but not hard to see—4.0’ across—interior irregular-shaped?—central region flattened on S and F sides—granular, just on edge of resolution—several stars on periphery of 15th and lower mags—8 CC?—to F and S are lines of stars that bracket the cluster—to NP and SP by 20’ are 10th-mag stars; form a long isosceles triangle with cluster; separated by 14’—arc of six stars on F side of cluster, arc runs due P to SP; along F side, stars are mostly 12th-mag; stars on S end are brighter, with three stars S very slightly P running to F corner where it meets N-S line F cluster—to P very slightly S side of cluster is a group of 14th- and 15th-mag stars, closest of which is 3.5’ from cluster—NF cluster is a shovel-shaped asterism with its handle closer to cluster and bending away to SF; spade-end pointing toward N; composed of 13th- and 14th-mag stars; star at end of shovel’s handle (four stars in handle) is a 15th-mag star 14’ NF the cluster

Dawn was beginning its inexorable advance now, even at 3:30 AM. Wade had left shortly before, as he had more sense than I did. I thanked Bill for the hot tea he always provided (as well as the Ritz crackers and Fig Newtons he had offered) and tore down my gear for the night.

One problem remained. The gas gauge on the Caveman-Mobile had read just under 1/2 when I left for the evening—a little lower than I cared to have when heading out, but surely enough for a 27-mile (as the pterodactyl flies) trip home. But as I got about halfway down the gravel BLM road toward Eagle’s Rest Road proper, the gauge hit empty, the van pinged, and the red ‘gas’ light came on. Surely just a function of the rather steep angle of the BLM road… but no. Upon reaching the flatter paved road, the light remained on and the needle stayed below 1/8.

This was bad. Running out of gas at 4 AM on the long, twisting Eagle’s Rest Road wasn’t a good thing; while Bill would be leaving somewhat after me (once he’d finished with his time lapse, perhaps 8 AM) and I could flag him down, that wasn’t optimal. And getting an AAA driver out with gas wasn’t going to be easy either (or timely). So I turned the van completely off, remembering a long-ago series of electrical glitches the vehicle had suffered through (most recently on my drive home from the Mill Creek Retreat after another terrific stargazing trip). Sure enough, the gauge popped back to 1/4. But the gas-indicator light was still on, and it became a question of which was more trustworthy.

I pulled in to Fred Meyer just after 5 AM, just after they opened for gas. The clerk was amusedly skeptical of my reason for being out at such an ungodly hour, but I was grateful enough to have made it to refill that I didn’t care to prove that I had indeed been out in the woods with a telescope.

One more night to finish what I’d started.

VI.

The next night—Night Six of my Virgo Run, and the ninth night in a row that offered at least somewhat-clear skies—had left most of the other EAS contingent either too tired to venture out or busy with other obligations. Although I preferred the camaraderie of a small group of fellow observers, I had no problems observing alone if need be. Seeing that the Moon was beginning its trajectory toward First Quarter and would be in Virgo within a few days—and the forecast was starting to resemble a Eugene autumn–tonight had to be the end of my Virgo work, one way or the other, and so time was rather of the essence. Fortunately, I had fewer than 20 galaxies left to observe (many of them outliers that I had missed on the fringes of the chart) in order to finish.

The campers still had claim to the spur road, as I discovered upon driving down to our usual spot there. So it was back to the junction and the more-sloping terrain. and as I was setting up shop, Alan pulled up, having decided to make the drive from town to do some experiments with his astrophotography gear.

Although nowhere near as exceptional as the previous night, the sky was still fantastic. The Milky Way was a little less expansive, a little less glittery. But I had promised Cheryl that I wouldn’t be out as long tonight, as I was still a bit sleep-deprived from the all-nighter the night before, so it was perhaps a good thing that there was a little less celestial splendor to keep me there.

The first few galaxies of the evening were frustrating; I felt a bit of pressure to get the chart finished, and it made me impatient to get to 2 Comae and Omicron and 16 Virginis, my starting points (easy naked-eye stars, all). At least a couple of times, I misidentified the three guide stars and ended up needing the TriAtlas to bail me out.

5/27-28/17

EAGLE’S RIDGE
MOON: 2 days (set at 8:41 PM), 1% illumination
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.9
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in lower 50s, air still, light dew; auroral streaks and glow visible from 1:00 onward

Others present: AG

10:33
NGC 4032 (Com): difficult hop from 2 Comae—unimpressive (!) galaxy—still early in evening—roundish—brighter but diffuse core—1.25’ across—halo roundish, core may be elongated slightly NP-SF—NF galaxy by 16’ is a 10th-mag star—SF galaxy by 14’ is an 11th-mag star—N very slightly F galaxy’s center by 5’ is a 12th-mag star—7’ NP galaxy is a 12th-mag star—two 12th-mag stars part of a line of 12th-mag stars that extends to the NF side of the field, fairly evenly spaced—P galaxy is a pair of 12.5- and 13th-mag stars, the closer, brighter of which is 9’ and the other (fainter) P and very slightly S the brighter by 1’

10:54
NGC 4124 (4119) (Vir): pretty far north in Virgo Cluster—longish, 3.5’ x 2.0’—elongated NP-SF—has an irregular brightening, especially to NP tip of arms—something embedded there?—brighter central region—substellar nucleus—16’ NP is a 9th-mag star—a 10th-mag star 18’ N of galaxy— off NP tip of galaxy by 5’ from nucleus is a 13th-mag star—S of galaxy is a line of three stars, two 13th and a 12th-mag; 12th-mag is on F end; line runs P-F in field—star in middle is double with a 14th-mag companion to F side of it; 12th-mag star at F end is 9’ SF the galaxy

11:01
NGCs 4067, 4078 (Vir): 4067: elongated SP-NF—1.25’ x 0.75’—fairly easy hop from 4124—has a definite stellar nucleus and slightly-brighter core—halo not overly well-defined—F galaxy by 4’ is a 13th-mag star; F and slightly S that star by 4’ is another 13th-mag star—F galaxy by 12’ is an 11th-mag star—NF galaxy by 20’ is a 9th-mag star—SF galaxy by 10’ is a very diffuse galaxy just on threshold [actually appears to be a threshold double star]— very small and diffuse—elongated SP-NF—SF that galaxy by 10’ is another larger galaxy (NGC 4078): also elongated SP-NF—bright core—1.25’ x 0.75’—both pretty faint, second (4078) much the brighter—4078 forms a diamond with two 11th-mag stars, one SP by 8’ and the other F by 11’ and a 12th-mag star SF by 9’

11:20
NGCs 4116, 4123 (Vir): both diffuse—both largish—4116: elongated N slightly P-S slightly F—3.0’ x 1.5’ but hard to tell edges of galaxy—extremely diffuse—some slight central brightening but not really a visible core or nucleus—11’ N and slightly P a 10th-mag star—S of that star by 10’ is the NP of a pair of NP-SF-oriented stars; NP star is 11th-mag, SF star 10.5-mag, separated by 3.25’—4116 has to P side a line that runs NP-SF of 14th-mag stars, each 8’ apart—star in middle is P and slightly S of galaxy by 8’; another P middle star by 4’—16’ NF 4116 is 4123: much bigger and brighter than 4116—elongated NP-SF—3.5’ x 2.75’—has a substellar nucleus that’s quite faint—irregularly bright halo—no core per se—halo fades into background—SF by 8.5’ is a 12th-mag star—S slightly F galaxy by 14’ is a 13th-mag star—NF galaxy by 15’ is an 8th-mag star that’s part of a line of 8th-, 9th- and 10th-mag stars that runs from NF edge to NP edge of field

11:33
NGC 4457 (Vir): small but very bright galaxy—1.5’ round—very bright substellar nucleus—some SP-NF elongation?—pretty well-defined—galaxy framed within a triangle of 8th-mag stars; star  25’ to SF is a double with a companion NF the primary by 0.25’; companion is bluish and 14th-mag; other two stars in the triangle are NP galaxy by 13’ and SP galaxy by 22’—SF the galaxy’s nucleus by 10’ is a 12.5-mag star—NF the nucleus by 10’ is a 12th-mag star—due P the nucleus by 5’ is a 13th-mag star—another 13th-mag star S slightly P by 6.5’

11:41
NGCs 4496A, 4496B, 4480 (Vir): 4496 A/B: makes a large tenuous glow 32’ NF double star by 4457—two galaxies are difficult to separate at this magnification—almost looks like one irregular-shaped mass—total diameter 4.5’ x 4.0’—wouldn’t recognize as two discrete objects—almost N-S of each other—S component (B) has 14th-mag star on S edge of halo—very little central brightening to either galaxy—very diffuse; not only hard to separate but hard to tell where edges of whole are—F and very slightly S by 9’ is an 11th-mag star—12th-mag star 9.5’ P galaxies—SF by 6’ is a 13th-mag star—NF by 9’ is a 13th-mag star—just on NF edge of field is an 11th-mag star—NP 4496 pair by 26’ is NGC 4480: elongated N very slightly P-S very slightly F—quite diffuse—dim, very difficult stellar nucleus—slight bit of interior brightening—as difficult as galaxy seems at first, it’s fairly well defined—NP galaxy by 3’ is a 13.5-mag star—SF by 9’ is an 11th-mag star—due S by 14’ is an 11th-mag star—due N by 11’ is an 8th-mag star

11:54
NGCs 4527, 4536 (Vir): 4527: an interesting edge-on—elongated P very slightly S-F very slightly N—5.0’ x 1.5’—pretty well-defined outer halo—[satellite through field]—pretty obvious substellar nucleus—brightish core—brightening along length of galaxy—N edge appears a little more sharply-defined—undeserved hint of a dark lane along N edge?—[very bright satellite N-S through field]—F galaxy by 9’ from nucleus is a 11.5-mag star—S and very slightly P galaxy is a pair of 10th and 11th-stars; 11th-mag star is closer to galaxy at 15’ S of galaxy; 10th-mag is 5.5’ S slightly P 11th-mag star—very large galaxy [4536] to SF, but no time to examine it?—NP 4527 by 16’ is a 10.5-mag star which is the P-most star in a line of three; others are 11th-mags; one on F end is double with 14th-mag companion P by 8”—4536: 30’ SF of 4527—dimmer than 4527 but still very obvious—elongated P slightly N-F slightly N—huge!—6.0’ x 2.5’—obvious stellar nucleus inside a brighter core—F and slightly N by 14’ is a 9th-mag star—pretty well-defined halo—on F side of galaxy from N edge to F edge may be a spiral arm visible

12:05
NGC 4636 (Vir): quite bright—in a field full of brightish stars—lots of 8th-11th-mag stars—elongated slightly NP-SF—3.25’ x 2.75’—has a very bright core—fairly-diffuse halo—substellar nucleus—not well-defined—N slightly P galaxy by 5’ from core is a 12th-mag star—S slightly F galaxy by 5’ is a 13th-mag star—NP core by 4.5’ is a 14th-mag star—SP by 11’ is an 8th-mag star; SP that star by 6’ is an 11th-mag star—F and slightly S of core by 13’ is a 10th-mag star—N slightly F core by 15’ is a 10.5-mag star

12:14
NGC 4665 (Vir): interesting field framed by more of the group of 8th- to 11th-mag stars in this region—galaxy is bright—bright core and substellar nucleus—elongated N-S—2.75’ x 1.75’—fairly-diffuse halo that’s not particularly well-defined—halo seems brighter on N end of galaxy—galaxy framed between two 8th-mag stars; one due P by 20’ and one F and slightly N by 22’—SP galaxy by 3’ from core is a 12.5-mag star—13th-mag star 5’ NF core—on very NP edge of field is an 8th-mag star—N and very slightly P galaxy is S vertex of a small right triangle; vertex is 11.5 mag and is 10’ N and slightly P galaxy’s core; N of that star by 4’ is a 13th-mag star; third vertex is almost due P other 13th-mag star by 4.5’—F core and slightly N by 11’ is a 10th-mag star

12:23
NGC 4701 (Vir): faint and small—1.5’ x 1.25’—very slight SP-NF elongation—at first glance has even illumination, but has a large core that makes up 3/4 of galaxy’s area—halo is small and faint—no nucleus, although thought so at first—galaxy  set in SP-NF elongated trapezoid, almost rectangle; P side of which is twice as wide as F side; P and very slightly N of galaxy by 4’ is a 13th-mag star; another 13th-mag star S very slightly P galaxy by 5.5’; F and very slightly N of galaxy is a 13.5-mag star that’s 8’ from galaxy; NP that star by 3.5’ is a 13th-mag star—N of galaxy and slightly F is a very tiny triangle of 14th-mag stars—20’ P the galaxy and very slightly N is an 8th-mag star which has a 7th-mag star NP it by 12’; with galaxy centered, the 7.5-mag star is just outside the field—SF galaxy by 16’ is a 10th-mag star

12:36
NGC 4713 (Vir): big and round—3.5’ across—[another bright satellite through field N-S]—diffuse halo—not much central brightening at all—no visible nucleus—SF the galaxy by 3’ from halo is a 14th-mag star—another 13th-mag star S slightly F galaxy by 4’—a 13.5-mag star SF galaxy by 8’—SP galaxy by 12’ is a 9th-mag star that is the F vertex of a small triangle; due P that star by 7’ is a 12.5-mag star; 5.75’ NP 9th-mag star is a 13.5-mag star—N of galaxy by 15’ is a 12.5-mag star; that is S vertex of small isosceles triangle which has a 13.5-mag star N slightly F previous star by 4.5’ and N slightly P the S vertex by 3.5’ is a 14th-mag star—11th-mag star SF the galaxy by 18’

12:51
NGC 4808 (Vir): 2.75’ x 1.25’—elongated P slightly N-F slightly S—well-defined halo—brighter inner region that’s quite large compared to halo; not much extended halo—occasionally a flicker of a stellar nucleus, but not convinced; 15th-mag star just P and slightly N of galaxy by 2’ which interferes with observation—N and very slightly P galaxy by 8.5’ is a 12th-mag star—S very slightly F galaxy by 15’ is a 13th-mag star—SF galaxy by 13’ is middle star in a line of three that proceeds SP-NF in field; that star is 13th-mag; another 13th-mag star 3’ NF previous star; third star is 14th-mag and SP middle star by 4.5’—to N edge of field by 20’ N and slightly F galaxy is a 9th-mag star; F and very slightly N that star by 5.5’ is a 12th-mag star—NP galaxy by 17’ is a 12.5-mag star—line of stars SP the galaxy, running P-F; star at P end of line is 12’ P and slightly S of galaxy, and is 12.5-mag; followed by 5’ by a 13th-mag star; F and very slightly N of 13th-mag star is a 14th-mag star 3’ from 13th-mag star

I went back to my observing table and my chart and notes to be sure that I’d observed every galaxy on my list—yes, even the ones on the periphery of the chart were done!

Turning back toward north, though, I noticed a strangeness to the northern sky: it was brighter than usual, even with the Eugene/Springfield light miasma, and there were definite bright streaks running vertically in the sky amid the glow. I watched for a minute before confirming to myself and Alan–it was the aurora borealis!

Alan finished his Milky Way shots—he’d waited all night for Sagittarius to rise, and now was given a rarer subject to photograph. So he repositioned his camera and managed to get some impromptu shots of the aurora from the middle of the junction. We watched the aurora for at least half an hour, noting no color, just shifting streaks of brighter glow. I wondered frequently as I watched if I was just seeing things regarding the aurora… trying to talk myself out of seeing the aurora even when I knew it was real (I texted Cheryl, but she didn’t catch the text, and the aurora was too tenuous to see from in town anyway). Alan’s camera confirmed the sighting, though, capturing sheets and streaks of purple and green silently floating among the low northern reaches. (What we saw was nowhere near as vivid as in the photos in the Pixieland Star Party thread at CloudyNights—https://www.cloudynights.com/topic/567576-pixieland-sp-goldendale-wa-may-26-29-2017/?p=7908242—but was convincing even before the reports from Pixieland rolled in.)

And that was that. Six out of nine clear nights spent to make half an attempt at the Virgo Cluster, which I had long avoided simply due to the profusion of targets there. Numerous other splendid sights were had as well–I didn’t even yet mention the bright supernova in NGC 6946, which we observed several nights during the run (the galaxy itself was spectacular). With better skies than I’ve ever had access to—at least in spring and summer—it had been possible to do this. When I first decided to sweep Chart B, it didn’t seem that extensive or difficult, especially as I’d found numerous targets far more difficult than anything found in Sky Atlas 2000.0. But given the position of Virgo viz our observing environment, it was more challenging than it might normally have been (if, say, I’d started this in March—if we’d had a single clear night in March).  As it was, it was close to eighteen hours’ observing to dig as deep as I managed–eighteen hours very well spent, and the rare completion of a project that I’d started.

A Dream of Spring

It took a week for the weather and other circumstances to synchronize favorably enough to return to Eagle’s Ridge and continue with the work of delving into the Herschel 400 and Herschel II lists. After a brain-draining half-week of work, it was a much-needed break; my Thursday shift had been canceled, and I looked forward eagerly to the drive up the mountain.

The Eugene weather forecast had indicated a predicted low of 36˚, but I quickly discovered that the extra couple of thousand feet of elevation would (on this night, but not always) make the Eugene forecast worthless. It was already at most 36˚ on the mountain, and would continue to get colder.

Still, I was ready for the cold–at least to an extent. And I had galaxy hunting to keep me occupied. The sky was well clear and the transparency better than predicted by the Clear Sky Chart. We had a bigger crowd at Eagle’s Ridge: Jerry, Bill, Frank S, Wade, and Bill M. In fact, there were enough of us that we couldn’t set up on the spur road that we’d used the previous week, although Bill B had set up his time-lapse camera there. So we set up in the clearing where the roads intersected–not the most-level bit of ground, but okay for Dobsonian purposes.

The forecast also called for dew, but I discovered (to my great concern) that my Kendrick dew-heater controller rattled as I shook it, and that it refused to heat the eyepiece band attached to it. After several minutes of testing, I was left to conclude that the controller was at least temporarily dead. This would turn out to be a major problem; although Jerry had a portable hair dryer for such contingencies, I disliked having to mooch off of my fellow observers for my own lack of a backup plan.

 

4/28/2017

EAGLE’S RIDGE

MOON: 2 days (set at 11:05 PM), 8% illumination

SEEING: 7

TRANSPARENCY: variable, 6-7

SQM: not taken

NELM: about 6.7

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 30s/upper 20s, dew turning to frost, no wind

Others present: JO, BB, FS, BM, WR

 

9:41

NGCs 3166, 3169, 3165, 3156 (Sex): two very obvious galaxies and a much fainter one—3169: fainter of two bright ones—2.0’ x 1.25’—very obvious nucleus, small bright core—halo definitely larger in averted—just on F edge of halo, about 2.5’ from core to F very slightly S of galaxy is a 12th-mag star—bracketing galaxy, forming a perfect isosceles triangle with 12th-mag star, to SF and NP are two 10th/11th mag stars, 11th to SF, 10th to N (very slightly) P; NP star is about 8’ from galaxy, SF star 10’ from galaxy—8’ almost due P is NGC 3166: larger and slightly brighter than 3169—2.25’, pretty round—not much of bright core but bright stellar nucleus—brightness falls away pretty rapidly from nucleus—definitely less diffuse than 3169—to N and P are 12th/13th-mag stars evenly spaced from galaxy by about 3-3.5’ from galaxy due P and almost due N—halo has pretty abrupt edge, doesn’t fall away into background as with 3169—to SP by 7’ is another 12th-mag star—P and slightly N of galaxy by 10’ is a 10th-mag star—in averted, just P by 1’ the two stars to P/SP of 3166 and almost in middle of those two stars is another galaxy (3165) which is very difficult, only knew it was there from TriAtlas chart—thinner streak about 1.0 x 0.75 with no central concentration—would probably pop more without moonlight—not easy target at all, would’ve passed over it without knowing it was there—just a ghostly image that disappears without averted—SP 3166 by 22’ is N vertex of triangle of 7th/8th-mag stars—triangle is 9’ on F side, 10’ on P side, on N side 7’—with 3166 just on NF side of field, N vertex is centered—P that N vertex is dimmest star in triangle—N of that star by 3’ and slightly P is another galaxy (3156)—1.25’—quite diffuse, pretty round—has slightly brighter core, may have stellar nucleus in averted—N and slightly P galaxy by 5’ is another 13th-mag star—N and slightly F galaxy by 4’ is a 13th-mag star

10:06

NGC 2974 (Sex): bright, small fuzzy spot—1.25’, but bright and hard to miss—no nucleus, but small bright core—probably an elliptical [SB]—almost due P galaxy, just on P edge of halo is a 10th-mag star, looks almost like it’s inside galaxy—averted vision really helps core come out—almost due P galaxy, maybe a bit N, by 6’, is a 12th-mag star—brightest star in field is just on SP edge of field, 22’ from galaxy—not the most elaborate field, but interesting

 

Already, I’d had to wipe the glass screen on my Telrad free of dew several times; my charts were damp, and the top of my equipment table was pretty well wet with dew. But the shroud of my scope was downright crinkly–the dew on it had frozen. Already wearing my heavy coat, I went back into the van for some chemical hand-warmers, finding several which were two years old. They would have to do; the box of new ones I’d gotten at Christmas was sitting at home in the garage. No point but to plow on, especially given the fine (if frosty) conditions.

 

10:18

NGC 3115 (Sex): the biggie—big big big—5.0’ x 1.5’—very bright, unmistakable—seems to have stellar nucleus—core region about half the length & width of galaxy, very prominent—elongated SPP-NFF—to SP of core by 2’ is a 13th/a4th-mag star; from that one by 4’ SP is a 12th-mag star; from 12th-mag star SF by 3’ is a 14th-mag star just flickering in and out of view—SF galaxy is bright pair of stars (one due SF, the other FSF), both 9th mag, separated by 7’—galaxy exceptionally bright

10:52

NGC 3672 (Crt): actually a really interesting galaxy—clearly edge-on spiral—very large and diffuse and slightly mottled—4.5’ x 2.0’—elongated mostly N-S—quite diffuse but reasonably bright and obvious—very diffuse brighter core—P by 6’ and just slightly N is a 9th-mag star—F and slightly N by 10’ is a 10th-mag star—between 9th-mag star and galaxy is a 13th-mag star—almost due N of galaxy by 5’ is a pair of 13th-mag stars separated by 1.5’—N of galaxy by 15’ is an 8th-mag star; P that star by 10’ is a little trapezoid of 12th/13th-mag stars—F the galaxy by 20’ is a 7th-mag star—due S of galaxy by 15’ is a 10th-mag star

11:06

NGC 3887 (Crt): another big, diffuse, mottled galaxy—inset in a group of 12th/13th-mag stars in kind of a wedge shape—galaxy itself about 3.0’ x 2.75’—elongation vaguely N-S (pretty round)—slightly-brighter core, which is extended a bit more to the N than to the S—no stellar nucleus—core quite large, takes up 3/4 of galaxy, halo slightly dimmer—galaxy pretty obvious—looks a lot like 3672—obviously a spiral—on F edge to N is a 12th-mag star—just off SF edge, separated from edge of galaxy by 1’ is a 13th-mag star—almost due N of galaxy by 4’ is another 12th-mag star—P and slightly N of galaxy is a 13th-mag star 4.5’ from NP corner of galaxy; 3’ P and a bit S of that star is a 13th-mag star—very interesting galaxy

 

By this point, my 14mm Explore Scientific eyepiece–the workhorse in my stable of optics, and the eyepiece used for 90% of my Herschel observations–was fogged up from the heat of my eye, and was to remain so for the duration. Again, rather than pester Jerry for a temporary fix from his hair dryer, I opted to let the eyepiece matter lie. Although I had done a fair night’s work, and it was still early, I chose to spend the remaining time on the mountain taking peeks through the other observers’ scopes (the shadow transit of Ganymede across Jupiter’s disk was a terrific sight) and chatting as the others chose to gradually depart. I did mooch some incredibly hot tea from Bill, which helped keep me going for the remaining ninety minutes on the mountain.

By 1:30 AM, it was time to go. Bill and I were the only ones left at the site; Bill was planning to stay the night, as he always did when capturing a time-lapse video. Although I’d planned to be there all night if necessary, I couldn’t force myself through it. My table and eyepiece case had a thick layer of crystalline frost on it; the shroud on my scope was frozen stiff. As was I, admittedly. Astronomy can be a surprisingly-calisthenic hobby (hauling heavy equipment, twisting to look through finderscopes, etc.), but it’s still largely sedentary, and the cold sinks in deep without enough means to ward it off.

I let the heat build up in the van before setting out on the road back, but didn’t thaw out until morning.

 

Time Enough, and Worlds

April 21st wasn’t perfect; the morning was overcast, despite predictions of being clear, and even by sundown there were long streaks of low sky-crud that made the decision to drive all the way to Eagle’s Ridge seem a dubious one. But the allure of the Clear Sky Chart forecast was enough–for the first time since December 28th, there was a potential for clear, moonless skies, even if only for a few hours.

Four of us–myself, Jerry, Bill B, and Dan R–decided to take the risk; even if it proved fruitless, it wasn’t a bad evening for a drive. I arrived last, having had to beg out of dinner with the rest of the family to get on the road while it was still daylight. As it was, I had a hard time remembering the exact location of the BLM road to the summit, and the road itself was so covered with post-winter debris that the sky was darkening fast by the time I made it to the observing site. I hadn’t been to Eagle’s Ridge proper since the first week of June 2016.

Sky conditions weren’t great as I set up Bob the (12.5″) Dob, but it was fairly obvious that they were going to improve. Jerry and Dan had the 20″ TriDob assembled already; as I was finishing setup, they were checking out the shadow of Ganymede on Jupiter’s disk. The last time I’d seen Jupiter was at a public event (First Quarter Friday) in early March, and the planet was low enough then that it was downright dim in the Dob. Now, with six or seven weeks of extra altitude, it was back to its brilliant self, the Ganymede shadow a dark pinprick near the planet’s northern limb.

Seeing was crummy, in Jerry’s estimation and in reality, but it would be fine for hunting Herschel galaxies. As we waited for the sky to get dark enough, I zipped around among some of the brighter spring galaxies, pleased to have the scope back in action. (I had forgotten the December 28th session, which took place much farther down the road, and kept telling myself that I hadn’t had a Herschel session since September. I wasn’t that far off.)

Many of my targets for the evening (formal and informal) were in Hydra, but much of the region I was intending to explore was still (to my surprise) blocked by the surrounding terrain. While I waited for that section of sky to clear the horizon, I turned westward a bit. But even though the sky had darkened enough, there was a substantial haze to the south, and my observations there were more than a little bit hampered by that haze. I plowed ahead, eager to make up for lost time.

4/21/2017

EAGLE’S RIDGE

MOON: 25 days (rise at 3:53 AM), 27% illumination

SEEING: 3

TRANSPARENCY: variable, 4-7

SQM: not taken

NELM: about 6.4

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in 50s, occasional cirrus blowing through, winds high

Others present: JO, DR, BB

9:50

NGC 2855 (Hydra): 5′ S (very slightly) P an 8th/9th-mag star—about 2.0’ across—galaxy has a brighter core; averted brings out maybe a stellar nucleus (seeing not great, hard to tell about nucleus)—core region is 0.75 across, maybe a bit smaller—galaxy halo seems slightly elongated NP-SF—galaxy is obvious, reasonably bright, a bit brighter than typical HII object–field peppered with stars, star nearest galaxy is brightest—NF galaxy by 15’ is a small triangle of 10th/11th-mag stars—NP bright star by 9’ is upside-down kite pattern with wide part to N, galaxy is S tip of kite

10:10

NGC 2811 (Hyd): not an easy target due to transparency issues—elongated NF-SP—narrow, 1.5 x 0.75—core is brighter, fairly tight core, not diffuse, about 0.5’—no stellar nucleus, even in averted—probably inclined spiral—not impressive enough for H400, but this is probably due to poor transparency–to NF by 7’ is a 9th-mag star—almost due P by 3’ is an 11th/12th-mag star—NP galaxy by 5’ is the F tip of a small isosceles triangle of 11th/12th-mag stars—F galaxy by 18’ is the P vertex of a large scalene triangle that’s made of 8th/9th-mag stars and is 20’ on the long side, which runs N-S in field—SF galaxy is kind of ‘Y’ pattern of 11th/12th-mag stars; some of the points in ‘Y’ are double stars—‘Y’ is 6’ top-bottom and is upside-down starting from N

After these two, I spent some time in the Hydra/Antlia border region. But the haze was frustrating; the guide stars I needed for my targets in the region (NGC 3109 [a large Local Group spiral], the Hydra I cluster [again], and NGC 2997 [again], among them) were hazed out by a magnitude or two, making them very difficult to find so far , and I ultimately passed on my targets there entirely.

After another hour or so, the sky began to clear more completely. But the wind was increasing quickly, and by the time the sky was 3/4 free of clouds, it had become difficult to control both Bob the Dob and the TriDob due to the gusts blowing across the exposed spur road. My charts and observing list both went sailing in the breeze more than once, despite my attempts at anchoring them down. And my interest in chasing small, previously-undiscovered targets went out the window as well, with the scope blowing around in azimuth circles.

I stuck to objects from memory for the rest of the evening: Messier objects and easily-remembered NGCs. It wasn’t a total loss–any time with scope and stars is valuable, and the aesthetics of deep-sky objects are a worthy goal under any conditions. It was disappointing to have only logged two new objects from the Herschel lists, but two was better than the none I’d registered in the last four months, and it was something of a spiritual balm to have been able to gather starlight once again.

Jerry, Dan, and I left well after 2 AM. Bill stayed to accompany his camera as it took another of his brilliant time-lapses, and to capture more of the Lyrid meteors that had sporadically punctuated the evening.