Echoes of December

Tuesday, December 5th, found Mrs. Caveman and I on a bit of a mini-vacation to Seattle. The reason was simple: the fourth-to-last ever concert date in America by the great John “Mahavishnu” McLaughlin, British guitarist without peer and one of my own most-important musical influences. As a discovery of the great Miles Davis, McLaughlin helped in the creation of fusion jazz; as founder of the incandescent Mahavishnu Orchestra, McLaughlin took fusion to its most groundbreaking and eclectic extreme. As he was to perform a whole set of Mahavishnu music, there was no chance I was going to miss this show—I’d already missed out on King Crimson’s Seattle dates, and Midnight Oil’s Portland shows had sold out within an hour—so I snapped up a pair of tickets for the 5th, McLaughlin’s Portland show having already sold out before I could even get the date squared away with the Mrs. (The fact that the original Mahavishnu violinist, Jerry Goodman, is the brother of my next-door neighbor and was likely to be a special guest at the Portland show led to no small amount of head-meeting-desk on my part.)

The concert was spectacular. McLaughlin was ably supported by his protege, Jimmy Herring, and Herring’s band The Invisible Whip; their music was like a more fusoid version of Phish. McLaughlin’s own band, the 4th Dimension, was ridiculously good (especially bassist Étienne M’Bappé, who should make bass-worshippers forget about Victor Wooten). I actually got misty-eyed during the final bows—that this colossus of the jazz scene was hanging up his fretboards at age 75, playing as well as ever, was a jarring reminder of the inexorable creep of age.

We took the train home the next day, and it was during the train trip that I saw an e-mail through the EAS vine—skies were clear, and telescopes were being dusted off for a rare December session. A quick check of the Clear Sky Chart quelled my disappointment at being in transit home, rather than in transit to observe; the next night looked even better, and the forecast for the next whole week was optimistic.

So I spent Thursday prepping for a cold few hours at Eagle’s Rest, the gravel-pit site 4.4 miles down the road from Eagle’s Ridge. The Ridge was likely to be under a fair amount of snow, and Jerry had reported that high winds had prevented him from setting up on Wednesday night; he had ducked back down to the Rest, which was ringed with trees and thus avoided much of the wind. (This was also the drawback to using the Rest–anything below about 20˚ altitude was pretty much blocked out.) I wasn’t willing to test the Caveman-Mobile’s tires on a snow-covered gravel road, so I’d asked if we could observe from the Rest, which was below the snow line.

I was first there on Thursday, and started setting up as soon as I got there. It looked like a fine night, if a short one (Moonrise was at 9:33). The great advantage to winter observing is that the sky darkens so early; it’s possible to get six hours’ observing in and be home around midnight. Jerry and Kathy pulled up as I was unloading the scope, and after a brief bit of chatting, we finished putting scopes and gear together and settled in for the sky to darken. (Jerry tested Bob the Dob’s mirror with his new Ronchi eyepiece, and the grid of perfectly-straight lines it generated indicated a superb mirror. We all knew that already—Jerry had already complimented the 12.5″ primary—but it was nice to see it confirmed.)  Oggie arrived somewhat afterward, rounding out our dedicated quartet.

My plan, as it so often did, involved the Herschel 400 and Herschel II lists. Tonight {and the next time out, if it happened soon) was to be spent in Pisces and in snagging NGC 821, my last object in Aries.  Given the early Moonrise, I got straight to work once it was dark enough.

12/7/17

EAGLE’S REST (gravel pit)
MOON: 19 days; 77% illuminated, rose at 9:33 PM
SEEING: 8
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.4 (at 9 PM)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 40s, air still

Others present: JO, KO, OG

All observations: 12.5 f/5 Discovery truss-tube Dobsonian, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

6:02
NGCs 7541, 7537 (Psc): pair of very elongated glows—7541: much the brighter and larger of the two—elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S—off F end of galaxy just beyond edge of halo is a 13th-mag star—galaxy 2.25′ x 0.5’—pretty well defined—irregularly bright—has brighter central region but not a visible nucleus—7537: more ghostly, fainter—has a brighter core and substellar nucleus—elongated P slightly S-F slightly N—1.25′ x 0.3′, but hard to tell ends of halo—definitely noticeable in field but not easy at all—galaxies separated by 3.5′; 7537 is S and slightly P 7541—P the pair and slightly S of 7541 (in middle of two) by 7.5′ is an 11th-mag star—S slightly P 7537 by 9′ is a pair that are the N edge of very small scalene triangle; pair consists of 12.5- and 13.5-mag stars; brighter closer to galaxies and NF the dimmer star by 0.3’— almost due F 7541 by 24′ is a 10.5-mag star—N very slightly P 7541 by 30′ is a 7th-mag star

6:15
NGCs 7562, 7557 (Psc): above Circlet—7562: quite small—roundish at first glance—maybe has a little bit of P-F extension on very ends of halo—1.25′ x 0.75’—quite bright—brighter core that makes up majority (80%) of diameter—substellar nucleus—in middle of a line of three 10th-mag stars; one to NP by 9′, one SF by 8′, one SF by 11′; closer one SF is slightly fainter than other two—to N, NF, and F slightly S of galaxy are 13.5-14-mag stars, each about 3.5′ from galaxy (not quite a square)—P galaxy and very slightly N by 4.5′ is another extremely faint and extremely diffuse galaxy (7557)—very small—slightly smaller than 7562—very difficult, better in averted—threshold-level star a couple of arcminutes S of galaxy—seems to have very very faint nucleus but not much core—galaxy round? hard to tell—noticeable in direct vision, but not much more visible than that

6:31
NGC 7785 (Psc): up near Omega Psc—bright but fairly small—elongated very slightly NP-SF—1.0′ x 0.75’—fairly well-defined—regularly illuminated—bright core—stellar nucleus—threshold star 0.5′ N slightly F—another threshold star 3′ due NF—galaxy in middle of triangle, brightest star (8.5-mag) 5.5′ to P very slightly N; S very slightly F galaxy by 3.5′ is 10.5-mag star, other 10.5-mag F and slightly S by 3.3’—NP galaxy by 13′ is an 8th-mag star—P slightly N galaxy by 13′ is an 11th-mag star

6:48
NGC 7832 (Psc): down by parallelogram inc. 27 and 29 Psc—very small, roundish, nondescript galaxy—very slight NP-SF elongation—0.67 x 0.5’—slightly brighter core and fairly-obvious substellar nucleus—NF galaxy by 8′ is a 9th-mag star—SP by 18′ is an 8th-mag star—SF by 3.5′ is an 11th-mag star; F and slightly S of that star by 2′ is a 10.5-mag star

Although not on my list, I had noticed that Hickson 98 was nearby on the TriAtlas chart. I’m always on the lookout for Hickson Compact [Galaxy] Groups, as there’s not much more interesting than small clumps of galaxies. That the members of this one had NGC numbers made it impossible to pass up, as I was very likely to be able to see it in a “mere” 12.5-inch scope.

7:08
NGCs 7783A, 7783B, 7783C (Hickson 98) (Psc): tough! Using Delos to split—galaxies are 15′ S of an 8th-mag star and 2′ S of a 10th-mag star—very difficult to separate—piled on top of each other—almost due F the group by 5.5′ is a 12th-mag star—main “mass” of galaxies (7783A/B) is elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S—main mass is 1.25′ x 0.3’—appear to be a couple of distinct nuclei involved, although one may be very faint star, possibly outside main mass (so faint it’s hard to tell!)—SF main mass is a detached section that may be another galaxy (7783C)—very difficult to separate!

7:33
NGCs 488, 490 (Psc): 488: large and impressive—elliptical profile although I know it’s an Sa spiral—large halo—3′ x 2.25’—elongated mostly N-S, maybe S very very slightly P-N very very slightly F—small bright core and a substellar nucleus—just off S slightly F edge of halo is a 12th-mag star—SP galaxy by 3.5′ is a 10.5-mag star—due F galaxy by 9′ is an 8th-mag star; SF that star by 14′ is a 10th-mag star—N very slightly P galaxy by 6′ from halo is an 11th-mag star—N of galaxy by 12′ is a 13th-mag star; not quite halfway between that star and 8th-mag star F 488 is a threshold-mag glow (490)—very small and faint—NF 488 by 8′ —mostly an averted-vision object—star just off S edge of 488’s halo and the star SP 488 are two middle and two brightest stars in a line of four evenly-spaced stars, each about 3.5′ apart that run along edge of field due F to P slightly S of 488

My next target, NGC 524, was at the center of a very busy group, according to the TriAtlas. I spent extra time here ferreting out as many of the other members of the 524 Group as I could manage without being absolutely painstaking about it; there were only about 90 minutes before Moonrise, and I had a number of other galaxies I wanted to get to.  But I spent about a half-hour here in this rich degree of sky, and was well rewarded for it.

8:07
NGCs 524, 518, 516, 525, 522, 532 (Psc): 524: in complicated field—bright, round galaxy—1.75′ round—bright core and bright stellar nucleus—well-defined galaxy—surrounded by a group of faint stars; to N slightly F by 2′ is a 13th-mag star; S very slightly P by 2′ is a 12.5-mag star; 2.5′ SF galaxy is a 13th-mag star; 1.5′ F slightly S of galaxy is 14.5-mag star—SP 524 by 6′ is a 10th-mag star; 6′ that star is another 10th-mag star; P and slightly S of that second star is a faint glow (518): elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S—very small, 0.5′ x 0.25’—has threshold stars to SP and P slightly S—in averted a flash that there’s a stellar nucleus but no other real brightening—not well-defined—back to 524: P and slightly N of 524 by 10′ is another faint galaxy (516): larger and brighter than 518—0.75′ x 0.3′ but not well defined—elongated SP-NF—has some central concentration but hard to define—very faint averted-level substellar nucleus—NP 524 by 8′ is a 10.5-mag star—due F that star by 2.5′ is a 11.5-mag star—10.5-mag star forms an isosceles triangle with 524 and 516—N of 524 by 9′ is a thin N-S streak (525): very difficult—0.67′ x 0.5’—has a 12.5-mag star NP by 2′ that makes observation difficult—very faint central concentration, maybe very faint stellar nucleus—N of 525, 30′ N of 524 is 522: larger and brighter than others except 524—elongated SP-NF—1.25′ x 0.5’—not much central brightening—in steady moments a faint core is visible but no nucleus—in fairly-barren field—10th-mag star 17′ due N of galaxy—SF 524 by 19′ is a largish glow (532), brighter than others in group aside from 524—elongated SP-NF—1.5′ x 0.5’—irregularly bright—not much core, but occasional flash of stellar nucleus?—better defined than other small ones in group, second-most impressive of group after 524

8:13
NGC 514 (Psc): very round, very very diffuse galaxy—almost no central brightening at all—core is only very slightly brighter than halo and largish—face-on spiral?—2.25′ round—threshold star on F edge of halo—due F galaxy by 2.75′ is a 9.5-mag star that obstructs view—not much detail in galaxy—P and slightly S of galaxy by 3.5′ is a 13th-mag star—SF galaxy by 7′ and 9′ are 12th– and 11.5-mag stars (respectively)—these make up southern edge of equilateral triangle whose N vertex is 13.5 mag

8:29
NGC 718 (Psc): near Al-Rischa—1.25′ round—gradually brightening to substellar nucleus—well defined—nice obvious galaxy—not a lot of detail—23′ due P (just out of edge of field) is northernmost of a long zig-zag line of seven 9th-12.5-mag stars that starts at N and moves S, bends F, and continues S; northernmost star is 9.5 mag, 24′ due P 718; 3.5′ S slightly P that star is brightest in pattern at 9th-mag—S slightly P galaxy by 5′ is a 12th-mag star—10th-mag star N of galaxy by 9.5′

8:43
NGCs 741, 742 (Psc): in non-descript field—741: galaxy fairly interesting—round, with large brighter core—substellar nucleus—1.25′ round—pretty well defined—on F side of halo looks as if a bit of detached halo or contacting galaxy (742)—P and very slightly N of 741 by 2.25′ is an 11.5-mag star—N and very slightly P 741 by 5.5′ is brighter and more-southern of a very faint pair (13.5 and 14.5-mags) separated by 0.5′ with fainter due N brighter—on N, P and F edges of field are 11th-mag stars forming a triangle—galaxies just inside southern edge of triangle, in middle of edge

9:02
NGC 821 (Ari): very bright—small—round—obvious core—maybe a difficult substellar nucleus?—brightish (9.5-mag) star just on NP edge of halo—S very very slightly P by 2′ from galaxy is a 13.5-mag star—galaxy well defined—12′ N very slightly P galaxy is an 8th-mag star—on SF edge of field is an arc of four 11th-mag stars, from due S of galaxy to F galaxy

By the time I was done with NGC 821—which cleared out the constellation Aries as far as Herschel objects went—the sky was starting to brighten slightly, with the Milky Way fading in richness. The Moon hadn’t yet risen, but it was making its presence known already.  The Orion Nebula was just above the treetops from my position in the clearing, and I spent a few minutes crunched down awkwardly, peering into a very low eyepiece at this most stunning of celestial objects.  I also swept up the Crab Nebula before deciding  that it was time to call it a night. (Earlier, I’d seen NGC 188, the most-northern and possibly the oldest open cluster in our sky, in Jerry’s Trackball.)

Leaving an observing session is always difficult when the sky is still clear, but I had no regrets this night. It had been a fine, rewarding session, neither too brief nor too exhausting, and not even cold enough to require using gloves (although chemical hand warmers had been a great boon). I’d captured 10 more Herschels, a number of other galaxies in the vicinity of my intended targets, and an intriguing Hickson group that I would need to return to if the weather forecast stayed true. As I write this, a few days later, the sky is still clear and inviting, and my gear is awaiting being loaded into the van for another trip down to the mountain.

 

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The Norway of the Year

It seemed too good to be true—a clear New Moon weekend in November? Ralph Wiggum would proclaim it “unpossible.” It would indeed be unpossible, as Sunday the 19th was cloudy and (eventually) as rainy as one would expect from a late fall day in the Pacific Northwest. But Saturday, while cirrus-streaked throughout the day, still offered hope via the Clear Sky Clock, and hope was enough to make the hour’s drive to Eagle’s Ridge (the only one of our observing sites that offered potential observing hours).

Scaring up fellow observers was more of a challenge than expected, though. Perhaps it was the iffy forecast, or the threat of fog, or the hovering-around-freezing temperatures. In any event, only Jerry and I were willing or able to chance it. Sunset was at 5 PM; I loaded the Caveman-Mobile at 3:30 and was on the road by 4.

I didn’t expect to see snow on the road up the mountain—in fact, living in the valley, it was easy to forget that it was even the right time of year for higher-elevation snow. But the occasional white patch along the roadside turned to solid snow on the unpaved final half-mile to the site. It was only an inch or so worth, and unevenly accumulated along the gravel road, but it was enough to remind me that it was essentially winter outside of the valley.

Jerry had his trackball scope already set up when I got there; he’d just had the 10″ mirror refigured and realuminized, and had a recently-purchased 7mm Type 1 Nagler to try out. His plan for the evening was a sweep of double stars in Pisces, putting the 7mm and the mirror to the test. Mine, as usual, was to track down the Herschel objects in the fall sky—in Pegasus, Pisces, Cetus, Eridanus, Aries, and Triangulum.

IMG_2416

The spur-road observing site at Eagle’s Ridge, complete with first snow.

The sky was half-covered in cirrus clouds, but it looked to be clearing.  I set up Bob the Dob, pleased that it was still fairly close in collimation after a month of sitting idle. A few minutes’ observation of M15 and Neptune bought time for the sky to clear and darken enough to jump straight into the galaxy fields of Pegasus. It was 6:15, and I was already at work.

 

11/18/17

EAGLE’S RIDGE
MOON: New
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 3-6 (variable cirrus)
SQM: 21.2 (at 10 PM)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 30s, windy, light dew

Others present: JO

All observations: 12.5″ f/5 Discovery truss-tube Dobsonian, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV)

6:30
NGC 7042 (Peg): a tough little galaxy off the nose of Pegasus–surprised it’s a Herschel–roundish–0.67′ round–has a very diffuse halo–small but not well-defined core–may have a faint stellar nucleus but it’s hard to hold if present–NF galaxy by 2.5′ is an 11th-mag star–SF galaxy by 1.5′ is the brighter of a pair at 13.5 mag; fainter is F and slightly S brighter by 0.5′ and is 14th-mag–field full of fainter (11th and below) stars with occasional brighter star–S and slightly F galaxy by 22′ is a line of 10th-12th mag stars oriented P-F in a slight arc on S edge of field–not much to galaxy–due F is supposed to be 7043 but no hint of it

6:45
Pegasus I Galaxy Cluster (NGCs 7611, 7619, 7623, 7626, 7631) (Peg/Psc): anchored by NGCs 7619 and 7626–7619: 1.0′ across, round–has a bright substellar nucleus and diffuse but obvious core that’s pretty compressed–halo fades into background, not well-defined–very much an elliptical profile–7626: slightly larger, more diffuse than 7619–nucleus and core region larger but less apparent than those of 7619–7626 appears to have a threshold star just off P edge of halo–1.25′ round–two galaxies separated by 7′, almost due P-F–between galaxies and N of them by 5.5′ is a 10th-mag star that forms a nearly-equilateral triangle with galaxies–6′ N and very slightly F that star is another galaxy [7623]–much smaller than previous two–0.6′ x 0.5′, slightly elongated–oriented N-S–has very faint halo but brighter core–substellar nucleus–0.75′ NP galaxy is a 14th-mag star–to SP and NF of galaxy by 4′ each are 13th-mag stars–back to 7619: 15′ SP 7619 is a 7th-mag star–N very slightly P that star is by 6′ is another galaxy [7611]–has a prominent nucleus and a brightish core–elongated N slightly P-S slightly F–0.67′ x 0.3′–small but fairly obvious–halo fairly diffuse, better defined than 7619/7626 pair–a number of brighter stars in field–back to 7626: due F 7626 by 11′ is another galaxy [7631]–elongated due P-F–more difficult of group, very diffuse–not much central brightening–sometimes core is more apparent–0.75′ x 0.3′–probably an edge-on spiral–not easy, would be easy to miss without other galaxies nearby–NP galaxy by 5′ is tiny isosceles triangle about 1′ on equal sides and 1.5′ on third side–triangle composed of 12th- and 13th-mag stars–long side of triangle to N and brightest vertex to S–[missed several other galaxies in area, in part due to conditions]

The wind picked up somewhere during the course of the evening; at times, it drowned out my voice on my audio notes. Among other things, it kept blowing my copy of Sky Atlas 2000.0 open to other charts than the one I was using (mostly Charts 4, 10, and 17).

7:38
NGC 7156 (Peg): difficult to observe and find–had to hop from 25 Aqr to 11 Peg and over–pretty round–very slightly elongated NP-SF–0.75′ x 0.67′–very diffuse–not much central concentration–very slightly brighter core–not at all bright–N very slightly P galaxy by 11′ is a 10th-mag star–S slightly F galaxy by 7′ is the P-most of a pair of 9- and 9.5-mag stars; brighter NP fainter by 1.5′–F galaxy and slightly S by 10′ is an 8.5-mag star–when transparency is poor galaxy is a tough catch–N and SP galaxy are several faint stars; a 13th-mag star to N by 6′ and a 12th-mag star to SP by 3.5′–several fainter stars in 4-5′ radius from galaxy

8:00
NGCs 772, 770 (Ari): large and bright (seen many times)–elongated NP-SF–2.5′ x 1.75′–very bright core and a long, diffuse halo–in moments of steady seeing appears to have substellar nucleus–not picking up any sense of heavy spiral arm seen in photos–core and nucleus seem offset to SF end of galaxy–P galaxy by 3′ from nucleus is a 13.5-mag star–due S of galaxy by 7′ is an 11th-mag star–P and somewhat S of galaxy by 15′ is a 10th-mag star–S slightly F 772 by 12′ is another 12th-mag star–SP galaxy by 3.5′ is 770: very small fuzzy spot–not more than 15″ across–very faint halo and bright substellar nucleus

8:24
NGC 1012 (Ari): interesting little galaxy in part because it looks like it has a star just on edge of halo–galaxy faint and rather diffuse–elongated S somewhat P-N somewhat F–1.25′ x 0.5′–brighter core–no visible nucleus, but hard to tell with 14th-mag star on center of F edge of galaxy–unless dark obscuration between halo edge and nucleus?–star is making it hard to make out details in galaxy–galaxy in middle of long distorted pentagon of 14th-mag and fainter stars oriented vaguely N-S; pentagon 10′ from top to bottom and 4′ at widest; three of stars N of galaxy, two S–to SF of galaxy, just outside field (25′) is an 8th-mag star which has a 10th-mag star SF it by 3′–S slightly F galaxy by 9′ is a 12th-mag star–also used 10mm Delos to get better look at galaxy

9:36
NGC 1156 (Ari)–long search needed!–large fuzzy diffuse glow–elongated S slightly P-N slightly F–2.0′ x 1.25′–irregularly bright–brighter central region and mottled appearance to halo–core not really well-defined but halo fairly well-defined–no visible nucleus–12.5-mag star on N slightly P edge of halo–face-on barred spiral? [actually Magellanic-type irregular]–brighter along major axis across middle, like a bar–very nice galaxy–due F galaxy by 7′ is a 9th-mag star–a 9th-mag star N slightly P galaxy by 13′–P galaxy and N is a line of three stars, the closest of which is 11.5-mag star on S end of line, and is 4.5′ from galaxy–line is 2.25′ long and runs N-S; other two in line and 13th-mag star in middle and another 11th-mag star on N end of line

10:07
NGC 925 (Tri)–huge!–faint, diffuse smear of a galaxy–elongated P slightly N-F slightly S–4.0′ x 2.5′–brighter central region but no defined core—-irregularly-bright halo–not getting a nucleus but there are two stars on N edge that are hampering nucleus detection; 13.5 and 14th-mag stars–another 13.5-mag star to S not far from edge of halo–S of galaxy by 5.5′ is a 12.5-mag star–galaxy fades into background–maybe brightening along major axis in averted vision–losing galaxy into sky haze–need to revisit

 

By this point, the combination of cold and cirrus—which had been making its presence felt more and more persistently throughout the evening—conspired to make staying out less worthwhile.  We took several minutes to explore M42, the Great Orion Nebula, before tearing scopes down and heading back down toward the valley. Increasingly-frosty roads and thickening fog made our decision to leave at that point a good one; we’d still managed six hours’ observing in November, which was six more than I’d managed to get in during my two previous Novembers here.

 

Beyond the Pearled Horizons

As I feared, it was a long stretch of clouds, eclipse-chasing, and illness between the Brothers Star Party and my next opportunity to observe. New Moon week in August was given over to a trip to Carbondale IL to help out with eclipse doings and visiting old friends; September’s New Moon window was wiped out by a nasty (but not unexpected) sinus infection, the type I seem to get every year around the change of seasons.

October also seemed as if it would be a wash, but the very end of New Moon “week” offered a glimmer of hope in the form of a couple of clear nights. The first of these was lost due to work the next day; the second occurred before a day off, so I hauled my carcass and Bob the Dob down the road to Eagle’s Ridge for a night of what I expected to be quite chilly observing.

Work ended at 5 PM, and I had to wait for Mrs. Caveman to get home with the Caveman-Mobile before I could load up. The forecast in Eugene proper was for temps down to the mid-40s, so a heavy winter coat was necessary, but my usual coat was lying on the garage floor waiting for dry cleaning. So instead I grabbed my dad’s 43-year-old North Face parka, which I had last worn at the Star Hill Inn in 1998. After stopping for gas—never head up the mountain with only a half-tank—I was on the road.

It had been so long since my last trip to Eagle’s Ridge—when I was finishing my Virgo Cluster project at the end of May—that I ended up missing Eagle’s Rest Road entirely and had to spend ten minutes looking for somewhere to turn around (not wanting ti use a private drive; that stretch of road is inhabited by the type of folks who will shoot first and never get around to asking questions). After the long drive up the mountain, I also missed the turnoff to the Ridge proper. It was already after sunset, and the side roads were harder to see. A lot darker at 7 PM than in late May.

Jerry was already set up and observing the Moon when I got there—I accidentally blasted him with my high beams when I went to switch to parking lights. Despite the fact that the Moon wouldn’t set for two hours, I set up in a hurry, hoping to have my scope acclimated to the ambient temperature by the time I could start Herschel hunting. My plan was to work through galaxies in Pegasus, Pisces, Cetus, Aries, and Triangulum over the course of the evening, making use of what was shaping up to be a particularly-good autumn sky.

Robert A., who I had “conversed” with on the club’s e-mail list but had never met in real life, pulled in behind the Caveman-Mobile as I discovered the flaw in the evening’s plan: my secondary holder, which had gotten bounced around when Bob the Dob had been blown off its tracking mount at Brothers in July, had worked itself even looser during its months of disuse. Every turn of one of the collimation screws simply rotated the secondary mirror on its axis, making collimation impossible. (The secondary dew heater was out of order, as well, but I knew about this.)

As usual, it was Jerry to the rescue with a crescent wrench; a few turns of the wrench put the secondary back online, and despite the seeing being a bit mushy, the scope was soon scanning the surprisingly-detailed Milky Way (still awash in bright 5-day Moonlight) in full working order.

We bummed around the sky for a while; Jerry pulled up NGC 7510, a lovely open cluster in Cepheus, and we took turns finding Uranus and Neptune. Jerry pointed out Neptune’s moon Triton and Uranus’ satellite pair Titania and Oberon—the first time he’d spotted all three moons in one night (and the first time I’d seen either of Uranus’ moons). I went to look for M15, my favorite globular, in the scope and surprised the hell out of myself by being able to spot it naked-eye. So we also spent some time tracking down M13 and (eventually, after Moonset) M33 with the naked eye, the latter of which was exceedingly difficult. Robert had one of the club’s 10″ Dobs, and we did some optical testing on it (specifically regarding coma).

Eventually, though, the Moon set and it was time for Herschel galaxies.

10/24-10/25/17

EAGLE’S RIDGE
MOON: 5 days (set at 9:46 PM), 22% illumination
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.3 (at midnight)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid-upper 50s, air still, no dew

Others present: JO, RA

All observations: 12.5″ f/5 Discovery truss-tube Dobsonian, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV)

9:28
NGC 7479 (Peg): very large–5.0′ x 3.5′–central bar very obvious–elongated almost due N-S–several condensations along bar–looks brighter/more concentrated on N half of bar–P side of halo seems larger; bar not centered down middle–spiral shape not as apparent as on other nights–13th-mag star just off N end of halo, just outside halo–just P the galaxy (by 0.25′ of the bar) and a little S of center is a 14th-mag star–every now and then some of the P spiral arm seems traceable–galaxy’s core is brighter but no real visible nucleus–between bright core and star off N edge of halo is a little more brightening along bar that makes bar look asymmetrical–[bright satellite through F edge of field]–galaxy lies off N end of right triangle of stars of 10th-12th mags–galaxy closest to vertex opposite hypotenuse (11th-mag star)–center of galaxy is 4′ N and very slightly F from that vertex–P and very slightly N of that vertex by 5′ is the 12th-mag star in triangle; S and very slightly P that 11th-mag vertex by 7′ is 10th-mag star in triangle–S of 10th-mag vertex by 3.5′ is a pair separated by 0.5′; both are 12.5-mag stars aligned NP-SF to each other–NP galaxy by 10′ from core is another 12th-mag star–16′ NF the core is an 11.5-mag star

9:52
NGC 7177 (Peg): every bit the nondescript HII galaxy–maybe elliptical? [actually SABb spiral]–has brighter core and substellar nucleus–slightly elongated P-F–1.13′ x 1.0′–bright halo that’s well-defined–not a lot to say here, not much detail–starhopped from 9 and 13 Peg–NP galaxy by 8′ is an 11th-mag star–almost due S of galaxy’s nucleus by 1′ is a 13th-mag star that’s the F end of a line that consists primarily of 11th to 13-mag stars that trails to P edge of field; brightest star is at P end of line, about 7′ P and slightly S of 13th-mag star; four main stars in line; P-most star in line is a bit S of other three–F and slightly S of galaxy by 13′ is a 10th-mag star

10:13
NGCs 7332, 7339–pair of very nice edge-on spirals–galaxies positioned between two 8th-mag stars, closer to more N star; 7332 is almost exactly in line with two stars; stars are 33′ apart; 7332 is 21′ from S star and 12′ from N star–7332: very bright–3.0′ x 0.75′–very bright nucleus–core bright but not well-separable from rest of galaxy–central bulge that tapers to well-defined arm-tips–much the brighter of two galaxies–elongated N slightly P-S slightly F–like brighter but smaller version of NGC 1055 in Cetus–threshold star due P galaxy’s nucleus by 2′–SF galaxy by 3.5′ is a 12th-mag star; NF that star by 3′ is a 13.5-mag star–F galaxy by 6.5′ is 7339: elongated P-F–3.5′ x 1.0′, slightly larger than 7332, but fainter and less-distinct–some central brightening–faint but visible core but no real nucleus visible–NF by 3.5′ is a 13th-mag star–due S by 5.5′ is a 12.5-mag star–8th-mag star N of galaxies is flanked due P and S slightly P by 12th-mag and 11th-mag stars (respectively); due P star 5′ from 8th-mag star; 11th-mag star is SP 8th-mag star by 6′

10:33
NGC 7457, UGC 12311 (Peg): fairly bright–elongated NP-SF–1.5′ x 1.0′–has bright fairly large core and (with averted) a hint of a stellar nucleus–halo is irregularly bright; with bigger scope, detail would probably pop out–galaxy in long line of irregularly-spaced stars of many different mags–pair of stars SP galaxy by 1.5′, separated by 0.75′; 13th and 13.5-mags; brighter is SF fainter star–F galaxy is a pair in a nearly-isosceles right triangle of stars; hypotenuse is to F side of triangle–two non-hypotenuse sides are 3/3.5′ long–closest vertex, opposite hypotenuse, is 3′ from galaxy’s nucleus–F galaxy by 10′ is a 10th-mag star–brightest star in field is 9th-mag, due P galaxy by 17′–NP galaxy by 7.5′ is a 14th-mag star–14.5-mag star NP of galaxy by 3′–threshold star 2.5′ N of galaxy–every now and then, F and slightly N of 7457 by 7.5′ is a very faint hint of something nebulous, undefined (UGC 12311)–impossible to determine size/orientation, etc.–definitely a difficult galaxy–northward-bending arc of six 13th/14th-mag stars around where faint galaxy is

10:59
NGCs 23, 26 (Peg): very underwhelming as galaxies go, small and undetailed–23: much the brighter–0.67′ x 0.5′–elongated N-S, maybe very slightly NF-SP–brighter core with a substellar nucleus–just on outside of halo on SF side is a 13.5-mag star, magnitude difficult to tell so close to galaxy–NP the galaxy by 11′ is the middle star of the top of an upside-down kite that is made of 9th-10th-mag stars; that star is brightest of group–“kite” is asymmetrical, oriented NP-SF–8.5′ SF 23 is NGC 26: much more diffuse than 23, but almost same size–not an averted object but not easy with direct–no real central concentration–N and NF are two faint (13.5 and 14.5 mag) stars, each 1′ from center of galaxy–galaxy in middle of line of 12/13th-mag stars; line is 9′ long

11:22
NGCs 7331, 7335, 7337, 7340  (Peg): 7331: very large, bright galaxy–elongated N-S–7.0′ x 1.5′–very very bright core–substellar nucleus difficult due to core brightness–seems better defined on P side, light more cut off; more diffuse on F side–a little more diffuse on N end as well–NF side is where halo is most indistinct–on NF side, about 2.5′ from galaxy’s nucleus is a 14th-mag star–F galaxy by 8′ is flat isosceles triangle of 11th/12th-mag stars; one equal side of triangle is parallel to galaxy’s length–sides of triangle are 1.5′ (x2) and 3.25′ long–almost halfway from 7331 to triangle is the brightest of companion galaxies (NGC 7335)–quite dim at this aperture–1.0′ x 0.3′–elongated N slightly P-S slightly F– 5′ S of 7335 is second of three companions (NGC 7337)–0.3′ roundish–14.5-mag star just touching galaxy on SF side–both of these galaxies have very slight central concentration–back to isosceles triangle: 1.5′ S and very slightly F the southernmost star in triangle is third companion galaxy (NGC 7340): tiny, 0.25′ round–very faint–easy to miss–Stephan’s Quintet quite obvious tonight as well

12:14
NGC 247, PGC 2791 (Cet): way low in the sky–247: huge–elongated almost N-S–12.0′ x 3.0′–very diffuse–low surface brightness–irregularly bright across middle–at S end, about 80% of the way to S end on P edge, is a 10th-mag star; N of that star is a 14th-mag star still within galaxy; N slightly P 10th-mag star by 6′ is a 12th-mag star outside P edge of halo–N end of galaxy less distinct, halo fades away–wider at N end than at S end–almost as if galaxy “fans out” from the 10th-mag star–14′ NF the 10th-mag star is an 11.5-mag star which has a 13th-mag companion NP by 1.5′–those two stars are signpost for PGC 2791; NP those stars  by 13′ is a 13th-mag star–just SP that 13th-mag star, not quite but almost in contact with star, is faint elongated glow (PGC 2791)–elongated SP-NF–very difficult–0.5′ x 0.25′–brightest in Burbidge Chain–galaxy at other end of Chain (PGC 2796, second-brightest in Chain) was fleetingly visible in averted but lost by the time of recording notes

12:45
NGC 128, 125, 130 (Psc)–128: skinny streak–fairly bright–1.0′ core with difficult wispy ends that extend galaxy’s length to about 1.3′–core is bright, no detectable nucleus–galaxy’s odd shape not detectable at this low magnification–0.5′ wide at core–elongated N-S–F and slightly N of core by 1′ is NGC 130: tiny, barely-visible faint spot–S of galaxy by 10′ is an 11.5-mag star–P and somewhat S of 128 by 3.5′ is a 12th-mag star; P and very slightly S of that star by 4′ is a pair of 13th-mag stars aligned roughly N-S; just N and slightly F that pair (separated by 0.25′) is NGC 125: faint round spot–0.5′ around–faint halo and brighter compact core–more diffuse and fainter than 128, but “double star” helps make it obvious

1:29
NGCs 584, 586, 596, 600 (Cet): interesting quartet–584: bright roundish galaxy–a little more than halfway between a 7th-mag star to N slightly F and an 8th-mag star to SF; 8th-mag star has an 11th-mag companion SF it by 1′–galaxy 1.5′ round–bright core and stellar nucleus–halo is somewhat poorly defined–halo irregularly illuminated, especially on S side (darkness among halo?)–F and slightly S is NGC 586: very very diffuse, not at all easy–very little central brightening–1.125′ round–586 is F 584 by 4′–23′ F 584 is 596: very similar in size and brightness to 584–smaller core, larger halo–substellar nucleus–round–little bit more diffuse than 584–F and slightly N of 596 by 12′ is a 6th-mag star–SF 596 by 18′ is NGC 600: most difficult of four–need to get bright star out of field–2.0′ round, largest of group–barely-perceptible central brightening–no real detail to pull out–probably wouldn’t have found without TriAtlas chart–halfway between 600 and the bright star is an 10th-mag star

1:40
NGC 615 (Cet): hop-skip-jump F from 600–galaxy fairly well-defined and small–elongated NP-SF–1.25′ x 0.75′–faint core and definite substellar nucleus–inclined spiral?–P and very slightly S by 5.5′ is a 10th-mag star–almost on edge of field, 20′ SP galaxy, is a 9th-mag star–another 9th-mag star SF galaxy by 16′–NP galaxy by 12′ is a 12th-mag star

1:48
NGC 720 (Cet): easy galaxy–elongated NP-SF–2.0′ x 1.25′–bright core–substellar nucleus–ends of halo quite wispy–core makes up inner half of galaxy or more–extensions very faint–edges of core well-defined–not quite halfway between two 10.5-mag stars to NP and SF–star to NP is 14′, star to SF 12′ from galaxy–to P and very slightly S by 3.5′ is a 13th-mag star–to N by 6′ is a 12th-mag star

2:09
NGCs 1035, 1042, 1052 (Cet): 1035: excellent streak–elongated NP-SF–2.0′ x 0.5′–irregularly bright along major axis–not much core, no visible nucleus–in SF tip of arms is embedded  14.5-mag star–galaxy well-defined–in group/line of 10th/11th-mag stars that extends SP-NF–one star (12th-mag) almost due N of galaxy by 5′; one SP galaxy by 5′; NF galaxy by 11′ is an 11th-mag star; star SP galaxy is 8′ from galaxy’s center–F galaxy by 5′ is a 14th-mag star–25′ F and somewhat S of 1035 is NGC 1052: elongated P-F–1.75′ x 1.0′–large bright core–no visible nucleus–threshold star 2′ P and slightly S of galaxy’s center–quite well defined–17′ F and slightly S of 1052 is a 10.5-mag star–SP 1052 by 15′ is NGC 1042: huge!–4.0′ round–very diffuse and indistinct–some slight central brightening–ill-defined halo–to N and S slightly F on edges of halo are 13.5-mag stars–at times seems larger than 4.0′ diameter

 

Despite the weather forecast, it never dipped below the mid-50s while we were on the ridge, and I never needed the parka. Robert headed home at about 1 AM; Jerry and I stayed to observe for another couple of hours. Given that my last set of notes was done at 2:09, the rest of the night’s targets went undescribed, even when they were actual Herschel objects. These included M74, M33, the NGC 672/IC 1747 pair in Triangulum (which I’d already taken notes on last year), NGC 488, NGC 520, the NGC 469/470/474 trio, and NGC 246 (the Skull Nebula). I skipped out on the autumn/winter highlights (M31 and company, the Double Cluster, M42), as I didn’t want to lose time on the Herschels (which doesn’t explain why I looked at some and skipped taking notes on them).

Robert called Jerry to report that the drive home was extremely foggy; I’d noted the presence of fog even when I was driving to the site, so I expected it to be bad. It was actually worse than I expected, with visibility of just two van-lengths forcing me to stay in the 40-MPH range almost the whole way home, and the tricking, winding upper portions of Eagle’s Rest Road were slick and treacherous. It took almost twice as long to get home as it did to drive out hours earlier.

I’ve always associated Led Zeppelin with autumn observing, and this track especially so, as it has crystallized in my memories of scouring Pisces from Cincinnati, searching for M74 in complete futility:

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