Marathons

When I originally started this blog, I had intended to give each observing session its own entry, in order to give a sense of the individual character that each session has. As free time (and energy) has diminished, updates to the blog became less individual and more grouped together by dark cycle, following in part the artifice of the manmade calendar. This means, of course, that updates have been less frequent; it also means that—given that some updates are 20,000+ words long—more time passes between updates, and therefore the memory palls a bit when trying to recall the events of a certain months-ago period of time.

This may explain why I simply forgot to write, in my last entry, about what was the biggest observing event of the March Moon-dark run: the Messier Marathon, this year occurring a couple of weekends too soon, on the night of March 12-13. It was the more-successful of my two attempts at this deep-sky challenge (simply due to the fact that the sky conditions were good throughout the night), although it fell rather stupidly short of full success. However, given how tantalizingly-close we were to full marathon-hood, it certainly has the EAS Irregulars stoked to try again in 2022.

The Messier Marathon—for those unfamiliar—is an all-night observing event based upon the astronomical quirk that, for one weekend late in March, all 110 objects in Charles Messier’s famous catalogue of deep-sky splendors can be seen in the course of a single night. This is due to the placement of the Sun in the sky; as our local star resides in the western half of the constellation Pisces, the nearest Messier object (M74, in eastern Pisces) is nearly 30˚ away… giving just enough time after sunset to catch M74 before it also sets. And the last object in the marathon—M30, in Capricornus—rises a mere 45 minutes before the Sun, making it extremely difficult to catch in the morning twilight.

The early days of the Messier Marathon brought some of the most overwrought, hilarious criticism imaginable from those who felt that it reduced observing to a rote scavenger-hunt type of activity. “I certainly hope no-one gets caught up in this Messier Madness,” wrote one finger-wagging critic in Deep Sky magazine. “It’ll cost you more than you know,” scolded another, leading to my invention of the phrase WTF?. In the days since, the Messier Marathon has become something of a fixture of March astronomy events, most of the critics left to huff ineffectively on the sidelines.

I had attempted the Messier Marathon only once before; on that occasion—with Fred Isberner down in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, between Carbondale and Marion, IL—we netted 87 objects in five hours, as the first few hours of the evening were cloudy and the last few hours before dawn were also clouded out. That time, during the mid-Marathon lull (between the end of the Virgo/Coma galaxies and the rise of the summer Milky Way objects), Fred and I were startled—to put it mildly—by the noisy, intense battle between two large predators, occurring less than 70 yards away behind a copse of trees. 

There were two basic differences between that previous attempt and the current one, aside from the location and the company: the skies here were clear, and the weather was cold. Back at Crab Orchard, we’d had unseasonably-warm weather for staying out all night; in fact, we’d been treated to a spectacular display of fireflies in the hours after sunset while the sky had still been cloud-riddled. Here, there were no fireflies, no clouds… and no warmth.

Jerry was there, of course, and Dan B; Loren was there, too, but wasn’t planning to stay all night and kept to his carbon-star agenda. Jerry had previously done 109 of the 110 Messier objects from a place in southern Arizona; Dan had never tried a marathon before and was eager to give it a go. For my part, I had somewhat forgotten that we had discussed doing a Messier marathon that particular night, and was less prepared than I like to be for an observing all-nighter.

03/12/21
LINSLAW POINT
SUNSET: 6:16 PM
MOON: New
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.35 (at 8:30); 21.67 (at 3 AM) 
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to mid 40s; moderate dew; slight breeze
OTHERS PRESENT: JO, DB, LR
All observations: 12.5″f/5 Discovery Dob, 24mm Meade 5000 SWA eyepiece (66x, 1.04˚ TFOV) 

I didn’t take real notes; there was no opportunity to do so. Things moved too quickly for that. (Astro-sketching guru Jeremy Perez once did a Messier Marathon in which he sketched every object—a stunning accomplishment.) My notes for the night simply recorded the time I spotted each object, and the observer in whose scope I observed it. The latter was important, as I wasn’t set up in a position to get all of the early evening Messiers; we shared views of some of the earliest ones as a way of observing all 110. As sunset faded, I tracked down M74—the most difficult object in Messier’s list, under even normal circumstances—while Jerry picked up M77, allowing us to cover both critical objects the moment the sky darkened enough.

Rather than my usual eyepiece for finding things—the 14mm Explore Scientific Nagler “clone”—I used the 24mm Meade Series 5000 SWA, which was a clone of the 24mm TeleVue Panoptic. (Had I known at the time that these eyepieces were ripoffs of TeleVue’s designs, I’d have bought the real thing.) The 24mm had a distinct field-of-view advantage, and as I wasn’t really going to be examining the Messiers closely, I didn’t need the extra magnification that much. The 24mm was a fine eyepiece, so the views it gave lacked very little in terms of clarity and sharpness anyway.

A number of fanatically-devoted observers perform what’s called the M3, or “Messier Marathon by Memory.” In this version of the marathon, no charts or apps can be used to find the objects; it all has to be done strictly from memory. I can find perhaps a third of the Messiers by memory, most of them winter or summer objects. This allowed me to work out of sequence from the Pennington list, sweeping up those objects I didn’t need extra time to track down as time and the sky dictated. This included the Orion objects, the Auriga clusters, M46 and 47 in Puppis, the Crab Nebula (M1), the Leo Trio, several of the Ursa Major galaxies, and of course the naked-eye clusters, the Pleiades (M45) and the Beehive (M44).

The Virgo Cluster is always the most challenging segment of a Messier Marathon—not just finding the galaxies, but identifying which is which. In this, using a scope like the 12.5” is almost a disadvantage, as it reveals a great many more galaxies beyond merely those Messier discovered, and it’s necessary to ID them properly. I had done this segment of the marathon before, using the Virgo Cluster chart in Sky Atlas 2000.0, but that was the unlaminated edition of the atlas, and I’d had a transparency with the Messier galaxies highlighted and numbered that I used as an overlay. I still have that atlas and the overlay, but I hadn’t thought to bring them this time; I only had the laminated edition, which was somewhat smaller, and I had no table to put it on to use (my table being at home with a partially-completed jigsaw puzzle on it); I was stuck with Sky Safari, which is a fantastic but less-elegant method of planning an observing session. As it was, starting with M84 and M86 at 10:54, I wrapped up the last member of the Virgo/Coma Cluster, M85, at 11:37 PM. (Pennington’s sequence, oddly, puts M85 at 37th in order, continuing the rest of the cluster at 53rd with M61. Given that M84 and M86 are the most-easily found members of the Virgo/Coma Messier group, there’s no good reason not to begin with them when attempting a Messier Marathon without the Sky Atlas 2000.0 chart.)

We worked our way through the list, checking off chunks of it at a time. Jerry had provided copies of the list he used—from Harvard Pennington’s The Year-Round Messier Marathon—which was considerably different from the list I regularly used (from a long-ago internet source I don’t even recall). The two sequences were similar, but had some significant differences; Pennington has the Cygnus/Lyra/Sagitta/Vulpecula objects before those in Ophiuchus, for example; his sequence of the Coma/Virgo galaxies is also, as already noted, quite a bit different. Nonetheless, we plowed on; as distasteful as it was to consider the cosmic splendors as objects to be checked off of a list without any description or study, there was some satisfaction in watching the blanks fill up with times and initials.

From first spotting M74 at 7:30 and ending Coma/Virgo at 11:37, it was a scramble until 1:07, when I picked up M5 in Serpens. At that point, with the Realm of the Galaxies behind us, we waited for the summer Milky Way objects to rise. As I did at Crab Orchard, I spent part of the lull searching fruitlessly for Omega Centauri. I did manage to spot NGC 5128, the Centaurus A radio galaxy, but it was such a weak sighting through the horizon muck and light pollution that I wouldn’t count it as being “seen.”

The summer objects—in Lyra, Cygnus, Vulpecula, Ophiuchus, Serpens, Scorpius, and northern Sagittarius—took a little over two hours to finish, putting us at just after 4:30 AM. Ten objects remained, most of them low in Sagittarius; one was in Pegasus, three in Aquarius, and one—Messier 30—in Capricornus. M30 was always the most difficult in the Messier Marathon, as it rises so soon before the Sun. But with our attempt at the marathon taking place two weeks before the optimal date, even the Aquarius objects were essentially impossible; morning twilight would blot them out before they were in an observable position. As it was, I needed about half an hour for the remaining Sagittarius globulars (M #s 54, 69, 70, 55, and 75) to rise above the horizon muck for a decent view. Rather than wait it out in the cold, I went back into the Caveman-Mobile to do a bit of reading, alarm set to prevent dozing off or losing track of time.

I woke up with dawn smeared across the sky. None of the curses I shouted made it through the van’s walls, fortunately, but there were many of them. Getting out of the van, I realized that even getting the Sagittarius objects was a lost cause: the Milky Way, Sagittarius, Pegasus, and all but a few dozen of the brighter stars in the entirety of the sky were gone, swallowed up in the breaking morning.  The 2021 Messier Marathon was over, and falling asleep had left me stuck at an even one hundred objects. 

My log sheet from the 2021 Messier Marathon, frozen eternally at 100 objects.

The lightening sky illuminated what we had glimpsed in the darkness: the valley below the crag had filled with fog during the night, leaving us “stranded” on a dry redoubt of clear sky. Across the foggy valley, a few other high spots poked through, looking for all the world like islands on a misty sea. Passages from William Hope Hodgson and C.S. Lewis rolled around in my brain; certainly, we had become dawn treaders after our long night’s endeavor. 

Morning. Photo by Jerry Oltion.

The three of us who remained—Jerry, Dan, and myself—briefly compared notes. Jerry had hit 103 objects, Dan 97 (many of which he’d never seen before). That put us at a perfect average of 100. 

Having lasted the night, running this most unusual of races, there was nothing else to do but pack up for the sunlit drive home.

Gifts From The Universe

Australopithicenes, like humans, are generally non-hibernating animals; activity may slow during the winter months, but it rarely ceases altogether. Even among those of the astronomy persuasion, sufficient stargazing opportunity is enough to drag the weary out into the cold and/or damp to partake of the starry panoply. 

The winter of 2020/2021 provided none of those opportunities. After the September wildfires in the Willamette Valley, we had one observing session until March, when the crappy weather of the western Oregon winter finally began to break and the heavens revealed themselves once again. Had I not finished the Herschel 400 and Herschel II programs the previous spring—had the winter of 2020 not been unexpectedly generous in clear nights—I would be stuck until 2022 before I would have an opportunity to close out those two long-running projects.

Now, of course, I had other projects to work on… most notably, the Astronomical League’s Planetary Nebula and Flat Galaxy observing programs. And while the flat galaxies beckoned, it was the planetary nebulae that needed more urgent attention after the constant rains of the previous five months.

I. And so it was that, when the first Clear Sky Chart forecast came through showing a Moonless night free of clouds and having decent transparency, the astronomers of the Willamette nearly fell over ourselves getting out of town. We convened at Linslaw Point; Mark was set up already, prepping his imaging gear; Jerry and Dan R had the 20″ TriDob, Loren his 18″ Obsession, and I brought Bob the faithful Dob, the better to try to finish the planetary nebula observations I needed before repeating them all with the 20″ Obsession. Dan B and Alesha had his refractor/11″ SCT combo, as he’d sent his 16″ Dob mirror off for recoating at Spectrum. As darkness fell, we managed some wilderness socializing; most of us had had numerous get-togethers during the long hiatus, but it had been a long damp spell as far as social observing went. And when the magic hour of astronomical twilight arrived, it was back to “work.”

03/11/21
LINSLAW POINT
SUNSET: 6:14 PM
MOON: 28 days (set at 4:32 PM; 2% illuminated)
SEEING: 7, 5
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.49-21.53
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to lower 50s; no dew; mild breeze, pleasant

OTHERS PRESENT: JO, DB, AF, MW, LR, DR

All observations: 12.5″ f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (225x, 0.36˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

7:46
IC 418 (Lep): Got a full house here at Linslaw: Loren and Mark and Jerry and Dan and Dan and Alesha; this is the first time this year that I’m observing with the intent to take notes. We’re starting off with a nice look at IC 418 in Lepus, which I’d taken notes on before at Steve Rogers’ house in Murphysboro. It’s fairly small, but nowhere near as tiny as those stellar-sized planetaries; as seen in the 14mm with no filter, this one’s 10” in diameter, quite round, and has a very bright central star relative to the nebula. The central star (not accounting for extinction from the nebula) looks to be about 10th magnitude. The color of the nebula that’s so noticeable in photographs isn’t quite there visually, at least for colorblind me; it’s definitely not the color that you would expect from a planetary: there’s definitely a trace of color, even if it’s not really identifiable, it’s almost brownish or tan. Due F the nebula by 2.5’ is a 12.5-magnitude star, and then S somewhat P that star by 1.5’ is a 13.5-magnitude star. NP the nebula by 3.5’ is another 12.5-magnitude star that has a 13.5-magnitude star NF it by 0.5’, and those two stars look vaguely fuzzy, like there are unresolved stars in the area, but even in averted I’m not really able to pick anything up [There’s a 16.8-magnitude galaxy, PGC 949730, between the two stars—I must have glimpsed it to have made a note of it.]. F slightly N of the nebula by 17’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; there’s a 10th-magnitude star 10’ F somewhat S, and that is the right-angle vertex of a right triangle that consists of those two brighter stars and the nebula. P very very slightly N of the nebula by 10.5’ is a pair angled SP-NF to each other, with the NF one the brighter; those are separated by 0.5’ and are 11th and 12th magnitudes. I don’t know that it’ll be possible to use the 7mm Nagler for much tonight because the seeing isn’t super steady, at least this early; it’s not bad, but down this low it’s probably only 5 1/2 or 6 (which actually isn’t bad especially for Eugene in the winter). Without the UHC filter, there was a sense that the interior of the nebula was irregularly bright and there were areas of darkness within it, as small as it was; now, with the filter added, the interior’s just kind of blown out or “overexposed.” It’s clearly the brightest object in the region, but now the central star really isn’t discernible amid the nebula itself; it’s just very very bright and the quality that it had with the unaided, unfiltered view is kind of overwhelmed: the very delicate spectral look to it is overwhelmed by having the UHC on it, and the color isn’t visible like it was. Let’s just try the O-III just to say that we did it… but I definitely prefer the unfiltered view to the contrast-boosted version the O-III provides. In the 7mm, the nebula is definitely much brighter and more impressive, the central star still very easy. The SF edge of the rim is just a little brighter than the rest of the shell (I did note this in the 14mm as well); there may be a gap in the nebula toward the NF, and I’m definitely getting a sense like there’s a slightly brighter envelope just around the central star between the mottling and the rim, and that the outer rim is slightly broken up or incomplete. The odd color of the nebula is less evident in the 7mm than in the 14mm.

Before my switch from the 14mm to the 7mm, I stopped by Loren’s scope to take a look at Hind’s Crimson Star, one of the deeper-red carbon stars in the heavens. It appeared pale orange to me, in part because it wasn’t at brightness minimum, where carbon stars are usually at their most colorful, but also due to my eyes’ poor red sensitivity.

And then, back to planetaries, and the other one I’d taken notes on from Steve Rogers’ house in Murphysboro those (seemingly) many years ago.

8:35
NGC 2022 (Ori): The Collarbone Nebula—not one of my favorite nicknames, but at least it’s understandable, given that the nebula lies in the collarbone region of Orion. A pox upon the insistence on giving all objects popular names! This is the other one I took notes on (with IC 418) at Steve’s house in Murphysboro six or seven years ago, and this is definitely a more impressive look at it than I had then… obviously, given the quality of the skies there. In the 14mm, the nebula appears 0.3’ across. It has a brighter central region that makes up about 3/4 of that diameter, and a fuzzy outer edge at which the brightness drops off pretty considerably. I’m not picking up a central star, although there are suggestions that one should be visible. There’s no color to note, as with IC 418, just the greyness typical of most nebulae. From time to time I get a hint that there’s a stellaring on the S slightly P edge of it, but otherwise the disk itself doesn’t seem to have any irregularity in brightness; for a few moments I thought I saw a dark streak across the middle of it, but that was likely just illusory. NF the nebula by 1.5’ is a 13.5-magnitude star; there’s a 12th-magnitude star the same direction about 1’ from the 13.5-magnitude star, and then almost due N of that star by 1’ is another 12th-magnitude star. 1’ due F that last 12th-magnitude star is a 14th-magnitude star that’s surprisingly uncertain and difficult to hold. SP the nebula by 3’ is another 12th-magnitude star, and there’s another P slightly N of the nebula by 3.5’. The brightest star in the field is 7.5 magnitude and is P somewhat N of the nebula by 12’; it’s the middle star in a N slightly P-S slightly F line of five stars; the second from the S end of that line is a faint double, and the 7.5-magnitude star also has one P very very slightly S of it by about 1’; that faint double is oriented N-S and the two are about 12.5 magnitude, separated by 0.25’. With the UHC… oh, wow! That brightened the nebula a hell of a lot, actually. It definitely seems like there is an extra brightening on the SP. There’s also an impression here in the UHC that the nebula comes to a brighter point in the center, and I’m not sure I can shake that impression. Swapping in the O-III…  the view is similar to that in the UHC, but the nebula’s even brighter. There’s still no central star, beyond a hint that there should be; the central region is another “step” brighter than it was before. With the 7mm Nagler… that’s a great view!  At times there seems to be some annularity or a darker center, but I still don’t think it’s real; I did note it in the 14mm, but it didn’t seem certain beyond a fleeting impression. The SF quadrant seems to be a little bit more diffuse than the rest, a little less defined. There also seems to be a little tuft or filament of fainter nebulosity coming off the F side, just a tiny bit to the N; that’s only visible in averted vision. The previous impression of something on the SP quadrant is still there; I’m pretty sure there’s something in the nebulosity at that point—either an embedded star or a stellaring within the nebula itself.

The breeze turned cold, rumbling in the background of my audio notes. Time for gloves to go on, preferably with hand warmers stuffed inside.

During the course of this observation, Loren was observing NGC 1535, the bright Eridanus planetary dubbed “Cleopatra’s Eye,” and our conversation turned to an injury he’d suffered at the site. I won’t delve into details, but will make note of it here for history’s sake; future generations of Willamette Valley observers will speak of it with hushed whispers.

9:17
NGCs 2452, 2453 (Pup): This is a planetary that gets to go on the never-before seen list, NGC 2452 in Puppis, and it’s just south of a fine open cluster [NGC 2453]—how these did not make the Herschel 400 and Herschel II lists, I don’t know. [Possibly because William Herschel didn’t discover them… duh.] The nebula is decent-sized: perhaps 0.3’, and rather faint, but not super-faint; it’s definitely noticeable immediately upon seeing the cluster. These two are in a very nice Milky Way starfield. The center of the nebula is very slightly dimmer than the outer edge, but there’s no notable central star, and there’s certainly no real color to the nebula. (Seeing’s not great down here; we’re pretty low.) Due S of the cluster by 5.75’ is a double star or pair separated by 0.3’, and these are roughly P-F to each other; they’re pretty equal at 11th magnitude. There’s also a 10th-magnitude star 8’ SP the nebula. The brightest star in the field is P slightly N by 13’ and is 9th magnitude. The brightest star in the cluster is 9.5 magnitude and lies 9.5’ N very very slightly F the nebula; it’s the N-most corner of the cluster, and has 1.25’ S slightly F it a 10.5 magnitude star; and then S slightly F that star by 1.25’ is an 11.5-magnitude star. In between those two fainter stars, and following those, is the bulk of the cluster in a triangular 1.25’ splatter. The cluster extends from there to the SF by 2.5’, and is much richer on the S and the SF ends, with a scattering of brighter stars over the top of a very dense rich patch, with a lot of stars beyond resolution. But the nebula is the primary object of interest here, so let’s throw the UHC filter in here and see if anything happens. With the filter the contrast makes it seem much brighter, but there’s still not a lot of detail to be had; there’s no sense that there is a central star or anything. I’ve noticed in doing these nebulas that the smaller ones benefit much more from the added magnification of the 7mm Nagler than they do from the filters; I don’t think the UHC helps or even the O-III helps quite as much as just doubling the magnification with the 7mm eyepiece. So with the 7mm, there is a very faint star just outside the edge of the fringe on the N, just outside of the nebula. The nebula itself seems to display a little bit of irregularity in brightness and in internal shape, internal structure; the center seems very vaguely dimmer than the rim. That star to the N, the threshold star, almost seems nebulous in and of itself; obviously it’s not, but it almost seems that way. Every so often I get a trace of darkness in the nebula’s interior, and there does seem to be some irregularity to the shape of the internal disk. It’s a nice little nebula at this magnification.

It was during the previous observation that I noticed something glowing in the rough patches of ground near where I was set up. It turned out to be a glowworm, possibly from the same species as the one Jeff L had discovered at Eureka Ridge during a previous observing session. I watched the glowworm to make sure it didn’t come my way, where it could get injured accidentally. It eventually wandered the opposite direction, and I went back to observing with my full attention on the sights in the eyepiece.

The next few objects required sitting on the ground, getting lower and lower in the sky. Given the poor transparency down that low, and the presence of the Roseburg light dome, it was difficult finding even naked-eye guide stars, let alone the ghostly shells of dying suns.

10:13
Mi3-6 (Pyx): Sitting on the ground here (as usual), with the small, not overly-impressive, but nonetheless interesting Minkowski 3-6 in Pyxis. It’s quite small, but still, even down this low, it’s still pretty obviously not stellar, maybe 8” across. It has a number of faint stars N and P it, including a pair of which one is due P by 1’, and that is 12.5-magnitude; there’s one of almost equal magnitude, just slightly fainter, P very very slightly N of that star by 0.67’. 22’ F somewhat N of the nebula is a bluish-white 7.5-magnitude star. N very very slightly P the nebula by 14’ is a double: a 9th-magnitude star that has 5” S very slightly P it an 11th-magnitude star. From the nebula S slightly F by 5.5’ is the brighter of another pair; those may have only 7” separation, and consist of an 11th-magnitude star with a 12.5-magnitude star S very very slightly F it. 7’ S slightly P the nebula is another 11th-magnitude star. With the UHC, the nebula brightens considerably and gives even greater evidence of its non-stellarness. It seems like it might be very, very slightly oblong, elongated SP-NF slightly, but it’s very very difficult to tell at this magnification. Oddly enough, in the UHC, I almost get a sense that the central star is visible; it could just be the interior of the nebula, with there being a very, very small faint outer halo or outer rim around that interior.With the O-III, I’m not really getting much of a distinction from the view in the UHC, at least at first glance; it’s still definitely one of the brighter objects in the field now with the increase in contrast. The nebula seems almost smaller in the O-III than in the UHC, as if there was an outer halo to it before that’s gone now, and the sense that it’s an extended object isn’t there anymore either. With the 7mm… that’s the way to look at it! It’s plain as day non-stellar; this is by far the best view of it. Again, it seems like there’s an outer fringe or halo to it that wasn’t certain at lower power. The elongation seems to really be there, NvvsP-SvvsF; it’s 8” x 5”—very slight but definite. Maybe there IS a central star visible… perhaps in averted vision it’s visible, but it may be that the center of the nebula’s just that much brighter now. This is definitely the best view of the nebula.

Spurred on by my success in finding a non-NGC planetary so far south, I pressed my luck further.

10:26
NGC 2818 (Pyx): OK, I’m gonna pat myself on the back for this one, because I did not think I was gonna be able to find it from here at this latitude. This is NGC 2018 in Pyxis, for which the designation works for the cluster and for the planetary; we’ll argue about that one for a while, but the cluster, down this low, is very, very hazy, very faint; the individual stars are considerably faint for the most part; there’s a scattering, especially on the N end, of star-pairs, the majority aligned N-S. But the nebula is visible about 2/3 of the way from N-S in the cluster. The nebula’s elongated almost due P-F and spans 0.5’ x 0.3’. It’s pretty faint and very diffuse down here and might be mistaken for a faint galaxy. 11’ P very very slightly S of the nebula is a star that looks to be about 9th magnitude [it’s actually 9.5], but extinction is a problem here. 3.75’ NP the nebula is an 11th-magnitude star, and again that’s probably kind of a false magnitude. The cluster is very ambiguously-defined and looks to be about 10’ x 6’ P-F; due S of the nebula by 2.75’ is a knot of stars just on the edge of resolution, and there look to be about four or five stars there of 14th and 14.5 magnitude. F very slightly S of the nebula by 2.5’ is a 12th-magnitude star; again, it’s probably a lot brighter. There’s no real hint of a central star to the nebula, and no color in it but gray. Nor is there much in the way of a central brightening to it here at this magnification unfiltered. So we’re going to throw the UHC on it. (I’d  still like to have time enough to go for the Eight-Burst, but I’m going to show off this one to show Jerry and Dan when I’m done.) The cluster is going to disappear because it’s relatively very faint, and it’s gonna just leave the nebula. The UHC really brings the nebula out; it’s still not great. The nebula is brighter N-S on the N-S axis than it is on the major axis, and the ends of the major axis are rather indistinct. I’m going to say that it’s more like 0.67’ x 0.3’. It really really looks like a galaxy from this latitude. I want to try the O-III and see what we come up with. In the O-III, the cluster even looks better suddenly. The cluster is kind-of detached, with a huge range of magnitudes and lots of unresolved background glow; there are probably 18 actual members plus the background glow. The nebula’s definitely brightest on the S end of the minor axis, but it’s really hard to tell anything else because the O-III just kills it. With the 7mm… oh, wow.  It almost has a rectangular shape to it. That change to the 7mm is a huge gamebreaker here. The nebula’s kind of vaporous on the ends of the major axis, and still no hint of a central star. A great view, considering how far south this is and how mediocre the seeing is. If this passed overhead, these would be a really famous pair of objects!

I had to check my recording app during this set of notes, fearing that I’d forgotten to start recording. Having done so once, I wasn’t taking chances with these more-difficult objects; who knows when the next opportunity to observe them will arise?

I also made sure to tell Jerry and Dan R to take a look at the NGC 2818 pairing; they were fans of the M46/NGC 2438 combo in Puppis, so the opportunity to see another planetary/open cluster pairing was a rare one. They were more than interested, even if it required sitting on the ground to look.

The next target was one that I’d seen decades before, with only my 70mm Pronto, on a memorable trip with not-yet-Mrs. Caveman and her then-landlords from Flagstaff. It would be a good one to end the evening on, too… if I could find it with no visible guide stars.

11:07
NGC 3132 (Vel): This one is the last of what’s been a very productive night, and it’s one I’ll again pat myself on the back for finding—this is NGC 3132 in Vela, the Eight-Burst Nebula, as seen from 44° North latitude, so hey, congratulations to me. I can’t believe I found it down here, basically with no guide stars! It’s an impressively large nebula– still smaller than I anticipated it being, but also very very impressive nonetheless. I’m using the UHC at the moment; I’m almost literally scraping the horizon here to find it; we are about 5° above the horizon, judging from the Telrad. So the nebula does not show a whole lot; it’s fairly bright but there’s not a lot of detail forthcoming. I did find it without the UHC, and the central star is still visible regardless. The nebula is elongated NvsP-SvsF and is much more indistinct on the N end than the S; on the N end, it kind of fades out gradually. It’s about 0.75’ x 0.5’. I’m just astounded that this thing can be seen from up here; I did see it from the Panamint Valley a long time ago (25 years ago!), in the Pronto, but it was tiny then, obviously. It’s very very diffuse on the edges, especially along the major axis. No color is visible… hardly a surprise given how low it is, and the fact that it’s near the meridian but still in the light dome from Roseburg. (I’m taking the filter out to get some notes on the field.) The central star is really bright; I’m sure my estimate will be way off, given the amount of extinction down this low, but it appears to be about 10th magnitude. SF the nebula by 2.3’ is the more N of a pair of 11th-magnitude stars, separated by about 1’ from the second, which looks a little tiny bit brighter and lies about 1’ SvsP the first. PvsN the nebula by 5.75’ is the P of a P-F pair, of which the P is considerably the brighter at magnitude 10.5, with an 11th-magnitude star F by 0.67’. NsF by 10’ is what I would normally say would be a 9th-magnitude star [it’s 9.5]; it’s the P-most of an arc of three that proceed FvsS and then SsF in 4’ increments; due S of the nebula by 16’ is the brightest in the field, which is probably an 8th-magnitude star [it’s 8.5].  In the 7mm Nagler, this is a really fine planetary nebula (even for this far south), with what looks like a lot of gauzy internal texture in the central region, which is not quite 0.5’ around the central star, and then the ends of the shells extend farther from it. I can only imagine what this one is like from about 15° farther south (since my only other sighting was with a 70mm scope). It reminds me a little bit of NGC 1501 in Camelopardalis; it also has a little bit of NGC 1514 (the Crystal Ball) in it. That is a really awesome nebula!

Loren had left, and others were following. Having showed Jerry and Dan the Eight-Burst, and with all of us in agreement that it had been a fantastic night, we packed up, leaving Mark to finish his images underneath a still-starry sky.

II. Our next observing session took place on the other side of New Moon; as expected of March, clouds and clear skies took alternating turns throughout the month. The Clear Sky Charts for the region showed the Oxbow as the site with the best observing conditions, so off we went on the difficult, winding drive down to the southwest. I wasn’t totally focused this particular evening; I had an endoscopy the next morning, to figure out the source of my random choking episodes. I was also annoyed by my phone’s insistence on switching back to Standard Time at random intervals (as we’d just switched to PDT), which meant that I had to keep track of the start times on my observation notes so that they were accurate. And at some point while we were setting up, Dan commented that my winter gear made me look like Yukon Cornelius from the old Rankin/Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It was a gag that stuck around all night.

I was working at higher declinations tonight—fortunate, given the uneven southern horizon at the site. Conditions weren’t great, but the stars beckoned.

The Oxbow crew (L-R): Jerry’s 12″ binoscope, Loren and his 18″ Obsession, Dan B and his hybrid 11″ SCT/5″ refractor rig, and yours truly with Bob the Dob. Robert A had not yet arrived. Photo by Jerry Oltion (hence his absence from the photo).

03/16/21
THE OXBOW
SUNSET: 7:21 PM
MOON: 3 days (set at 10:50 PM; 8% illuminated)
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.56
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to upper 40s; no dew; breezy

OTHERS PRESENT: JO, DB, LR, RA
All observations: 12.5″ f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (225x, 0.36˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

9:04
J320 (Ori): Back at the Oxbow. We still have a waxing crescent moon hanging out for another couple of hours in the sky, but we’re looking at some bright little planetaries tonight, so I’m making it work; the very first one of the night, which I’ve been tracking for quite a while, is Jonkheere 320 in Orion, and after several nights’ attempts at getting this one I’ve finally done it. This is quite a small nebula with just a tiny bit of N-S elongation, around what’s either a very bright central region or a central star that’s just overpowering everything (I suspect the latter). That central star looks to be 10.5 magnitude. The nebula spans 7” x 4”; it’s distinctly non-stellar, but between the moonlight and everything else, it’s kind of hard to get a fix on the actual nebulosity. The nebula makes up the NP corner of a pentagon that has kind of a “king’s crown” shape to it; it’s flattened at the top and very wide. The nebula is also the NF vertex of a small flat isosceles triangle, and is on the following end of the long side of that triangle. Due P the nebula by 1.75’ is a 13th-magnitude star; there’s a 12th-magnitude star about 1.5’ SP that star, and those are the stars in the little triangle with the nebula; the nebula and the 12th-magnitude star are separated by about 3’, and then S somewhat F the nebula by 4.75’ is a 9th-magnitude star; and that star and the nebula make up one side of the pentagon. F the nebula by 16’ is an 8th-magnitude star which has another 8th-magnitude star S very slightly P it by 3.75’; the two 8th-magnitude stars make up one side of the crown-pentagon, the nebula and the 9th-magnitude star make up the other, and the point, the top of the crown of the pentagon, is a 10.5-magnitude star F somewhat N of the nebula by 9’. The nebula shows a little more character in the UHC; if that’s the central star, it’s just as bright with the filter, so I don’t think it’s actually the central star, just a tiny bright central region within the nebula. That’s a difficult pickup; there’s no color or anything in terms of detail at this magnification. With the O-III, the nebula is equal in magnitude to the 9th-magnitude star, so the filter boosted the contrast for sure, but it hasn’t improved the view much otherwise; it’s slightly fuzzy but still not super-easy to pick out as a nebula at first glance. Seeing just is not good enough for the magnification of the 7mm Nagler, but once again, the 7mm does more than the filters in the 14mm do. It’s definitely a nebulous object now, and I couldn’t say that with certainty at 112x at first glance. There’s still just a little bit of N-S elongation here even in the poorer seeing; maybe 7” x 5” (so basically the same dimensions as in the 14mm), but there’s definitely a faint central star visible in addition to the brighter central region.

I made a note to start using my 4.8mm Nagler on these smaller planetaries, in addition to the 7mm; the 4.8 would yield 328x with a 15-arcminute field. (True to form, as of this writing, I still haven’t done it.)

Loren’s current agenda is the AL’s list of carbon stars, and he and Dan were busy tracking down FU Monocerotis, which was near minimum and proving to be a difficult find (as it would be, among the rich starfields of Monoceros). This led to a spate of “FU, Mon” jokes throughout the night.

10:02
J900 (Gem): Sticking with our Jonkheeres here; this is J900 in Gemini, and it was a bugger to find, too. It is just above stellar, and without working from a photograph I could not have found it; as it was, it took me quite a while. The nebula is no more than 7” and has a 12.5-magnitude star just outside of it on the SP. There’s no color. As with J320, J900 has either a central star that overwhelms most of the nebulosity or a very bright, very small core; in this case, I think it’s a visible central star. Our seeing appears to have steadied up again, too, so I’m now able to get a much better focus. I’m also higher in the sky than I was here up in Gemini. The nebula is third from P in a long line of 8th- and 9th-magnitude stars that stretches pretty much across the entire field; at the P end is the brightest in the line, which is P the nebula by 14’ and is 8.5 magnitude; there’s a 9th-magnitude star 5’ P very very slightly N of the nebula. F very very slightly N by 9’ is a 9th-magnitude star. Due F the nebula by 15’ is a 9.5-magnitude star that is at the S very slightly F end of a 2’ long line of fainter stars. I fished the O-III out of my pocket first, so we’ll start with it: OK, that’s almost too overpowering for the nebula; it really greatens the contrast, but doesn’t really help distinguish it from the background stars that much; it eliminates the 12.5-magnitude star almost entirely, but doesn’t do much else. It’s distinguishable as a nebula mainly by its lack of focus… although the filter does make the halo around the central star seem brighter, as opposed to the whole outer envelope; the central star/nexus of nebula is much, much brighter. Changing filters, I think the UHC does a better job here because it doesn’t brighten the nebula as much as the O-III, but doesn’t strip away the obvious nebulous character to it; it works as a nice middle ground. It’s distinctly more nebulous here than in the O-III, and the 12.5-magnitude star is still barely visible. This is the best view of it in the 14mm; I might’ve recognized it as a planetary without knowing it was there in the field. With the 7mm: this is absolutely the best view; it really separates the 12.5-magnitude star from the nebula. This is also the best view as far as identifying it as a nebula; it displays much more nebulous character in the 7mm. The seeing is still not great, but the nebula is definitely nebulous here in ways that it wasn’t at 112x: it has actual, tangible size to it now. There’s still no color in it, but it’s unmistakable as a planetary here in the 7mm, even with the UHC added.

Historical tidbit: Robert Jonckheere was a French astronomer (likely of Flemish extraction) who specialized in double stars.

It had started getting legitimately cold on the rough, paved outcropping of the site, and the breeze had turned more distinctly into wind. I bundled up further. Jerry, Robert, and Dan were busy comparing notes on the Orion Nebula, and Loren was still engrossed in the carbon star hunt, so I don’t know if I looked even more like Yukon Cornelius after adding more winter clothing.

10:46
Mi1-7 (Gem): Staying in Gemini with Minkowski 1-7, but this one is much more difficult than the Jonckheeres. Sky Safari lists it as 0.3’ x 0.2’, but I’ll be damned if I see it as anything but an out-of-focus spot; it has little dimension to it beyond an averted-vision 6” spot. I don’t see it elongated, but it has a very distracting 10th-magnitude star 1’ PvsN it and a 14th-magnitude star F it by 0.75’, and those two really confuse the eye. NP by 14’ is a 9th-magnitude star that has a long string of eight 12th-/12.5-magnitude stars that extends almost due F it; it’s not a perfectly straight line; six of the stars are in that line and two are kind of out of line. S of the nebula by about 8’ or 9’ each (SP and SF) is a pair of stars; the pair to the SP is separated by about 0.67’ and the one to the SF by about 1’; then S very very slightly F by about 13’ is a little scalene triangle of stars with its major axis N-S. Let’s try the UHC here and see what happens, because Sky Safari’s measurement is pretty far off while even the photograph doesn’t show anything beyond just a tiny tiny tiny substellar disk. Let’s take a look and see if there’s anything to be had there with the UHC (this is a Minkowski, so it’s not likely to be as poor as some of the other barely-above-stellar planetaries). The UHC definitely boosts the contrast; the nebula’s fuzzy, and the central star/bright core of the nebula is distinctly brighter than it was without the filter, so I’m thinking that’s a core region rather than a central star. No change in color. It’s impressive how much brighter the nebula is with the filter, because this one is really, really tough for a Minkowski; without the filter, I would not have even really thought of that as a nebula. This one might be able to take the 7mm. With the O-III, yeah… that’s the best view so far. The nebula’s definitely at least 6” across, possibly as much as 8”; it does not really want to come to a crisp focus, but with the O-III and averted vision, the central region of the nebula is almost as bright as the 10th-magnitude star 1’ to the P very very slightly N. Even in the O-III, averted vision helps quite a lot; looking straight at the nebula definitely suppresses it. In the 7mm, it has a hint of a trace of a central star, but not much. It’s distinctly a disk in the 7mm; the brighter center or central star, whichever, of the nebula seems skewed towards the SP corner of it, and the little halo around it stretches a little further in the other directions. In blinking it with the UHC, that impression that the center of the nebula’s skewed to the SP is a little stronger; it feels like there’s a central star there, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t one detectable. That’s actually a really nice nebula—the nicest one so far, and it was the least interesting in terms of the 14mm view, so that was a great improvement. (I wish I could use the 4.8 Nagler on these more often, but the seeing breaks down too easily here in the valley.)

Robert decided he’d had enough, with work in the morning and a long hour’s drive back to civilization. (It was amazing how isolated one could feel on the edge of a substantial road.) As he headed out, I realized how cold I had gotten sitting there, picking these tiny nebulae out of the inky March sky. I decided to set off in search of bigger quarry, with the early spring sky now at the meridian: Abell 31 in Cancer, one of the largest of all planetaries as seen from the skies of Earth.

The nebula lies across the southern half of a diamond of bright (8th/9th magnitude) stars, and though I found the diamond, I wasn’t able to glean more than a photon or two of the nebula, no matter what eyepiece-filter combination I used. (And it would need to be a lower-power eyepiece anyway, given the nebula’s huge size [15’!])

After twenty minutes of futile searching, I gave up on Abell 31, turning to one of its less-known Abell brethren, which had been discussed the previous day on the CloudyNights forum. It turned out to be one of the most-difficult observations I’ve ever made:

11:15
Abell 20 (CMi): Inspired by a thread on CloudyNights, I decided to go after this one anyway, despite its difficulty and the fact that it’s not on the Astronomical League Planetary Nebula program list. This is Abell 20 in Canis Minor, and there’s no way I would’ve seen it without knowing exactly where to look; this is just above the level of “an impression.” The nebula’s 1’, maybe 1.25’ in diameter. But it takes real work, even in averted vision. There’s a couple of faint stars to the SP, and maybe a central star (?).Those two faint stars are SP the nebula, one SP the other by about 0.3’, and then P very very slightly S of the nebula by about 3’ is a 10th-magnitude star that has a 12th-magnitude star 2.25’ P somewhat S of it. From the nebula SP by about 20’ is a double star, or pair, of 8.5 and 11th magnitudes, with the brighter S of the fainter by 0.5’, and then following that pair/double for about 7.5’ is a string that kind of resembles Cygnus, with the pair where Albireo would be. That star that looks like it’s the central star for the nebula is probably is 14.5 magnitude at best, maybe 15th; it may not even be directly in the center, and it looks like it has an equally-faint star N of it by about 0.67’. The O-III doesn’t help that much at all, although there is some improvement; I can hold the nebula fairly well for moments, it’s a super ghostly disk… barely, barely there. This one almost needs a hood to see, but in averted vision it is definitely there… but it is really hard to hold steady for any length of time. There’s not really a whole lot to say regarding detail, but it is visible at an eye-watering level. The O-III made it definite, but it’s not pulling out any extra detail. With the UHC, it’s still definitely there, but not quite as strongly as with the O-III. It’s not really visible with direct vision at all, but in averted, it seems like the nebula might be a little stronger on the F edge, as opposed to the P, but not a lot of other detail is visible. Surprisingly, the 7mm gives a dramatically better view than does the 14mm; I didn’t expect this to be the case with a more-extended nebulous object. It’s definitely more visible in averted here than in the 14mm averted. Filters in the 7mm are too much, though, and even the UHC makes the nebula even harder to see. Returning to the 14mm… once again, the nebula’s not very distinct at all. The unfiltered 7mm offered the best view of this ultra-faint planetary.

And with that—and a lingering look at M42—we collectively called it a night.

III. Two weeks later, we were back at Linslaw, catching some of the few dark hours before Moonrise. Although we would spend almost as much time getting to and from Linslaw as we would observing, there was no reason to waste a clear March forecast, or the camaraderie that comes with being humbled by the grandeur of the universe.

I had roughly an hour and fifteen minutes between astronomical dusk and Moonrise; with the Moon being almost full, its effects would be noticed even before it rose. I spent the falling darkness trying to track down NGC 1886, a flat galaxy in Lepus, but it was already past meridian and very low in the sky, showing next to nothing as I waited. So it was onward to planetary nebulae, then, and whatever the sky had in store.

I had, however, forgotten to take a previous target—Minkowski 3-6—off of my Sky Safari list since I had observed it two weeks before. This led to a repeat observation; while there was nothing inherently wrong with taking another set of notes on a planetary with the same scope, it took time that I might’ve used on an object I hadn’t seen (or at least taken notes on) before.

03/30/21
LINSLAW POINT
SUNSET: 7:38 PM
MOON: 17 days (rose at 10:27 PM; 96% illuminated)
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.54
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to low 30s; no dew; some substantial breeze;” cold but not unbearable”
OTHERS PRESENT: JO, DB, MW, LR

All observations: 12.5″ f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (225x, 0.36˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

9:14
Mi3-6 (redux)(Pyx): I’ve already failed to find anything to write about with NGC 1886, a flat galaxy in Lepus (which, to be fair, is well past meridian), but I’m doing better here with Minkowski 3-6, a small not-quite-stellar planetary in Pyxis. We’re sitting on the ground here and the nebula is, while not obvious, at second glance you definitely notice that it’s not stellar in the 14mm with no filter. The seeing’s not horrible down this low; I’d say it’s probably a six, so it’s about as good as I could ask for. This is a reasonably bright nebula; it’s about 10th magnitude, maybe 10.5, and it lies at the F end of a P-F little not-quite-arc of 12th- and 13th-magnitude stars. P the nebula by 1’ is a 12.5-magnitude star, and 0.67’ P very very very slightly N of that star is a 13th-magnitude star. S slightly F the nebula by 5.5’ is an 11th-magnitude star that may be double; it’s hard to tell at this magnification, but I suspect it is—I think the faint companion is S very very slightly F the primary, and there may be another one almost due F the primary, but I’ll get those better when I use the 7mm. N very very slightly P the planetary by 8’ is the more S of a pair that are almost N-S to each other; the N one is slightly brighter, but they’re very very close in magnitude; I’ll say those are 12th- and 12.2 magnitudes, separated by 0.3’. P very very slightly S of the S of the pair by 4.5’ is an 8.5-magnitude star that has a 9.5-magnitude star N very very very slightly P it by 1.5’, and then from the more-N of the close pair (the 12th/12.2 pair) N slightly P by another 5.5’ is an 8th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is F very very slightly N of the planetary by 21’ and is 7.5 magnitude. I want to say the nebula is 8” diameter; it looks round, does not look elongated at all, but it is very plainly not a stellar object. With the UHC, it’s definitely got some size to it. It has a very small, bright center which could be a central star, but it also has a little bit of an envelope. It’s very bright now; with the UHC, it’s the equal of the 9.5-magnitude star, and it’s got a nice field to help find it tooWith the O-III in, the field is almost intolerably dark; other than the 7.5-magnitude star, the nebula’s the brightest thing in the field; it definitely gives an appearance of maybe swelling up to about 10”, with the filter pulling in the nebula’s envelope a little bit. With the 7mm… I was right about the star SsF the nebula; it’s a double with another very faint star due F it by about 0.5’. And between the planetary and the close pair to the N very very slightly P, there’s a little almost-isosceles right triangle of 12th- and 13th-magnitude stars, with the right angle vertex closest to the planetary by 2.75’; the right angle vertex is the brightest of the three of them. The planetary definitely has a brighter core, versus a central star that’s outshining the rest of the middle of it, so there is an interior region that’s brighter as opposed to a point source with an envelope around it. With the UHC, at moments, it almost looks as if there are two brighter elements to the middle of the nebula, almost like it’s got a bright edge and the central star peeking through; it’s kind of hard to hold it that steady. With the O-III, the area around the nebula’s so dark it’s hard to get a good view. I’m still getting the sense that there are two different brighter elements in the middle of the nebula, like a central star and something else, but I’ll need a better image because the POSS plate isn’t good enough. With the O-III, there’s definitely an increase in the fringe on the outside edge.

At the very least, it was a more comprehensive set of notes than the previous entry.

As I was taking notes, Loren used a term that had caught my linguist’s ear more than once before: “boughten,” as in an alternate past participle of “buy.” This was a construction I had only ever heard from Mrs. Caveman’s cousin, and was indigenous to North Dakota, as far as I knew; Loren being from North Dakota, this made perfect sense, and added a data point to my informal survey of the word. Jerry chimed in, however, that he knew of people in Wyoming who used that construction as well. I needed to make a more-formal inquiry about it, apparently.

I had time, I thought, for one more object. So it was back to Gemini, for one of the larger planetaries in the sky: Abell 21, the Medusa Nebula. But the Moon was already making its presence felt, and its extra illumination—even while still below the horizon—caused havoc with this huge, faint, tenuous object. So after several minutes of notes, I abandoned the effort. While I wanted to capture my impressions of the Medusa, it needed to be under sympathetic conditions. And these were decidedly not. The next night’s forecast looked promising, so perhaps I would get another chance.

IV. I didn’t actually get that other chance the next night—while the forecast was for average-to-above-average conditions, the reality wasn’t that good. My plans were for the Medusa, the Headphones Nebula (Jones-Emberson 1) in Lynx, and the Owl Nebula, in addition to further attempts at Abells 35 (Hydra) and 36 (Virgo). The latter two had eluded me in the 20” in better conditions than this particular night was offering, so it was time for a change of plans.

When the transparency is poor, high-surface brightness objects should be the order of the day (night), and those planetaries listed above didn’t qualify (with the exception of the Owl, which was pretty high up and is actually pretty bright). Although the night didn’t quite reach “poor” levels, I rated it a 5 for transparency, which was absolutely the barest minimum level at which I would take notes on an object. Not wanting to waste an early spring night, I changed tactics and settled on a few of the small, bright planetaries still in optimal observing position.

Apparently, there was a sense of urgency among the group, as we had another full house up on the point tonight. Jerry and Dan R were there with the 20” TriDob; Mark and Loren had their regular gear, and Dan B and a coworker had Dan’s 11” SCT—Dan’s 16” Dob primary was significantly delayed in getting recoated.

03/31/21
LINSLAW POINT
SUNSET: 7:39 PM
MOON: 19 days (rose at 11:47 PM; 83% illuminated)
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 5
SQM: 21.4 (early, probably poorer later)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to mid 50s; insignificant dew; mild breeze; many mosquitoes; felt colder than it was
OTHERS PRESENT: JO, DB, Isaac, MW, LR, DR

All observations: 12.5″ f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (225x, 0.36˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

9:32
IC 2149 (Aur): It’s been a frustrating start tonight; the sky is pretty cruddy, so I’m not doing the larger Abell (and similar) planetaries as I’d planned, but I am looking at the moment at the very bright, quite small IC 2149 in Auriga. I struggled a bit with this one; for some reason, it took me forever to figure out the field orientation—I flicked the nebula with the UHC and O-III filters a few times to know that I had the nebula identified, but I was at sea trying to identify my cardinal directions. The nebula has a very bright central star or bright inner region; I’m gonna call it 10th-magnitude, although it could even be 9.5; it’s considerably bright. At first glance, it’s not really obvious as a nebula at this magnification; averted vision really brings out the nebulous character to it. It appears to be about 9”, and has no color beyond Planetary Nebula GrayTM. It’s in a very active field, with a number of little triangles and pairs; due S of the nebula by 12’ is a small triangle, the N-most vertex of which is the faintest at about 11.5 magnitude; it has a 10th-magnitude star 0.75’ SP it, and from the 11.5-magnitude star F slightly S by 1.25’ is a 9th-magnitude star; continuing that line from the faint star in the triangle through the 9th-magnitude star and extending it out and a little further S by another 1’ is a faint pair, roughly N-S to each other, separated by about 0.25’, and those are both 14th magnitude. S slightly P the nebula by 8’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; there’s another 9.5-magnitude star N very very slightly F the nebula by 7.5’. The brightest star in the field is due SF the nebula by 18’ and is 7th-magnitude. P very very slightly N of the nebula by 15’ is the F-most vertex of another tiny triangle; that star is 11th magnitude and it has a 9th-magnitude star P very very slightly N of it by 1’, and that star has a 12th-magnitude star N of it and very very slightly F by 0.5’. Adding the UHC really brightens the nebula up; unfortunately, it didn’t make the seeing or transparency any better. But the nebula is now the second-brightest object in the field after the 7th-magnitude star, and is distinctly non-stellar now even at first glance. In fact, I think it’s grown in size… to the point that the stars all seem to have a little bit of gunk around them, but the nebula certainly has more so, and more tangibly so; it may be 0.25’ now, and the inner 8-9” is a brighter central region with the rest a faint fringe around it. With the O-III, the nebula is now almost tied with the 7th-magnitude star as the brightest object in the field; it’s just a little bit fainter than that star. It’s definitely brighter and having greater contrast than in the UHC; it’s still really hard to get a fix on a central point, focus-wise, so I’m not convinced that there’s a central star there; that may just be a brighter inner region. The outer halo is a little bit overwhelmed, I think, by the filter, because it’s now a little harder to see it. With the 7mm Nagler, that is a nice little nebula—in fact, the detail it shows in the 7mm is roughly equivalent to the UHC view in the 14mm. Here, there definitely seems to be a central star buried in there, because it’s coming to a much-finer point at center; I’m skeptical that that’s all nebulosity in the middle. But at this magnification, the inner region is definitely a surrounding of the central star of several arcseconds in size, with an outer envelope pretty plainly visible around it. The brightest vertex of the little triangle to the due S, the F-most vertex, also has N of it by 0.3’ a 13th-magnitude star. Adding the UHC filter to the 7mm requires me to pull the eyepiece out to reach focus. Although it was difficult at first glance in the 14mm, the outer fringe is much more shaggy or “fringey” in the 7mm. The central star is blotted out by the filter and the nebula-induced contrast gain, but there’s a brighter interior region of 8” or so in the center. With the O-III, it’s even harder to focus; the addition of that filter overwhelms the fringe and reduces the nebula down to little more than the brighter interior.

I caught myself singing bits of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf throughout filter and eyepiece changes here—surely that was more of a Böotes thing than an Auriga thing.

We also had a second brilliant pass of the ISS for that night while I was taking notes on IC 2149. Much as I’m generally dismissive of man-made space stuff, there’s nothing quite like watching a Venus-bright object coursing silently across the sky; there’s something decidedly eerie about an object that bright and fast moving with no sound. (Incidentally, I’m giving up noting the presence of satellites during my observations—there are just too damned many of them, and they’re rarely noteworthy anymore.)

Something Loren said prompted a “Carbon Star Wars” joke, which should’ve fallen flat but didn’t.

10:23
IC 3568 (Cam): Although this one is right above the Little Dipper of Ursa Minor, it’s actually in Camelopardalis. This is an easy, obvious planetary; there’s no doubt about this one, even at first glance. It’s similar to IC 2149 in Auriga, the one that I just finished taking notes on, but this one is even more obvious. It’s 12” in diameter, with a bright whitish interior and a fuzzy exterior/outer envelope; there’s either a stellaring or an actual very faint threshold star on the P very very slightly S side of the nebula. Due S of the nebula by 1.75’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; the nebula itself is about 10th magnitude. There’s another 11.5-magnitude star P very very slightly S of the nebula by 4.5’, and the two stars and the nebula form a very narrow isosceles triangle, with the nebula on the N end of the base. F the nebula and slightly N by 7.5’ is a 10th-magnitude star; N very slightly F the nebula by 1.5’ is a 14th-magnitude star, and then SF by 5.25’ is the middle star in a little Sagitta-like asterism; that star is 13.5 magnitude. F slightly N of that star by 2.5’ is a 12.5-magnitude star, and from the middle star (the 13.5-mag) SP by 2’ is the N component of a double star or pair; those are N very very very slightly P-S very very very slightly F to each other, separated by 0.25’, with the N one being slightly brighter, and those are 13.5 and 14th magnitudes. With the UHC in, there’s clearly a central star shrouded in the interior. This seems very common with these smallish planetaries, at least visually—a buried central star with a bright interior region around it– and the UHC does a nice job brightening (or increasing the contrast of) the brighter interior. In averted vision the outer fringe is also a little brighter, and maybe that’s actually what effect the filter is having—it’s brightening the fringe enough that it’s harder to differentiate it from the bright interior. With the O-III, the nebula is clearly the brightest object in the field. It’s a little hard to focus, but boy, does the contrast increase brighten the nebula right up! That’s a really nice little planetary! The outer halo on this one accounts for only a total of about 4” of the 12” total; the interior region is much larger with this one, I think, than with a lot of these smaller planetaries, relative to the visible halo. Swapping in the 7mm Nagler, that is definitely a threshold star on the P edge of the nebula; it looks like it might be just on (or just inside) the edge of the halo. I’m pretty certain here is a central star visible there, barely peeking through the brightness in that in the interior of the nebula, that center region. The star just off the P almost has a nebulous character to it. With the UHC added, there’s a substellar point in the middle that’s reasonably bright; it can’t be the central star, but perhaps just a tiny inner portion of the interior. The fringe is much more visible at this magnification, but it’s also a nightmare to get a good focus on. The view in the O-III is very similar to that in the UHC here in the 7mm, but the seeing has worsened, so the O-III is a little less useful at the moment. The boundary between the brighter interior region and the fringe is a lot less defined than it was in IC 2149; it’s really hard to make the distinction between the two, unlike in IC 2149, where there was a much more obvious cutoff. I do think this is the “better” of the two visually, as far as displaying detail, although both of these so far tonight have been underrated little nebulae.

Usually at Linslaw, Mark sets up his astrophotography gear in the middle of the clearing, Jerry sets up on the edge overlooking the road, Dan, Loren and I park and set up next to the sandstone crag, and anyone else fills in where there’s space. For those of us next to the crag, observing north is difficult, as the crag blocks most of the view (but also most of the significant light dome of Eugene/Springfield). It also, as on this night, makes for a bit of paranoia—there were skritchings and scrabblings on the crag all evening, the sounds of small creatures scampering to and fro as they went about their nocturnal business. While not overly worried about getting attacked by something, I did wonder if at some point I’d wind up with a chipmunk or kangaroo rat falling off and landing in my scope.

With my two high surface brightness nebulae done, the transparency collapsing again, and Moonrise on the way, I decided to damn the conditions and turn to an oft-overlooked gem of the spring sky—one that I rarely give the consideration it deserves:

11:00
M97 (UMa): Last one for the night, I think, as we’re quickly losing our transparency. This is the Owl Nebula, M97, and it’s not as crisp as I’ve seen it before, and the famous eyes are not very distinct at 14mm with no filter; at particular moments they stand out more, especially in averted vision. The eyes are to the NP and SF; I think the NP eye is a little more obvious. The nebula is not as well defined as the little ones I’ve been looking at tonight; it’s much more diffuse-edged. I’m not getting a real sense of the central star at all. (I think the seeing and transparency did just get a little bit better.) The nebula is 3.25’ in diameter. N very very very slightly F the nebula, 3’ from the center, is an 11.5-magnitude star; there’s a 13th-magnitude star almost due S of the nebula by about 3.5’, and that one has a 13.5-magnitude star F it by 2’; the star to the N very very very slightly F also has a star F it by about 2.5’. The nebula also has a 14.5-magnitude star F it by 5.5’. NP the nebula by 12’ is the S-most of a line of three evenly-spaced stars that runs from that star N very very very slightly P, and those three stars are each about 4’ apart; those are all 10.5 magnitude. And then PsS the nebula by 19’ is a bluish-white 7th-magnitude star. F somewhat S of the nebula by 11’ is a V-shaped pattern of five stars with the “hinge star” of the ‘V’ at the F; those stars are in the 10th- to 12th-magnitude range, and each arm of the ‘V’ is 5-6’ long. (We’re losing our transparency fairly quickly; I’d say in at least half the sky we’re down to about a 5.) In the unfiltered view, the nebula’s edges are more diffuse than those of the smaller nebulas, and with the UHC this is even more true; the N and S quadrants, especially, are very diffuse but vaguely brighter; just under 3’ diameter of this is distinctly brighter, and the outer 0.25’ is kind of irregular. The eyes are much more obvious. The striations in the outer edges are kind of more obvious on the NP; I’m not picking up the little tendril bits like I was before. I don’t know why I’ve always resisted looking at this nebula as a showpiece, because it deserves it. Using the O-III, the edges appear even more ragged; I can’t say that the eyes are as strongly-visible as they were in the UHC. Even in averted, I think it’s better in the UHC (although this could be specific to my filter, too.) On the SF, in fleeting moments, there’s a little separation or gap between the outer edge and some of the inner region, like a bit of slightly-detached fringe at that spot. I think here the SF eye is a little better-defined than the one to the NP. With the 7mm, everything’s blown out; the nebula’s fainter, but I seem to be getting traces of the central star every so often. [Moonlight rising now.] The eyes are very difficult at this magnification. There seems to be, on the NP edge of the 3’ brighter portion, a slightly brighter area there 0.25’ long.  The 7mm view isn’t the way to go, compared to the 14mm; the extra magnification and sky darkness don’t offset the extra blurriness. With the UHC in the 7mm (I won’t have time, with imminent Moonrise, for both filters), there’s an interesting twist: the eyes almost give an impression of annularity that doesn’t exist; it’s hard to get a fix on them with the filter in. On the rim to the N (maybe I was wrong earlier) there is indeed some extra brightness. This is too much magnification, and the UHC doesn’t help much; there are better views in the 14mm with either filter. With the O-III in the 7mm, the nebula is actually hard to see; the filter destroys the field, and the eyes are much harder to see against the rest of the nebula. Moving the scope helps. With the unfiltered view in the 7mm, every now and then, the eyes seem as if they smear together; this refers to my earlier comment about the annularity; there isn’t a ring, but something like a dark diagonal line across the middle. The internal brightness shadings are very complex in the 7mm with no filter.

Meanwhile, Loren was providing views of NGC 3242—the Ghost of Jupiter Nebula—through his 18” Obsession.

I suspected that it was the Moonrise—although the Moon was still below the horizon—that was contributing to the poor sky conditions, with the extra glare scattered across the visible sky. By the time the Moon broke through the horizon, we were already tearing gear down for another fortnight, anticipating better skies when we returned to the sandstone crag.


Bill

Bill Basham died in February. 

Bill (and/or his wonderful timelapse videos) featured in quite a few stories I’ve told over the years on this site. He was quite a remarkable man: a physician, an astrophotographer (largely self-taught), a camera expert, and a pioneer of the early days of the Internet. He was also a terrific storyteller, a purveyor of (not always clean) jokes, a fine brewer of tea, a provider of Fig Newtons, and about as good an observing comrade as anyone could ask for. We missed him for quite some time before he left us; his battle with ALS had taken away his ability to join us on whatever mountain road we would set up on. But we never forgot him, and we never will—Bill frequently comes up in conversation when we’re observing, because there are so many stories about him to fit so many occasions. He leaves a legacy of helping others, of advancing multiple technologies, and of making his companions’ lives better for having known him. I could only hope to be half the person he was.

Bill photographing M51. Photo courtesy of Jerry Oltion.
One of Bill’s later time-lapse videos. Be sure to visit his channel.


Summer’s Last Will and Testament

August looked set to be as productive for observing as July had been. I’d gotten out seven nights in July, and though I’d only taken notes on twenty-four objects, those objects had gained me significant headway in my overall agenda for the next two years: completing the Astronomical League’s Planetary Nebula and Flat Galaxy programs. The 110 objects in the Planetary Nebula program would be observed twice each—in both 12.5” and 20” scopes—while the Flat Galaxy program would mostly require the 20” to view the 100 objects necessary. After July, I was enjoying these programs quite a bit, and as the days turned into August, I was fully committed; with planetaries in abundance in the Milky-Way-strewn sky and flat galaxies having to wait until the autumn rolled fully around, the sky itself dictated what agenda I would pursue.

In writing up July’s notes, I somehow neglected to mention the purchase of an important piece of gear: a new shroud for Bob the Dob, in eye-catching royal blue, courtesy of Teeter and Shrouds By Heather. (I wanted tie-dye, but it was more expensive.) No more sagging into the light path from the previous shroud (which had nonetheless served me well over the years); this new one was stretchy and super-tight, to the point that getting the secondary cage on the truss poles was a real challenge, as the poles kept being pulled together. I also had them make a custom cap for my noble old 13.1” Coulter—no more oversized garbage bag draped over the end of the giant tube.

IMG_4510
The Emperor’s New Shroud.
IMG_4512
New headgear for old scope.

The first opportunity to continue July’s observing momentum came on the second Saturday of the month, with the Moon set to make an early appearance.

I.
Although Moonrise was going to be early, I had a mission this particular night: digging one of the lowest-in-declination planetaries of the AL’s Planetary Nebula program out of the deep-south murk. With Eureka Ridge closed to us, there was only one site remaining from which I could observe this one. So off to Linslaw we went, with almost an hour-long drive for what would be less than an hour’s dark observing.

Mark was already well into an imaging project, having finished his setup and waiting for the sky to darken; Dan B and his crew had pulled up just ahead of me. Comet NEOWISE was already an afterthought as we set up. My only real goal was a target deep in Corona Australis—any extra time would allow me to grab a single other deep-south target, although I wasn’t really counting on the possibility.

But I noticed something odd as I started setting up, something that had only happened once before: on the left periphery of my vision, an effect like spinning fan blades was being reflected in my glasses. Of course, there were no fans at the observing site. An optical migraine, then—Mrs. Caveman had suffered with them for decades, but I had only experienced one a month or so before. It had happened then exactly as now, a spinning effect near the outside of my visual field, which even shutting my eyes couldn’t make disappear. It lasted at least ten minutes, during which I could only wonder: what if the effect increased, or began to include other symptoms? Would I be able to drive home? More importantly, would I be able to make my observations?

Fortunately, the effect began to lessen as I collimated the scope, and even cinching my eyes up tight didn’t aggravate it. I waited with my eyes closed for a while, having gotten the scope in observing condition; nothing to do but wait. Sunset began its retreat; the constellations of summer, so splashy and bright compared to their autumn cousins, began to emerge from the falling dark. I located the field of my quarry, staying with it as the sunset gave way to cool, encroaching night. The nebula gradually came into view—now, it was only a matter of waiting for twilight to end.

08/08/20 
LINSLAW POINT
SUNSET: 8:26 PM
MOON: 20 days (rose at 11:08 PM; 74% illuminated)
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 8 (lots of dark nebulosity; Dark Horse past its prime but Pipe Neb visible with averted)
SQM: 21.51 (21-56-21.51)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS:temps to upper 50s; no dew; mild breeze, pleasant

OTHERS PRESENT: DB, RB, AF, MW (JO and FS at the amphitheater)

All observations: 12.5f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (225x, 0.36˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

10:22
IC 1297 (CrA):
Really low in the sky now; I’m sitting on the ground, and I still have to twist my neck in order to look into the eyepiece at IC 1297 in Corona Australis, the second-lowest of all of the Astronomical League planetary nebulae in declination (second only to the Eight-Burst Nebula, NGC 3132 in Vela, which will show better than this one because it’s bigger and brighter). But this one is actually surprisingly bright; I’ve been tracking it for 20 minutes, at least, and it has gotten considerably better during that timeframe. It’s pre-meridian, and I don’t really have time tonight to wait for it to get to the meridian because of the moonrise, but astronomical twilight has just begun (or ended, based on what sky Safari is indicating when it’s astronomical dusk). The background sky is gray, as it always is down this low, because we’re in the distant Roseburg light-pollution dome. This nebula is in a pretty active field, but is nonetheless fairly bright and somewhat distinguishable from the stars in the field in direct vision. It has a definite non-stellar but very tiny disk with a distinctive center region (or central star visible). This is no more than about 8” diameter, and is little more than a faint fuzz/fringe around a bright center; even in a filter, it’s not particularly that distinguished. But even unfiltered it is definitely not stellar, and it is surrounded by (and part of) a zigzag of stars. The nebula’s the third of four running P-F (actually SP-NF-ish) of the ones in the zigzag, starting SP the nebula by 7’ with a 9th-magnitude star; S very very slightly P of the nebula by 4.75’ is a 10th-magnitude star, and with the nebula as the NF vertex, those two stars also make up an isosceles triangle with the nebula; F very slightly N of the nebula by 3.75’ is a 10th-magnitude star. Beyond the zigzag, S very slightly P of the nebula by 2’ is a 12.5-magnitude star, and then N slightly P the nebula by 3.25’ is the more S of a pair of 13th-magnitude stars with the second one NP the first by about 0.5’.  And then from the nebula F very slightly N by 16’ is a 7.5-magnitude star that has S slightly P it by 12’ a 9.5-magnitude star, and from that star S by 8’ is a 7.5-magnitude star that has N very very slightly P it by 1.75’ a 12th-magnitude star.

With the UHC filter, the nebula becomes the second-brightest object in that zigzag aside from the star SP it. Again, it is distinctly non-stellar, even this low in the sky, like a bright core a few arcseconds across, and a little tiny bit of halo around that—probably no bigger than about 10” tops. I think the UHC is helping it pull into focus. Otherwise, the UHC isn’t really helping that much. With the O-III in, the nebula is definitely the brightest of the objects in the zigzag and almost rivals the two 8th- magnitude stars to the F and SF. It is still distinctly non-stellar; having the field that black is very, very difficult on the observing, but the O-III really makes the nebula pop out brightness/contrast-wise. The star 3.75’ Fvery slightly N of the nebula’s much, much dimmer than the nebula now, as a measure of the O-III’s effect on the field and the Roseburg light pollution. This is fantastic to be able to see something down this low! At the higher magnification yielded by the 7mm Nagler, everything is fuzzy down there but the nebula in particular seems to be so, and in fact, it seems to be even a little fuzzier than it was before. (Almost all the stars look vaguely nebulous now this low in the sky, given the poorer seeing… although, honestly, I’ve had much worse seeing so low.) But the nebula really still does stand out at 224x: it seems to have a little more fringe visible, a little more halo. With the UHC: I’m still estimating the size to be about what it was; I don’t think the extra magnification makes it seem any larger. Wow–even the UHC makes the field too dark. Again, there’s just a little extra bit of fuzz around the bright interior of the nebula. The O-III…. it’s just way too dark, but the nebula’s still showing well as non-stellar, as you would expect, but the field’s so dark that it’s almost impossible to focus on the nebula. The best view was with the O-III in the 14mm, but it’s an intriguing object in any and all of the views I’ve had of it tonight.

My main goal accomplished, I had about twenty-five minutes before Moonrise. My bonus target for the night was in an easy-to-find area, so it was off to a spot a few degrees farther north.

10:48
IC 4776 (Sgr):
After IC 1297, this is the considerably more difficult to identify IC 4776 in Sagittarius, a couple of degrees SF M70 in the middle of the bottom of the Teapot. We’ve got moonrise coming up in about 15 minutes so I want to make sure I get this guy done. In the 14mm at 112x, this tiny planetary is damn-near stellar, and there’s no real way to discern it from any star in the crowded; it looks for all the world to be a 10.5-magnitude star, one which required careful starhopping to identify as something other. It has a 13th-magnitude star due S of it by 0.75’; due P the nebula by 5’ is a 12th-magnitude star that has an 11th-magnitude star due P it by 1’. [The seeing has just gone to complete crap.] P very very slightly S of the nebula by 13’ is the brightest star in the field, which is 7.5 magnitude and has F very slightly N of it by 0.75’ a 10th-magnitude star; P very very slightly N of the nebula by 7.75’ is a 9.5-magnitude star with a 9.5-magnitude star P very slightly N of it by 4’, and that star is the right-angle vertex of a right triangle containing the previous star and a third star, of 10th magnitude, which is S slightly P the right-angle vertex by 2’ and which has an 11.5-magnitude star 1’ SF. The nebula also has a 9.5-magnitude star due NF by 8’. I’m going to throw the UHC in here; I used it to blink the nebula earlier to make sure that I had the right ID for it, because it was quite difficult to pull out of the field unaided. The UHC doesn’t do much to actually improve the view but it definitely indicates that that is the nebula. There’s no real halo or anything else that’s distinctive, but it is considerably bright and might be a couple of arcseconds across, as opposed to being stellar. It’s still definitely non-stellar with the O-III in, just a tiny, tiny disk, like a very small Neptune. Let’s try the 7mm Nagler; it’s a nice distinctive field; at least I don’t have to worry too much about being able to find the nebula in it. This is one of those objects I don’t think anybody would ever really bother with if it wasn’t for the AL planetary program. The 7mm’s not improving it very much, although even with my glasses off I can see the rather extreme twinkling stars that low with the naked eye. At this magnification, with the UHC filter in there, I’m getting just another hint of non-stellarness, but it’s not really any better than it was in the lower power, in part because the seeing just isn’t supporting this kind of magnification. If I wasn’t pressed for time I would probably try the 10mm Delos here, but I don’t know that I’ve got the time. The nebula is distinctly nonstellar with the O-III, but again just like a mini-Neptune, with a tiny, tiny disk, as opposed to showing any kind of outer halo or anything to further distinguish it.

Optical migraine already a faded memory, and beaming with success at having cleared two of the most-southern planetaries from my list of quarry, I was able to tear down the scope with no regrets as Moon glow began to wash out the eastern sky.

II.
A work week later, the forecast lured me out again. This time, I was the sole participant until night was well underway and Frank arrived, binoscope in tow. The conditions weren’t A+, but they were more than adequate for the task at hand.

Specifically, the task tonight involved a whole bunch of miniscule, star-like planetary nebulae, the kind I used to avoid. I’d actually come to enjoy tracking down these “micro-nebulae” during the course of the Astronomical League’s Planetary Nebula program, having regained the requisite patience and my enjoyment of the “hunt” needed to pluck these tiny targets from crowded, imposter-filled starfields.

But an outside factor complicated matters. I had just taken a job at the Census Bureau, and though work hadn’t started yet, I had job training coming up on the following Monday, followed by a week in Washington state for Mrs. Caveman’s vacation (and courtesy of Loren, whose home there would be our vacation base so that we could avoid other people—a necessity during the pandemic). I had spent considerable time checking out potential observing sites in west-central Washington so as not to waste a week of potentially clear, Moon-deficient skies, but still needed to make the most of the remaining days in Eugene before a full-time work schedule once again factored into the equation.

These factors were both well in mind as I set to work with Bob the Dob beneath the rapidly-darkening skies over The Oxbow. The evening started with a shadow transit well underway on Jupiter, directly beneath the Great Red Spot. The awesome arch of the summer Milky Way soon took precedence, though, with its countless stars to sift through for quarry.

08/14-08/15/20 
THE OXBOW
SUNSET: 8:17 PM
MOON: 25 days (set at 5:18 PM; 23% illuminated)
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 6
SQM: 21.64
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to low 70s; no dew; significant breeze; quite warm (just one jacket)
OTHERS PRESENT: FS (later)

All observations: 12.5f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (225x, 0.36˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

10:02
NGC 6620 (Sgr):
On what’s probably going to be a night of “deep hunting,” we’re starting off with NGC 6620 in Sagittarius, in one of those areas where I’m either craning my neck down to look at it or I’ll have to be sitting cross-legged on the ground on a cushion in order to see into the eyepiece. This nebula couldn’t get more stellar [a really bright satellite cuts through the field], as if that’s a quantifiable thing. How did the Herschels (among others) find these damn things in a crowded field with no filters? Every so often when the seeing steadies down, NGC 6620 does kinda present a little bit… there’s something odd about it as a star; it may have just an absolutely micro-sized disk to it, a couple of arcseconds’ diameter at best. It’s in a very active field; I had to use a UHC filter flicker in order to discern which was the nebula, although I had a photograph to use as a guide (it didn’t even show up well on the POSS plate). SF the nebula by just about 1’ is a 10.5-magnitude star. There’s an 11.5-magnitude star P very very slightly S of the nebula by about 2’, and then P very very slightly S of that star by 3.67’ is a 10th-magnitude star with a 12th-magnitude star NF it by 0.3’; 4’ S of that pair, (which would make it P somewhat S of NGC 6620 by 8’) is the F of a pair of 8.5-magnitude stars; the second of the pair is P by 1’, and those two form the bottom edge of a trapezoid: from the more F of the pair N very very slightly F by 1.67’ is an 11th-magnitude star; there’s a 12th-magnitude star 0.75’ N very very slightly P of the P of the pair, and so those and the 8.5-magnitude pair form (kind of) an extended house-shaped asterism with the two 8.5s at the base and the closer pair, the 10th and 12th-mag stars, at the top.  F somewhat N of the nebula by 5.5’ is a 9.5-magnitude star.

I already used the UHC to blink the filter, so I’m going to use the O-III in the eyepiece here. With the O-III in the 14mm, the nebula’s quite a bit brighter than the 10.5-magnitude star 1’ SF, but it’s lost that extra little characteristic that made it stand out a bit in the field as being something odd, although it has definitely had a major contrast increase. Good seeing is really hard to come by down here… with the 7mm, there’s definitely that sense that it’s an out of focus star compared to the rest of the field, especially the star to the SF; it definitely seems as if… there’s not necessarily a central star, but there definitely seems something’s not quite right with this particular “star”; it’s definitely out of focus compared to the rest of the field. I’ll probably need better conditions to look at it with the 20-inch. With the UHC added to the 7mm Nagler… once again, the filter almost eliminates the non-stellar appearance to the nebula but just brightens the view that much. Every rare now and then, when seeing steadies down perfectly, there’s an impression of non-stellarness but it’s not overly convincing. Strange that the object seems more stellar with the filters… or, at least, less non-stellar.

Frank arrived in his VW bus, cheerful as ever at having a break from being on-call 24/7. The wind—having already made its presence felt—fully arrived as well, blowing my scope off-target in the middle of my second entry of the night:

10:33
IC 4670 (Sgr): This little bugger is extremely difficult! The nebula is a dim stellar point that serves as the N-most vertex of a diamond, and it has 2’ P slightly N of it a 10.5-magnitude star and F it by 0.67’ a 13.5-magnitude star. SF the nebula by 5’ is a double, probably an actual double; the more N is considerably brighter at magnitude 10.5, with the secondary 12th magnitude; these are separated by 8”. That double is the F-most vertex of the diamond; from that pair SP by 5.75’ is an 11th-magnitude star, and from that star NP by 5.5’ is a star of 11.5 mag. It also has, due P the previous double, another pair, oriented NP-SF, with the NP star the brighter at 12th-magnitude and the SF star at 12.5, and these are separated by 0.3’. The nebula, the first pair/double [the 10.5 and 12th], the 11th-magnitude star SP the double, and the 11.5-mag star make up the diamond; the last, fainter pair are actually inside the diamond. The nebula is even more stellar (if possible) than 6620; this one HAD to have blinking to identify it. I used the O-III to blink; let’s use the UHC now to observe. With the UHC, the nebula has brightened to about 10.5 magnitude; it’s about as bright as the P-most vertex of the diamond. It’s still not displaying any non-stellar character; if there’s a central star, it’s blotting out any nebulosity that might be visible. With the O-III, I’m using a pattern that includes the brightest star in the field (which is just on the F somewhat S edge of the field); that star is 7th magnitude. With the O-III, the nebula is unmistakable; the stars in the diamond and the nebula are all about the same magnitude. The stars in the middle of the diamond, the faint pair, have dimmed almost to beyond splittability. With the 7mm… I used the photograph again (I had to save it ahead of time due to having no internet at the Oxbow) but it was only a little bit of help; the red plate isn’t a great visual representation, and the blue plates have been offline a lot lately. Seeing with the 7mm… the double in the F edge of the diamond is barely resolvable, so seeing is pretty shit. Transparency is also disappointing; it was supposed to be excellent. With the UHC in the 7mm, the nebula’s considerably brighter, but it doesn’t give up much detail; it may have a very slight bit more lack of focus than the field stars, but not much, and no indication of fuzziness. With the O-III… the filter darkens the field to an unbelievable degree.  I don’t know that the O-III adds anything at all to the view beyond a touch of contrast.

There are only two real drawbacks to observing at The Oxbow (beyond the difficulty of the twisting, turning road needed to get there): the mountains blocking the southern horizon up to about 10˚, and the occasional passing vehicle, headlights ablaze. Tonight, the road seemed busier than usual, with multiple trucks passing through. Fortunately, it was possible for even a half-deaf caveman to hear them coming even before their headlights became an issue, but they were still a nuisance for those trying to avoid white light of any sort or duration. Two such menaces interrupted my next observation, requiring me to shield my eyes with one arm while holding the scope against the wind with the other.

11:18
NGC 6567 
(Sgr): On to one that’s a little more substantial; this one is NGC 6567 in Sagittarius, almost stellar but not-quite [missed a really bright Perseid!!] in the 14mm. This one was also a bugger to find because it’s on the leading edge, the P edge, of the Small Sagittarius Star Cloud, so it’s a very populous field. Even though I could see it as non-stellar, it’s definitely necessary to flicker it with the O-III; doing so confirmed its identity for certain. The nebula is elongated a little bit P very very slightly N-F very very slightly S, perhaps 6” x 4”. This is one of those tiny planetaries where there could be a central star visible, or it’s just a bright nebula with no central star; it’s hard to tell. NGC 6567 is the S-most vertex of a small scalene triangle, with a 10.5-magnitude star N very very slightly P and another 10.5 F somewhat N; the first of these lies 1.67’ from the nebula and the second 2.25’ F somewhat N the nebula; there also happens to be a 13th-magnitude star about 1’ NF the nebula. N very slightly F the nebula by 5.3’ is a 9th-magnitude star; 3’ due F the nebula, maybe very very slightly N, is a double or pair, with the brighter S very very slightly F the fainter by 10”, and those are 11th and 12th magnitudes. N very very slightly P the nebula by 15’ is the N-most and brightest in a tiny triangle; that star is 8.5-mag and has SF it by 10” a 10th-magnitude star, and there’s a 10.5-magnitude star SP the brightest of the three by 0.3’. That triangle happens to be the NF corner of an arc that bends P slightly S and then S very very slightly P from there; counting the triangle as one, there’s two other stars in the arc; then PvsN of the triangle by 3’ is the NF end of a long arc that bends the opposite direction of the previous arc, and this second arc is no less than 18’ long and bends P very very slightly S for two stars from the N end and then due P from there the rest of the way; the two arcs would converge at an 8th-magnitude star that’s 3.3’ N slightly F the brightest star in the tiny triangle. Back to the nebula, using the UHC: the nebula’s much the brightest vertex of the triangle it’s a part of; as with the previous nebula [IC 4670], it appears brighter but less nebulous with the UHC filter in. It’s now nearly the equal to the star 5.3’ N very slightly F. With the O-III, we definitely regain the sense [that wasn’t there in the UHC] that the nebula’s non-stellar. In the 7mm, with the extra magnification, just outside the F edge of the nebula by a couple arcseconds, there’s a star that wasn’t distinguishable in the 14mm—and maybe one just NP as well, with the nebula in the middle of them. Didn’t notice these at the lower magnification. With the O-III added to the Nagler, the nebula’s definitely the brightest thing in the triangle, even brighter than the star 5.3’ N very slightly F. I think a central star is visible there, with a little nebulosity around it. The two stars on the nebula’s edges disappear in the O-III. In the UHC, that impression of central star + nebulosity is still there, so it might be real; this may be the best view (the two other stars are still visible too.).

Soon enough, I was down to the last “must get” object on my list. I had a number of other potential targets that I could get to, but this was summer’s last hurrah, and I decided instead to take some time observing the warm season’s more-showpiece sights, rather than trying to cram a bunch of other… more subtle objects into the night’s agenda.

11:59
IC 4732 (Sgr):
This is the last one I “have to” get for tonight in Sagittarius, IC 4732, yet another of the very stellar-looking planetaries. This one is not far N of NGC 6642, a globular cluster which is itself very near M22, and this planetary also lies almost due N of the F end of a long, not-quite integral sign-looking curve of stars that’s about 14’ long, and the F end lies about 9’ S of the nebula; the two brightest stars in that curve are on the two ends. There are about 15 visible stars and a lot of unresolved background glow, but this does not register is a cluster on the TriAtlas; it would certainly be noted if it was. The nebula itself is very stellar; in averted vision, it seems to have just a slight bit of non-stellar character to it. 2.5’ P the nebula is a 10th-magnitude star; P very very slightly N of the nebula by 8’ is an 8.5-magnitude star that has a couple of faint stars immediately S and NP it. SP the nebula by 14’ is another star of 8.5 magnitude. I know there’s another planetary in the field based on the TriAtlas chart—that’s Perek 1-13—I’m gonna look for it, but I see nothing at the position without a filter in the 14mm. Let’s try it with the UHC… IC 4732 is definitely brighter, but it also has that weird loss-of-nebula-character to it that I’ve been noticing with these tiny ones. With the O-III, the nebula is brighter than the star due P it; it may have gained a tiny bit of non-stellarness but not much. (Meanwhile, a bunch of things popped in to view over in the vicinity of Perek 1-13, so I’m gonna check this out without the filter and see if anybody shows up in the right position…) With the O-III there’s too much reflection from the filter, so we’ll use the 7mm instead. I have to say I’m pretty pleased to have found this nebula—it’s definitely not the easiest of the planetaries I’ve dug out; in fact, I’d say it’s one of the more difficult simply because there’s not much in the way of non-stellarness (non-stellarity?). Even with the 7mm, there’s just not much difference between the nebula and a typical star…. certainly not in this seeing. Again, the UHC gives just a tiny hint that this is not a stellar object in the 7mm, but I’m stumped on Perek 1-13. A string of stars, a very flattened ‘V’, runs F IC 4732, and this string bends N a little bit and then back S in the middle; there are four stars on the P branch and just a couple of faint ones on the F branch; just S of the F end of that ‘V’, every now and then, there’s a little tiny bit of something that might be visible: just a speck, more stellar than stellar. [Poetics? In my deep-sky observing?] Of that ‘V’, just F very very slightly S of the joint star, is the brightest of those stars; counting the joint star, there’s four on the other branch—actually five, with the very F end of it being a close pair. Just S of that F end are a couple of N-S separated stars that are quite dim, but one of those might be Perek 1-13. I’m not sure; the UHC filter is not really doing anything to help. At least I got a good look at IC 4732.

Although disappointed not to also spot Perek 1-13—despite not really having planned to observe it originally—I was pleased to have observed the four tough targets I’d managed, which were all the ones I’d actually had on my agenda. I spent another hour or so checking in on some of the familiar, showy standbys before breaking the scope down and heading out for the long, tricky drive home.

III.
My next trip out was a departure from my usual modus operandi. With Mrs. Caveman already on the road to Washington, and the Caveman-Mobile in the shop for one of its latest issues, I borrowed vehicle space from Loren for another Oxbow excursion.

Bob the Dob—and most of my other gear—had gone in the car with Mrs. Caveman, in anticipation of potential vacation observing. With plans still underway to write a book about observing the Herschel 400 across multiple common telescope apertures, I took the 70mm Pronto with me to push it to the limits. Jay Reynolds Freeman had observed the entire Herschel 400 with a 55mm refractor (“Refractor Red”) a number of years ago; my attempt with the Pronto would be as much a test of my eyes and ability as of the keen TeleVue optics.

I started with that most difficult of H400 objects, the spiral galaxy NGC 6118 in Serpens Cauda, and, having successfully observed it, moved on to less-demanding targets: the summer globulars M107 and NGCs 6426, 6517, 6712, and 6934; open clusters NGC 6664 and 6755; the Saturn Nebula (NGC 7009), difficult simply because of its small size, but not toodifficult; and the bright spiral galaxy NGC 488 in Pisces. I could probably have observed a much greater number of objects, but I also spent a significant amount of the evening sweeping through the Milky Way, awed by the starry vistas the huge field of view of the Pronto provided.

08/15-08/16/20 
THE OXBOW
SUNSET: 8:16 PM
MOON: 26 days (rose at 3:14 AM; 7% illuminated)
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.3
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in 60s; cool breeze (day was over 100˚ F); considerable haze & smoke within 15˚ of horizons
OTHERS PRESENT: LR, FS

All observations: 70mm f/6.8 TeleVue Pronto, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (34x, 2.4˚ TFOV) and 7mm Nagler (69x, 1.1˚ TFOV)

IV.
We returned to Eugene the Saturday afternoon before my Monday census-training call. Having been skunked on the trip—the only clear night I had was early in the week, when we went scouting observing sites—I was too eager to get some starlight time in to worry about having been on the road since early morning. When others in EAS suggested a trip to Linslaw that night, there was no question of going… only in how long I could make it. And after unloading the car and depositing all my observing gear in the Caveman-Mobile, it was off to familiar territory. Having been unable to observe in Washington, I didn’t even have to create a new observing agenda for the evening.

I expected a battle with the scope regarding collimation, given that it had bounced around in the back of Cheryl’s car a few days. Surprisingly, it had maintained collimation pretty well, despite the indignity, and went together quickly. And as the sky turned dark, I nudged the scope over to a familiar object, one of the first non-Messier objects I had seen, “discovered” by me long ago on a Cincinnati sidewalk with my 8” Celestron Super Polaris SCT and new Lumicon UHC filter… the exact same filter I would use on it tonight, more than half a continent away.

08/22-23/20 
LINSLAW POINT
SUNSET: 8:03 PM
MOON: 5 days (set at 10:54 PM; 27% illuminated)
SEEING: 7-5
TRANSPARENCY: 8
SQM: 21.53-21.63
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS:temps to upper 50s; no dew; mild breeze, pleasant
OTHERS PRESENT: DB, AF, MW

All observations: 12.5f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (225x, 0.36˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

10:27
IC 1295 (Sct):
This is very likely the only easy one of the night, IC 1295 in Scutum, and it is pretty easily visible with no filter, 21’ F very slightly S of NGC 6712. It’s in a wonderful Scutum Star Cloud field. The nebula’s about 1.67’ x 1.3’ and elongated mostly P-F; there’s no color, no sense of annularity– in fact it rather seems a little brighter toward the center, but it also has what might be a number of very faint stars, visible within it toward the center. The edges of the nebula are very diffuse and poorly defined, especially the F edge [there goes a bright satellite through the field].  The nebula as a whole seems to be brighter on the P side, especially along the SP quadrant. The nebula is embedded within a triangle of 13th- and 14th-magnitude stars; on the P very very slightly S edge is a 13th-magnitude star which has due P it by 0.67’ an 11th-magnitude star. S of the nebula, about 1.67’ from the middle of the nebula, is a 12th-magnitude star. Just a little bit outside of the halo, so 1.5’ F the center of the nebula, is another 13th-magnitude star. F very slightly N of the nebula by 7.5’ is an 8.5-magnitude star, and then F that star by 12’ is a 7.5-magnitude star. Due S of the nebula by 6.5’ is the middle star of a line of three that runs SP-NF; that middle star is 10th magnitude and has NF it by 0.3’ an 11th-magnitude star, and there’s another 11th-magnitude star SP the 10th-magnitude star by 1’.

The UHC really pops the nebula into view. [This is how I first saw it all those years ago when I was still learning how to observe with my 8” SCT on my driveway in Cincinnati.] Again, the impression that the SP and along the S edge of the rim are brighter is definitely upheld here, although I still don’t know that I would call this annular. Every now and then in averted vision there may be some annularity detectable, but it’s not easy; it’s not like any of the larger distinctly-annular planetaries. Yeah, I think I’m getting the sense of that with the UHC. With the O-III, the nebula is much more contrasty and the annularity is much better suspected; it’s still not easy, but definitely more notable. The S edge of the nebula, basically all along the S half except for the extreme SF, is much more strongly illuminated. There seems to be a kind of faint projection of diffuse matter up toward the NP that sticks out a couple of arcseconds from the edge. With the O-III, the nebula and the globular are now roughly the same brightness, although the globular’s a bit larger. With the 7mm Nagler, [couldn’t get the filter out!], there seems to be, toward the P edge of the nebula but still inside the halo, an impression of a couple of faint individual stars, particularly one SvvsP inside the nebula… so those two on the P edge are due F and very very slightly N (respectively) of the 13th-magnitude star on the P edge. (The 7mm really crushes the globular!) With the 7mm and the UHC, the stars within the nebula have disappeared, but the annular impression I had at low power isn’t any better with the 7mm, even though I thought it would be (at least with the UHC). The F edge is just not distinct or well-defined at all in any combination of eyepiece or filters. With the O-III (which tends to be too dark in the 7mm), it’s definitely still bright, just an impressive planetary, still with just an unconfirmed hint of annularity which is better in averted vision than in direct; the interior texture is more convoluted and interesting with the filter and averted vision.

I don’t recall what started it, but at this point, Dan, Alesha, and I began discussing science fiction and/or Star Trek; I waxed rhapsodic about “The Doomsday Machine,” my favorite episode of the entire franchise, and its eccentric-but-brilliant author, Norman Spinrad, who also wrote my all-time favorite novel, Child of Fortune. Eventually, matters returned to astronomical topics, and I mentioned that the SQM reading I had just gotten—21.64—was merely “pretty good.” It was surely a sign of being spoiled by the local conditions that a 21.64 could be described as anything but phenomenally good—which it was, in modern America (or Europe, or Japan, or anywhere in the first world). The seeing was quite good (at the moment) as well.

Tonight’s agenda was much more varied than the last time I worked on planetary nebulae, and the next several targets were of the nearly-stellar variety.

11:13
IC 4846 (Aql): From a bright one to a tough one. This one is not hard to starhop to, but there’s no way I would’ve been able to really pick it out from the field stars here in the head of Aquila. I found it with certainty by blinking with the O-III, but the field itself is not super hard, using Sky Safari to get to. The nebula is absolutely stellar: no central star, no nothing to distinguish it from a star. It has 2.75’ due S of it a star of almost equal (11th) magnitude. Due SP it by 6’ is a star of 10.5 magnitude that has SF it by 0.5’ a 12th-magnitude star. Also SP the nebula, by 2.25’, is a 14th-magnitude star, and then F very very slightly S of the nebula by 3.5’ is an 11th-magnitude star with a 14th-magnitude star S very very slightly P it by 0.3’; SF the brighter star by 0.5’ is a 12.5-magnitude star… so that star F very very slightly S of the nebula is actually the N-most vertex of a very tiny triangle. The brightest star in the field is almost due N of the nebula, 22’ N (so actually just outside the field), and is 7.5 magnitude. Let’s try the UHC; I flickered the nebula with the O-III to find it, but we’ll see how big a difference the UHC makes. It’s a very tiny nebula with no nebulous features whatsoever without a filter. With the UHC, the nebula is already the brightest among the pair to the SP, the star to the due S, and the little triangle F very very slightly S; it’s considerably brighter than any of those, but not really any more non-stellar than any of them; it’s still very, very difficult to see it as a nebula. On to the O-III: it’s now the second-brightest object in the field after the bright star to the N—I’m really impressed with how much brighter the filter makes it; just a huge leap in brightness. Unfiltered in the 7mm: focus is still hard to quite get, but there is a tiny bit of non-stellarness to the nebula; it’s just a bit out of focus against the rest of the field. Maybe the central star is what’s mostly visible of the nebula, with a very thin rim around it. With the UHC, it’s perhaps 2-3” around?  It still would be hard to notice at first glance. With the O-III now: the impression of non-stellarness is much stronger again in the O-III; the nebula’s the brightest object in the field by a fair margin; it almost has a Neptune-like impression to it.

Conditions on the crag had gotten somewhat damp; this was unusual for Linslaw. And I was a bit unfocused—not surprising given the whole day’s travel that I had put in, and the rush to get the scope from the car to the van. Under standard possibility, I would’ve grabbed an hour’s sleep before heading out. I was starting to realize how much of an effect not getting that sleep could have.

11:44
NGC 6741 (Aql): Among the objects with popular names in the sky, this nebula deserves a name the least: NGC 6741, the so-called Phantom Streak (it’s not even an appropriate name, really). Jerry showed me this nondescript little nebula two years ago after I had spent some considerable time trying to track it down, not realizing it was so stellar—why would it have a popular name if it didn’t get a lot of eyes on it?  The nebula’s visible in the 14mm as the brighter of a pair with a 12.5-magnitude star about 0.5’ N very slightly P it. The nebula can and does give glimpses of being non-stellar, but is very tiny nonetheless. It’s especially non-stellar in comparison with the 10.5-magnitude star 2.5 to the N. The field is easily identifiable by a pair of 8.5-mag stars, the P-most of which is slightly brighter than the F; those are separated pretty much P-F by 0.5’ and they lie about 16’ S of the nebula; the one to the P is also a very very very slight bit N of the other; from the P-most N slightly P by 9’ is an 11th-mag star; there’s a 10th-magnitude star N slightly F the more F of the pair by 8’; the 10th- and 11th-magnitude stars are separated by 8’, with the 11th P very very slightly N of the 10th. With the UHC the nebula definitely jumps out; it’s still somewhat non-stellar, just barely, maybe no more than 2-3”. With the 14mm and the O-III, the nebula’s as bright as the two 8th-magnitude stars S of it; it still has just a very very small disk to it, just that little bit out-of-focus from the rest of the stars in the field. Almost has an extremely faint light blue color with the filter that no doubt is not a real thing, just an impression of a very pale light blue. With the 7mm, there’s also a difficult star, quite faint, due P the nebula by less than 0.25’. (The seeing has gotten worse, making the nebula more difficult to focus on.) Extra magnification definitely makes it non-stellar, a tiny disk and not a streak by any stretch, so the nickname sucks. Adding the UHC… there’s still no fringe or anything but a tiny disk, no more than 4-5” across, even in averted vision. The O-III adds little but contrast at this magnification.

My energy was really starting to flag at this point. I sat in the van for a few moments, getting out of the damp, chilly air and hitting the thermos of tea I always brought (a mix of Earl Grey and “Morning Thunder,” which I suspect was highly caffeinated). I suspected dew on the secondary as well, although I didn’t see any signs of it when I stuck a red flashlight under the (new) shroud. So I pressed on, not wanting to call it a night so early.

12:11
NGC 6790 (Aql): Sticking to Aquila, King of the Planetaries, for NGC 6790, which like 6741 is part of a seeming double… in this case, with a 13th-magnitude star P very very slightly N of the nebula by 0.5’. Also in the vicinity are an 11.5-magnitude star due S of the nebula by 2.5’ and a 10th-magnitude star P very slightly S of the nebula by 5.5’; 2.25’ P very slightly S of the nebula (so between the nebula and the 10th-magnitude star) is a 12.5-magnitude star. NP the nebula by 9’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; there’s a 10.5-magnitude star NF the nebula by 7’. This nebula is barely non-stellar in the 14mm. It’s even barely above stellar with the UHC; it’s considerably brighter than it was, but it’s still just very slightly non-stellar.  There’s a little ‘M’ asterism N very slightly F the nebula that’s very useful for tracking the nebula down. In with the O-III… wow, I actually got a snap to focus. The nebula’s quite bright now, the brightest object in the field. Almost still perfectly stellar, so a tiny one, maybe only 4” across at best. No details again; these are all just completely detail-less objects. It may just be a central star with a barely perceptibly-small envelope around it. Even the 7mm doesn’t bring it much above stellar. This is a weird one because you can kind of get it focused pretty well, which tells me that the central star is quite prominent and the nebulous material around it is very very much less so. With the UHC in the 7mm, there’s a little tiny shell there but no halo or anything; just a few arcseconds, probably only 4” or so. With the O-III: getting a good, clean focus, point-like focus, so I continue to suspect a bright central star with a tiny envelope.

As always with showpiece objects, I dreaded taking notes. But this one was nearing the meridian, and the time was right to document it.

12:50
NGC 7293 (Aqr): From chasing down tiny stellar planetaries to the big daddy of them all [apologies to Keith Jackson]. I’m going to take notes on the Helix Nebula for the first time out of the many, many times I’ve observed it. The nebula is every bit as huge and diffuse as its reputation; I’ve always found it brighter than the literature claims, and tonight is no exception to this. With the 14mm and no filter, the annularity is obvious; the center is not dark,
per se, but it is noticeably somewhat dimmer. The nebula’s elongated NP-SF; it’s about 15’ x 11’, maybe 16’ with the extensions (where the bullet enters and comes out, as in the famous Doc Edgerton photo of the apple being shot). It’s quite diffuse but clearly well defined, though. The outer ring seems to be about 2.0-2.25’ thick. There are a number of embedded stars in it, including a central star that looks to be 13.5-magnitude but is almost certainly brighter than that, given that it’s shining through the nebulous haze. F slightly S of the central star by 2’ is a 13th-magnitude star; F very slightly S that second star by 3’, embedded in the ring, is a 14.5-magnitude star. From the central star N very slightly P by 4’ is a 12th-magnitude star. There’s an 11.5-magnitude star P very slightly S of the central star by 2.75’,, and that is the F-most vertex of a small triangle which includes a 12.5-magnitude star P very slightly N of it by 1.5’; from that second star N very slightly P by 1’ is one of 14th magnitude. There’s another 14th-magnitude star N very slightly P of the previous 14th-magnitude star by 1.5’. From the central star NP by 8’ is a 10th-magnitude star that lies in the NP edge of the N extension of the nebula; that star has SP it by 3.67’ an 11th-magnitude star which itself has NP it by 0.67’ a 14th-magnitude star; that pair lies just outside the S end of the NP extension. from the central star due SP by 10’ is a 10.5-magnitude star, and from the central star S very very slightly P by 7.5’ is the more N of a pair of 11/11.5-magnitude stars, with the brighter NP the fainter by 0.3’, and from the fainter of those two S very very slightly F by 1.75’ is a 12.5-magnitude star.

With the UHC, I don’t even have it focused yet and it’s impressive… wow… yeah, with just the UHC that’s a stunner! The central region, the opening/annulus, is no less than 5.5’ across. The NF and SP edges are the brightest around the perimeter. A really impressive view! The extensions are not as apparent as I expected them to be with the UHC; they were detectable and not super difficult without the filter. There’s a hint of the overlapping ring structure with the UHC in it. Those areas to the NF and SP, the ones that I mentioned were brighter, are where the two rings kind of overlap. The O-III actually brings out the extensions a little more. The interior of the annulus is a little bit less distinct than with the UHC, probably because the filter’s adding more contrast to the entire nebula [?]. The central star’s disappeared. But those two brighter regions along the rim, especially the one to the NF, are considerably brighter than the rest. The rim is weakest along where the extensions are, giving credence to the comparison to the blown-out apple shape from the Edgerton photo.

The 7mm is probably too much magnification, but… the extensions are really noticeable. The whole nebula is so freaking big that, as expected, it loses its character. This may be the one planetary I’ll have to lower the magnification on. Let’s try the UHC and see if it’s any help whatsoever; 14mm might be the ceiling anyway for the Helix here, in terms of magnification; the 7mm kind of wrecks everything in terms of magnification, so I’ll have to try something in–between, something like the 10mm Delos… the Delos just crushes this, like it does everything else. It’s interesting that the more magnification I use, the less that central hole really shows up—even in averted, it’s not as plain as it would be with the 14mm (obviously a function of contrast, although sky quality may have lessened too). With the O-III in the Delos… that’s just sick! The central hole is almost C-shaped, with the opening toward the NP; it’s certainly darker in that shape than just being round, almost like the annulus doesn’t touch the outer edge anywhere… but if it did, it would be on that side, like it’s offset and “shaggier” at the NP end. The ring is definitely more substantial along the N from the NP to the SP edge down to the S edge [?] and more broken on the ends. On the NP end, the extension seems a little better defined; it’s much fainter on SF edge. I think the UHC may give a better view here. With the UHC, the view is more pleasing aesthetically. There’s definitely a shagginess to the outside of the rim; it isn’t smooth at all. [My first, geekiest comparison is to the Romulan energy bolts from the unremastered episode “Balance of Terror.”] The extensions are much fainter in the UHC, but the cutoff of the rim in the areas where the nebula extends outward is pretty obvious; it’s very diffuse along there.

Using the 24mm SWA [!], interestingly, with no filter, I get the best sense of annularity of all the views; the central hole stands out more; it becomes more apparent at less magnification. OH, WOW! The UHC/24mm combination just emphasizes the bright sections of the rim, especially to the NF—that’s excellent! The central star is, of course, completely invisible now, but this may be the best view of all of them. The SF extension is quite difficult, however. With the O-III… OH, YEAH x2! This is definitely the best view of all eyepiece/filter combinations here. The edges are just so diffuse/diaphanous, with the outer halo not super extended, but the perimeter outside the super-bright rim is spectacular; it’s very fuzzy or ragged. The extensions are even more obvious in this magnification with the O-III filter. An incredible object!

After the Helix, everything else would be anticlimactic. So I went directly back to the stellar-type planetaries, finding one that was still in relatively-good position to observe. I was feeling somewhat done with filter-swapping, though, as I ended up losing the next object partway through the observation while switching eyepieces and filters out; it took several moments of eyepiece-switching and cursing to get the nebula back in the field. The possibilities offered by an Astrocrumb filter slide ran through my head (and continue to). I also was intrigued by the current Mars apparition, which was unusual in itself.

2:02
IC 4997 (Sge): After the showpiece of the month so far, it’s back to the little stellar guys… this one is IC 4997 in Sagitta, where I may be operating for what’s left of the evening. This one is the NvsF vertex of an isosceles triangle, and at this magnification [112x], the nebula’s as stellar as a nebula can be. Blinking with the O-III provides 100% definitive proof that this is the correct object because the thing just “flared up” like nobody’s business with the O-III. The nebula has 1’ SP it a 10th-magnitude star which itself has 1’ P very very slightly N of it a 12th- magnitude star. From the nebula S somewhat F by 12’ is a 9th-magnitude star that’s the NF vertex of a long, skinny trapezoid, with a 10.5-magnitude star S very slightly P it by 3’; that star has 1’ P it a 13.5-magnitude star, and that star has NP it by 2.67’ an 11th-magnitude star that has NP it by 9” a 13th-magnitude star. Of the nebula itself, this one doesn’t even look like it’s nebulous at all; it’s an absolutely stellar point, to the extent that it’s amazing anyone even identified it to be non-stellar at all. I know that the late IC objects were probably photographically discovered, but this is still barely, barely out of focus with the rest of the field. With the UHC, the nebula becomes by far the brightest in that little tiny triangle (with the 10th- and 12th-magnitude stars), and one of the brightest objects in the field; it does not show any non-stellarness, though it could just be a bare central star for all of that matters. With the O-III, the nebula’s considerably brighter than anything else in the field; that star to the SF is a little bit less bright than the nebula. There may be a tiny disk to the nebula, seen only in moments of sharper seeing; if there is, it’s no more than 2-3”–the thing is tiny, tiny, tiny. In the 7mm, it’s still almost indistinguishable from a star, maybe just barely identifiable. Adding the O-III to the 7mm: the nebula is distinctly non-stellar looking; again, just that tiny, tiny disk. It doesn’t come to a starry point of focus, but there’s no fringe or halo or anything to distinguish it from a field star. Interestingly, the UHC may give the best impression that this isn’t a stellar object; it has an ever-so-slight edge over the O-III in that regard.

With observing time running out, I turned (as usual) to some of the currently-rising showpieces. At this time of night at this time of year, that meant objects in Perseus and Andromeda, including an old favorite: the edge-on spiral NGC 891 and the nearby galaxy cluster Abell 347. I’d intended to end the night with these, but something in my Australopithecene brain dug out one more object that lay near the giant spiral and I swung the scope over toward the open cluster M 34 for one last planetary.

2:56
Abell 4 (Per): Realizing that Abell 4 was not far from NGC 891 (which I’d just looked at), I decided to go for it, and have been rewarded for the attempt. The nebula’s not really visible in direct vision at all without the filter, even in the 14 mm; however, in averted vision, it’s occasionally slightly visible: about 1’ S somewhat F a 10.5-magnitude star; that 10.5-magnitude star is in the middle of an arc of three with an 8th-magnitude star 2’ due F it and a 13th-magnitude star 1.67’ P slightly S of the 10.5-magnitude star; the nebula is N of that line. The 8th-magnitude star and the 10.5-magnitude star conspire to make the nebula very difficult, but it can be picked up in averted vision as a small, suspicious, indistinct glow. S very slightly F the 8th-magnitude star by 13’ is another tiny line of three running P-F, with the brightest star in the middle; that star is 11th-magnitude, and it has a 12.5-magnitude star 0.3’ P and a 13th-magnitude star 0.5’ due F. I’d verified the nebula with the O-III (in fact, I’d verified it to the point that I was then able to actually see it without the filter; the filter was necessary at first), but with the UHC in the 14mm, the nebula is visible, and can almost be held with direct vision. Averted vision does a much better job. There’s no central star visible; with the UHC there’s not much detail at all, but the nebula looks to be about 0.25’, maybe 0.3’. With the O-III, it’s obviously better than in the UHC; again, there’s no central star, and it’s just a little tiny bit larger than 0.25’. After seeing it with the O-III in the 14mm, it’s a lot easier to find. With the 7mm unfiltered, there’s something there, most distinctly, but there’s a battle to pick out what it is. With the O-III in the 7mm, it’s steadily visible in direct vision; the field is very, very dark, but the nebula is most assuredly there. It seems to be a little bit brighter on the N edge. There’s otherwise very little detail to describe, other than the fact there’s no central star. It’s not a threshold level object by any means, but it is difficult to pin down, even though it is visible in direct vision. This one of the smaller Abell planetaries I’ve picked up, like Abell 12 [?] next to Mu Orionis. With the UHC, it’s not a total substitute for the O-III, but it does pretty well; the nebula’s a fair bit harder but still definitely there. At moments of sharper seeing I get a sense that there’s a brighter striation across it from SP to NF, but this is very fleeting.
Abell 4 wasn’t even on the AL program list (and not even on the alternate list); I knew that going in, but it was still satisfying to have recorded notes on this difficult target.

It was also a good note on which to end August’s observing. Given that I started at the census a day later, and the Moon was already an issue for deep-sky observing, there would be no further observing until mid-September at the earliest.

V.
It wasn’t my job that wiped out the month of September observing-wise, it was the fires.

Because it was September that saw much of western Oregon burn. From McKenzie Bridge (where we had observed a few summers before) to mere miles from Springfield proper, and all around the Willamette Valley, the forest fires of 2020 turned the skies and air at home, at work, and at every one of our observing sites into a vision of the Apocalypse.

At home, we gathered our survival gear and valuables together, ready to depart on a moment’s notice—to where, we weren’t quite sure. Most of the coast was going to be inundated with evacuees, and the COVID pandemic made the coastal towns problematic even aside from the fires. We talked about going south, to California—an out-of-the-frying-pan move if there ever was one—or east to Idaho or Montana. Every day required new information on escape routes as the fires neared Springfield, Eugene, and home.

IMG_0657

IMG_0660
Two smoke-filled views from home during September 2020. These were taken in mid-afternoon.

IMG_4692
Ash accumulations on the ground at the Census office in Springfield.

At work, air conditioning vents blew windborne ash from the outside air onto our desks. I had just started feeling comfortable back at an outside-the-home job when the morning commutes began resembling war zones. We ended up with a five-day weekend one week as the smoke in Springfield reached such hazardous levels that the regional office in Los Angeles told us to stop coming in until further notice.

I enjoyed the census work, and never felt that it would keep me from observing should the conditions ever return to normal. It was not until October arrived—and with it some cleansing autumn rains—that things indeed didreturn to a semblance of normalcy. At that point, we still didn’t know when the Census would be shut down by an administration all too eager to bury or distort our results. The family and I spent some of the smoke-drenched evenings volunteering with the Red Cross to provide meals for those who had evacuated from parts southeast to Eugene, all the while wondering if we would end the month in another town, having Red Cross services provided to us.

It was just after mid-month that conditions and Moon aligned to give the EAS tribe a brief opportunity to haul telescopes out for a look at the stars (and beyond). With reports that Eureka Ridge was temporarily open, we decided to pay the old place a visit one more time… ironically, just after the fires whose threat had gotten us booted from the land in the first place.

It turned out to be a very brief return.

10/16/20 
EUREKA RIDGE
SUNSET: 6:26 PM
MOON: New
SEEING: 5
TRANSPARENCY: 5
SQM: not checked (clouded over before could get to take measurement)
NELM: 5.8 (estimated)
WEATHER CONDITIONS: cool but not cold; no wind or breeze; some dew; traces of high cloud became 80% high cloud cover and ended session early
OTHERS PRESENT: JO, DB, AF, FS, LR, DR

All observations: 12.5f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (225x, 0.36˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

8:38
NGC 6886 (Sge):
This little nebula is the minute, absolutely tiny NGC 6886 in Sagitta. It marks the NP-most vertex of a nice little not-quite-right triangle, and lies in a busy Milky Way field. The nebula is just barely noticeable size-wise: maybe 2”, just non-stellar enough to be noticeable, but you’d never think to look for it; you’d just pass it right over without stopping and inspecting it. There’s no color, just a very indistinct edge or circumference to it. S very very slightly F the nebula by 0.75’ is an 11th-magnitude star; 1.5’ almost due F the nebula is a 10th-magnitude star; these are the other two vertices of the triangle. N very very slightly F the nebula by 6’ is the brighter of a pair or double, which is 10th-magnitude and has NP it by 0.3’ a 13.5-magnitude star. Almost due NP the nebula by 7’ is a 9th-magnitude star. 11’ P very slightly S of the nebula is a 9.5-magnitude star, and there’s a stream of stars N and very very slightly P that star that leads up to an 8.5-magnitude star that is 12’ N of the 9.5-mag star; so there’s a triangle of 9th-mag stars just starting NP the nebula and then that one NP the nebula is the F-most of the three vertices in the triangle of 9th-mag stars. With the UHC in, the nebula loses some of its non-stellar quality, but is brighter than the other two stars in that little tiny triangle. The nebula was identifiable without use the flicker method, but I did it anyway to be sure. With the O-III, the nebula’s by far the brightest of the three in the little triangle and is almost as bright as the 9th-mag stars in that bigger triangle; once everything is killed by the filter, the nebula remains; the other two in the little triangle are still visible but not anywhere close to being as bright as the nebula. With the 7mm, it’s harder to tell this is a nebula because the other stars are blurry as well, even at best focus; seeing varies moment by moment.  In steadier moments, the nebula looks to have a central star shining through the envelope? It’s hard to hold this impression steady, and the seeing isn’t supporting the observation consistently enough to call it certain.

And then the clouds took over and ended the night.

I managed one planetary nebula and several impressive Orionid meteors in the brief October evening, but it felt like a triumph anyway: the first observing night in two months, a return to a beloved observing spot, and the opportunity to relax with friends I hadn’t seen (for the most part) in several weeks.

The Census ended exactly a week later, and the rest of the year disappeared in a welter of clouds and winter rains.

Nights of Starlit Secrets

It’s been more than half a year since I updated this site; most of that time has seen us here in the Willamette Valley buried under an unrelenting cloud deck—if not actual rain—with little-to-no hope of observing. Since September, I’ve seen one clear, Moonless night; on that occasion, I went out to Linslaw but didn’t set up the club’s 20″ scope because the forecast was poor. Naturally, it turned out to be an exceptional night, and I ended up with nothing to show for it. (The company, however, was well worth it.)

This is the July portion of my remaining notes, transcribed during a stretch of low energy and enthusiasm for astronomy. Without observing regularly, I often find myself enjoying the break from telescope hauling and driving, and it can be tough to get back to it if I have a long layoff. I’d started working on these notes months ago, and it’s taken several months to plow through. There are numerous reasons for this, paramount among these the facts that I got sidetracked with outside stuff, and I spent three months working at the US Census (hooray, steady employment!). Now, at several months’ remove, it’s not always easy to remember events and observations well enough to create an accurate narrative of what transpired that clear, productive July of 2020.

I. Most memorable was the apparition of Comet NEOWISE, which dominated the sky throughout July. The comet was the most breathtaking I’d ever seen—including the apparitions of Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp in ’95-’96—and it had crept up on unsuspecting earthbounds almost overnight, taking over the evening sky with an unmistakeable coma and a massive silver-blue tail. In the nights before this, I’d sung the visitor’s praises to anyone who would listen, and the flurry of amateur photographs (including many from the amazing EAS astrophotography crew) were enough that it seemed everyone was interested in the comet. So much so that I managed to convince Mrs. Caveman, our offspring, and even my in-laws to join me at Linslaw Point to check out this majestic, once-a-generation visitor to the inner solar system. They stayed for a couple of hours while we checked out NEOWISE in both Bob the Dob and my 70mm Pronto, in addition to 80mm binoculars. (Jerry and I had been to Linslaw earlier in the week without my taking notes on the occasion, but we obviously had been observing the comet, which led to my recommendation to the family to come to Linslaw for comet-watching. This much later, I don’t totally recall the sequence of events from that July.)

After the family had left, it was on to notetaking. I was committed now to the Astronomical League’s Planetary Nebula program, and intended to observe each of the objects in both the 12.5″ and 20″ scopes, and at multiple magnifications in each; the rules of the program called for multiple magnifications, so what better way to do so than by multiple scopes?

I began the night with an object that I’d tried for on several previous occasions, but had struck out on. It proved to be surprisingly obvious.

07/15-07/16/20 
LINSLAW POINT
SUNSET: 8:53 PM
MOON: 26 days (rose at 2:22 AM; 16% illuminated)
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 8
SQM: 21.73-21.63 
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to upper 50s; no dew; mild breeze, pleasant
OTHERS PRESENT: MW, Mike D, Dale F

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

12:07
PK 080-06.1 (The Egg Nebula; Cyg): A fine sighting but definitely not one of the easiest ever. This is the Egg Nebula, and it’s pretty tiny; I’m gonna say maybe 10” x 3” at best. It’s elongated mostly N-S (its size makes it hard to tell, frankly). It clearly has multiple segments; it looks as if there’s a very very faint star in the middle and then just a hairline gap and then a fainter segment (I know it’s not a star but it looks kind of like one) on the S end. It’s in a very busy field over here in Cygnus: 4’ P the nebula is an 8th-magnitude star, and then 1.5’ P very very slightly N of the nebula is a 12th-magnitude star; 1.5’ P very very slightly S of the 8th-magnitude star is an 11.5-magnitude star. N very very slightly F the nebula by 2.5’ is a 12.5-magnitude star. There’s an 8.5-magnitude star 11’ F slightly N of the nebula, and that star has 0.67’ P slightly N of it a 12th-magnitude star. In the 4.8mm Nagler (which doesn’t want to come to focus without a fight): there are definitely two lobes to the nebula; the larger one, the more N one, is brighter, and the gap between the two can’t be more than about 1”-2” wide. The nebula’s really flying through the field here at 328x. There appears to be, SP the nebula by 0.5’, a real threshold star even in the 4.8, so it must be like 15.5 magnitude. The nebula itself is quite bright even in 14mm at 112x, and at 328x it’s still bright enough that it shows with no filter. I also know that filters don’t affect the nebula at all, so I’m going to forego using one here. Goo goo gajoob!


12:43
Abell 70 (Aql): I’ve seen this terrific nebula before, at the Brothers Star Party (LINK), but it’s well-placed right now, so I’m going to reobserve it anyway. I currently have the O-III filter in and it’s improved the view a fair amount. With the O-III it’s unmistakable as a planetary nebula.
But at 112x I’m still not picking up annularity, though, and I certainly don’t see the galaxy on the nebula’s rim; maybe with the 4.8mm I’ll be able to. But the nebula is nice and round, with maybe a trace of annularity on the following side, a brighter rim maybe, if not necessarily annularity. The nebula is 0.67’ around. I did find this with direct vision without the filter and it’s still visible without it, which is quite impressive. There’s almost just the faintest hint that the galaxy is there on the edge, the north edge; I wish I didn’t know that was there because I’d get a better sense of whether it was visible or not. Almost due F the nebula by 3.5’ is an 11th–mag star. N of the nebula by about 1.5’ is a 14th-magnitude star. NvsF the nebula by 7.25’ is a 10th-magnitude star that is the F end of an arc of three; it has 0.67’ PvvsN a 13th-mag star and then from the 13th-magnitude star PvvsS by 1.25’ is a 13.5-magnitude star, so we’ve got the 9.5, the 13th, and then a 13.5. The nebula is still visible, and from the star FvvsN the nebula, NF that star by 4.5’ is a little knot of faint stars no more than about 0.5’ around and extending slightly to the south; there’s three or four in the knot and then one removed to the S. With the 4.8 Nagler… well, that’s almost too much power; there definitely seems to be a condensation in the nebula but it’s really hard to tell where—a floating ghost? This is one of those fleeting glimpse kind of things that you notice, but it’s too ambiguous as to where it is. That’s a tough one to hold at this aperture; I’m going to definitely have to revisit this with the 20 inch. It almost seems like that galaxy is still visible but I would definitely not identify that without knowing that it’s supposed to be there; along the north edge, it’s just a tiny bit brighter, running roughly P-F.

1:14
Palomar 11 (Aql): This is the much sought-after and only-seen-once before (at the Oregon Star Party) Palomar 11, on a night where we’ve registered 21.7 to 21.67. The cluster is exceedingly ghostly, but in averted vision it’s actually quite “present”; I’m really surprised at how easy it is here with a 12.5” on this particular night. The cluster is pretty large; it’s about 4’ in diameter. It’s bracketed on the F and P slightly S by 12.5-mag stars that are just on the periphery on each of those sides. From the star on the F, there’s another 1.75’ N slightly P, and from that star NP by about the same distance is the fainter of a pair; that fainter star is 11.5 magnitude, and it has SP it by 0.3’ a 10.5-magnitude star; the 10.5-magnitude star is about 3.5’ N slightly F the middle of the cluster. 3.5’ P the 10.5 magnitude star is the brightest star in the field, which is 8.5 magnitude and is N somewhat P the cluster by 4’. The cluster itself has a very faint granularity to it, considering that it’s barely visible; it seems to have kind of a sprinkling of threshold stars across it, in averted especially, and they flash in and out with averted vision; especially on the P side of the cluster there seems to be a few that are resolved. It’s obviously a very loosely-concentrated object . If I was to take a stab at the magnitude of those cluster stars, I’d say they’re in the 15th magnitude range, and the whole cluster is visible in direct vision about 90% of the time but it certainly doesn’t warrant staring directly at due to lack of visible detail in direct vision. Let’s try the Precious (the 10mm Delos) here– and I bumped the scope (Lots of searching and one dead, unjugged rabbitfish later)….OK, we’re back with Pal 11 in the Delos, because why would I really want to use anything else? This eyepiece really makes the cluster stand out; it just outclasses every other one I’ve got by a huge margin. There’s a lot of suspected granularity now in the cluster; especially on the P side, there seems to be a kind of an arc of a couple of stars, three stars maybe, on the P side of the cluster, but these are very faint; there’s definitely a concentration of stars there on that side. The cluster itself is pretty obvious in the Delos, first time I thought I could say that about a Palomar.


A minor breeze had started up, bringing with it a feeling of plummeting temperatures. It was probably only in the low 60s/upper 50s, but it was enough for me to get my winter coat out.

I could’ve sworn I’d seen the next target before, but I had no record of having done so, and I didn’t recognize the object when I swept it up.

2:16
NGC 6842 (Vul): This is the large and quite diffuse but still pretty evident NGC 6842, a planetary nebula in Vulpecula; I found it without a filter, so it’s a pretty easy one.  It’s in a very crowded field. In galaxy terms, I’d say it’s quite diffuse, somewhat well defined, no real central brightening visible, no central star. There may be some very, very subtle darkening in the center, but it’s impossible to be sure at this magnification. The nebula itself is about 0.75’ across, and better defined on the P and N sides; the F side especially is somewhat irregular and unconcentrated and poorly defined compared to the rest; it really almost looks like a galaxy. There are a number of faint stars F the nebula, within about 2.5’, but not much to the immediate P: F slightly N of the nebula by 6’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; there’s an 8th-magnitude star NF the nebula by 6.25’; SP the nebula by 5.25’ is an 11th-magnitude star and then 4.5’ S very slightly F the nebula is a 10.5-magnitude star. N very very slightly F the nebula by 15’ is the brightest star in the field, which is 7.5 magnitude. With the O-III filter, the contrast certainly improves but the filter doesn’t do a lot else; the nebula’s obviously brighter but the filter doesn’t change much. The nebula seems to be a little brighter on the rim on the P side, maybe the NP. There’s definitely some definitely some irregularity in brightness visible. Moving down to the 4.8mm Nagler, the increased magnification really darkens contrast of background sky but kind of evens out the brightness of the nebula. There may be a threshold star on the NP, which may account for what I saw earlier as brightening along the nebula’s rim. This is a really nice, underappreciated and overlooked planetary.


A good object to end an excellent night’s observing.

II. Two nights later, Loren and I ended up at The Oxbow. The night before had been our July meeting, and a number of EAS folk had gone out to the Eagle’s Rest Amphitheater site afterward; I’d had a pharmacy exam the next day, and Loren had wanted to try the Oxbow again, so after my exam I hauled out down the winding roads for the newest EAS observing site.

Loren was already setting up by the time I got there. I don’t recall why it took me until after midnight to start “working” on the AL list, but I managed three good, compelling observations, two of them of “unexpected” objects, one of which (Mi 4-11) wasn’t even on the AL’s list. The wind was a persistent problem on the exposed road point, requiring me to hang on to the scope, lest it be blown around in circles.


07/17-07/18/20 
THE OXBOW 
SUNSET: 8:51 PM
MOON: 27 days (rose at 3:39 AM; 5% illuminated)
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.67 
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to low 50s; slight dew; slight breeze; felt quite warm (just one jacket)
OTHERS PRESENT: LR (18”)
All observations: 12.5″f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

12:32
Minkowski 4-11 (Sct): Live at the Oxbow, where I’ve already gotten a 21.63 on the SQM, although we’ve had a lot of sky crud going through and the wind is starting to pick up again. This object is the difficult (but very apparent in the UHC filter) Minkowski 4-11 in Scutum, south of the NGC 6712 / IC 1295 combo. This is a small and quite faint planetary, hence the obscure designation. It’s about 0.3’ across, with no central star visible, although there may be a faint star off on the N or P somewhat N, there may be a couple of stars (this with the filter in and so this may not be as dim as they seem). The nebula seems to have a little bit brighter central region and the requisite fainter outer halo to it, although the halo is not at all large. I’m impressed that that’s as visible as it is. There’s a brightish star P somewhat N of it by about 4.75’ and about 4.25’ NF that star is another, so the planetary makes up an almost-isosceles triangle; the two stars have another fainter one about halfway between them, and the nebula itself is almost-but-not-quite-halfway between two much brighter stars to the SP and the N slightly F; the star to the SP is the P-most star in a little triangle itself. I’m gonna remove the filter and get some magnitudes on those stars if I dare let go of the scope that long; I suspect if I lose this it’s gonna be a bugger to find it again, even though it’s just S of that impressive pairing… The nebula’s still visible without the filter in now that I know where to look; I had a glimmer of it before the filter went in and it’s actually quite apparent now, although mostly with averted vision; there is a really slowly moving satellite passing S of it, but there are also definitely several faint, faint stars, including two to the P, one of which is almost due N but slightly P, and the other almost due P the nebula, and there’s also one F the nebula very closely; the brighter star that is 4.75’ P somewhat N of nebula is 10th magnitude; the other star that forms that triangle, the one which is 4.25’ NF the previous star, is 11th magnitude and is involved with a small group of very faint stars, of which the majority are almost due F it; the two considerably-brighter stars the nebula’s between, to the N slightly F is a 9.5 magnitude star that’s the N-most vertex of a small isosceles triangle (the other two stars in that are 11th magnitude), and the one to the SP is the P-most vertex of a triangle which is made of seven stars and it is the brightest of these at 9th magnitude; the one to the N slightly F is 10’ N slightly F the nebula and the one SP is about 12’ SP the nebula. The brightest star in the field is P somewhat S of the nebula by 18’ and is 8th magnitude. Now that I know exactly where to look, the nebula’s almost impossible to miss; it’s distracted from by those 14.5/15th-magnitude stars around it, but it’s still definitely obvious that there’s something there.

1:06
NGC 7094 (Peg): I’ve seen this planetary before and don’t remember it being this ghostly, but it definitely is so tonight. It’s about 1.25’ around with a considerably-bright central star as such things go; the central star is probably 13.5 magnitude. I think it was Eagle’s Ridge where I saw it before, and I vaguely recall it being a direct-vision object, but on a night here that’s probably superior to that, at least in terms of darkness, it doesn’t seem to be quite as bright; it is still fairly low in the sky, though, so nowhere near the meridian. The nebula’s flanked by 7’ each on the N very very slightly F and N slightly P; the star to the N very very slightly F is the brightest star in the field at magnitude 9.5; there’s another of 9.5 magnitude probably 15’ S somewhat P of the nebula; the star N slightly P the nebula by 6’ is 11th magnitude and has a 12.5-magnitude star 2.5’ P very slightly N of it; the two brighter stars north of the nebula are separated by 4.25’; there’s also a 13th-magnitude star NP the nebula by 3.75’. F somewhat S of the nebula by 3.3’ (these are all from the central star, by the way) is the P-most of a line of three, and that star is 12.5 magnitude; there’s a 13.5 magnitude star 1’ F very slightly S of that one and then from the 13.5 magnitude star another 1.25’ F is another 12.5 magnitude star. With UHC: tremendous improvement—the nebula’s much, much brighter and the contrast gain is tremendous. I don’t recall this nebula needing a filter to pick up that whole disk. With the UHC the interior of the nebula’s not very evenly bright; it reminds me a little of the Skull or NGC 1514. (A satellite runs right across it.) I know it’s an annular nebula, but I’m not 100% sure I could say at this magnification that it is—it’s certainly big and the UHC makes it unmistakable. It seems on the F slightly N and P of the central star like there are some darker regions on the interior; it almost, at some moments, looks as if there’s another star in there, but I would’ve seen that without the filter instead of seeing it with it, if there’s another star within the nebula. In averted vision, at moments, it seems as if there’s a brighter rim on the outside, but it’s hard to say for sure. [For whatever reason, I didn’t go to the higher mag eyepiece, either the Delos or the 7mm.]


1:35
NGC 6765 (Lyr): This is a really odd planetary over near M56; it has no typical planetary nebula characteristics whatsoever, and is almost more like an edge-on galaxy. It’s considerably thin, with no central star, and is 0.75’ x 0.3’, elongated S slightly P–N slightly F. I would have never thought that it was a planetary if I had just swept over it. The nebula has a little bit of what I would consider central brightening if it was a galaxy. It forms of the cross/branch star of a ‘Y’ pattern (although it’s not a very good ‘Y’ anyway), but is also in the middle of a triangle: P the nebula by 3.75’ is a 9.5-magnitude star that has NP it by 0.67’ a 12th-magnitude star; 3’ NF the nebula is an 11th-magnitude star; there’s a 9.5-magnitude star S very slightly F the nebula by 6’, and then SP the nebula by 2’ is the more northern of a pair of 12.5-magnitude stars with the S one a very very slight bit brighter. The brightest star in the field is 20’ SF the nebula and is a very impressive double star of 8thand 9thmagnitudes, with the brighter star SF the fainter one by 10”; the primary is yellowish-white and the secondary is pale blue. With the UHC, the contrast increases a fair amount but it doesn’t really change the identity of the nebula that much; it gives it a more of a football shape because the P and F edges now have a greater (or more substantial looking) halo to them; the filter gives it a little more “roundedness” as opposed to being just an edge-on streak like a flat galaxy. Assuming I can keep the scope from blowing around, I’ll get the Delos and do a comparison…. with the Delos but without the filter, it looks almost like there’s a central star just out of reach within the nebula, and there also looks like, off the N end, there’s a threshold-level star that should be coming into view… definitely that impression of a just-below resolution threshold star. With the O-III filter on the Delos, there’s definitely some interior brightening here to the nebula that was not visible even with the filter in the 14 mm (I could be tempted to say this is due to the fact that this eyepiece is so much superior). The filter doesn’t actually make it much better; I’m not sure that it’s any kind of improvement over what I saw with the UHC or just a plain Delos. The nebula may be a little more concentrated to the N end than the S, but that’s about all I can say for sure. A very unusual planetary
!


III. We returned to the Oxbow again the next night; as with the night before, a group of EAS members headed to the amphitheater. For whatever reason, I felt less compelled to work on planetaries on this particular night—I don’t recall why, but I took a more-casual approach to observing on the night, and ended up with notes on only two objects, both of them open clusters, and both of them fairly obscure.

07/18-07/19/20 
THE OXBOW
SUNSET: 8:50 PM
MOON: 28 days (set at 7:33 PM; 5% illuminated)
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 8
SQM: 21.67-21.74 
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to low 60s; warmer than previous night; breezy but not as bad as previous night
OTHERS PRESENT: LR
All observations: 12.5″ f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

11:57
IC 1311 (Cyg): Back at the Oxbow, and I’m staring at what has to be the faint open cluster IC 1311, but if it is the cluster, it’s misplotted in Sky Safari (about 5’ west of the actual position). The cluster is a milky mist surrounded by a pentagon of stars that’s fairly irregular; the pentagon is elongated mostly P-F and is actually made of six stars; several of these are in a line, and the brightest star in the pentagon is due N of the cluster by about 3.75’ (that star is 7th magnitude); there’s an 8.5-magnitude star that’s the F-most vertex of the pentagon, and is about 7’ F the cluster; due S of the cluster by about 2.5’ is a 9.5-mag star. The SP vertex is a multiple star (actually, the previous one is multiple too), the primary of which is 9thmag and is 3’ SP the cluster, and it has NsF it by 0.3’ a 12th-magnitude star; 5.25’ P the SP vertex, not making up a vertex of the Pentagon but in line with the one to the N and the one to the SP, is a 9.5-mag star. The NF vertex is 9.5 magnitude and it’s about 2.5’ NF the cluster.  The cluster is about 3.5’ diameter and very, very vague, unresolvable at least at this magnification (using 14 mm), and it has roughly on its P edge an 11th-mag star; then 0.75’ due P that star is a 12.5-magnitude star with a 13.5-mag SP it by 0.3’. The cluster itself was Object of the Week at the Deep Sky Forum several years back, and I latched onto it for some reason (hence its presence on my observing list). Visually, the cluster is just a vague circular glow in the 12.5”; occasionally there’s a glimmer of a couple stars that pop out, but this is one that I think will really benefit from a revisit with the 20” Obsession.

12:48
Berkeley 85 (Cyg): This is the challenging open cluster Berkeley 85. Berkeley 85 has a huge range of magnitudes, if this whole area is the actual cluster; it has 5th-magnitude P Cygni to its immediate or due NP by 21’, which is super bright and super annoying in the view, so I’m getting it out of the field as much as possible. It’s hard to tell what actually comprises Berkeley 85; there’s a 4.5’-long streak of stars oriented NP-SF and about 0.75’ wide across the middle where the stars are somewhat brighter. But I’m not sure this is all of Berkeley 85. It runs about 6’–I’m gonna go with the entire area here running about 6’ N-S and about the same P-F. There are five stars here that instantly catch your attention—about 4.75’ N of the cluster center is an 8.5-magnitude star; due S of that one by 3’ is a 10th-magnitude star; from the N-most star (the 8.5-magnitude star) S somewhat F by 5.25’ is a 9th-magnitude star, from the 9th-magnitude star 2.67’ S slightly P by is a 10th-magnitude star, and due P that 10th-magnitude star by 6’ is a 10.5-magnitude star. Between the last two stars I mentioned is the bulk of the fainter stars; the second-last star (the second 10th-magnitude star) is the N end of a tiny diamond that has three stars of 11.5 and 13th magnitude making up the other three vertices to the S, S slightly P, and S somewhat P. The diamond is about 0.75’ by 0.5’. The top of that at streak of very faint stars that I mentioned is not quite halfway between the 10.5 magnitude star and the first 10th-magnitude star that I mentioned, the one due S of the N-most star (the “cluster lucida”). Along the NP of that streak there are several 14th-magnitude stars visible with some background glow, and then there’s a gap, and at the SF end of the streak is a knot about 0.75’ round of very faint stars that’s clumped so tightly they’re not resolvable. And then due N of the “N-most vertex” (the 8.5-mag star) by about 7’ is yet another group that has to be a cluster [no indication that it is]; it’s a N-S string of probably ten 13.5- to 15th-magnitude stars and a bunch of background glow; that’s about 4’ long by about 0.25’ wide. If the whole of Berkeley 85 is as described–the streak plus the brighter stars–then it obviously has a huge magnitude range. But in any case, it’s not particularly well detached; some of the individual clumps, the little diamond, and the streak are fairly eye-grabbing, but I wouldn’t say anything there makes a cluster (or would obviously make a cluster). I am going to hit it with the 10 mm Delos and see what we come up with…. OK, so the cluster takes on a lot more character with the 10mm, plus it makes it easier to get P Cygni get out of the field; the knot that’s at the SF end of the streak is itself kind of a diamond-shaped, or at least has a diamond of very faint (14.5 magnitude and fainter) stars overlying the top of it, and that diamond is oriented S slightly P-N slightly F major axis; the rest of the streak appears to have about nine stars stretched out over it, and then that separate “object” to the north of Berkeley 85 is about ten or twelve faint stars stretched out over some indeterminate background glow. 

IV. I recall the next night better than many from this cycle, simply because it was a little more unusual. Given that it was New Moon, we stayed all night at Linslaw. Being that it was Sunday, many of the regular crew passed on observing to be ready for the work week, leaving me, Jerry, and new member Bruce S–whose 10″ Dobsonian was receiving first light that night–to keep astronomical watch over the skies in west-central Oregon.

Rather than taking Bob the Dob out, I opted for the 20″ Obsession, which may have been a mistake. I was tired after several consecutive nights’ observing, and was quite a bit “off my game” as a result. This is OK when you’ve got a scope that allows you to sit and be a casual observer, but not when the scope requires a ladder to reach the eyepiece. I started off with some very tough planetaries—the Necklace Nebula, Apriamashvili 2-1—and the near-impossible globular Palomar 15, and struck out on all of them, despite having identified the exact spot of The Necklace (according to the Palomar Sky Survey plate).

Farther down my list of potential targets was another that I expected to be a bust for the evening, but it turned out to be a surprisingly-impressive find:

07/19/20 
LINSLAW POINT
SUNSET: 8:49 PM
MOON: 29 days (set at 8:28 PM; 1% illuminated)
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 8
SQM: 21.53-21.63 
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to mid 50s; damp; mild breeze, clammy
OTHERS PRESENT: JO (with binoscope), Bruce S (10” Dob [first light])

All observations: 20″ f/5 Obsession Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (181x, 0.452˚ TFOV) or 7mm Nagler (363x, 0.21˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

11:34
Minkowski 4-9 (SerCau): This is the first [and only] one of the night up here at Linslaw; this is Minkowski 4-9 in Serpens, and it’s kind of stunning to see it with direct vision, just as plain as day; I’ve seen some NGC/IC planetaries that aren’t as nice as this one. The nebula is about 0.67’ across, maybe even a little bigger. No central star is visible, no real traces of annularity, at least with the unaided view. It’s flanked due P and SF by 10.5-magnitude stars; the one to the due P is about 5.75’ due P and the one to the SF is about 5.5’ from the nebula; the star to the due P has a 14th-magnitude star almost due S of it by 0.67’ and also has 3.5’ due S of it a 12th-magnitude star; the planetary also has a number of really faint stars around it, including a small very tight group of stars to the S very slightly F by 2’, of which the P-most is 14th-magnitude; there’s also a 14th-magnitude star P very slightly N of the nebula by 2’. I’m going to go ahead and throw in the O-III filter on here and see what we come up with. [Jerry’s looking at an extragalactic SN at the moment, but I don’t recall which one.] With Bob’s O-III, I’m suspecting annularity; there definitely seems to be a brighter rim around the nebula: it seems like the N very slightly F arc is a little bit brighter on the rim than the rest of it. In the 7mm Nagler… seeing’s not very good, with a little too much power. But the rim definitely seems to be irregularly bright, even with no filter in; annularity isn’t certain but is strongly suspected. At this power, the nebula seems a little bit elongated NP-SF, but only just.

It wasn’t long after that when I started feeling ill—by 1 AM, I was pretty certain I was coming down with a cold. Since April, we’d been keeping pretty much to ourselves on the various observing fields, so I wasn’t worried about spreading an undiagnosed case of COVID at that point. And even if I was to leave right then, it still would’ve been an hour takedown-and-stow of the Obsession and my ancillary gear in the dark, so I stuck it out. By 3 AM, I was feeling substantially better—was it just allergies? I wasn’t used to allergy attacks that were so cold-like and sudden, but it ended as quickly as it began.

In the meantime, I stayed lower in the sky, so as not to have to spend a lot of time on the ladder. My success rate improved, too—I tracked down Palomar 12 in Capricornus again, and then went for other objects I was more familiar with: M30, NGC 6907, NGC 772, NGC 7789, M15 (of course), and NGC 7009 [The Saturn Nebula]. I also had a best-ever look at the Helix Nebula, fine looks at Uranus and Neptune, and even managed to pull Neptune’s largest satellite Triton out of the inky-grey background for the first time.

Morning twilight was well underway by the time we started tearing down; our reward for an all-night observing session being a chance to drive home in the first hour of a new dawn.

V. Having had an all-nighter, and still not sure I wasn’t coming down with something, I skipped the next night’s observing. As it turned out, everyone else did, too. But I felt fine, at least, so when the next night turned out to be clear, I was one of those deciding where we were going to go. Now it was Jerry’s turn to feel under the weather, so Dan B, Alesha, and I ended up up somehow at the spur road at Eagle’s Ridge.

Comet NEOWISE was greatly diminished from its glory as seen from Linslaw—further evidence as to the degradation of the skies from the spur. It was a sobering reminder of the power of technology to overwhelm the subtle beauty of nature.

Dan had his refractor and 16″ Explore Dobsonian; I had left the Obsession in the van after Linslaw, and planned to make good use of it. But the drive up to the spur—that last goddamned half-mile of it, anyway–had bounced the scope around so much that I simply couldn’t get it collimated. A half-hour rolled by, then forty-five minutes. I exhausted my factoryman’s vocabulary in the ensuing struggle. Finally, in desperation, I took the whole scope apart and reassembled it, then backed all of the collimation screws all the way out before starting completely over, just as Dan and I had done when we first assembled the scope at my house the night after we first brought it home. Three hours after sunset, I was finally ready to observe.

07/21-07/22/20 
EAGLE’S RIDGE (spur road)
SUNSET: 8:48 PM
MOON: 1 day (set at 9:58 PM; 2% illuminated)
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6
SQM: 21.4 
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to mid 60s; no dew; mild breeze, pleasant
OTHERS PRESENT: DB, Alesha F 
All observations: 20″ f/5 Obsession Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (181x, 0.452˚ TFOV) or 7mm Nagler (363x, 0.21˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

11:47
NGC 6369 (Oph): It’s taken me up until this point to get the 20” collimated for some reason. My first target tonight is the Little Ghost, NGC 6369, and it is an outstanding sight, with a perfect annular disk. The outer rim is broken along the SF a little bit and the rim is brighter on the N end; it looks like there are a couple of little attached segments around the N end that make up the rim, some tiny gaps visible in the 14mm. The nebula is 0.5’ round. No central star is visible. There appears to be, on the NF edge, like a little… almost like a solar prominence kind of thing, very very very faint, sticking off the edge. The dark interior is probably 0.25’ across. There’s a bit of halo on the outside edge of the rim all the way around, and then that one little tuft; there may be another one to the SP, but it’s much more elusive. The nebula forms an almost-equilateral triangle with a 9.5-magnitude star S somewhat P and a 12.5-magnitude star due P; the star to the S somewhat P is about 5.75’ from the nebula; the star to the P is about 5.25’, and almost-exactly between those two is a 14th-magnitude star. P very very slightly N of the star to the P by 1’ is a 13.5-magnitude star; there’s another of the same brightness N very very slightly F the nebula by 4’, and then F the nebula by 10’ is a 13th-magnitude star. NF the nebula by 1.5’ is a 15th-magnitude star, and F by 3.5’ is a 14.5-magnitude star. What’s interesting about the nebula is that it’s lying right in the middle of that large area of dark nebulosity in Ophiuchus; I think this is just above the Pipe Nebula, so the background is mostly devoid of stars; it’s a very roughly empty field, really, because of all of that nebulosity in the area. With the O-III, I don’t get a super pleasing view; the nebula is much brighter than before (or more accurately has greater contrast); with the O-III the gap to the S, on the SF part of the rim, is much more apparent, and the rest of the rim is very considerably bright, so this really is a superb planetary. With the 7mm Nagler but no filter, the nebula’s not too terribly bad, although the seeing is certainly not anything to write home about down here this low. The annulary is just right in your face at this power (not that it wasn’t at the lower power) but here it’s really noticeable; again, the gap on the SF stands out. Not going to use the O-III on the 7mm, because it’ll be too dark for a good view.

12:08
NGC 6445 (Sgr): The exceptional NGC 6445 in Sagittarius, a lovely, almost figure-8- shaped nebula about 0.75’ x 0.5’, elongated NP-SF. The figure-8 outline within the rectangle, like a digital clock 8, is pretty apparent, and the whole has multiple voids in it. The halo seems fuzzier on the P and SP edges, a little smeared out, almost like the additional parts of the Dumbbell Nebula in a way, but not quite as obvious on the F side. It’s very much a “unique and singular object,” as Admiral Smyth once said of the Dumbbell. Just off the NP, along the major axis of the nebula and closest to the NP corner of the nebula, about 0.75’ from the nebula’s center, is a 12.5-magnitude star; there’s another due S of the nebula by 2’ and a 13th-magnitude star P very very slightly S of that last star by 1.75’. Due F the nebula by 4.75’ is the brightest star in the field, which is 7.5 magnitude and has 0.75’ S of it a 10.5-magnitude star. Not quite halfway, about 40% of the way, between that 10.5-magnitude star and the nebula is a 13th-magnitude star, about 2’ from the 10.5-magnitude star. With the 7mm Nagler… wow… fantastic! The nebula in the 7mm is much stronger on the NP and the SF, especially the N edge and the SF corner; the SF corner of the nebula is oddly stronger, like there’s a little individual point there, or maybe an embedded star, or one seen through the nebula. There’s also a little bit of a S-ward extension from that SF corner. The hint of halo on the P side, where I said it was stronger like the Dumbbell Nebula’s halo, is very much more pronounced in the 7mm; there also appears to be a little bit of a N-ward extension from the NF corner and some due F on that side, almost like a 45° angle from the F edge of the nebula. (It’s going to be confusing on my notes, so… it juts out to the due F, in the direction of the bright star from the F side of the nebula, is what I’m trying to say.) There’s almost a full loop in the halo on the P side, but the middle of the S edge is a little fainter, a little-less defined. There’s an interesting double star NP the nebula, kind of along the major axis (which is a continuation of the line between the nebula and the star off the NP tip); those are 2.3’ NP the nebula, and they are oriented almost N-S to each other; the more-N one is very very slightly F the S one, and those are both 14th magnitude. This is a really fantastic view, despite the really variable seeing down this low! In the 14mm and the UHC… Wow, that really brings out the rim, the blocky rim of this nebula–outstanding! That impression of the halo on the P side being extended is very much upheld here by the UHC, and now the N end of the nebula’s even stronger, almost outright, like neon-sign luminous. I’m gonna go ahead in fact and put the 7mm back in with the filter in it because I think this UHC filter might be able to handle it. This is the filter right here… this is getting it done. it’s a very soft view due to the seeing but the structure in this nebula’s fantastic; the figure-8, even the bit where the sides are pinched in, is more prominent; there’s a little tuft coming off of the NF corner of it. 

12:50
NGC 6537 (Sgr): After a little bit of searching, this is the very tiny but distinctly not stellar NGC 6537, the Red Spider Nebula, which in the 14mm has very much a “vagueness” to it; I want to say the extensions are SP and NF, but that might be a trick of the light (so to speak). The nebula’s absolutely tiny, just a fraction above stellar—maybe 4”. It forms the SF vertex of a flat isosceles triangle; P very very slightly N of the nebula by 1.5’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; there’s a 12.5-magnitude star 1.25’ N very very slightly P that star, and that last star is about 2.25’ NP the nebula. NF the nebula by 7’ is a 7.5-magnitude star; due N of the nebula by 4.5’ is a pair separated by 0.3’, with the brighter star N very very slightly P the fainter (a satellite crosses the S end of the field) and those two stars are both 13th-magnitude; the one on the S is just a shade fainter than the first. Even further N of the nebula by 15’ is the brighter of a very unequal pair; that star is 9.5 magnitude and has SF by 0.67’ an 11.5-magnitude star. With the 7mm Nagler, I’m not getting a good focus tonight, because the seeing’s pretty crappy; but with the 7mm the nebula’s even more obviously non-stellar. I’m not sure if there’s a central star visible at all, but there’s almost a hint that there could be, an implication. It helps to get that star out of the field, the 7.5-magnitude one. There’s a curious line of bright stars in the 10th– to 11th-magnitude range that run roughly P-F along the S end of the field. The extensions seem to still be there, running SP-NF; the nebula itself seems very very slightly elongated P-F. I’ll go ahead with the nebula filter here and see what turns up. Oh, wow– with the UHC filter in, the nebula brightens considerably, and really impressive how much it does so. And the impression that I had earlier of it with directions of tendrils and things like that are all enhanced quite a bit at this magnification with the filter (this is still the 7mm). It really is brightish with the filter in, with the extensions and the elongation, everything being as read earlier, but man, it’s a neat little object, just letting it drift across the view there. Using the O-III filter, though, really just kills everything there; the two other stars in the little triangle with the nebula are almost gone. The nebula’s considerably bright but I’m not picking any extra detail with the O-III.

Somewhere around this point, Dan and Alesha left; my notes don’t say exactly when. I stayed for one more object, still grumpy about the way the collimation issues had taken so long to solve (and still not happy with the collimation as it was. There’s no pleasing some people.). 

1:26 
NGC 6578 (Sgr): And now one I haven’t seen before: NGC 6578, a tiny planetary in northern Sagittarius. (I leapt off from Polis [Mu Sgr] to get here.) This is a round, more-than-stellar object; it might be 6” diameter, and it’s definitely noticeable as something non-stellar. I might’ve taken it as a galaxy at first glance. There’s no color present and no central star. It has the barest envelope of fringe around it, just a fuzzy non-defined edge to it. The nebula forms a pair of noteworthy objects with an 11th-magnitude star P very slightly S by 0.5’; 1’ SF is the brightest (at magnitude 10.5) vertex of a tiny almost-equilateral triangle and is the triangle’s SP vertex; it has an 11.5-magnitude star 0.3’ F very slightly S and a 13th-magnitude star 0.3’ N very very slightly F. The brightest star in the field is SF the nebula by 7’ and is 7.5 magnitude, and it’s the SP vertex of another equilateral triangle, with a 10th-magnitude star 3.75’ due F and a 10.5-magnitude star 3.75’ N very slightly F. With the O-III, the brighter part of the nebula is only about the inner half, and there’s a significant amount of fringe around it; the inner region’s at least half of the diameter. With the 7mm Nagler,  the seeing is terrible because the nebula is very rapidly sinking toward the horizon, but it’s quite a bit like the O-III view in the 14mm (only larger); it’s a pretty interesting little object here. I’m almost getting the impression that there’s a threshold star just outside the F edge of it here in the 7mm.

I contemplated the nebula a bit longer, and then contemplated staying to look for a couple more of them. But I wasn’t really in that great a mood, and the Sagittarius region was sinking toward the hills, and I had a long drive ahead home from the spur. It’s usually far easier to talk oneself into leaving than into staying, and with a promising forecast again the next night, it was better to reset and try again then than it was to plow on when I clearly wasn’t in the mood to do so.

VI. We returned to Eagle’s Rest that night, staying at the amphitheater rather than climbing the spur. It turned into something of a fiasco; in addition to six EAS folks, there were more than a dozen people there looking for Comet NEOWISE. Social distancing went pretty much out the window, as telescopes were descended upon the moment they aimed anywhere near where the comet was, and new carloads pulled up every time one left. While I’m normally fine with public outreach—I’ve done more than a bit of it over the years—between COVID and my own observing interests, I was a little bit less than pleased that our observing spot was a traffic jam. And the sky wasn’t much more cooperative, as thick streaks of cirrus flowed through every twenty minutes. I was still in a better mood than the night before, though. And I started off with last night’s closer while it was still fresh in my memory.

07/22-07/23/20 
EAGLE’S REST (Amphitheatre)
SUNSET: 8:47 PM
MOON: 2 days (set at 10:33 PM; 6% illuminated)
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 5
SQM: 21.35
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to low 60s; no dew; waves of cirrus washing through
OTHERS PRESENT: JO, KO, LR, FS, RA, many others
All observations: 12.5″ f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

11:00
NGC 6578 (Sgr): NGC 6578 was my last one for last night, but this is it with a 12.5” inch scope; in comparison with the 20”, it’s just a pinpoint here. It’s definitely fuzzy and non-stellar, but only just barely at 112x. From the nebula 0.5’ PsS is an 11th-magnitude star; the 10.5-magnitude star that’s the SP vertex of that little triangle is F it; that is SF the nebula by about 1’, and of course that star has F somewhat S of it by 0.3’ an 11.5-magnitude star; from the 10.5 NF by about 0.3’ is a 14th-magnitude star, and those make up the triangle, and then the brightest star in the field is 7th magnitude and lies SF the nebula by 7’. P very slightly N of the nebula by 16’ is 16 Sagittarii, which is 6th magnitude. But the nebula itself is visible with direct vision as just a very vague fuzzy spot. I mentioned last night that it’s like a distant galaxy, a distant elliptical, and it still has that very very faint tenuous appearance of a distant member of a galaxy cluster. With the UHC filter, things get interesting: in the 14mm, the nebula is much less fuzzy and more tangible and could almost be mistaken for a star, but not without the filter—it loses some of its non-stellarness, but the contrast greatly improves. With the 7mm, the nebula is very clearly non-stellar again (although still without the filter); there’s still no central star, but it still has that faint-galaxy appearance—the sky isn’t supporting the 7mm; it’s too much power. The central disk/bright interior seems to be shunted toward the NP; I didn’t note this last night. With the UHC in the 7mm (it’s nice to have a filter thread right in!): the nebula has some dimension size-wise; 6” maybe? It’s distinctly non-stellar, and the outer envelope is more extended.

11:34
NGC 6778 (Aql): From a repeat object to one I’ve never seen, NGC 6778. This one’s the result of a lot of hunting, in part because I was expecting it to be much bigger for some reason. The nebula itself is about 18” across, maybe a full third of an arcminute. It has a considerably-brighter center and not a huge amount of halo. There’s an implication of a central star there but not much; that flicker or implication may be contributing to the increased brightness of the central region. The nebula forms the RA vertex of an almost-right triangle with two field stars: N very very slightly P it by 3.3’ is an 11th-magnitude star, and F very very slightly N by 5’ is an 8.5-magnitude star. 5.75’ SF the nebula is a 10.5-magnitude star; due F the nebula by 2.5’ is a very faint pair: 14th-magnitude stars, separated by 10” but so faint it’s hard to tell (can tell in 7mm?). The star F very very slightly N of the nebula is the brightest in an active Cygnus field; there’s an impressive double/pair 18’ almost due S of nebula, with a 9.5-magnitude primary 0.67’ F very very slightly S of an 11th-magnitude secondary. With the UHC and the 14mm Explore: the even fringe around nebula (which already wasn’t much), is mostly gone, leaving just the basic “core” of the planetary; it’s interesting that the filter stripped that away. With the 7mm Nagler, there’s more diffuseness to the nebula’s outer edges; blowing it up in size brings that out. The double star that’s due F nebula really seems almost nebulous in the 7mm. The nebula is obvious in the 7mm, which brings out more of its nebulous character. Definitely no central star visible. In the field with NGC 6778 is a very prominent dark nebula NP NGC 6778: a multi-lobed dark nebula like a mushroom shape with a really fat cap, and right across the middle of the stem is a band of 3 stars going P slightly N-F slightly S. The “cap” is about 18’ by 9’, oriented the same direction as that line of stars across the middle of the stem (P slightly N-F slightly S). SP that band of stars, and stretching down to a 9th-magnitude star, is the stem of the mushroom, which is about 8’ x 4.5’; the SF corner of the stem is the darkest part of the whole thing, almost a whole degree of darkness greater than the rest of it, like a hole, and is about 5.5’ F that 9th-magnitude star at the end of the mushroom stem.

I decided to stay at higher declinations tonight, as the seeing was pretty awful down in the low south. I wasn’t the only one with an observing agenda on the night, either; Loren was working on the Herschel 400, and was at the moment trying to dig guide stars for NGC 40 (in Cepheus) out of the cirrus muck and the incandescent glow of Eugene to the due north. Even though the nebula was above the light dome of the city, it was in an awkward position to observe from the amphitheater. A few profanities later, Loren picked up the nebula and reluctantly gave it his highest rating.

12:17
NGC 6879 (Sge): Back to the stellar ones, I guess. This is NGC 6879 in Sagitta, which is absolutely indistinguishable from a star; if I hadn’t had a photograph to work from there is no way in hell I would’ve identified this at 14mm. It is the NF vertex of a little almost-isosceles triangle, with a star of 12th magnitude, and the nebula’s just a little bit fainter (so about magnitude 12.5 ). The 12th-magnitude star is 1.3’ SP the nebula, and then P very very slightly N the nebula by 0.75’ is a 13.5-magnitude star; the nebula is halfway between a 9th-magnitude star F very very slightly N by 6’ and an 11th-magnitude star due P the nebula by 4.5’; that last star is part of a knot of stars extending about 1.75’ by 0.67’, with that star in the middle of the F edge of that knot and the knot running N-S. From that 11th-magnitude star 0.75’ SP is a 12.5-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is P somewhat S of the nebula by about 16’ and is a double (Struve 2634) with components of 7.5- and 10th-magnitude, separated by 5”, with the brighter S very very slightly P the dimmer. I don’t think the filter is going to help that much but it’ll maybe pop the nebula out a little bit. The UHC definitely brightens the object, but it still looks like a star. With the 7mm, there’s almost a sense that it’s a fuzzy starlike object rather than an actual faint field star; it just barely shows some non-stellar character. At the higher magnification, the nebula also has 0.5’ S slightly F it a 15th-magnitude star that didn’t show in the 14mm. With the UHC filter, the nebula is still tricky (the seeing’s not steady enough for this much magnification, even this high in dec), and there’s still a vague sense that it’s a fuzzy star.

The crowds, as they alway do, had thinned out. The cirrus, meanwhile, had thickened. Our group was down to Loren, Jerry, Kathy, and I, and there was as much chatting now as observing. I wasn’t keen on packing up yet, but with most of the sky awash in haze, there wasn’t much else to do. I had one more object in a clear patch of sky, so into the eyepiece it went.

12:47
NGC 7048 (Cyg): NGC 7048 is a large bright planetary in Cygnus. It reminds me in some ways of The Blue Flash, only this one’s less defined, more diffuse. It looks elongated N-S a little bit, maybe 1.0’ by 0.67’ N-S.  The nebula has very poorly defined edges. On the N edge, just outside the nebula’s halo, is a 13.5-magnitude star. Just outside the S edge of the halo is a 10th-magnitude star which is the N vertex of an almost-equilateral triangle, certainly an isosceles; that star has a 12th-magnitude star due S of it by 1.25’; this has F very very slightly N by the same distance a 12.5-magnitude star, and then from the 10th-magnitude star S slightly F by 0.3’ is a 14.5-magnitude star. P very slightly S of the nebula by 3.5’ is an 8th-magnitude star that has a 13th-magnitude star due SP it by 0.67’. There’s no central star visible, and barely any extra brightness in the center, but a trace of annularity can be seen in in averted that I’m not 100% sure is real. There are also a number of dark nebulae in the field, including one that starts just N of the nebula and runs SF for 15’, and another that runs due P-F in the field, starting 11’ S of the nebula and then running P-F; there are some larger ones just on the NP and SP edges of field; these others are very long streaks 2-3’ thick. [The nebula dims; crud is going through the field.] With the UHC in, the nebula seems rounder [?]: 1’ round, where it seemed elongated earlier. It’s still diffuse, still not well defined, and maybe a bit sharper on the P edge than the F edge. Switching to the 7mm: the impression of the P being brighter than the F edge is true, especially on the NP edge, which has much better definition; there’s a brighter spot on the NP. [Is there maybe a bit of coma visible with this eyepiece?] Adding the UHC reveals a definite zone of darkness in the interior of the nebula, with many variations in brightness inside, but the annularity is still only an impression.

It hadn’t been a bad evening, all told—I’d gotten some good observing done, and the company had been amiable once things had died down a bit. The drive home was amenable as well; the amphitheater was only half as far as the spur was—it was nearly the same distance as Eureka Ridge—and considerably easier on both driver and vehicle. By the time I got home, I still had enough energy to dig into my astronomy resources to read up on the objects I’d observed, and to beginning plotting the next session under the stars.

VII. Several nights passed before the skies were clear enough—and the observers rested enough—for a final July engagement. The question was where to go. Everyone had different requests, and even with Eureka closed off, we still had a number of great sites from which to dig into the cosmos. Loren and I settled on The Oxbow; others, in search of some possibly-final looks at Comet NEOWISE, headed for Linslaw or elsewhere. Alan was interested in trying the Oxbow for astrophotography, so I offered him a lift out to the site. It turned out to be perhaps the best night of the whole run. Ironically, the comet was indeed visible from the site, for the first time that we’d been there.

07/25-07/26/20 
THE OXBOW
SUNSET: 8:44 PM
MOON: 6 days (set at 11:57 PM; 32% illuminated)
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 8
SQM: 21.53-21.63 
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to upper 60s; light dew; breezy
OTHERS PRESENT: LR (18”), AG
All observations: 12.5″ f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

11:54
IC 4634 (Oph): With Loren and Alan at the Oxbow on a breezy night, crescent moon just setting behind the mountain, and Comet NEOWISE not looking particularly itself (but it was definitely visible here at the Oxbow for the first time). My first planetary of the night is IC 4634 in Ophiuchus, and it’s a very bright little planetary, emphasis on both the bright and the little; it’s not much more than stellar, at least at low magnification. It took considerable magnification to find it, and it’s in an awkward position in terms of chair-height ergonomics. I’m sitting on the ground right now to observe it. But the nebula looks at first glance like an 11th-magnitude star in a field with a fair number of stars of a considerable range of brightnesses; there’s a close pattern of three stars S just barely F and another pattern N-NF the nebula, consisting of a long line of stars arranged in pairs and triangles and the like; that pattern is about 12’ long and runs along the N edge of the field. The nebula is not really very easy to discern as a nebula at this low magnification, and it was only by looking at a photograph of the field that I was able to identify it. It forms a diamond with three considerably fainter stars F and NF it, with the nebula as the P-most vertex of that diamond. N very very slightly P the nebula by 4.67’ is an 11th-magnitude star; S very very slightly F it is the N-most of the pattern of three that I used to find it, and that star is 11th magnitude; due S of it by 1.5’ is a 10th-magnitude star, and from the 10th-magnitude star S slightly F by 0.5’ is a 13th-magnitude star; those make up the pattern of three. It’s very difficult to estimate the actual size of the nebula because I’m sure there is some threshold-level outer nebulosity around it, but it’s mainly stellar at this magnification. With the UHC filter, the nebula’s the brightest object in field, and is larger than stellar, maybe 7” across. There’s still no outer fringe… maybe some will show in the 7mm, although the 14mm still provides a nice view. Swapping in the O-III yields roughly the same effect as the UHC, but reduces the other stars even more, so it leaves no doubt of nebula’s identity; there’s definitely a non-stellar nature to it. Maybe a flicker of a central star at this magnification? With the 7mm Nagler: the seeing is not great down here, but the nebula is unmistakably non-stellar at 225x; there’s just too much power for the seeing. The filters don’t help much in the 7mm, and filtered or not, it’s still hard to determine if there’s a central star.

12:36
NGC 6565 (Sgr): This is the very tiny—even tinier than the previous—NGC 6565 in Sagittarius. With great effort, it might be seen as non-stellar but it takes a great deal of concentration; it’s another one of those 3-4” planetaries. Seeing is not great down here, definitely making finding these even harder. The nebula is in a field pointed-to by a pair of 8th– and 9th-magnitude stars, with the fainter almost due P the brighter by 1.3’. The nebula itself serves as the middle star of a very faint ‘y’; due S of it by 0.75’ is a line of quite faint stars; it looks like three [here comes a satellite through the field right past the nebula] but that line of three is no more than about 0.3’ long, and those are all of roughly-equal magnitude (13.5). In fact, if there weren’t three of them there very close together, an observer would have a hard time picking them out. Of the 8th– and 9th-magnitude stars that I mentioned earlier, the 9th-magnitude star is F very slightly S of the nebula by 9’ with the 8th-magnitude star due F by 1.25’. The brightest star in the field is N very slightly P the nebula by 8.5’ and is 7.5 magnitude. NP the nebula by 0.67’ is a 12.5-magnitude star, and F very very slightly S of the nebula by 0.75’ is another of the same magnitude. P very very slightly N of the nebula by 2.5’ is an 11th-magnitude star; there’s a 12th-magnitude star S very slightly P by 2.75’, and those form a nearly-equilateral triangle, and almost halfway between those two stars is a pair of 11.5/12th-magnitude stars oriented S very slightly P-N very slightly F to each other and separated by 0.25’. With the UHC: as expected, the UHC really makes the nebula stand out in the field; it’s still impossibly tiny but even in the poor seeing it’s distinctly non-stellar, even at 112x, although details are impossible to come by at this magnification. Swapping filters, the O-III really brings out the nebula and the seeing has steadied for a moment … again, the nebula’s still just visible as non-stellar, but is much, much brighter than any of the stars in its immediate vicinity, and still possible to tell that it’s non-stellar (but only just). I’m sure the central star should be visible, but it’s just beyond reach. With the 7mm: this is just way too much power. The line of little stars just S of the nebula really achieves clarity at this magnification (it would be even better if the seeing was remotely decent down here). The nebula is just that tiny bit fuzzier then the other stars in the vicinity. In the 7mm Nagler, the nebula’s just a little bit more out of focus in the poor seeing than the rest of the stars, and the line of three stars just S of it kind of breaks out nicely even though the seeing is terrible. With the UHC added, the nebula’s just that much brighter than it was: not the brightest object in the field, certainly, but at this magnification, and with the poor seeing, it’s again just a little bit fuzzy or less precise than the others in the field, and not obvious, but the practiced eye can tell that it’s non-stellar. 

1:09
NGC 6644 (Sgr): This is the difficult NGC 6644, which at first glance looks like a slightly out-of-focus 10.5-magnitude star. It has a 12th-magnitude star N very very slightly P it by 1’. F very very slightly S by 1.25’ is a 13th-magnitude star. NP the nebula by 8’ is the first of three considerably bright stars in the field, and this one is the dimmest of three in this arc and is 10th-magnitude; it has trailing from it S very slightly F-ward by 1’ a string of much fainter stars that almost look like they should be a unified entity; I don’t know that they are. NF the nebula by 4.75’, and forming a right triangle with the previous star and the nebula as right-angle vertex, is an 8.5-magnitude star which also serves as the right-angle vertex of yet another right triangle with the nebula and another star of 8.5 magnitude F somewhat S of the nebula by 7.5’. Due P the nebula is a 10’ long NP-SF line of bright and dim stars that includes a lot of pairs offset to each other in direction; the northernmost pair is running not quite perpendicular to the pair to SF it, progressively SF it. I had to use the UHC to verify the nebula at first, but took it out to describe the field; with the filter back in, this nebula does not have as much distinction from the background stars as the some of the other ones have demonstrated; it’s also considerably smaller. But it also kind of throws off the whole region by having it look as bright as it does with the filter; it would’ve been much more difficult to identify the field with the nebula this much brighter. The nebula has only the tiniest bit of dimension to it at this magnification; it can’t be more than a couple of arcseconds at most. I will say that if there’s a central star in there, it’s swallowed up by the nebulosity. Switching to the O-III: the nebula’s the brightest of those four (with the three brightest stars) by a not-insignificant amount—still, I don’t think I’d have seen it as non-stellar right away with the filter in; it still looks like a point source. In the 7mm Nagler, the seeing’s just not good enough to tell that the nebula’s non-stellar; the nebula is just not big enough to show much difference in this seeing. The little string of stars S of the 9th-mag star NP the nebula is an interesting group. Adding the UHC to the 7mm, the seeing is just degraded enough that there’s no way to tell the nebula is non-stellar even at 225x.

I don’t recall the wind being a problem on the night, but judging from my recordings, it was howling by the time I returned to an object I’d observed some years ago.

1:45
NGC 6572; Patchick 52 (Oph): While still small—10” or so—The Emerald Nebula is considerably bigger than the others I’ve observed tonight. I’ve taken notes on it before, when I observed it with Harry at Crab Orchard, but I’m a better observer than I was back then, and the skies here are considerably better. The nebula is distinctly non-stellar, even at medium power; it forms an almost-right triangle with two stars to the F: one of 9.5 magnitude F very very slightly N the nebula by 3.25’ and one of 11th magnitude S of the 9.5-magnitude star by 2.25’; the 9.5-magnitude star serves as the right-angle vertex with the nebula and the 11th-magnitude star; SP the right-angle vertex by 1.25’ is a 13th-magnitude star. The nebula seems kind-of teal-colored, rather than emerald—more light blue than green—and presents as a central star with fringe around it. It spans 10” and is very much the brightest object in the field. P slightly N of the nebula by 8-9’ is what must be an actual cluster of 13th-15thmagnitude stars, almost an elongated ‘X’ with its major axis running P very slightly N-F very slightly S, and minor axis running S very very slightly P-N very very slightly F [a faint flashing satellite and a very fast bright one cross the field.] The “cluster” [Patchick 52] is 2.5’, roughly round, and has about fifteen stars in it. The UHC filter makes the nebula the brightest object in the vicinity by a long way. There’s not a lot of outer halo, not much size increase compared to the unfiltered view, but the nebula appears a little more green now. With the O-III, it’s even brighter than before, and what might be a hazy outer envelope appears; this outer haze is very tenuous (if it actually exists) and is about 0.75’ diameter; it’s just a breath-like haze around the main “core” of the nebula. With the 7mm Nagler, that haze, the outer envelope, seems to be real. Adding the UHC to the 7mm: the haze has to be real; it’s very “fibrous” or cottony, like tangible wisps of reflection nebulosity. I keep getting hints that the interior region of the nebula is elongated NP-SF very slightly, and there’s a gap S of the interior region, a dark gap in the outer envelope just below the brighter portion.

The identity of the “cluster” nagged at me; after exhausting my own references, I searched for it on Cloudy Nights, even to the point of starting a thread about it. That was to no avail either. Finally, I sought out the old Deep Sky Hunters Yahoo group, now essentially defunct, as many (if not most) of the recent deep-sky discoveries had come from their ranks. I was amazed to receive a followup e-mail from Dana Patchick, something of a legend in amateur astronomy circles for his prodigious number of discoveries. Dana informed me that he had indeed catalogued the object—only an asterism—as Patchick 52. He was also pleased that someone had kick-started the DSH group, which hadn’t seen activity in some time.

Wanting to make the most of the remaining night, I passed on several listed targets for one in better position… one that I’d had avoided for some time. The showpiece objects always are always a challenge, in their incredible detail, when it came to putting words on audio (and thence onto pixels), but my final July object was a two-birds-with-one-stone object, an AL planetary and a Messier object, and therefore as good a use of the remaining hour as could be. My recorded notes are nearly a half-hour long and a bit confusing at points, but they capture the object (and the moment) as well as I could manage.

2:34
M27 (Vul): I’ve been dreading taking notes on this one, but I have to, and on a 21.53 night it’s just breathtaking. In the unfiltered 14mm, the nebula is, from the two more-diffuse sides, about 7’ by 5’; the major axis is P slightly N-F slightly S along the fainter material and then the minor axis is S slightly P-N slightly F, which is the brighter portion, and if that’s 5’, then across the middle of the actual dumbbell portion it’s 2.75’ wide. At the NF end it’s 6’ across and at the SP end it’s 4.67’. At the SP tip of the SP end is an 11.5-magnitude star which is embedded in the nebula, so it’s hard to get an accurate magnitude. Just off the NF tip of the nebula, just outside of it on that corner, is a 13th-magnitude star, and just inside the NP corner, about 1’ from that corner on the inside, is another faint star that comes and goes in the seeing. Every now and then I get a glimmer of what might be the central star; it’s really hard to hold steady. The fainter extensions along the major axis, the NP-SF, are more open-ended to the SF but they reach farther from the main applecore of the nebula; to the NP they’re brighter and a little bit more concentrated. On the SF, the nebulosity stretches toward what looks like a diamond of faint stars; that diamond is about 1.5’ in major axis, and along the major axis is where the brighter two stars are, especially the one on the P end. Just outside the kind of gossamery NP end is a 13th-magnitude star that has N somewhat P it by 1.75’ a double star separated roughly by 0.25’; those are both 13th magnitude, maybe 13.5 magnitude. Due F the nebula, about 8.5’ from the nebula’s center, is a probable physical double; the brighter of the pair is 10thmagnitude, with a 12th-magnitude secondary due NF by 0.3’, and the primary also has a 9th-magnitude star 1.3’ SP it. SF the nebula by 20’ is the brightest star in the field, which is 8thmagnitude; there’s another 8th-magnitude star, slightly fainter than the previous, N slightly P the nebula by 18’, and F somewhat N of the nebula by 16’ is another star of 8th magnitude, which is also very slightly fainter than the first. 

With the UHC filter, the two fainter extension lobes are visually much stronger, much more gaseous-looking, with filaments and the like intertwined within them; the tips of the hourglass/dumbbell shape, where they extend beyond the dumbbell, are much more obvious; the “ends” of the nebula are curved arcs, kind of like the peel on the applecore, extending beyond the edges of the main body of the core; on the SP end, there’s a slight intrusion of darkness into the brighter part of the nebula. The S end of the nebula is markedly brighter than the N, as if there’s an illuminating source in that end specifically, a 1.75’ x 3.5’ area that’s brighter than the rest of the nebulaJust outside the NF end of the nebula, inside the gossamery extension, there’s a void (or what seems to be a void) 1.25’ long; there also seems to be a dark intrusion toward the middle of the N end. The P end of the gossamer part seems to be much more uniform; the F part is very haphazard and irregular. With the O-III, all of the stars embedded in the nebula, except for the one on the SP, are gone. There’s almost so much detail here that it’s hard to describe it! Those dark intrusions into the N and S are more apparent, as is the overhanging “peel” on the curved ends of the applecore. The two gossamery extensions are much more uniform in the O-III and somehow seem to show less detail than in the UHC. The S end of the dumbbell proper is not much noticeably brighter, only vaguely so: the definition of it isn’t there, like it was with the UHC. The middle region of the nebula seems to be a little bit fainter though, and the N end is also a little tiny bit brighter than the rest of it, other than the part of the S. With the unfiltered 7mm Nagler: Wow! I suspect that the star that I’m seeing is the actual central star and there are others within the nebulosity itself. I think there is the central star, and then between the central star and the star on the NP end there’s actually a brighter star there, about halfway from the center to the star in the NP end. There are three stars on the N and then the one in the center and then the bright one on the SP and one also just inside the gossamer extension on the SF corner. There’s a small, slightly-dimmer region around the center where the central star has got to be, and that runs roughly NP-SF across the middle of it. I think I like the 7 mm view better than either of the filtered views, to be honest! With the 7mm and the UHC, it’s really hard to keep focused on the nebula; the whole thing overwhelms. The areas that are bitten into to make the applecore are just, almost literal voids in there and the two extensions biting into the brighter ends of the Dumbbell are super super obvious here. The actual void making up the bite out of the P side really has a presence to it in averted vision, like there’s an actual physical hole in it.

It was a monumental observation to wrap up a solid month’s worth of observations. I couldn’t help but think of Admiral Smyth’s comments about M27: “27 Messier is truly one of those splendid enigmas which, according to Ricciolus, are proposed by God, but never to be subject to human solution.” How much did the Admiral (and Riccioli) sell human ingenuity short! I often wonder how a redoubtable observer like Smyth would’ve reacted to the current sorts of telescopic equipment modern amateur astronomers have at their disposal—or, conversely, how much greater he would have been with modern telescopes in his day. Or, even further, how my own observations would be interpreted in Smyth’s time.

We drove home, knowing that it would be two weeks before we’d be able to resume our various projects (Alan his astrophotography; Loren, his work on the remaining Herschel 400.) More “splendid enigmas” awaited on the other side of the Moon cycle. We didn’t know it at the time, but it would be our last month of productivity for the year. For now, though, I had a phone full of notes and a memory filled with the shells of dying suns.

The Purest Sky, A Half-Light

May came and went in an unexpected wash of rain and general grey cloudiness, in keeping with a year in which the weather patterns (and indeed, nearly everything else) made little or no sense. Usually, we could count on the skies of May being mostly free of nearly every kind of astronomy-preventing condition save forest fire smoke, yet it wasn’t until mid-June—nearly two months to the day since our last observing session—that we were able to return to our explorations of the universe.

COVID aside, we had another major headache to deal with. Due to the inability of our local yee-haw 2nd-Amendment worshippers to keep from damaging life and property down at Eureka Ridge, the Bureau of Land Management had slammed the door (or, more specifically, the newly-installed gate) on our access road to Eureka. This closed us out of our favorite (and nearest) observing site, pretty much permanently. Jerry had put in some queries to the timber company that owned the land, but had heard nothing back from them as yet. Without their permission, we’d done our last stargazing from Eureka.

In a moment of synchronicity, Loren had recently discovered another potential new site, in roughly the same direction as Eureka Ridge, but another 50% more distant. This was a turnout in a very winding section of road, not far from the site Mrs. Caveman and I had explored in April. It had a number of positive qualities: the road was paved all the way to the site, the site itself was paved but overlaid with gravel, there was room for at least eight vehicles, and it promised to be very dark indeed. The southern horizon was better than Eagle’s but not a clear as Eureka or Linslaw Point; the west and east were more than adequate, but the north was (just as Linslaw) mostly blocked by a rocky hillside. The drive was somewhat difficult, but somewhat less so than the Eagle’s region.

I. Our chance to give the new site—which we discovered was called Oxbow Summit, and we shortened to “the Oxbow”—a test run was on the 18th of June, well into the Moon-dark phase. Our last time out had been on April 19th. Conditions weren’t as good as we would’ve hoped, and not a totally fair test of the site, but they were good enough for traveling along the Milky Way.

I’d hoped to bring the 20″ Obsession, but hadn’t had the time to load it up. So it was up to Bob the Dob to inaugurate the new site for me, along with Jerry and Kathy’s 20″ Mel-scope and Loren’s 18″ Obsession. I’d already planned to work on open clusters and planetary nebulae for the AL programs on each, but I left a few flat galaxies on my observing list as well, despite generally reserving those for the Obsession. 

06/18/20 
THE OXBOW
SUNSET: 8:59 PM
MOON: 27 days (set at 6:39 PM; 9% illuminated)
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.44
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to low 50s; slight dew; air still

OTHERS PRESENT: JO, KO (20” TriDob), LR (18”)

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

11:04
NGC 5496 (Vir): We’re flat galaxy-ing at Loren’s new spot, The Oxbow; rather than using the 20” as I’d planned for the Flat Galaxy program, I’m using the 12.5” (I’d intended to do mostly planetary nebulae and open clusters here, but this target is a good one for the “smaller” scope). This particular galaxy is oriented 175-170˚ PA and about 3.5’ x 0.3’, a little “beefier” than many of the flat galaxies I’ve done. It’s quite ghostly and faint; I overlooked it the first time through the field, several minutes ago, but as the sky darkens more, the galaxy becomes more visible (funny how that works). Its halo is almost mottled or irregularly bright, with a few specific sections of interior brightening; one of these is more toward the N end [a threshold star?], then there’s a gap, then a very very weak core. The S end of the galaxy is more diffuse and harder to trace, less well defined. No nucleus is visible. A number of 13th/14th-magnitude stars lie in the vicinity; one is N very slightly F the galaxy by 6’ from the galaxy’s center and is 14th magnitude, and there’s a star of 13.5 magnitude NF the galaxy by 10’; between those two, 2.75’ F very very slightly S of the first star, is a 14.5-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is F very slightly S of the galaxy by 18’ and is 10.5 magnitude. S very very slightly P the galaxy by 11’ is the more N of a faint pair, which is 13th magnitude and has a 13.5-magnitude star S very very slightly P it by 0.5’.

Target two was a fun departure from both thin galaxies and NGC open clusters. I’d long planned to trawl through the 90+ objects in the Berkeley catalogue of open clusters, and the placement of Aquila in the sky gave me an opportunity for one of the more notable entries.

12:28
Berkeley 80 (Aql): A very intriguing open cluster outside the NGC/IC realm. It’s pretty small, no more than 2.5’ x 1.0’ P-F, with a powdery, almost nebulous appearance. On the P edge of the cluster’s main “body” is a 14th-magnitude star; 1’ P slightly N of that star is one of equal magnitude, at the end of a P-ward “extension” from the main mass of the cluster. At this magnification, the majority of the cluster is not readily resolvable. 3.75’ S of the star on the main cluster’s P edge is a 10th-magnitude star that’s the middle of an arc of three; 3.67’ P somewhat S of that star is an 8.5-magnitude star; there’s one of 9.5 magnitude F very very slightly S of the first star, which is the F-most in arc, by 4.5’. Almost due N of the cluster by 11’ is a 9th-magnitude star. With the 7mm Nagler (and waves of transparency-killing crap rolling in): a couple of individual stars are visible in the middle and on the due F edge of the cluster and some granulation of the overall glow is apparent, but that P-ward extension is just dust, still not well resolvable. Four or five stars are suggested over the top of the cluster but nothing else is resolved; the whole seems just on the edge of resolution, with some very small background glow behind it. The cluster is surprisingly-well detached and unified, but it’s hard to decide its level of richness, (probably great); the mag range is considerable, with 14th-magnitude stars and many unresolved.

Between targets on my list, I did a fair amount of browsing, checking out the usual summer suspects from the new site. M22, M28, M80, M4, M8, M17, M20…. It made for a relaxed evening between the new objects on my list. Such as the next one, an easily-located planetary I’d sought many years ago, but hadn’t found (then, using my 8″ scope from Cincinnati). It was easy from the Oxbow with the superb 12.5″ scope.

1:11
NGC 6751 (6748) (Aql): This smallish planetary nebula lies just east of the Eagle’s head; SkySafari 5 uses 6748 as its NGC number. It’s a small, fairly dense-centered nebula, bracketed very closely to the P and F by very faint stars just outside the halo; the halo is a thin envelope around a much-brighter central region. The nebula spans 0.3’ x 0.25’ and seems elongated P-F, but some of that elongation may be due to the presence of those 14.5-magnitude stars in those directions. The central star is visible among all the interior brightness. The planetary marks the SP-most vertex of an almost-isosceles right triangle with two faintish stars as the other vertices; the right-angle vertex is a 12th-magnitude star F very very slightly N of the nebula by 2’; the third vertex is a 13th-magnitude star 2.3’ N very very slightly P the right-angle vertex. From the nebula SP by 14’ is a double star or pair, the brighter component of which is 14’ from the nebula and is 10thmagnitude, and it has SF it by 0.3’ a 13th-magnitude star. 18’ due P the nebula is a 9.5-magnitude star. S of the nebula by 5’ is a small (1’) knot of 7 stars. With the 7mm: the extra magnification blows the two stars (the ones P-F very very slightly N) way out; the star to the P may be double, with a faint companion P very slightly N of the primary. This is a nice little nebula. With the OIII, the field is way too dark! Using that filter with this eyepiece is a non-starter, at least for this object. Using the OIII with the 14mm, the nebula’s edges are crisper, like the halo has either “strengthened” or has completely disappeared, and the central region is now much brighter.

Others began the process of tearing down, and though I felt like I was just getting started, I also knew that the drive home was going to be challenging. The wind had also picked up, and my audio notes were a mess of wind rumble and ambient sound beyond that of my voice. I searched my list for a suitable object to close on, and found it in one that I’d observed quite literally hundreds of times without ever taking the time to take notes on.

1:41
Messier 11 (Sct): Not wanting to end yet, although we were all packing up, so one more for the road. I’ve been hesitant to take notes on this one. Words fail; this is the premier open cluster in the sky in impressiveness, detachment, richness, etc. Just F center is the cluster lucida, which is of 8th magnitude. The cluster is roughly diamond- or square-shaped, with corners to the NP, NF, SP, and SF. The cluster is roughly 7’ in main body and has outliers extending out to 9’ x 12’, with a S 
slightly P-N slightly F axis major axis. Off the N end, 5’ from the lucida, is an arc running NP-SF for 7’ that is a separate detached portion of the cluster. M11 is incredibly rich (200+) and very well detached, even in the dense Scutum Star Cloud. The majority of cluster stars are in the 11.5-13th magnitude range. The cluster also has numerous dark voids within it, and there are a lot of dark nebulae in the area around it; the darkest and largest void is on the cluster’s NF edge between the NF edge of square and the arc to the N, kind of an apple-core shaped void that’s pinched at the middle and is 2.3’ P-F by 1.5’ N-S. The square body of the cluster itself contains four voids, of which two run together. There’s also a triangular void P the lucida on the P corner of the square, which is the least-dense void, roughly equilateral and 1’ on a side. To the S and SF and sweeping around the cluster is another large void that wipes out that edge of cluster, especially on the S; there are a few stars on the F edge of the last void that help make up the right angle on that side of the square, but the void blows out the area due S of the lucida, which is completely barren of stars starting 1’ S of the lucida and stretching further S; so there’s a 1’ area S of lucida with stars and then none, and then the remainder of that corner of the cluster. 1’ F the lucida and stretching SF is another dark nebula. SF the lucida by 4.5’ is the more S of a pair of 9th-magnitude stars separated N-S by 0.75’, with the N of the pair the brighter. On the extreme NF corner of the square of cluster is a very tiny, almost planetary nebula-looking 9” knot of unresolved stars. The dark void S of the lucida also extends much farther to the SP and fans out from there, but is somewhat less opaque with some background glow there—a dark slash through the cluster and beyond the square. A magnificent object!

And an excellent way to end our first observing session in eight weeks. The nights ahead looked promising for astronomy, despite how deep into the Moon-dark phase we already were, and I used my concentration on the drive home to plot out my observing plan for the rest of June.

Verdict on the new site: physically, it’s an excellent spot (we’ve been back several times since). The sky conditions weren’t really good enough to make a fair assessment, so we’ll have to catch it on an excellent night to see just how dark it can get; light-pollution maps show it as having the potential to reach 21.8 on the SQM, so in theory it should get as dark as Linslaw. The southern horizon is a bit compromised, but not as much as at Eagle’s Ridge, and there are no trees to interfere in that direction. There’s also a smaller site just up the road, if we want to observe anything in the north.

II. Several nights later, we reconvened at the newly-enlarged “amphitheatre” area along Eagle’s Rest Road, the site that won the evening’s lottery in the sky-conditions-and-drivability categories. This time I did have the 20″ Obsession along, intent on making a last plow-through of the late-spring flat galaxies before the galaxy fields (Ginsburg’s Buddhafields?) yielded the sky to the great double-slash of the Milky Way’s summer arms.

There were four of us there, and four vehicles—perhaps the comfortable limit at the amphitheater. Jerry was there, Trackball already waiting for dusk; Bill M had made a fairly-rare appearance on the observing field with his 9.25″ SCT, and Robert A was there with his 3D-printed binocular scope, his daughter in tow.

Having done some minor maintenance work to the 20″, I’d gotten it to a point where one person could conceivably set it up alone. It wasn’t fun to do so, but it was possible. I managed to do it with a minimum of swearing, and in a fairly-timely manner, as well. Nothing to do, then, but to wait for the dark to finish falling.

My first look of the night went to UGC 10227, a flat galaxy in Corona Borealis—an easy one to find, but a difficult one to observe, simply due to the immediate presence of 4th-magnitude Tau CrB, only 7.25′ due S of the galaxy. I’d observed this one before with the 18″ and had seen it vaguely in the 12.5″; alas, it wasn’t on the Flat Galaxy Program list for the AL, so I hadn’t taken notes on it. (I should be doing so regardless of an object’s status, but the sad truth is that I don’t always do so.). But then we were off, to a nearby galaxy trio (also a set of targets in demand, but for the Galaxy Groups & Clusters program). Technically, astronomical twilight still hadn’t ended, but the galaxies were calling.

06/21/20 
EAGLE’S REST AMPHITHEATRE
SUNSET: 8:59 PM
MOON: 1 day (set at 9:45 PM; 0.5% illuminated)
SEEING: 8
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.48
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to low 50s; some dew; air still

OTHERS PRESENT: JO, BILL M, RA (and his daughter, planting trees) 

All observations: 20″ f/5 Obsession Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (181x, 0.452˚ TFOV) or 7mm Nagler (363x, 0.21˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted 

11:08
NGCs 5490, 5490C; IC 982, 983 
(Boo): It’s been a good start to the session; I’ve already had a faint look at UGC 10227. This is a small group here in Boötes, but it’s hard to observe because two of the galaxies are very close to a 9th-magnitude star. NGC 5490A is reasonably bright, small, maybe 1.0’ round; it has a quite diffuse halo and a brighter small core that it comes quickly to (rather than a smooth gradient) and a substellar nucleus. NGC 5490A forms a right triangle as the right-angle vertex, with an 11.5-magnitude star 3’ S very slightly F and a 13th-magnitude star 3.75’ due F. The galaxy has P it by 1.25’ a 14th-magnitude star that has one of 13.5 magnitude NP it by 1.5’. N very slightly F the galaxy by 11’ is a 9th-magnitude star; that star has SP it by 2.75’ another galaxy [IC 982], which is more diffuse and fainter and only about half the size of 5490A: maybe 0.5’, with a core that’s only slightly brighter and a very faint stellar nucleus. From the 9th-magnitude star 1.5’ P somewhat N is a third galaxy [IC 983/Arp117], which happens to be 2.5’ NF the previous galaxy; this one is no more than 0.75’ in diameter, with a very faint halo but a considerably brighter core and a stellar nucleus [I missed most of the halo due to the presence of the bright star]. From 5490A, not quite halfway between that and the 9th-magnitude star, 5’ N slightly F 5490A, is a very diffuse glow [5490C/Arp 79]: 0.5’ round, with very, very little central concentration. The halo is exceedingly diffuse, and the galaxy much easier to pick out in averted vision than to try to hold steady in direct. This is a nice field, although the glare from the star overpowers everything else in it. [I missed 5490B.]

Robert’s daughter was planting tree branches as trees, to help replant the amphitheatre.

11:28
UGC 9249 (Boo): A flat galaxy in Boötes, and a difficult one, hard to hold steady with direct vision even in the 20” Obsession.  [A satellite goes through it N-S.] 90˚ PA? The galaxy is 1.25’ x perhaps 0.25’, with just a very very slight bit of central concentration; it’s otherwise evenly illuminated. I wouldn’t pick this as a flat galaxy, as it seems “beefier.” [I just described a galaxy as “beefier.”] There’s no core or nucleus visible, just a faint halo glow that may have a threshold star off the F end. There are several really faint (16th-magnitude) stars nearby that are distracting to the overall view. A 15th-magnitude star lies S very very slightly F the galaxy by 2.5’ and a bright (10th-magnitude) star N of the galaxy by 2.75’; 3.25’ N of that star is one of 12th magnitude; from the 10th-magnitude star P slightly S by 0.75’ is a 15th-magnitude star. From the galaxy P very very slightly N by 3.25’ is a 13.5-magnitude star, and SP galaxy by 4.25’ is a 12.5-magnitude star.

The next galaxy had been something of a bete noire for me as far as flat galaxies went—I’d tried for it each of the last few summers and had come up empty each time. With the blunderbuss 20″, though, and some decent sky placement, the big-game hunter emerged triumphant.

11:46
UGC 9169 (Boo): This is another “faint but there” galaxy, certainly a brighter one than the previous. I’ve looked for this one many times (dating all the way back to our Champion Saddletrip), so all I can say is—finally! It’s much larger than 9249 and better holdable in direct vision, with a very, very fleeting trace of a nucleus but no core. Elongation is SP-NF, PA 50˚. The galaxy spans 2.0’ x 0.25’ and is well defined, but the tips of the spiral arms are hard to see, fading out as they do into nothingness. The galaxy is positioned between two stars, to the N and S; the star to the N is 3.5’ N very very slightly P and is 13.5 magnitude; also NF the galaxy by 4’ a 12.5-magnitude star; the star to the S is 7’ S and is 13th magnitude, and there’s also a 14th-magnitude star that is 3’ F slightly S of the galaxy. The brightest star in the field is N very very slightly F galaxy by 12’ and is 11th magnitude; it’s the P-most of a group of similarly-bright to slightly-fainter stars that trail to the F from there. This is a nice galaxy, even though it’s faint!

12:00
UGC 9841; NGC 5928 (Ser): The best flat galaxy of the night so far, this one almost jumps out when swept into the field; it shares this field with a considerably-bright star and a considerably-bright small galaxy. It’s another 50˚ PA flat galaxy, elongated 1.75’ x 0.3’. It’s not uniformly bright; there’s obvious central concentration along the major axis and a faint stellar nucleus that’s a direct-vision object but only holdable 70% of the time. The galaxy seems to have a very very slightly brighter bit on the F end. It’s in an active field, with stars of a wide range of mags, including a number of single-digit-magnitude stars; P very very slightly N of the galaxy is a 12th-magnitude star that’s the brightest in a fishhook asterism that stretches to the P; that star is 2’ from the nucleus. SF the galaxy by 11’ is an 8th-magnitude star that has S very very slightly P it by 6’ a pretty bright small galaxy [NGC 5928] that has a diffuse but not well-defined 1.0’ halo; it has a quite brighter core and substellar nucleus.

The galaxy fields had by now sunk behind the stand of trees remaining on the west side of the amphitheatre and into the edges of the Eugene light-muck, necessitating a change of plan; I wasn’t going to be pulling threshold-magnitude galaxies from the skyglow and tree branches.

One of the requirements for the Astronomical League’s Planetary Nebula program is that the observer use as many magnifications as possible in observing each nebula. I had a slightly-different idea; I intended to observe each planetary with the 14mm and 7mm eyepieces in both the 12.5″ and 20″ scopes. That would yield 112 and 224x in the 12.5″ and 181 and 363x in the 20″—not just a good range of magnifications, but an excuse to use multiple apertures. (Under rare occasions, I could use even higher magnification, but the sky conditions would have to be quite stable for doing so.) So I turned the big mirror onto a planetary I’d never before observed, one that was much better placed than the flat galaxies I had remaining.

1:17
NGC 6309 (Oph): The Box Nebula, a considerably-bright planetary, which is clearly not round even at low power. The nebula has very very close on the N a 12th-magnitude star. The nebula is elongated NP-SF and is 0.5’ x 0.25’ in the central region; there’s a lot of fringe to the P and F that makes the nebula seem a little more roundish, but none on the N and S. It has 1.5’ NP it a 13th-magnitude star, and due F the nebula by 1’ is a 15th-magnitude star. Every now and then a central star is very very veryfaintly visible; the fringe to the P side (especially the SP) is a bit brighter than on the F side, like it flares out to the SP. With the O-III: this is an almost Saturn Nebula type, with bright extensions to the N and S along the major axis and a bright “core” with a lot of internal detail. The 7mm Nagler (with no filter) really makes a difference, although the seeing’s a bit mucky at this magnification. There’s a very very faint star (16th magnitude?) to the due P, very close to the edge of the halo, which gives an impression that the nebula is extended that direction more than it actually is. The nebula’s internal structure is ‘S’-shaped within its outer fringe, and there’s definitely a brightening on the very S tip of the nebula; there are numerous dark striations in it as well. With the 7mm and O-III, the field is again too dark: the nebula has irregularity in its interior, but there’s no easy description for it as it’s hard to bring to focus. The impression of something brighter on the S tip is much stronger at this magnification. The fringe is clearly more prominent on the SP—it’s not just an illusion, and not because the threshold star is there. This is quite an impressive little nebula!

Bill and Robert had left by this point, and Jerry was ready to start packing up. I had taken a few moments to observe the two globular clusters in Delphinus—NGCs 6934 and 7006—for a program I was giving to EAS via Zoom at the July meeting, and decided I needed to make one more stop in the constellation before beginning the long process of teardown with the 20″.

1:52
NGCs 6928, 6927, 6930; UGC 11590 (Del): The Delphinus Trio, and the first time I’m seeing all three for certain. NGC 6928 is unmistakable: it’s elongated 1.5’ x 0.3’ P very very slightly S-F very very slightly N, and has a 14th-magnitude star just on the N very slightly F from center, on the outside edge of the halo, that’s distracting from the interior of the galaxy (where there’s a brightish core and a faint stellar nucleus). The outer edge of the halo is diffuse and poorly defined; the interior of the halo is irregular in brightness. 7’ NP 6928 is a 9th-magnitude star with one of 9.5 magnitude 1’ N of it. With a great deal of difficulty, I can pick up NGC 6927: it’s much more apparent than any time I’ve seen the group, even when I’ve seen the galaxy itself. 6927 lies 3’ P somewhat S of 6928; it’s very very small (less than 0.25’ in diameter) and has a little bit of central brightening and maybe even a tiny faint stellar nucleus that may be better visible in averted vision. SF 6928 by 3.75’ is NGC 6930: this galaxy is also hampered by having a star just outside its halo, although this one a bit further than the one obscuring the view of NGC 6928; the star is 1.25’ S very slightly P of the center of 6930, which is elongated N-S, 1.25’ x 0.3’ There’s a very very faint bit of major axis brightening in 6930, plus a slightly-visible core. The detached piece at the N end (UGC 11590) is hinted at, while the star on the S end is 12.5 magnitude. Even farther S, 4.5’ from the galaxy, is a real distraction: an 8.5-magnitude star. F somewhat S and SF 6930 by 2.3’ each are a pair: the more S of the two is 10th magnitude and the more N is 11th. With 6930 roughly centered in the eyepiece, just outside the N slightly F edge of the field is a 6.5-magnitude star. With the 7mm: I wouldn’t be surprised if the secondary is dewy; there’s a loss of contrast, but there doesn’t really seem to be anything on the secondary itself. NGC 6927 really jumps out at this magnification: it’s elongated a little more obviously N-S and still not easy, but more visible. NGC 6928 is an impressive little galaxy, and there’s definitely core brightening in 6930; the little spot on the N end is definitely very slightly visible. This is a really great trio!

The drive home from the amphitheatre site was just over half as long as that to the top of the Ridge—that last nine miles took twenty of the forty-five minutes from my house. With the closing-off of Eureka Ridge, the amphitheatre had become our nearest observing site; it was certainly adequate for the job, but its exposure to the dew coming up the valley, and to the yahoos driving past looking for cheap (usually high-caliber) thrills, meant that it was better as a part-time site than a permanent one. Still, the easier drive home was a welcome relief from some of the longer hauls we made, and it was a decent alternative when the Clear Sky Chart showed issues at Linslaw.

III. I left the 20″ in the Caveman-Mobile that night and the next day, taking inside only the eyepieces and whatever other items shouldn’t be left in the van during the day and making sure to roll down the windows and open the back flaps to keep the air as cool as possible (so the mirror needed less cool-down time, more than anything). And then it was off to Linslaw Point, where I hadn’t been since a very windy February night when the Herschel objects of Puppis and Canis Major had beckoned.

Mark W was there already, getting his imaging setup ready for the night; Loren was right behind with the 18″ Obsession he’d bought in southern Illinois. And it was back to flat galaxies, with no trees to interfere and the glow from Eugene/Springfield largely hidden behind the sandstone crag.

It was late in the season already to be digging galaxies out of Libra, but my first few targets were there anyway; there was no sense in abandoning them until next spring.

06/22/20 
LINSLAW POINT
SUNSET: 8:59 PM
MOON: 2 days (set at 10:37 PM; 3% illuminated)
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.58
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to low 50s; NO dew; slight breeze (little bit of wind rumble)

OTHERS PRESENT: LR, MW

All observations: 20″ f/5 Obsession Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (181x, 0.452˚ TFOV) or 7mm Nagler (363x, 0.21˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted 

11:14
UGCA 394; Burnham 346 (Lib): SP Zubenelgenubi—and just P a striking Burnham double of equal color but not quite equal magnitude—lies this striking but irregularly-bright flat galaxy. (The seeing down here isn’t great.) It’s a big one—2.5’ x 0.3’—and oriented in PA 170˚? (175˚?). The galaxy is visible in direct vision but averted makes it much more apparent, and the irregularity of its brightness is much more evident in averted vision; there’s not anything definable as a core or nucleus, though. It’s surrounded, especially on the N, by a number of 13th/15th-magnitude stars; on the N end, there are three pairs which are also roughly oriented N-S (the P-most pair is NP-SF oriented). It also doesn’t help the observation that the galaxy has some brightish stars off to the F side that are distracting: 1.25’ due F is a star of 14.5 magnitude; 1.75’ due F thatstar is a 12th-magnitude star; there’s another of 12.5 magnitude F very slightly S of thatstar by 2.25’. N of the galaxy are the three pairs: of the P-most, the S star is NP the galaxy by 2.5’ and has NP it by 0.5’ the second star; both are 14.5 magnitude. N slightly P the galaxy by 1.75’ is the S-most of the second pair, which has N of it by 0.75’ a nearly-equal star (both are 14th magnitude); the third pair consists of two 13.5-magnitude stars NF the galaxy by 2.25’; the S-most has the second 0.3’ due N of it. 18’ F very very slightly N of the galaxy is the Burnham star (Burnham 346): this is an excellent double that looks a lot like Gamma Ari, save for the greater magnitude range; both stars are whitish, and are separated with the brighter F very very slightly S of the dimmer by 3”; these are 7th and 8th magnitude.

11:33
NGCs 5915, 5916, 5916A (Lib): A fine trio down here in Libra—quite impressive! These are not showpiece galaxies but the three of them are a fine sight in the eyepiece. NGC 5915 is the brightest of the three, but not the largest. It has obvious interaction distortion; it’s elongated NP-SF, but also at its F end, it stretches toward the S with a diffuse hook toward a faint (14.5-magnitude) star just outside the halo. Overall, the galaxy spans 1.25’ x 0.5’, plus the 0.3’ hook S at the F end. It also has a fairly diffuse but pretty well-defined halo, and a smallish, bright core extended along the major axis (which accounts for most of major axis) and a stellar nucleus. 5’ S very very slightly F is NGC 5916, which is more diffuse and much less well-concentrated but slightly longer (1.5’ x 0.5’) than NGC 5915. Its S end may be a bit more diffuse than the N end, and there may be some central brightening along the major axis; the galaxy has no real core but does have a faint stellar nucleus. It’s not well defined in the halo, especially on the N end. Almost due P 5915 by 5’ is a 12th-magnitude star that’s the right-angle vertex of a small faint right triangle; there’s an 11.5-magnitude star due S of it by 2.25’ and a 14th-magnitude star due P by 1.3’; there’s another faint (maybe 14.5-magnitude) star due F the right-angle vertex by 1.5’. The right-angle vertex also has immediately due F it NGC 5916A: a NP-SF elongated 0.67’ x 0.25’ glow, with a faint diffuse halo and the weakest of central concentration [transparency issues down here?]. NGC 5915 has N very very slightly F it by 2’ an 11.5-magnitude star which has F it by 0.75’ a 14th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is N very very slightly P 5915 by 12’ and is 10th magnitude.

Back into Boötes, then. For a constellation largely thought to be devoid of interesting objects, it’s certainly worth digging deep into.

12:06
UGC 9242 (Boo): A nice flat galaxy, up by Seginus (Gamma Boötis); it’s a pretty obvious and very, very long thin streak with a 13th-mag star SF it very closely, 1.25’ SF the galaxy. The galaxy is no less than 3.0’ x 0.3’, elongated PA 60˚, and quite faint but unmistakable when passing over it in the field; it’s a nice one to watch drift through. The galaxy has no core, no nucleus, but the halo is pretty well defined and has a little more presence/is less ghostly than many of the UGC flat galaxies; it can be held pretty well in direct vision. The galaxy seems to have on the N side every now and then a couple of really threshold stars just N of the galaxy. UGC 9242 lies almost halfway between two 11th-magnitude stars; one to the SF and one to the NP; the one to the SF is 11’ from the galaxy and the one NP 9’. A third 9th-magnitude star lies due F the galaxy by 12’. With the 7mm Nagler, there’s definitely another faint star on the N edge of the galaxy, toward the F end. The halo is not evenly illuminated at this magnification.

I spent a fair amount of time scouring the northern reaches of Boötes for several of my other targets, but had little luck (for whatever reason). Sometimes objects just don’t make themselves apparent, and it’s better to leave them for another night than to waste a whole night (or the remainder of one) trying to track them down. So I moved further east, to some slightly more-familiar territory.

12:54
UGC 10297 (Her): I didn’t have luck finding some of the others in Boötes tonight, so I’ve moved over to Hercules. This is much smaller and fainter than the others I’ve taken notes on tonight, and is overall considerably more difficult. It’s 0.75’ (maybe 1.0’) x 0.125’, but it’s really hard to tell because 16 Her (at magnitude 5.5) is nearby, screwing up the view of the field. The galaxy is elongated almost exactly 180˚ PA, with 16 Her due S by 5.5’; I have to get 16 Her out of the field to observe the galaxy. Switching to the 7mm doesn’t help that much, unless the star is just outside the field. At neither magnification is there any sense of central brightening, a nucleus, etc., just a very, very thin pretty-well defined low surface brightness glow. NP off the galaxy’s NP tip by 1’ is a very faint star, perhaps 15.5 magnitude; 8’ due F the galaxy is a somewhat-bright star (magnitude 11.5).

And one more before the lengthy tear-down that came with a huge scope like the 20″ f/5….

1:33
IC 1197 (Ser): A really lovely flat specimen, although it’s not as bright as I expected—compared to the UGCs, it’s not that much brighter. It’s still large and rather obvious in direct vision. The galaxy is elongated 2.25’ x 0.3’ in PA 45-50˚, and is somewhat irregular in brightness; it has a 14.5-magnitude star off the NF end just outside the halo and a tiny bit S; 0.75’ along that same axis (parallel to the galaxy) from thatstar is a 16th-magnitude star. Due P the galaxy by 3.5’ is a 12th-magnitude star that has another of 12th magnitude due N of it by 2.5’, and thatstar has a 13th-magnitude star F very very slightly N of it by 1’. From the galaxy SP by 6.5’ is a 12th-magnitude star with one of 10th magnitude P very very slightly S of it by 1.25’. The galaxy has a very, very little central brightening to it, almost a core; I don’t see a nucleus. With the 7mm, the galaxy almost disappears; still no nucleus [though the seeing’s gone to pot somewhat]; at moments of great steadiness there might be a tiny faint suggestion of a nucleus there… maybe substellar, if there?

IV. We had a schism on the final night of the June run; half of us wanted to return to Linslaw; the other half opted for the amphitheatre or Eagle’s Ridge proper. Jerry (from the Ridge itself) suggested we do an SQM comparison between the sites. This turned the evening into the largest collection of data points we had between the two sites; as I suspected, Linslaw came out on top (although we later determined that the two SQMs also had significant variation between them).

I still had the 20″ with me; during the hours between sunset and Moonset, I used the monster to sweep through the globular-rich region of southern Ophiuchus and northern Sagittarius, picking up thirty or so clusters amid the dark tendrils of silicate dust and the dense clouds of innumerable stars along the Milky Way. A substantial breeze drove me into my winter coat even as I got started on “serious” observing at Moonset.

06/25-06/26/20 
LINSLAW POINT
SUNSET: 8:59 PM
MOON: 5 days (set at 12:31 AM; 35% illuminated)
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.66-21.73
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to low 50s; slight, insignificant dew; strong breeze that kicked up approx 1 AM for an hour
OTHERS PRESENT: DB (+Ruby and Alesha), MW (JO and others at Eagle’s—SQM battle)

All observations: 20f/5 Obsession Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (181x, 0.452˚ TFOV) or 7mm Nagler (363x, 0.21˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

1:02
NGCs 5714, 5717, 5722, 5721; PGCs 2284110, 2283980/2283962 (Boo): A fine flat galaxy, with three or four other galaxies in the field. NGC 5714 is elongated in PA 75˚, maybe 80˚, not quite P-F. The galaxy is fainter than I expected but still moderately bright, and spans 2.75’ x 0.3’; it appears to be irregularly bright and mottled, particularly brighter (wider?) on the P end. There’s not really a core but there is some brightness in the middle, and no nucleus is visible. The galaxy is surrounded by four stars making a triangle: 2.5’ NP the galaxy is a 12.5-magnitude star; there’s one of 13th magnitude S somewhat P of the galaxy by 2’, and N very slightly F the galaxy by 1’ is the brightest of the four at 12th magnitude; 0.75’ due F that last star is a 13.5-magnitude star. There’s also a 15.5-magnitude star SF the galaxy by 1.75’. 4.75’ F the galaxy and very very slightly N is a small, roundish galaxy (5717) with a brightish nucleus and slightly-brighter core inside a fairly diffuse, not well-defined halo that is 0.5’ around; 3’ F that galaxy is another smaller and even more diffuse one (5722) that looks to have a very faint substellar nucleus. This galaxy is 0.3’ around; it also may have a threshold star very near the N edge of its halo that pops into view every now and then in averted (this is actually another galaxy, NGC 5721). I had another galaxy earlier but can’t it find now… but there’s another galaxy (PGC 2284110) P very very slightly S of 5714 by 6’; it’s just S of a 14th-magnitude star; just a very fuzzy small unconcentrated spot; in averted, it may have a small brighter core. 5714 is pretty-well defined, not very diffuse except on the ends of its halo. I still think I had more galaxies; I clearly need more power. With the 7mm: the little galaxy P 5714, just S of the faint star, doesn’t have much central concentration. 5714 is thinner on the P end than the F end. 4’ S very very slightly F the second of the three galaxies is another (PGCs 2283980/2283962); there’s a faint star nearby to the P throwing off the observing. This little galaxy is a small diffuse unconcentrated patch that comes and goes in direct vision no more than 25% of the time. I can see the star near this galaxy in the 14mm, but the galaxy itself is not steady even in averted vision.

I took a new set of SQM reading every hour on the hour; Linslaw consistently came out 0.1 mag/arcsec^2 higher than Eagle’s Ridge. (Oh, how we gloated.) Although I’d taken only one set of notes so far, my feet were already starting to ache from standing on the ladder. The next galaxy made the pain worth it.

2:01
NGC 5907 (Dra): A stunner! One of the great flat galaxies, along with NGC 4565 and NGC 891. It’s at least 12’ x 0.75’ in PA 170˚ and very bright, with a brighter central “core” of 2.5’, but I’m not really getting a nucleus. The ends of the halo are very tenuous and fade out into the background, and the core region seems a little irregular in shape and brightness (the dust lane is quite obviously crossing here on the P side); the diffuseness of the halo is more shaggy on the S end. 1’ due P the middle of the galaxy is a 14.5-magnitude star; 0.5’ following the N tip of the galaxy is another of 14.5 magnitude. There’s a 16th-magnitude star P the N end of the galaxy by 2’. From the center of the galaxy NF is a 13.5-magnitude star that has another of the same magnitude 1’ due F it; also from the center of the galaxy P somewhat N by 7’ is an 11.5-magnitude star that has one of 11th magnitude N very slightly P it by 5’. From the 14.5-magnitude star due P the galaxy S slightly P by 2.25’ is a 15.5-magnitude star. Due P the S tip of the galaxy by 3.5’ is another 14.5-magnitude star. P the galaxy by 7’ is a 12th-magnitude star. NP the galaxy by 13’ is a 13.5-magnitude star with another of 13.5 magnitude F it by 0.5’; NF that star by 1’ is a 13th-magnitude star.

My next target was of the most-obscure I’ve ever tracked down; I hadn’t even heard of it until the morning. But it’s hard to resist these super-unknown ones, especially when they’re at extreme distances.

2:40
Sancho’s Object (MAC 1510+5810, MAC 1510+5810A; PGC 3136298; Dra): This object was the featured Object of the Week on the Deep Sky Forum for June 21st, 2020, so I added it to my observing list among the flat galaxies. It’s difficult but surprisingly obvious. With the 14mm Explore: the galaxy pairing is very small and very faint; the elongated galaxy isn’t separable from the glow of the larger at this power (that’s hardly surprising). The galaxy—and I’m only seeing one, although there’s a hint of irregular shape—has a tiny core or very faint substellar nucleus. The whole thing is no more than 0.3’ across. It has due P it by 0.67’ a 12.5-magnitude star. 3.25’ due S is an 11th-magnitude star that has another of 11th magnitude due F by 2.3’. The star due P the galaxy has P it by 0.75’ a 15.5-magnitude star. With the 7mm Nagler, there’s definitely an irregularity of shape and the larger galaxy definitely has a visible nucleus. It’s really really hard to tell the other galaxy’s shape; at moments, it may seem like two total separate galaxies, but this impression is fleeting [seeing went to shit, too]. There’s a glimpse of a nucleus in the “second” galaxy every now and then, like a star detached from the first galaxy; the edge-on is the F-most of the two? I’m glad I went after this even though I don’t have a great view of it; it’s nearly a half-billion light-years away!

With dawn’s break imminent—one of the major drawbacks of summer, along with the late fall of darkness—I had time for one more object in June. So it was back to flat galaxies for perhaps the last time until the autumn constellations took the stage at dusk.

3:01
NGC 5777 (Dra): Last one for the night! This is a nice, brightish flat galaxy, elongated 2.5’ x 0.3’ in 140˚ PA. It has a much-brighter central region and a fairly-obvious core that’s elongated very slightly along the major axis; there’s a substellar nucleus in there, too, and the halo is pretty well defined. In averted vision, it seems like the N half of the galaxy is a little brighter than the S. The galaxy has just off its N end, almost in contact with the halo, a 15th-magnitude star; there’s a 15.5-magnitude star due F of the galaxy by 2.75’. Due N of the galaxy by 11’ is a 9th-magnitude star; 7’ S very very slightly F the galaxy is a 10.5-magnitude star. NP the galaxy by 5’ is a 13th-magnitude star with a 12th-magnitude star N of it by 1.5’.

And so June ended and the astronomers returned home to await another Moon-dark phase, one hopefully free of the clouds and rain that had plagued 2020 so extensively so far.

 

 

 

 

A Sort of April-Weather Life

IMG_4437

With the two Herschel 400 lists finished and my notes submitted to the Astronomical League, I had an array of options ahead of me as far as observing projects go. I also had a plethora of telescopes to use in accomplishing whatever goals I set; given my interest in using all of the scopes in my possession (and the EAS library scopes I’m fostering in my garage), it was useful to come up with an observing plan for the rest of the year.

One of my major goals in life has been to become a writer of astronomy books, and my work on the Herschel 400 and HII programs was a terrific foundation—each set of notes was over 250 pages complete, and that was only the notes taken with the 12.5″ scope (Bob the Dob). I had a number of other common-size scopes that I could take notes with—why not use them, for the purpose of writing a comprehensive, multi-aperture guide to observing the Herschel 400 and Herschel II? I could use my 70mm TV Pronto, my (new to me) 4″ f/15 Unitron refractor, and my 8″ Celestron SCT to take notes on those objects in the two primary Herschel lists for the sake of comparison, so that every time those scopes came out for observing, I had a ready-made agenda. This could potentially yield an ultimate guide to observing the Herschel 400 and HII lists… something worth buying. (As I write this, UPS has just delivered a copy of the Cambridge Atlas of Herschel Objects for use in tracking down “the last 1600+”.)

For Bob the Dob, the agenda would be simpler. The remaining 1600+ objects discovered by William Herschel were mostly galaxies, best visible in spring and autumn, so observing with that scope during those seasons would allow me to continue through Herschel’s remaining discoveries; those objects too faint or difficult for the 12.5″ scope could be swept up with the 20″ Obsession. In the summer and winter, Bob the Dob could be used to continue work on the Astronomical League’s Open Cluster program, which I’d essentially started while plowing through the H400/HII. (Or perhaps once I get my old 13.1″ Coulter better tuned-up, I could use it on the open clusters.)

For the 20″ Obsession, I also had a seasonal agenda—flat galaxies in spring and autumn, the AL’s Planetary Nebula program for summer and winter. I had intended to use the 12.5″ scope to wrangle the planetaries, but with so many “obscure” (i.e. non-NGC) targets on the list—Abells, Minkowskis, Wrays, etc.—the extra aperture of the Obsession would be a great advantage. I’d also be able to use the Obsession to pick up the remaining globular clusters I needed from the Northern Hemisphere: Palomars 1-5 and 13-15, plus all of the Terzans aside from Terzan 7, and whatever remaining non-NGC globulars there were after the Palomars and Terzans I still needed.

I. April brought with it several good observing nights, the first of which was the night of the 13th. Still fresh off of conquering the two AL Herschel programs, and hoping to use one of my less-used scopes, I hauled my 8″ SCT out to Eureka Ridge to work through some of the early spring Herschel 400 objects and start testing my scope and the claims that all of the H400 could be seen in an 8″ scope. (I had no doubt that they could—Jay Reynolds Freeman had seen them all in a 55mm refractor—but I wanted good notes on them, and wanted to observe them in the 8″ with my own eyes for proof.)

April also brought with it the COVID-19 lockdown, and though three of us came out to observe, we more than kept our distance. It was just as well; I started feeling a bit rocky as the evening went on, and packed it in two whole hours before Moonrise. I did manage a productive night, though, taking notes on M48 and NGCs 2811, 2652, 3115, 2775, 3166, 3169, 4027, 4038/39, and 3962, despite having to completely re-learn how to use an equatorial mount (after years of non-stop alt-az mounts).  It was something of a joy to use my first scope on objects in constellations like Crater; my memories of using that telescope are so intertwined with my observing life in Cincinnati that the idea of using it at a dark site (even though we only hit 21.37 on the SQM) had been somewhat unthinkable. I came away from the evening with a new appreciation for the old scope, and for what an 8″ aperture could do when the sky was good enough.

II. I skipped the next couple of nights to watch my health, and to make sure I didn’t have anything that could be passed on to anyone else. But I felt fine the next day and the several after that, so—having monitored temperature and cough and other symptoms—I was ready to go three nights later, still keeping well away from the others on the observing field.

My agenda for the night was nothing less than the Herschel Sprint, which I’d already attempted on a March night in 2016 (see here). It was almost 235 years to the day since William Herschel had had his epic night of discovery, sweeping up 74 previously-undiscovered galaxies in Ursa Major, Leo, Leo Minor, Coma Berenices, Canes Venatici, and Corona Borealis (the latter most appropriate for the current times). Rather than working on his remaining objects—and having several nights of good forecast upcoming—I decided to try the Sprint again, having been foiled by Moonrise back in 2016.

I was about thirty objects in before my feet began to give up the ghost. I was halfway into two months of physical therapy—along with getting a set of custom orthotics (which I didn’t actually get until May) and a high-strength prescription anti-inflammatory—to bring the pain in my feet under control, but that wasn’t enough to alleviate the effects of standing for five straight hours on uneven rocky ground. And standing was necessary; the declination band in which the Sprint targets resided was just high enough that I couldn’t use my observing chair at all. Even with several breaks to sit, I couldn’t plow through it. I ended up with brief notes on about fifty of the 74 objects before dejectedly calling it a night.

III. My feet recovered enough for me to venture out the next night. I was smarter this time; my agenda consisted of working through “The Remaining 1600+” with the 12.5″ scope, and I deliberately chose targets that would allow me to sit down to observe. The majority (if not all ) of these were from T.C. Hoffelder’s informal selection of the Herschel III objects. With only three of us in the small Eureka clearing, there was plenty of room for social distancing, and the weather held until it didn’t.

We were also treated to an impressive display of Elon’s Folly going overhead, starting nearly at the zenith and gradually working west as they arced above us.

04/17/20 
EUREKA RIDGE
SUNSET: 8:00 PM
MOON: 24 days (rose at 4:37 AM; 27% illuminated)
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 7-5
SQM: 21.4
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to upper 30s; no dew; chilly but tolerable; clouds gradually took over the sky starting 11:00; wind grew increasingly stronger on observing field
OTHERS PRESENT: DB, LR

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

9:33
NGC 2507 (Cnc): This is not a bad little galaxy. It’s round, about 1.0’ diameter, with a fairly diffuse outer halo that’s not particularly well defined, a 0.3’ core that’s not much brighter than the halo and is gradually arrived at, and a faint stellar nucleus. SP the galaxy by 1.3’ is a 12th-magnitude star; that star looks like it has something SP it—probably a faint double (or a small galaxy?); the P-most of the double/pair is holdable in direct vision, but the F-most is at threshold level; the two components are 20” apart [there are many of Elon’s Folly going overhead at the moment; I went to confirm M89/M90 for Loren]. F slightly S of the galaxy by 6’ is a 9th-magnitude star that’s the S-most vertex of a right triangle; 4.25’ F very slightly N of that star is the triangle’s right-angle vertex, which is 10th magnitude; 7’ N from the first vertex is the third vertex, which is 11th magnitude.

10:00
NGC 2545 (Cnc): Much more difficult than NGC 2507, this is a faintish N-S streak. It has a very very faint substellar nucleus, but only a slight bit of central concentration along the major axis. The galaxy spans 1.0’ x 0.3’. It looks as if, just outside the N end of the halo, is a threshold (or perhaps 14.5-magnitude) star. The halo is pretty diffuse and not at all well defined. The galaxy is faint enough that it’s hard to get a good reading on its dimensions; in averted, it reaches maybe 1.25’ x 0.5’. Due P the galaxy by 4’ is a 9.5- magnitude star that’s the S-most vertex of a right triangle; the right-angle vertex is NP that star by 3.5’ and is 11.5 magnitude; 3’ due NF the right-angle vertex is another 11.5-magnitude star. 3.75’ N very slightly F the galaxy is a 12.5-magnitude star with a 14th-magnitude star 1’ F very very slightly N. From the galaxy 8’ F slightly N is a 9.5-magnitude star with a 10.5-magnitude star 1.67’ N very very slightly F it. The brightest star in the field is 19’ S somewhat F the galaxy and is 8th magnitude.

The Clear Sky Chart called it right on the money—we’d be getting cirrus crud passing through sporadically, lowering the transparency throughout the evening. The cirrus brought with it increasing winds, making the temperature more uncomfortable than it would’ve been in still ambient air.

10:15
NGC 2608 (Cnc): Not a scintillating galaxy but certainly noticeable at first glance in the field (it doesn’t help that there’s transparency crud coming in from the north). The galaxy is elongated roughly P-F and spans 1.0’ x 0.3’. Its halo is quite diffuse and poorly defined; it also has a very, very slightly brighter core and extremely faint stellar nucleus that pops out only infrequently. The galaxy has a couple of 14.5-magnitude/threshold stars around it that interfere with the observation; a couple lie to the N very slightly P and N very slightly F, with one SP the galaxy by 2’, and these are all very faint in the current conditions. P very very slightly S of the galaxy by 9’ is an 8.5-magnitude star.  S of the galaxy by 5’ is a 13th– magnitude star that has 1.25’ P very very slightly N of it an 11.5-magnitude star; due F the galaxy by 5’ is a 13th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is NF the galaxy by 20’ and is 8thmagnitude; it’s the N-most vertex of a flat isosceles triangle that has a 12.5-magnitude star S somewhat P it by 4’ and a 12th-magnitude star 2.5’ P somewhat S of it.

10:27
NGC 2672 (Cnc): This little guy is not far from the Beehive Cluster. It’s not a particularly impressive specimen, but it’s fairly obvious in the field. It forms the F-most vertex of an isosceles triangle, and is itself in the middle of a triangle of very faint stars. The galaxy is elongated slightly P very slightly N-F very slightly S, 0.75’ x 0.5’; it has a small brighter core and a substellar nucleus. The core seems a little offset to the P end? This may be partly because of a threshold star just outside the F very very slightly S end of the halo [this is actually a companion galaxy, NGC 2673]. There are two 14th-magnitude stars to the N; one is N very very slightly F by 1.67’ and the other is P somewhat N by 2.5’. The galaxy is the F-most vertex in the isosceles triangle; P the galaxy by 7’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; there’s an 11th-magnitude star 5’ P somewhat S of the galaxy. The brightest star in the field is 9th magnitude and lies NF the galaxy by 17’. The galaxy suddenly looks better; there may be more waves of crud passing through. In the better conditions, the galaxy may be 1.25’ x 0.75’. F somewhat S of the galaxy by 25’ (so outside the field) is a 6.5-magnitude star.

10:38
NGC 2718 (Hya): I just happened to land right on this one while searching. It’s a pretty well-defined little galaxy, elongated NP-SF, 0.75’ x 0.3’; there’s no sense that it’s bigger, even in averted vision. It has only a very slight bit of central brightening; I can’t tell if there’s a nucleus (don’t think so). It also has around it, within a 4’ radius, a bunch of very very faint stars: maybe three to due P, NP, N very slightly F, and two S that are very very slightly brighter, especially the one to the S very very slightly F of the galaxy; I can hold the two to the S in direct vision but not the others; these faint stars form a stretched pentagon around the galaxy, but it’s difficult to hold all of them steady at the same time. F the galaxy by 4.75’ is an 11th-magnitude star that has a 13th-magnitude star due N of it by 1.75’; from the brighter of this pair 7’ F somewhat N is the brightest star in the field, which is 8.5 magnitude.

10:50
NGC 2967 (Sex): This galaxy is a diffuse, round, very weakly concentrated glow, no more than 1.5’ diameter. It has a very slightly brighter largish core, but no trace of a nucleus… a face-on spiral? It’s impressively large for a HIII galaxy. Due N of the galaxy by 3.5’ is a 12th-magnitude star that has F very very slightly N of it by 3.5’ a 13.5-magnitude star [the wind is roaring in the background!]. From the galaxy N slightly F by 10’ is an 11th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is P somewhat N of the galaxy by 12’ and is double: 8.5- and 11th-magnitude stars with the brighter S very slightly F the fainter; the pair has 9’ N very very slightly F it a 10th-magnitude star that has NF of it by 2.75’ a 12.5-magnitude star. It’s a pretty barren field star-wise; the two bright ones to the P (the last group) are part of a larger concentration of bright stars, most of which are outside the field.

11:03
NGC 3044 (Sex): This one is not bright but it’s very impressive—a great one! It’s definitely a flat galaxy [wind is a real problem now]. It’s 4.0’ x very very thin, maybe 0.25’? 0.3’? The galaxy is quite ghostly and not particularly well defined, especially on the P end. It’s elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S. [I’m having to hold on to the scope now because of the wind.] There’s very subtle major axis brightening along the galaxy’s inner 2/3, but nothing definable as a nucleus. I didn’t see it at first in the field because I was looking for something smaller/rounder. N of the P tip of the galaxy, 2.75’ from center, is a 15th-magnitude star. S very very slightly F by 4.75’ is a 13.5-magnitude star that has due N of it by 1.75’ another 13.5-magnitude star. NP the galaxy by 6’ is the brighter of a pair: that star is 12thmagnitude and it has a 13.5-magnitude star S very very slightly P it by 0.5’, and also has an 11.5-magnitude star P slightly S of it by 2.5’. The brightest star in the field is N somewhat F the galaxy by 15’ and is a 10th-magnitude star that has a 14th-magnitude star P very slightly N of it by 0.5’. N somewhat F the galaxy by 5.75’ is a 14th-magnitude star. Must return to this one, possibly often!

3044 being an excellent object to end on, and the clouds and wind conspiring to make the conditions useless for observing, I called it a night. 

IV. April’s observing run ended a night later with the 20″ Obsession and a run into the Flat Galaxies Catalogue.

According to Karachentsev et al (1993), flat galaxies “are defined as having a diameter larger than 40 arc-seconds and a major to minor axis ratio of >= 7” and “there is a tight correlation between their linear diameter and the width of the 21cm line that can be detected.” Flat Galaxies are therefore used “to study large‐scale cosmic streamings and other problems of observational cosmology” because “a) the HI 21 cm and Hα line detection rate of these galaxies is nearly 100%; b) the flat galaxies avoid volumes occupied by groups and clusters so that their structure remains undisturbed and they are not affected by large virial motions.” Objects in the Revised Flat Galaxies Catalogue are considered to be typologically homogenous and are therefore suitable as a uniform group for study.

Visually, of course, flat galaxies are far from uniform, despite being of roughly-similar shape. Surface brightness, core/nucleus visibility, and size are only a few of the variable factors in the visual appearance of these slivers of light; even a photograph can’t provide an adequate guesstimate as to how a flat galaxy will appear in an eyepiece. (Of course, this is true to some extent of all galaxies and even nebulae; only open clusters and some globulars may be truly represented by a photograph.) The only way to know is to actually look. And so look I did.

04/19-04/20/20 
EUREKA RIDGE
SUNSET: 8:00 PM
MOON: 24 days (rose at 4:37 AM; 27% illuminated)
SEEING: 7-9
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.5
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to 43F; no dew; temps moderate; high winds beyond treeline
OTHERS PRESENT: JO, DB, LR

All observations: 20″ f/5 Obsession truss-tube Dobsonian, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (181x, 0.45˚ TFoV) and 7mm Nagler (363x, 12.6’ TFoV) unless otherwise noted

10:08
IC 2233 (Lyn): A razor-thin galaxy, elongated N very very slightly P-S very very slightly F [PA 170˚]; it’s currently pretty low in the sky, so it’s not at its best; it’s still fairly obvious, but averted vision does wonders for it. It extends 2.5’ x 0.3’, and has a 13th-magnitude star on its N end that’s very very distracting. There’s some evidence of an actual core (in opposition to the standard major-axis brightening you’d get in an edge-on), especially in averted vision there’s a 0.3’ long core. There’s no nucleus to speak of. The core and the star on the N end form an equilateral triangle with a 10th-magnitude star that’s F the galaxy by 1’; that star has a 14th-magnitude star NF it by 0.25’. P the galaxy by 5’ is another 10th-magnitude star. (The scope needs more cooling; seeing has been good so far, but it’s still not where it needs to be.) The two 10th-magnitude stars P and F the galaxy from a large parallelogram with two others well to the S, including a 9.5-magnitude star that’s 11’ S very slightly F the galaxy; this parallelogram runs roughly parallel to the galaxy (N very slightly P-S very slightly F).

10:21
NGC 2537 (Lyn): The Bear Paw Galaxy, as impressive as only a 20” can make it: the galaxy looks almost like a planetary nebula at first glance due to the inner detail/morphology. Much of this detail needs averted vision for a good view, but it’s unmistakable; the arc around the N edge from P-F and the segment from the middle to the S edge are both well evident. It’s a round galaxy, diffuse on the edges, reasonably well defined but with an outer fringe that fades out like a planetary nebula halo. The galaxy is 1.75’ round. On the NsP there’s either a star or a brightish stellaring within the halo along that brighter rim that runs across N half of the galaxy; that part of the internal structure is brighter than the center-S strip (I probably need more magnification for a good view). F slightly S of the galaxy by 2’ is an 11th-magnitude star; F very slightly N of the galaxy by 1.25’ is a 14.5-magnitude star. 7’ P the galaxy is an 8.5-magnitude star. The two stars to the F form an isosceles triangle with the galaxy; the galaxy marks the SP vertex and then 12’ N slightly P the galaxy is a 9.5-magnitude star; 7’ N somewhat P the galaxy is an 11.5-magnitude star, and that star and the 8.5-magnitude star P the galaxy also form an equilateral triangle with the galaxy as the SF vertex.

10:41
IC 2461 (Lyn): This flat galaxy is much smaller than IC 2233: 1.5’ x less than 1/8’, with due NP-SF orientation [PA 135˚]. It’s brighter than IC 2233, but also doesn’t have the bright star on the edge complicating things that 2233 has. It’s pretty well defined, and the whole thing visible in direct vision (unlike many flat galaxies); averted only brightens it, rather than making its fainter edges seem larger. There’s no notable core but it has a semi-substellar nucleus. SP the galaxy by 3’ is a 13.5-magnitude star; S slightly P by 4.5’ is a 9.5-magnitude star, and there’s a 10.5-magnitude star S very very slightly P the galaxy by 4.75’. S very very slightly P the galaxy by 14’ is an 8.5-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field (it’s actually just outside the field); that star is at the F end of a line of three that get gradually fainter as they run P-ward, and this line is 5’ long. I’m changing eyepieces to the 7mm Nagler (363x, 12.6’ TFoV): the nuclear region actually contains a very small, tentative core (?). There seems to be a flash of nucleus too. A 16th-magnitude star lies SP the galaxy by 1’. The extra magnification of the Nagler helps bring the galaxy out of the background.

One of the difficulties of working through the flat galaxy list is that—after spending some considerable time tracking some of the galaxies down—the target may not be worth the time it took to find it (at least as far as notetaking goes). Being able to sit beside the scope and take notes on a marginally-visible object is a lot more comfortable than taking notes on such a barely-there galaxy while standing on a ladder, and some of the galaxies I observed on this particular night simply didn’t offer enough at the eyepiece to justify taking notes on them (given that the Obsession’s secondary mirror was later found to have dewed over entirely, some of those galaxies I passed on might be worth a revisit). While I might normally be thrilled to take notes on an obscure threshold-level object, I’d also rather pick a better subject when one presented itself. All of this is to say that the long gaps between notes here were the result of looking at some extremely-tenuous sliver of vapor in the eyepiece and saying, “Hmmm… maybe another time. Next.”

11:34
UGC 5495 (Leo): This is a fairly well-defined little streak, but I had to get the bright star out of the field for a good view. The galaxy is elongated P very very very slightly N-F very very very slightly S [PA 95˚] and spans 1.25’ x 0.125’. It does have a somewhat-brighter nuclear region with perhaps a very tricky stellar nucleus visible in averted vision. N of the galaxy by 9’ is a 13th-magnitude star; N very very slightly F the galaxy by 3.75’ is a 14th-magnitude star, and there are a few other faint ones nearby. S somewhat F by 8’ is an 8.5-magnitude star that has a 10.5-magnitude star S of it by 3’ and from the 8.5-magnitude star NP by 1.25’ is a 12.5-magnitude star. With the 7mm Nagler: there may not be a nucleus but a very small core instead; I’m not getting a sense even in averted vision that there’s a nucleus there. The 8.5-magnitude star SF the galaxy is a nearly-equal double in 7mm that wasn’t splittable in the 14mm (except with great concentration, and only having seen it in the 7mm first).

Dan and Loren both left by this point; only Jerry and I remained to observe. But the skies were still fine, and there were dozens of further targets on my list.

12:19
NGC 3279 (Leo): I had a couple of really tough ones after UGC 5495 that I didn’t want to record—marginal sightings at best [due in part to the Obsession’s secondary having completely dewed over by this point, unbeknownst to me). This galaxy is just N of Rho Leonis and is quite excellent. It’s elongated N slightly P-S slightly F [PA 150˚] and not super-bright, certainly not as bright as I expected for an NGC object (even one on the Flat Galaxy list). It subtends 2.25’ x 0.3’, and doesn’t have much central concentration, but it is somewhat mottled or irregularly bright. Every now and then there’s a flash of a nucleus, but it’s impossible to hold steady even in averted vision. Due N of the galaxy by 3.5’ is a 10.5-magnitude star, and there’s a 13.5-magnitude star P very very slightly N of the galaxy by 2.25’; S of that star by 0.3’ is a 15th-magnitude star. F the galaxy by 2.75’ is a 14.5-magnitude star. In the 7mm, the galaxy still appears mottled, but there’s still no sign of a nucleus, or even a core. N of the galaxy by 1.5’ is a 16th-magnitude star.

12:50
NGC 3196 (Leo): The only reason I’ve tracked down this otherwise-nondescript little blur is because it’s the lead-off object for the Herschel Sprint, and was not visible in my 12.5” scope on either of my attempts at the Sprint. It took a long lot of starhopping to get to, and finally required the 7mm Nagler (again, though, I wasn’t aware that the secondary mirror was completely fogged). The galaxy lies due P a 15th-magnitude star and can be seen in direct vision, but there’s not much to see: it’s a tiny spot, no bigger than 0.25’ diameter, with either a very small (5”) core or a substellar nucleus.

As usual, we didn’t just look at the listed objects; we also observed some of the major galaxies of spring (M51, M101, NGC 4565 [which is also a flat galaxy], and NGC 4051, one of the ones in Ursa Major that I was impressed with in my last Herschel run]). It was while observing M101 that I discovered that the Obsession’s secondary mirror had fogged over, contributing to the difficulty of some of my galaxy observations—with as wet as the mirror was, it had been fogged for some time. The scope itself wasn’t too wet, which had perhaps fooled me into thinking it wasn’t so dewy at the site.

Jerry and I spent another half hour looking at the showpiece galaxies and the two great early-summer globulars, M13 and M5, before conceding the night—and the end of the Moon-dark phase—to the dew and the wildlife. It was the last clear Moon-dark night until the end of May, and the last time since that I’ve been able to gather starlight and the glow of distant galaxies.

 

Tell the Moon Dog; Tell the March Hare

I began 2020 with low expectations of getting the Herschel I and II lists completed during the year; there were simply too many low-south winter objects in Monoceros, Canis Major, and Puppis to get to—and the Willamette Valley winters were usually too cloudy—to expect to observe all of the targets I needed within three months’ time (not to mention the forty-plus galaxies I needed to catch in Camelopardalis and Ursa Major). But after the clear, Moonless run we received unexpectedly in February, I was suddenly staring down the homestretch of a six-year project, with only a sizable fraction of the Ursa Major galaxies (and a few scattered galaxies in other constellations) remaining. The nearly-impossible had become very probable, even likely.

I. And so the first clear, dark night of March beckoned, calling the dedicated to the observing field. COVID-19 hadn’t quite yet become a factor; social distancing essentially meant “give me room to swing my telescope 360 degrees.” Although, as it turned out, only three of us made it to Eureka Ridge—which became our default site due to its easy accessibility and larger observing area.

03/12/20 
EUREKA RIDGE
SUNSET: 7:16 PM
MOON: 19 days (rose at 11:21 PM; 83% illuminated)
SEEING: 7-9
TRANSPARENCY: 6-5
SQM: 21.37 (looked worse)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to mid 30s; not much dew; quite chilly; some haze passing through from N; no wind intruding on field; high clouds visible near Moon when it rose
OTHERS PRESENT: JO, FS

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

8:51
NGC 3225 (UMa): I’m starting this last Herschel-oriented run with a fairly mediocre one: a considerably-faint, N slightly P-S slightly F elongated galaxy (in fairness, it’s probably not totally dark yet). It would be easy to pass over the galaxy at first glance; there are a couple of faint but noticeable stars to NF and N that pull the eye away from the galaxy. The galaxy is no more than 0.75’ x 0.3’, with not much central concentration or brightening; it’s not evenly bright, but still tricky to pick out the core from the halo, and there’s a 14.5-magnitude star 1’ NF the galaxy that makes it tough to tell if there’s a nucleus there; the star and the galaxy blur together in averted vision. Even with more searching, I’m not picking up a nucleus at all. The halo is not particularly well defined. The galaxy has a number of faint stars around it: S very slightly F by 5’ is a 14th-magnitude star, and there’s a 13.5-magnitude star 5’ SP; the galaxy forms the N vertex of a roughly equilateral triangle with those two stars. 4.75’ N of the galaxy is a 13.5-magnitude star. Due N of the galaxy by 11’ is the SP vertex of a squashed trapezoid; that vertex is magnitude 12.5 and it has NP it by 2’ an 11.5-magnitude star; there’s a star of 11th magnitude F the first star by 3.5’ and from the 11th-magnitude star 2.25’ NF is one of 12th magnitude. 19’ N somewhat P the galaxy is the brightest star in the field at magnitude 8.5; there’s a star just slightly fainter than that (magnitude 8.75) 22’ P very very slightly S of the galaxy.


9:04
NGC 3310 (UMa): Between the Dipper Bowl and the hind foot of UMa for this round, much-brighter galaxy, which unfortunately shares the field with a considerably- bright star. The galaxy is 1.5’ across, although in averted vision it may have a slight bit of N-S elongation. It almost looks like a planetary nebula, with the bright core and stellar nucleus; I want to reach for the O-III filter to increase the contrast. The galaxy’s outer halo is not particularly well defined, but the core is; the core is pretty suddenly brighter, and a nucleus is obvious. The galaxy is the S-most vertex of an isosceles triangle whose NP and NF vertices are 4.75’ from the galaxy; the NP vertex is 12.5 magnitude; the NF vertex is 13.5 magnitude, and N of the galaxy by 3’ is a 12th-magnitude star; that last star is in the middle of the N edge of the triangle but just S of that line. The problem here is the 6th-magnitude star N slightly F the galaxy by 11’; this disrupts the observing of the galaxy even at that distance. There’s also a 9th-magnitude star S slightly P the galaxy by 19’, and F slightly N of the galaxy by 21’ is a 7.5-magnitude star. P very very slightly N of the galaxy by 12’ is a 10th-magnitude star.

9:17
NGC 3359
(UMa): This is a much larger galaxy than the previous ones, but also more diffuse and ghostly. It’s not as obvious as 3310 but quite a bit bigger; they’re probably equal mag, but 3359 has lower surface brightness. It’s clearly a face-on spiral, but I’m also picking up what looks like a N-S bar, much more definite at some moments than at others. The galaxy is elongated N-S, 3.0’ x 1.3’, and is extremely diffuse; it has either a very small core or a large substellar nucleus (I think it’s a core and not nucleus, a very very small brighter core). The halo is not well defined; I can see that there’s the bar; the halo is definitely irregularly bright, but there’s no real sense of spiral arms. [A bright satellite cuts right through the galaxy, moving N-S.] The galaxy has a number of threshold stars around it: SF the galaxy by 3’ and P slightly N of it by 3.3’ are 14.5-magnitude stars; S very slightly F by 4.25’ is another of 14.5 magnitude. [Another satellite passes by, NF-SP.] 11’ SP is an 11.5-magnitude star that’s the right-angle vertex of a good-sized right triangle; P very slightly S of it by 4.25’ is a 12th-magnitude star; NP the right-angle vertex by 6’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; the right-angle vertex also has 8’ S somewhat P a 10th-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field. F slightly N of the galaxy by 8’ is a 12th-magnitude star that has one of 11.5 magnitude F by 1.25’. This is a really cool galaxy that deserves higher magnification and bigger aperture to appreciate!

9:34
NGC 3516 (UMa): An underwhelming object, one of only a few so far in Ursa Major. [Its overall appearance may not be impressive, but it’s a galaxy, anyway–all galaxies are impressive, regardless of how they look.] This is a small, probably elliptical, galaxy in a fairly-sparse field. It’s round, with maybe a tiny bit of N-S elongation, and no more than 0.75’ (maybe 0.75’ x 0.67’, if the elongation is not a figment of my imagination or the atmospheric conditions.) It has a notable and well-defined core that’s 0.3’ diameter, and an obvious bright nucleus that’s not quite stellar. The halo isn’t particularly well defined. A few brightish stars bracket the galaxy: NF by 2.25’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; there’s an 11th-magnitude star P slightly N of the galaxy by 4.25’; SF by 1’ is a 14.5-magnitude star, and there’s one of 13.5 magnitude 2.25’ NP the galaxy. 11’ S of the galaxy is the N-most of a pair: this could be a legit double, 13th- and 12th-magnitude stars separated N-S by 0.3’, with the fainter to the N; these two form the NP vertex of a nice isosceles triangle; due F the pair by 2.5’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; there’s a 12.5-magnitude star S slightly P that second star by 3.75’ that’s the “point” star of the triangle, and it has 1.25’ NF it a 14th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is the 10.5-magnitude star NF the galaxy; the second-brightest is among a group of stars to the SP, running SP-NF along the SP edge of the field; this comprises a four-star triangle with a broken ellipse SP it; the brightest star in the triangle is a 10.5-magnitude star that’s the F-most and closest to the galaxy, 14’ P somewhat S of the galaxy that has SP it by 6’ another 10.5-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the ellipse and on its N edge (these last two 10.5-magnitude stars are very slightly fainter than the one NF the galaxy).


The Clear Sky Chart had indicated that we’d be losing our transparency about 11 PM; it was actually off by an hour, at least visibly—the northern sky had begun to haze over in and around the Eugene skyglow (which was why the haze was noticeable in the first place).  Because galaxies tend to suffer more than any other type of object in poor transparency, I was probably going to be finishing up even before Moonrise tonight. Within a half-hour, the effects of the haze were well apparent in the eyepiece.

9:50
NGC 3622 (UMa): Even more underwhelming than 3516, this one is also hampered by being 10’ N very very slightly P the brightest star in the field, which is 6.5 magnitude and bluish (it may also be suffering from bad transparency at the moment). This is a small galaxy, only 0.75’ x 0.5’ and elongated N-S. It’s reasonably well defined; there’s no sense that it has more halo than is currently visible in direct vision, nor is there much central concentration. Averted vision may show a flash of a nucleus but it’s impossible to hold. The view of the galaxy is also hampered by it being in the SP end of an almost-equilateral triangle of faintish stars: S very slightly F by 1.5’ is a 14th-magnitude star; NP the galaxy by 4.25’ is another of 14th magnitude, and a 12.5-magnitude star lies NF the galaxy by 5.5’. The star to the NF also has a 14.5-magnitude star 1.5’ P very very slightly N of it. [A bright satellite cuts NF-SP through the field.] The 6.5-magnitude star has a 13.5-magnitude star P very very slightly N of it by 1.67’; S very very slightly P it by 1.75’ is a 13th-magnitude star that has F very very slightly N of it by 0.67’ a 13.5-magnitude star, and from the 6.5-magnitude star P by 5.5’ is a 12th-magnitude star. From the galaxy 12’ due SP is a 12.5-magnitude star that has a 9.5-magnitude star 0.75’ P very very slightly S of it.


10:05
NGC 3668 (UMa): This galaxy is at least a better one than 3622, but it’s certainly not spectacular. It’s smallish and diffuse, with a low surface brightness halo and a small unconcentrated core that’s hard to distinguish from the halo. It nonetheless has some “heft” to it; it’s 1.0’ x 0.67’ and elongated NP-SF. The halo is very diffuse and poorly defined. The galaxy forms a little triangle with a 10th-magnitude star SP it by 2.75’; N very very slightly F that star by 1.5’ is a 13.5-magnitude star that’s due P the galaxy by 1.75’; the 10th-magnitude star also forms the SF end of a capital ‘T’ with a 12th-magnitude star that’s P slightly N the 10th-magnitude star by 5’ and an 11.5-magnitude star NP the 12th-magnitude star by 4.5’; these form the top of the ‘T’. From the middle star S by 2.75’ is one of 12.5 magnitude, and from that star S slightly P by 5’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; so the vertical bar of the ‘T’ is bent/not perfectly straight. From the galaxy 7’ almost due S is the brighter of a pair, a 13.5-magnitude star with a 14.5-magnitude star S very very slightly F it by 0.5’; from that 13.5-magnitude star S very slightly P by 5.5’ is a 10th-magnitude star, and from that 10th-magnitude star 9’ S is an 8th-magnitude star. From the galaxy 25’ F very slightly N is a 7.5-magnitude star; from the galaxy N slightly F by 9’ is a 12th-magnitude star with an 11.5-magnitude star 7’ NF it.

10:19
NGC 3945 (UMa): Losing the N to transparency issues, so it won’t be too long before I have to shut things down for the night (Moonrise is coming up, too, so that’ll be that). This galaxy is small (1.25’ across) but brightish. It has a bright core that spans 0.5’ and perhaps comes to a fleeting stellar nucleus. The halo isn’t particularly well defined. The field is quite active. SP the galaxy by 1.25’ is a 12th-magnitude star; there’s a 14th-magnitude star SF that star by 0.67’, and the 14th-magnitude is also S very very slightly P the galaxy by 1.25’. NP the galaxy by 1.75’ is a 14th-magnitude star. SF the galaxy by 7’ is a 13.5-magnitude star that’s the NF end of a line of three; it has a 13th-magnitude star SP it by 2.5’, and there’s a 13.5-magnitude star SP that star by 2.5’. F the galaxy by 8’ is a 10.5-magnitude star that has an 11.5-magnitude star 1.75’ P slightly S of it. The brightest star in the field is 20’ SF the galaxy and is 10th magnitude; 20’ S slightly P the galaxy is another very slightly fainter (magnitude 10.5) that has a 14th-magnitude star SP it by 0.5’. 19’ N of the galaxy is the brighter of a pair: these are 10.5 and 11.5 magnitude, with the fainter N very very slightly F the brighter by 10”; F very slightly N the brighter of that pair by 12’ is a 9th-magnitude star.


10:40
NGCs 4036, 4041 (UMa): A fine, more-impressive pair here. NGC 4036 is a nice but undetailed (at first glance) edge-on spiral. It’s elongated P-F, 2.5’ x 0.67’. The galaxy has the typical edge-on galaxy central brightening along its major axis but also a distinct nuclear bulge and a bright not-quite-stellar nucleus. The ends of the halo are very very poorly defined but the N and S edges are much better; the N edge appears as if the light is cut off by a dust lane–it seems as if just F the nuclear bulge is a thin perpendicular N-S slight dimming as if there’s something obscuring on the F side of the bulge. S of the galaxy by 9.5’ is an 11th-magnitude star with a 12th-magnitude star 4’ SP it; SP the galaxy by 4.75’ is a 13.5-magnitude star; there’s another of 13.5 magnitude SF the galaxy by 7’. N very very slightly P the galaxy by 5’ is a 14th-magnitude star; there’s another 14th-magnitude star 3.5’ NP the galaxy. F very slightly N of the galaxy by 10’ is a 10th-magnitude star. 8.5’ P slightly N of the galaxy is an 11th-magnitude star; from that star 2.25’ N very very slightly P is another of 10th magnitude. (The impression of the gap F the nucleus may be because of an embedded star on that side of the nucleus.) N slightly F the galaxy by 11’ is an 11.5-magnitude star. NF that star by 5.5’ is NGC 4041, a smaller, rounder, much more diffuse galaxy, 1.5’ in diameter, with a brighter core that seems offset to the F a little; the core isn’t quite centered, or the halo extends P somewhat. The halo is quite diffuse and poorly defined, so finding the galaxy’s center is not easy; I’m not sure there’s a nucleus either. SF the galaxy (4041) by 4’ is a 13.5-magnitude star with one of 14th magnitude due P it by 1’; N very slightly F the galaxy by 8’ is a 12th-magnitude star with a 13.5-magnitude star 1.25’ SF it.


Apparently the haze wasn’t a problem in other parts of the sky, or with the seeing; Jerry  noted that he had just split an 0.8” double somewhere near the meridian to the south. I had noticed how rock-steady the seeing had become, without actually realizing it; transparency usually mattered more to me as a criteria, simply because of its effects on galaxy observing. But the transparency had also improved somewhat after the first wave of sky-crud had passed through.

10:58
NGCs 3583, 3577 (UMa): The seeing is very good now and the transparency’s better, although part of this is that Ursa Major has risen above the Eugene light dome. I have NGC 3583 labeled with a Post-It arrow on
Sky Atlas 2000.0, but it’s not on my SkySafari list so I don’t don’t know if it’s actually a Herschel 400/II object; for the sake of CMA, I’m going to include it. It’s an interesting galaxy, elongated roughly P-F, but the halo seems “tilted” against the core; maybe it’s a barred spiral and I’m seeing the bar as a core? The halo extends NP-SF but the core runs P-F. The galaxy spans 1.25’ x 0.75’, with a very bright elongated core and a stellar nucleus that requires averted to hold; there’s another galaxy in the field, but it’s much smaller and fainter. The galaxies lie in a very fine field of stars, most of which run in a SP-NF stream and are lumped in pairs. 5.5’ SF NGC 3583 is a 9.5-magnitude star; NF the galaxy by 7’ is a 10th-magnitude star with an 11th-magnitude star NF it by 3’. F very very slightly S of the galaxy by 5.75’ is a 13.5-magnitude star. N very slightly F the galaxy by 4.75’ is a 12.5-magnitude star with a 13th-magnitude star due P it by 1.5’. SP the galaxy by 5’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; just NP that star by 1.25’ is a really tiny fuzzy round spot (NGC 3577) that’s only 0.3’ diameter, with no central concentration; it’s very hard to hold in direct vision but pops out well in averted. NGC 3583 and that semi-triangle around it are set within a larger triangle of stars: S somewhat P the galaxy by 15’ is a 9.5-magnitude star with one of 11th magnitude P it by 3’; NF the galaxy by 19’ is a 9.5-magnitude star that has an 11.5-magnitude star 1.75’ SP it; SF the galaxy by 20’ is a 9th-magnitude star that’s the brightest star in the field, and it has due F it by 2.25’ a 10th-magnitude star. This is an interesting galaxy pair deserving a bigger scope and higher magnification.

11:13
NGCs 3769, 3769A (UMa): This is the last one for the night due to Moonrise. NGC 3769 is another interesting spiral, located S of the Dipper. It appears in averted vision to be part of an interacting pair with a much much smaller galaxy not quite perpendicular to it just off the SF end. 3769 is oriented NP-SF and is a pretty impressive object: it subtends 2.0’ x 0.5’, with a somewhat-brighter core and an embedded just-above-threshold star between the core and the NP end. The galaxy is irregularly bright along its major axis; the halo is quite diffuse and irregular in brightness. Off the galaxy’s SF end and extending mostly P-F is a very very faint, diffuse, featureless, unconcentrated glow (3769A) no more than 0.5’ long x 0.125’ wide; this needs averted vision for a decent view, even though I detected it at first in direct vision. The larger galaxy has a 14th-magnitude star 2.25’ NF it; N very slightly P the galaxy by 10’ is a 10.5-magnitude star with another (very very slightly fainter) N slightly P it by 4’. NF the galaxy by 12’ is an 11th-magnitude star; there’s an 11.5-magnitude star F the galaxy by 10’. S of the galaxy by 7’ is a 12.5-magnitude star that’s the F end of an arc of four; this sweeps SP, then due P, then NP, and ends P from where it started and is 8’ end-to-end. P very slightly S of the galaxy by 15’ is the more-S and F of a pair that are both 12th magnitude, with the F one very very slightly fainter; these are separated by 0.67’, and the fainter has a 12.5-magnitude star NF it by 2.75’.

We took a few looks at the Moon before heading home; with its rise, we could also see the extent of the haze to the east. I was surprised at how much gunk had been in the sky, although how long it had been there was hard to gauge. Our next observing session—much closer to New Moon—would have far superior conditions.

Eleven galaxies noted. Only twenty or so left to go in the Herschel 400 and HII lists.

II. We returned to Eureka almost a week later, with a run of clear skies predicted by the weather forecasts and the Clear Sky Chart granting affirmation (at least for the couple of days the CSC predicts).

We had a larger group this time; with the state of Oregon expected to begin enacting stay-at-home orders soon, there may have been a sense of urgency to getting out under the stars. I didn’t feel any urgency in that regard, even though I was close enough to see the finish line of the Herschel programs; I would go out alone if need be to get the work done.

The clearing was abuzz all night with the sounds of astronomy and the humor of a group well at ease under the stars. My first recording began with a comment about Bob Ross chucking his paints and easel and kicking a staffer: “That’s going to be a really confusing way to start my recordings for the night.” And, given that I don’t recall what prompted the comment (and didn’t recall it when I transcribed the notes more than a month ago), it certainly was.

As had often been the case recently, mine was the only telescope pointed toward the north; everyone else was focused on the rich winter Milky Way, now setting, and the rising galaxy fields of Leo, Virgo, and the rest of the incoming spring skies. Somehow, I forgot to hit ‘record’ on my first object, with the result that I had to redo the observation. (Perhaps this led to the Bob Ross reference.)

03/18/20
EUREKA RIDGE
SUNSET: 7:23 PM
MOON: 25 days (rose at 4:44 AM; 24% illuminated)
SEEING: 7-8
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.27
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to 32F; some dew after 10:30, became considerable; chilly but tolerable
OTHERS PRESENT: JO, FS, DB, LR, RA

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

8:49
NGC 3949 (UMa): Have to redo this one, as I forgot to hit “record” the first time through. This is a nicely-bright but small galaxy, oriented NP-SF, 1.5’ x just under 1.0’, with a fairly-well defined but diffuse halo and very, very gradual brightening to a stellar nucleus. 13’ SP the galaxy is a 10.5-magnitude star; the galaxy and that star serve to mark the major axis of a long diamond; 8’ P somewhat S of the galaxy is the star at the N end of the minor axis; that star is 12.5 magnitude [a tumbling satellite passed through the field just S of the galaxy, moving SP]; from that star 5’ S very slightly F is a 10.5-magnitude star, and those two make up the diamond’s minor axis, which is oriented P somewhat N-F somewhat S; the galaxy is the NF vertex of the diamond; the final star in the diamond is 5.75’ S very slightly P the galaxy. The galaxy is also the SF vertex of a dim almost-equilateral triangle, with a 13.5-magnitude star 3.25’ P very slightly S and another of 13.5 magnitude 4’ NP the galaxy. Also NP the galaxy by 21’ is a 9th-magnitude star; N very very slightly F the galaxy by 18’ is a 10.5-magnitude star. 21’ S somewhat P is the brightest star in the field, which is of magnitude 8.5. 20’ F very slightly N of the galaxy is a 10.5-magnitude star.

My SkySafari ‘alarm’ beeped, alerting us to the rise of the International Space Station; a quick glance at the Sputnik app showed ISS passing right by Sirius. We watched as the station rose out of the south, brightening as it passed into the sunlight and cleared the ring of muck that lay around the horizon, its low, brilliant blue-white light gliding silently by the brightest star in Earth’s sky, a glittering interloper among the panoply of the still-winter heavens.

9:09
NGC 3953 (UMa): This is a really fine galaxy. It has a diffuse, tenuous halo, 3.75’ x 1.25’ and elongated N-S, that fades out quickly on the N and S ends; it also has a considerably-brighter core, 0.5’ across, and a stellar nucleus; the core is gradually arrived-at but the nucleus is quite obvious and sudden. P the nucleus, just outside the halo, is a 14.5-magnitude star that can just be held steady in direct vision. 2.75’ F very very slightly N of the galaxy is a 12.5-magnitude star; SF the galaxy by 4.25’ is another of 12.5-magnitude; the galaxy and the 12.5-magnitude stars form a right triangle with the first 12.5-magnitude star as the right-angle vertex. N very very slightly P the galaxy by 6.5’ is a 12th-magnitude star; there’s yet another 12.5-magnitude star N of that star by 1’; from the first star by 4.5’ due F is an 11.5-magnitude star. 17’ P very slightly N of the galaxy is the brightest star in the field, which is 10.5 magnitude and forms a triangle with a 12.5-magnitude star 3.25’ S very very slightly P it and a 13th-magnitude star 2.5’ SF it.

Apparently, Corona Borealis had risen through the Eugene/Springfield skyglow; Robert made note of the fact, in a bit of gallows humor: “don’t look at Corona.”

9:22
NGC 4026 (UMa): A very fine edge-on galaxy, this one lies near NGC 3953; it’s an impressive, well-defined N-S streak, subtending 3.25’ x 0.75’. Even the ends of the halo seem pretty “conclusive” and well delineated. The galaxy has a very very small but very bright core or a substantial quasi-stellar nucleus; possibly both. The ends of the halo are not bright, but snap in averted vision. The brightest star in the field is N slightly F the galaxy by 7’ and is magnitude 9.5. 3.25’ N somewhat F is a 14th-magnitude star. Almost due S of the galaxy by 4’ is a 13th-magnitude star; there’s another of 13th magnitude SF that star by 1.5’; between the second star and the galaxy, almost halfway, is a 14.5-magnitude star that’s not directly between but a bit F that line along the midpoint. F slightly S of galaxy by 7.5’ is a 13th-magnitude star with a 14th-magnitude star N very slightly F it by 1’.

The following trio of galaxies reinforced my belief that it’s best not to look at photos of the objects I’m planning to observe (and not to read too much about them either!); the element of surprise makes the observing all the more fun when the objects being observed turn out to be so visually outstanding.

9:34
NGCs 4085, 4088 (UMa): An extremely impressive pair!  NGC 4088 is huge; NGC 4085 is a nice edge-on without much central concentration. NGC 4085 is elongated P-F, 2.0’ x 0.5’, with a better-defined halo than 4088. Its interior may hold a very very faint nucleus or a very, very small, faint core. There are a lot of bright stars in the field: SF and SP 4085 are 8th-magnitude stars; the one to the SF is just a tiny bit brighter, and is 6.5’ from the galaxy; the other lies to the galaxy’s SP by 5.5’, and from that star another 5.5’ P somewhat S is a 9.5-magnitude star. 3.5’ P somewhat N of 4085 is an 11.5-magnitude star that has a 10th-magnitude star 4’ P it; S slightly P that star by 2’ is a 12.5-magnitude star. [A super-bright satellite passes N-S between the two galaxies!] 11’ N slightly F 4085 is NGC 4088: it’s a massive galaxy, no less than 4.5’ long and 1.5’ across the middle; the ends of its halo are very narrow, but it has a 2.5’ x 1.0’ oval central bulge; there isn’t much in the way of central concentration; other than the tips of its arms, it’s pretty evenly illuminated. The halo is elongated P slightly S-F slightly N. An excellent galaxy! 3.75’ NF the F end of the galaxy is a 14.5-magnitude star. P very very slightly S of the galaxy by 9’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; P somewhat N of the galaxy by 18’ is a 9.5-magnitude star that has one of magnitude 12.5 S of it by 3.25’; from that star S very very slightly P by 4.5’ is an 11.5-magnitude star.

9:53
NGC 4157 (UMa): The seeing is tremendous right now, just in time for another really, really fine edge-on galaxy–it’s another huge one too, spanning 4.25’ x 0.5’. This one has a fair amount of central brightening along its major axis, including a 0.75’ long, thin core and a difficult but definite stellar nucleus. The N edge of the galaxy is more-abruptly cut off, as if there’s a dark lane on that side. The galaxy is oriented P somewhat S-F somewhat N; along the major axis, about 4’ P somewhat S of center, is a 10th-magnitude star that has an 11.5-magnitude star almost due S of it by 2’; from the first star due SF by 1.67’ is a 13.5-magnitude star, and those three stars form an isosceles triangle SP the galaxy. 20’ S somewhat F the galaxy is a 9th-magnitude star. 8’ P the galaxy is a 13.5-magnitude star. N very slightly P the galaxy by 4.3’ is a very distracting 8th-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field. Due N of galaxy by 3’ is a 14.5-magnitude star; NF the galaxy by 5.25’ is a 12th-magnitude star. 21’ NF the galaxy is a really fine double/pair: 8th- and 10th-magnitude stars, with the brighter N slightly F the fainter by 12”. 

While I was tracking down the galaxy stream spilling from the back of the Dipper, Loren was trying to track down the Cone Nebula with the club’s 14.7″ scope; he was considerably more ambitious than I was on the evening.

10:06
NGC 4100 (UMa): Another really nice inclined galaxy–this is Excellent Edge-On Galaxy Central. This one is much more featureless than some of the previous, much more even in brightness, though it’s very bright to start–only the ends of the halo are dimmer. There is a stellar nucleus, but it’s hard to hold steadily; otherwise, it’s just very evenly bright. The galaxy subtends 3.75’ x 1.0’, and is oriented N very very slightly P-S very very slightly F. The halo is pretty well defined, partly because only its ends fade away into the background. S of the galaxy by 4.5’ is the brightest star in a little right triangle; that star is 12th magnitude, and there’s a 13.5-magnitude star P that one by 2.5’ which is the right-angle vertex; the third vertex is 2’ due S of the right-angle vertex and is 14.5 magnitude. N slightly P the galaxy by 7.5’ is the brightest star in the field, which is 8.5 magnitude and has 3.75’ P very very slightly S of it a 10.5-magnitude star; there’s a 12th-magnitude star N very slightly P the 8.5-magnitude star by 4.25’; from the 10.5-magnitude star 1.25’ NP is one of magnitude 13.5 and from the 10.5-magnitude star P by 1’ is a 14.5-magnitude star; so these (the 8.5, the 10.5, and the 12th) form a nearly-equilateral triangle that has a smaller isosceles triangle at its SP vertex. From the galaxy P very very slightly S by 11’ is a 10th-magnitude star that has another of 10th magnitude S very very slightly P it by 2.5; the more-S of those two is slightly dimmer. 26’ S of the galaxy and very very slightly P is a 7.5-magnitude star.

10:18
NGC 4047 (UMa): This is probably the least of the galaxies this evening so far; on another night, it would be more impressive, but it’s much less so with all the great ones tonight. This little galaxy spans 0.75’ x 0.67’ and is elongated pretty much P-F. It’s quite well defined, with a large core ⅔ of the diameter that’s somewhat brighter than the halo and a stellar nucleus. The galaxy is fairly bright and lies in a particularly populous field; S of it by 12’ is a very lonely 12th-magnitude star; SF that star is an interesting asterism. From the galaxy 4’ P very very slightly S is another 12th-magnitude star; from that star P very very slightly S by 3.75’ is a 13.5-magnitude star. NF the galaxy by 7’ is a 12th-magnitude star which has F it by 2’ one of 13th-magnitude with a 13.5-magnitude F very very slightly S of it by 0.67’.  NF the galaxy by 17’ is a 10.5-magnitude star. P the galaxy by 21’ is a 10th-magnitude star with a 14th-magnitude SP it by 0.67’; from the galaxy SP by 18’ is another 10th-magnitude star.

10:32
NGC 4096 (UMa): I’m glad I’m ending my Herschel hunting with this stretch of sky, because these galaxies are almost all great; this is another huge edge-on (or very inclined) galaxy, spanning 4.75’ x 0.75’ and elongated SvsP-NvsF. Interestingly, the N end is much-less defined than the S end, although it’s quite diffuse on both ends; it’s not well defined there, but is quite well defined along the middle section. The galaxy has a tiny faint stellar nucleus, set within a small, gradually-arrived-at core that’s somewhat offset to the N and not well distinguished from the halo. The P and F edges run parallel for most of the galaxy’s length; they don’t narrow until close to their ends, rendering the galaxy pill-shaped. The galaxy lies in a pretty-well populated field containing a number of bright stars. NP by 4’ is the brighter of a double/pair which has the fainter companion due F it; these are 11.5 and 14th magnitudes, separated by 0.3’. N very slightly P the galaxy by 8’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; there’s another of the same magnitude N slightly F the galaxy, also by 8’. S of the galaxy by 13’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; there’s an 8.5-magnitude star SP the galaxy by 10’ and another of magnitude 8.5 SF by 16’. SF by 4.75’ is a 13.5-magnitude star.

The next galaxy demands a better look with larger aperture and more magnification; it’s certainly one of the galaxy highlights of the Herschel lists, highly reminiscent of NGC 157 in Cetus, and probably visible in binoculars.

11:00
NGC 4051 (UMa): We’re well removed from the bowl of the Dipper now with this large, bright, and impressive galaxy! This one has a lot of interesting detail visible; it’s elongated NP-SF mostly, but I’m not sure I’m not seeing some sort of central bar.  The galaxy is pretty large, 3.5’ x 2.0’, and extended NP-SF. There’s very much a suggestion of a central bar in averted vision. The galaxy is irregularly bright across the halo, especially on the F side; the halo is considerably diffuse but pretty well defined. The galaxy has a distinct stellar nucleus. Due P the galaxy by 2.25’ is an 11th-magnitude star; P that star by 2.5’ is the right-angle vertex of an isosceles right triangle which includes the previous star; the right-angle vertex is 14th magnitude and there’s another of 14th magnitude S of it by 2.5’. The star to the P is interesting because even when the eyepiece is clear [it’s fogged several times] the star looks nebulous, almost like the halo extends out to it; in fact, the nucleus looks a little shifted to the SP; like it’s not centered. F somewhat N of the galaxy, 2.75’ from the nucleus, is a 14th-magnitude star; F somewhat S of that star by 3’ is a 13.5-magnitude star. SF the galaxy by 12’ is the brightest star in the field, which is 8.5 magnitude; there’s another very slightly fainter P somewhat N of the galaxy by 18’, and this second star has 12’ P it a 7.5-magnitude star. In averted vision, from the SF corner of the galaxy and extending toward the 14th-magnitude star F somewhat N of the galaxy, is almost a part of a spiral arm; there’s an impression that the galaxy has a Z-shape, but only a hint of this is visible at this aperture and magnification. In the section of halo stretching toward the 11th-magnitude star P the galaxy, every so often in averted vision there’s an irregularity in the brightness of the halo, like an outline of an arm there. Along the SP quadrant there’s definitely space between the body of the galaxy and the section stretching toward the 11th-magnitude star–WOW!

11:24
NGC 4102 (UMa): A nice, bright, considerably-smaller galaxy than most tonight, this one still covers 1.5’ x 0.67’. It’s elongated SP-NF, with a diffuse, poorly-defined halo but a small bright core that’s 0.25’ and pretty suddenly arrived-at. I’m not sure I’m getting a nucleus. S of the galaxy by 6’ is an 11th-magnitude star, and there’s another of 11th magnitude SP that star by 5.5’; those two are on the N edge of a kind of random agglomeration of 13th/14th-magnitude stars; the 11th-magnitude stars are the NP and NF vertices of that. The galaxy has a 13th-magnitude star P by 0.75’ from center; due F the galaxy by 2’ is a 13.5-magnitude star with one of 14th magnitude 2.25’ F very very slightly N of it; S very slightly F the 14th-magnitude star by 4’ is another of 13.5 magnitude. N somewhat P the galaxy by 12’ is an 8th-magnitude star, and NP the galaxy by 12’ is a 10.5-magnitude star. 15’ due F the galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star.

11:37
NGC 4271 (UMa): This little galaxy is the first really unimpressive one tonight (it’s still a galaxy, though!). It’s located just FsS of Merkab in the Big Dipper–a very small roundish galaxy, no more than 0.75’ across, with a small somewhat-brighter core that’s the first thing visible about it and a distinct stellar nucleus. 0.5’ NF and 1’ P just outside the galaxy’s halo are 14th-magnitude stars. 4.75’ S of the galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star; 3.5’ P very slightly S of the galaxy is a just-above threshold star. N very slightly P the galaxy by 12’ is the brightest star in the field, which is magnitude 9.5; there’s another very slightly fainter F somewhat N of the galaxy by 7.5’, and S of that star by 6’ is a 12th-magnitude star. S very very slightly P by 23’ (so outside the field)  is an 8.5-magnitude star. To the F and NF of the galaxy are a bunch of bright (9th/10th/11th) mag stars in a jumble; the two to F somewhat N and the one S of that are the P edge of that agglomeration, which spans 18’ P-F by 16’ and has fourteen stars in it.

Frank had already left, being perpetually on-call for airplane repairs; Dan was following, with work in the morning.

The last galaxy for the evening was one that had somehow gotten passed over on my first run through the spring Herschels, and had escaped my notice each time I’d gone through my lists for verification. Under lesser conditions, I’d probably pass over it in the eyepiece, as well.

12:01
NGC 3693 (Crt): This one’s a bit out of the way for tonight: I missed it on my first run-through of Crater. It’s a rather difficult, not really Herschel-list-quality object: a very, very thin streak running P-F and spanning 1.25’ x less than 0.25’ (0.125’?). Much of its length is not visible in direct vision; it’s mostly an averted-vision object. The core is very, very slightly brighter; most of what’s actually visible is the core, as there’s no nucleus visible. The galaxy lies in a moderately-crowded field, especially for this part of the spring sky (one would tend to think of Crater as being somewhat thin on background stars). The most noteworthy object / brightest star in the field is 8th magnitude and is NP the galaxy by 10’. Due P the galaxy by 3.5’ is the middle star, brightest, and F-most in an arc of three; this star is 11.5 magnitude; there’s a 13.5-magnitude star due N of that star by 4’ and a 12th-magnitude star 4’ S slightly P. NF the galaxy by 17’ is the brightest and NF-most in another short line of three; that star is 10th magnitude and has 1.75’ P slightly S of it an 11.5-magnitude star; there’s a 13th-magnitude star P very slightly S that star by 2’. From the brightest in that line due N by 3.5’ is a tiny grouping 0.25’ across, containing perhaps three 14.5-magnitude stars. F slightly S of the galaxy by 6’ is an 11.5-magnitude star with an 11th-magnitude star F very slightly S of it by 2.25’.

Another thirteen galaxies recorded and struck from the list. With the next night predicted to be equally clear, I could be finished with six years’ worth of Herschel hunting in twenty-four hours.

III. Having gotten home from Eureka at a reasonable hour, I managed a fair amount of sleep and still had time to double- (if not triple-) check my notes and checklists of the Herschel 400 and Herschel II programs… all of the different versions that I had, simply for the sake of CMA. The forecast for the night was excellent, and Bob the Dob was all ready to go.

Tonight was to be the end of my “Herschel 800” observing.

As with the previous night, the little observing field was bustling with EAS regulars (all of whom would probably agree that the term “EAS Irregulars” would probably be more appropriate): Jerry and Kathy, Frank, Dan B, and Loren all pulled up within minutes of my arrival.

03/19-3/20/20 
EUREKA RIDGE
SUNSET: 7:24 PM
MOON: 27 days (rose at 6:01 AM; 10% illuminated)
SEEING: 8
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.32
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to 32F; some dew after 10:30, became considerable; chilly but tolerable; occasional clouds low on west, south, and east horizons
OTHERS PRESENT: JO, KO, FS, DB, LR

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

9:39
NGC 4605 (UMa): This will probably be my last night on the Herschel 400 and HII lists, and this galaxy is a really good one to start with! It’s a very impressive inclined spiral with an odd shape; it’s not a perfect streak or oval, but is bulging toward the S; the N edge is kinda flat, or it’s wider/blunter on the P end than F; like the central bulge is offset to the S. The galaxy is elongated P slightly N-F slightly S, and is 3.25’ x 0.75’ across the middle. There’s no nucleus visible. The very ends of the halo are poorly defined and vanish into the background sky, although there is a lot of interior brightening along the major axis. The halo itself is irregularly bright, and the F end is much better defined; to the S and P the galaxy fades out. The galaxy is situated in a field that’s not particularly busy. There’s a 14.5-magnitude star due S of the galaxy by 1.25’. S very very slightly P the galaxy by 5.5’ is a 12th-magnitude star; there’s a 13th-magnitude star P that star by 2.25’, and that second star is SP the galaxy by 6’. NP the galaxy by 8’ is an 11.5-magnitude star. F very slightly N of the galaxy by 13’ is an 11th-magnitude star; there’s a 10th-magnitude star NF that star by 2.5’, and then P that star by 1’ is a 12.5-magnitude star; the 12.5-magnitude star serves as the right-angle vertex of a triangle comprising those three stars, and the 10th-magnitude star is the brightest in the field. N slightly F the galaxy by 12’ is a 10.5-magnitude star with a 12.5-magnitude star P very very slightly N of it by 1.75’. Due P the galaxy by 3.75’ is a 15th-magnitude star that has a 14.5-magnitude star SP it by 2’.

For some reason unremembered at this remove, my next set of notes began with a dramatic, multi-person reenactment of the Young Frankenstein “yummy noises” scene. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

9:53
NGC 5204 (UMa): An exceedingly diffuse galaxy N of Mizar. The halo is elongated N-S, 2.5’ x 1.67’, with very, very gradual central brightening; there’s no real halo/core distinction. The halo is also very poorly defined and fades right into the background. No nucleus is apparent. A stream of stars runs SP-NF through the field: due SP the galaxy by 9’ is a 12.5-magnitude star that has SP it by 1.75’ a 10th-magnitude star; that star has 0.67’ due S of it an 11.5-magnitude star that has P it by 0.3’ a 14th-magnitude star; those last three form a small right triangle with the 11.5-magnitude star as the right-angle vertex. From the 12.5-magnitude star F very slightly S by 4’ is another 12.5-magnitude star; the third star in the line (not counting the triangle) is 3.25’ F very slightly S of the second and is 13th magnitude, and that star (the last in the line) is S of the galaxy by 7.5’. SF the galaxy by 5.5’ is another 12.5-magnitude star; there’s a 14.5-magnitude star between that star and the galaxy and very slightly P that line; it’s 2.75’ SsF the galaxy. F very very slightly N of the galaxy by 3.75’ is a 14.5-magnitude star; 8’ that same direction from the galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star that has NF it by 4’ a 10.5-magnitude star. From the galaxy NP by 15’ is an 11th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is SP the galaxy by 18’ and is 8th magnitude.

(If you’re wondering: yes, I’m using a lot more bold/underline for emphasis these days. Like the Young Frankenstein bit, though, I’m not quite sure why; my note-taking evolves in odd directions, I suppose.)

10:07
NGC 5308 (UMa): Along the back of Ursa Major, a third of the way from Thuban to Mizar. This is a really nice edge-on, one of many here in eastern Ursa Major. It’s  1.67’ x 0.3’, elongated PvsS-FvsN , with a very conspicuous tiny core and very bright quasi-stellar nucleus. S of the galaxy by 4.5’ is a 12th-magnitude star; P slightly S of that star by 1.75’ is a 14th-magnitude star; P slightly S of that star by 0.75’ is a 10th-magnitude star, and that line runs almost parallel to the galaxy. SF the galaxy by 1.5’ is a 14th-magnitude star; N very very slightly F the galaxy by 2.75’ is a 13th-magnitude star. Along the galaxy’s major axis, F very very slightly N by 4.5’, is a 14th-magnitude star. NP the galaxy by 5’ is a 13.5-magnitude; a further 3’ NP the galaxy is a 10.5-magnitude star with a 12th-magnitude star N slightly P it by 1.67’. S of the galaxy by 17’ is an 8.5-magnitude star; F somewhat S of the galaxy by 15’ is a 10th-magnitude star that’s the NF end of a fishhook-like asterism that spans 6.5’ SP-NF and has at the end of its stem a 10.5-mag star.

10:18
NGC 5322 (UMa): This guy (why is it always “guys”?) is a bright P-F galaxy of 1.3’ x 0.75’, with a bright round core that’s kind of gradually brightened to but has a well-defined edge. The core contains a bright substellar nucleus. The area immediately around the galaxy is barren of stars; the galaxy sits in the middle of an equilateral triangle of dim stars and also serves as the middle point of a capital ‘Y’ pattern; the sides of the triangle are each 11’ long; the brightest of the triangle stars is N slightly F the galaxy by 6.5’ and is 12.5 magnitude, and it has a 14.5-magnitude star 1.25’ NF it; along that same direction, between the galaxy and the 12.5-magnitude star, 2.75’ from the galaxy and very slightly P that line, is one of 14th magnitude; due P the galaxy by 7’ is a 13.5-magnitude star; there’s another of the same magnitude S somewhat F the galaxy by 6.5’, and those stars (the two 13.5s and the 12.5) form an equilateral triangle around the galaxy. The brightest star in the field is N slightly F the galaxy by 21’ and is 8th magnitude. P very very slightly S of the galaxy by 17’ is an 8.5-magnitude star that has a 9.5-magnitude star N very very slightly P it by 5’; due S of the galaxy by 8’ is a 14.5-magnitude star.


10:34
NGC 5430; PGC 49818 (UMa): A switch from the edge-on or face-on spirals so prevalent throughout Ursa Major; this is an irregular-looking galaxy without looking like an irregular galaxy. The galaxy spans 1.67’ x 0.67’.  It’s elongated roughly N-S, but has a lot more halo fuzz on the N end. Its core is quite a bit brighter than the halo. Is this a barred spiral, with the “core” actually a bar? [If so, it would require greater aperture to determine this.] NP the galaxy by 3.75’ is an 11.5-magnitude star that’s the SF vertex of a tiny isosceles triangle whose sides are no more than 0.67’ long; due N of that star by 0.67’ is a 13.5-magnitude star; there’s one of 14th magnitude almost due P it by 0.67. P somewhat S of the galaxy by 6’ is a 12.5-magnitude star that has a 14th-magnitude star N very very slightly F it by 2’. Every so often, 1’ S from the 12.5-magnitude star, is a hint of a very, very small non-stellar spot (PGC 49818); the best I can describe it as is “small and faint.” NP the galaxy by 14’ is a 10th-magnitude star; there’s an 8th-magnitude star N very slightly F the galaxy by 14’, and that has a 12.5-magnitude star N very very slightly F it by 1.25’, and almost halfway between the 8th-magnitude star and the galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star. F the N end of the galaxy (F very very slightly N of center) by 1.75’ is a very faint close double that has NF it by 2’ a 13.5-magnitude star; the double has 14.5- or 15th-magnitude components separated P-F by 10”. S very very slightly P galaxy by 16’ is a 10th-magnitude star that has an 8.5-magnitude star due P by 9’.


10:57
NGC 5443 (UMa): another nice edge-on galaxy–one of rso many here in Ursa Major. This one is elongated S slightly P-N slightly F, 1.5’ x 0.5’. It’s pretty irregularly-bright, although it’s hard to tell how much of that is a core/nucleus kind of distinction; it does seem to have a somewhat-brighter core, although nothing here is absolutely sure to be a nucleus. The ends of the halo, along the major axis, are not regularly illuminated. S of the P end of the galaxy is a 14.5-magnitude star; just off the NF end, maybe slightly F that end of the galaxy, is another of 14.5 magnitude that can only be held with difficulty. Due N of the galaxy by 4’ is the brightest star (at magnitude 9.5) and the SF vertex in a not-quite-parallelogram; it’s also the right-angle vertex in a triangle that includes the galaxy and an 11th-magnitude star P it by 2’; due N of the 9.5-magnitude star (in a line with the galaxy) by 5’ is a 10th-magnitude star; there’s another 11th-magnitude star F very slightly N that star by 1.75’.  F the galaxy by 3.25’ is a 12th-magnitude star. SP galaxy by 6’ is another 9.5-magnitude star; S very slightly P by 5.5’ is a pair: 14th and 14.5 magnitude stars, with the brighter F the fainter by 0.25’. The two 9.5-magnitude stars and the 12th-magnitude star F the galaxy also form a right triangle framing the galaxy, with the 9.5-magnitude star N of the galaxy as the right-angle vertex.


11:16
NGC 5585 (UMa): This is clearly a face-on spiral. It’s extremely diffuse, although it does have some weak central concentration. It’s hard to determine its elongation; roughly N-S? It spans 2.3’ x 1.5’, although it’s so poorly-defined and diffuse that it could be much bigger and I wouldn’t be able to tell. It’s another irregularly-bright galaxy, even just across the halo; the central 50% is very very slightly brighter, although I don’t see a nucleus. It’s quite a tough object to draw detail from. The P side of the halo is better defined than the F side; the cutoff is sharper on the P. 5’ SF is a 9th-magnitude star; NF the galaxy by 3.3’ is an 11.5-magnitude star, and the galaxy marks the right-angle vertex of a triangle with those two. S very very slightly P the galaxy by 2.25’ is a 13.5-magnitude star. N very slightly F the galaxy by 13’ is a 9th-magnitude star; that star has P it by 1.25’ a 13th-magnitude star. NF the galaxy by 23’ is an 8.5-magnitude star.


I went through my SkySafari list, my recorded notes, and my laminated copy of SkyAtlas 2000.0 (which had Post-It flags on it indicating the various Herschel objects; these were removed one-by-one each time I observed an object). I had three—and technically, only two—objects remaining, one a Herschel II and the others Herschel 400s. And as it turned out, I had already taken notes on the Herschel II object that remained, and hadn’t checked it off yet. But any excuse to re-observe that object and its nearby companions was a good excuse.

11:28
NGCs 5371, 5350, 5354, 5353, 5355 (CVn): This is the last Herschel II object remaining on my list! I missed this one (NGC 5371) as it wasn’t on one of my lists, and I didn’t notice until late in the process; I’d seen it several times, as it’s right nearby my favorite Hickson Compact Group (HCG 68), which is just on the SP edge of field. The galaxy is a large N-S glow, 2.75’ x 1.5’, with a very diffuse halo and very small core containing a notable stellar nucleus. It’s quite obviously a face-on galaxy, just based on its appearance. The edges of the halo are not well defined; the halo looks ragged, vanishing into the background sky. NF the galaxy by 2.67’ is a 9th-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field; 5.25’ due N of the galaxy is a 9.5-magnitude star. P slightly N by 5’ is a 14th-magnitude star; there’s another of 14th magnitude P the galaxy by 1.5’; 1’ S slightly P that star is one of 14.5 magnitude. Due S of the galaxy by 6’ is an 11.5-magnitude star that’s the S-most vertex of a right triangle; N somewhat F that star by 2.75’ is a 13th-magnitude star; NP that star by 1.25’ is a 13.5-magnitude star; the second star (the 13th magnitude) is the right-angle vertex. S slightly P the galaxy by 12’ is an interesting double of equal (12th) magnitudes separated SP-NF by 0.25’. P slightly S of the galaxy by 30’ is a 6.5-magnitude star with a 10.5-magnitude star 1’ S of it; SP the 6.5-magnitude by 4’ is a 9th-magnitude star, and the 6.5-magnitude star also has Hickson 68 “around” it, F and NF the star: the largest and most diffuse of the galaxies (NGC 5350) is 3’ NF that star and is 1.25’ diameter; its halo is very, very diffuse with only slight central concentration; it has a vague core, and maybe a very very faint stellar nucleus; 4’ F somewhat S of the star is a P-F galaxy (NGC 5354) that spans 0.75’ x 0.67’; it’s pretty well defined, with a small brighter core and a stellar nucleus; due S of that galaxy is one (NGC 5353) of 1.0’ x 0.3’, oriented NP-SF, with a brighter core and an obvious stellar nucleus; from the first galaxy F by 4.75’ is the fourth galaxy (NGC 5355), which forms a nearly-equilateral triangle with the first and third ones; it’s 1.0’ x 0.75’, oriented N-S, with a faint halo but noticeable core and stellar nucleus. (I somehow missed the fifth member of HCG 68 completely.)


And just like that, the Herschel II list was done!

I had planned my lists to finish the Herschel II before the Herschel 400, i.e. to complete the more-difficult list before the easier… and to finish both of the Herschel programs before the even-easier Messier program. I’m not sure why this appealed to me, but the idea of working the lists in reverse seemed like a very Australopithicene thing to do. So the end of the Herschel 400 beckoned….

11:47
NGC 5631 (UMa): This is, technically, the last object I need to close out the Herschel 400, but it’s not one of the better of the H400 to end on. It’s a very small but bright round spot, 0.75’ across, with a bright, smaller core that’s gradually arrived to and not much brighter than the halo, which is well defined; there’s a definite substellar nucleus that’s considerably bright for a galaxy nucleus. The field has lots of faint stars but none in the single-digit mag range. The galaxy itself is the right-angle vertex of an almost-perfect isosceles right triangle: due N of the galaxy by 3.25’ is a 13th-magnitude star, and there’s a 13.5-magnitude star P very very slightly N by 3’; the star to the N is also the S-most vertex in a triangle with a 12th-magnitude star NF by 2.3’ that has a 13.5-magnitude star P it by 1’. S very very slightly F the galaxy by 2.25’ is a 14.5-magnitude star. NP the galaxy by 7’ is a 12th-magnitude star; also NP the galaxy by 21’ is the brightest star in the field, which is 8.5 magnitude and has one of 11.5 magnitude F very very slightly N by 3.25’; that second star is the right-angle vertex of a triangle that includes the 8.5-magnitude star and a 13th-magnitude star 2’ S of the right-angle vertex.

I had technically finished the Herschel 400, but to put an exclamation point on the whole process, I made a reobservation of another object I had seen many times, but one whose previous set of notes—taken during my 2016 attempt at the Herschel Sprint—were unsatisfyingly brief for such a glorious galaxy. This also ensured that I ended the whole Herschel project on a showpiece, as was fitting for six years’ worth of study.

12:10
NGC 4559 (Com): I wasn’t happy with the sparse notes I took on this one during the Herschel Sprint back in 2016, so I’m rerecording them. This is a huge galaxy, no less than 6.5’ x 2.25’! It’s elongated NP-SF, with a very irregularly-bright halo and a central region that‘s less of a core than a broad central concentration spanning  1.5’ x 0.5’. The halo, especially on the N end, extends diffusely (?) beyond the immediately-visible part of the galaxy toward the N end; it gets ghostly toward that end. There are a few stellarings toward the galaxy’s N end, and three stars in a triangle on the F end, but no nucleus to speak of. The halo is not really very well defined, especially on the N end; the S end is helped by being bounded by the three stars there: the brightest of those three is F very very slightly S of the center of the galaxy by 1.5’ and is just inside the F edge of the halo; the halo extends a tiny bit beyond the star, which is 12th magnitude; S of the star and at the very S tip of the halo is a 13th-magnitude star that’s 1.3’ from the first star; 1.0’ P very slightly S of the second star is a 12.5-magnitude star; from the first star N slightly P along the edge of the galaxy is a darker lane or bay, as if the light cuts off along there; from the S-most star (second of the three) S slightly P by 2.25’ is a 14.5-magnitude star. F slightly S of the galaxy by 10’ (from the star on the F edge) is an 11.5-magnitude star; from the same star on the F edge of the galaxy 15’ S very very slightly P is a 12th-magnitude star; from the same star on the F edge 12’ N slightly F is a pair or double of 13th-magnitude stars, separated P slightly N-F slightly S by 0.5’. This is a phenomenal galaxy! 4.5’ P the galaxy from the star on the F edge is a 14th-magnitude star that has another of 14th magnitude SP it by 1.67’. The galaxy is wider on the S end than on the N; on the S end it’s as wide as the distance between the first and third stars; on the N end, it’s just over 2’ wide.

I stepped back from the telescope, looking upward in the direction of NGC 4559.

The Herschel 400 and Herschel II program lists were officially done.

Beyond, around, and among those that I had observed wheeled countless other galaxies, 1700 more of which were discoveries of William Herschel (and/or his sister Caroline). I had observed eight hundred of his/their best and brightest and had still only scratched the surface. Four hundred of these remaining galaxies were listed in the unofficial Herschel III program, which I’d already started working on (along with the Flat Galaxy, Arp, Galaxy Groups/Clusters, Messier, Double Star, Planetary Nebula, and Open Cluster programs).  And beyond Herschel’s own discoveries were still tens of thousands more within the range of the various telescopes in my possession or care.

Two doors had just been closed. A dozen or more had been opened.

My atlas was empty, but the sky was overflowing.

 

 

February Stars, February Miracles

Dispensing with the pithy quotes from famous authors as post titles, simply because this was too apt.

The winter of 2019/2020 was a harsh one. Our last observation occurred at the end of November; had everything stayed on track, I’d anticipated being able to finish the Herschel 400 and the Herschel II lists by May. The weather—as it so often did in Willamette winters—failed to cooperate, wiping out all of December and January and the first half of February (which has historically been our worst month anyway, cloud-wise). With my remaining targets in Canis Major, Monoceros, Puppies, and Pyxis, in addition to several galaxies in Camelopardalis, my prospects for finishing this year seemed poor—I had until the end of the dark phase in March to pick up forty-plus objects, most of them low in the south already as twilight ended.

Sometimes things fall together, though, and usually through no machinations of one’s own. The mid-February weather forecasts looked promising, and as those nights approached, the Clear Sky Chart began to agree. Clear nights were possibly at hand, and it only required readiness to take advantage of them. The stargazers of western Oregon were beginning to rise from their involuntary hibernation.

I. At our annual open house in early February, Loren and Dan B had suggested the possibility of heading out to the Eagle’s Rest amphitheater spot for our soonest observing session, the better to beat the inevitable crowd at Linslaw and the even-more inevitable dew at Eureka Ridge. I said that I’d be willing to give it a go, if only for the sake of having room to spread out my gear without fear of encroaching on someone else’s space. So when the various forecasts finally aligned on the 17th, we headed southeast for a long-awaited gathering of the photons.

When I arrived at the amphitheater, though, I wasn’t even sure I was in the right spot; only the fact that Loren was already parked there made me stop. The clear-cutters—who had been trashing areas all along Eagle’s Rest Road, including the area around our trusty gravel-pit site—had worked their Satanic magic on the amphitheater in our absence. What had been a somewhat sheltered (and very sky-limited, admittedly) alcove along the road had become a 270-degree view with no wind or light protection.

AmphiPano

Still, the southern horizon was flat, there was enough space for us (Dan B hadn’t been able to escape his work responsibilities, but there was room for him had he been able to make a break for it), and—rarest of all—the February sky was clear.

As we were waiting for twilight to fall and mirrors to cool, a pickup truck drove past. (This was the primary hard at the amphitheater; you were at the mercy of the drivers… more for their stopping than for them swerving off the road to hit you.)

What was unusual about this one is that—after he had sped past us—he then drove a quarter-mile back to see what we were doing… and he drove it backward, reversing up the dangerous, winding road.

The driver was either slightly inebriated or just deliberate in his speech, but he had the usual question: what are those things? As I was still in the process of aligning both optics and Telrad, Loren took the job of explaining what we were doing there, giving the fellow a look at Venus for his trouble.

“I thought those were telescopes,” the local flavor said. “That or you guys were gonna blow up half the countryside with cannons.”

So he drove off, apparently satisfied with what he’d seen and heard. If only all of our run-ins with locals were as friendly!

And then, it was time to start “working.”

02/17/20
EAGLE’S REST (amphitheatre) (43° 52′ 12.1476” N, 122° 47′ 19.0392” W)
SUNSET: 5:44 PM
MOON: 24 days (rose at 2:58 AM; 27%  illuminated)
SEEING: 5,7-8
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.37
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps low 20s, cold; humid (lots of frost); air relatively still, no wind
OTHERS PRESENT: LR

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

7:01
NGC 2259 (Mon): It’s not yet entirely dark, but it seems like a good time to start, as I’ve got a huge amount of space to cover. This cluster presents as a very dim, misty,  vaguely-rectangular patch filled with stars, many of them just outside the edge of resolution, plus a number slightly brighter. The cluster spans 3.5’ x 3’, and is elongated P slightly N-F slightly S. It’s moderately well detached and obviously a cluster but considerably faint, so not as easy to pick out of the rich starfield as it would be if it was a bit brighter; an observer could easily pass over it. There’s a moderate spread of magnitudes among the cluster members. It’s very very rich, even though most of its stars are just below the level of resolution; this contributes to the cluster’s slightly nebulous appearance; there are about seventeen stars visible and many more suspected. The brightest are poised on the N end, and then down along the P edge is a smaller patch of 14th-magnitude stars. There’s one star on the N very slightly P corner that’s a little brighter than the rest, at 12th magnitude, and it has N very slightly P it by 0.3’ a 13th-magnitude star; F very very slightly S of the lucida by 1’ is another 13th-magnitude star, and these mark the N extremity of the cluster. The patch to the P side has a number of 14th-magnitude and fainter stars in it; the patch is 1’ diameter and also contains a majority of the cluster’s brighter stars. From the lucida P very slightly S (so due P the cluster) by 5.75’ is an 8.5-magnitude star that’s surrounded by a group of brighter/brightish stars; from the 8.5-magnitude star P slightly S by 9’ is the brightest in field, at 6.5 magnitude, which has a bit of a yellowish tint.

7:20
NGC 2254 (Mon): This is another little blast of stars, much tighter and somewhat smaller than NGC 2259, but considerably brighter. The cluster is 4.5’ across (including the background glow from unresolved stars). There’s a knot of brighter stars central-P and because of this knot, 2254 is a more-obvious cluster than 2259 despite being less detached from the background. The cluster is very rich and has a number of stars in the 13th-14th range sprinkled over some unresolved background glow. The stars in the knot are in the 12th/13th-magnitude range; there are twelve in the knot, with the 12.5-magnitude cluster lucida on the P edge. Overall, there are maybe thirty total resolved stars, mostly in 13.5/14.5-magnitude range, with some 12th-magnitude stars scattered throughout and in the knot. Due SP the cluster is the NF vertex of an isosceles right triangle that has a fourth star toward the middle; the NF star in the triangle is 9th magnitude; SP it by 2.25’ is a 12th-magnitude star; from the first vertex (the 9th-magnitude star) due P by 2’ is an 11.5-magnitude star that’s the triangle’s right-angle vertex, and that star has 0.5’ SF it a 12th-magnitude star. From the lucida 16’ SP is the brightest star in the field, a double; the bluish-white primary is 6.5 magnitude and has due S of it by 0.25’ an 11th-magnitude star. NF the cluster by 12’ is the primary of another double: a 9.5-magnitude star with an 11.5-magnitude star 12” NF it.

7:39
NGC 2269 (Mon): This one is considerably different than the other two I’ve done so far tonight–it’s a little like Trumpler 1, in that it consists mainly of a long, thin line of stars that comprises the central axis and has the majority of cluster stars along it. The line extends N slightly P-S slightly F and is 3’ long and 0.5’ wide; there’s a star in the direct middle of it that’s brighter and two brighter ones on the ends; the star in the middle is barely the lucida at 11.5 magnitude, and it has SvsF it by 0.3’ an 11.7-magnitude star; at the S very slightly F end of the line is a 12th-magnitude star, and at the N very slightly P end is one of 12.5 magnitude. The cluster is pretty well detached and fairly obvious because it’s compact, dense, and quite rich, with about 25 stars ranging from the lucida down to 15th magnitude (so having a moderate range of magnitudes). There’s another close grouping of stars P that group that may still be part of the cluster; from the lucida to the brightest (at 11.7 magnitude, just slightly fainter than the lucida) in that grouping is 3.5’; that star is at the S end of that second group, which extends 2.75’ N very slightly F from there to a 13th-magnitude star at the N very slightly F end of that group. Also in the second group is a pair of 13.5-magnitude stars S and S very slightly P the star at the N end, each by 0.5’. The brightest star in the field is SF the lucida by 18.5’ and is 8.5 magnitude.

7:57
NGC 2302 (NGC 2299; Mon): This is an interesting two-part cluster, and the brightest so far tonight. The cluster sits in a pretty crowded field with a lot of bright stars in it; it’s about 4.5’ round total and obvious but not particularly well detached. It’s moderately rich, with 20 stars ranging from 10th-14th magnitude. The P subgroup consists of an arc of three on P side and a couple of stragglers F and SF; the arc, which contains the three brightest stars in the cluster, starts at its N end with an 11th-magnitude star; S very slightly P that star by 0.3’ is one of 11.5 magnitude; from that star 0.3’ SP is a 10th-magnitude star that’s the cluster lucida. From the star at the N of the arc SF by 0.75’ is another 11th-magnitude star; SF that star by 1.0’ is another 12th-magnitude star; from that star SP by 1’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; from this star due P by 1’ is a 12.5-magnitude star; these make up the P half of the cluster. From the star at the N end of the arc due F by 2.5’ is the N-most star in the second part, a 12th-magnitude star, which marks the NP vertex of a roughly-equilateral triangle comprising six stars; that star has SF it by 10” another of 12th magnitude; a 12.5-magnitude star lies 1’ F somewhat S from the first in this group, and from the same first star S by 1’ is a 12th-magnitude star. From the first in the triangle N by 1.25’ is a 10th-magnitude star that (if a member of the cluster) is the actual lucida, but I don’t think it’s a true member. 8’ NP the star at the N end of the arc in the first group is the brightest star in the field (at magnitude 6.5) and then 13’ due S from the star at the N end of the arc is the P very slightly N component of an almost-equal (9th-magnitude) pair separated by 0.5’; the component F very slightly S is just a bit fainter.

8:16
NGC 2309 (Mon): Impressive!  Lots of stardust in this cluster, lots of tiny faint stars over the indistinct background glow of many that are unresolved. The cluster is elongated kinda N-S, with a secondary axis kind of NP-SF; the majority of the faint glow runs N-S but a lot of the brighter stars are in a NP-SF stream. The cluster spans 6’ overall, with the denser portion to the S end, where the majority of the brighter (12th/13th-magnitude) stars are along the NP-SF stream; the cluster is 5.5’ wide NP-SF, with the majority of stars in a 3’ circle at the S end of the N-S axis. There’s an arc of stars slightly detached from the circle that arcs from the P up to the NF, where it seems to reach toward a 9th-magnitude star which is very very slightly reddish [keeping in mind, of course, that I’m partially colorblind toward the red]. There are about 20 visible stars here in the 12th-13.5 magnitude range and a similar number fainter, with the majority of background glow in the S circle and reaching from the P to the 9th-magnitude star at the N very slightly F. The SF edge of that concentration/secondary axis is marked by a quartet of evenly-spaced 14th-magnitude stars. The brightest star in the field is of magnitude 8.5 and lies P very very slightly N of the 9th-magnitude star by 14’. 

8:50
NGC 2311 (Mon): A broader, brighter cluster than any other tonight so far. This irregularly-shaped cluster is not well detached, largely because there are a lot of similarly-bright stars in the field. It spans 7’ NP-SF x 5’ N very very slightly F-S very very slightly P. It’s moderately rich without having a great mag range; the majority of stars are in the 11.5/12.5-magnitude range, so somewhat brighter than the other clusters tonight; the lucida is 10.5 magnitude and is on the NF corner. There are 35 stars here, plus a moderate amount of background density that could be unresolved stars. From the 10.5-magnitude star F very slightly S by 0.5’ is an 11.5-magnitude star, and from the 10.5-magnitude N very very slightly F by 3.75’ is another of 10.5 magnitude that’s probably outside the cluster boundary. The majority of stars are on the S end and trail away to the SF; these form a kind of trailing wing to the cluster, and it streams due F from there–perhaps these are not all part of the cluster. (I did not count them as part of the cluster in either size or star-count.) From the lucida S slightly P by 10’ is a single isolated 10th-magnitude star, and from the lucida 9’ F is the P-most of an arc of three 7.5/8th-magnitude stars that are equally spaced; the star on the P end of the arc is brightest and has F very very slightly N of it by 3’ one of 8th magnitude, which has F very slightly S of it by 3.25’ an 8.5-magnitude star; these are the three brightest stars in the field. NP the lucida by 13’ is a 9th-magnitude star that’s the N end of a NP-SF squiggle that looks somewhat nebulous at this magnification and has seven individual stars; this might be a small cluster on its own; that 9th-magnitude star, the 7.5-magnitude NF the cluster, and the brighter SP of the cluster form a large triangle; the cluster is in the SF edge of this triangle.

I regretted having taken notes on NGC 2362, the Tau Canis Majoris Cluster, back the previous March; the conditions were better now, and the cluster was a glorious sight in the eyepiece. I didn’t really have time to take notes on it again—I had too many objects I needed to get to—but it was as always a grand sight, the lower power the better.

9:05
NGC 2354 (CMa): Something of a change of pace from the smaller, fainter clusters, this one lies down between Wezen and Tau in the Big Dog; appropriately, it’s a big sprawling cluster, about 10’ N very very slightly P-S very very slightly F, 15’ P slightly N-F slightly S, and triangular. (Seeing is pretty poor down here at the moment.) The cluster’s interesting because its center is basically empty of stars, almost as if there’s a dark nebula there, although there’s  no sign that there is, no dark edges. The SF vertex of the cluster’s triangular outline is 10th magnitude and is the SF vertex of a Hercules-keystone which is wider on the S than on the N; N very slightly P that vertex by 3’ is a 9.5-magnitude star that’s the other star on the F side of the keystone; the NP vertex is a double with 11.5- and 12th-magnitude components separated by 15” with the brighter P very very slightly N of the fainter; the primary of that pair is 1.75’ P very very slightly S of the 9.5-magnitude star (the NF vertex); the fourth vertex of the keystone is due S of the primary of the pair by 2.67’ and is 11th magnitude. The N vertex of the cluster proper is 11.5 magnitude and is 11’ N very slightly P the SF vertex [the transparency has also gone to crap now]. There are about sixty stars in the cluster, so it’s fairly rich, and it’s moderately-well detached, just barely identifiable as a cluster because the field is also pretty rich. The stars range from 9.5 magnitude down to 14th, so it has a pretty decent range. The member stars are concentrated in clumps here and there throughout. There’s a string of stars on the P edge that leads up to the star to the N, a 9’ long group of about seven/eight stars mostly of similar magnitudes to that vertex; the SP vertex of the cluster is a 12.5-magnitude star that has just F it and vsN by 0.67’ a very close pair of equally dim stars, about 13th-magnitude, separated P-F by 5”, and then from that vertex S very slightly F by 1.25’ is another faint close pair, with the brighter NF the fainter by 12”; those are 13th and 13.5 magnitude. It’s worth noting that each of the S vertices has a brighter star S of it; the one to SP has a 10th-magnitude star SP it by 3.5’ and the one to the SF has 2.75’ SF it a star of equal (10th) magnitude; that star is a very slight bit brighter than the SF vertex.

9:33
NGC 2367 (CMa): A hop, skip, and jump N of Tau, this is a really sharp little cluster (almost literally); it’s very much an arrowhead-type cluster, in the vein of NGC 6664 in Scutum. The cluster is exceedingly-well detached and obvious; I dropped right on it before needing to starhop to it. It’s elongated N-S, 4.75’ long on the P side and 3.25’ on the F side; across the N end, it’s 3’ wide. The cluster comes to a very sharp point; its second-brightest star (at magnitude 9.5) is the star on the S tip. The majority of the cluster’s bright stars is in the S half; those in the N half are fainter, and the N outline is less-well defined. N very very slightly P the 9.5-magnitude star to S by 1’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; N very very slightly P that star by 0.75’ is the primary of an excellent double: the primary is 9.5-magnitude and has a 10th-magnitude star due P it by 5”; from the star on the cluster’s S tip N very very slightly F by 1.25’ is another 10.5-magnitude star; those make up the brighter S portion of cluster; there’s also some unresolved glow and a few stars visible mainly with averted vision, and also a couple stars to the S and S slightly F of the S-most vertex that are much fainter, in the 13th/14th-magnitude range; a star 0.75’ to the S of the S vertex may be a close double but it’s too faint/close to tell. There’s almost a dark lane/void of stars that runs P-F between the N and S halves. The N end is wider but considerably fainter and sparser than the S end. The brightest star in this half is on the F end, with a faint (13th-magnitude) one 0.3’ F; the brightest on the F end is 3.25’ N very very slightly F of the star at the S tip and is 11th magnitude. There are seven visible resolved stars in the N half that stream P slightly N from that one; the most prominent of these is an 11.5-magnitude star SP the P-most vertex of the N section, and is P slightly N of the star on the F end by 2’; the P-most vertex is 0.67’ NP that star and is magnitude 13.5. The area around the cluster is also interesting; N of the cluster, 10’ N very very slightly F of the S-most vertex, is a tiny diamond whose two S-most stars are its brighter, 10.5- and 11th-magnitude (the one to F slightly N is the fainter), separated by 0.3’ P slightly S-F slightly N; the other two in the little diamond are much fainter: the more P of the two is 13th magnitude and the more F is 12.5 magnitude; the diamond spans 0.75’ x 0.3’, with major axis SP-NF. From the S-most in cluster S very slightly F by 11’ is a 7th-magnitude star; from the S-most vertex SP by 14’ is an excellent double: 7th- and 7.5-magnitude stars separated NP-SF by 4”; there’s another double a quarter of the way between that double and the S-most vertex of cluster: this one is very unequal, 9th and 11th magnitude stars, with its primary P slightly N of the fainter by 0.25’; the primary is 10’ SP the S-most vertex.

9:54
NGC 2489; Haffner 20 (Pup): We’re way way way down in Puppis now, where the transparency still isn’t great, and I’m dropping all my stuff (glasses, gloves) into the mud for some reason. This is pretty obviously a cluster: it’s pretty well detached, although many of the stars are of similar brightness to field stars, but they’re more concentrated here. The cluster is roughly round, 6’ across, with a frame of similar-mag stars; esp. to the S, SP, and SF to due F by a broken rectangular ring elongated NP-SF encircling the cluster; this ring is broken to the P and N with the cluster in middle. The cluster has a fairly narrow range of mags and is moderately rich, considering its size. There are about 25 stars in the 6’ circle, mostly of 11th/12th magnitude or so, with an additional smattering down to 13.5-magnitude star (I’m not accounting for extinction this low in the sky). On the N edge there’s a close double of dim components, 12.5 magnitude both, N slightly P-S slightly F each other by 9”; P very very slightly S of the double by 0.75’ is the brightest star in the cluster at 11.5 magnitude. N very very slightly P this lucida by 9’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; due S of the lucida by 14’ is a 6.5-magnitude star that has something unresolved S very slightly P it by 5.5’; not sure what it is: galaxy, nebula, or a very very distant unresolved cluster (turns out to be Haffner 20). There’s a 5th-magnitude star F very slightly S of the 6.5-magnitude star by 17’, and from the 6.5-magnitude star P very slightly S by 13’ is a 7th-magnitude star. 

10:18
NGC 2482 (Pup): A nice cluster down here in northern Puppis, this one seems to be completely average based on the Trumpler categories–it has moderate detachment, is moderately rich, and has a moderate range of magnitudes, but it’s considerably better than that indicates: bright and obviously a cluster. The cluster is about 12’ diameter and elongated NP-SF and recalls a cartoon archery bow, with an arrow nocked and pointing to the SP and the bowstring on the F side, with the bow to the P side. The bow has more to it on the SF end; the NP end is separated as if by a dark lane running through; there’s another due S in the S-central part of the cluster. The NP end is made up of an isosceles triangle whose brightest star is the SP vertex and the triangle extends N and NF from there; its long end is the NF end; there are nine stars in the triangle; its SP-most vertex is the second-brightest star in the cluster at 10.5 magnitude; there’s a 10.5-magnitude star S very slightly F that star by 2.67’ which is very slightly brighter (10.3?) and that’s the lucida, almost dead center in the middle of the bow. The bow stretches 10’ long and from the lucida F very slightly N (at its widest) it’s 2.5’ wide. The arrow is 5’ long and its tip is a double of 10.5 and 12th magnitudes, with the brighter P slightly S of the fainter by 0.25’; the arrow is pointed at a solitary bright (8th-magnitude) star 6.5’ P somewhat S of the lucida. From the lucida N slightly F by 13’ is the brightest star in the field, which is 7.5 magnitude. There are two 8th-magnitude stars that form the F edge of a triangle that’s NF the cluster; the dimmer of these (10th magnitude) is the P vertex and is 11’ NF the cluster lucida; from that star F slightly S by 2’ is one 8th magnitude, and the other 8th magnitude (which is very slightly dimmer) is N very slightly F the first by 2’. There are about forty-five stars in the cluster, within a fairly narrow magnitude range, from the lucida down to 13.5/14th magnitude; the majority are within the 10-13th magnitude range.

One of the first areas of the sky to capture my attention on the Sky Atlas 2000.0 charts when I first purchased them (1988!) was the region around the Seagull Nebula, an extensive complex of clusters and reflection and emission nebulae that crosses the borders of Monoceros and Canis Major. As I learned more about the practical aspects of astronomy, I learned that I’d need a significant aperture boost over my old 8″ SCT and much darker skies than I had in Cincinnati in order to see the clouds of gas and dust and young stars that inhabited this region of local space—now, with a first great opportunity to peruse the area carefully, I didn’t really have the time. I’d have to stick with the clusters, saving the Seagull Nebula proper for another night.

10:43
NGC 2335 (Mon):–This cluster lies at the N end of the Seagull Nebula complex but that will have to wait for another time. The cluster is pretty shapeless and inhabits a bright field with a number of single-digit-magnitude stars in it. NGC 2335 is 10’ in diameter and vaguely roundish, moderately rich, and with a pretty wide range of magnitudes, from magnitude 9.5 down to 14th magnitude. The cluster doesn’t have much in the way of immediately-distinguishing features; the two most prominent are a double on the N central edge consisting of roughly equal (11.5) magnitude stars, separated P-F by 0.3’; S slightly F that double, on the SF edge of the cluster, is a regular diamond of stars whose SP vertex is its brightest at magnitude 9.5 and lies 4.5’ SF the F-most of the pair; N very very slightly F the 9.5-magnitude star by 1.25’ is an 11th-magnitude star, and those two form the diamond’s minor axis; from the 9.5-magnitude star NP by 1.3’ is the P-most vertex of the diamond, which is 10.5 magnitude, and the same distance F somewhat N of the 9.5-magnitude star is the F-most vertex, which is 11th magnitude; the diamond’s major axis is 2.25’ long. Overall the cluster has about thirty-five member stars; around the diamond there’s some ambient glow, perhaps from the Seagull complex or from unresolved starglow within the cluster. Between the diamond and the double to the N and running P and F, there seem to be some splotches of dark nebulosity in the cluster, especially to the P side. F the double to the N by 8’ is a 7th-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field; from that star S very very slightly P by 5.5’ is a small detached patch that looks like a possible chunk of nebula or a detached bit of cluster (or a separate faint cluster), 1’ across. NP the double on the N by 5.5’ is the brighter and more F of another pair; that star is 10th magnitude and has P it by 0.3’ a 12.5-magnitude star. S slightly P by 15’ from the double on the N is an 8th-magnitude star; there’s another 8th-magnitude star SF that one by 5’. 

10:58
NGC 2343 (Mon): Lying very nearby 2335, this is a fine, bright, fairly-well detached, moderately rich diamond-shaped cluster, almost a regular diamond, elongated [seeing is really good now!] 7’ NP-SF x 4.25’ SP-NF. The SF vertex, at the end of the major axis, is a bright double [a slow bright satellite is moving P-F through the field] whose primary is the cluster lucida at 8.5 magnitude; it has P slightly N of it by 12” an 11th-magnitude star [another, smaller and slower satellite is wandering through]. N very very slightly P the primary by 3.25’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; P that star by 4’ is an 11th-magnitude star; there’s a 10th-magnitude star SF the first by 4’, and that star is almost due P the primary of the double by 4’; these mark the diamond’s outline. In the middle of the diamond and stretching to the P and S are the bulk of the cluster members, and the diamond’s SP vertex is also surrounded tightly within 0.5’ by a number of fainter stars. From the primary of the double P slightly N by 1.67’ is another double that’s very tight and very dim; it consists of an 11.5-magnitude primary and a 14th-magnitude secondary P by 4”. From the primary of the bright double (the SF vertex) NP by 2.5’ is a pair of 11th-magnitude stars separated P-F by 6”; also from the primary of the SF vertex NF by 23’ is the brightest star in the field (which is actually a bit outside the field), which is 6.5 magnitude. There are about twenty-five stars here overall, of a moderate range of magnitudes.

11:10
NGC 2353 (Mon): This cluster is also in the Seagull region; it’s a very impressive cluster with a huge magnitude range. It has a number of interesting features, not least of which is an extremely bright star on the due S that’s 6th magnitude, maybe 6.5, and also has a number of very bright pairs. The major axis is 11.5’ long, running due NP-SF; at its NP end is a 10th-magnitude star, with one of 11.5 magnitude N very very slightly F by 0.5’ and a 12th-magnitude star F slightly N by 0.67; at the F end of the major axis is an 11.5-magnitude star. The minor axis is S very very slightly P-N very very slightly F and is 7’ long, with the 6th-magnitude star on the S end; at the N end is a 9th-magnitude star. From the 6th-magnitude lucida N very very slightly F by 2’ is the brighter and more S of a pair that are 9th and 9.5 magnitudes separated by 0.3’. There’s about 30 stars here, the largest concentration lying just N of where the axes meet; at that juncture, there’s another pair, of which the primary is just N of the intersection of the axes: a 10.5-magnitude star with one of magnitude 12 NP by 5”; around that star is the greatest concentration of faint (threshold) stars. From the 6th-magnitude star 11’ SP is an 8th-magnitude star; from the lucida N very very slightly P by 23’ is the brightest in the vicinity, which is also 6th magnitude; there’s another 6th-magnitude star F slightly S of the lucida by 25’. There may be some dark nebulosity along the SP edge of the diamond and running a good chunk of the field, plus some on the SF, framing those two sides of the cluster.

It had been ten weeks since we had last observed; tonight felt like the breaking of a fast. There was still much more to see, but it would have to wait; the next several nights seemed equally promising, and would be equally busy. I had hoped to make it to at least midnight tonight, but the cold on this particular night eventually cut me a bit short. I’d try to do an all-nighter the next time out.

II. The next time out turned out to be the very next night.

This night, Linslaw Point was the site of the best local stargazing forecast per the CSC. Those who had used the site the night before, however, were squeamish—the wind had driven them off the bluff much earlier in the evening than the cold had chased me home from the Eagle’s Rest amphitheater. As a result, even a few of the stalwarts were reluctant to return to Linslaw with similar conditions forecast.

How bad could it have been?

It took little time to find out. Nathan and Mark had returned to the site from the previous night, but both agreed that the second night (this one) was worse. The skies were fine; my SQM readings were all in the 21.5 range once darkness was complete. But the wind and the cold… especially the wind…. There were times on my audio recordings that its howl was louder than my voice. It combined with the already-cold ambient air to become an oppressive force. Nathan and Mark had parked so as to shield their imaging rigs from as much of the onslaught as they could, but it would take a while for me to abandon my dark-adaptation in favor of pulling the Caveman-Mobile into windbreak position. Dan B and Loren were smarter, taking Mark and Nathan’s advice from the get-go.

 

02/18-02/19/20
LINSLAW POINT (43 58’ 48” N. 123 42’ 4” W)
SUNSET: 5:46 PM
MOON: 25 days (rose at 4:01 AM; 18% illuminated)
SEEING: 6-7-5
TRANSPARENCY: 7-8
SQM: 21.55
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: brutally cold (due mainly to wind); temps to low 20s; no humidity but wind chill barely-tolerable; wind loud on audio
OTHERS PRESENT: LR, DB, NC, MW

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

7:19
NGC 2316 (Mon): I’m getting an early jump on things here with this very small, probable reflection nebula (SkySafari has it listed as NGC 2317). It’s obvious in the eyepiece with no filter. The nebula is very very small, no more than 0.75’ across, with a central region that’s a fair amount brighter than the periphery. At second glance, it’s 0.75’ x 0.67’,  elongated P-F. The central region, where the illuminating star must be, is just about 0.3’ diameter, and the brightest section of the nebula (as usually is the case with reflection nebulae). The illuminating star itself is not quite visible beyond maybe a fleeting glimpse in averted vision only; every now and then in averted there’s a sense that there are two imbedded stars, just barely. It’s hard to describe the nebula’s texture at this magnification, as it’s a bit too small for much detail to be seen. The nebula is bounded on the S by a small, flat, almost-isosceles triangle of which the brightest star lies 1’ S of the nebula; it’s the closest to the nebula and is magnitude 12.5; 1.0’ F very very slightly S of that star is a 13th-magnitude star, and there’s another 13th-magnitude star 0.75’ P very very slightly S of the first star–a not-quite-isosceles triangle, but almost. F very very slightly S of the nebula by 6.5’ is a 9.5-magnitude star. P very very slightly S of the nebula by 5’ is a 10th-magnitude star. N very very slightly P the nebula by 10’ is a 9th-magnitude star; N very very slightly P of that star by 10’ is the brightest in the field (20’ N of the nebula), at 8th magnitude. S very slightly P the nebula by 9.5’ is another 9.5-magnitude star. With the UHC filter there are no real changes to the nebula’s appearance; I don’t expect much from either filter, but the UHC does almost nothing; it smooths out the brightness of the nebula and may be killing the central brightness around the imbedded stars and making the brightness of the nebulosity more uniform. With the O-III, the nebula is barely even visible; there’s certainly no improvement in the view.

The Bowl of the Big Dipper was by now just above the sandstone bluff—a subtle reminder that after I was done with the remaining winter clusters and nebulae, I still had forty-plus galaxies remaining in Ursa Major and Camelopardalis before I could finish my work on the two Herschel lists… and then had the unofficial third list to do before even getting halfway through William Herschel’s life list. So much to do, so few clear skies….

7:35
NGC 2346 (Mon): First of several planetary nebulae in Monoceros and Puppis I have on my list. With no filter, the central star is very obvious; it’s brightish at 11th (?) magnitude. The nebula lies in a very busy Milky Way field and is only visible as a very slightly elongated halo around the central star; there’s no annulus or anything but a P-F elongated glow. It appears to be about the same size as NGC 2316, 0.75’ x 0.67’. The nebula forms the S vertex of a roughly-isosceles triangle with two 12th-magnitude stars, one NF by 2.67’ and one NP by 2’. NP the nebula by 5.5’ is the F-most star in a lowercase ‘y’ pattern with five stars in it; this star is the end of the stem and is 11th magnitude; the N tine of the ‘y’ is the brightest star in it and is 10.5 magnitude and it lies 2.5’ from the previous star; the S tine lies 1.25’ due S of the N tine; the star in the middle of the ‘y’ is halfway between the end of the stem and the N tine and is 11.5 magnitude; there’s a 12th-magnitude star due P the star in middle by 0.75’. P very very slightly S of the nebula by 4.75’ is a 10th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field lies 15’ F somewhat N of the nebula and is 8th magnitude; there’s a 9.5-magnitude star S somewhat P that star by 4.5′, and this star is the N-most vertex of a tiny scalene triangle whose other stars (moving S-ward) are 11.5- and 12th-magnitude; the long (P) side of the triangle is no more than 0.75’. The 8th-magnitude star has S very very slightly F by 10’ a 9.5-magnitude star that has a 10.5-magnitude star SP it by 1’ and a 12th-magnitude star due F it by 10”. With the O-III filter, there’s a lot of change from the unfiltered view; the nebula is much brighter, really popping into view; there’s no trace of the tendrils that show in photos but central star is still visible. The brighter part of the nebula is elongated P-F and the glow around it, the outer edge, is much more visible N and S; it almost resembles a barred spiral with the bar cutting across the entire width. Without the  filter I could have swept over it at first glance if I wasn’t specifically looking for it, but with the filter there’s no question that it’s a tangible object. This is an impressively-bright nebula, although not quite on the same tier as the Eskimo, NGC 3242, or even NGC 2438 in M46.

The next object on my agenda was NGC 2539, Thor’s Helmet; I had decided to use the higher SQM readings available at Linslaw to concentrate as much as possible on the remaining emission, reflection, and planetary nebulae on my agenda, as those objects would benefit the most from the darker skies. But even as I hunted down NGC 2539, I noticed a weird shadow effect in my eyepiece, with one side of the field being dark and the other having an unaccountable glare through it. It wasn’t extra light from Sirius, which was nearby but nowhere near close enough to cause such a glare. I fought with the glare  until it disappeared on its own, but still don’t know what caused it. In retrospect, it was probably the telescope’s shroud being pushed into the light path by the wind, as the shroud is non-elastic and has stretched out of shape over the years I’ve owned the scope.

8:05
NGC 2359 (CMa): Thor’s Helmet! The nebula is quite obvious but surprisingly tough to find (at least tonight), in the wilds following Canis Major’s head. With no filter, it’s still pretty apparent; as it’s a Wolf-Rayet shell, it should be pretty good in O-III. With no filter, the nebula is visible in two sections: the central bubble and a section that extends S and then SP, giving the whole a comma shape. The central bubble encompasses an isosceles triangle of faint stars whose short side is to the P and long side to the NF; the short side is 1.75’ long and consists of an 11.5-magnitude star at the S end and a 12th-magnitude star at the N end; the 12th-mag has just F it by 0.3’ a 12.5-magnitude star; the third star is NF the S-most vertex by 2.5’ and is also 12th magnitude; that central bubble of the nebula encompasses the triangle, and is about 4’ around and extends S from the N edge of the triangle to an 11th-magnitude star, then extends 4.5’ SP from that star; if the nebula was a sock-shape, that 11th-magnitude star would be situated at the heel. That part of the nebula, the SP-NF angled part from heel to toe, is about 6.5’ long and ends near a small, faint triangle of stars; there’s a line of three very close-together 11.5-magnitude stars due S of the star at the “heel” by 6’. The nebula has a cloudy texture as opposed to a wispy one, more like a typical emission nebula than a reflection nebula. With the O-III: WOW!  The contrast boost is immense! (The filter may have eliminated the weird reflections I was getting in the eyepiece.) The sock bend/heel, the S edge from heel to toe, is much more obvious and the second brightest part of the nebula; the brightest is along the N edge of the triangle, especially the P part of it along the NP vertex, where the nebula is very bright; the whole nebula extends a long way from that–in averted vision, it runs 10’ from the F-most vertex of triangle and is much more gossamer along that long stretch. It also extends backward F that F-most vertex of the triangle; there’s a faint tendril that reaches over to a line of four stars F and SF the nebula that contains two of the brightest in the field; the second from the S is the brightest in the field at 8.5 magnitude, and the other streak of nebulosity extends to just N of those stars (the two in the middle of the line) by 4’, and that tendril is much fainter from the edge of the main nebula out until it reaches just N of those stars and then brightens into a “detached” part N of that line of stars on the F; that brighter piece is 3’ long. The O-III just rocks this nebula! The P edge of the bubble is considerably brighter and better defined than the F edge, and the round part of the nebula is 5’ across;  from the knot on the NP where the NP vertex of the triangle is, the nebulosity sweeps SP along the outer edge of the bubble, this is a much brighter rim, and the F side of the bubble is much more diffuse and dissolves into the background; the area where the bubble meets the toe part of the foot is also brighter where it intersects the bubble. Wow again! There are vague hints of darker patches among the bubble itself; its brightness is considerably irregular throughout, although the gradations in brightness aren’t huge–I wouldn’t necessarily call it Thor’s Helmet from a visual standpoint, but it’s certainly not a Duck either; both nicknames are inapt visually. The F-most extension toward the line of stars on the F is 0.67’ thick at its brightest portion; the brighter portion of the front (P-ward) extension varies but it’s generally about 0.75-0.67’ thick; the heel-toe extension is 1.75’ thick and also irregularly bright. With the UHC: not bad at all! [The wind is so bad at this point I have to hold onto the scope to keep it on target.] The UHC has better aesthetics than the O-III. In it, the nebula is still quite a bit better than the unfiltered view–the N extension toward the P is still quite visible; the F-ward extension is also visible, but not as clear as with the O-III. The brighter areas of the nebula are still considerably higher in contrast than in the unfiltered view, especially along the NF vertex of triangle on N edge of bubble and the area where the bubble meets the heel-toe region. In some ways the P extension is even more obvious than with the O-III; it extends quite a ways from the main body of the nebula. On the inside of the bubble on the P edge, inside that rim, there appears to be a darker strip that runs along the edge inside the brighter rim. This is a very very impressive object!–certainly among the ten best emission-type nebulae visible from the Northern Hemisphere.

Few of the remaining objects on my list could compare with Thor’s Helmet, although several were excellent in their own right. But aside from the mighty M42, the only object I would see this entire dark run that surpassed Thor’s Helmet was a view of the same object I would get on the last night of February’s observing run with much heavier artillery….

8:46
NGC 2374 (CMa): This cluster could be much larger than I’m listing because there’s a large scattering of much brighter stars F and NF it that could be part of it; I’m not including them. The central mass of the cluster is 4.5’ diameter, with its brightest star on the N very slightly P corner. The cluster is pretty well detached; it’s in a rich starfield but the cluster is still obvious as a cluster (although it’s still somewhat hard to tell where the cluster ends and the starfield begins). From the P down to the S, on the edge of the cluster, is a string of six stars; there are about eighteen resolved in the whole cluster. Just SP the S end of the string is a faint double; both components are 13.5 magnitude and they’re separated by 0.25’. There’s not a great range of magnitudes in this cluster; the average magnitude is about 11.5; there may be much fainter or threshold-level stars, but most are on the brighter end. From the bright star on the N very slightly P (the cluster lucida at magnitude 10.5) SP by 10’ is an 8th-magnitude star with a 9th-magnitude star 3.3’ N very very slightly F it; there’s an 8.5-magnitude star N of the lucida by 15’ and one of 10th magnitude N of the lucida by 5.75’. F the cluster is a grouping of fifteen stars that are brighter than the cluster members; these are in the 10th/11th-magnitude range and don’t seem to be part of cluster, but might be. From the lucida almost due F by 6.5’ is the P-most vertex of a narrow pentagon of stars that extends 1.75’ x 4’; from the lucida NF by 6’ is the S end and stem of a large bright ‘Y’ of stars; there are five main stars in the ‘Y’ and one off end of each tine; the star at the end of the stem is 10th magnitude; N very very slightly F of that star by 2.75’ is the center star of the ‘Y’, which is 10.5 magnitude; 2.25’ N very very slightly P the center star is the N tine, which is marked by a 10th-magnitude star and has 0.75’ N very very very slightly F of it an 11.5-magnitude star; the F tine is 1.75’ due F the center star and is 10th magnitude; F that tine star is a 12.5-magnitude star in a perfect line with that tine and the center star, and that star has P very very slightly S by 12″ a 14th-magnitude star. If these are all part of the cluster, it extends S very slightly P-N very slightly F 12’ and 8’ P slightly N-F slightly S.

9:26
NGC 2360 (CMa): A fine cluster! This one is 9’ around and roughly pentagonal; the pentagon has at its P-most vertex a trio of stars in a P-F then  very very slightly S arc that’s 1.25’ long; the F-most vertex is the cluster lucida at 9th magnitude and is slightly reddish. The cluster is quite rich (with about sixty stars) and pretty well detached, but the field is rich and has a lot of similar-magnitude stars; the majority of cluster stars are in the 10.5-11.5 magnitude range, with a few fainter, particularly along the P side and especially on the SP edge. The major axis of the pentagon runs P-F; the N-most vertex is yet another 11.5-magnitude star and is 5.25’ P somewhat N of the lucida; the SF vertex is 11th magnitude and is 4.5’ S very very slightly P the lucida; from that vertex P very very slightly S by 7’ is a 12th-magnitude star marking the SP vertex of the pentagon. The P half of the pentagon is much richer than the F; there are two or three dark voids or zones in the F half that may be dark nebulosity; just outside the SP edge and running along that edge is another, longer dark zone 1’-1.25’ thick. There may also be some dark nebulosity just N of the cluster, but this is less distinct. From the lucida NF by 13’ is a 9th-magnitude star that’s the S end of a 5’ long chain of eight; that star is by far brightest in the chain. N of the lucida by 13’ is another 9th-magnitude star; from the lucida P by 28’ is a 5.5-magnitude star.

9:38
NGC 2422 (M47); NGC 2425 (Pup):  A huge cluster that’s very bright and impressive, and a naked-eye target even on sub-par nights, M47 has a wide range of mags in its 33’ P-F x 23’ N-S borders. The cluster is considerably rich and moderately-well detached, like an overdensity of bright stars in the area. Its lucida lies on the P edge and is 5.5 magnitude; it has N very slightly F it by 0.3’ an 11th-magnitude star. Due F the lucida by 7.5’ is an impressive bright double that lies near the middle of the cluster’s brightest section and central region and forms the end of the stem of a lowercase ‘y’; the double consists of a 7th-magnitude star with an 8th-magnitude star P slightly N by 9”; 1.3’ due N of the 8th-magnitude star is another of 8th magnitude that’s the middle of the ‘y’; NF that star by 1.67’ is the F-most tine, which is 7th magnitude; from the middle star 1.75’ N is a 9th-magnitude star that’s the P tine [a slow satellite makes its way through the  field]. From the lucida SF by 9’ is a 7th-magnitude star that’s the F end of a line/arc of four; 1’ P is a 9th-magnitude star; there’s another of 9th magnitude 1’ P very slightly N of that star; 1’ P very very slightly S of that star is an 11.5-magnitude star that’s the P end of that line. From the lucida almost due F by 23’ is the cluster’s second-brightest star at magnitude 6.5; this star is third from N in an arc of four, with an 11th-magnitude star due S of it by 1.5’ and a 9th-magnitude star 1’ N very very slightly P; 1’ N very very slightly P that star is a 12th-magnitude star. These are the cluster’s brightest stars. 2.5’ N very slightly F the F end of the line of four SF the lucida is a small clump of five stars in a tight knot, 0.5’ long, with its brightest (magnitude 12.5) on the N end; all five of these are 12.5-14th magnitude. There are about 80 members in the cluster; these form lots of small lines and chains, especially chains of three or four stars. The cluster is boxy, but there are also outliers S of the lucida that are probably members but distort the boxy shape. From the lucida 40’ SF is another cluster (NGC 2425): this one is a 3.5’ x 1’ smear and is wider at the F end (it’s elongated P-F) with an overlay of ten 12th-magnitude and fainter stars upon a long unresolved glow; it’s uncanny how much the overlaid stars conform to the shape of the background glow. This smaller cluster is very well detached and very rich for its size, with lots of unresolved stars; it’s roughly T-shaped, with the horizontal bar of the T on the F end running S very very slightly P-N very very slightly F.

9:53
NGC 2423 (Pup): just N very very slightly F M47; it’s closer to head there than M46 after M47. This is a pretty nice, reasonably-obvious cluster, fairly-well detached from the background, with lots of small groups of three or four stars; it’s a “lumpy” cluster that’s pretty rich, with sixty-five stars in an 18’ diameter. The member stars here have a pretty limited range of mags; there are many 10.5-11.5-magnitude stars and not many fainter ones; there are also lots of clumps about 1’ diameter or so with space between them. Near the center is a bright double, the primary of which is the cluster lucida at 9th magnitude; it has NP it by 7” a 9.5-magnitude star, and this double or pair is the N end of a line of four primary stars that extends S slightly P from the center of the cluster; this line runs 14’ and terminates with a pair of 8.5-magnitude stars with the second one “in” a very slight bit fainter; the star in that line closest to the lucida (which lies 3.5’ SP) is 10th magnitude. N of the lucida by 7’ is a pair that marks the N edge of the cluster. There’s an arc of five stars P and P very very slightly N of the cluster; this arc is 2.67’ end-to-end and has its brightest star at the N end, marking the cluster’s boundary. S very very slightly F the lucida by 3.5’ is the brighter of a pair separated by 0.3’, with the fainter P slightly S of the brighter; these are 10.5 and 11th magnitudes. SF the lucida by 9’ is another faint group of three oriented SP-NF, with its brightest star at the NF end. From the lucida 17’ due F is the brightest star in the field, which is magnitude 8.5 and is at the P end of another line of three; F it and very very slightly S by 1.5’ is an 11th-magnitude star; there’s a 12th-magnitude star due F that star by 1.25’ and then due N of that star by 1’ is a 13th-magnitude star; there’s also a couple along that edge that arc F, then N, and that little bit N has a couple of extra stars in it. 

I gave up fighting the wind at this point. Giving up my dark adaptation was less an issue than freezing to death on the bluff (overdramatic? Only maybe….), so I got in the van and pulled it around for shelter. It did less to mitigate the steely breeze than I’d hoped, but if it did anything at all, it was worth it. I didn’t even wait to re-adapt before jumping in on the next object, which was bright enough that the lack of dark adaptation made less difference.

10:03
NGC 2438, M46 (Pup): One of the best pairs of deep-sky objects in the whole sky! M46, the cluster, is 20’ diameter, maybe extended P-F a bit; NGC 2438, the planetary nebula, is the most obvious “feature” of the cluster despite being a foreground object, and it’s situated pretty close to the N edge of the cluster. The cluster’s 9th-magnitude lucida lies very near its due P edge; the nebula is centered 8’ F very slightly N of the lucida. The F-most vertex of the cluster is in a right triangle; the right-angle vertex is 4.25’ P very very slightly S of the lucida and is magnitude 9.5; the third vertex lies 4’ N very slightly P the right-angle vertex and is 10.5 magnitude. (11th magnitude seems about the median magnitude here.) The cluster’s very rich, well detached, and unmistakable as a cluster; it’s well detached partly because it’s surrounded by dark lanes, especially on the P and NP edges; something there is obviously blocking the background light. There are 100 stars here, with many in the 11.5-magnitude range, lots in the 12th-magnitude range, and some of 13th magnitude. On the S edge, 10’ S of the nebula and stretching 8’ P-F, is another dark lane 1.5-2.0’ thick and may actually be + or x shaped; this stretches N-S also, with the S end of that dark nebula marked by the S-most star in the cluster, which is 16’ S of the planetary and is 9.5 magnitude. SF the planetary by 5.75’ is a little knot of stars, with another due S; the one SF the nebula is a little more obvious; it forms a ‘V’ or “duck flight” with the point star its N-most and brightest and is 1’ long per side. The densest part of the cluster lies more on the N half of the N-S axis; the N half of the cluster is much richer in part because of the dark nebula in the S half. Just F the planetary and running SF is another dark lane that runs 15’ and is 1.25’ wide and variably opaque; stars are much fewer along there; the duck flight/V pattern is on the F side of that dark lane from the planetary. The planetary is 1’ diameter and has a very very faint central star; its annularity is apparent even without a filter, and it has an extension to the N of the halo; there’s a brighter ring over a whole disk that’s gossamer, with a tiny shred N from the edge of the rim. Just outside the SF edge of the planetary is an 11.5-magnitude star. The central star flashes intermittently; there’s definitely an impression of darkness in the nebula’s center. With the O-III: the annularity is much stronger, the brighter annulus more profound. The gap between the edge of the halo and the star on the SP of the nebula is much thinner and the nebula’s center is much darker. The P edge of the nebula has a little more fuzz than the F side, which is better defined, and there’s a  very very slight bit of NP-SF elongation. The F slightly N edge of the annulus may be brighter than the rest. (?) There’s still an impression of a hook/spur off the N edge, although the central star disappears with the filter in. This is one of the better planetaries of winter, set in an equally-excellent cluster! 

10:29
NGC 2396 (Pup): A pretty bright, not particularly rich, not overly well detached cluster that’s just S of a very bright double star. The cluster is isosceles-triangular with its lucida on the P end of the triangle and the point of the triangle to the N. The S edge is poorly defined; the P and F edges have more bright stars; the P edge has the 8th-magnitude lucida and a star 1’ S of lucida; that star is the brighter of a double which is 11th magnitude and has a 13.5-magnitude star S very very slightly F it by 10”. P very very slightly N of the lucida by 1’ is a 10.5-magnitude star. F very slightly N of the lucida by 1.3’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; N very very slightly F that star by 1’ is an 11th-magnitude star; N slightly F that star by 1.25’ is one of magnitude 12.5; SF that star by 1’ is another 11th-magnitude star; due S of that star by 1.25’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; S very very slightly F that star by 0.75’ is a 12th-magnitude star (whew!)–this is the P half of cluster, plus the star to the N, which is NF the lucida by 5.5’, and then F the lucida by 6.5’ is the F-most vertex of the cluster; this has NP it by 1.75’ a 10.5-magnitude star; the F vertex is 11th magnitude, and the N-most is 13th magnitude. Due N of the lucida by 10’ is the brightest star in the field, which is 6th magnitude and has NP it by 0.3’ a 9th-magnitude star. S very very slightly F that 6th-magnitude star by 0.5’ is one of 12th magnitude. There are 25 stars in all in the cluster, which measures 8’ along the S edge and 5’ N-S, with a wide range of stars down to magnitude 13.5.

10:52
NGC 2414 (Pup): This cluster is a small elongated spray of stars that’s 5’ long P-F, or slightly P very very slightly N-F very very slightly S. The lucida (magnitude 8.5) lies in the middle of that axis; from the lucida the cluster runs 1’ S and from P the lucida it also hooks N for another 3.5’, so 5’ x 4.5’ total. The P half of the cluster is much the richer, especially the part along the major axis between the lucida and the P end; the F half is more devoid of stars. P slightly N of the lucida by 2.25’ is the P end of the cluster, marked by a 13th-magnitude star; there’s an 11th-magnitude star 0.75’ P very very slightly N of the lucida; S of the lucida by 0.67’ is a pair of 12th-magnitude stars separated by 10”; along that arc to the P and S that are the majority of the cluster members. From the closer of the two stars P the lucida (the 11th-magnitude star) due N by 1’ is a 13.5-magnitude star; from that star 1.75’ NF is a 13th-magnitude star; the area between and along that arc is the second-richest part of the cluster. F the lucida by 1.75’ is an 11.5-magnitude star that forms the F end of the cluster. The cluster is kind of anchor-shaped, even down to the spike on the bottom. N of the lucida by 4.25’ is a 12th-magnitude star; N slightly P the lucida by 3.5’ is an 11th-magnitude star. P very very slightly S of the lucida by 3.5’ is another 10.5-magnitude star that has yet another 10.5-magnitude SF it by 1.75’ and from that star SF by 3’ is a 10th-magnitude star which is 3.67’ due S of the lucida. The lucida appears to be the brightest in the field; N somewhat F the lucida by 13’ is a 9th-magnitude star.

11:15
NGC 2440 (Pup): Telescope is bouncing like crazy because of the wind, but we press onward. This is a bright elongated planetary with a brighter roundish core and a halo that’s elongated P very slightly S-F very slightly N. No central star is visible, but it might be lost in the  center of the bright nebulosity. The nebula is about 0.75’ x 0.67’, with a 0.5’ central brighter region or core. There might be a few tendrils off the F side toward the S, and a few P, also extending S. 3’ F the nebula is an 8.5-magnitude star. 12’ due S of the nebula is a 9th-magnitude star. There’s a tiny knot of four 13th/14th-magnitude stars SF the nebula by 3’ and another knot (of much brighter stars; magnitudes 10-14) 4’ F somewhat S of the first, with a four-star triangle; the triangle consists of a 10.5-magnitude star with an 10th- and 11th-magnitude double (separated by 2”, with the fainter P very very slightly S) 0.5’ N of it and a star of 12.5 magnitude due P the primary by 0.67’. [I have to hold onto the scope while getting out the filter due to the wind.] With the O-III: the nebula is quite clearly elongated. There’s more distinction between the core and the halo, which expands to 1.0’ x 0.75’. The tendrils are still apparent, and the middle of the nebula is very bright with the filter in. The core region still doesn’t have a real sharply defined edge; it’s rather fringy in and of itself, and very slightly larger than in the unfiltered view.

11:32
NGC 2432 (Pup): Just S of NGC 2440 is this rich little compact obvious cluster, a pretty-well detached streak, running 4’ N-S and 2’ across the middle, where it’s widest. [There’s a very very slow satellite in the field, moving P-F just S of the cluster.] The cluster comprises two small chunks of stars: the S chunk is 0.75’ x 0.5’ and contains five stars of magnitudes 12-12.5 and a couple of magnitude 14.5; the N chunk is roughly diamond-shaped, 1.25’ x 1’, with nine stars in the magnitude 11.5-13 range and some unresolved (more unresolved than in the S chunk); perhaps fewer than 50% of the stars–fifteen total–are resolved. NF the cluster by 7’ from the N end is an 8th-magnitude star that is the NF vertex of a perfect isosceles triangle; the other two stars are roughly SP: one P slightly S, the other S very slightly P, each by 1.25’, and separated from each other by 1’; both are 11th magnitude. From the N end of the cluster N somewhat P by 16’ is an 8th-magnitude star. From the S tip of the cluster P very very slightly S by 3.5’ is a 10th-magnitude star; there’s a 9th-magnitude star F slightly S of the S tip of the cluster by 8’, and 7’ SF the S end of the cluster is a star of 8.5 magnitude. 12’ S of the S end of the cluster is the N end of an elliptical, almost football-shaped, ring of stars that’s 4.25’ S very slightly P-N very slightly F and 2’ wide and contains fourteen stars; the F side is more-sparsely outlined but the P side has a big gap in the middle; this may be a separate cluster or just a striking asterism.

11:46
NGC 2421 (Pup): A pretty little cluster, kind of a frosty little thing with a wide range of mags. This one is roughly triangular, although the vertices are each marked by a geometric pattern than by a single star: N is marked by a mid-sized diamond, the SF vertex by a little equilateral triangle, and the SP vertex by a pair. This is pretty-well detached and obviously a cluster; it’s also pretty rich, with sixty stars. The cluster spans 9’ N-S and 6’ P-F (along the S edge). The SP vertex is a 10.5-magnitude star with one of 11th magnitude F somewhat N of it by 1.25’; the F vertex is an equilateral triangle, with a 10.5-magnitude star the N-most vertex and sides of 1’ each; the SF vertex of this triangle is magnitude 11.5 and the SP vertex of it a double of magnitudes 12 and 12.5  with the brighter SP the fainter by 9”. The N vertex of the diamond (which is itself the N-most vertex of the equilateral triangle that makes up the cluster proper) is actually a tiny triangle of 12th/13th/14th-magnitude stars no bigger than 0.25’ on its longest side; the diamond’s major axis runs N very slightly P-S very slightly F and is 3.25’ x 2’; the star at the S end of the major axis is a double with a 12th-magnitude star 10” S of a 13.5-magnitude star; two 10.5-magnitude stars mark the minor axis; the first is due S of the triangle at the N end of the diamond by 1.75’ and the second lies SF the triangle at the N end of the diamond by 2’. The N ⅔ of the cluster is more populous, with some unresolved there, and they go down to 15th magnitude (although atmospheric extinction may play a part here). Four or five stars of magnitude 12-14 spill out of the F side of the diamond, outside the outline of the cluster. The brightest star in the field is NP the cluster, 11’ P slightly N the N vertex of the cluster, and is 8.5 magnitude; there’s a 9th-magnitude star (very slightly fainter) 2.75’ S slightly F the previous star.

Loren had already left, and now Dan was heading out as well; without imaging data to gather, there was no necessary duty in staying behind. I was torn—I was horrendously cold, but I had so many more targets to get to. I’d expected to be out much longer, but my cold-weather preparations had become mostly undone by the surging wind and the ambient cold. I decided to finish out the last nebulous target on my agenda and then leave, rather than risk getting sick and missing the entire rest of the dark-sky run. The remaining object turned out to be one of the more-pleasant surprises in the entire Herschel catalogue so far.

12:09
NGC 2467; Haffner 19, Haffner 18 (Pup): This will be the last for the night due to the wind, which is making things really uncomfortable. NGC 2467 is an impressive nebula/cluster combo down low in Puppis; I’m actually sitting on the ground to observe it! It’s a really surprising object, with very obvious dark and bright nebulosity; the nebulosity jumps out much more than the cluster does. What exists of the cluster is mostly contained within a rough equilateral triangle that consists of an 8th-magnitude star (the lucida) on the SF and a 9th-magnitude star on the SP that’s in the N-central edge of the largest, brightest chunk of nebulosity, which is a 4’ circle with a lane of dark nebulosity running across its N edge and across the cluster P-F; the two stars (the 8th- and 9th-magnitudes) are separated by 10’. From the lucida N slightly P by 9’ is what looks like a nebulous star/star embedded in a tiny circular patch of nebulosity that’s 0.3’ across but probably has a greater extent than that; the star in the center of that may be 11th magnitude [this is the N vertex of the large equilateral triangle] and it has an 11th-magnitude star 1.3’ F very very slightly N [this is a cluster/nebula combo, Haffner 19]. Most of the stars lie within the triangle, although there’s a small trapezoid of 13th-magnitude stars S and SF the lucida. There are about twenty-five stars here, but the cluster is not well detached (from this latitude anyway); it could be a slight overdensity in the Milky Way, although the nebulosity is quite notable. In the middle of the triangle is a smaller triangle [this area is Haffner 18, within 2467] that’s 3.75’ across the N edge and 3.25’ on the P and F edges; the P-most vertex of this smaller one is its brightest at magnitude 10.5 and there are twelve stars within; this smaller triangle is filled with either unresolved stars or nebulosity or both; the brightest in the smaller triangle is P slightly N of the cluster lucida by 7.5’. The nebulosity is brightest around the SP vertex and the smaller knot to the N. With the UHC filter, that circular knot of nebulosity at the SP vertex has more detail; it’s fuzzier to the SP side, extends a bit to its SP-to-N, and is no longer just round; it looks vaporous there, more gossamer, and the dark nebula is less defined due to the loss of contrast with the bright nebulosity. There’s definitely nebulosity around the smaller, central triangle [Haffner 18] as well. The N vertex of 2467 has a bright knot but is also surrounded more by a very faint cloud about 1.25’ around the central 0.3’ that was noted before. [The seeing just got terrible.] An interesting difference is noted with the O-III filter: just S of the star (the SP vertex) embedded in the brightest patch of nebulosity is a darker patch, like a hollow; the extension that went from the SP is not visible as much now; neither is the nebulosity around the N vertex. The O-III did less to improve the nebula than did the UHC; the unfiltered view in many ways was the best because of better contrast between the bright nebula and the dark lane. In both filters, the S edge of the larger patch is better defined and cuts off more sharply, and the nebula is cloudier in the N end.

By the time I got my gear packed up, I couldn’t wait to get into the van and thaw out. But it wasn’t until the next afternoon that I felt fully re-unfrozen again.

III.  And, of course, it only lasted long enough for me to get to the next night’s observing spot—Eureka Ridge—which we chose in part based on the wind forecast. The “joke,” of course, was that it was always windy at Eureka, but the treelike there prevented the wind from being a major issue for those of us observing in the small roadside clearing that we used as an observing site.

What we made up for in calm air we lost in sky clarity, though; we were inundated with clouds much earlier than we’d hoped, and it cut our observation short. At least we didn’t have to worry about turning into popsicles, though.

I’d discovered a new “thing” for the twilight hour, thanks to Dan and Jerry: looking for the E and F stars in the Trapezium, the mini-cluster of stars at the heart of the Great Orion Nebula. The four brightest—A thru D—were easy in even my Pronto; E and F were more challenging, and a good test of the seeing and/or mirror cooling. Plus, it was an excuse (as if any was needed) to observe M42 some more. On this night, I caught the E star at 112x, but not F. (I didn’t return to it later; I rarely did after I got started on the Herschels.)

02/19/20
EUREKA RIDGE
SUNSET: 5:47 PM
MOON: 26 days (rose at 4:56 AM; 11% illuminated)
SEEING: 6-4
TRANSPARENCY: 6-3
SQM: 21.2
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: cloud bands after 8:30 (ended observation early), unexpectedly-light dew (none); temps to mid-30s F; no wind on observing field but howling beyond treeline; quite pleasant for February
OTHERS PRESENT: JO, LR, RA (later)

7:23
NGC 2506 (Mon): This is definitely one of the better clusters in the region; it’s exceedingly rich and needs a re-look when it’s darker. There are well over a hundred member stars here, many/most just on the edge of resolution and this gives the cluster a granular appearance. The brighter stars form an ‘X’ over the top of the granularity, with the (relatively) really bright stars in the 10.5-magnitude range; there are eight of those on the cluster’s periphery forming the ends of the X, and there are a number of magnitude 11.5/12 stars as well, especially over the center of the granular background. The cluster is not quite round; it’s elongated a bit P-F, spanning  9’ x 7’. There’s a stripe or band of brighter stars through the middle where the bars of the X cross; that band runs roughly N-S. Eight stars run along the band, which actually forms a fairly pointed 1.75’ x 1’ ellipse across the middle of the cluster. The arms of the X are marked on the P slightly N by a pair of 11th-magnitude stars separated by 0.67’; from the NF of the pair S by 3.25’ is an 11th-magnitude star; from that star F by 5.25’ is another  of 11th magnitude that has a 12.5-magnitude star SF it by 0.75’ and from the 11th in that pair N by 5’ is another 11th-magnitude star with one of 12th magnitude SP it by 0.67’; these are the four ends of the bars of the X. This is unmistakably a cluster and moderately-well detached (“moderately” because the field is fairly rich). The brightest/richest portion of the cluster lies N of the crossing of the X’s axes, F the ellipse at the center, especially in the NP part of the ellipse; most of the unresolved stars/granularity is there. The brightest star in the field is SvsF the cluster, 15’ from the SP vertex, and is 9th magnitude. From the SF vertex (the brighter of the pair) by 4’ F somewhat N is a 10.5-magnitude star. This cluster needs more a southern viewing site and darker sky to really appreciate it!

7:46
NGC 2539 (Pup): A large, striking, boxy cluster with 5th-magnitude 19 Pup visible on the cluster’s F slightly S edge. It’s elongated 21’ x 13’ P-F. To the SP (just off the SP corner) it seems that there’s another cluster in the field [no–just a chance alignment/asterism]. The cluster is well detached, with lots of dark open space around it on all sides; a few brighter stars lie to the S, but it’s otherwise barren around the periphery; a prominent triangle of stars lies NF the cluster slightly. The cluster is also very rich, without a great magnitude range (aside from 19 Pup, which isn’t part of it); there are seventy-five or eighty stars, most of them in the 10.5-11.5-magnitude range, a small number are fainter but none really brighter than that. The cluster stars are looped in lots of chains. The lucida is situated in the middle of the N edge and is 10th magnitude; S very very slightly P it by 0.5’ is an 11th-magnitude star. [The seeing is boiling down there; some crud may be moving through.] S very slightly P the pair is a 2.5’ x 1.67’  ellipse that is NP-SF oriented and has its brighter stars on the P edge; it’s open toward the F, but then there’s a chain that loops F and then S from just beyond (1.5’ beyond) the F-most star in the ellipse; this chain runs roughly N-S and has seven stars; the one closest to the ellipse is a double consisting of two 11.5-magnitude stars, and that chain loops F and then S from there; that whole group reminds of a balloon with a string (which is the chain). At the NF end of the cluster, N of 19 Pup by 8’, is an ellipse that marks the NF corner of the cluster and is football shaped, with its major axis P very slightly S-F very slightly N, and is 5’ x 3’. On the P edge of the cluster, just slightly N of due P, is a solitary 9.5-magnitude star that probably isn’t a member; it’s flanked to the SP and SF, each by 3.5’, by two knots of stars, each 1’ across; the knot to the SP has the brighter stars and some unresolved; the knot to the SF has fainter visible stars and more unresolved glow than the first. The cluster is rectangular if considering 19 Pup part of it; otherwise it’s Capricornus-shaped, with the ellipse on the NF corner and the lucida at the point where the N edge bends S-ward. A number of patches around the cluster look nebulous or unresolved, especially to the S; 42’ SF 19 Pup there’s a pair of 8th-magnitude stars; the P star is slightly brighter and the F is 4.25’ F, and is the N end of a teardrop shaped cluster [??] extending to the S; this has a dozen resolved stars in the magnitude 11.5-13 range. 6.5’ S of the F of the pair is a 10.5-magnitude star.

8:11
NGC 2479 (Pup): This 9’ diameter cluster is a little lesser than the others tonight, but still quite fine. There are some forty stars in the cluster, which is pretty well detached and identifiable as a cluster; there’s not really much sense of background glow or unresolved stars. The cluster’s most distinguishing feature is an almost capital Omega-shape that’s a bit flattened, with the top of the loop to the NP and the two feet running SP-NF; this omega has about eighteen stars in it, the majority in the 11th/12th-magnitude range. On the N, S and F sides in particular there’s a lack of field stars near the cluster (but some to the SF) and the prominent stars in the field are all to the P. It’s hard to pick out an individual star as the lucida; there are many of very similar magnitudes here. F the more S of the omega’s feet by 1.25’ is a smallish clump or knot of five stars; there’s also a 10’ line of nine stars on the P edge running N-S, maybe N slightly P-S slightly F. 11’ P slightly S of the star on the bottom of the S foot is a double or pair that are SP-NF to each other, with the brighter to the NF by 0.3’, and these are 9th and 9.5 magnitudes; the primary is the brightest in the field. From the same star (at the S end of the S foot) NP by 11’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; from the same star on the S foot N slightly P by 9’ is a 10.5-magnitude star that has S slightly P it by 0.67’ a double of 11.5-magnitude components separated N-S by 10”.  ⅔ of the way from the middle of the cluster to the N edge of the field is a long arc of brighter stars that’s 30’ long and borders the N and F edges of the field; these stars are roughly 10th magnitude or so on average.

As I was working through these, I noticed that Loren was covering many of the same objects I had been in recent nights; he’s working through the Herschel 400 himself, less than two years after getting involved in the hobby. At that stage, I was still trying to track down the last few of the Messiers I needed to scratch out from Cincinnati’s perpetually-grey skies, never mind the tougher Herschel stuff.

The clouds had started rolling in, too—right on schedule. They were thin and irritating at first, but were gradually becoming a menace to observe through.

8:36
NGC 2509 (Pup): Another fine Puppis object–a dense, fairly-well detached, very obvious cluster in an area of sky where the seeing is really poor, down low in the southern muck where seeing is no better than a 4. [We take what we have.] The cluster is very clumpy, very rich (with fifty stars), and 7’ round; there’s a pretty extensive range of mags, but it’s more difficult than usual to know entirely which stars are members and which aren’t. There are a number of 11th/12th-magnitude stars around especially the S half of the cluster (assuming the small obvious knot of stars is not the majority of its extent). The N end of the cluster is more populous; the most striking feature in the cluster is a duck-flight or flattened ‘V’ that starts at the N-central edge of the cluster, extends SP for 3.5’, and then bends back due S with its brightest star (and maybe the cluster lucida) at the joint where the bars of the V meet and the star at the S end/S-most star in the V is due S of the knot at the N end; that knot is just F the N end of the V; the knot is 1.75’ diameter and has a great many unresolved stars in it (although the seeing isn’t helping resolution). There are four stars counting the joint-star on the S bar of the ‘V’ and these are among the cluster’s brightest; the star at the S end of the ‘V’ also forms the S end of a line of three that runs NF for 5’; that star at the S end has NF it by 1.5’ another small clump of faint stars; that clump is 1’ diameter with six visible 13th or 14th-magnitude stars. 7’ S from the star NP of the star at the S end of the ‘V’ S is an arc that (including that star) has five primary stars in it, and so in a way gives the cluster a kite/stingray appearance like NGC 1664 in Auriga. The brightest star in the field is due SF the joint star by 7.5’ and is 9th magnitude; it’s also the N end of an arc of four and has S of it by 1.3’ a 12th-magnitude star that itself has an 11th-magnitude star S of it by 1.25’; there’s a 10th-magnitude star SF that star by 2.25’.

I took advantage of a sucker hole (a cloudless patch that usually draws astronomers in, only to slam it shut as they’re trying to figure out what’s “in” it to observe) to the north to catch M 81 and M82, two stunning galaxies in Ursa Major (and the latter one of the Herschel objects I still needed); I also took a look through Jerry’s trackball at NGC 188 in Cepheus, near Polaris; it’s possibly the oldest open cluster in the entire sky.

9:09
NGC 2548 (M48, Hya): With most of Puppis too into the muck, I’m moving to some more obvious stuff higher up; seeing is about a 5 here. M48 is a huge, sprawling mess of a cluster just over half a degree diameter, with outliers (especially to the N) out to about 45’. It’s pretty well detached and obviously a cluster; there’s nothing comparable nearby, and the starfield doesn’t offer much competition for the cluster members–they’re very much brighter stars than anything in the field. The cluster is pretty rich (80 stars minimum?); the majority are in the magnitude 8-10 range, down to magnitude 11.5 at the faintest. The most obvious part of the cluster is the central region, which is a N very slightly F-S very slightly P wedge with its point to the N and the wider end to the S very slightly P; the wedge is the richest part of the cluster, with twenty-four stars spanning 12’ long x 6’ at the S end. The P edge of the wedge is a bit shorter than the F edge. Just off the wedge’s SF end is a tiny (0.75’ x 1’) diamond of three 11th- and 12th-magnitude stars and a fourth that’s 14th magnitude but difficult to hold steady in the poor seeing. Off the SP end of the wedge is a faint trio, no more than 0.67’ long, with three stars in the 13th-magnitude range. The cluster has no distinct shape to it; it contains lots of chains and zigzags, but no real discernable eye-catching outline. The side of the cluster F the wedge is richer and more compact; the P side may have more of the brighter stars but they’re more spread out and the cluster is narrower on that end, maybe vaguely triangular, with the F side the widest and P end coming to a point. Clusters like this are hard to describe; every star is bright enough to give attention to, and when they have no real “pattern” to them, it’s kind of overwhelming to find a specific aspect to describe in detail.

Robert had arrived later, having had a full day’s work, and was now leaving; between work the next morning and the thick layer of clouds covering much of the sky, he’d seen the writing on the wall. The rest of us weren’t going to be far behind.

10:15
NGC 2520 (NGC 2527, Pup): A much more decent view of this one than before, when I couldn’t see it at all. This cluster is Auriga-shaped, broadly hexagonal, 8’ N-S and 5.5’ across the middle; it’s 4.5’ across the N edge and 3’ on the S edge. The cluster’s not overly-well detached; a casual observer might not recognize it as a cluster right away; nor is it very rich, with twenty member stars, most of the fainter ones on the SF edge. There’s not really a lucida; the seven brighter stars forming the hexagon are in the 9-10th magnitude range; there’s also a rough knot of faint stars around the star at the P end of the minor axis. The brightest star in the field lies F very slightly N of the NF-most vertex and is 8.5 magnitude [the seeing’s fading again]. Starting with the NP vertex, which is magnitude 9.5: 4.5’ due F is another of 9.5 magnitude; from the NF vertex S very slightly F by 3.25’ is another 9.5-magnitude star; S slightly P that star by 4’ is yet another 9.5-magnitude star; between the last two stars is a long chain of seven 11th-magnitude stars. 3’ due P the SF-most vertex is a 10th-magnitude star; there’s another of 10th magnitude 0.75’ N very very slightly F that one; from that star 1.5’ due N is a 10.5-magnitude star; from that star 2’ N slightly P is a 10th-magnitude star; and from that star 3’ due N is the NP vertex of cluster. From the SF vertex SF, then F, then NF is a faint chain of unresolved stars 4’ long.

The clouds quickly choked out the remaining clear starry areas. (To hell with the Pathetic Fallacy; I like the phrasing, and it’s my blog.) Sometimes it was nice not to have to make a decision about when to leave; tonight, the sky did it for us.

The drive home from Eureka was always mercifully short. I would be making that same drive several more times in the coming nights.

IV. I went out again the very next night–after the EAS meeting, which was unusual enough. Even more unusual, I went out to Eureka alone. After the incident a few Octobers ago in which I was nearly run off the road by a white pickup truck that had been stalking me as I was setting up, I’d said I would never go there alone again. Linslaw or the spur road at Eagle’s Ridge, yes. But not Eureka. And yet, there I was, preparing to snag the three remaining Puppis/Pyxis clusters I needed before they were too low in the sky from 44˚ N.

I set up quickly; I had no particular desire to stay any longer than necessary. The sky was already totally dark, which was also a blessing. I gave the mirror twenty minutes to cool as I was getting the rest of my gear set up, and then leapt into the sky’s southern wilds.

02/20/20 
EUREKA RIDGE
SUNSET: 5:48 PM
MOON: 27 days (set at 2:57 AM; 6% illuminated)
SEEING: 6-5
TRANSPARENCY: 6-5
SQM: 21.3
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to low 30s; dewier than previous night; chilly
OTHERS PRESENT: none

10:42
NGC 2571 (Pup): This cluster is very small, extended 4.75’ x 2.75’ P-F; it consists primarily of a small right triangle and an ellipse (the ellipse is the P half, the triangle F). The triangle stars are much the brighter. The whole is pretty cluster-like, not super-rich (i.e. fairly star-poor, with twenty stars), and has some unresolved stars in it; it’s moderately well detached and less rich than NGC 2567 but with much a greater magnitude range. The triangle area, especially the P-most vertex, has the majority of the fainter stars around it (a mix of brighter and fainter stars). The P-most star of the triangle is the one closest to the cluster’s center and is also the lucida at 9th magnitude; the right-angle vertex is 1’ SF, and the third vertex is 1.75’ NF the right-angle vertex; the right-angle vertex is just a shade dimmer than the lucida, maybe 9.2 magnitude; the third vertex is 10.5 magnitude and 1.67’ NF the right-angle vertex. From the 10.5-magnitude star S very very slightly P by 0.75’ is an 11.5-magnitude star. N and F the lucida is a 0.67’ knot of unresolved stars, which is not surprisingly unresolved given its altitude. 0.67’ due N of the lucida is a 12th-magnitude star. P the lucida by 2’ is the brightest star in the ellipse; the ellipse is oriented P slightly N-F slightly S and is 1.75’ x 1.25’. The ellipse is better defined on the N edge, by an arc of three; starting with the brightest one which is 11th magnitude and is the P-most on that edge; F very very slightly S by 0.67’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; there’s another 11.5-magnitude star SF that star by 0.5’. The S half of the ellipse is formed by two pairs or doubles: the first pair lies SP the ellipse lucida by 0.75’, has components of 12.5 and 14th magnitude, and is separated P slightly N-F slightly S by 0.25’, with the brighter to the F. The more P of the other pair is S very very slightly F the ellipse lucida by 1.25’ with the brighter component to the F by 0.3’; those are 12th and 12.5 magnitude. N of the cluster lucida by 15’ is an 8th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is SP the lucida by 21’ and is magnitude 6.5. The second-brightest in the field is 22’ NF the lucida and is 7th magnitude and has SP it by 1’ an 11.5-magnitude star. NP the lucida by 14’ is a 9th-magnitude star. P very slightly N of the lucida by 17’ is a 7th-magnitude star that has N of it by 1’ a 10th-magnitude star; from the 7th-magnitude star N slightly F by 5.5’ is a 9th-magnitude star that has a 10th-magnitude star S very slightly P it by 0.67’; those two plus the ones to the NP and N of the cluster from a 20’ long chain. NP the 7th-magnitude star at the P end of that chain are a couple of very very faint knots of stars; one is 6’ NP and the other 9’ NP. 

10:57
NGC 2567 (Pup): A “better,” even more interesting cluster just a couple of degrees S of NGC 2571, although the seeing has now gone moldy down there. This one is moderately rich, moderately well detached, and in a very busy field; it has a moderate range of magnitudes among its forty stars. The cluster is bigger than 2571 at 8’ diameter and elongated SP-NF; it has as its most distinguishing feature a 3.75’ line of nine ≈11th-magnitude stars running N very very slightly P-S very very slightly F through the middle and making up the center of the cluster; the line has a gap toward its middle. SP the line is a diamond of somewhat brighter stars and NF is also a diamond of three equal-magnitude stars and one brighter. The majority of fainter stars are along the line or slightly P its N end for 1.75’. From the N end of the line 4’ SP is the brightest and NP-most star in the first diamond, which is 10th magnitude; S of it by 1’ is an 11th-magnitude star;  F that star by 1.5’ is a pair: the P-most is very slightly brighter, separated by 10” and both are roughly magnitude 11.5; NsF the fainter of the pair by 0.3’ is a 12th-magnitude star; NsF that star by 0.75’ is one of  11th magnitude; those make up the diamond, which is 2.5’ x 1.5’; at the crossing of its axes is an 11.5-magnitude star. 2.25’ due F from the N end of the central line in the cluster is the P-most vertex of the second diamond, which is 12th magnitude and has NF it by 0.75’ another of 12th magnitude; that star has 1’ SF it an 11th-magnitude star which has S very very slightly P it by 1’ another of 11th magnitude; these make up the majority of cluster. The brightest star in the field lies 18’ P very slightly S of the star at the N end of the line; that star is magnitude 8.5 and it has another of magnitude 8.5 4.5’ S very slightly P it; that second star has an 11th-magnitude star SF it by 0.25’; there’s another 8.5-magnitude star (very slightly fainter than the first one) NsP the star at N end of line by 12’.

Looking back at these notes, they’re lacking any information about the F side of the cluster. Perhaps I was too hasty in my note taking, but they seem incomplete.

I had three Puppis clusters still on my agenda, but as I centered up NGC 2482 in the eyepiece, I realized—from the cartoon bow-and-arrow shape—that I’d taken notes on it already. I was done with Puppis! I wasn’t sure why it had stayed on both my Sky Atlas 2000.0 chart and my Sky Safari list, but it was something of a relief to be ahead of the curve for once.

One other thing was for certain: the seeing was getting particularly poor down that low in the sky.

(A third thing is also now certain: spellcheckers love trying to change “Puppis” to “Puppies.”)

11:16
NGC 2627 (Pyx): This is the last of these low-south clusters, and the finest of the trilogy so far tonight. It’s obviously a cluster at first sight, and pretty well detached (despite there being a lot of stars of similar magnitudes in the field, some in fairly-dense patches, especially to the S and SP). It’s quite rich, with lots of faint stars; there are perhaps fifty overall, covering a pretty broad range of magnitudes, and a fair amount of granular, unresolved near-haze. The cluster is elongated roughly P-F; it spans 8’ x 3.5’, and has across the middle an arc of six stars sweeping from the F P-ward across center and then NP; the star at the F end of that arc is the brightest and is the cluster lucida at 10th magnitude; P very very slightly S the lucida by 1.25’ is a 12th-magnitude star; P that star by 0.75’ is an 11th-magnitude star that’s near the exact center of the cluster; P very slightly N of that star by 1’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; P very slightly N of that star by 1.3’ is a double: 11.5 and 13th magnitudes separated P-F by 10”, with F-more the brighter; N of the brighter of the pair by 0.5’ is a 12th-magnitude star; these make up the arc running across the middle of the main body of the cluster; outliers run to the P slightly N and F slightly N and another tendril stretches away from the star at the center for 3’ SF. From the lucida S slightly P by 6’ is the N end of another knot of stars 1.5’ across; those stars are quite faint, with one on the N end and one on the N slightly P the only ones resolved there; a couple of brighter stars lie S of the knot; is this knot not part of the cluster proper? From the lucida F slightly N by 5’ is an 8.5-magnitude star; from that star 6’ N somewhat F is a 10th-magnitude. NP the lucida by 8’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; from the lucida P very very slightly N by 7’ is a pair: the brighter is S very slightly P the fainter by 0.5’; those are 10.5 and 12th magnitudes. From the lucida P slightly S by 15’ is another 8th-magnitude star; there’s another of 8th-magnitude F slightly S of the lucida by 12’; this latter forms a right triangle with the 8.5-magnitude star F slightly N of the lucida (which is the right-angle vertex) and the 10th-magnitude star NF the right-angle vertex by 6’.

With the clusters done, I could have left. But I was still comfortable with the situation, and the weather conditions were still pretty good. I plowed on, with two more objects that I needed but still had some time to get had I not picked them up on this night. (I considered NGC 2610 a “must-get” at the time, but it wasn’t urgent like the others.) Even the arrival of clouds across the southwest wasn’t much of an immediate deterrent.

11:39
NGC 2610 (Hya): This is the last one that’s absolutely necessary tonight; I have more time on the few other ones remaining. The “second” planetary in Hydra (after the Ghost of Jupiter), this nebula is roundish, 0.67’ in diameter, with its 12th-magnitude central star (is it the central star?) off-center to the N. The nebula seems a bit brighter and better defined on the N as well; the S half, especially the SP, is vaguer and less-well defined. It’s a fairly ghostly, diffuse planetary overall. It’s situated in a field of bright stars; there’s a 6th-magnitude star due NF by 3.5’ and a 12th-magnitude star N slightly F the nebula by 1.25’; SF that star by 0.75’ is a 14th-magnitude star; 0.67’ SF that star is an 11.5-magnitude star. From the nebula SP by 4’ is an 11th-magnitude star that has S somewhat P it by 1.75’ an 8.5-magnitude star; P slightly N of the 11th-mag star by 2’ is a 12th-magnitude star that has a 13.5-magnitude star N of it by 0.25’. From the central star NP by 8’ is an 8th-magnitude star with one of 10.5 magnitude SF by 2’. The O-III filter helps quite a bit: the nebula isn’t as diffuse, has more presence; it seems to be a more complete disc than without the filter. The filter kills the central star, of course. [Clouds are massing through the S sky.] The filtered view shows the nebula larger; it might be 0.75’ diameter now, and considerably better defined. It’s pretty smooth across the face; no annulus can be detected. The 6th-magnitude star threw out a lot of distracting glare that’s quelled by the filter. The SF edge of the nebula is a little bit brighter than the rest of the rim; that quadrant is slightly bit brighter than before.

12:11
NGC 3524 (Leo): The last one for tonight; one I previously had missed on my list when I was working through Leo before. It’s easy to see why I could miss it in the eyepiece; this is not the most immediately-noticeable galaxy and it’s not well defined, but it’s reasonably obvious when you know exactly where to look in the field. The galaxy is an edge-on spiral, elongated S very very slightly P-N very very slightly F, 1.0’ x less than 0.25’. The ends are not well defined but it has a small brighter lane running ⅔ of its length and the faintest sporadic flash of a nucleus visible that’s 25% of the time. The galaxy is difficult in part because it has an 11.5-magnitude star 0.75’ N slightly P from the nucleus; there’s a 13th-magnitude star N very very slightly P that star by 1.25’, and due N of the galaxy by 8’ is a very distracting 10.5-magnitude star. From the nucleus S very very slightly P by 16’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; there’s another 10.5-magnitude star S slightly F the galaxy by 19’; that star has almost due S of it by 12’ a really striking double: 9th and 9.5-magnitude stars with the fainter P the brighter by 9”. [A bright meteor zips through the field!!] SP the galaxy by 10’ is a fourth 10.5-magnitude star that is the S-most vertex of an isosceles triangle; it has 4.5’ P somewhat N of it a star of 12th magnitude and F somewhat N of it by 5.25’ a 12th-magnitude star which has a 12.5-magnitude star P very very slightly N of it by 1.67’; there’s a star of 13th magnitude N slightly P the first vertex of the triangle by 2.67’.

My mood was a bit triumphant as I drove home from Eureka—even if we were clouded out for the rest of the month, I’d gotten through all the Herschel objects that I was in danger of losing to the advance of the seasons. I could theoretically miss all of March and still be able to get the two Herschel lists done, given that the only objects I needed were in circumpolar constellations (with one exception: NGC 3693 in Crater, which was another that I’d overlooked, like NGC 3524). And there were still clear nights on the week’s forecast, so even  those circumpolar objects would get whittled down further.

I’d started the month wondering if I’d have to wait another whole year to finish a project that had already taken nearly six years, and was now staring at the possibility of being done with it by the end of the next month.

V. I didn’t make it five nights in a row, but that was in part due to the weather. The next clear night happened on the other side of New Moon, long enough after the previous session that I’d become a little paranoid in the interim: what if I misjudged the position of Camelopardalis in the sky from Eureka, and it was lower than I’d thought? I’d already had a surprisingly-difficult time trying to pin down the galaxies’ locations while I was out at site; how much leeway could I have without losing those galaxies in the evening sky? Eureka wasn’t as dark as our other sites, and didn’t have as plentiful a set of guide stars; I set up my agenda with the intention of using NGC 2403 (the easiest and brightest of the Cam galaxies) as my starhopping point for the others, but I had to find it first. I’d seen it before at the Eagle’s Rest gravel pit and elsewhere, but at Eureka, they were still near the brightest part of the sky.

I wasn’t alone on the night; new-guy Nathan was there, imaging the Rosette Nebula.

02/24/20 
EUREKA RIDGE
SUNSET: 5:54 PM
MOON: 1 day (set at 7:04 PM; 2.2% illuminated)
SEEING: 7-8
TRANSPARENCY: 7-0
SQM: 21.43
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to mid 20s; slight dew; chilly; clouds rolling through between 8-10 PM; some haze at sunset
OTHERS PRESENT: NC

8:05
NGCs 2403, 2404 (Cam): This is the big one tonight, and all others will be starhopped to from here. I could probably wait a bit for more darkness, but I need to make sure I get all of these tonight. I’ve seen NGC 2403 before, of course, but have never taken notes on it. The galaxy’s very large, no less than 8’ x 4.5’, and elongated P somewhat N-F somewhat S. It has a large core that’s not particularly well defined (although the halo isn’t very well defined, either); the core is 1.25’ around and gradual and not well distinct from the halo, which is very diffuse on the circumference. Along the S edge are two brightish stars (cf.). It seems as though the  light cutoff is greater on the N and F edges of the halo, especially just N of the star off the F end. There’s a suspected star just S of the core which is magnitude 12.5; 0.75’ S of that is a threshold star, maybe magnitude 14.5. From the star on the S edge of the core SP by 1.3’ is a 10.5-magnitude star that has a 13.5-magnitude star P very slightly S of it by 1’; from the 10.5-magnitude star N very slightly P by 3.25’ is a 14.5-magnitude star that’s in the middle of a patchy extension that may be part of the P arm of the galaxy; that star has N slightly F by 0.5’ and S slightly P it by 0.75’ two others of almost the same magnitude (although the one to the N doesn’t look quite pinpoint; it may be nebulous); the one to the S is almost threshold level. 7’ due P from the 10.5-magnitude star on the SP edge of the galaxy is a 9th-magnitude star, and from that star 4.5’ N slightly P is an 8.5-magnitude star; there’s a 9.5-magnitude star on the SF edge of galaxy, 3.5’ due F the 10.5-magnitude star on the SP; from that 9.5-magnitude star NP by 1.5’ is another small non-stellar spot (NGC 2404); I can’t tell if it’s in a spiral arm or not, but every so often a dark bay is visible S of the nebulous spot and running P-F. A 14th-magnitude star lies 0.67’ SP from the 9.5-magnitude star on the SF of the galaxy. 16’ due S of the 9.5-magnitude star is another 8.5-magnitude star, and it has a 9th-magnitude star S slightly P it by 5.75’. The two stars P the galaxy and the two S comprise all of the field’s brighter stars. Back to the group on the extreme P edge of galaxy (the two stars and the nebulous spot): these look like they help define the P-most end of the galaxy, although there does appear to be between that and the 8th-magnitude star that’s P somewhat N of the galaxy another small fuzzy detached area that might have a couple of threshold stars or something non-stellar involved in it; that detached spot lies 5.5’ due NP the 10.5-magnitude star on the SF edge of the galaxy. Every now and then is an obvious glimmer of that nebulous patch N slightly P the star on the SF edge of the galaxy (NGC 2404); that star has a bit of halo beyond it on the F, so it’s not the exact edge, and the same is true with the one on the SP (the 10.5-magnitude star). 

Having gotten NGC 2403 picked up early, I felt a lot better about the course the evening would take.

8:26
NGCs 2366, 2363 (Cam): I expected this one to be kind of a bugger, based on what I’d read about it, and it is; it’s much like the big one in Draco, NGC 4236, only much  smaller. The galaxy is very long and very very diffuse; it spans 3.0’ x 0.5’ and is elongated SP-NF, with no central concentration at all; just a faint smear. It’s much better in averted vision, where its full dimensions are more easily realized I would have noticed it scanning through the field, but not checked for its full extent [a bright NP-SF satellite traverses the field]. On the SP end of the halo is an almost stellar spot, like a dim 12th-magnitude star in nebulosity; from that object 3.75’ N is a 12.5-magnitude star; P that star by 1.75’ is a 13.5-magnitude star that has 0.75’ due N of it a 13th-magnitude star; from that star N very very slightly F by 3’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; these form the N half of a diamond whose S end is the quasi-stellar spot (NGC 2363
) on the SP end of the galaxy [a bright satellite crosses N-S just toward the P end of the field]. The brightest star in the field is SF the quasi-stellar spot by 17’ and is 9th magnitude; due P that spot by 8’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; due F the galaxy by 7’ is a pair separated N-S by 0.75’, with the brighter to the N, and those are 12th- and 13th-magnitude; from the 12th-magnitude star N very slightly P by 2.25’ is an 11.5-magnitude star that’s the SP of another pair, with a 13th-magnitude star N very slightly F it by 0.67’. 

8:43
NGC 2347; IC 2179 (Cam): The smallest of the three galaxies so far, but certainly brighter than NGC 2366 (how couldn’t it be?). It’s vaguely elliptical-looking, and lies in the SF edge (the hypotenuse) of a small isosceles right triangle. The galaxy is not particularly diffuse and is pretty well defined. The inner ⅔ of the diameter is the core, which is also pretty well defined and pretty fairly brighter than the outer halo; there’s no sign of a nucleus, though (maybe, very infrequently?). The galaxy is elongated N-S and subtends 0.75’ x 0.3’. It’s pretty obvious in the field, even with a very bright star to the N. The triangle consists of the following stars: P very slightly S of the galaxy by 1.75’ is a 12th-magnitude star; 4.25’ due N of the galaxy is the right-angle vertex, which is magnitude 7.5 (and very distracting from the galaxy itself); F very slightly S of that star by 1.67’ is a 14th-magnitude star; there’s another of 14th magnitude F slightly S of that star by 1’; from the 7.5-mag F very slightly S by 5’ is a 10.5-magnitude star that has SP it by 0.5’ a 13th-magnitude star. The galaxy is within the triangle’s 6.5’ hypotenuse, while the other sides are 5’ long.  The 7.5-magnitude star is the brightest in the field; from that star NP by 10’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; there’s also a 10.5-magnitude N slightly F the 7.5-magnitude star by 12’. Due NF the 7.5-magnitude star by 10’ is a 10th-magnitude star with an 11.5-magnitude star 1.3’ P very slightly S of it and one of 14th magnitude 10” N of it. There’s a smaller galaxy (IC 2179) visible in the field, 1.5’ due F the 9.5-magnitude star that’s 10’ NP the 7.5-magnitude star: this smaller galaxy is roundish, 0.3’ in diameter, not particularly well defined but not diffuse, with a small brighter core and a substellar nucleus; I don’t know how I missed it at first glance, as it’s not that difficult. 0.75’ S very very slightly F the 9.5-magnitude star that’s due P the little galaxy is a 14th-magnitude star.

The next target requires some explanation.

There are numerous versions of the Herschel lists on the internet. I had started with one version, which informed my master database of objects, but this one had a number of errors in it: objects were included that weren’t actual (or current) Herschel 400/HII objects, and others weren’t included that actually were on the correct lists. By the time I’d figured this out, I’d already lost some objects that I’d had to sweep up later. I also had a spreadsheet downloaded from the Astronomical League, which ostensibly had all of the required objects for all of the AL programs that existed at the time (a number were added later and not included in the spreadsheet). But this too had several errors in it. So I had downloaded Alvin Huey’s guides to the Herschel 400 and Herschel II (in addition to all of his others; they’re excellent), only to find disagreements between Huey’s lists and the AL spreadsheet where there shouldn’t have been any. So I essentially made sure to capture notes on all of the Herschel objects from both the AL spreadsheet and Huey’s guides, for the sake of covering my own ass.

One object on the AL sheet but not included in Huey’s guide is NGC 2253, an open cluster in Camelopardalis which apparently has been dropped from the AL list for a simple reason: it doesn’t really exist. That is, there’s no object matching Herschel’s description (“A vF patch of eS stars”) at the coordinates he recorded, and nothing in the general vicinity that could fit the description either, even accounting for a transcription error in his coordinates. Numerous proposals have been offered for an object to fit Herschel’s description, even the faint galaxy UGC 3511, but none has satisfied the researchers who’ve dug into the question of the cluster’s identity.

Nonetheless, NGC 2253 remains on the AL spreadsheet, and I was therefore going to take notes on the whole area around Herschel’s set of coordinates, using information offered on the websites of Steve Gottlieb and Courtney Seligman, and the coordinates provided by Sky Safari, to identify the field and any possible identities for the object Herschel lost.

9:02
NGC 2253 (Cam): One of the most difficult observations in the entirety of the H400 and HII, simply because the object doesn’t exist. I’m here examining the two primary areas that those in the know have selected as being possible sites for this missing cluster, starting with the region around SAO 13933 (the site chosen by C. Seligman and S. Gottlieb based on W.H.’s notes). SAO 13933 is a 9.5-magnitude star that marks the N-most vertex of another right triangle, with a 7.5-magnitude star SF it by 12’ and a star of 7th magnitude [HD 47215] S of SAO 13933 by 15’.  SAO 13933 is flanked to the SP and F/NF by two groups of very faint stars; the star at the F-most end of the P group is P very slightly S of SAO 13933 by 2.25’ [there’s a substantial wave of crud going through the sky at the moment, although I’m temporarily in the clear]; that group has five or six stars in it that stretch from that star SP for 2.75’, and those stars are in the 13.5-15th magnitude range. From SAO 13933 F very very slightly N by 5.5’ is the F group, which has nine or ten stars and stretches NF at P end of that group for 4’; these stars are in roughly the same magnitude range as the previous group, although one 2.25’ F slightly S of SAO 13933 is of 12th magnitude. Due N of 13933 by 12’ is a pair that are P very very slightly S-F very very slightly N to each other; both are 11th magnitude, and they’re separated by 0.67’. 

The second suggested site for NGC 2253 is the actual spot of a multiple star some have claimed to be NGC 2253. [We’re getting lost in the oncoming clouds a bit]. This consists of two multiple stars aligned roughly P-F to each other, with the brighter 1.67’ P very very slightly S of the fainter; these are 9th and 11th magnitude, and each has a faint companion: the brighter of these has a 14.5-magnitude star 12” SP it, while the 11th-magnitude star has a 13.5-magnitude star 12” NF it. SF the brighter of these pairs–and due S of the fainter by 3.25’–is a very small, slightly-nebulous spot that’s possibly the UGC galaxy some have suggested as NGC 2253, or more likely is just a very faint, tight double of 14th/15th magnitude stars [it’s the latter]; this is the actual spot Sky Safari gives for NGC 2253. The brighter of the first pair of stars is S of the 7th-magnitude star that’s S of SAO 13933, so this area has been covered; the two faint groups of stars around 13933 are visible at the N end of the field with the multiple stars centered in it.

And then it was back to galaxies for the final Camelopardalis Herschel 400 target.

9:45
NGCs 2655, 2715
(Cam): Big and bright!  I starhopped from NGC 2715 to find 2655 because I was having no luck otherwise. NGC 2655 is an elliptical-looking galaxy with a well-defined halo and a small bright core that has a substellar nucleus inside–a very impressive galaxy. It’s elongated slightly P-F and extends 2.0’ x 1.5’. The galaxy forms the middle of a ‘Y’ of bright stars, the two brightest of which are P and SF the galaxy; the star to the P marks the end of the ‘Y’ stem and is 16’ from the galaxy and is of 7th magnitude; due F that star is a trio of 12th/13th-magnitude stars in a 2’ NP-SF line: 2.5’ due F the 7th-magnitude star is the S-most of a pair: the N-most is also very slightly P; these are separated by 0.5’; 1.5’ SF the first star (the more S of the pair) is the third and brightest 12th-magnitude star. 9’ F somewhat N of the galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star marking the northern tine of the Y; a 7.5-magnitude star 10’ SF the galaxy denotes the southern tine. With the sky clearing, the galaxy is somewhat more substantial, 2.5’ x 1.67’ or 1.75’. S of the galaxy (and very slightly F) by 14’ is a 10th-magnitude star; F slightly S of the galaxy by 40’ is NGC 2715: this galaxy is a really elongated diffuse glow with not much central concentration; the central region or core is just very slightly brighter than the halo, which is much more diffuse on the N end than the S. The galaxy is elongated S very slightly P-N very slightly F, spanning 3.5’ x 1.0’. No nucleus is visible. From the center of the galaxy 4’ due S is an 11.5-magnitude star. N slightly F the galaxy by 9’ is a 10.5-magnitude star that’s the N-most star in a nice isosceles triangle, almost equilateral, whose S edge runs due P-F; from that star S somewhat P and S somewhat F, each by 2’, is a 12th-magnitude star and those two are 2.25’ apart. 1.67’ NP the 10.5-magnitude star is a 12.5-magnitude star. NGC 2715 as impressive as NGC 2655, a highly-inclined spiral just under a full field away from 2655, and worthy of its own attention. 

I backtracked to the next target not because it was a Herschel object (it isn’t), but because it was cool and I stumbled over it while searching for NGC 2655.

9:58
NGC 2591 (Cam): Although not a member of the H400 or HII lists, this is a really cool galaxy I found while searching for NGC 2655 is worth taking notes on. It’s very thin, probably a flat galaxy, 1.67’ x 0.25’ and elongated perfectly SP-NF. The galaxy has no central concentration or nucleus, just a very even surface brightness. The galaxy is distracted from by a pair of brighter stars to the N somewhat F. Just P the S tip of the galaxy is a 14th-magnitude star; a couple of other 14.5-magnitude stars lie P the galaxy, forming an arc of three; this leads from the star off the galaxy’s S tip P slightly N for 1.75’; the star due P the galaxy has the third in that group NP it by 1’. From the galaxy due SP (so along the galaxy’s major axis) by 9’ is the more N of a pair that are N-S each other; these are both magnitude 11.5 and separated by 1’; from the S-most in the pair 1.67’ SF is a 12.5-magnitude star. From the galaxy roughly P by 7’ is an 11th-magnitude star; from the middle of the galaxy N somewhat F by 8’ is a 10.5-magnitude star that has 1.75’ F it a 10th-magnitude star; from that 10.5-magnitude star N very very slightly P by 3’ is a 13th-magnitude star, and from the galaxy SF by 4’ is a 12th-magnitude star.

Although some clouds had rolled in from the west, I was still in the clear up in the circumpolar reaches. So I pressed on into Ursa Major, where 95% of my remaining targets resided—the better to maximize what clear skies I had access to.

10:08
NGC 2742 (UMa): The sky is still holding up, so I’m going to press on into Ursa Major. This is a big, bright, P-F elongated galaxy inside the nose of the Bear. It spans 2.67’ x 1.3’. It’s very diffuse, with no real distinction between halo and core, but it’s also very lumpy or “non-smooth” in brightness; if I was a bettor, I’d say some spiral structure could be seen in a 14”, and it seems as if the galaxy’s really trying to be vaguely ‘S’-shaped just out of the grasp of my 12.5” scope. The halo is pretty well defined, with just a bit of irregularity hinting at spiral structure. Due NP the galaxy by 4.75’ is a brilliant 7.5-magnitude star that seems yellowish; SP the galaxy by 3.25’ is a 10th-magnitude star that’s the S-most vertex of a tiny isosceles triangle (reminiscent of the one that “feeds up” to Pal 12); from that star N very very slightly F and N very very slightly P each by 0.75’ is a 13.5-magnitude star, and those are separated from each other by 0.3’. F very slightly N of the galaxy by 13’ is a 9th-magnitude star that has 0.5’ SP it a 14th-magnitude and a 13.5-magnitude P it by 0.75’; along that same line P slightly N of the 7.5-magnitude star by 2.25’ is a 13th-magnitude star.

10:18
NGC 2768 (UMa): This galaxy lies just outside the field of 2742/just on the edge of the field but I didn’t see it earlier. In some ways, it’s like a brighter version of NGC 2742. This galaxy is 2.5’ x 1.25’, elongated P-F, and has a smallish, pretty suddenly-arrived-at core that has a substellar nucleus and what looks like (just P the nucleus) an embedded threshold star. The galaxy’s halo is well defined; the outer ends of the halo are considerably tougher, but that may be due to current conditions. The galaxy is situated in a fairly distinct but not busy field; there are a lot of bright stars present. N of the galaxy by 4.75’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; there’s another of magnitude 10.5 P slightly N by 3.75’; F somewhat N by 2.5’ is a 12.5-magnitude star. S of the galaxy by 2.67’ is a 14th-magnitude star; there’s another 14th-magnitude star 1’ N very very slightly F; that last star is also 1.5’ S very very slightly F the galaxy’s nucleus. SP the galaxy by 3.5’ is the N-most of a SP-NF pair of 13th-magnitude stars separated by 1.5’. The brightest star in the field is 8.5 magnitude and lies P somewhat N of the galaxy by 15’; this star has due N of it by 1’ a 10th-magnitude star; there’s a 9.5-magnitude star 16’ P somewhat S of the galaxy; those (the 9.5- and 10th-magnitude stars and the galaxy) form an equilateral triangle. F somewhat N of the galaxy by 21’ is a 9th-magnitude star.

10:30
NGC 2756 (UMa): A bright but not particularly distinguished galaxy with high surface brightness. It’s elongated N-S and is quite small, 0.75’ x 0.3’, with a well-defined not very diffuse halo and a very small 0.25’ core; it almost seems like a nucleus is visible in averted vision, but I can’t get a fix on it. The galaxy has S slightly P it by 7’ a 9.5-magnitude star; there’s an 11th-magnitude star F very slightly N the galaxy by 9’. There’s also an isosceles triangle SF the galaxy; the closest vertex is 2.75’ F very very slightly S of the galaxy and is magnitude 12.5; there’s another of magnitude 12.5 due F the first by 2’, and from the 2nd star S very very slightly P by 2.5’ is a 14.5-magnitude star; these make up the triangle, which points due S. S somewhat F the galaxy by 10’ is the N-most of a chain of three, of which the N-most two are 12.5 magnitude and the third 13.5; the two N are separated N slightly F-S slightly P by 0.67’ and two S are separated N very very slightly P-S very very slightly F by 0.25’; from the N-most of the three due S very very slightly F by 3.25’ is a double (probably an actual physical double) whose 10th- and 12th-magnitude components are oriented NF-SP to each other and separated by 10” (with the brighter to the NF).

The clouds had reached a point where I was fenced in; only a section of sky around Ursa Major remained clear. But that was no doubt illusory—whatever visible clouds there were were only the surface part of the iceberg; the transparency was no doubt seriously compromised beyond the threshold of vision. Best, then, to wrap things up.

10:43
NGC 2950 (UMa): The entire sky is clouded over at this point, except here in UMa; this will likely be the last object for tonight. This is a small but obvious galaxy with a very bright core and a bright substellar nucleus. It extends 1.0’ x 0.67’ NP-SF. The halo is pretty well defined, although on the P side it looks somewhat jagged–indicative of spiral structure? More magnification would help, but it would also violate the rules I set for doing the Herschel lists; I’ll have to come back to this one with greater aperture and/or magnification. [There’s a line of sub-threshold stars on P side causing this impression, but it’s more visible on photographs than in a 12.5” scope.] The halo seems extended along P edge. P the galaxy by 2.5’ is a 12.5-magnitude star; there’s another of 12.5 magnitude N very slightly F the galaxy by 4.25’ and from that star F very slightly N by 3.25’ is a 10th-magnitude star; F that star by 9’ is another of 10th magnitude. S of the galaxy and somewhat P by 20’ is a 7.5-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field. N very slightly F the galaxy by 19’ is the more N of a pair of 11.5-magnitude stars separated S very slightly P-N very slightly F by 0.67’; 2.5’ NF from the N of the two is a 9th-magnitude star.

The Clear Sky Chart had predicted the clouds rolling in, but was a little off time-wise. Nathan’s favorite app, Clear Outside, indicated that the crud would clear off within the next couple of hours. Having completed the night’s agenda and taken notes on all the Camelopardalis objects (even the non-existent one!) I needed, I decided against waiting around for the clouds to clear. Nathan, still buried in his imaging data, was willing to wait it out, and was comfortable waiting alone to do so.

So I tore down my gear and headed home, not particularly comfortable leaving someone alone at an observing site, but grateful that I’d had the few hours it took to finally clear out the “winter” Herschels for good.

VI. Two nights later, we reconvened at Eureka for what became an epic observing session with some of the best seeing I’ve ever experienced. Four of us made it out: me, Dan B (with his 16″ Dob and his double-barreled 6″ SCTs), Frank (with his binoscope) and Jeff L (with a TeleVue refractor and [I think] his 11″ SCT). Having cleared out Camelopardalis, I was much more at ease with my standing Herschel-wise; I had only about forty to go, almost all of them in Ursa Major, where they would be in decent observing position for most of the night.

The three-day-old Moon was still up in the west, not to set for a couple more hours. But there was no reason to waste that time: I set about working through some of the winter showpieces, even settling on a favorite Messier I’d never taken notes on.

02/26-27/20
EUREKA RIDGE
SUNSET: 5:56 PM
MOON: 3 days (set at 9:04 PM; 9% illuminated)
SEEING: 6-9
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.42
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to mid 20s; heavy dew; chill/clammy; some haze at sunset; seeing became the best I’ve ever seen it
OTHERS PRESENT: DB, FS, JL

7:48
M67 (Cnc): Going to take notes on this one while waiting for the Moon to go away, as I still don’t have notes on all the Messiers. This is one of the most underrated Messiers, a really fine splashy open cluster in an overlooked part of the sky. The cluster is elongated P-F; the brightest star within it is on the NF; it’s probably not a member but is the brightest star in the cluster body at 7.5 magnitude. The cluster is very well detached and very very rich; it’s a very obvious cluster (all the more so for the lack of background stars here). If the 7.5-magnitude star is an actual cluster member, it would be the lucida, and the cluster would have a considerable magnitude range; there are twenty-five stars in the 10th-11th magnitude range and many fainter, down to 14th magnitude; there are ninety or more stars here. There’s a N-S stripe of stars that sweeps across the center of the cluster; this is where the richest concentration of the cluster’s faint stars lies, and is also where an arc of brighter member-stars runs SP-NF and then N. From the  “lucida” along the N edge to the NP vertex–which is P very very slightly S of the lucida by 13’–the cluster is 13’ x 10’ (along the F-most side). At the S end of the arc across the middle is a smaller arc of three stars that’s 1.3’ end to end; the P-most star in this is one of the two brightest in the main body of the cluster and is 10th magnitude [a satellite goes spinning through the F edge of field]; the star at the F end of that arc is also 10th magnitude (but very very slightly fainter than the first) and the third star, which is 0.75’ S very very slightly F the first, is 10.5 magnitude. 1’ NF from the F-most vertex is a clump of six very tight-knotted stars that has a train of faint stars running to the NP of it by 1.5’; the knot is 0.5’ across and has some unresolved stars in it; the train to the NP has four or five stars in it. From the lucida P somewhat S by 9’ is another clump of stars that runs 1.75’ x 0.67’ P-F and contains nine stars, the brightest of which is on N corner with its second-brightest on the P corner; the star on the N corner is 11.5 magnitude, and that star is 5.5’ N very slightly P the star on the F end of the arc of three at the S end of the cluster. There’s also an interesting area NF the first clump: from that clump 2.3’ NF is a 9.5-magnitude star that’s tied for the second-brightest star here, and it’s on the SF vertex of a quincunx pattern that has as its NF vertex a faint double of 11.5- and 13.5-magnitude stars, with the brighter P the fainter by 10”; the SP vertex of the quincunx is 2’ P very very slightly N of the SF vertex; from that star N by 1.75’ is a 12th-magnitude star, the NP vertex of the quincunx; from the SP vertex NF by 1.25’ is the center star of the quincunx, which is magnitude 10.5. It’s in the P edge of the quincunx that lies the largest concentration of faint stars in the cluster. From the lucida S very very slightly P by 4.5’ is the brightest star in a tiny triangle; that star is 10.5 magnitude and it has a 13th-magnitude star due N of it by 0.5’; that star has 0.3’ due SF it a 12.5-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is N slightly P the lucida by 15’ and is 8th magnitude (very slightly fainter than the lucida, so actually the second-brightest in the field).

By the time I was done with M67 and a couple of other bright targets—and with the light haze of the evening dispersed—the Moon had finally sunk out of sight. So it was back on to Ursa Major, with the only telescope on the field that was facing north, rather than south.

9:02
NGC 2880; PGC 26940 (UMa): Now that the Moon is down, it’s Herschel time.  This is a moderately-bright, fairly-small galaxy just P slightly N of h UMa. It’s elongated NP-SF, 1.0’ x 0.5’, and has a small (maybe 12”) bright core and a substellar nucleus; maybe the core is larger and the nucleus is the 12” object? (I think the former.) The ends of the galaxy’s halo are very tenuous and require averted vision to pull out from the background. There’s a backward checkmark of four 13.5/14th-magnitude stars N and P the galaxy and an arc of five stars F it whose two brightest stars are on the ends, especially the N end. The checkmark’s heel is due P the galaxy by 1.75’ and is 14.5 magnitude, and it has a 14th-magnitude star NP it by 0.75’; from the heel 1’ NF is a 14.5-magnitude star barely above the magnitude threshold tonight; from that star 1.5’ NF (so due N of the galaxy) is a 13.5-magnitude star which is 2’ N of the galaxy. Every so often, 1.25’ NF that last star, is a tiny fuzzy glow (PGC 26940); it’s very very difficult and no more than 0.3’ round, with a very little central concentration that helps find and hold it in averted vision 50% of the time. F very very slightly N of 2880 by 1.3’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; NF 2880 by 9’ is a 10th-magnitude star that has F very very slightly N by 7’ another star of 10th magnitude; and from 2880 P very slightly S by 10’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; that star is barely the brightest in the field; it has 2.75’ N very very slightly F it a 12.5-magnitude star.

9:26
NGCs 2805, 2814, 2820 (UMa): This is a really fascinating field, even if the H object is a dud; there are at least three galaxies here, with 2805 (the Herschel) the dimmest of the three. NGC 2805 is positioned roughly between two brightish stars: one to S somewhat F and one N very very slightly P. The galaxy has no visible central concentration at all; it’s just a phantasm of 1.3’ diameter. It’s incredibly diffuse, almost to the point of nonexistence, and very poorly defined. It may have a threshold star just outside the halo on the NF [yes]. There’s a 10.5-magnitude star 4.5’ SF the galaxy, and a 9.5-magnitude star to the N very slightly P by 6.5’. NP the galaxy by 2.5’ is a 12.5-magnitude star. There’s a chain of five stars beginning (it’s hard to judge distances because the galaxy is so faint) 2.5’ due F the galaxy; this chain is 5.5’ long, and the star closest to the galaxy (the one I measured the distance to) is its faintest at 14th magnitude; the chain begins at that star, proceeds F, then arcs F slightly S and then NF at the very end; the second star F the galaxy is the brightest in the chain. In addition to NGC 2805, two edge-on galaxies occupy the field, NF-ish 2805–there’s an 11.5-magnitude star NF 2805 by 10’, and that star has 1.25’ N very slightly F it one of the edge-ons (NGC 2814), which spans 1.0’ x 0.25’, is oriented N-S, and is quite faint, although the view of it is partially wrecked by the close star. This galaxy has some moderate brightening along its length; averted vision really helps, even though it’s brighter than NGC 2805. From the 11.5-magnitude star off the S end of this second galaxy, almost due F by 4.5’, is brightest and largest of the galaxies in the field (NGC 2820); this one is 2.3’ long x 0.25’’ and elongated P slightly S-F slightly N, with irregularly-bright concentration along the major axis but no real core or nucleus; that galaxy is roughly 13’ F somewhat N of 2805. The second galaxy (2814) really comes to life with averted vision; the third (2820) is by far the brightest and the first one you notice due to the star closeby the second. [The sky just got a tiny bit better.] From 2805 F somewhat S by 15’ is a pair/double separated N-S-ish by 0.5’, both stars are of 12th magnitude. 2805 appears a bit better now, with a very faint amount of central conc visible, but very vaguely; it still has no discernable core or nucleus, just a better view in averted vision.

9:45
NGC 2787 (UMa): This is an impressive, brightish, moderately-large galaxy spanning 1.5’ x 1.0’, elongated P slightly N-F slightly S. It has a well-concentrated core that’s fairly suddenly arrived at and also elongated; every now and then there’s a flash of a stellar nucleus. The halo is quite well defined. To the S very very slightly F, just outside edge of halo and 0.75’ from the center of the galaxy, is a 14th-magnitude star; there another of 14th magnitude N of the galaxy by 2’. P very very slightly N of the galaxy by 5’ is a 12th-magnitude star; there’s an 11.5-magnitude star due F that star by 5.5’; S very very slightly P that star by 6’ is one of 8.5 magnitude; there’s another of 8.5 magnitude F that star by 7’; those four stars make up an almost-perfect trapezoid SP the galaxy; the last star (the second 8.5 magnitude) is S somewhat P the galaxy by 8’.  S of the galaxy by 12’ is a pair: 12th and 12.5 magnitude stars P very very slightly N-F very very slightly S to each other (distance to the more F, which is the brighter) and separated by 0.5’. There’s a bright pair SF the galaxy from P-most of the previous pair by 14’; those are separated by 0.67’ and are both 10th magnitude; these (especially the more P of the pair) make up the P-most “vertex” of a small scalene triangle; from the more P of the pair NF by 2.25’ is an 11th-magnitude star; there’s another of 11th magnitude from the P-most of the pair SF by 3’. 23’ F very very slightly N of the galaxy is a 7.5-magnitude star that has a 9th-magnitude star N very very slightly P it by 7’.

10:02
NGC 2976 (UMa): A big fella—very impressive! This is one of UMa’s best galaxies. It’s mottled, not regularly illuminated, and huge at 3.5’ x 1.75’, elongated NP-SF. The halo is very very non-concentrated, not much (if any) core or nucleus is visible. The galaxy is pretty well defined all the way around; there’s a little a lack of definition along the more N edge, especially on the NF. Just outside the halo on the SP is a 13th-magnitude star; also just outside or on the NP edge is a 14.5-magnitude star; this may actually be a threshold star just inside the NP edge of the halo. There’s a kind of a dark intrusion into the N edge, about halfway along the length of the galaxy, a dark spur into the halo as if defining a spiral arm just beyond the threshold and grasp of the 12.5” scope. NF the galaxy by 4.5’ is a 14.5-magnitude star. To the F of the galaxy is almost a V-shape or duck-flight of brighter stars; starting almost due S of galaxy: 11’ due S of the galaxy is an 11.5-magnitude star; there’s a star of magnitude 10.5 NF that star by 7’; N very slightly F that star by 4.75’ is the brighter and more F of a pair, which is 11.5 magnitude and has a 12.5-magnitude star P very very slightly S by 0.5’; from the primary of that pair F somewhat N by 4.5’ is an 11.5-magnitude star which serves as the point of the V/duck flight and has 2.25’ NP it an 11th-magnitude star that has N very slightly F it by 1’ a 14th-magnitude star and F very slightly N by 0.67’ one of 14.5 magnitude; from the 11th-magnitude star N slightly P by 5.5’ is a 12th-magnitude star; there’s an 11.5-magnitude star NP that star by 2.75’. NP the galaxy by 11’ is an 11th-magnitude star.

As I was finishing up with 2976, Jeff called me over.

“Did you drop something that glows in the dark?”

I hadn’t, nor did I have anything with me that would.

“There’s something over by your van that’s glowing.”

We went over to check it out. In the grass by the van’s back end was indeed a small glowing object. But I hadn’t dropped it—it had crawled there.

Dan picked it up. It looked to me like a glowworm of some kind, but none of us could recall seeing fireflies in Oregon. After a few moments, Dan put the creature in a container to take home for further investigation. Excitement over, I went back to task.

10:34
NGC 2985 (UMa): A little beauty; nice but not quite as impressive as 2976. This galaxy is largish and round, 1.75’ x 1.25’, elongated N-S.  The halo is not really well defined, kinda gossamer, with a gradual core that’s 0.5’ across and is quite bright; there’s an occasional glimpse of a substellar nucleus. Due F the galaxy by 1’ is a 12.5-magnitude star that’s the NP end of a chain of three; SF by 1.75’ is a 14th-magnitude star; 1.3’ S very very slightly F that star is a 13.5-magnitude star. N very very slightly P of the galaxy by 2.75’ is a 13.5-magnitude star. The galaxy lies at the middle of a roughly N-S/P-F ‘T’ pattern of brighter stars, with the brightest, a 10th-magnitude star, due S of the galaxy by 10’; 10’ N of the galaxy, maybe very very slightly F, is another of 10th magnitude, and there’s a 10.5-magnitude star P very very slightly S the galaxy by 12’.

10:47
NGCs 3065, 3066, 3027 (UMa): A striking pair of galaxies that are also within 40’ or so of a very very long skinny galaxy that I’ll get to afterward. NGC 3065 is a small, roundish galaxy no more than 0.67’ across, with a brighter but very very small sudden core and a bright quasi-stellar nucleus. Its halo is quite diffuse and faint but still fairly well defined. The galaxy has 1.5’ P very slightly N of it an 11.5-magnitude star; 4.25’ F very very slightly N of the galaxy is a 12.5-magnitude star. N very very slightly P the galaxy by 15’ is the brightest star in the field, which is 8th magnitude. 3’ S slightly F the galaxy by 3’ is NGC 3066, which is larger–0.75’ x 0.67’–and elongated slightly P-F. It’s more diffuse than 3065, and has a very slightly brighter core that’s broader than that of 3065, but no nucleus is visible. SF 3066 by 1.75’ is a 14.5-magnitude star that has a 13.5-magnitude star F very slightly N of it by 1.5’. From 3066 P somewhat S by 4.5’ is a 13th-magnitude star; from the galaxy 6’ SF is a 10.5-magnitude star that has a 12.5-magnitude star 2.5’ F very slightly N of it. From 3065 due P by 30’ is another galaxy (NGC 3027), this one a huge tenuous glow, 3.0’ x 1.0’/0.75’, oriented NP-SF and quite difficult at first glance. 3027 is also 25’ F very very slightly S of NGC 2985. The galaxy doesn’t have any real central concentration per se but is irregularly bright throughout its halo. It does, however, appear to have a 14.5-magnitude star due S by 1’ and a threshold star just outside its NP end. SF the galaxy by 11’ is the fainter of a pair: the brighter is SF it by 0.67’; those are 11.5 and 13.5 magnitude.

Sometime around 11 PM was when I first noticed the incredible steadiness of the background stars. I’d recently had an observing session that topped out at an 8 in seeing, and had thought things were unlikely to get any better than that here in the Valley. I was wrong. The stars at this moment were tack-sharp glowing pinpoints, steady as if they’d been caught on film at a moment of high clarity. I actually found myself wishing for more Herschel open clusters to explore, so I could take advantage of the conditions; some of the ones I’d done recently would’ve benefited greatly from the awesome sharpness that had settled in on us while I was chasing more-diffuse extragalactic wonders.

I always dread the really huge, detailed objects; there’s so much to say about them that it often becomes impossible to take an adequate set of notes. At this point in my agenda, I had one such object to get, and one very nearby that I couldn’t pass up taking notes on. So it was on to the sky’s premiere pair of galaxies, and hopefully two sets of notes that don’t need any further elaboration:

11:08
NGC 3034 (M82, UMa): Odd that this is a Herschel object, but here we go. This is a gorgeous galaxy, maybe even more so than M81. It’s elongated P somewhat S-F somewhat N; the brighter interior spans about 6’ x 0.67’, but the whole extends out to 10’ x 1.25’. The inner section is extremely textured, especially the middle 4’; a dark vein running across it splits it NP-SF, and is offset slightly toward the F end; the brightest portion of the interior is F that vein; there’s a 0.75’ section there that’s much brighter than the rest. Dark texture is in evidence throughout the galaxy’s interior, especially on the P end/half, which looks to have more of the dark tendrils running through it. S of the brightest section of the interior is a small dark jut that bites through halo and into the brighter part of the interior. There’s not anything “core-like” or resembling a nucleus here. The primary dark vein is super obvious, though. The extreme ends of the halo, especially on the F end, seem to narrow and then get a tiny bit wider on the ends, almost like the galaxy’s twisted. Two strings of three stars each run S from the galaxy, one from the SF and one from the SP; 2.5’ almost due SP the middle of the galaxy is a 9th-magnitude star; continuing that direction for 3.25’ is a 10.5-magnitude star and roughly the same direction for another 3’ is a 12th-magnitude star. S slightly P the galaxy by 16’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; NP the galaxy by 10’ is a 9.5-magnitude star that has an 8th-magnitude star N very slightly P it by 8’. N of the galaxy by 21’ is an 8.5-magnitude star that’s flanked on the N very slightly F and S very slightly P by 12th-magnitude stars; the one S very slightly P is very slightly fainter and is 2’ from the 8.5-magnitude star; the one to the N very slightly F is 2.5’ from the 8.5-magnitude star. F the galaxy by 4’ from the brightest part of the galaxy’s interior is a 13.5-magnitude star; S of that star by 2’ is a 12th-magnitude star; there’s a 12.5-magnitude S slightly F of that star by 3’.

11:23
M81 (UMa): WOW–spectacular! This classic spiral is elongated NP-SF and huge, no less than 15’ x 5’. The galaxy’s spiral arms are not distinct but are definitely visible, especially the one from the F end that hooks NP; the other arm, from the P side and hooking S is tougher; the gap between the previous arm and the main halo of the galaxy is a bit more discernible. The galaxy has a largish core, 3’ x 1.5’, and a very bright semi-stellar nucleus; the core is very gradually arrived-at, but the nucleus is sudden. The arm to the N is unmistakable, especially in averted vision, and is 8’ long from the F end. There are at least two embedded stars that are bright: one lies F somewhat S of the nucleus by 2.5’ and the other 1.25’ S of that one; both are magnitude 11.5; there’s a brighter patch of the galaxy F those two stars, from the midpoint between them, which seems to be on the outer edge of the halo, and is quite diffuse and not particularly well defined; 3.5’ SF those two stars, along the SF edge of the galaxy, is an area of slightly greater brightness, about 1.5’ x 0.67’. Off the P end, P slightly N of the galaxy by 5’ from the nucleus, is an 11.5-magnitude star; S of that star by 4.5’ is a 12.5-magnitude star; NP that star by 1.67’ is a 13th-magnitude star. The 11.5-magnitude star seems to be around the point where the P spiral arm branches off. NP the galaxy, 11’ from the nucleus, is an 11th-magnitude star; there’s a 9th-magnitude star SF the galaxy by 13’. S of the galaxy by 8’ is a really fine roughly-equal double (the P-most might be a tenth of a mag brighter); these are magnitude 10.5 and separated P-F by 12”. 2.25’ almost due S of the double is an 8.5-magnitude star; SF that star by 3.5’ is a 12th-magnitude star. The galaxy’s glow is surprisingly smooth and even for such a bright nearby object. This is definitely the best view of M81 I’ve ever had!

Having finished the two big targets for the night, I assumed the others would be letdowns. But this was far from the case, as tonight’s final targets—like many of the unsung galaxies of Ursa Major—were excellent objects themselves, only less-known because of the two giants lurking nearby.

11:41
NGC 3077 (UMa): This galaxy is also quite bright and impressive; not a bad one to follow up two of the best with. It’s elongated SP-NF and spans 2.75’ x 1.25’; it has a faint, diffuse, poorly-defined halo but a bright elongated core that’s no less than 0.75’ x 0.5’; the core is pretty suddenly arrived-at and is brighter at the center without having an actual definable nucleus.  The halo seems a bit extended to the NF. This is a really fine galaxy that rewards patient observing. Due P the galaxy by 10’ is an 8th-magnitude star; there’s another of 8th magnitude 3.75’ N slightly P, and N very very slightly P by 19’ is yet another 8th-magnitude star; there’s a 9.5-magnitude star F somewhat S of the galaxy by 17’. The star N slightly P the galaxy by 3.75’ is a very close double: there’s a 10th-magnitude companion 4” P very slightly S of the primary.

12:06
NGCs 3079, 3073; PGC 28990 (UMa): NGC 3079 is a great one to go out on–a rather stunning edge-on long spiral! This is a Messier-quality object that CM just missed. It’s elongated 4.5’ x 0.67’ N very slightly P-S very slightly F. The galaxy’s halo trails off raggedly and narrowly to the S, where it dies away, while the N end has a bit of definable brightness to it. It looks as though there’s a kink in the galaxy’s disk, as it’s not perfectly straight; the disk bulges out to the F and is more concave on the P. [The seeing is fantastic right now!  Stars are pinpoint (in retrospect, I should’ve looked for the Twin Quasar!)] The galaxy has a 2’ long brighter central bulge but no nucleus visible; just on the N end, inside the end on the F edge, is a 14th-magnitude star; S slightly P that star by 1.25’ is one of 14.5 magnitude; there’s another 14.5-magnitude star 2.5’ S of that star; from the last star P by 2.5’ is a 14th-magnitude star. From the middle of the galaxy 6.5’ S slightly P is an 8th-magnitude star; there’s a 9.5-magnitude star S very slightly F the galaxy by 7’, and those two stars and the middle of the galaxy form an almost-equilateral triangle. 3.5’ SF the galaxy’s center is another 9.5-magnitude star; this last star may be very slightly fainter than the previous star of 9.5 magnitude; from that star F somewhat N by 5.5’ is a 10.5-magnitude star. NGC 3079 is part of a trio, but it’s the only bright one; there are two much fainter galaxies in the field, one of which is NGC 3073, a pretty mediocre Herschel object: it lies 10’ P very very slightly S of the center of 3079; it’s also 7’ P somewhat N of the 8th-magnitude star that’s SP 3079. 3073 is 0.67’ round, with a slightly-brighter core and a hint of a substellar nucleus, but not bright at all; if you’re looking at 3079 you’ll eventually notice 3073. N of 3073 by 4.75’ is the more S of a pair of stars oriented SP-NF each other and separated by 0.67’; both are 13.5 magnitude. S very very slightly F 3073 by 6’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; 8’ SP 3073 is a 10th-magnitude star that has a 12.5-magnitude star N very very slightly F it by 1.5’. The third galaxy in the field (PGC 28990) is PsN the middle of 3079 by 6.5’; it’s elongated P-F, 0.5’ x 0.25’ and reveals very little detail; I can hold it steadily in direct vision but just barely, and averted vision shows significant improvement.

I could’ve stayed longer, I suppose; Frank and Jeff had already left, and Dan had hinted he wasn’t going to stick around much longer. I’d already observed more objects than I’d expected, given the late start we got due to the Moon’s prolonged presence, so I wasn’t disappointed when Dan decided he’d had enough of observing for the night. In any case, the forecast for the next night was also excellent, and I had a different sort of agenda scheduled for the next session….

VII. Having already finished the properly-winter objects in both of my Herschel lists, and having made a serious foray into the circumpolar spring galaxies, I had time for a break from the supposedly “serious” work of finishing out a six-year project.

The Eugene Astronomical Society has been, over the years, the beneficiary of many donations from the public, a large percentage of them telescopes. This charity has resulted in our building a substantial library of telescopes, of all sizes and kinds, for lending to club members. The donations we’d received in the previous couple of months had given us quite a wealth of scopes and other materials, but none was quite the jaw-dropper as the bountiful harvest we received the week before… the grand prize of which was a long-unused 20″ Obsession.

This was an old beast, circa 1993, when Obsession was still a fairly new company. It had a serial number in the 80s, although EAS’ Ken Martin had told me that the serial numbers were somewhat arbitrary in how Obsession assigned them. The gentleman who donated the scope—and its attendant trailer… and a rich collection of top-notch eyepieces… and a number of other fine telescopes… and books… and…—had told us the scope was bought in 1993, so we at least had a date for it. The scope was well-worn but still in fine shape, and we were astounded to be the recipients of such largesse. (I’ll post some pictures in an upcoming post, showing many of the items EAS had gratefully received during the four months prior to the February run, and all of the optical denizens of my garage.)

Dan B and I had spent some time one partly-cloudy night getting the beast prepped for some actual observing: getting it assembled and collimated, working out some of the (literal and figurative) rust from a decade or more in storage, and generally figuring out how to put it together. Assembled, it was almost exactly the same size as the 18″ f/5.5 that was the club’s previous-largest scope; the 20″ was an f/5, which brought it down to roughly the same focal length (and, therefore, height) as the 18″. It took a lot of time and effort to get it collimated—although we could get the mirrors well-aligned, we had to keep adjusting the primary mirror upward because the eyepieces (among them 20 and 12mm Naglers and a 35mm Panoptic) weren’t coming to focus on what few bright stars were punching through the clouds; we simply couldn’t get enough in-travel from the focuser. Eventually, we were able to reach a not-happy-but-working medium between the collimation travel and the focuser, so that the three larger eyepieces (we’d also gotten a 7mm smooth-side Nagler and a 3.8mm Orion Lanthanum, as well as several eyepieces for the other scopes in the haul) could reach focus with a few millimeters to spare. What we needed was a chance to see what the big beast could really do.

02/27-28/20
EUREKA RIDGE
SUNSET: 5:58 PM
MOON: 4 days (set at 10:04 PM; 15% illuminated)
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.4
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to mid 30s; heavy dew later; not particularly cold (no hand warmers needed)
OTHERS PRESENT: JO, DB, FS, DR, LR, NC

It was Jerry who had suggested a “20-inch Shootout,” a comparison with his 20″ TriDob. and I was eager to give the Obsession a good dark-site workout. So the next clear night saw us at Eureka, with a good-sized crowd of observers and a number of the largest scopes EAS could muster: in addition to the two 20-inchers, we also had Dan B’s 16″ ES Dob, Frank’s bino-Dob, and Orion, the club’s home-brew 14.7″ Dob, which Loren had brought with him. Nathan was trying to image among the forest of huge scopes, and Dan R had come along with Jerry so as not to miss the two large scopes at work and to provide an objective opinion on the comparison between them.

The first round of competition went to the TriDob: it only took two people to set it up, where the Obsession took three. Dan B and I had struggled with this the night we tuned the scope up; the clamping systems holding the upper cage to the truss poles seemed awkward at best, and were tarnished or corroded enough that they were particularly difficult to get working. In the end, it took one person to hold the scope at an angle—so we didn’t have to assemble it from a ladder—and two to get the clamps set and latched. (It would also take three of us and a lot of elbow grease to disassemble it.)

Jerry and I also spent a fair amount of time readjusting the collimation and getting an idea of what we’d need to do to fix the in-travel problem with the focuser. I suggested replacing the secondary-mirror holder with one that didn’t require a screwdriver to adjust, as there’s nothing scarier than holding a sharp implement over a $5000 chunk of precision-ground glass.

With the Moon up, we first turned to it, although there was little actual comparing happening. In fact, as the night went on, we spent far less time comparing the scopes and more just looking at our own choices of target. We did compare the views of the Orion Nebula and its Trapezium through both scopes, along with several of the other winter showpieces (M35 and NGC 2158, NGC 2362, M67, etc.), but most were open clusters and not really the best subjects for a comparison. (Not without extensive studies of the faintest stars in each cluster, anyway.)

My recent slate of Herschel objects provided some additional targets, starting with NGC 3079, the excellent edge-on Ursa Major galaxy. Jerry was impressed with this one, and we both spent a fair amount of time observing it through the two scopes, making sure to check on the visibility of the two fainter companion galaxies. The warp in the galaxy’s disk was even more readily-apparent than in 12.5″ Bob the Dob, although that was hardly a fair comparison; a 20″ scope has more than 2.5 times the light-gathering power of a 12.5″ (314.16 square inches of mirror area vs. 122.72 for the 12.5″). Still, the galaxy was a stunner in the 20″ aperture, as you’d expect. I didn’t have a chart with me for the Twin Quasar, so near to the galaxy line-of sight-wise, or I would’ve used that as a test for the comparison as well.

We discovered another problem with the scope while comparing the views on NGC 3079: the focuser was poor, and it would suddenly stop working as the user was trying to bring an object to focus. It didn’t seem like a stock focuser, as it was clearly not up to the quality of the scope itself, and Jerry surmised that it was an after-market focuser. This focuser was also the likely source of the in-travel focus problem, as it must have had a different profile length than the original, and the change of focusers had meant that eyepieces that reached focus near the inward end of the focal plane no longer had enough room to reach focus with the higher-profile focuser. We needed to fix this problem pretty permanently before the scope could be used for any length of time.

The next comparison object was another from my recent explorations, although I didn’t know it would bring the whole field to a standstill. On a whim, I suggested Thor’s Helmet, NGC 2359, having been blown away by it at Linslaw earlier in the month with the 12.5″. So we set the scopes upon the nebula, and were both impressed by the unfiltered views. I didn’t have a 2″ OIII filter—or so I thought—so I borrowed Dan B’s Astronomik O-III.

The nebula burst to life with the filter in place, to a point where taking notes on it would’ve been futile. The texture went from merely nebulous to downright filamentary, like the view of the Veil Nebula through Wade’s 17.5-inch scope that night several Mays ago when I was working through the Virgo Cluster and stopped to have my mind wrecked by the view. Thor’s Helmet looked so like a photograph that I had to revise my previous assessment—it really did look like Thor’s Helmet, wings and all, glowing gloriously in a corner of Canis Major.

Whatever I shouted upon seeing the nebula with the O-III must’ve been a rallying call, because I soon had a line at the eyepiece. Everyone on the tiny field agreed: this was a phenomenal sight! We couldn’t fairly compare the view through both scopes, though, because we were using different O-III filters, and each filter would yield a slightly-different view of the object. But it was certainly an amazing sight through each of the 20″ scopes, one still seared into my mind’s eye six weeks later. (It also made me realize that I needed to get ahold of an Astronomik O-III.)

The rest of the evening yielded a lot of other spectacular sights: NGC 3242, The Ghost of Jupiter Nebula, through Jerry’s scope; the magnificent globular M3; M81 and 82; M51; M101; the Coma Galaxy Cluster. I lost track of them, honestly; almost every object looked stunning in the large aperture of the Obsession. One target of astrophysical significance that I tracked down was NGC 3109, an unusual edge-on spiral in Hydra, which I had first seen here at Eureka a few springs before; depending on which astronomer one listens to, and which month it is, this galaxy was either the fourth major spiral in the Local Group of Galaxies, or the nearest non-member of the Local Group. Whatever the case, the galaxy spanned most of the 22-arcminute field of the 12mm Nagler, but was a surprisingly-difficult catch due to its diffuseness, even with a 20″ scope having been brought to bear on it.

It was while I was swapping out the 20mm Nagler for the 12mm that I made an unwitting discovery. I tried putting the lens caps on the 20mm, but the bottom cap just wouldn’t go on; there was something stuck in it. A moment’s red light revealed the culprit—there was a 2″ O-III filter stuck in the cap! It took a few seconds, but I managed to put two and five together: the tape I had seen on the eyepiece’s barrel had been used to hold the filter in place, because the barrel was very slightly oversized and the filter’s threads wouldn’t engage. (It fit fine in the 35mm Panoptic, as I would only discover the next day when trying to figure the problem out.)

Somehow we reached 1:30 AM. The night had gone by quickly; most of us who had come out to observe were still there. Temperatures were cold but not oppressively so—I’d opened up a couple of chemical hand warmers but had hardly used them. But we’d hit something of a wall, and with a longer-than-usual tear-down due to the huge scopes, we all decided we’d reached our limits. As with setup, it took three of us to wrangle the UTA of the  Obsession, especially as the clamps had seized up and had to be released with a screwdriver. We swore to quickly find a solution to the clamp problems and the focuser issue so we could get the beast to peak user-friendliness.

Which scope won the shootout? We decided it was a draw. (Boos from the audience.) Jerry’s scope was very slightly sharper, possibly due to the Obsession’s thicker mirror taking longer to reach thermal equilibrium. The Obsession had a very slight edge in contrast, probably due to the TriDob not having a shroud for blocking ambient light. Both problems had relatively-simple fixes; the other issues with the Obsession were somewhat more serious but still pretty-easily surmountable.

I was tired driving home, but had enough adrenaline to keep alert. It had been an outstanding stretch of observing—seven nights out of ten—and had me poised to finish the Herschel 400 and Herschel II before the spring galaxy fields had even passed the meridian for the year. Another run like this in March and I’d be finished far sooner than had seemed possible two weeks ago. I even allowed myself to think about what my next observing programs would be once the Herschels were behind me. (Of course, there were actually another 1600 Herschels to go to catch up to the Great Observer himself, but that wasn’t totally relevant at present.) I had a huge amount of work ahead transcribing all the notes I’d taken, but a very specific finish line was in sight.