Smoke and Mirrors

I’ll skip ahead to the end:

August’s observing run should’ve been a good one—skies were clear for more than three weeks straight—but the smoke from endless Western forest fires wiped out nearly the entire month, rendering the clear skies impenetrable for all but the naked-eye planets, the Moon, and a few of the brightest stars. As a result, one of the year’s last useful months for observing (based on past years) was a washout, excepting the first pre-Third Quarter Moon night.

[Small potatoes, of course, compared to what the people actually living through the fires were dealing with.]

I’d intended, during the August run, to make further headway in the planetary nebulae and open clusters of the summer Herschel objects. With a short night that first time out—given the early Moonrise—I’d also planned to take notes on many of the globular clusters in the Messier catalogue that I hadn’t yet taken notes on (fourteen of them!) so that I could say that I’d “gotten” every globular cluster visible from the northern hemisphere barring those in the Palomar and Terzan catalogues (and I’d also observed several of those). Not knowing it was to be my only real observing of the month, I set this first night aside for the Messiers.

Given that it wasn’t Herschel hunting, I also had an additional component to the evening’s plan: to give my newly-refurbished 13.1″ Coulter Dobsonian—my second telescope, bought back in 1990 and christened by Mrs. Caveman as “The Angel of Death”—its second first light, and its first at a “real” dark site. My 8″ Celestron SCT, my very first telescope, had been out to Eureka Ridge already, so it was only appropriate that its bigger brother had a chance to revel in the Bortle 3 skies of the Ridge.

To go along with the use of the old Coulter (and Paracorr Type 0, a necessity at f/4.5), I stuck with my old TeleVue Plössl eyepieces as well. These were a point of lighthearted derision among my fellow observers, in contrast to the higher-tech wide-fields we all usually used. They were also somewhat difficult to get used to after having used 68-82˚ eyepieces as my mainstays for the last fifteen years or so. Nonetheless, the Plössls were (as always) commendably sharp, and their narrower fields of view still quite comfortable to observe with in the old light bucket. In addition to the 17mm with which I took my notes, I also used 26mm and 40mm Plössls to help compensate for the less-accurate pointing offered by the red-dot finder on the Coulter.


MOON: 21 days (71% illuminated); rose at 11:42 PM
TRANSPARENCY: 7; MW well-defined; Dark Horse much less so than on previous nights
SQM: 21.4
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to low 60s; considerable dew, clammy

Others present: JO, OG, Leticia, JH (Justin)

All observations with a 13.1″ f/4.5 Coulter Dobsonian, 1.15x original Televue Paracorr, and 17mm Televue Plössl (with Paracorr, 101x, 0.6˚ TFOV).

M53 (Com): The sky isn’t 100% dark yet (it seems to be a habit of mine to start so early). This is a pretty “tight” cluster, perhaps CC 5; a satellite crosses it as I take notes on it. The cluster is 4.5′ in diameter, with a granular 3.0′ core and outliers stretching out to 9′. The well-resolved halo comes to the core pretty quickly. There’s a row of stars running along the N side of the cluster’s periphery, and on the SF edge of the halo is an area devoid of resolved stars. The core extends slightly into the halo on the NP and SF sides. About 25 stars are resolved in the cluster, with a prominent star just on the NF edge of the core. SF the cluster by 10′ is a brightish pair, 9th– and 9.5-magnitudes, separated by 1.5′, with the fainter the more N-ward; these form an isosceles triangle with an 11.5-magnitude star that’s 3.25′ due F and between them. SP the cluster by 15′ is a 9.5-magnitude star. The much-fainter NGC 5053 is about a degree SF, and is plainly visible despite the not-yet-dark skies.

M3 (CVn): One of the finest globulars in the sky, and this might be the best view I’ve ever had of it. It’s a glorious hive of stars, much more impressive than M53 (which is an underappreciated object nonetheless). The core, which has many stars resolved across its face, is about 4.5′ in diameter. The cluster’s halo is similarly well resolved and extends to 12′, with outliers to about 15′. The core looks a bit offset toward the SF. Many stars are resolved in M3, with notable outliers to the NP and SF; the halo is “not in a hurry to get to the core” (according to my notes), giving a CC of about 6. The cluster sits inside a right triangle whose right-angle corner is a 9.5-magnitude star NP the cluster by 7′; an arc of faint stars runs P, then N-ward, from the cluster’s center over to that star; 12′ F slightly N that 9.5-magnitude star is a 10.5-magnitude star; the third vertex of the triangle is an 8th-magnitude star S very slightly F the cluster by 14′. The triangle’s hypotenuse is 21′ long.

M5 (SerCap): An awesome sight! The old Coulter is reveling in these dark skies, and M5 is a fantastic object for it to dwell on. The core is almost uniformly-bright, 3.25′ in diameter (smaller than M3’s); the halo extends to 10′ but outliers stretch to about 18′. M5’s outliers stretch in chains, one of the most prominent of which stretches to the SP (with an extension to the SF) and another that loops from the core to the NF; a third extends from the NP of the halo toward the N. These give the cluster an almost spiral shape (alert Lord Rosse!). The P side of the cluster seems flatted against the arcs to the SP and NP, like a swarm of gnats hitting a windshield. There are too many stars resolved in the cluster to count. To the S very slightly P (where that SP arc begins) is an 11.5-magnitude star that is 5′ from the cluster’s center; the arc stretches S and then SF and is 7′ long. Another brightish (12th-magnitude) star is due SF of the core by 7′.  A grouping of seven stars runs in a zigzag along the P side of the field, halfway from the cluster to the edge, toward the SP of the cluster. F the cluster and extending to the SF is an arc of four stars that begins at an 11th-magnitude star 18′ F the cluster and runs SP, S slightly P, and then S, ending SF the cluster; the others in the arc are 12thmagnitude. Just outside the field, 24′ SF the cluster, is 5 Serpentis: a 5th-magnitude primary and an 11th-magnitude secondary, with the primary N very slightly F the secondary by 10″.

M14 (Oph): A gorgeous cluster that’s often overlooked in favor of M10 and M12 to the west, M14 is the personification of a “powdery” cluster, covered in a dusting of uniformly-faint star-points. The cluster is 6′ in diameter, with a core that’s 2/3′ of that diameter and a scattering of about 20 tiny halo stars on a smooth background gradient. Just outside the F very slightly S edge of the halo is a pair of 14th-magnitude stars separated by 20″. NF the cluster by 12.5′ is the right-angle vertex of a triangle; this is the closest vertex to the cluster and is 10.5 magnitude; the other two in the triangle are 10thmagnitude; one is N of the right-angle vertex by 2.5′ and the other due F by 4.5′. NP the cluster by 15′ (on the edge of the field) is a 9.5-magnitude star; N of that star by 9′ is a 7.5-magnitude star. SP the cluster by 13′ is the brighter of a pair: the brighter is 9.5 magnitude and the secondary 11thmagnitude; the secondary is F slightly S the primary by 1′. 15′ S of the cluster is an 11th-magnitude star.

M70 (Sgr): The last one for tonight, as the Moon is already up (albeit blocked from view by the ridge). This is a small, less-resolved cluster sunk in the bottom of the Teapot. It’s only 2′ across at the halo, with a 20″ core region that’s almost stellar at first glance. A few threshold stars skirt the periphery. CC is perhaps a 6. NF the cluster by 1.67′ is a 12th-magnitude star that has a 13th-magnitude star N of it by 30″. S slightly F and running due SF is a line of four 9th-magnitude stars that’s 6′ long; the P-most star in the line is 15′ S slightly F the cluster and has a 12.5-magnitude companion 12″ N very very slightly P. P slightly S of the cluster by 14′ is an 8th-magnitude star that has a 10.5-magnitude star S very slightly F by 0.67′. N of the cluster is a line of stars extending 15′ to a 9.5-magnitude star NF the cluster; the other stars in this arc are 10th/10.5-magnitudes; one of the 10th-magnitude stars is due N of the cluster by 3.5′.

I filled in the spaces between globulars with casual browsing of some of the usual summer targets. The refurb job on the Coulter—replacing the broken mirror cell (which got damaged upon being shipped from Anchorage, Alaska to Carbondale, Illinois) with a sleeker, more-adjustable version and replacing the original plumbing-parts focuser with a JMI Crayford—had resulted in the scope being extremely top-heavy, so I had Velcro-d a number of counterweights to the bottom end. The scope still needed help staying balanced close to the horizon, so looking toward the center of the galaxy was a little more awkward than I’d hoped. (The next phase of the plan is to move the altitude bearings on the scope to help rebalance it, and installing the 11 x 80 finder that I’d bought for it 25 years ago.) Still and all, the “old red beater” performed superbly at lower powers and none too badly at the higher end.

Had I known that the smoke from the burning West was going to wipe out the rest of the Moon-dark phase, I might’ve felt more urgency to go out the next night, which was also reasonably clear. Or I might’ve brought Bob the Dob out for adventures in Herscheling instead of giving the Coulter some glory. In any event, aside from a few casual moments of stargazing—including catching first light on Robert A’s 3D-printed 8″ binocular telescope at the College Hill Reservoir here in Eugene—that single evening at Eureka was the total of dark-sky observing for August: more than in 2017, when I went back to Carbondale for the eclipse, but nothing like our usual homestretch run. With September always being a crapshoot weather-wise and October usually seeing the beginnings of “monsoon season” here in the valley, August’s smoke out may have brought a close to our large-scale observing for 2018.









Van or Astro-Van?

Among all of the telescopes, eyepieces, star charts, chairs, portable power tanks, dew-prevention heaters, and other paraphernalia associated with an observing session, one item stands apart and is often taken for granted: a useful vehicle that can carry all of one’s stuff (and junk) to and from an observing site, often over rugged terrain and rough, unmaintained roads. No astronomy gear gets as much use outside of the hobby; nothing is as important to the overall American way of life as the independence brought by having reliable transportation.

And so it was that the news that the Caveman-Mobile was going to be totaled out after a minor fender-bender came as a huge disappointment. It wasn’t just that I could haul multiple scopes and other folderol to places that once would’ve been labelled “Here be tygers”; it was that I’ve come to be used to having the ability to travel at a moment’s notice. (Did you think we hunted mammoths on foot?)

The Moon-dark phase of July coincided with this unfortunate development. Mrs. Caveman and I had put more than a thousand miles on the CM during our geology trip around the state’s interior during the first week of the month; the CM went into the shop and was declared a loss on July 9th. Until that point, however, I put the poor vehicle through our usual round of dark-sky offroading.

I. When last I wrote, I noted that the summer provided me with a choice: continue working on spring Herschel galaxies despite their being in a highly-diminished state (due to being so far past the meridian); work on Herschel objects in the Milky Way (open and globular clusters, planetary and emission nebulae); or skip working on the Herschels for a while and trot out the 18″ EAS scope to explore more off-the-beaten-path objects. I spent the Moon-dark phase doing the latter two, and this first night of what would be a very long run was spent with the 18″ and a list I’d compiled from various Astronomical League lists, the Deep Sky Forum Object of the Week threads, and Alvin Huey’s wonderful observing guides (available here).

And yet I spent the night extremely frustrated. The 18″ is a fine scope, but it’s far less user-friendly than Bob the Dob, and it suffers from a poor mirror coating which leaves the mirror reflecting considerably less light than it should. While it’s nice to have the extra aperture and (supposedly) extra light grasp, I often found myself disappointed with the experience of using the scope. (In fairness, much of this wasn’t the scope’s fault but was mine.) It didn’t help that conditions were much softer than expected, or that there was considerable dew present.


MOON: 24 days (36% illumination); rose at 1:40 AM
SQM: 21.4
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; air still, considerable dew

Others present: RA, JA (John, RA’s father), SF, JO

Nonetheless, I stuck it out. From my list, I observed the NGC 5419 group, Hickson 72, the loose, faint globular cluster NGC 5466, and the super-thin flat galaxy UGC 9000; all of these targets were located in the rapidly-setting constellation of Boötes the Herdsman. Disappointed as I was, I took no notes during the session—of these targets, only NGC 5466  afforded a good-enough view to warrant committing to audio, and I had already recorded it in the 12.5″ way back at the Giant City State Park wildlife reclamation meadow in 2014. (That’s certainly no reason not to take notes again, of course.)

So I spent time wandering among many of the showpiece objects of the sky, sharing the views with the other observers (Jerry, Steve F [from my OSP tribe], Robert A and his father John) and reminding myself that the ten days ahead looked to be quite promising for observing. We went through the usual suspects: M80, M4, M9, M10, M12, M14, M51, M101, M13, M5, M15, The Veil/Lagoon/Trifid nebulae, the fine double star Alpha Herculis (which refused to focus sharply, despite collimation being pretty-well on target), and three visible planets—Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. (Mars looked surprisingly fine, given the scope’s optics, the planet’s low declination, and the dust storm engulfing the planet’s surface). And with the Moon about to rise, I remembered to swing over and pick up Comet Giacobini-Zinner, which presented a fine apparition.

It was an inauspicious beginning to what would prove an exceptional week-plus stretch of observing.

II. We reconvened the next night at Eagle’s Ridge, as the transparency and seeing forecasts were better than at Eureka. As it was a decent-sized group of observers, we parked and observed from the road junction rather than our usual spot on the spur road.  I chose to bring Bob the Dob this time, and my observing list included some actual Herschel objects (labeled below with an [H]) mixed with a number of non-Herschel targets, including several globular clusters I hadn’t yet observed (I’ve gotten almost all of those visible in a 12.5″ scope from mid-northern latitudes, and would gather several others during the course of this run.)

I took fewer notes during this run—certainly fewer than my epic swing through the Virgo Cluster the year before—and spent more time looking at the showpieces in between hunts for those objects I hadn’t seen. I felt less duty-bound to stick to my Herschel plan than usual, although I also spent several nights putting off wading into the ranks of the Herschel open clusters that spattered the arms of the galaxy with young stars. For many reasons, the open clusters held less appeal than the remainder of the objects. (How wrong I would of course be.)


MOON: 25 days (26% illumination); rose at 2:10 AM
SQM: 21.5
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; air still, minimal dew

Others present: JO, Bill M, Bob M, FS, AG

(H) NGC 6058 (Her): It’s still a bit twilighty or not totally dark, but I’m going to proceed anyway. This is a small round planetary nebula that presents an almost galaxy-like aspect; it’s about 0.3′ in diameter, with a small outer halo and a “core” region that encompasses the inner 2/3 of its diameter. This inner region is quite bright and makes it difficult to ascertain if there’s a central star visible. I suspect that the central star is visible and quite bright amid the brightness of the nebula’s interior. [For whatever reason, I appear to have not tried a UHC or O-III filter on the nebula.] The nebula lies in the middle of a ‘Y’ asterism whose stem stretches S and whose branches lead NF and NP the nebula; 5′ to the NP is a 9.5-magnitude star, 6′ to the NF is a 9th-magnitude star, and 3.5′ S of the nebula is an 11th-magnitude star. Other stars in the field include a 13th-magnitude star 2.5′ F very slightly S of the nebula, another 13th-magnitude star S very slightly F the nebula by 4′, an 11.5-magnitude star S very slightly P that previous star by 3′, and a 9.5-magnitude star 3.5′ S very slightly P the 11.5-magnitude star by 3.5′.

I also spent some time ferreting out Abell 39, the large, perfectly-round planetary in Hercules that I first observed at the Brothers Star Party a year before. I’d taken notes on it then (“Band of Brothers”), so I didn’t do it again this time; I should take notes on every object I observe regardless of whether or not I’ve seen them before, but I haven’t yet developed that discipline.

I also had Mrs. Caveman pick me up some black fabric to use as an observing hood, having used one at Jerry’s house to do some solar observing. It’s long been recommended to use the hood when observing extremely faint objects; it cuts out stray light and reflection from the ground enough to provide extra contrast in the eyepiece. For a number of objects during this run, it may have made the difference between seeing them and missing them entirely.

IC 1257 (Oph): This is one of the toughest globular clusters I’ve observed (and there would certainly be a few more before this dark run ended); it’s as or more difficult than some of the Palomars. This one is no more than 13th magnitude, and barely visible with direct vision even though I’m using an observing hood here. The cluster is no more than 0.75′ in diameter and nothing more than a small fuzzy glow; no resolution is possible and it’s too difficult to get an estimate of its concentration class. Yet it’s most definitely in the eyepiece! The cluster is 14′ N of an 8.5-magnitude star, and about halfway between (and a tiny bit N) of two 11.5-magnitude stars, one P and one F the cluster. It’s slightly closer to the star to the F side; it’s 6.5′ from the star to the P side and 6′ from the star to the F. The 11.5-magnitude star to the P side is at the center of a very tiny ‘y’ (lowercase) pattern; NF that star by 2.25′ is a 14th-magnitude star; there’s a 15th-magnitude star S slightly P the 11.5-magnitude star by 1′, and a 14th-mg star F the 11.5-magnitude star by 1.75′. S of the globular by 4′, and SF by 4.75′, are two 14th-magnitude stars; there are also 14th-magnitude stars NF and F slightly N of the cluster. The 8.5-magnitude star S of the cluster has an 11.5-magnitude star NP it by 3′ and an 11.5-magnitude star SF it by 6′.

Haute Provence 1 (Oph): not nearly as tough as IC 1257, but not at all easy; I can’t believe this one has been rated for 8-inch scopes in the iDSA. This globular shows as a weak, misty patch of light in both the 14mm ES and the 10mm Delos, even under the hood. It’s very slightly over 1.0′ in diameter, but too faint to try to get a Shapley-Sawyer class—I suspect this one to be on the low end of the scale, given its very even illumination. A 6′ long arc of three stars to the N of the cluster extends NP-SF; the brightest of these is 9.5-magnitude and is on the SF end of the arc, while the other two in the arc are of 11th-magnitude. A much smaller arc of three bends around the N end of the cluster; these are all 12th-magnitude. There’s also a line of three stars S of the cluster by 7′. F the cluster by 7′ is a 10th-magnitude star. An 8.5-magnitude star lies 17′ S slightly P the cluster, and a 9th-magnitude star is 3′ S of the 8.5-magnitude star.

Abell 43 (Oph): Staying under the observing hood here, given that it’s helped quite a bit with the past couple of objects. This planetary isn’t super easy, but I did manage to spot it without a filter when I swept the area. It’s only about 1.25′ diameter—not “huge” like Abell 39 was earlier. My O-III filter darkens the field and throws it out of focus so much as to be barely usable, but with the filter in the 14mm ES, I can hold the nebula steadily in direct vision. The filter makes the central star nearly invisible, although the star is roughly 11th-magnitude. Switching to 10mm Delos+filter, hints of annularity can be seen amid the roughly-circular halo. On the F edge of the nebula there appears to be a very very faint, threshold-level star that’s impossible to hold steadily (this was found without the filter and disappeared with the filter in; SkySafari lists the star as magnitude 13.3, but it seems much fainter than that). The nebula is between a 9th-magnitude star 3.75′ to the NP and an 11.5-magnitude star 3′ to the SF; there’s another 11.5-magnitude star SF that second star by 1.5′. These three stars form a triangle with a third vertex 11′ SP the 9th-magnitude star (the two stars to the SF of the nebula serve as one vertex). The edges of this triangle run NP the nebula to SP, NP to SF, and SP-SF the nebula; the nebula is along the NP-SF edge. N of the nebula by 2.5′ is a 12th-magnitude star. On the F edge of the field, 18′ from the nebula, is a pair/double of 10th-magnitude stars separated by 0.3′. N of the nebula by 20′ is the brightest star (8th-magnitude) in the field, which has a 10th-magnitude star 1.75′ S of it.

(H) NGC 6629 (Sgr): Quite a bit smaller than the other planetaries I’ve observed this evening; the O-III filter makes little difference other than to increase the contrast and annihilate the rest of the field. This nebula is only about 15″ across, with a brighter 9″ inner region. The central star is extremely faint with the filter and not much brighter without it; I have a very hard time holding it steady. S slightly F the nebula by 2′ is a 10th-magnitude star; due N of the nebula by 7′ is an 8th-magnitude star. There’s another 8th-magnitude star 20′ SF the nebula. 14′ SF the nebula is a 9th-magnitude star. 2.25′ N slightly P the nebula is an 11.5-magnitude star; there’s a 12.5-magnitude star 2′ NP the nebula that might be a close double.

III. The next night, we were out on the spur road, which branches northeast from the Eagle’s Ridge road junction. The Moon had yet to hit New, but we were already on our third night of observing for the cycle. I’d bought a couple of cans of fluorescent chartreuse spray paint with which to mark the potholes on Eagle’s Rest Road; some of these would be axle-breakers if they an unsuspecting driver hit them on the road, and I had made up my mind that none of us would be the victim. However, despite the promise of day-glo yellow, the paint showed up on the black road surface as a medium (and uselessly-dark) green. Best-laid plans and all that. I ended up using up one can of the paint (and a week’s supply of curse words) and taking the other back to Lowe’s, where I picked up a couple of cans of white spray paint designed for road surfaces and athletic fields; I have yet to have the opportunity to use them.

I’d left early to make sure I got the pothole-painting done with time to get to the top of the Ridge, and I ended up being the first one up by about fifteen minutes. There was a slight haze of forest-fire smoke visible low in the sky; we’d been lucky fire-wise so far this summer, and this was still only a minor issue compared to past years. Still, the SQM reading on the night was somewhat less impressive than usual for the spur.

There was also the matter of a traditional summer problem, one we hadn’t often had issue with observing here in Oregon: mosquitoes. This might have been the first time I felt compelled to go for the DEET at Eagle’s Ridge, but it didn’t take long to do so. The worst aspect of DEET is that it’s so destructive to plastic and optical coatings; it’s necessary to make sure one’s hands are free of the stuff when picking up gear, and even more necessary to avoid bumping DEET-covered skin into eyepiece lenses. I’ve read numerous reports about picaridin-based repellents and their being free of DEET’s many disadvantages, and I plan to invest in the stuff before our next outing. (The mosquitoes would be even worse at Champion Saddle a few nights later.)

A bigger problem reared its head as I was setting up. My Powertank, a 12-volt battery replete with charging and power outputs of various sorts, refused to turn on when I set up my dew-prevention rig. No amount of finagling would get it going. Without it, I’d be at the mercy of eyepiece-fogging and the threat of my secondary dewing over. Fortunately, Jerry happened to have a spare 12-volt that he was willing to let me use for the session. Even more fortunately, he’d worked on Powertanks before and knew how to fix them (if it was indeed fixable). He suggested checking it to make sure it had actually charged (and that the charger wasn’t dead), and then he would take it apart to see what the issue was.

We had with us both John (Robert’s dad), who was at Eureka Ridge the first night of the run, and Janet W, on her first observing session with us. Janet drove an electric Fiat 500 with a 90-mile range, but was worried about the last half-mile up to the Ridge and its effect on her battery (understandably so). So she parked at the beginning of the gravel stretch and got a ride from Jerry the rest of the way up the mountain.

One of my primary targets this night—missed the night before—was the globular cluster pair NGC 6558 and NGC 6569. I’d observed them numerous times before, often in the same eyepiece field, but I had somehow never taken notes on them. This was a mystery to me, because I (mistakenly) believed they were both Herschel objects. (As it turned out, only 6569 was a Herschel; in any case, they were globulars within range of my scope that I’d never done notes for.) I would again fail to get these two; they’re in the middle of Sagittarius’ “teapot spout,” and this part of the constellation only spends a short amount of time above the mountain ridge to the south of Eagle’s Ridge. By the time they cleared both the ridge and the couple of trees that just happened to be in my way this particular night, I was too preoccupied to swing back to pick them up.

My first target of the night was another that I was sure was a Herschel and turned out not to be. This too would be a continuing theme during the run.


EAGLE’S RIDGE SPUR ROAD (43° 48′ 17.9496” N, 122° 42′ 45.6912” W)
MOON: 26 days (16% illumination); rose at 2:45 AM
SQM: 21.4
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: some smoke from forest fires; occasional hazy clouds low in E/SE; temps falling to mid 40s; air still, considerable dew (secondary dewed over completely)

Others present: JO, RA, JA (John, RA’s father), JW (Janet)

NGC 6210 (Her): I’ve observed this PN several times over the years, starting with my C-8 from my Cincinnati backyard, but only on that occasion did I take notes on it—I’m mystified why I haven’t seriously gotten to it before. It’s a decent-sized, very bright planetary, with a 20″ inner region and a few arcsec of “fringe” around it (for a total of about 26″). Without a filter, the nebula has a very pale bluish cast to it. The brightness of the inner region makes it difficult to pick out the central star, and I can’t say with certainty that I’m seeing it. 9′ SF the nebula is one of three 7th-magnitude stars in the vicinity; the other two are S very slightly P the nebula by 18′ and P slightly S of the nebula by 23′ (so just outside the P edge of the field with the nebula centered). NF to F very slightly N of the nebula is a small triangle consisting of a 9.5-magnitude star and two 12th-magnitude stars; the S-most 12th-magnitude star is the closest of the three to the nebula, at 2.5′ distance NF the nebula, while the 9.5-magnitude star is 4.75′ F somewhat N and the other 12th-magnitude star is about 6′ NF. The longest side of the triangle (with both 12th-magnitude stars) faces NP.

NGC 6240 (Oph): This odd little galaxy is also known as VV 617; it’s actually a merger of two galaxies, appearing as one object. A super-bright infrared source, this galaxy was featured on the Astronomy Picture of the Day site in June 2009 ( and was the Object of the Week on the Deep Sky Forum for May 11, 2014. I first observed it and took notes on it in late June 2016. It’s a difficult but fairly obvious streak not really well-served by this aperture and magnification, but still well within the grasp of the 12.5″ scope. The galaxy is 1.0′ x 0.67′ (at its widest, e.g. the S end) and oriented S very slightly P-N very slightly F. Greg Crinklaw nicknamed this galaxy “The Rumpled Starfish,” but it doesn’t really give any but a vaguely-triangular shape. The halo is moderately-well defined, and there’s a slight bit of central brightening along its length. There’s no visible nucleus (not surprising, given the disruption occurring within the galaxy). Faint stars imeediately surround the galaxy: there’s a 14th-magnitude star to the N and a 14.5-magnitude star to the south, each 1.75′ from the galaxy; a 14th-magnitude star is also just outside the halo to the F side. 7′ due S of the galaxy is a 9.5-magnitude star, while a 10.5-magnitude star lies 10′ F the galaxy. SP that 10.5-magnitude star is a pair of stars, 11.5- and 12th-magnitude; the brighter of the two is S of the fainter by 1′. P and somewhat S of the galaxy by 6.5′ is the brightest (11.5-magnitude) vertex of a very small triangle; this is the closest of the vertices to the galaxy, with the other two (both 14th-magnitude) P and SP the 11.5-magnitude star.

Abell 55 (Aql): This quite-difficult planetary is completely invisible without a filter, and very faint even with my old Lumicon O-III. Jerry’s NPB filter does a much better job, revealing a 45″ x 30″ glow, elongated P-F. No central star is visible, and the nebula appears to have no real annularity to it, just a largely-even glow; the P side of the nebula seems slightly brighter than the F side [this is perhaps due to the two stars embedded in the P side of the nebula, which were not otherwise seen ]. A 10th-magnitude star lies 6′ S of the nebula. 9′ N v slightly F the nebula is a 10.5-magnitude star that has a 12th-magnitude star F slightly S of it by 3.25′. On the SF edge of the field is an 8th-magnitude star. Outide the field, 25′ P very slightly N of the nebula, is a 6th-magnitude star.

It was about this point that Jerry tracked down the asteroid 4/Vesta, which had just given a terrific apparition during its June opposition. Still slightly visible to the naked eye, the asteroid lurked near the globular cluster M9 in Ophiuchus, and presented an impressively-bright image in Jerry’s trackball scope. Not having seen many asteroids (of which I was aware, anyway), I made sure to get a good look at this one. Then it was back to the deep sky:

Palomar 10 (Sge): After years of talking about hunting this globular, and a few half-hearted attempts, my first serious attempt at Palomar 10 is a success. (I have to admit I was a bit surprised to see it; Jerry confirmed that it was there, however.) The cluster is difficult but definite, just on the line between direct vision and needing averted to catch it. Averted vision does considerably improve the view. It’s a very diffuse, misty 2′ glow, much too faint to derive any value for concentration class and otherwise devoid of any real detail in a crowded Milky Way field. On the cluster’s F edge is a 13.5-magnitude star. S of the cluster and running roughly P-F is a long train of stars: SF the cluster by 8.5′ is a 10.5-magnitude star; an 11th-magnitude star is 7.5′ S very slightly F the cluster; this 11th-mag star has a 13th-magnitude star SP it by 0.5′. Also in this train is a very small isosceles triangle, SP the cluster by 12′; the N-most vertex of the triangle is 10th-magnitude; P very slightly S of this 10th-magnitude is another of the same brightness, and from this second star 0.75′ S very slightly F is a 13th-magnitude star. Still in this train: SP the cluster by 5′ is the brightest (at 12th-magnitude) and S-most vertex of another long, thin triangle; the other two stars are 13.5-magnitude. The brightest star in the field is an 8th-magnitude star 17′ N of the cluster. There’s also a 9th-magnitude star 18′ N somewhat F the cluster.

I don’t recall why I stepped away from my scope; it might have been to check a chart, to put something on my observing table, or simply to stretch. In any event, I looked over toward the Scorpius/Ophiuchus/Sagittarius boundary region just in time to catch a spectacular meteor fireball streaking through that part of the sky, perfectly parallel with the mountain ridge to the south. Even though it lasted for several seconds, I didn’t have the brainpower to process what it was and shout an alert to my fellow observers before it disappeared. Having seen the great Leonid storm of 1998, I can still rank this as one of the best meteors I’ve ever seen.

But onward:

(H) NGC 6818 (Sgr): From a difficult object to a really easy one. The Little Gem Nebula was also a DSF Object of the Week (just this July 1st), and is another object I’d seen numerous times (usually in conjunction with observing Barnard’s Galaxy, NGC 6822, just to the S). Having returned Jerry’s NPB filter and still grumbling about my O-III, I’ve decided to use my UHC on this nebula instead. It doesn’t need much of a filter; it’s very bright and obvious, with a distinctive pale blue color. The nebula is 0.3′ and roundish; other, better observers have noted it to be slightly elongated, although the DSF thread notes that this might be more obvious in an O-III (which I’m not using). With the UHC, there’s not much change from the unfiltered view aside form an increase in contrast; there’s perhaps a bit of outer halo better visible in the filter than without, maybe a bit of irregularity in the overall surface brightness, and the F side might be a tiny bit brighter than the rest of the nebula with the filter. No annularity is visible in either view. The nebula is bounded to the NP, F, and SP sides by faint stars: 0.3′ NP is a 13.5-magnitude stars, and the other two stars are of 14th magnitude. SF the nebula is the brightest (9.5 magnitude) of a faint diamond of stars whose major axis is 2.5′ and whose minor axis is 1.75′; this 9.5-magnitude star is 9′ SF the nebula, and is the farthest of the four stars from the nebula. P the nebula by 15′ is the brightest star in the field, a 7.5-magnitude beacon. S of the nebula by 22′ is a 9th-magnitude star; also S of the nebula, by 16′, is a faint line of stars stretching roughly P-F; the star at the F end is the brightest of this group at 13th-magnitude; the other two are 13.5-magnitude, and all are spaced about 0.5′ apart.

Abell 65 (Sgr): Another DSF Object of the Week, this one from June 3rd. This one is quite low in the sky and pretty difficult; it’s not visible without the UHC filter. It’s a diffuse, almost featureless 3.0′ x 1.5′ glow, elongated NP-SF, with no central star visible. At each end of the major axis is a 13th-magnitude star. Two asterisms dominate the field: a miniature Big Dipper P the nebula and a capital ‘Y’ pattern F the nebula. The mini-Dipper consists of five stars (mostly 10th-magnitude), with the bowl of the Dipper closest to the nebula and pointing S; the Dipper’s handle arcs away N slightly P. A long trail of much fainter stars runs N-ward from the end of the Dipper’s handle, and this extends the length of the Dipper out to about 20′. P the star at the end of the handle by 6′ is a 9th-magnitude star. The ‘Y’ asterism is also made mostly of 10th/10.5-magnitude stars, although the star in the middle of the ‘Y’ is 11.5 magnitude. The ‘Y’ runs roughly parallel to the Dipper, with the stem pointing NP and the two forks facing S and SF. The brightest star in the field lies 17′ S slightly F the nebula, and is 9th magnitude; there’s an 8.5-magnitude star just outside the NF edge of the field (23′ from the nebula).

(H) NGC 6804 (Aql): This is quite an impressive planetary nebula, especially after several really faint objects. It actually looks a bit like a small spiral galaxy, in terms of brightness profile. It’s 1.0′ x 0.75′, elongated SP-NF, with well-defined edges. With the UHC filter, there looks to be a slightly-brighter inner rim inside the edge of the nebula’s smooth disk. There are several stars across the nebula’s face—at least three—and one of them is likely the central star, but it’s hard to tell and none looks perfectly centered. [A bright satellite cuts through the field here.] The brightest star amid the nebula is a 13-magnitude star on the NF edge of the disk. The nebula sits at the intersection of a ‘T’-shaped pattern (or the P-most edge of a triangle, if you prefer); 6′ SF is an 8.5-magnitude star, and this has another 8.5-mag star due N by 5′; this second star has a 10th-magnitude star to the NP side. 5′ NP the nebula is a 9th-magnitude star, while there’s a 9.5-magnitude star SP the nebula by 13′. The brightest star in the field is 7th magnitude and sits 11′ NF the nebula.

The mountainside gave us a short reprieve from the Moonrise, during which I caught my last two objects. Even with moonglow taking over the eastern sky, I’d managed an Abell planetary down low in the sky. Eventually, though, the Moon cleared the mountainside and the Milky Way began to lose its sharpness. With clear skies scheduled for the rest of the week, there was no regret in leaving after six hours, no worry that objects missed would have to wait until next year.

IV. The fourth night of the run found the Caveman-Mobile in the shop, and we’d already been given the bad news. Mrs. Caveman was rather despondent, as she had been looking forward to having the van paid off and being free of a car payment after November. It would all work to our benefit, of course, but at this point we didn’t yet know that; as it turned out, we were able to buy the van back with the understanding that it was considered salvage. This would give us an opportunity to get a new, smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicle for town driving while retaining the Caveman-Mobile for telescope hauling.

Without available wheels for the 9th, however, I hitched a ride with Dan B up to Eureka Ridge. Although Dan had plenty of room for another telescope in his truck, I took only my trusty old 11 x 80 Celestron binoculars, which I hadn’t used in years. The opportunity to work up and down the Milky Way with binos was one I’d been neglecting for a while; I’d planned to use them at Brothers in 2017, and got hooked instead on using the scopes I took with me. (I had used them at the Oregon Star Party in 2016, but only as a warm-up to a night with the 18″ scope.) Tonight, Dan had his 11″ SCT and Jerry (with Kathy and Dan R on board) would be bringing the 20″ TriDob, so I felt comfortable not bringing along a scope—a telescope also necessitates bringing along an eyepiece case, charts, a chair, a table, etc. etc. etc. Going light once in a while was a very good thing.

Tonight, it was a Very Good Thing. Although the Milky Way seemed to be “softer” and less-glittery than at Eagle’s Ridge (or even on other occasions at Eureka), the Milky Way’s dark dust clouds seemed to be a tangible entity of their own, one with more detail than I’d ever seen, even on superior nights. The Great Galactic Dark Horse in southern Ophiuchus wasn’t just something in pictures; it was actually something there in the sky in its entirety. Barnard’s ‘E’ in Aquila could be easily picked out as a small black spot near Tarazed (Gamma Aquilae), and Le Gentil 3 (near Deneb) was an inky, starless blot amid the dazzling Cygnus star-clouds. The Great Rift itself, stretching from Cygnus down into Ophiuchus, looked like the galaxy had been ripped asunder to reveal the blackest of voids beyond. Even the veins of darkness that led toward Antares from Ophiuchus, so striking in photographs, were faintly traceable on the sky and obvious in the binoculars. With the binoculars, too, dozens (if not more than a hundred) of other, smaller dark nebulae burst into view like hatching Cthulhu-spawn: The Snake Nebula, the Coalminer’s Lungs (in the Small Sagittarius Starcloud), those dark squiggles that wrap around the Scutum Starcloud… I lost track of them all, but swept back and forth throughout the Milky Way, oblivious to what the other observers were looking at. (I did eventually use the TriDob to explore the NGC 6723/Corona Australis region of light and dark nebulae, and for a peek at Minkowski’s Butterfly, a target on my own list.) It was as fulfilling a night as any with a full-fledged telescope, and one much-needed after spending the year tracking down smaller quarry.


MOON: 27 days (8% illumination); rose at 1:40 AM
SQM: 21.4
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; air still, considerable dew

Others present: JO, KO, Dan B, Dan R

V.  I had to have a break from observing at some point during the run, and others evidently felt the same way; we all stayed home the night of the 10th/11th. When we reconvened, it was at the Eagle’s Ridge spur road. I had both the Caveman-Mobile and considerable energy back, and Jerry would also have my Powertank back (having fixed the broken switch that had caused all of the problems).

I opened the night with Minkowski’s Butterfly, which we’d looked at during the last Eureka trip, but I also had an alarm set for the NGC 6558/6569 pair, to catch them at transit. I wasn’t going to miss them again. Many of my other targets ended up being open clusters, a class of object of which I’d only scratched the surface.


EAGLE’S RIDGE SPUR ROAD (43° 48′ 17.9496” N, 122° 42′ 45.6912” W)
SQM: 21.6
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 40s; air still, moderate dew

Others present: JO

Minkowski 2-9 (Oph): This is Minkowski’s Butterfly, a tiny but obviously bilobed planetary; in the 14mm ES, it’s a very thin streak with a brighter middle (but no visible central star). The nebula is elongated N-S and is no larger than 0.3′ x 0.125′. Even using the 6mm Radian (262x, 0.2˚ TFOV) and the UHC doesn’t do much more than make the middle of the nebula (where the central star would be) seem a little bit wider and enhance the overall contrast. As with Palomar 10, I’m actually a little bit surprised the nebula is this… easy in the 12.5″ scope; we’d observed it the night before in the 20″ TriDob and it didn’t look that much more impressive than it does here. To the S slightly P the nebula is a 10.5-magnitude star that’s the N-most vertex of a small, thin parallelogram: S very slightly F that vertex by 0.67′ is a 13.5-magnitude star; SP the first star by 1.75′ is a 12th-magnitude star; S very slightly P this last star by 0.25′ is a 14th-magnitude star. NP the nebula by 8′ is an 11th-magnitude star. N of the nebula by 3.5′ is a 13.5-magnitude star, and there’s another 13.5-magnitude star SP the nebula by 2′. 2.75′ NP the nebula is a 15th-magnitude star, and N very very slightly P the nebula by 15′ is a 10th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is 10th magnitude and is P the nebula by 15′.

(-, H) NGCs 6558, 6569 (Sgr): These two globulars have somehow eluded my taking notes on them (and thus counting them as “seen,” despite my having observed them multiple times before) since I began the two AL Herschel lists four years ago. NGC 6558 is pretty unconcentrated, its central region not that much brighter than its halo; the overall brightness contour of the cluster is pretty smooth, and it doesn’t quite reach granularity. The cluster is about 1.5′, although it might be slightly elongated N-S (or there may be some cluster stars on the verge of resolution on those ends that make the cluster appear elongated). There are certainly several faint field stars (or cluster members) to the S, just on or slightly beyond the edge of the halo. The cluster itself is inside a small trapezoid of 13th-magnitude stars: one due P, one NF, one N, and one S slightly P the cluster. Due N of the cluster by 14′ is an 8th-magnitude star; with that star on the edge of the field, another 8th-magnitude star can be seen 23′ due S of the cluster (this star is beyond the edge of the field when the cluster is centered). 4′ NP the cluster is a pair of 11th-magnitude stars separated by 1′ and oriented NF-SP each other. NGC 6569 is just outside the edge of the 42˚ field with 6558 on the opposite (F) edge (so about 43′ from 6558). It’s considerably brighter, slightly larger, but only slightly more concentrated than 6558. As with its neighbor to the P side, it’s stubbornly unresolved, although it seems closer to being resolved than does 6558. The halo seems more “ragged” on the NF and slightly more extended toward the SF. One cluster star (could be a field star) lies F slightly S of center on the periphery. S and SF the cluster is a small triangle of brighter stars, including the brightest in the field (7.5 magnitude, S of the cluster by 8.5′); N slightly F that star by 4′ is a 10.5-magnitude star, and 5.25′ F very slightly N of the 7.5-magnitude star is an 11th-magnitude star. SF the cluster by 2.5′ is a 12th-magnitude star. SP the cluster by 1.5′ is a 12th-magnitude star, and further SP is an 8.5-magnitude star 17′ from the cluster.

(H) NGC 6568 (Sgr): This open cluster requires sitting on the ground to observe. It’s a pretty large cluster of about 60 stars, fairly detached from the Milky Way; there’s not much doubt that it’s a cohesive entity. The majority of the stars are in the 11th/12th-magnitude range, with some stars fainter but almost none brighter than that. The whole spans about 12′ x 8′, but the dominant feature of the cluster is an 8′ x 4′ ‘S’-shaped pattern at the N end of the cluster and oriented P-F. This ‘S’ is unmistakable once seen. The majority of the cluster’s faintest stars seem gathered along the middle of the ‘S’. There’s also a N-S running line of 12th/14th-magnitude stars on the P side of the cluster; this line is about 15′ long, and is separated from the cluster by an 18′ x 5′ strip of dark nebulosity that runs parallel to the line of stars. With the ‘S’ centered in the field, the brightest star in the field (6th-magnitude 14 Sgr) lies 21′ to the F slightly S edge of the field; this star is slightly yellowish and has a 12th-magnitude star P very very slightly N by 1.25′. N slightly F the ‘S’ by 20′ is an 8.5-magnitude star [at the moment, there’s also a very slowly moving satellite crossing the cluster from P to F]. Between the ‘S’ and 14 Sgr, 8.5′ from the center of the ‘S’ is a small knot of stars just on the edge of visibility with an unresolved appearance; this knot is 0.67′ in diameter and has several faint stars resolved in it.

(H) NGC 6604 (SerCau): Asterism? Cluster? It looks like the former, although it’s been proven to be the latter. This cluster is a grouping of 5 or 6 main stars no more than about 2.75′ across. The Milky Way is quite thick in this area, and the cluster isn’t that well detached from it. Also detracting from the cluster’s identity is the fact that the member stars are of quite mixed magnitudes: the brightest of the cluster’s stars is 8th magnitude; this star is flanked to the N very slightly F (by 0.67′) and the P very slightly N (by 1′) by two 9.5-magnitude stars; the star to the P very slightly N of the lucida has an 11th-magnitude star to the NP, and this 11th-magnitude star itself has a 12th-magnitude star to the NP by 0.25′. These five make up the main body of the cluster, although there is some unresolved starglow among the five that might be part of the cluster or could be general Milky Way glow. The cluster is bounded by two 8.5-magnitude stars: one to the NF by 12′ and one to the S v slightly P by 17′. 5′ S of the cluster and stretching 5′ to the SP is an arc of dark nebulosity that is quite opaque but best observed in averted vision. NP the cluster by 12′ is an interesting double star; the 9.5-magnitude primary is 9″ NP the 12th-magnitude secondary.

(H) NGC 6633 (Oph): Certainly one of the brighter open clusters I’m liable to run across doing the Herschel lists. This one counts perhaps a hundred stars in a 35′ circle; most of these are 7th/8th magnitude, although a number of scattered fainter stars in the field may also belong to the cluster. The main body of the cluster forms an Eiffel Tower-shape that stretches from the SP to the NF of the field. This Eiffel pattern has an “arm” of ten stars that arcs off from near the middle of the F side to the NF and then to the SF of the main pattern. A third portion of the cluster lies P very slightly S of the Eiffel pattern, containing 13 stars of which the brightest is 8th magnitude and lies in the NF of that separate clump; a line of five fainter stars trails from this clump toward the SP, giving this part of the cluster the appearance of a lacrosse stick (with the fainter stars being the handle and the brighter clump being the netting). In the central and northern parts of the cluster, along the Eiffel Tower, are two blobs of dark nebulosity: an 8′ x 4.5′ chunk toward the cluster’s middle, elongated SP-NF, and a larger, bowling pin shaped one (15′ x 5.75′ at widest, e.g. on the NF end) that runs parallel to the first. The larger of these dust blobs is not quite as opaque as the smaller. There’s also a separate chunk of dark nebulosity between the P edge of the Eiffel Tower and the “lacrosse stick”, most visible near the handle of the stick. There’s a 6th-magnitude star on the SF edge of the field that’s the brightest in the field, and there’s a double star on the F edge whose primary is NP the secondary by 20″ [magnitudes??].

(H) NGC 6645 (Sgr): This is a fantastic and underappreciated cluster! It’s immediately identifiable as a cluster, being pretty well detached from the surrounding Milky Way. The cluster is a large spray of stars, perhaps more than a hundred, most of them in the 11th/13th-magnitude range. The most obvious feature of the cluster is a circular void at its center, 3.5′ across, and ringed with a good number of 11th– and 12th-magnitude stars; the void itself is inside a “Hercules keystone”-type trapezoid of which all four corners are multiple stars: the star to the S is a triple; to the SF is a double; to the NF is a very unequal double (of a 13th-magnitude star and a threshold star); and to the NP is a dim double. There are also doubles on the P and F edges of the central void. The cluster branches N, SP, and NF from the void. The NF branch is dominated by a trio of brighter stars, but otherwise this branch is the weakest of the three; it terminates near an 8.5-magnitude star. The SP branch contains most of the stars and much of the unresolved background glow; it’s also the longest arm at 10′. The N branch is 5.5′ long. The whole cluster looks like a Greek letter lambda (λ), with the top of the letter being the SP arm, or perhaps a distorted mantel clock. Off to the NF end there is a large trapezoid of 7th/8th/10th-magnitude stars. N very slightly F the cluster by 19′ from the central void is the brightest star in the field, which is 7th magnitude and yellowish-white. Just on the F edge of the field (21′ from the cluster) is a 9th-magnitude star.

NGC 6649 (Sct): temps have definitely gotten cooler within the last half hour. This is a small compact cluster which I mistakenly thought to be a Herschel and had apparently thrown into my observing list under that mistaken assumption. Not a problem, though, as this is a very interesting little cluster. It’s a small (6′ x 5.5′) pentagon with 5′ extensions that stretch to the SF and SP; it looks for all the world like a starry, miniature state of Alaska. The cluster contains perhaps fifty stars and much unresolved starglow within the pentagon, and appears to be encircled by dark nebulosity given that there’s very little of note in the field beyond the cluster’s periphery (and we’re in Scutum, so the field should be very rich). The brightest star in the cluster is an 11th-magnitude star on the SP corner of the pentagon; the second-brightest is 12th magnitude and on the SF corner. Beyond the cluster, there’s an interesting double 17′ SP the cluster lucida; the 12th-magnitude secondary is 20″ P the 9th-magnitude primary. 20′ SF the cluster lucida is an 8.5-magnitude star.

VI. We were back at Eureka again the next night. Although the skies there are rarely as crisp as they are at Eagle’s Ridge (in part due to the latter’s higher elevation), the dew forecast at Eureka and the shorter drive had greater appeal than the more-difficult drive to Eagle’s Ridge. Having done the latter drive several times recently, it was no loss to avoid it this time.

And yet the skies were a bit murkier than the predicted forecast. It was hard not to second-guess the decision, although of the four of us present I think we all were leaning toward Eureka anyway. Amid the sky-haze, we did get a fine display of anti-crepuscular rays to start the evening off, and the conditions eventually ended up being pretty decent.



Anti-crepuscular rays, July 12th 2018. These rays are largely parallel but appear (due to linear perspective) to converge at the anti-solar point (the point opposite the Sun in the sky). These are rarer than crepuscular rays.



And so we “went to work.”


SQM: 21.3
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; air still, considerable dew

Others present: JO, Dan B, Jeff P

NGC 6256 (Sco): It’s probably a bit too early in the evening for this one, as the sky isn’t 100% dark yet, but here we are. Another one of those unaccountably-missed NGC globulars I’ve been trying to catch up on. This one definitely doesn’t fit into JO’s “Big, Bold, Bright, & Beautiful” category—it’s quite difficult for an NGC globular, maybe among the top ten most difficult NGC globulars. It’s quite an odd one, too, elongated P-F, 1.75′ x 1.5′. There’s not even a hint of granularity possible, nor any particular central concentration to note (forget about getting a Shapley-Sawyer class!); it’s just an evenly-illuminated glow, somewhat akin to a Palomar cluster. The cluster is in the middle of the long side of a triangle of 12th-magnitude stars: one each 3.75′ from the N and S of the cluster, and one 4′ F very slightly N. P the cluster is a group of 12th/13th-magnitude stars, consisting of a small right triangle and a 7′-long N-S line of four stars. The hypotenuse of the right triangle is 3′ long and the triangle precedes the line of stars by 2.5-3′; triangle and line together look a bit like a miniature Coathanger. The right-angle vertex of the triangle is the farthest of the group from the cluster (10′ P slightly N). The brightest star in the field is 9th magnitude and is 19′ S of the cluster.

(H) NGC 6451 (Sco): The oddly-named Tom Thumb Cluster is pretty impressive, actually. Its basic pattern is diamond-shaped, with a 6′ major axis extending NP-SF and a 5′ minor axis running S very slightly P-N very slightly F. The majority of the stars and unresolved cluster glow run along the minor axis, especially from the star at the end of the minor axis S very slightly F to an 11th-magnitude star; the fainter stars and cluster glow run in a zig-zag between those two stars. The star at the SF end of the major axis is a very close double [details??]. NF the main body of the cluster is a group of four in a very tight triangle with an extra star SF the star at the S vertex. This is a very attractive cluster, quite well detached from the Milky Way, quite rich, with a magnitude range from 11th magnitude and fainter, down past the limit of resolution. The region around the cluster is somewhat barren of faint stars or Milky Way glow, with a few 11th-magnitude stars around but little else (certainly not much that’s fainter). 11′ S slightly P the cluster is either another cluster or a detached clump of Milky Way; it’s 2.5′ diameter and has a scatter of 13th/14th-magnitude stars over some unresolved background glow. A couple of more-obvious stars are on the P side of this clump and a few on the NF edge. SP this clump is a 7′-long line of seven stars ranging from 11th-14th magnitude and running NP-SF. A prominent double star lies just on the S edge of the field; this has a 7th-magnitude primary and a slightly-ornage 8.5-magnitude secondary S of the primary by 12″. This double star is the brightest star in the field.

(H) NGC 6624 (Sgr): Another globular that I missed during my survey, and a Herschel to boot. This cluster, unlike NGC 6256, is quite bright, reasonably large, and fairly concentrated—it’s not unlike a smaller, fainter M80. The cluster is 2.25′ diameter and perhaps a CC of 4. It has a small but bright core region, 0.5′ across, that isn’t resolved; and the halo is nicely granular. NGC 6624 is in the middle of a triangle of 11th/11.5-magnitude stars, the closest of which is due P the center of the cluster by 1.75′ (this star may actually be double). Another 11th-magnitude star is SP the cluster by 3.25′, and there’s an 11.5-magnitude star 2′ F very slightly S of the cluster. There are also two chains of stars that lead NF from the cluster: the first includes the cluster itself and has two 10th-magnitude stars in it (one 4.5′ NF the cluster and the other 3.25′ NF that star); 1.25′ N very slightly P the first of the 10th-magnitude stars is a 12.5-magnitude star. The other chain begins 7′ N slightly P the cluster, with a 10th-magnitude star; 2′ N very slightly F that star is an 11th-magnitude star, and N very slightly F that star by 5′ is another 11th-magnitude star which is 13′ N of the globular; this second 11th-magnitude star is also the brightest in a triple (or small group), with a 12.5-magnitude companion 0.3′ P very slightly N and a 13.5-magnitude star 0.67′ SF the 11th-magnitude star.

(H) NGC 6894 (Cyg): Having frittered away a long stretch unsuccessfully looking for the Sharpless nebulae in Sagitta (the TriAtlas has them in the wrong positions!), I’ve found this lovely and underappreciated planetary nebula quite easily. It’s very obvious even without a filter, a smoothish glow with hints of annularity but no central star visible. The N edge seems a bit brighter than the rest. The nebula is 0.75′ in diameter with the O-III filter in, and the filter really makes it pop, heightening the sense of annularity and making the edge of the nebula seem distinctly brighter than the interior. The nebula sits in the middle of a ‘Y’-shaped pattern of brightish stars with one due N, one to the SF, and a small triangle to the P somewhat S: the star to the N is 9th magnitude and 7.5′ from the nebula, the star to the SF is 10th magnitude and 6′ from the nebula. The small triangle that makes up the other point in the ‘Y’ consists of a 9.5-magnitude star 7.5′ SP the nebula, which is the closest to the nebula and the F-most vertex of the triangle); the other two vertices are a 9.5-magnitude star 2′ N slightly P the first 9.5-mag star and a 12th-magnitude star 3′ due P the first 9.5-magnitude star. There’s also a wedge- or ‘V’-pattern of five stars N slightly P the nebula; the brightest star in this smaller pattern is at the joint of the ‘V’ and is 14′ N slightly P the nebula. The ‘V’ points toward the P edge of the field, and its sides (angled SP-NF and N-S) are both 2.5′ long. Two 8th-magnitude stars are tied for brightest in field: one SF the nebula by 21′ and the other P very slightly N of the nebula by 17′.

VII. Friday night (the 13th, naturally) found us doing an outreach gig just outside Springfield, Eugene’s “twin city.” This took place at the Dorris Ranch, a historical site and nature park that’s on the National Register of Historic Places. We had done public star parties there the last several years; even Mrs. Caveman had been involved with these in the past, but she was too worn out from work to be goaded into it this year.

The star party went well—there were perhaps forty attendees and a half-dozen or so telescopes. Being just outside of the city, the skies weren’t very good, but they were enough to show the planets and a few of the showpiece summer objects (M13, M11, M57, M27, etc.). Driving home, though, I ended up on the wrong end of a police car’s flashers.

“Evening, sir. Have you been drinking?”

“No, officer–just doing astronomy.”

“Astronomy. That’s a new one.”

I thought I was toast. As it turned out, astronomy must’ve been a decent-enough excuse, as he handed me back my license and insurance card and drove off without waiting for me to go (I assume “late Friday night” + “not knowing where I was going” must’ve seemed a bit suspicious to start, but not very serious.)

I’d been waiting for Saturday night for a while—we had been planning an excursion to Champion Saddle, the club’s third, darkest, and most-distant observing site, for a few weeks. Mrs. Caveman and I had stumbled across the site early in our tenure in Oregon, but that was by day; I’d never been there at night. I planned and packed for this excursion as if it was the Oregon Star Party itself, despite it being a one-night session.

The first mistake I made was being too amped up for it. As with OSP and Brothers, I was building up an expectation that would somehow have to be a letdown; without enough sleep (mistake number two), the adrenaline crash of driving to such a dark site would mean getting tired really fast. And this is, of course, what happened.

Mistake number three was bringing the 18″ scope and not the workhorse Bob the Dob. The clunkier scope, much harder to wheel around and view through, proved to be too much for a tired caveman to work with, especially given the ridiculously-faint targets that I’d filled my evening’s observing list with (mistake number four). Many of the objects were flat galaxies, Arp peculiar galaxies, Palomar and Terzan globulars, and the like—a list designed for large apertures and dark skies.

We arrived just at sunset, having stopped in the nearest small town (Dorena) to visit a friend of Jerry’s who was offering his yard up as a potential observing site. The mosquitoes were a problem from the moment we got out of our vehicles; the sound of buzzing—sometimes in harmonic fifths—is pervasive throughout the one recording I made. So DEET it was.



Panorama from Champion Saddle, complete with astronomers taking panoramas of Champion Saddle.

The horizons at Champion Saddle were better than at Eagle’s Ridge, although the east and north/northwest were compromised by mountains. Yet as the sky began to darken, it was clear that this was an epic observing site, and should have been an epic observing session. The Milky Way became not just visible quickly, but detailed; stars almost seemed to turn on rather than gradually appear.

But I was tired already. Coming at the end of a long stretch of observing nights, and requiring a lot more concentration on the long, twisty drive out, the experience of preparing and getting here was already a bit too much. By midnight, I had struck out on almost all of the targets on my list that were post-meridian, and I was starting to lose parts of the Milky Way to the horizon as well. (I think the exception was UGC 9780, a flat galaxy in Boötes, although I didn’t take notes on it.) It was probably a good thing I was set up at the far end of the group, as I was grumbling and swearing enough to harsh the entire group’s mellow. (Shades of the run’s first night, at Eureka, with the 18″ scope.)


CHAMPION SADDLE (N43° 34.714, W 122° 38.026)
MOON: 2 days (4% illumination); set at 10:23 PM
SQM: 21.7
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 60s; air still, no dew; vicious mosquitoes

Others present: JO, RA, AG

Observation : 18″ f/5.5 Dobsonian, 14mm ES 82˚ and 10mm Delos eyepieces (178x, 0.5˚ TFOV; 250x, 0.3˚ TFOV)

I stopped what I was doing, settling onto my chair and taking a few minutes to stare at the Milky Way. Although the dark nebulae weren’t as spectacular as on that night at Eureka—the Dark Horse was still visible, but not quite as clearly here—the glimmer of countless stars along the Milky Way itself was simply breathtaking. It didn’t look real. Star clouds could’ve been real clouds, as tangible and close as they looked. I felt a shiver of awe. Not even OSP or Brothers had skies like this. With the exception of a light dome to the north-northwest, the sky looked the way it might’ve looked when my Australopithicene brethren stalked the East African Rift Valley. The visible planets shone with a cold, unflinching light, clearly foreground objects set against the stage tapestry of the galaxy’s spiral arms.

This momentary reset helped me to settle down, and I searched through my list for an object near the meridian on which to focus my energies. The one I chose had been a bête noire for years, and it took several checks against the entry in Alvin Huey’s superb globular-cluster guide to verify the field. And there it was:

Arp 2 (Sgr): Having failed to find any of the other difficult targets I’ve set myself for this occasion, I’ve managed to eke out a win here, in my four-millionth attempt at this nasty little globular. It’s way down to the limit of the 18″ scope’s altitude motion and exceedingly faint, but most definitely there (if mostly an averted-vision object). Not much more than a brutal 2′ haze that’s hard to hold steady. In the 10mm Delos, the cluster is harder to pick out but easier to hold once found. No concentration is discernable. There are several faint field stars near the cluster’s periphery and the field itself is crowded with stars of a wide range of magnitudes. On the S side of the field, stretching from the P side of the field to S of the cluster to the SF side of the field is a large arc of stars; the arc begins at a 10th-magnitude star 13′ P the cluster and sweeps S-ward, through many 11th/12th-magnitude stars, including a small “sub-arc” of five stars 12′ S very slightly F the cluster, the middle star of which has another of equal magnitude to the N slightly P by 0.75′. Another arc lies NP and N of the cluster; this one only has three stars, but it frames the cluster, and at its NF end is a small isosceles triangle of four 13th-magnitude stars (the extra star is in the middle of the long edge of the triangle, which is the N edge. [size of triangle?]

Although buoyed by conquering this particular demon, I stayed away from most of the rest of the fool’s list I’d made; instead, I turned the 18″ scope toward as many of the eye-candy objects of summer that I could. Each was stunning, no matter how many times I’d seen them. M8, M20, M13, M15, M16, M17, the Veil Nebula, M10/12/14/9 in Ophiuchus, even NGC 7479 in Pegasus… the dark skies and larger aperture made them each seem like new objects I’d never seen. M20 (the Trifid Nebula) in particular took on an added measure of brilliance beyond any of my previous observations, the dark lanes three-dimensional in front of the rose-flower shape of the hydrogen emission nebulosity, the multiple star at the nebula’s center shining brightly through and the reflection nebulosity to the north a cloud of easy cirrus.

Jerry packed up first, as he had a (highly-publicized!) solar star party to conduct at Alton Baker Park early Sunday afternoon—and just that quickly, the night at Champion Saddle was over. Robert (and Alan, who had hitched a ride with Robert) followed shortly after Jerry. Despite the cosmic splendor, I had no hesitation in packing up as well; Robert helped me wrangle the big scope’s heavy mirror/rocker box combo into the back of the Caveman-Mobile before leaving, and I stowed the rest of the gear around it with a semblance of order.

The drive home was the most uncomfortable 100 minutes I’ve ever spent at the wheel. I went through a can of Dr. Pepper in about ten minutes, trying to get enough caffeine in my system to not fall asleep on the treacherous and winding highway around Dorena Lake, with the sky brightening quickly and traffic increasing with the daylight. Much of the drive occurred somewhere on the knife-edge between sleep and primal survival instinct, threatening the former with every passing mile. But when I needed stroke of good luck, I got one—Isolda, my GPS, led me into an out-of-the-way neighborhood somewhere beyond Lowell, necessitating a lot of backtracking to get back to the highway; we had set the GPS preferences to “include backroads” during our geology expedition weeks earlier, and I hadn’t changed it back. The upshot was that I spent quite a lot of time cursing at the GPS, the roads, and traffic in general, and the adrenaline from this self-inflicted burst of road rage kept me just alert enough to finish the drive and swear I’d never do it again without sleeping for several hours beforehand.

VIII. I didn’t want to end the July run on a down note. Sunday was out; I was asleep Sunday night before 10:00, and had refused to entertain the notion of observing that night no matter what the forecast (or the cajoling of fellow observers) held. I promised Mrs. Caveman that I would be done with the July run Tuesday night, regardless, and the Moon would be an intrusive presence by that point anyway. So when Dan B suggested a trip to Eureka Monday night, I planned for it to be July’s last hurrah.

Moonset was scheduled for 11:35; I arrived at Eureka at about 8:30. Dan followed shortly, his daughter and her friend in tow. Although I still had my summer Herschel list to work from, I spent time with a number of other objects as well—including a couple of open clusters that I mistakenly had marked as Herschels on the laminated pages of Sky Atlas 2000.0. With a trip to Hawaii scheduled for two days later, Dan wasn’t planning to stay as long as usual, and having spent nine nights out of eleven doing astronomy, I understood perfectly well.


MOON: 4 days (18% illuminated); set at 11:35 PM
TRANSPARENCY: 6 (predicted 8); MW bulges into M9/Dark Horse region and toward Beta Lyrae
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 60s; quite breezy, some dew

Others present: Dan B, Ruby, Jasmine

NGC 6337 (Sco): The Cheerio Nebula. Quite difficult at the moment, as it’s down really low in the sky—I’m sitting on the ground—and the transparency down here sucks. I found the nebula without a filter, catching it with averted vision as it swept into the field. Even with a UHC filter, the annulus is still difficult, as the center isn’t dark enough, although averted-plus-filter does reveal traces of annularity (especially along the N edge). The nebula is about 45″ across. I know that there are multiple stars across the center but they’re unresolved without the filter and invisible with it. There is a 12th-mag star visible 0.5′ from the outside S edge of the nebula’s halo; the nebula is inside a small diamond of stars that includes this star, a 10th-magnitude star SF the nebula by 3.5′, a 12th-magnitude star F slightly N of the nebula by 2′, and another 12th-magnitude star NP the nebula by 2.5′. P slightly N of the nebula by 9′ is the S-most of a pair of 10th-magnitude stars, with the second NP the first by 1.5′. S and P the nebula is an arc of three 10th-magnitude stars: one to the P slightly S of the nebula by 5′, one due SP the nebula by 6.5′, and one due S of the nebula by 9′. The field’s brightest star is the primary of a double/pair that is N of the nebula by 18′; it has a 10th-magnitude companion due S by 30″.

(H) NGC 6755 (Aql): This is quite a fascinating open cluster, full of smaller clumps of stars. It’s reasonably-well detached from the Aquila Milky Way, and quite rich; there are perhaps eighty stars here, plus a fair amount of unresolved starglow present. The brighter cluster stars are in the 10.5-magnitude range and range down past the edge of resolution. The cluster proper is bounded inside a triangle of 10th- and 10.5-mgnitude stars with a 10th-mag star to the P, a 10.5-magnitude star to the N and a 10.5-magnitude star F; the long side of the triangle runs P-F. Along the F side of the triangle is a line of brighter stars that connet the F and N vertices, but the other two sides of the triangle are less defined. The cluster consists of three individual clumps, each of which could have its own catalogue number. The N-most clump (#1) stretches 6.5′ x 2.5′ SP-NF and has an 11th-magnitude star on its N edge; this clump contains two smaller clumps: a 1′ diameter “sub-clump” (1A) on the SP end and a larger sub-clump (1B) on the NF end of the main clump, with a gap of about 1.25′ between the two sub-clumps. The smaller (SP) sub-clump has a 12th-magnitude star on the N slightly F end that is the N vertex of a very small triangle around which this sub-clump is visible; this sub-clump contains six stars and some unresolved glow. The larger (1B) sub-clump is pentagonal, with its major axis running SP-NF. South of clump #1 is another two-part clump, with one sub-clump to the P (2A) and one to the F (2B… or not). 2A is the brighter portion here and is trapezoidal in shape, with a 10.5-magnitude star at the P tip of the trapezoid; this sub-clump is 2.25′ in diameter and has seven visible and a host of unresolved stars. There’s a gap between 2A and 2B to the F very slightly N. 2B is also trapezoidal, about 2.25′ x 1.75′. The SP vertex of the trapezoid is actually a very small group in itself, while the NF vertex is a double star. Most of the other stars in 2B are in the 13th/14th-magnitude range. 4′ due S of the space between 2A and 2B is main clump 3, the smallest of the three clumps in NGC 6755 at 0.67′ diameter. This clump has a small square of 14th-magnitude stars superimposed over the top of it, and not much of this clump is resolvable. This clump is just outside of the cluster’s “bordering triangle,” to the S, while both parts of clump #2 are just on the S side of the triangle.

(H) NGC 6756 (Aql): This cluster is only 32′ NF NGC 6755, and is also a small unresolved clump of stars. My first thought was that I’d actually swept over NGC 6760, the brightest of Aquila’s three globular clusters, as NGC 6756 presents a globular-like face, with a brighter knot of stars on the NF side seeming rather like a core, and it’s highly detached from the Milky Way background. Averted vision brings out many background stars amid the starry haze. There are perhaps 30 stars tightly packed into this 3.5′ diameter cluster, representing a fairly-broad range of magnitudes. Aside from the knot on the NF side, the cluster’s most-prominent feature is an arc that runs S of the knot from SP-SF; the brightest star in this arc is 13th magnitude and is SF the knot by 1.75′. SF the cluster by 11′ is a 9th-magnitude star. NP the cluster by 14′ is the brighter of a pair, the brighter being 11th magnitude and the fainter (P the brighter by 0.5′) being 12th-magnitude; this pair forms the joint of a ‘V’-shaped asterism that branches N slightly F and NF from the brighter of the pair. 4′ N of the cluster is another double/pair, the primary of which is 12.5 magnitude and the secondary (due P by 0.3′)of which is 14th magnitude. NF the cluster is a large lowercase ‘y’ pattern of twelve stars, the majority of which are 10th/11th magnitude; the ‘y’ stretches from SF-NP in the field and also to due N, and with the SF-NP branch 15′ long and the N branch 6′ long. An 8.5-magnitude star—the brightest in the field—lies SP the cluster by 15′.

NGC 6738 (Aql): This is a large cluster amid what looks to be a tangle of dark nebulae, the most prominent of which runs parallel to the F side of the triangle. The cluster is pretty obviously an entity unto itself, with some sixty stars ranging from 7.5 magnitude down to magnitude 13. A 7.5-magnitude star on the SF end of the cluster is the lucida. The F side of the triangle is defined by eight stars in a 30′ line up to an 8th-magnitude star that is the N vertex of the triangle; P slightly S of that star by 17′ is a pair that forms the third vertex, with the pair consisting of a 10th-magnitude star and a 12.5-magnitude star that’s 0.67′ SF the brighter. Along the NP edge of the triangle is a pattern that consist of a small isosceles triangle with fainter stars bounding it to the P and SF. A jagged line of nine stars runs across the cluster’s middle from P to F; the P-most trio are outside the edge of the triangle, the remaining six inside (patterned 3-2-3-1, with the ‘1’ being a 9th-magnitude star on the F edge of the cluster).

NGC 6709 (Aql): Another triangular cluster; another one I mistakenly thought was a Herschel object. This one is smaller than 6738: 11′ on the S and P sides and 13′ on the F side (which runs NP-SF). It’s also quite obviously a singular entity, with 75 stars ranging from 9th magnitude to 14th. One 9th-magnitude star is the SP vertex of the triangle; another is paired with a 9.5-magnitude star (the brighter star 0.67′ SP the fainter. This pair is part of the SF vertex of the triangle, which is a triangle unto itself: the star on the SF tip of this tiny triangle is also a double/pair of 10th– and 12th-magnitude stars, with the fainter SP the brighter by 0.25′; the 9th/9.5-magnitude pair is due P this double by 1.25′. (This smaller triangle is the cluster’s most-obvious feature.) The NP vertex of the “main” triangle is 10.5 magnitude. Along the F edge of the triangle, 4′ from the 9th/9.5 magnitude pair, is a knot of stars running SP-NF; this is 5.5′ x 2.75′ and contains the largest concentration of unresolved stars in NGC 6709. On the SP and due P of the cluster are small knots of dark nebulosity that are pretty obvious. The cluster also has several chains of stars, including one that runs parallel with the P side of the triangle, on the inside of the triangle. There’s also a small knot of stars 16′ SF the cluster; this contains 8 stars.

(H) NGC 6824 (Cyg): Not the brightest of galaxies, but there aren’t that many in Cygnus anyway. This one is small but pretty obvious, 1.0′ x 0.67′ and elongated SP-NF. It has a diffuse halo with a slightly-brighter small core and a stellar nucleus that requires averted vision for a decent view. A 14th-magnitude star lies just outide the halo to the S, about 0.67′ S of the galaxy’s nucleus. There’s a bright double/pair 4′ due N, 9th– and 12th-magnitude companions separated by 15″. NF the galaxy by 2′ is a 14.5-magnitude star with a 12.5-magnitude star to the NP; these form an obvious triangle with the star just S of the galaxy’s halo. SP the galaxy by 13′ is a 9th-magnitude star, with another 9th-magnitude star S very slightly P by 3.5′. S slightly F the galaxy by 19′ is the brighter of a pair consisting of 7.5- and 10th-magnitude stars, with the fainter 0.67′ S very slightly P the brighter. F very very slightly N of the galaxy by 18′ is an 8th-magnitude star which is the NP vertex of a triangle; SF that star by 7.5′ is a 9th-magnitude star, and S of the 8th-magnitude star by 12′ is a 9th-magnitude star.

(H) NGC 6802 (Vul): A superb cluster that lies off the F end of the famous Coathanger. The bluish 6th-magnitude star at the F end of the Coathanger is in fact visible just on the P end of the field, 20′ P the cluster. NGC 6802 is one of the nicer NGC clusters, a well-detached and –defined 6′ x 2.5′ spray of no less than a hundred stars elongated N-S. The stars in NGC 6802 are mostly faint or just beyond resolution; the visible stars are mostly 13th-15th magnitude and the brighter ones seem to have congregated toward the N end of the cluster. The cluster is bounded to the NP and NF by double stars/pairs; 7′ NP the cluster’s NP corner is a 9.5-magnitude star with a 10th-magnitude star 1′ P very slightly S of it, and 6′ NF the NF corner of the cluster is a 10.5- and 11.5-magnitude duo with the fainter P very slightly S of the brighter by 0.67′. Due N of the cluster by 5′ is a 12th-magnitude star. S very very slightly F by 10′ from the cluster is a 10th-magnitude star. SF the cluster by 14′ is the brighter of a 9.5/12.5-magnitude pair with the fainter NF the brighter by 0.67′; there’s a 14th-magnitude star N very slightly P the 9.5-magnitude star by the same distance.

With NGC 6802, I closed the book on observing in July (at least as of this writing; with the Moon Full on the 27th, it’s unlikely I’d be coaxed back out until August). I did do two more nights of outreach during the month, both with my newly-refurbished 13.1″ Coulter Odyssey. My adjustable observing chair is in dire need of repair, and the Coulter still needs some work to make it as functional as it once was, so these projects will likely take up the rest of my astronomy time for the month (along with logging all of the July observations).

It had been an epic month of observing, easily the equivalent of a week at one of the major star parties where nothing but astronomy seemed possible. All but one or two nights this month had been clear (at least so far; the forecast shows nothing but sun and heat through early August). I hadn’t observed the huge numbers of objects that I’d done some past months, but the variety and quality of the observations made up for it, and some of the objects I’d seen had been on my list for years. And if August is as good as July, I’ll be out observing wherever the Caveman-Mobile takes me.








Farther From Earth, More of Heaven

I. Despite having one observation each in January, February, and March—better winter observing than I’d had in any year since we left southern Illinois—I was still well behind my usual observing schedule by New Moon week in June. The two sessions in May helped, but were still nowhere near enough for me to ensure that I’d finish the Herschel 400 and the Herschel II this year… or even next.

It was with a bit of both desperation and resignation that I approached the Clear Sky Chart forecast for the week before New Moon: the skies looked good, but I wasn’t as eager to go out as I usually was. Although there shouldn’t have been any time-crunch regarding the finishing of the two programs, I had still been hoping to have them finished sooner than they were going to be. April had indeed been the cruelest month, in a way; by not being able to work through Leo, Leo Minor, and the rest of the early-spring galaxies due to extended clouds and rain, I was SOL as far as getting the Herschel lists finished within the next twelve months. My plan had been for galaxies in April, May, and June, then Milky Way objects July-September, finishing the few fall galaxies I’d missed and then ending the year with the Winter Milky Way (even if that meant doing the fall and winter stuff in September as well due to the usually-lousy November-February weather here in the valley).

Still, I was feeling stubborn and persistent as I made the drive up to Eagle’s Ridge for the first of the clear Moonless June nights. Temperatures were still cool—cool enough that dew was a problem almost immediately for Jerry, Wade, and I. My secondary dew heater gave up the battle about a third of the way through the evening, and my PowerTank ran out of steam to power either the Kendrick heater I use to keep my eyepieces clear or the portable hair dryer I’ve borrowed from Randy to clear those optics that couldn’t be kept clear of dew. My hour-long hiatus between NGC 4414 and NGC 4449 was spent using Jerry’s dryer to clear my secondary and eyepiece; after NGC 4414, I could tell that something was amiss in secondary-land, and had to mooch power from Jerry’s spare battery in order to close out the night’s observing.



EAGLE’S RIDGE SPUR ROAD (43° 48′ 17.9496” N, 122° 42′ 45.6912” W)
MOON: 27 days; 6% illuminated, rose at 4:53 AM
SQM: 21.6
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid 40s, no breeze, excessive dew that hampered observations

Others present: JO, WR

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

NGC 4336 (Com): This is not among the easiest of Herschels, although it’s been made more difficult by the amount of eyepiece fogging I’ve gotten and the Coma region being well past the meridian and heading slowly toward the Eugene light dome. The galaxy is pretty diffuse and fairly small; it’s not particularly bright, either, but it is pretty obvious in the field. It’s elongated NP-SF, about 1.25′ x 1.0′. The halo is reasonably-well defined and cuts off pretty cleanly, rather than fading into the background. There’s no visible nucleus, and the core is only somewhat brighter than the halo itself. The brightest star in the field is 8th-magnitude, and is NP the galaxy by 15′. To the P and N (P by 2.25′ and N by 1.5′) of the galaxy are threshold stars. S slightly F by 3.75′ is a 10th-magnitude star; also S slightly F by 15′ is a 12.5-mag star, and there’s another 10th-mag star SF by 14′. SP by 8.5′ is an 11th-mag star, and S slightly P by 18′ is a 9.5-mag star.

NGC 4245 (Com): I could easily get lost among all the galaxies in this part of Coma; but the TriAtlas gave me a solid identification here. This is a decent-sized and pretty prominent galaxy (like many up here), although I’ve passed up some that were even more so. This one is elongated NP-SF (it seems that this is by far the most-common orientation among the Herschel galaxies I’ve looked at so far!), and 1.75′ x 1.25′. The halo is diffuse, poorly-defined, maybe even mottled a bit (??); the core is a bit brighter and smallish, and a stellar nucleus is visible. The galaxy is at the N end of a long arc ,with five stars P and one F the galaxy; the stars P the galaxy stretch from SP to P slightly N of galaxy. The closest to the galaxy is a 12th-magnitude star P very slightly N, 3′ from the galaxy; P slightly S that star by 2′ is a 14th-mag star; 2.5′ SP the 14th-mag star is an 11th-mag star; SP the 11th-mag star by 4.5′ is a 10th-mag star; an 11th-mag star is SP that 10th-mag star by 2.5′. F the galaxy by 8′ is a 12th-mag star. N of the galaxy by 14′ is the long edge of a small triangle of 11.5/12.5/14-mag stars.

NGC 4314 (Com): This is an interesting, long and thin (obviously) spiral galaxy that’s quite bright and has a number of very faint stars in its immediate vicinity. It’s elongated NP-SF, 2.75′ x 1.0′. The oval-shaped halo is very tenuous and dwindles into nothingness in the background. The core is pretty bright, and there’s a long streak of interior brightness—perhaps a bar? The nucleus is bright, obvious, and not-quite-stellar. Just outside the halo on the NP end is a 14th-magnitude star. A 15th-mag star is NP galaxy by 4′. NF the core of galaxy on the edge of the halo is a 15th-mag star. Just SF the core is a threshold star embedded in the halo, along the central lengthening/bar. 9′ NF galaxy is a 12th-mag star, and 15′ NF galaxy is an 11th-mag star, which is the S end of an arc of four that leads slightly P and then N toward the edge of field; the 14th-mag star at the N end of the arc is 24′ N of the galaxy. P very slightly N of the galaxy by 11′ is a 12th-mag star, and a 12.5-mag star lies 11′ F the galaxy. 13′ S is NGC 4308 (cf.).

NGC 4308 (Com): This is a very faint, small, round glow NP NGC 4314 by 13′, and 8′ almost due N of the 12th-magnitude star that’s 11′ P very slightly N of 4314. At first, it looked like a mere out-of-focus star. It’s only about 0.3′ in diameter, with a tiny halo and either a substellar nucleus or a very small core—it was hard to discern which.

NGC 4414 (Com): I found this a somewhat tricky star-hop from NGC 4314. This is a fine galaxy—pretty big and bright—although not as spectacular as some in the region. It’s elongated N very slightly P—S very slightly F, and about 2.25′ x 1.25′. The largish halo contains a small, bright oval core and a bright stellar nucleus. The galaxy is bracketed on the SP and NF sides by 12.5-magnitude stars; the star to the SP is 6′ from the galaxy; the star to the NF is 7′ from the galaxy. NP the galaxy by 11′ is the brightest star in the field at 10th-mag; it forms the N vertex of a triangle; the S-more stars are both 11th-mag and are S very slightly P the 10th-mag star by 6.5′ and SF the previous star by 5′. S very slightly F the galaxy by 12′ is an 11th-mag star.

NGC 4449 (CVn): Having dealt with the crudded-over secondary mirror, I can observe this huge, bright Magellanic-type galaxy. I’ve seen this one a number of times (when it didn’t live up to prior observations, I knew something was amiss with the dew and the secondary), and it’s one of the real showpieces of this region of sky. Boxy (rather than roundish or elliptical) and very mottled, it’s easy to tell that there’s something unusual going on here. The galaxy is pretty-well defined, especially on the S end, with a very mottled halo that may be wider at the N end; the NF part of the halo is particularly ragged-looking, mottled, and diffuse. There’s a brighter interior region (if not a “core” per se) that’s about 3.0′ x 1.25′ and more offset to the S end of the galaxy and may be analogous to a bar. There are “stellarings” on the NF and SP edges of this core. The galaxy is 4.5′ x 2.5′ overall and elongated SP-NF. There are occasional glimpses of either a stellar nucleus or a random stellaring close to where a nucleus should be. F and very very slightly N of the galaxy, 3′ from the middle of the galaxy, is a 15th-magnitude star. F slightly S of the galaxy by 6′ is a 14.5-mag star. There’s a 12th-mag star 7′ F the galaxy. NF the galaxy by 9.5′ is a 10th-mag star, while there’s another 10th-mag star NP the galaxy by 14′. F the galaxy by 19′ is a 12th-mag star; SF by 21′ is an 11th-mag star.

And that was then that. Although it had been an enormously-frustrating session dew-wise, it was still good for rekindling enthusiasm in the whole Herschel project, and in observing in general. Sometimes, all you really need is some starlight.

As we reached the junction where the various BLM roads met, Jerry stopped to pick up the weeding tools he’d used to make the drive up to the ridge a little bit easier on all of us. As he did so, we noticed a thick glow to the north: not an aurora (as we thought at first), but a dense layer of blue, teal, and rusty noctilucent clouds that shimmered, stationary, in the pre-dawn sky above the still-sleeping city.

II. With a four-hour work shift planned for Wednesday the 13th, I was grateful that Jerry agreed to go to Eureka on Tuesday night, rather than making the hourlong trek to Eagle’s Ridge—among other things, Eureka was expected to have lower humidity (which is a rarity). As it turned out, it was an excellent choice: the sky conditions were the best we’d ever seen them at Eureka, and some of the best I’d seen since my days in Arizona; the seeing, in particular, was outstanding. Jerry repeatedly hit 21.6 on his SQM, which was unheard-of at Eureka Ridge, and there wasn’t a trace of dew to be found.

Nor had there been a trace of potholes on the road to the ridge. The BLM road, largely gravel and usually strewn with axle-busting potholes at the best of times, had been graded and widened since our March excursion there. I normally made my assault on the road expecting it to assault me back, and it wasn’t until I had reached the fork in the road that led off to the ridge that I was willing to entertain the notion that someone had actually fixed the road to one of our observing sites. (That someone was, no doubt, a someone with lumber-company interests at heart, and our good fortune may well be temporary. For now, though, the repaired road was a blessing.)

I remained on Herschels, having gotten into a good observing habit and wanting to follow through with it. By doing as much as possible in the Canes/Coma/Virgo region, that would leave less mopping-up this time next year, and observing galaxies—ENTIRE FRIGGIN’ ISLAND UNIVERSES, FOR DOG’S SAKE—was never not fascinating and wondrous.



MOON: 28 days (2% illumination); rose at 5:39 AM
SQM: 21.6
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; some breeze below ridge level, no dew

Others present: JO

NGC 5054 (Vir): Even though it’s not 100% dark yet, this is an impressive galaxy S of Spica—big and very “present” compared to most of the Herschel galaxies I’ve observed so far. It has an interesting and irregularly-bright halo that’s pretty-well defined and almost triangular, with the N end being the wider. It’s mostly elongated N-S (maybe slightly NP-SF) and 2.75′ long, with the N end about 1.75′ wide. The core is fairly small and quite a bit brighter than the average brightness of the halo, but it’s hard to tell if there’s a nucleus visible. There is a 14.5-magnitude star involved in the halo on the NF end. There’s also a threshold star 2.5′ NP of the galaxy. Due N of the galaxy by 4′ and 7′ are a pair of 13th-mag stars. NF the galaxy by 4.75′ is a 14th-mag star. NP the galaxy by 11′ is a 10.5-mag star; P slightly S of the galaxy by 10.5′ is another 10.5-mag star. There is a 9.5-mag star SP the galaxy by 9′; it has a 12th-mag star 1.5′ due P it. N of the galaxy by 17′ is the more-northern of a pair of 11th-mag stars, the second of which is P slightly S the first by 2.75′.

NGCs 5047, 5044, 5049, 5037, 5035 (Vir): This is a quite varied and intriguing group P NGC 5054, well worth a return visit with a bigger scope, and at a better time of year. NGC 5047 is P slightly N 5054 by 19′. It’s a thin, small galaxy, about 1.5′ x 0.3′, elongated P very slightly S-F very slightly N. The halo is well defined, and there’s both a somewhat brighter core and an elongated bright region in the interior. No nucleus is visible, though. Due P by 5.5′ is an 11th-magnitude star (which will serve as a leaping-off a reference for other two galaxies); 8′ N of that star is NGC 5044; SP that star by 9′ is NGC 5037. NGC 5044 is the brightest of the group, and is quite bright. It’s about 1.5′ in diameter and round, with a halo that very gradually brightens to center; there’s not much cutoff between core and halo. The halo is pretty well defined, and a stellar nucleus can be seen with difficulty. NF the galaxy by 5′ is a 13th-mag star; N of that star by 5′ is an 8th-mag star; SF the 13th-mag star by 4.5′ is another galaxy (NGC 5049). NGC 5049 is reasonably-bright but small, about 0.5′ x 0.3′, elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S. Its core is very very small but bright and contains a bright stellar nucleus. Returning to the 11th-mag reference star brings NGC 5037 back to center. This galaxy is the biggest and second-brightest of the group; it’s 14′ from NGC 5044 and 13′ from NGC 5047, and elongated SP-NF. It seems almost like a flat galaxy at 2.0′ x 0.3′. The halo is quite well-defined, and there’s a streak of brightening along the length of it in addition to an obvious small core. No nucleus is visible at this aperture, but there’s an obvious 14th-magnitude star just off the NF end of the halo. NF 5037 by 8′ is an 11th-mag star. 5.5′ due N is the brighter of a faint pair/double; the fainter is SP the brighter by 0.3′; these are 13th– and 13.5-mags. NP the galaxy by 5′ is a 10th-mag star; there’s another 10th-mag star N very slightly F that star by 4′; between the two (2′ from the more southerly of the two) is another galaxy (NGC 5035). NGC 5035 is very diffuse and not particularly bright, but it’s fairly-obvious and doesn’t need to be hunted for. It’s pretty small (0.75′ diameter) and round, with a poorly-defined halo and very little central brightening or core present. In averted vision, there’s an occasional trace of a stellar nucleus that isn’t seen with direct vision. 10′ SP the galaxy is an 8th-magnitude star.

After the excellent 5054 group, there was an equally-good follow-up target. I’ve long avoided taking notes on many of the sky’s showpieces, both because they’re often played-out by astronomy standards and because there are so many fine details to catch. But I need to take notes on them, so showpiece object it was:

NGC 4565 (Com): This is, of course, a big one and one that I’ve been avoiding for a while—the undisputed classic edge-on galaxy. It’s huge—14.5′ x 1.5’—and elongated NP-SF. The F end of the galaxy is more “tangible” and well-defined, the P end a little bit more diffuse or weaker, but overall this is a sharply-defined galaxy. The core is smallish and bright and the famous dust lane is very obvious, running a bit closer to the N edge of the galaxy, the core and halo more obvious on the S side of the dust lane and the nucleus also on that side of the lane. (Unsurprisingly, there was no trace of the 2MASSX galaxy cluster off the SF end [naturally], nor of NGC 4565A to the SP of 4565.) There is a 13.5-magnitude star NF the galaxy’s nucleus by 1.5′, and a 13.5-mag star S very very slightly P the nucleus by 4′. Running on the exact P edge of the field from NP the galaxy to S is an arc of five stars; the brightest (11th-mag) is in the middle, 9′ P the nucleus; the arc is 11′ long. S of the galaxy is a random pattern of stars of which the two brightest are S of the galaxy’s nucleus by 15′ (at 10th-mag) and a 9th-mag star (the brightest in the field) SF the galaxy by 13′.

NGC 4494 (Com): This impressively-bright, elliptical-looking galaxy is between NGC 4565 and the wide double 17 Comae. It’s elongated N-S and very large at 3.75′ x 1.75′. The very well defined halo contains a bright core that’s about a quarter of the galaxy’s diameter, which itself contains a very bright non-stellar nucleus. N very slightly F the galaxy by 6′ is an 8th-magnitude star; NF the galaxy by 3.25′ is a 13th-mag star, and NF the galaxy by 17′ is a 9th-mag star. P the galaxy by 6.5′ is a 12th-mag star; another 12th-mag star lies F very very slightly N of the galaxy by 10′.

One of the key areas in the Herschel lists is the area around Messier 106, itself a Herschel object—a region that contains galaxies from both the Canes I and Canes II physically-bound groups. Five of these are in the Herschel lists, all residing within an area the size of the Full Moon. That made this area a high-value target for Herschel hunting, and I’d made a note beforehand that I was going to get these five before the season was out.

M 106, NGC 4248 (CVn): M106 is a massive galaxy and quite breathtaking when sweeping onto it. Really one of the unsung jewels of the Messier catalogue. It’s fully 13′ x 4.5′, elongated N slightly P-S slightly F. The halo is better defined along the NP edge to the NP end of the galaxy, while the more-diffuse S end extends quite a long way but is less defined; the large bright extended core seems offset toward the NP end of the galaxy and contains a very bright substellar nucleus. A 14th-magnitude star sits inside the halo on the NP end. 4.25′ P and slightly N from the nucleus is a 12.5-mag star; the nucleus and this P star and the star on the NP end of the galaxy form an equilateral triangle. A 12.5-mag star sits at the SF tip of the halo. F the galaxy by 9′ is a 14th-mag star; F and slightly S of the galaxy by 12.5′ is a 13th-mag star. S slightly P the nucleus by 15′ is an 11th-mag star, while P and somewhat N of M106 by 14′ (nucleus to nucleus) is NGC 4248, a very nice galaxy that’s very apparent in the field even with M106 present. 4248 is elongated NP-SF and about 1.5′ x 0.5′ (although it may be a bit wider—perhaps 0.6’—at the SF end of the halo). The halo is fairly diffuse and not overly well defined, and there isn’t much in the way of a core or central concentration. A very faint stellar nucleus may be visible in averted vision, and an 11.5-magnitude star resides just inside the NP end of the halo. (I’m annoyed that I missed the interacting pair NGC 4231/4232 P and very slightly N of 4248.)

NGCs 4220, 4218 (CVn): These two galaxies are also part of the M106 group, with that more-dominant galaxy to the SF of this pair. NGC 4220 is a bright, obviously edge-on or highly-inclined spiral, oriented NP-SF and subtending 2.5′ x 0.5′. Its halo is very well defined and evenly-illuminated, but the core itself is somewhat hard to define; there’s brightening along the arms that makes up much of the galaxy’s dimensions. A tiny stellar nucleus is visible with direct vision. SP this nucleus by 1.25′ is a 15th-magnitude star, and a threshold star is P slightly N the nucleus by 4′. NF the galaxy, starting at 7.5′ NF, is an upside-down lowercase ‘y’ pattern; its four stars are all 12th/12.5-mag; the stem of the ‘y’ points toward the NF (away from the galaxy; the arms of the ‘y’ point toward the galaxy); the ‘y’ is 6′ end-to-end. Due N of the galaxy by 15′ is the brightest star in the field at 9th-mag; this 9th-mag star has another galaxy (NGC 4218) P and very slightly N of it by 2.5′. NGC 4218 is small, faint, and diffuse, and benefits greatly from averted vision. The galaxy is 0.75′ x 0.3′, elongated NP-SF. Its halo is fairly well defined and contains a very small core that’s much more visible in averted vision, although no nucleus is visible in either averted or direct vision.

NGCs 4217, 4226 (CVn): Another pair in the M106 group. NGC 4217 is quite an interesting galaxy but not an easy one, diffuse and “unconcentrated” as it is… a ghost of a galaxy. A wedge-shaped pattern of 7th– and 8th-magnitude stars dominates the field and lies mostly to the S of the galaxy (although there’s one N slightly F the galaxy and one due P the galaxy). NGC 4217 breaks with the trend of the M106 group and is elongated perpendicular to them, SP-NF, and is pretty large at 4.75′ x 0.75′. Its halo is poorly-defined and there’s very little central brightening to the galaxy at all, with nary a core or nucleus identifiable. Just on the SP edge of the halo is a threshold star that requires averted to see at all. 0.5′ N very slightly F the galaxy’s center is a 13th-magnitude star; 1.5′ N very slightly F that star is an 8.5-mag star. S very slightly F the galaxy by 2′ is a 14th-mag star. Due P galaxy by 6.5′ is a 7th-mag star (as noted above). F very slightly N of the galaxy by 8′ is a 12th-mag star; halfway between that star and the galaxy is a 15th-mag star. F slightly S of the galaxy by 7.5′ is an extremely faint galaxy glow, that of NGC 4226—this galaxy is even more diffuse and difficult than 4217, and much smaller, at a mere 0.5′ x 0.25′. It has very little concentration at all, with only the possibility of a faint stellar nucleus visible in averted vision only.

NGC 4346 (CVn): This is the last Herschel galaxy in the M106 group, and considerably brighter than the previous pair. It’s elongated P-F, 1.75′ x 0.5′, with a well-defined halo and a small round very prominent core, but although it’s apparently an inclined spiral there’s little brightness along the length of the arms. 20′ NP the galaxy is a bright yellow 6.5-magnitude star. P very very slightly N of the galaxy by 14′ is an 11th-mag star. S very slightly F of galaxy is a ‘Y’-shaped pattern with the star at the middle and star at the end of the stalk separated by 1.5′; the star at the end of the P tine is 4.5′ from the center star, the star at the end of the F tine is 4.75′ from center; the stalk points S very slightly F; the star at the end of the stalk is 10′ SF the galaxy, and is the brightest in the Y at 11.5-magnitude. 19′ F very slightly S of the galaxy is a 10th-mag star. N of the galaxy by 13′ is the middle and brightest star in a bent arc of three; this middle star is 12th-mag, flanked to S very slightly P and N very slightly P by 12th-mag stars, each 2′ from the middle star.

The worst aspect of observing in June is the solstice-shortened nights, and after finishing the M106 group, only an hour remained before the break of dawn. I looked at some of the showpiece globulars–M13 was near the zenith by this point, and M15 (my favorite) was surprisingly-high in the east–before deciding that I’d reached a good stopping point, and we agreed that the observing night was essentially over.

There were no noctilucent clouds on this morning, but we did have another aurora imposter: a bright arc of contrail-like cloud curving low in the sky above town. Intent on our observing, we hadn’t even noticed this band of cloud rolling in until it was time to leave; conditions elsewhere in the sky hadn’t degraded much, if any, at all.

And then it was a lazy half-hour drive home without the potholes to keep me extra-alert.

III. With a few extra work shifts behind me, and clear skies ahead, I joined a small group at Eureka two nights later. Suddenly, with the road fixed, Eureka had taken over the top spot in my ranking of local observing sites; that and the dew problems our last night at Eagle’s Ridge made the slightly-less-dark skies at Eureka seem of far less concern. I could now drive to a dark site without having to search for my collimation wing nuts in the van after they’d been rattled loose by rough road. And my van might actually forgive me for the punishment clear skies have forced it to endure.

I remembered my tracking platform this night as well—the platform Jerry and I had put time, effort, and money into. Jerry had to remind me how to use it (including which way it should face), and we never got it working as well as it could; among other things, it had developed a tendency to skip a tooth every thirty seconds or so. Jerry wasn’t thrilled with how the platform had turned out, but I was grateful just to not have to constantly be nudging galaxies back into the field after only a few seconds.

One of the benefits of the short June nights is that there’s also less time for the Moon to be an issue. With sunset near 9 PM, we never even noticed that the Moon was up, let alone having it interfere with any observing.

Dan’s ladyfriend and daughter were there. And Doge was there again. Never underestimate the power of a living Internet meme to make an observing evening complete.



MOON: 1 day (1% illumination); set at 10:02 PM
SQM: 21.4
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; some breeze below ridge level, some dew on plastic surfaces but optics clear throughout

Others present: JO, FS, DB, Elise, Ruby, Doge

NGC 4699 (Vir): This first galaxy of the night is very bright and obvious, and probably an elliptical. It covers 2.75′ x 2.3′ and is oriented S slightly P-N slightly F. The well-defined halo comes suddenly to a much brighter 0.5′ core, and a bright stellar nucleus is readily apparent. Due F the galaxy by 5.5′ is a 10.5-magnitude star; halfway between the galaxy and that star is a 13th-mag star; due N of the 10.5-mag star by 4′ is the brighter component of a double star; the fainter component is just SP the brighter by 15″, and the components are 12.5- and 14.5-mags. S slightly P the galaxy by 2′ is a threshold star. SF the galaxy by 12′ is another double, this one separated N-S; the primary is 10.5-mag and the secondary 10.7′; these are separated by 10″. S somewhat F the galaxy by 8′ is a 12.5-mag star, and NP the galaxy by 11′ is an 11th-mag star.

NGCs 4742, 4760, 4781 (Vir): NGC 4742 is fairly smallish (0.75′ x 0.5′) and very slightly elongated P-F. It has a pretty well defined halo that suddenly brightens to a small, moderately-bright core that contains a very bright stellar nucleus. SF the galaxy by 1.5′ is a 12th-magnitude star. 9′ NP the galaxy is the primary of a double (S1682, brightest in field) whose primary is 7th-mag and whose secondary is 11th-mag; these are separated by 30″, with the secondary P very slightly N of the primary. N slightly F (by 4.5′) and S slightly P (by 2.25′) the primary of the double star are 12th-mag stars. SP the galaxy by 6.75′ is an 11th-mag star, while S somewhat P the galaxy by 20′ is a 9th-mag star. F somewhat S of the galaxy by 18′ is a 9th-mag star; NF that star by 5′ is another galaxy (NGC 4760). 4760 is larger but more diffuse than NGC 4742, with a 2.0′ x 1.5′ halo that brightens gradually to a moderately-brighter core; the core contains a very faint substellar nucleus. The galaxy is oriented S very slightly P-N very slightly F. NF NGC 4760 by 4′ is a 10th-magnitude star. F the galaxy by 10′ is a 10.5-mag star; F very slightly S that star by 8.75′ is another galaxy, NGC 4781. This galaxy is very large (2.75′ x 1.25′), elongated P-F, and brighter than NGC 4760. It has a reasonably well defined halo but not much of a visible core and no visible nucleus. Just on the P edge of the halo is a 12.5-magnitude star, however. There’s also a 13th-mag star 1.5′ P slightly S the star on the edge of the halo; SP this star by 1.5′ is another 13th-mag star. NF the galaxy by 9.5′ is a 9th-mag star (the brightest in this galaxy’s field). SP the galaxy and trailing toward the S edge of the field is a scattering of 10th-mag and fainter stars.

NGC 4487 (Vir): This galaxy is a tough one, just preceding Chi Virginis—it’s pretty much the definition of diffuse. The poorly-defined 3.0′ x 2.25′ halo is elongated mostly P-F and has very little central concentration, with a small core that’s only slightly brighter than the halo and no nucleus apparent. A 14th-magnitude star lies just on the N edge of the galaxy; just outside the halo on the F side is a 13th-mag star. N very very slightly F the galaxy by 5′ is a 12th-mag star. P very slightly N of the galaxy by 5.5′ is a 10th-mag star. SF the galaxy by 9′ is a 9th-mag star. There is a 10th-mag star SP the galaxy by 15′; this star has an 11th-mag star S slightly P by 1.5′.

NGC 4546 (Vir): This galaxy is framed by an interesting field, with pairs or trios of stars bracketing the field to the SP, NP, and N slightly F. The galaxy is decent-sized (2.5′ x 1.0′) and considerably bright, elongated P-F, with a pretty well defined halo that brightens to a small, moderately-bright core with a very obvious stellar nucleus. To the SF of the galaxy by 2′ is a 12th-magnitude star, and there’s another 12th-mag star P slightly N of the galaxy by 5.5′. NP the galaxy by 2′ is a 14.5-mag star. NF the galaxy by 3′ is a 14th-mag star. To the P somewhat N edge of the field (20′ from the galaxy) are two stars separated by 2′; the more southerly is slightly brighter; these are 9th and 10th-mags. S of the galaxy by 17′ is a 9.5-mag star that has an 11.5-mag star F slightly N of it by 5′. N of the galaxy is an arc stretching SF-NP; the brightest star in this arc (of five) is an 8th-magnitude star second from S, 15′ N of the galaxy.

NGCs 4725, 4712, 4747 (Com): NGC 4725 is an excellent galaxy! This one vies with NGC 4559 as the best in Coma after the Messiers and NGC 4565. It’s very large and very bright, and it’s hard to begrudge it having a popular name (the Tie Fighter Galaxy) as it does indeed resemble its namesake. The galaxy is elongated SP-NF and spans 6.5′ x 3.75′; the SP end of the very well defined halo seems sharper than the NF edge in averted vision, as if there’s a more-definite spiral arm just outside the threshold of vision on that side of the galaxy. Averted vision also adds about an arcminute to the galaxy’s length. The core of the galaxy is small and highly concentrated, with the halo becoming suddenly brighter toward it, and the core seems of-center to the SP just slightly. A possible substellar nucleus shows intermittently, and there’s a threshold star inside the NF end of the halo. N of the galaxy by 2.5′ is a 13.5-magnitude star. NP the galaxy by 6.5′ is a 12th-mag star, and P slightly N of the galaxy by 13′ is a 12th-mag star; due S of that star by 4′ is another galaxy (NGC 4712). To the F and NF of 4725 by 13′ and beyond is a grouping of brighter stars (of 7.5- to 11th-mags); these make an arrowhead shape that points S from the F edge of the field; N very very slightly P the brightest in that group (7.5-mag) by 6.25 is another galaxy (NGC 4747); the 7.5-mag star also has a 12th-mag companion P it by 0.6′. NGC 4712 is hard to “lock down” precisely, with a very diffuse and poorly defined 2.25′ x 1.0′ halo elongated N-S. There is no real central brightening or nucleus visible here. 6′ S slightly F the galaxy is a 12th-magnitude star; F very slightly N that star by 3.5′ is a 13th-mag star; 3.5′ F very slightly N of the 13th-mag star is a 12th-mag star which is 5′ S very slightly P the center of 4725. NGC 4747 is also weakly concentrated and diffuse, a poorly defined 2.5′ x 0.75′ halo elongated SP-NF with no central brightening or nucleus. NGC 4747 is P NGC 4725 by 25′.

NGCs 4914, 4868 (CVn): both of these galaxies are fairly non-descript. NGC 4914 is elongated 1.5′ x 0.75′ and N very slightly P-S very slightly F, with a very small brighter core and a tiny stellar nucleus. N very slightly P the galaxy by 6′ is a 12th-magnitude star. NF the galaxy by 6.5′ is a 9th-mag star. P very slightly N the galaxy by 6.75′ is an 11th-mag star. 5.5′ SP the galaxy is a 13th-mag star. The brightest star in the field is an 8th-magnitude star 19′ due F the galaxy. NGC 4868 lies 19′ P very very slightly N of 4914, and is the more diffuse of the two galaxies. It’s elongated N-S, with a 1.3′ x 1.0′ that comes very gradually brighter to a middle/central region that seems to be irregularly bright; a stellar nucleus may be fleetingly visible. A threshold star is inside the SP end of the halo, and 1′ N of the galaxy is a 12th-magnitude star. 1.75′ F the galaxy is a 13.5-mag star. S very slightly F the galaxy by 4.5′ is a 13th-mag star; there’s a 12.5-mag star 4.5′ S slightly P the galaxy. Due S of 4868 by 12′ is another possible galaxy, an averted-vision object only [there’s nothing nearby on the POSS plate except NGC 4870, 16′ to S—due to the disparity in distances I can’t consider this a sighting].

NGCs 4618, 4625 (CVn): NGC 4618 is a very interesting galaxy with an unusual shape. It’s large (2.75′ x 2.0′) and elongated N-S. The halo is moderately well defined and quite diffuse; it’s also unevenly-illuminated, with an apparent void between the core and the S end of the halo on the F side. The core itself is elongated slightly—but not in the same direction as the halo, rather P slightly S-F slightly N—and offset toward the N end of the galaxy. The core is fully 1.5′ x 0.75′, with a stellar nucleus. There may be a threshold star embedded just on the core’s N edge. S of the core by 4.75′ is an 11th-magnitude star. NGC 4625 lies 8.5′ N very slightly F NGC 4618; it’s smaller and rounder than the previous, about 1.25′ in diameter, with a slightly-brighter core and a hint of a stellar nucleus. 1.75′ P slightly S of the galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star. Due F the galaxy by 4.5′ is a 12th-mag star; there’s a 12th-mag star N very very slightly F that star by 5′. With 4625 centered, there’s an 8.5-mag star 19′ F the galaxy that is the brightest in the field. F slightly S of the galaxy by 15′ is a 10th-mag star. N slightly P the galaxy by 12.5′ is an 11th-mag star, and due N of that star by 2.5′ is a 10.5-mag star.

NGC 4369 (CVn): The last galaxy of this particular night is a small, slightly-generic probably-elliptical target. It’s about 1.5′ round, with a well-defined halo that gets suddenly brighter to a brightish core. A faint stellar nucleus can be seen. Due S of the galaxy by 5.25′ is the brighter of a pair; the brighter (13th-magnitude) is NF the fainter (13.5-magnitude) by 20″; this pair forms the SP tip of a triangle with the galaxy at the N and a 12.5-mag star 7.5′ SF the galaxy as the other vertices; in the middle of the southern edge is a 13th-mag star; in the middle of the P edge of the triangle is a 13th-mag star. SF the galaxy by 13′ is a 10th-mag star. N somewhat P the galaxy by 15′ is a 10th-mag star, and due N of the galaxy by 21′ is a 10.5-mag star. Just out of the edge of the field, SF the galaxy, is a 5th-mag star (6 Canum), which is slightly yellowish.

In all, it turned out to be an uneventful night; the most unusual aspect of it was the sheer number of bright satellites passing through fields in which I was observing. Numerous times during my audio-note transcription I had to elide “there goes another bright satellite through the field” so as not to constantly have to keep making reference to it. It was a trend that would continue the next time out, as well.

IV. The next night out would in fact happen two nights later, under slightly less-optimal skies. It was a bigger group this time; Kathy had come along with Jerry, Alan had brought his astrophotography gear, and Dan’s daughter had brought a friend along. Jerry, Alan, and I took turns using Jerry’s grass whip to “mow” the small clearing that we used for telescopes, so that more of us could fit into the clearing. We ended up with five telescopes and two camera platforms in the clearing, and the banter included Monty Python and Blues Brothers references for much of the evening (as Matt “Guitar” Murphy had died earlier in the day). It turned out to be my most-productive night of the run, despite having the lowest SQM readings of the week.

I started with another showpiece object while waiting for the three-day Moon to vacate the western sky.


MOON: 3 days (13% illumination); set at 11:48 PM
SQM: 21.3
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to low 50s; some breeze below ridge level, occasional small clouds drifting through, some dew on plastic surfaces but optics clear

Others present: JO, KO, FS, AG, DB, Ruby, Ruby’s friend

M104 (Vir): The Moon is still about 35 minutes from setting, but I didn’t want to put off my notes until midnight, so here we are. Even so, I’m always surprised by how relatively small M104 is—I always expect it to be the size of M51 or M81, but I know better. It’s still a superb galaxy. It’s elongated P-F, and after about ten more minutes, the galaxy grows to 5.75′ x 2.0′. At first, the dust lane seemed as much a sharp cutoff of the galaxy’s S edge as it did an actual dust lane, but as the sky darkens, the region of the galaxy S of the dust lane becomes more obvious and it can be seen for what it is. The dust lane runs about ¾ of the way from N to S, with most of the core and nucleus visible N of the lane. The halo of the galaxy is very smooth and well defined, and it has a very bright core and substellar nucleus. N of the galaxy by 1.75′ from the nucleus is a 14.5-magnitude star. N very very slightly F by 10′ is a 10.5-mag star; F very very slightly N of the galaxy by 16′ is a 9th-mag star; N very slightly P that star is a pair of 11th-mag stars separated NP-SF from each other by 1′. Due P the 9th-mag star by 3′ is a 12th-mag star. SF the galaxy by 7′ is a 10th-mag star that is the N-most vertex of a triangle; S very slightly P that star by 7′ is the brightest in the triangle at 9th-mag; there’s also a 10.5-mag star F slightly N the second star by 3′. P very slightly S of the galaxy by 5′ is a 10th-mag star; due P that star by 1.5′ is a 13th-mag star; 3′ P very slightly S of the 13th-mag star is an 10.5-mag star; a 12th-mag star lies 5′ P somewhat S the 10.5-mag star; this is an arc of four P and arcing S-ward from the galaxy. 21′ P slightly N of the galaxy is the “Jaws” asterism, which doesn’t really remind me much of a shark; Jaws looks like he has a harpoon of five stars extending N slightly F from his back; Jaws is composed of a small triangle and a small trapezoid of stars; these stars range from 8th-mag to 12th-mag, while the “harpoon” is made up of 10th– and 10.5-mag stars.

NGC 4030 (Vir): This galaxy is remarkably bright given that the sky is still not 100% dark. It’s a large and impressive galaxy, although it’s somewhat difficult to determine a morphological type from its appearance. Its diffuse halo is elongated 2.25′ x 1.25′ N v slightly F-S v slightly P and fades into the background without much definition. The core region accounts for perhaps 2/3 of the galaxy’s dimensions and brightens toward the center but doesn’t come to a point; there’s no visible nucleus. The galaxy is bracketed on the N very slightly P and the S very slightly P by 11th-magnitude stars; the star to the N slightly P is 1.5′ from the galaxy, while the star to the S slightly P is 2.25′ from the galaxy; the star to the S slightly P has a 13th-mag star SF by 1′. There’s a pair of brightish stars 9.5′ SF the galaxy; the brighter is NF the fainter; these are 10.5- and 11.5-mags and separated by 2.5′.. Oddly, almost all stars in the field are on the F side of the field except for two 13th-mag stars, which are 14′ P slightly N and NP the galaxy (almost equidistant). 24′ N of the galaxy (out of the field) is a 9.5-mag star. P very slightly N of the galaxy by 25′ (also out of the field) is a 10th-mag star. The brightest star in the field is a 10th-magnitude star 16′ NF the galaxy.

NGCs 4856, 4877 (Vir): The seeing has temporarily gone crappy in the Virgo region for a few moments as some small black clouds have drifted through. Once they clear, it reveals NGC 4856 to be a long, thin galaxy, elongated 3.25′ x 0.67′ and oriented SP-NF. The galaxy still seems reasonably well defined despite the variable seeing, and has a very very bright core, although a stellar nucleus is very tenuous; there’s also a 13th-magnitude star just off the F edge of the halo. 19′ P the galaxy, just on the edge of the field, is the brightest star in the field (7th-mag). SP the galaxy by 10′ is a double star or close pair of unrelated stars; the primary is 11.5-mag and is 20″ P the secondary, which is 13.5-mag. SF the galaxy is a pentagon of stars, the closest of which is a 10th-mag star 7.5′ SF the galaxy; S very slightly P that star by 5.5′ is a 12.5-mag star; SF this star by 8′ is a 10th-mag star; NF this star by 6.75′ is a 9th-mag star; N very slightly F this star by 12′ is an 11th-mag star. But back to the 9th-mag star (4th in the pentagon): F slightly S that star by 3′ is another galaxy, NGC 4877. This galaxy is extremely difficult, faint, and diffuse. It’s elongated perhaps 1.75′ x 0.5′ and oriented N very slightly F-S very slightly P; the halo may be very slightly brighter at the S end. There’s no real central brightening or core evident, and the very faint stellar nucleus visible in averted vision may or may not be real. SF the galaxy by 5.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star.

NGC 4902 (Vir): This one is a round diffuse glow, to the N of NGC 4856. It’s 1.75′ diameter, with an irregularly-bright and reasonably well defined halo that hints at further detail just on the edge of resolution. The core is quite small and only subtly-brighter than the halo, but no nucleus is visible. The galaxy is in the middle of a ‘w’-shaped asterism, at the “narrow” end of the ‘w’. The brightest stars in the ‘w’ are the closest to the galaxy, NP and P slightly S of the galaxy; the star to the SP is 10th-magnitude; the star to the N slightly P is 10.5-mag; the star to the N slightly P has a 14th-mag star , to the N very slightly P of it by 0.67′; the star N slightly P the galaxy is 2′ from the galaxy; the star to the SP is 2.25′ from the galaxy; from the 10.5-mag star NP by 3′ is a 12th-mag star; from that star S very slightly P by 1.25′ is a 13th-mag star; from the 12th-mag star NF by 3.75′ is an 11.5-mag star. Back to the star SP the galaxy: the last star in the ‘w’ is SF that star by 4.5′ and is 13th-mag. SF the galaxy by 18′ is the center star of a bent ‘Y’ pattern which is composed of 10th– and 11th-mag stars.

NGC 4179 (Vir): This is an obvious edge-on spiral, and a very fine one at that. It’s elongated NP-SF, 2.5′ x 0.5′, with a pretty well defined halo and a bright core that seems slightly offset to the NP end; this impression is heightened in averted vision, which also brings out a substellar nucleus. A long string of stars stretches from NF the galaxy toward the NF edge of the field; there are seven primary stars in this train; these trail away from the galaxy and are between 10th– and 11th-mags, although there are a couple of fainter ones among these. The closest of these seven stars is NF the galaxy by 2′. 12′ SF the galaxy, along the plane of the galaxy, is a 10.5-mag star. There’s a 9.5-mag star SP the galaxy by 14′. S very slightly P the galaxy by 12′ is a 12th-mag star.

NGC 4697 (Vir): A good-sized, bright galaxy, it’s obvious that this one is a Herschel 400 object. It has a very well defined, football-shaped halo, 2.25′ x 1.25′, elongated P very slightly S-F very slightly N. The core—perhaps 0.5′ x 0.4’—is significantly brighter than the halo, and contains a bright stellar nucleus. Off the NF end of the galaxy by 3′ is a 12th-magnitude star, and a 14th-mag star is 1.5′ off NP end. A row of five brightish stars stretches S of the galaxy from F to SP the galaxy; the star F the galaxy is 10′ F the galaxy and is 10th-mag; a 12th-mag star is due P that star by 2′; 6′ S of the galaxy is a 10th-mag star; SP the galaxy by 11′ is a 9.5-mag star; P slightly S of the galaxy by 17′ is a 9th-mag star. 23′ N very slightly F the galaxy by is a solitary 9th-mag star.

NGC 5020 (Vir): This is not an easy galaxy at all, after a couple really fine ones. It has a very diffuse, not particularly well defined, and it’s hard to tell its size and orientation as a result—perhaps 1.67′ x 1.0′, oriented S very slightly P-N very slightly F. There is some vaguely-defined central brightening that might not merit being called a core, but a faint stellar nucleus is fairly obvious. There’s a 14.5-magnitude star due N of the galaxy by 3.5′ and a 13th-mag star S of the galaxy by 7.25′. F slightly S of the galaxy by 10.5′ is an 11th-mag star. 15′ P very slightly N is an 8.5-mag star. SP the galaxy by 21′ is a 9th-mag star; NF that star by 3.75′ is a double star; components separated NP-SF by 12″; the 13th-mag SF component is the primary, while the secondary is 13.5-mag.

NGCs 5129, 5132 (Vir): This is a pair of small galaxies, neither of which is a standout. NGC 5129 is somewhat difficult, with a faint 0.75′ x 0.5′ halo that’s elongated mostly N-S. There’s almost no central brightening beyond a very faint, barely-visible nucleus. 1.75′ F the galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star, and S slightly F the galaxy by 3.25′ is a 9.5-mag star. NP by 8′ is a 10th-mag star which has a 12.5-mag star N of it by 1.75′; NF the galaxy by 8.5′ is another galaxy, NGC 5132. This one is smaller and even more diffuse than NGC 5129. It’s no more than 0.5′ in diameter and round, with a poorly-defined halo, no central brightening, no core, and no nucleus. N slightly F the galaxy by 2.25′ is a 12th-magnitude star. F the galaxy by 2.25′ is a 14th-mag star, and NP the galaxy by 10′ is a 9.5-mag star.

By about this point, Dan and I were the only ones left in the clearing; his daughter and her friend had gone off to his van to sleep until the sunrise (they wanted to watch the sun come up), and the other observers had called it a night. Alan had taken some fine shots of the central Milky Way to document the evening, although an occasional jet-black cloud had made its way through the region and into a couple of his photos.

NGCs 5444, 5445, 5440 (CVn): A very interesting trio of contrasting galaxies in eastern Canes Venatici. NGC 5444 is a fairly small and round (1.25′) galaxy, not overly well defined. The halo becomes suddenly bright to the core, which is bright enough that it makes determining whether or not there’s a nucleus quite difficult. P the galaxy by 1.5′ is a 15th-magnitude star, and there’s another 15th-mag star N of the galaxy by 6′. 7′ S of the galaxy is another galaxy, NGC 5445. 5445 is fainter but larger than 5444, and is a 1.25′ x 0.3′ edge-on streak that’s elongated SP-NF. It has a very tiny moderately-bright core and a fleeting stellar nucleus. Just off the SP end is a 13.5-magnitude star. NF the galaxy (along the plane of the galaxy) by 3.5′ is a 14th-mag star. Due F the galaxy by 2.5′ is a 12th-mag star. S very slightly F the galaxy by 6.5′ is a 10th-mag star. A 9th-mag star lies P very slightly S by 13′; from this last star, another galaxy (NGC 5440) lies 13′ S slightly F. (5440 also sits 16′ SP NGC 5445.) It’s also edge-on, and the largest and brightest of the three in this group. Its irregularly-bright halo is elongated SP-NF and subtends 1.5′ x 0.3′; it has little central brightening, but the galaxy does have either an off-centered (to the NF end) nucleus or a threshold star on the NF end. There is also an 11th-magnitude star embedded in the SP end of the halo.

NGCs 5273, 5276 (CVn): NGC 5273 is a brightish, large, but diffuse and undefined galaxy. It has only a slight bit of N-S elongation (1.75′ x 1.67′), with a broadly concentrated but not overly-bright core; there’s a definite stellar nucleus that really benefits from averted vision. Due P the galaxy by 5.5′ is a 13.5-magnitude star, and 3′ P very slightly S is a threshold star. A 14.5-mag star lies 5.75′ due N. F very slightly N of the galaxy by 19′ is an 8th-mag star; 8.5′ N of that star is a 9.5-mag star. SF the galaxy by 3.25′ is another galaxy, merely a fuzzy spot. This is NGC 5276, which is hard to hold steadily even in averted vision; it’s even hard to tell the galaxy’s orientation because it’s so difficult. It appears to be elongated NP-SF, and about 0.67′ x 0.3′, with a very faintly brighter core and no detectable nucleus.

While over in this section of Canes, I stopped in on a favorite object: the Hickson 68 galaxy group and nearby spiral NGC 5371, inviting Dan over for a look. For my observing money, this is the best of the Hickson groups, framed nicely around a 6th-magnitude star and with the big, bold NGC 5371 looming close by for perspective. A stunning field.

And then it was back to Herschel hunting, with just enough time for a few more targets before dawn.

NGC 5383, UGC 8877 (CVn): Not much time left for Herschel hunting; dawn isn’t far off. NGC 5383 is certainly a decent galaxy to end with—it’s pretty bright and pretty large (2.25′ x 1.5′), elongated NP-SF, with a diffuse halo that fades into the background. The core isn’t well-defined; it’s brighter than the halo but not particularly bright, and is elongated slightly NP-SF, especially in averted vision. There’s a faint substellar nucleus within, and on the NF end inside the edge of the halo is a 14th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is 11.5-magnitude and lies SP the galaxy by 8.5′. NP the galaxy by 3′ is a 13th-mag star; there’s another 13th-mag star NF the galaxy by 4.25′. SF the galaxy by 3′ is a 12th-mag star that has an 11th-mag star due S by just under 1′; this last star has a 12th-mag star SF it by 3.75′. Every so often, S of the galaxy by 3.5′ and mostly in averted vision, a fuzzy indeterminate spot (UGC 8877) can be seen. This galaxy is very small and extremely faint, hard to hold steadily even in averted vision. It’s impossible to determine its size or orientation, and appears to have little if any central brightening at this aperture.

NGC 6217 (UMi): This really fine galaxy will be the last for the night, as dawn is definitely beginning to break. It’s an obvious, highly-inclined spiral in the middle of a surprisingly-busy field. The irregularly-bright halo is nonetheless well-defined, oriented N very slightly P-S very slightly F, and measures 2.25′ x 1.25′. There’s not much of a core here, just a slight streak of brightening down the middle, and a very obvious stellar nucleus. The field is quite crowded with stars: NP the galaxy by 9′ and 6.5′ are 11th-magnitude stars; P the galaxy by 21′ and 18′ are 10th– and 10.5-mag stars, respectively. S very slightly F the galaxy by 19′ is an 8.5-mag star. SP the galaxy by 15′ is a 9.5-mag star, and there’s an interesting diamond pattern of 10th– and 11th-mag stars F the galaxy just on the SP edge of the field.

Before tearing down for the month, I went back to M13, M92, M5, M22, M55, and M15, the bright globulars of summer, whose locations I’d long ago memorized. This closed out the June dark-sky run—it wasn’t as productive as that in 2017, but it was a much-needed stretch of clear skies and galaxy light to make up for a mediocre spring.


Oregonian Khatru

I was obviously in error in my previous entry, in that I said the rain was over in the Willamette Valley—it was two months almost to the day before I could find a clear moonless night to delve back into Herschel hunting.

The weekend of May 12th lived up to its forecast: two almost-perfect and inviting nights in which to try to catch up on the vast number of early-spring galaxies that I still needed to observe in Lynx, Leo, Leo Minor, Crater, Corvus, and Hydra (the Ursa Major galaxies were also numerous, but given that Ursa Major is circumpolar, there was less of a rush there). I had been following the constellations’ nightly traverse of the meridian on Sky Safari during the cloudy stretch, and knew that my quest to complete the Herschels in 2018 was going to be for naught; I would need a whole week of clear skies to even come close to getting through all these galaxies, particularly in the Leos, where I had 40 Herschel galaxies to go. This was also to say nothing of Virgo (35 remaining galaxies), which would be past the meridian after midnight in May, and the Coma/Canes regions (33 galaxies still remaining), which would be visible a bit longer due to their higher declinations.

Despite having concluded that the Herschel lists would require at least one more round of the seasons, I still intended to make as much headway as possible on the galaxies of the spring. On my last trip out, I had swept up most of the targets in Hydra and Crater that still remained, but I also had a number of objects left in Corvus in addition to a couple each in the low-south constellations I’d ostensibly finished. My plan was to finish Crater, Corvus, and Hydra, and to dig into the more-southerly Virgo galaxies (having wiped out most of the Virgo cluster last May when I mopped up all 150+ targets on Sky Atlas 2000.0‘s Chart B). And despite having my sights set on the many galaxies in eastern Leo, I would probably have to give up on most of those for the season; Leo would already be well past the meridian by the time I finished the southerly stuff that I also needed to get.

Dan B, Oggie, and Oggie’s ladyfriend had also ventured out to Eagle’s Ridge to take advantage of the clear sky and the weekend; Jerry had been fighting a nasty cold and wasn’t feeling up to the trip. And it was not long after I got set up that I was fighting my own (rather insistent) health issue.

I don’t know quite what menu item from the previous few days set me off, but given that Australopithicenes have always been lactose intolerant, it was something of a miracle that I’d made this many trips up the local mountains with nary an issue before. That luck ran out on this particular night, and the churning in my guts was audible on my voice memos as I was dictating notes on the various galaxies.

These notes are the more-narrative style I’ve used a couple of times here; I don’t intend to do them this way all the time, but they’re more readable than my standard style.


EAGLE’S RIDGE SPUR ROAD (43° 48′ 17.9496” N, 122° 42′ 45.6912” W)
MOON: 28 days; 4% illuminated, rose at 4:24 AM
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 50s, no breeze, some dew on exposed plastic elements but none on optical surfaces or telescopes

Others present: Dan B, Oggie G, Leticia

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

NGCs 3636, 3637 (Crt): These two fairly-obvious (but not super-bright) galaxies are flanking and somewhat N of a 7th-magnitude star. NGC 3636 is NP the 7th-mag star by 1.5′. It’s pretty small—0.67′ round—and has a bright core and possibly a substellar nucleus. Its halo is quite diffuse and faint; the core is the galaxy’s most notable feature. NGC 3637 is NF the 7th-mag star by 3′. It’s much bigger than 3636—1.25′ round—with a somewhat brighter core and a definite substellar nucleus. 3.25′ SF 3637 is a 13th-mag star. NP the 7th-mag star is a kite-shaped asterism; the kite’s tip is NP the 7th-mag star by 9′; the four stars in the kite shape are all 9th-mag and fainter; it’s 11′ from the southern tip of the kite to the star at the kite’s northern tip (which is N slightly F); stars are SP and SF the top star by 7′ and 6′ respectively; the dimmest star in the diamond (11th-mag) is the F-most star; the others are all 10th-magnitude. Back to the galaxies now that it’s a bit darker—the galaxies are more impressive now. N of 3637 by 7′ is a 13.5-mag star. F-most star in kite is N slightly P 3637 by 12.5′.

NGC 4024 (Crv): This is another pretty small, subtle little galaxy. It’s probably elliptical [actually a barred spiral], judging from its brightness profile. It has a small bright core and stellar nucleus; the core seems to be almost elongated slightly SP-NF. The halo is pretty diffuse, not well-defined, but small and vaguely roundish. Dimensions 1.0′ x 0.75′. There’s a Y-shaped pattern of stars P and very slightly S of the galaxy; the star on the SP of the Y is the brightest; the star on the N fork is second-brightest. The star in the middle of the ‘Y’ is faintest. The ‘Y’ star closest to the galaxy is 3.25′ from galaxy to the SP; the star at the center of the ‘Y’ is 2.5′ P the previous star and is 12th-magnitude; 2.5′ N very slightly P that last star is an 11.5-magnitude star. Back to the middle of the ‘Y’: the brightest star is S slightly P the middle star by 2′. A star between the galaxy and the closest star in the ‘Y’ is 13.5-mag and 1.5′ S very slightly P the galaxy. N of the galaxy by 3.5′ is a 12th-mag star that has a 14.5-mag companion N very slightly P by 0.67′. N very slightly P the galaxy by 18′ is the brightest star of a very small triangle (which at 9th magnitude is also the brightest in the field); to the P and SP of that star by 1.5′ are 13th-mag stars. SF the galaxy by 5′ is a double star of 13th and 14th magnitudes; the brighter component is N of the fainter by 0.25′.

NGCs 4038, 4039 (Crv): This one’s a classic—so much detail! As a whole, this object is very large. Both components are equally long (3.5′) but the N-most galaxy (4038) is almost twice as thick, 2.0′ thick across the middle. 4038 has not so much a core as a vaguely-defined “inner region”, which is much brighter and more mottled than that of 4039. This inner region makes up most of galaxy’s dimensions; 4038 much more detailed overall, with a better-defined halo, although the halo is not at all extensive. A 14th-magnitude star is 0.25′ off 4038’s NP edge and a faint star is embedded toward the galaxy’s NP end. The S galaxy (4039) is more diffuse, and about 1.25′ thick. 4039 is elongated P slightly S-F slightly N; 4038 is angled P slightly N-F slightly S; the two connect at their F ends. The notch between the two at the P end looks to be 0.5′ at widest. There’s a threshold star 1′ following point where two galaxies intersect. The whole thing reminds of a cocktail shrimp (Oggie says a fortune cookie). 5.5′ N very slightly P the N edge of 4038 is the S-most and brightest (9th magnitude) vertex of a triangle; N slightly P that star by 6.5′ is the second vertex (magnitude 11.3); the third vertex is NP by 7′ and is 11th magnitude. Just on the N slightly P edge of field (21′ from galaxies) is a 9th magnitude star. 16′ F the galaxies and very slightly N is an 11th-magnitude star; another 11th-mag star is P somewhat N that star by 6′. 5.75′ SF the point where the galaxies intersect is a double star of 13th and 14th magnitudes; components are separated SP-NF by 0.25′; the brighter component is slightly closer to the galaxies. 4.25′ due S of the S edge of 4039 is a 12th magnitude star; 5′ S very slightly P that star is a 10th magnitude star; 5′ SF that star is a 12th magnitude star with a 13.5 magnitude companion S of it by 0.75′.

NGCs 4027, 4027A (Crv): 4027: This is a very interesting galaxy. It’s elongated N-S, and quite large (2.5′ x 1.5′). Its core is irregular-shaped and offset toward the S end. The core/spiral arm is almost ‘C’ shaped starting at the S end, looping along the P edge and curling back toward the NF edge. The brightest part of the core is off to the SP quadrant. There seems to be a 14.5-magnitude star embedded in the halo in the “open area” inside the spiral arm/darker area in the halo where the arm doesn’t reach. The halo is more diffuse on the F side. There’s an occasional glimpse of another galaxy [4027A] 4′ S slightly P 4027—it comes and goes, even in averted vision. It’s impossible to determine its dimensions; it’s just a tiny faint diffuse glow. 4027 is bracketed inside a triangle of 12.5 and 13th magnitude stars; two of the stars are to the N; one is due N, one is NF and one is SF; the star to the N (which is also slightly P) is the brightest at 12.5 magnitude and is 3.5′ from the center of the galaxy; the two stars F the galaxy are equidistant from the galaxy at 3.25′ from the center of the galaxy and are both 13th magnitude. F and very slightly N of the galaxy is a mish-mash of stars; a small right triangle is closest to galaxy, followed by a pair; S slightly F that pair is a pair of brighter stars; the stars in this whole asterism range from 11th to 13th magnitude; the brightest in the group is the right-angle (NF) vertex of the triangle. P the galaxy by 7.5′ is an 11th magnitude star.

In my gastric distress, I had forgotten that I’d taken notes on NGCs 4105 and 4106 on my last excursion, and I duplicated the observation. A waste of valuable time, but there are worse ways to do so.

NGCs 4105, 4106 (Hya): [I had previously taken notes on this pair on 3/11/18] These two are almost onto the mountainside here, they’re so low. 4105 is P and very slightly N 4106. The two are separated by about 1′ core-to-core. Due S of 4105 is an 11th magnitude star that’s 2.5′ S of galaxy. The galaxy is very slightly elongated N-S, and is 1.25′ x 1.0′. It has a much more diffuse larger halo and brighter core with a substellar nucleus. 4106 is roundish, and 1.0′ round. It has a very small vaguely-defined core. A 9.5-magnitude star is NF 4106 by 14′, and is the second-brightest in the field. SP 4105 by 21′ is a 10.5-magnitude star, brightest in the field, right on the field’s edge. An arc of three stars precedes the galaxies; the middle star is brightest of the three at 12th-mag and is 7′ P very slightly N 4105; this bright star has fainter stars S (13th magnitude) and NF (12th magnitude).

Q: Does an astronomer shit in the woods?
A: He does if it’s too far to drive home and it’s an absolute biological imperative.

It was at this point that the monstrous Lovecraftian mass in my guts decided that it was sick of being put off. Fortunately, I had prepared for this eventuality (with toilet paper and plenty of hand sanitizer in the van), but the concept was still awkward and the execution even more so. Apologizing to the other observers for the need to use headlights, I drove quickly and desperately to the end of the spur road and purged the offending toxic material from my system.

I certainly felt better when I returned to my scope, despite having shot my night vision all to hell. Without having to worry about that particular problem anymore, I was able to more fully concentrate on my observing for the rest of the night, even if that night was shortened by the whole mess. (It took just over an hour between sets of notes to deal with the issue.) But I was able to finish out Hydra regardless.

NGC 5078, IC 879, IC 874, NGC 5101 (Hya)—We’re pushing the horizon now. 5078 is definitely an inclined spiral, elongated NP-SF. It’s about 2.0′ x 0.75′, and quite bright, with a substellar nucleus and a small core that’s not that much brighter than the halo. This is an interesting galaxy with “something going on” that is hard to discern; it has an odd appearance somehow, as if the brightening one would expect along it’s length isn’t there—a dust lane? SP 5078 by 2.5′ is an indeterminate glow [IC 879] that’s hard to see in direct vision, sometimes fleeting in direct and better in averted vision. In the starfield due F 5078 by 9′ is an 8th-magnitude star; a 9th-magnitude star is 10′ N of the 8th-magnitude star; there’s a pair F slightly S the 8th-magnitude star by 7′; the southern of the pair is the brighter (9.5 and 11th magnitudes), and they’re separated N-S by 1.5′. NF 5078 by 4′ is a 12th-magnitude star. Due N of the galaxy by 8.5′ is a 13th-magnitude star. 17′ S very slightly F the galaxy is a 10.5-magnitude star. P slightly S of the galaxy by 7.5′ is a 10.5-magnitude star. 17′ SP are a pair of equally-spaced, equally-bright double stars; the dimmer component of each is separated by 3.5′; each pair is separated by 0.75′; S of the S-most of the pair by 2.5′ is another galaxy [IC 874]. This is quite faint and smallish (0.75′ round). It has a somewhat brighter core and a tiny faint stellar nucleus. This galaxy is very diffuse and difficult to see. 18′ F very slightly S of the 8th-magnitude star that’s due F 5078 is another galaxy [5101]. This one is 23′ from 5078. It’s longish—1.75′ x 1.25’—and elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S. It’s slightly brighter than 5078, with a bright core and a faint stellar nucleus. It has a diffuse but well-defined halo. Due P 5101 by 0.75′ from the galaxy’s nucleus is a 13th-magnitude star; due N of that star by 3.75′ (3.5′ from the nucleus) is a 10.5-magnitude star, and 4′ SP the galaxy is a 13.5-magnitude star.

NGC 5061 (Hya): Still scraping the low reaches here. This one is even brighter than the previous few, with an obvious, well-defined halo, a much brighter small core, and a bright stellar nucleus. It’s slightly elongated P-F, 2.0′ x 1.75′. Quite a nice galaxy! 2.5′ almost due F (slightly S) is an 8.5-magnitude star; a small triangle of faint stars is off to the F side; the brightest in the triangle (at 12th magnitude) is 1.5′ due F that 8.5-magnitude star. 3′ N very slightly P the galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star. Another 13th-mag star is NF the galaxy by 4′; also NF galaxy by 18′ is a double star, which has almost equal components (the N-most may be slightly fainter); these are separated by 0.25′, and oriented N very slightly F-S very slightly P to each other.

With Hydra finished, I had a choice: move over to the setting Leo, head up to the still-prominent Canes Venatici and Coma Berenices, or continue on into Virgo. I chose the latter, as to not fall further behind my schedule.

NGCs 5084, 5068, 5087 (Vir): These three (they’re too far apart to qualify as an actual trio) are N of Gamma Hya, and very different to each other. 5084 is a very long, skinny galaxy, obviously an edge-on spiral. It’s elongated P slightly S-F slightly N, 3.0′ x 0.5′. It has a bright core and a stellar nucleus that are offset toward the F end of the galaxy. The halo is pretty well-defined and extended on the P end. The galaxy is in the middle of a trapezoid of six faint stars; on the NF end of the trapezoid is the closest vertex to the galaxy, a 14th-magnitude star 2.25′ F the galaxy’s nucleus; S very slightly F the galaxy by 4.25′ is a 13th-magnitude star; SP galaxy by 5.5′ is a 12.5-mag star that’s the brightest in the trapezoid; 5.5′ P and very very slightly S of the galaxy is a 13.5-magnitude star; just N of that star by 1.75′ is a 14.5-magnitude star. NP the galaxy by 8.5′ is a 13.5-magnitude star. Due F the galaxy by 12′ is a 9th-magnitude star. There’s another 9th-magnitude star 21′ due S of the galaxy. NGC 5068 is more than a 42′ field N slightly P 5084. This one is a huge diffuse round glow, with very little central concentration, just a (very) slightly brighter core that makes up half the size of the halo. The galaxy is about 4.25′ round, a poorly-defined galaxy that is nonetheless quite obvious. There’s a 14.5-magnitude star just on the N very slightly F edge of the halo. 0.5′ due P the edge of the halo is another 14.5-magnitude star, and a 14th-magnitude star is just off the SP edge of the halo. A 9.5-magnitude star is SF the galaxy by 15′, and a 10.5-magnitude star is NP the galaxy by 11.5′. NF the galaxy by 22′ is an 11th-magnitude star, and 13′ N of that star is NGC 5087. This galaxy is quite bright and slightly elongated N-S [a slow-moving satellite just crossed the galaxy]. It has an obvious but not overly-bright core and a stellar nucleus. It’s about 1.25′ x 0.875′ and very well-defined, with no “searching for edges.” 4′ N very slightly P 5087 is an 11th-magnitude star with a threshold star 1′ due P it. Due N of the galaxy by 15′ is a 9th-magnitude star. On the P side of the galaxy is a group of six stars: a triangle SP the galaxy (the brightest star in the triangle, the F-most vertex, is 10th magnitude, 7.5′ from galaxy; the P-most in the triangle is only slightly dimmer [10.5-magnitude] and 9′ from the galaxy, while the vertex to the S is threshold-level), a close pair due P the galaxy by 9′ (the N-most is much brighter; these are 10th and 12thmagnitudes and separated by 0.5′) and a single star of 9th magnitude 8′ P slightly N the galaxy. There’s also an 8th-magnitude star 17′ S of the galaxy.

NGC 5134, IC 4237 (Vir)—Seeing is decreasing now, but NGC 5134 is kind of impressive, brightish and obvious. It doesn’t have a bright core but has a prominent stellar nucleus, and is fairly evenly illuminated. It’s elongated NP-SF, 2.0′ x 0.75′, and pretty well-defined, but has a smoother brightness profile than most edge-ons (?). There are several faint stars around it; the brightest, at 10th magnitude, is F very slightly N of the galaxy by 9.5′; it may have a fainter companion NF; these stars are the NP end of a squiggle that stretches to the SF edge of the field. SF the galaxy by 8.5′ is a 11.5-magnitude star. Just off the NP edge of field, 23′ from 5134, is a 7th-mag star. Another galaxy [IC 4237] is due P NGC 5134 by 11′; it’s much more diffuse and fainter, with much less central concentration. Dimensions are difficult to tell, but it’s elongated NP-SF, and may have a threshold star just off F end. Between the two galaxies is a 13th-magnitude star, and NF that star by 4′ is a 13.5-magnitude star.

NGCs 5018, 5022 (Vir)—5018 is much the more obvious of these two, and looks like an elliptical. It’s 1.67′ x 1.25′, elongated P-F. The galaxy is pretty bright and well-defined, with an obvious brighter core and stellar nucleus. 6.25′ P and slightly N of galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star. A threshold star is 1′ off the edge of the galaxy’s halo on the F side, with another threshold star 2′ N of the galaxy. A 14th-magnitude star is 4.5′ S very slightly P galaxy. A 12th-magnitude star is 4′ F and very slightly S of the galaxy; a 13.5-magnitude star is due F that star by 1.5′. NF the galaxy by 7′ is an 11th-magnitude star; S slightly F that star by 2.5′ is NGC 5022: this galaxy is visible only sporadically. It’s a thin, undefined streak, 2.0′ x 0.3′?, and elongated S slightly P-N slightly F. I’m barely capable of holding 5022 in direct vision, as seeing has gotten poor and it may be quite faint at the best of times. It has a faint trace of a core but a definite nucleus. I was fortunate to see it, as it could have been passed over in current conditions.

 Oggie and his girlfriend had left by this point, and now Dan was packing up. With even Virgo past the meridian, I was quickly running out of time there as well, and I decided to call it a night. The next night was forecast to be as good or better than this one had been, so I only slightly reluctantly made the decision to tear down and head for home.


Thoroughly lactose-free, I headed up to Eagle’s Ridge the next night a bit earlier than the previous. I knew I would be alone tonight: Dan and Oggie were planning to check out a couple of possible new sites near Triangle Lake, Jerry was still sick, and no-one else had been interested in making the trip (based on the club’s e-mail list). Alone wasn’t that bad–at least I wouldn’t feel anti-social if I stuck to my own devices.

I had of course intended to work my way through the Leos (“Major” and Minor), but a look at my laminated Sky Atlas 2000.0 (Chart 6 tonight) showed that I still had a number of galaxies nearby in Lynx to ferret out. I should’ve let them go until next spring, but for whatever reason, I decided to catch them tonight. As I waited for the night to completely fall, I zeroed in on an object that was easy to find and bright enough to be visible in the twilight, watching it as more details became visible, until I felt the sky was dark enough to start taking adequate notes.


EAGLE’S RIDGE SPUR ROAD (43° 48′ 17.9496” N, 122° 42′ 45.6912” W)
MOON: 29 days; 1% illuminated, rose at 4:57 AM
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 50s, no breeze, some dew on exposed plastic elements but none on optical surfaces or telescopes

Others present: none

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


NGC 2903 (Leo): It’s not quite fully dark yet. This stunning galaxy has always been a favorite, though—a huge, Messier-quality galaxy. It has a prominent core and a substellar nucleus (the core is not particularly large [0.75′?]), and shows a hint of a bar running almost N-S (maybe this is known from photos more than actually seen?). The galaxy spans 9′ x 3.75′. It’s hard to see if there is a visible wind direction to the arms. The galaxy has a very well-defined halo. There’s N-S brightening about 2/3 of the length of galaxy, and the occasional hint on the N slightly F edge of the halo as if a separate arm, like a dark obscuration between that and the core or a detached arm. There’s a slight notch on the NP side of the galaxy, about halfway between this “detached part” and the nucleus—is this a spiral arm wrapping from the F side of the nucleus around to the N where the detached portion is? To the F slightly S of the galaxy is a 14.5-magnitude star 3.5′ from the galaxy’s nucleus. 4.5′ N very slightly P the galaxy is a 14th-magnitude star.—7′ NP the nucleus is at least a 14th-mag star; it may be a double, with a secondary of threshold level SP primary by less than 1′. S of the galaxy from P to F is a chain of stars of which the SF star is brightest (at 12th magnitude), 6′ from the nucleus of the galaxy; P very slightly S by 2′ is a fainter (13th magnitude) star; from the 13th-magnitude star 3.75′ P very slightly S is a 12th-magnitude star; from that star, 4.5′ P and slightly N is a 12.5-magnitude star; F and slightly N of that star by 1.5′ is a 14th-magnitude star. N of the galaxy is a flat trapezoid of stars; 8.5′ N very slightly F the galaxy’s nucleus is the brightest star (10th magnitude) in the trapezoid; NP that star by 3.5′ is a 13th-magnitude star; due P that star by 3.5′ is a pair, the brightest of which is SP the fainter by 0.25′ and these are 11.5 and 14th magnitude; SP the 11.5-mgnitude star by 4.5′ is another 11.5-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field (8th magnitude) is 21′ N of the galaxy.

Still with time to catch the Lynx galaxies before they dipped too low into the Eugene light-dome, I headed over toward that region of Lynx by the feet of Ursa Major.

NGC 2493 (Lyn): This one’s a bummer, one of the most difficult Herschels so far (although, to be fair, Lynx is starting to dip into the light dome of Eugene in the northwest). It took a lot of searching to find—I struck out on 2415. The galaxy is a tiny, roundish spot, very very faint, perhaps 0.3′ round. It has a tiny halo and a miniscule core (almost a nucleus). The galaxy is part of a very elongated diamond of stars, the brightest star (8th-mag) of which is NF the galaxy by 7.5′; to the P slightly N and NP of the galaxy, each by 4.5′, are a 10th-magnitude star and a 10.5-magnitude star respectively. NP the galaxy by 1.5′ is a 14th-magnitude star. A pair of 13.5-mag stars are S very slightly F the galaxy by 3′, with the second 0.75′ P slightly S of the first; a 14th-magnitude star is S very slightly F the galaxy by 3.5′. The galaxy has enough presence to stop on rather than passing over, but not any more than that.

NGC 2541 (Lyn): Amazingly, this one is even worse than the previous. Is this really a Herschel II object? It’s as substantial as a gnat fart in a hurricane, almost an averted-only object. It’s a very diffuse tenuous glow, difficult to determine the size of and poorly-defined, with only the slightest bit of central concentration. Elongation is N-S, 2.5′ x 1.5′. The galaxy sits just S of a pair of three-star arcs; one arc starts NP of the galaxy and dips S-ward, while the other starts NF and dips SP-ward. The galaxy is halfway between the S-most star (10th magnitude) in the first arc and an 11.5-magnitude star SP the galaxy. These stars are 8′ apart. F the galaxy by 6′ is a grouping of five 14th-mag and fainter stars in a zig-zag that starts NF the galaxy, moves toward the SP, back to the SF and then back to the SP; this zig-zag is 5′ from tip to tail. There’s also a 10.5-magnitude star 8′ S slightly F the galaxy. The brightest star in the field is a 9th-magnitude star 17′ SF the galaxy.

NGC 2500 (Lyn): This one is another relative disappointment, down toward the light dome of Eugene. It’s round, 2.25′ diameter, and very diffuse, with no central brightening and a poorly-defined halo. The galaxy is in the middle of a scattering of 12.5-magnitude and fainter stars with no real shape. There’s an 11.5-magnitude star just on the SP edge of the halo, and a threshold star just on the F side of halo. 2′ to the N is a 12.5-magnitude star. 2′ SF the star on the SP edge of halo is a 12.5-mag star. The brightest star in the field (9th-magnitude) is SP the galaxy by 14′.

NGC 2782 (Lyn): Not particularly impressive, but better than the last few. This one is smaller and brighter than previous two and roundish, 1.25′ diameter. It has a diffuse, poorly-defined halo, a brighter core, and a hint of a stellar nucleus. NF the galaxy by 8.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star. 4.5′ NP the galaxy is a very difficult double, hard to hold separate; separation is about 10″ but the faintness of the secondary is the main factor in its difficulty; the primary is P the secondary; components are 13th– and threshold magnitudes. A threshold star is 2.5′ due P the galaxy. Due S of the galaxy is the first of a pair of roughly equal (12.5-mag) stars; one star is 2.75′ due S of the galaxy and the other 1.5′ SF the first. 17′ SP the galaxy is a 9.5-magnitude star.

By this point, Lynx was becoming untenable to work in due to the light pollution. I sort-of let Sky Safari choose my next group of targets based on setting time, heading onward to my originally-intended hunting ground, Leo and Leo Minor.

It’s important to note, too, that even a dim and seemingly-featureless galaxy is an object worthy of contemplation and observation. I might call one “unimpressive” or “disappointing,” but it’s still an entire galaxy, and I still feel a touch of awe when I see it, out of respect for its true nature and the inconceivable distance between the observer and the observed.

NGC 3162 (Leo): Diffuse and difficult. Located near Adhafera [Zeta Leo]. This galaxy is irregularly bright in its inner regions. It’s roundish, 1.25′ in diameter. It has a faint core that’s poorly defined against the halo, which is pretty well defined despite its diffuseness. There’s a just-above-threshold magnitude star on the F slightly S edge of the halo. The galaxy forms one of the bottom corners of a Japanese torii pattern, the top of which arcs from NP to slightly S to NF the galaxy; one column of the torii runs NP and SP of the galaxy; N of the galaxy is the top of other “column”; the two stars at the edges of the arc are the brightest in the pattern; 10′ NP the galaxy is an 8.5-magnitude star; there’s a 10th-magnitude star 9.5′ NF the galaxy; the stars in the column P the galaxy are NP the galaxy by 5′ and 3.5′ P slightly S of the galaxy; N slightly F the galaxy by 3.5′ is the top of the other “column.” Due F the galaxy by 4.5′ is a 14th-magnitude star.

NGCs 3226, 3227 (Leo): An excellent pair! These are obviously interacting spirals [3226 is actually an elliptical]. 3226 is N very slightly P 3227, and much the smaller of the pair. There maybe a bit of N-S elongation, perhaps 1.25′ x 1.0′. 3226 has a diffuse but well-defined halo (is a halo ever not diffuse?) and a largish core. Every few moments is a flicker of a substellar nucleus, which is 2.5′ from the nucleus of 3227. 3227 is SF 3226, and is much the larger of the two at 2.25′ x 1.25′, elongated NP-SF. It’s not sure if there’s dark space between the two galaxies’ haloes. The galaxy has an obvious stellar nucleus and a brighter core that’s not as distinctive as 3226’s. Due P the nucleus by 4.5′ is a 13.5-magnitude star. 6′ NP the center of 3226 is a 13th-magnitude star; N of that star by 1.5′ is a 14th-magnitude star. An interesting small triangle of stars is SP the galaxies; the closest vertex to the galaxies is an 11th-magnitude star 7′ SP the nucleus of 3227; P very slightly N of that star by 1′ is a 12th-magnitude star. Back to the 13th-magnitude star: S and very slightly F that star by 3.5′ is the brightest star (10th magnitude) in that triangle. The brightest star in the field is 18′ SF the nucleus of 3227 and is 9th magnitude.

NGCs 3185, 3187, 3190, 3193 (Hickson 44; Leo): Perhaps the best of all the Hickson groups, although 3187 more difficult tonight than I’ve seen it in the past—the light glow in the northwest is getting harder to avoid. 3185 is a diffuse glow, slightly elongated P-F (1.5′ x 0.75′). It has a little central brightening, a hint of a stellar nucleus, and a poorly-defined halo. It’s surprisingly quite difficult tonight. 10.5 N slightly F is 3190, the brightest/most obvious of the four. It’s elongated P-F (2.0′ x 1.0′), with a bright core and bright substellar nucleus, and a better defined halo than 3185. A threshold star is SP galaxy by 1.5′; N very slightly F by 3.25′ is a 12th-magnitude star. Due P 3190 by 5′ is 3187: really tough tonight, a threshold-level, P-F elongated glow, but its extent is hard to determine (it’s obviously smaller than 3190). 3187 appears to have a threshold-level star just SF it. 8.5′ N of 3190 is the second-brightest star in field at 8th magnitude. P and slightly N of 3190 by 17′ is a 7th-magnitude star, the brightest in the field. NF 3190 by 5.5′ is 3193, which is smaller than 3190 but almost as bright. It’s about 1.5′ across and roundish, with a large substantially-bright core and substellar nucleus; the core makes up about 75% of the galaxy’s diameter. The halo is small and well defined. 1′ due N is a 10th-magnitude star. F slightly N of the galaxy by 4′ is an 11th-magnitude star. NF galaxy by 7′ is a very faint pair of stars, separated NP-SF by 0.5′; these are of 14.5- and 15th-magnitudes.

NGC 3301 (Leo): This is an elongated spiral, but not the easiest edge-on I’ve seen. It does have a well-defined brightish core and a stellar nucleus. The galaxy is elongated SP-NF at 2.5′ x 0.75′. The ends of the halo are not well-defined; they kind-of evaporate into the background. Due N of the galaxy is a smallish right triangle of stars, with the short edge almost parallel to the galaxy; the short edge is 1.75′, the long edge 3.25′; the right-angle vertex is 3′ N of the galaxy and is the closest of the triangle’s stars to the galaxy; the opposite vertex on the long edge is the brightest in the triangle at 11th magnitude; the right angle vertex is 11.5 magnitude; the third vertex is 12.5 magnitude. 6′ SF galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star. On opposite sides of the field (S slightly P and NF the galaxy) each by 18′ are 10th-magnitude stars. An interesting double star is 20′ N slightly P the galaxy, with the 13th-magnitude primary component 0.5′ NP the 13.5-magnitude secondary.

NGC 3294 (LMi): Big and diffuse, with very little central brightening. The galaxy is quite obvious despite having almost no definition at all. It’s 3.0′ x 1.25′, elongated NP-SF. The galaxy seems wider on the NP end than on the SF end (?). There are 10th-magnitude stars NP and NF the galaxy; the star to the NP is 8′ from the center of the galaxy; the star to the NF is 5.5′ from the center of the galaxy. 12′ SF the center of the galaxy is an 8th-magnitude star . There may be a threshold star P the galaxy by 2.5′. 5′ from the SP edge of the galaxy is a 12.5-magnitude star.

I had to abandon the Lions at this point; Hickson 44 had been something of an indicator that Leo itself was already too close to the light-dome of Eugene. For all my intentions of doing a massive and thorough sweep through the Greater Lion, I’d gotten only a few of the dozens of Leo Herschels I needed. I ended up heading east and north for my last few galaxies of the night.

NGC 4203 (Com): had to move into Coma as Leo is in poor position. This is a very interesting field. The galaxy itself is 1.5′ round, with a small bright core, a brightish stellar nucleus, and a well-defined halo—probably an elliptical? 3.75′ N slightly P the galaxy is an 8th-magnitude star. 2′ N of the galaxy is a 12.5-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is on the SF edge of the field (20′ SF the galaxy) and is 5th magnitude. NP the galaxy is an arc of three stars 21′ from the galaxy. From S-NF: 8th magnitude, 10th magnitude, 11th magnitude; these are spaced about 4.25′ apart; the S-most is 17′ NP the galaxy. S of the galaxy by 21′ is an 8.5-magnitude star. SP the galaxy by 28′ is a beautiful double star [ADS 8470]: yellow primary and blue secondary, separated by 0.5′, with the primary P the secondary.

NGC 4395 (CVn): Another one of the most difficult in the Herschel catalogue (again). Huge!. This one is barely visible, tougher than (but similar to) NGC 4236 in Draco, and averted vision gives only slight benefit. Just a big round glow, 7′ across minimum [satellite through field]. It has the slightest hint of central brightening that runs NP-SF (rocking the scope helps reveal this elongation); the central region is 5′ x 7′ and looks “lumpy”, with a few threshold stars sprinkled across it?. One threshold star is on the F side 2/3 of the way from center to edge; there may be another threshold star SF in halo and one more threshold star on the NP side. There seems to be something small and nebulous on SF side? Distinctly non-stellar [NGC 4401?]. The galaxy is bracketed on the P and F sides by brightish stars: on P side, 12′ from the middle of the galaxy, is a 9th-magnitude star; there’s an 11th-magnitude star on the F slightly N side by 12′. 7′ S of the center of the galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star. I need to reexamine this one with the 18″ scope!

NGC 4051 (UMa): A really interesting one! This galaxy seems to show spiral structure. The halo is very large and is elongated P-F, while the brighter inner structure seems elongated NP-SF. The galaxy has a distinctive stellar nucleus and a small not very bright core region; this core region looks more a bar that runs NP-SF. The galaxy spans 4.0′ x 2.5′. This coulda been a Messier! A faint spiral arm appears to be reaching toward an 11th-mag star just off the P edge of the halo; the NF edge of the halo is less distinct than the rest, and there appears to be a notch in SP edge of halo. 4.25′ NF the galaxy’s nucleus is a 15th-magnitude star, and there is a 14.5-mag star 7′ F the galaxy’s nucleus. F slightly S of the galaxy by 12′ is an 8.5-magnitude star. 19′ P slightly N of the galaxy is an 8.5-magnitude star, and a 10th-mag star is NF the galaxy by 20′. This is a great galaxy, and I need to return to it!

NGC 4143 (CVn): A brightish, elongated galaxy, elongated 2.25′ x 0.75′ NP-SF. [There’s a very slow-moving satellite in the field]. The galaxy has an obvious bright core, although there’s something embedded in the NP end, or what looks like a double core. There’s also a visible substellar nucleus. The halo is well defined. 3.5′ N of the galaxy is a 14.5-magnitude star. A 9th-magnitude star lies SP the galaxy by 5′. P the galaxy by 6.5′ is a 13th-magnitude star; SF the galaxy by 4.5′ is a 13.5-magnitude star. Even further SF the galaxy is a small diamond-gemstone asterism; the SF-most star is the bottom of the diamond, and is 9th-magnitude, 14′ from the galaxy; the three stars in the top of the diamond are all 11th-/11.5-magnitude.

NGC 4138 (CVn): , An interesting inclined spiral, not far from 4143. This has a diffuse, not particularly well-defined halo and a bright core, but no visible nucleus. The galaxy is elongated 1.75′ x 1.0′ NP-SF. N slightly P the galaxy by 2′ is a 12th-magnitude star; NP that star by 4.5′ is another 12th-magnitude star; 5′ NF that second star is another 12th-magnitude star; these three form a triangle. 13′ F and slightly N of the galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star, while NP the galaxy by 18′ is a very impressive double: separated P-F by 0.25′ (secondary P the primary); the white 8th-magnitude primary is much brighter than the slightly blue 11th-magnitude secondary.

So that was that. With dawn soon to encroach and an hour’s drive ahead, I effectively conceded my attempt to finish the Herschel 400 and Herschel II this calendar year. I might be able to work through the earlier spring galaxies in the mornings of late fall and winter, but those seasons bring far fewer clear nights in which to “work.” I could also take much less detailed notes on the remaining objects and do more of them per night, but that’s far less satisfying and would feel like cheating.

So I packed up and headed home. When next I would get out to observe, Virgo too would be well past the meridian. Having previously cleared out the Herschels from the region in the best viewing position (Boötes/Serpens/Hercules/Draco), I could either choose to work on the galaxies of Ursa Major (which would still be in good position to observe) or I could begin making headway on the nebulae and clusters of the summer Milky Way—as I write this, I’m leaning toward the idea of the latter. Whichever happens, though, it’ll still be a worthwhile endeavor and a way to learn more about the universe.



The majority of the winter rains seem to be behind us here in the Willamette Valley; this winter was quite an improvement over the last several as far as astronomy goes,  and hopefully the spring and summer are as good as usual clear-night-wise. Although my work shifts have been getting canceled at an alarming rate, I couldn’t complain about a good forecast on the Clear Sky Chart for a Sunday in March. A good number of my fellow EAS members felt the same way, so plans were made to convene at Eureka Ridge—-due to its better southern horizon—-for a potentially long session with the stars.

Throughout the day, the constant stream of cirrus clouds overhead seemed intent on making a liar out of the CSC. I ducked off for a nap at 3 PM, expecting the cirrus to disappear before load-up time, and was relieved to find that this was mostly the case when I awoke. The transparency was still not ideal, but it would suffice. I could simply observe objects higher in the sky, where the transparency would be at its best—-about a 5 on the 10 scale, in my estimation, based entirely on the color of the daylight sky.

Someone rearranged the potholes on the BLM road to Eureka Ridge since we’d last been there, as the gravel road was a minefield. I’d expected some potholes and a lot of tree debris, but there was no debris of note on the road, and the potholes were more numerous than ever. I passed a large vehicle that was stopped off the roadside about halfway up, and it ended up following me the rest of the way as I picked my driving spots between the potholes at 5 MPH.

Only two types of people would be on the BLM road in the evening: sovcit types with full arsenals, and astronomers. I passed a pair of the former as I pulled onto Eureka Ridge proper; they stood beside their truck with impressive rifles out, aiming down into the bowl of which Eureka is the north ridge. Astronomers outnumbered them, however, as there were eight of us there by sunset. (Of the eight, I knew only Jerry, Kathy, and Frank, although I recognized most of the others from EAS meetings.) Every thirty seconds or so, a shot would ring out, and we would either hear a metallic clank (if they hit their target) or silence. I joked that the clank was just a sound effect intended to impress us with the shooters’ accuracy, and that they were really just shooting into the air.

The skies at Eureka aren’t as dark as those at Eagle’s Ridge; there’s about a half-magnitude difference between the sites. Eureka has the advantage of a flat southern horizon (although the light dome of Roseburg, 60 miles south, is quite prominent) and better east and west horizons that at Eagle’s Ridge. The disadvantages to Eureka, aside from the not-as-dark skies, are that it’s often windier than the “Eagle’s sites” and that dew is often a major issue. On this night, the wind wasn’t a problem, which may have made the dew even worse. By the time Bob the Dob was collimated and ready for action, it was already damp with condensation.

I intended to pick up where I left off last time, digging out the remaining Herschels in Lepus and continuing north and east. The transparency was pretty poor that close to the horizon, but the lack of mountains made it much easier to “get low” declination-wise, and I ended up sitting on the ground a lot to observe. This had been a never-ending source of amusement when I was with AASI, the members of which thought it strange that with the whole sky to work in, I would insist on observing as low in the south as I could manage. Here in EAS, though, no one gave it a second thought. In any case, the seven degrees of latitude difference between Carbondale and the Eugene area meant that several of my Herschel targets were low enough to require observing from the ground—-even some of the Messier objects were horizon-huggers from 44˚ North.

The observations that follow are compromised by the low altitude and declination of the objects I ended up observing. I noticed as I was transcribing these that the star magnitudes and galaxy sizes I had indicated are considerably off; the poor transparency of the southern sky dimmed field stars and washed out faint galactic haloes to the point of invisibility. I was working on objects as near to the meridian as possible, which is good operating procedure in any case, but many of these objects simply weren’t going to be able to successfully fight the gunk in the sky’s lower third. Should I have stuck to objects at higher altitude/declination? Possibly. But many of these targets would be more difficult at Eagle’s Ridge and impossible at Eagle’s Rest due to obstruction along the horizon, so they’d need to be observed at Eureka anyway. So I plowed ahead, knowing as I did so that these notes would be less accurate than they would be in better conditions.



MOON: 25 days (21% illumination); rose at 4:57 AM
TRANSPARENCY: 5; 4 below 30˚ altitude
SQM: 21.3
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 40s; some breeze below ridge level, high humidity/ground fog

Others present: JO, KO, FS, JL, JP, Bob M, MD

NGC 1964 (Lep): still not totally dark—galaxy dimmer than when I saw it in Illinois—elongated S slightly P-N slightly F—1.5′ x 0.67’—has a bright core and bright stellar nucleus—halo fairly diffuse—may be a threshold star just on P edge of halo—ends of halo very difficult, not defined—P very slightly N of galaxy by 2′ is a 10.5-mag star; N very slightly P that star by 2.5′ is a 10th-mag star; P slightly S of that star by 0.5′ is a 12th-mag star—SP the galaxy by 5′ is an 11th-mag star

At this point (or thereabouts), one of the observers made note of the zodiacal light in the northwest. Caused by sunlight scattering off of dust in the ecliptic plane of the solar system—-and therefore along the Zodiac—-the zodiacal light requires very dark skies to be seen. It’s a faint triangular glow that stretches from the horizon southeast along the constellations of the Zodiac. (It actually covers the whole sky, but is usually too dim, even from a dark site, to be seen aside from its brightest portion.) On this night, the Zodiacal light reached beyond the Pleiades, a faint triangular mist that served as an extra reminder of how fortunate I was to have skies so free from the artificial glow of humanity.

NGC 2139 (Lep): already missed 1162—galaxy is kind-of impressive—face-on spiral based on brightness profile—quite diffuse—slightly brighter core—threshold stars around galaxy? Hard to tell if nucleus present—somewhat elongated mostly P-F—1.25′ x 0.87’—brighter central region is 2/3 of length of galaxy—bracketed on S by a 10th-mag star 4′ from galaxy and by a 12th-mag star N very slightly P galaxy by 5’—3.5′ N very slightly P galaxy (in a line between galaxy and 12th-mag star) is a 13.5-mag star—N of galaxy by 5.25′ is a 13th-mag star (three stars make a small triangle)—N of galaxy by 1.5′ is a 14.5-mag star—back to 11th-mag star S of galaxy: a 14th-mag star S of that star by 1.25’—S of galaxy by 15′ is a 9th-mag star; another 9th-mag star P slightly S previous star by 6′, two brightest stars in field

NGC 2196 (Lep): on Lep-CMa border, way low in sky—pretty round—diffuse halo, brighter core (redundant tonight)—substellar nucleus is pretty obvious—1.0′ round—another face-on?–in middle of diamond of 10.5-11th-mag stars; closest star is 10.5-mag, NF galaxy by 9′; clockwise in eyepiece: faintest star of four (11.5-mag) NP galaxy by 11′; NP that star by 3.5′ and 4.5′ are 12.5- and 13th-mag stars; back to galaxy: 11th-mag star P very slightly S by 9.5′; brightest in diamond is S very slightly F galaxy by 13’—14th-mag star S very slightly F galaxy by 2.5’—another 14th-mag star P very slightly N of galaxy by 2.25′; another group of stars extends N and arcs S from that previous star and ends at star on P corner of diamond—N slightly P galaxy by 21′ is an 8th-mag star—NF galaxy by 19′ is a 9th-mag star

NGC 2781 (Hya): not at all impressive—reasonably bright—small, well-defined—0.67′ x 0.25’—conditions pretty poor down here—small brighter core, stellar nucleus—elongated P-F? hard to tell—S very slightly P by 8′ is a 9th-mag star—SF by 3.5′ is the dimmer of a N-S pair separated by 0.5′; stars are 13th– and 13.5-mags—N of galaxy by 2.25′ is a 13.5-mag star—P and slightly S of galaxy by 16′ is a 9.2-mag star

NGCs 2889, 2884 (Hya): diffuse but pretty obvious glow—reasonably large—roundish—1.5’—somewhat brighter core, but no visible nucleus—halo pretty well defined—S by 1.5′ from center is a 12.5-mag star—SP by 3′ is an 11th-mag star—F very slightly N by 12′ is a 10th-mag star—P and somewhat N by 16′ is an 11th-mag star; NF that star by 8′ (NP 2889 by 13′) is another galaxy (2884): smaller than 2889—edge-on—1.0′ x 0.25’—elongated N-S—hint of brighter central region but not well-defined in core or halo—NF by 5′ is a pair separated by 0.3′; the more S (and very slightly F) of pair is brighter; 13.5- and 14th-mags

NGC 2765 (Hya): continuing streak of unimpressive Hydra galaxies—small, reasonably well-defined galaxy—0.67′ x 0.25’—small brighter core—in averted there may be a flicker of a nucleus—not particularly bright but fairly obvious—elongated mostly P-F—F and somewhat S by 8′ is a 11th-mag star—S very slightly F galaxy by 8′ is a 12th-mag star; just N of that star by 0.75′ is a 14.5-mag star—S very slightly P galaxy by 5.5′ is a 14th-mag star—N very slightly F galaxy by 5′ is a 13.5-mag star

NGC 3078 (Hya): down as low as chair can go—galaxy is barely elongated N-S—0.67′ x 0.5’—brightish core but no nucleus seen—pretty well-defined halo—in middle of N-S elongated cross pattern—SF by 11′ is the brightest star in pattern (11.5-mag) that also serves as F-most vertex of tiny triangle; P that star by 1.5′ is a 13.5-mag star; from 13.5-mag star SF by 1′ is a 14.5-mag star—NP galaxy by 4.25′ is a 14.5-mag star—another 13.5-mag star N very slightly F of galaxy by 3.5’—SP galaxy by 5.5′ is a 12th-mag star which has a 13.5-mag star 0.75′ N

NGC 3109 is not a Herschel object, but is noteworthy for another reason: it’s the “fourth spiral” in the Local Group, that small association of nearby galaxies that makes up our cosmic neighborhood. There have been decades of arguments over 3109’s membership in the Local Group, but more-recent data appear to support its inclusion. So it joins the Milky Way, M31, and M33 as a major member galaxy on our block.

My notes on it give evidence of the difficulties of observing on this particular night. I considerably overestimated the size of NGC 3109, due to its diffuseness; it was hard to tell where the galaxy ended and the hazy, grey background sky began. Transparency, eyepiece fogging, low declination, and the light pollution of the southern horizon combined to make this extremely-dim galaxy a very difficult catch, more so than it would be if it was ten degrees higher.

NGC 3109 (Hya): poor conditions for this galaxy—huge, extremely-diffuse glow—18′ x 3.5’—elongated P-F—couple of brighter patches along length—several embedded stars including a 12th-mag star on F end—just on edge of one of brighter patches on P end of galaxy is a 13th-mag star—along S edge of galaxy, running SP-NF is an arc of 12th– and 13th-mag stars that terminates on P end with an 11.5-mag star—fainter than 4236 in Draco—not much definition—need to revisit under much better conditions

NGC 2986, PGC 27873 (Hya)–2986: better than many of the previous—probably an elliptical—0.75′ round—much more obvious core [airplane through field!]—maybe a flicker of a stellar nucleus—2′ from P edge of galaxy is either a threshold star or another galaxy, probably a galaxy (PGC 27873)—looks a bit extended or diffuse—very tiny, hard to tell orientation—to F and SF of 2986 is a zig-zag of four stars, brightest of which is second from N end and dimmest at S end; stars all between 10.5- and 12.5-mags—P and slightly S of galaxy by 10′ is a 12th-mag star—NP galaxy by 10.5′ is a double star; brighter component NF the dimmer by 0.75′; very unequal; brighter component (9.5-mag) is brightest star in field; dimmer component is 13th-mag; P and somewhat N that double by 18′ is another double of very unequal (10th– and 13th-mags) components; 10″ separation; brighter SF the dimmer

NGC 2784 (Hya): on Hydra-Antlia border—better galaxy than most tonight—bright, fairly small—elongated P very slightly S-F very slightly N—well-defined—unmistakable substellar nucleus and bright core—1.25′ x 0.5’—very obvious in field—in long triangle of 10th/11th-mag stars; brightest (10.25-mag) is NP galaxy by 6.5′; closest vertex is F slightly S galaxy by 3.5′, 10.5-mag; third vertex due S of galaxy by 5.5′, 11th-mag—N of galaxy is a small Cepheus-shaped asterism comprised mostly of 12th/13th-mag stars—rich field of stars

NGCs 3511, 3513 (Crt): 3511: very large thin galaxy—quite diffuse—elongated P very slightly S-F very slightly N—4.0′ x 0.67’—mottled along length—a bit of central brightening but more generally mottled—on F end of halo is a 13th-mag star—no visible nucleus—threshold star on P end—like 2613?—almost halfway between the two galaxies and a little bit P that point is an 11.5-mag star flanked on NF and due P by 12.5-mag stars; star to due P is 2′ and star NF is 3.5′ from 11.5-mag star—P slightly N of galaxy by 11′ is a 10th-mag star—bright zig-zag of 10th– to 13th-mag stars N and NF galaxy by 13-15’—NF galaxy by 24′ is a 9th-mag star—S slightly F 3511 by 11′ is 3513: very large, equally diffuse, roundish glow—maybe a slight bit of NP-SF elongation—2′ x 1.75’—some slight central brightening that’s not much brighter than halo—central region about half galaxy’s diameter—just off F edge of halo is a 14th-mag star—from SP side of galaxy by 4.5′ from nucleus is a 12th-mag star—from S very slightly P side of galaxy by 4.5′ is another 12th-mag star—S slightly F galaxy by 3′ is a 13.5-mag star; 13.5-mag star 4′ S that star

NGC 3585 (Hya): another bright, smallish galaxy—well-defined—elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S—1.25′ x 0.5’—forms a nearly-equilateral triangle with two 9th-mag stars to F and SF by 8.5’—[very slow satellite across middle of galaxy]—S by 8′ is a 12th-mag star—due N of galaxy by 12.5′ is an 11.5-mag star; due N of that star by 5′ is an 8th-mag star—P and slightly N of the galaxy by 9′ is a 12th-mag star; P and slightly S that star by 10.5′ is an 8th-mag star

Somewhere during the course of the night, I had to start using the hair dryer I’d borrowed (last year!) from Randy B–a portable 12-volt dryer made for camping, and perfect for defogging a dewy eyepiece.  I ended up kicking myself while using it; I have a dew-prevention system with a heater band for eyepieces, and never thought to bring it. I managed to repeatedly remind myself to bring the dryer, but bringing the Kendrick heater never occurred to me. Ugh.

The number of astronomers on the Eureka road was dwindling quickly; Frank and Bob had left earlier, shortly followed by Mike and Jeff P, and now Jerry and Kathy were heading home (having had a busy week). So Jeff L and I were left to work on our own projects: Jeff was working through as many Messiers as he could get to, given the fog-slash-humidity causing so many issues. Given the poor conditions so low in the sky, I should’ve made my way up into Leo and Leo Minor as I had long been planning. But the southern horizon at Eureka made it tempting to stay farther down in declination, and I ended up doing several more observations sitting on the gravel of the ridge road.

NGC 3621 (Hya): huge, mottled, and impressive!—elongated N very slightly P-S very slightly F—inside a diamond of stars whose major axis is oriented NP-SF—galaxy very irregularly bright and mottled—a little brighter on N end in interior—fairly diffuse halo but better-defined large core—edges of halo poorly defined—7.5′ x 3.5’—Messier-sized!—seeing really poor now, and eyepiece fogging up again—interior region/core about 60% of diameter—NP end of diamond is a small triangle, star on SF end is second-brightest in diamond at 11.5-mag; star on S slightly P end of diamond just a shade brighter than star on SF end; star on NF end is 13.5-mag; star on NP end is 13th-mag and has two 15th-mag stars SF and F slightly S from it, 0.5′ from 13th-mag star—S of galaxy by 9′ from galaxy’s center is an 11.5-mag star—NF galaxy by 16′ is an 11th-mag star—another 11th-mag star NP galaxy by 15’—very rewarding galaxy!

NGCs 4105, 4106 (Hya): obviously interacting—nice pair!—4105: elongated slightly NP-SF—4105 larger and slightly brighter of pair—obvious core—substellar nucleus—0.75′ x 0.5′ –S by 2.75′ is a 13th-mag star—an 11.5-mag star P very slightly N by 7’—21′ SP is a 10.5-mag star—4106: elongated SP-NF—0.67′ x 0.5’—halo more diffuse—smaller, less-defined core—1.0′ between centers of two galaxies—4105 is P very slightly N of 4106—NF 4106 by 14′ is an 11th-mag star—just off S end of field (26′) is a 10th-mag star

My usual method of finding an object involves locating it on a paper chart (either Sky Atlas 2000.0, the Interstellarum Deep-Sky Atlas, or the Pocket Sky Atlas, but usually the first), determining my guide stars, and then using the TriAtlas app on my phone once I’d gotten close. Unlike most of my fellow astronomy nuts, I find planetarium apps like Sky Safari to be unwieldy for selecting guide stars, even with its adjustable scale. But using a paper atlas usually involves getting up and going over to my gear table, which most often is next to my van. This isn’t actually a problem, as it forces me to get up and move every few minutes, keeping circulation going.

Getting up this time, though, I noticed that the fog —-formerly creeping up the floor of Eureka’s bowl—-was now glowing white along the road a hundred feet ahead of my van, like the vampire cloud from the original Star Trek. It was more than a little bit eerie to watch the fog encroach, gleaming white amid the darkness of the night.

NGC 3145 (Hya): near Lambda Hya, which makes observing the galaxy difficult—elongated S very slightly P-N very slightly F—1.5′ x 0.5’—if Lambda wasn’t here this would be a fine galaxy—brightish core and substellar nucleus—Lambda Hya is NF galaxy by 8’—a 12th-mag star SP galaxy by 3.5’—NP galaxy by 4′ is a 14.5-mag star—with galaxy centered, just outside edge of field due S of galaxy is a 7th-mag star—N of galaxy by 21′ is another 7th-mag star

NGC 3732 (Crt): small and less-impressive than last few—0.5′ round—small brighter core—no visible nucleus—pretty well-defined halo—SP galaxy by 1′ is a 13.5-mag star—galaxy has line of stars P and N of it; lines meet at a 14th-mag star 6′ S very slightly F galaxy—a 13.5-mag star N of galaxy by 3’—also N of galaxy by 8.5′ is a faint pair oriented N-S with brighter to N, mags 13 and 14.5, separated by 12″—NP the galaxy by 6′ is a 12th-mag star

NGC 3892 (Crt): fairly small—pretty well-defined—has a slightly-brighter core but no real visible nucleus—elongated P-F—0.75′ x 0.3’—P galaxy by 15′ is a 10th-mag star; a southward-curving arc of five 13th-mag stars loops S from the 10th-mag star back N to the galaxy—NP galaxy by 15′ is an 11th-mag star—P very slightly N of galaxy by 2′ is a 14th-mag star—SP the galaxy by 0.75′ is a 15th-mag star—NF galaxy by 5.5′ is a 12th-mag star—N slightly F by 16′ is another 12th-mag star

NGC 3962 (Crt): elliptical?—roundish—0.67′ round—bright core and well-defined halo, trace of a substellar nucleus—N of a pair of 12th-mag stars, one to S very slightly P by 2.5′ and the other S slightly F by 3.25’—NF galaxy by 16′ is an 11th-mag star—N slightly F by 8′ is a 13th-mag star—P slightly S of the galaxy by 7′ is a 12th-mag star

By now, I was hitting the hair dryer between every object, and had caught a few stray hairs in the motor more than once. I knew that my observations weren’t as good as they should’ve been, considering the crud in the sky and—as I discovered—the fact that the secondary mirror’s dew-heater had surrendered to the overwhelming presence of the dew. As I was tearing the scope down, I noticed that the secondary had a ring of condensation around its edge, contributing to the more-feeble appearance of many of the observed galaxies (which I knew should’ve been brighter than they were).

Jeff and I talked for a bit; I hated to leave a clear sky even if my scope was already packed up. He planned to stay as long as possible (although he would later tell me that his secondary had completely fogged-over within an hour of my leaving). I wan’t as keen to leave a lone observer at Eureka after having seen a bear there last year, but Jeff wasn’t put off by bears; he lived down near Eagle’s Rest, and was accustomed to wildlife wandering through.

So I left while there were still stars visible and Herschel objects waiting to be plundered. It was a better evening quantity-wise than quality-wise, but that was the way things went sometimes.

South in Winter

Why am I doing this?

I’ve often asked myself this question regarding astronomy—not in an exasperated sense, but in an attempt to understand what about astronomy compels me to load up a vehicle with heavy-ish equipment and drive away from “civilization,” spending many (frequently uncomfortable) nighttime hours in pursuing faint smudges of light before tearing the heavy gear down and making a tired drive home.

It’s a question I still can’t really answer.

I have, by my count, made 468 field recordings—dictations at the eyepiece—of 548 objects, totaling more than 43 hours of notetaking time. This represents the smallest fraction of the actual observing I’ve done—it doesn’t include the years I spent learning the sky from my backyard in Cincinnati, the years I spent there hunting the Messier objects and the brighter NGCs of summer, the years in Findlay Ohio, Eagle River Alaska, and Carbondale Illinois where I would observe faithfully but not take notes on what I’d seen, the thousands of hours I’ve spent working with the public to show them the sights I’ve seen and answering questions about the universe, the reobservations of favorite objects and looks through other observers’ telescopes; it doesn’t reflect the time and money spent acquiring an enviable collection of telescopes, eyepieces, books, and other paraphernalia. While other interests and diversions waxed and waned, astronomy has been the one constant in my life since I was 12, and was a notable element even in my younger years.

And yet, when asked what I find so compelling about seeing into the universe, I can’t muster up a good explanation. I’m sure part of the answer is the esoteric nature of what we do—tracking down obscure distant objects in forgotten corners of the sky. Obscure things have always intrigued me; it’s why I chose an esoteric theme involving hundreds of little-known languages for my M.A. thesis in linguistics. Part of astronomy’s appeal is also (no pun intended) universal—almost everyone has some interest in gorgeous pictures of deep-space objects and/or the patterns of the constellations and the dance of the planets and Moon among them. And part of it is almost certainly a spiritual/metaphysical yearning to make connection to the greater universe of which we’re an infinitesimal part. But these don’t add up to a concise answer for why I’m willing to spend cold hours on a mountain ridge alone, trying to eke out details in a tiny image of a distant galaxy so dim that it’s barely visible as anything more than a sliver of brightening against the background sky.

Why am I doing this?

The question—and how to answer it in a blog post—helped keep me awake on the drive home from my latest excursion down to Eagle’s Ridge. It had been a somewhat challenging session, with temperatures below freezing, gusty winds that sprang up early after twilight faded, and the isolation of observing alone… all on a mere four nights’ sleep the night before. But it was a productive session nonetheless, with observations of twelve more Herschel galaxies and several non-Herschel targets, including both a personal bete-noire and an object that allowed me to add to a quirky list of my own making.

Unable to cajole anyone else in EAS to come out observing on a cold Monday night, and Jerry and Kathy being in Hawaii, I went out to the site alone. (Bill Basham would later tell me that he had thought about driving out, but decided to stay closer to home.) My plan was to attempt the road to Eagle’s Ridge—I needed the better southern horizon on the ridge than what the gravel pit (our secondary site nearby) could provide—and fall back to the gravel site if the road to the ridge was too snowy. Fortunately, the ridge road had only a dusting of snow on it, and there were snow-free tire tracks all the way up. I made it just after sunset, with the sky still bright enough to set up. Rather than waiting by the scope as darkness fell, and with no-one else to talk to, I got back into the van until it was acceptably dark to begin Herschel hunting.

I had brought with me some extra gear. Expecting frost, I had brought my Celestron Powertank and Randy Beiderwell’s portable hair dryer, for the sake of defrosting fogged-over eyepieces if need be. And I also brought my iPad, which had tonight’s potential target list plugged into Sky Safari. To protect the iPad from the cold, I put it in a thermal bag designed for transporting hot food, and then chucked a quartet of chemical handwarmers into the bag with it. This worked reasonably well for a while. Having the iPad also allowed me some background noise to keep away any foraging critters (bears, Smilodon, etc.), or at least alert them to my presence. I ended up listening to the Nerdist’s interview with Saoirse Ronan on a loop, so as to not have to keep fiddling with the iPad unnecessarily.

EAGLE’S RIDGE SPUR ROAD (43° 48′ 17.9496” N, 122° 42′ 45.6912” W)
MOON: 28 days; 4% illuminated, rose at 6:01 AM
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.6
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 30s/high 20s, considerable breeze starting from 8:30; frost on exposed gear by 7:30

Others present: none

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

NGC 1187 (Eri)—not fully dark yet—big, diffuse, not particularly easy glow—forms a squashed pentagon with four stars—very poorly defined—has a measure of central brightening but no visible nucleus—brighter core region—inclined spiral?—elongated NP-SF—3.5′ x 2.5’—poorly defined so hard to tell where halo ends—inner region is about 1.0′ x 0.67′ and comes gradually to halo—4.5′ NP from center of galaxy is a 9th-mag star; S slightly P that star by 4′ is a 12th-mag star; S of that star by 5′ is an 11th-mag star; an 11.5-mag star F and very slightly S that star by 3.25’—galaxy is NF vertex of this pentagon—pentagon elongated major axis N-S—just outside edge of field, 26′ SF galaxy, is a 10th-mag star—N of galaxy by 19′ from galaxy’s center is a 9.5-mag star

Some time back, I had set the odd goal of observing a galaxy in every constellation visible from my local observing sites. There’s no scientific value to this, and it’s unlikely to be finished without a massive scope (as Sagitta and Scutum have no galaxies plotted even on the TriAtlas, meaning that I’ll have to plumb even deeper than that set of charts is able to go). But there’s an odd appeal about this to me, and it will push me to explore parts of the sky I wouldn’t normally bother with.

One of these lost corners of the sky is the constellation of Caelum, the Chisel. Caelum is a small, dim constellation just east of Eridanus and south of Lepus. It boasts one notable object: the distorted spiral galaxy NGC 1679, which somehow even escaped the attention of Halton Arp when compiling his groundbreaking Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies.

I had set an alarm to alert me to the galaxy’s 7:16 PM transit time—the time at which the galaxy would be at its highest point in the sky, and therefore at its best visibility. Unfortunately, the galaxy’s meridian transit was still behind the mountain ridge, and I had to wait another several minutes before it would be above a low spot in the ridge enough to observe. Even at that point, it wasn’t the most impressive of objects, but it fulfilled a need to find something within Caelum, and was a rewarding object all its own.

NGC 1679 (Cae)—a bit of a wish fulfillment—very low in sky, barely cleared top of the ridge—could easily overlook, but definitely noticeable—not a threshold object—elongated mostly N-S, maybe N slightly P-S slightly F—very diffuse and weakened by altitude—decent-sized—a little bit of irregular central brightening, an odd shape—maybe a very faint stellar nucleus flashes in averted—has a 14.5-mag star on NP edge of halo that makes it hard to see if there’s a nucleus or not—threshold star on SP edge of halo—2.25′ x 1.75’—[very bright satellite through NP edge of field]—difficult halo to define—P and a little bit N of galaxy by 6′ is the more-southern of a pair of 11.5-mag stars; other in pair is NP the first; separated by 2’—NP galaxy by 5′ is a 14th-mag star—galaxy seems a bit triangular pointing to N very slightly P edge

I had also hoped to sweep up NGC 1512 in the more-southerly constellation Horologium (The Clock). But there was no chance of this at Eagle’s Ridge, as the galaxy and nearby bright stars Alpha and Delta Horologii would never make it above the ridge-line. They may barely be possible from Eureka Ridge, which has the best southern horizon of our regular observing sites, but even then, the galaxy will be a ghost of its expected brightness.

My observations on this night were, as I discovered later, considerably hampered by atmospheric extinction down at low altitudes. Many of my targets were within ten degrees of the ridge-top, and suffered from the extremely poor seeing and unexpectedly-poor transparency there; although the sky seemed decent-enough down there, my estimates of stellar magnitudes at the lower declinations were as many as 1.5 magnitudes too low.

NGCs 1332, 1325, 1319, 1315 (Eri)—1332: very bright—kind of a miniature NGC 7331?—elongated NP-SF—has a bright core and an obvious substellar nucleus—2.25′ x 0.75’—well-defined—hard to get good focus this low—galaxy has threshold star just S of nucleus off edge of halo; star difficult to hold—N of galaxy by 8′ is a very faint fuzzy glow, no discernable size, just very small weak diffuse glow, another galaxy? [??] Mainly averted object—NP 1332 by 22′ is a 9th-mag star—field immediately around galaxy is otherwise pretty barren of stars—SP 1332 by 29′ is 1325: considerably more difficult, partly because it has a brightish (12.5-mag) star on NF edge—galaxy elongated SP-NF—due F by 1′ from center of galaxy is a threshold star—more diffuse than 1332—hard to tell if there’s a nucleus because of star on edge—has some moderate central brightening—2.0′ x 0.67’—another star NF the star on galaxy’s edge by 3.75′; that second star is 13th-mag—S of galaxy by 8′ is an 10th-mag star—P galaxy by 16′ is a line of three stars, of which brightest is in middle; brightest is 12th-mag, other two are 13.5-mag—S of galaxy by 17′ is another group of stars—back to line of three, which is about 3′ long; brightest star is NP star next to it by 0.75′, while third star is 2.25′ the brightest—halfway between that line and NGC 1325 is 1319: very difficult glow of indeterminate size and shape—elongated NF-SP?—hard to hold steady in direct vision—[fogged up eyepiece]—0.75′ x 0.5’—may have very very faint stellar nucleus—threshold star just off NP end of galaxy—back to line of three stars: 10′ NP the brightest star in the line is a 0.75′ glow (1315): has a 14.5-mag star SF galaxy by 1.5’—stellar nucleus that pops in averted—very diffuse galaxy, but brighter than 1319—a little more concentration than 1319—not well defined—easy to miss 1315 and 1319 without knowing they were there

My next target was also a bit of a wishful-thinking object. NGC 1532, along with its attendant galaxy NGC 1531, is one of the most striking spiral galaxies in photographs, and had always been problematic from Illinois due to southern light pollution. Here, as with NGC 1679, I had to wait for the pair to clear the ridge; even diminished by the altitude, 1532 was impressive.

NGCs 1532, 1531 (Eri)—way down low, on edge of ridge—seeing is very poor—1532: a huge galaxy, even considering conditions—elongated SP-NF—4.5′ x 0.75’—has an obvious substellar nucleus and bright core—well-defined halo—no traces of bend in arms—1531: P 1532, very slightly N of 1532’s nucleus—elongated P-F—0.5′ x 0.3’—a wide sliver of darkness between two galaxies—doesn’t have a visible nucleus—slightly brighter core—NP 1531 by 3′ is a 14th-mag star—these galaxies are in a long triangle of bright stars; brightest (8.5-mag) is to NF of the center of 1532 by 14′; SP of 1532’s nucleus by 7′ is an 11.5-mag star and P the nucleus by 8′ is an 11th-mag star; stars separated by 7’—F 1532 is a pair of 13.5-mag stars, separated by 2.5′

And then it was back to Herscheling for the rest of the evening:

NGC 1353 (Eri)—seeing is better here than at previous galaxies—elongated NP-SF—has an obvious nucleus—brighter core—pretty well-defined, can see all the way to the edge—2.25′ x 0.75’—2.5′ SF from nucleus is a 13th-mag star—a 14th-mag star SP galaxy by 6’—NF galaxy by 15′ is a pair of stars; brighter NP fainter by 3.5′; mags 11.5 and 12—F slightly N of galaxy by 13′ is an 11th-mag star—pretty nice galaxy

NGC 1114 (Eri)—one of most difficult Herschels I’ve looked at so far—getting windier—galaxy a bummer—very very faint glow—elongated N-S—very very diffuse—poorly defined—2.0′ x 0.5′?—almost no central brightening—from SF to NP, galaxy is third element in a line of four (including three stars)—”elements” are roughly equally spaced—star at SF end is 8th-mag; next is 8.5-mag, then galaxy, then at NP end of line is an 8th-mag star; all four elements in line spaced 8-10′ from the next; whole line about 30’—seeing poor down here—passed over galaxy at least once

It’s no exaggeration to say that NGC 1114 may be one of the most difficult objects in either of the Astronomical League’s Herschel observing programs. A dud, at least in these conditions.

It was well-compensated for by the next target.

NGC 1421 (Eri)—very impressive!—just S of “Zaurak bend”—elongated N-S—3.0′ x 0.67’—fairly well defined, particularly on N end—N end a little wider than S end—not a lot of central brightening to galaxy—diffuse but well defined—2/3 of the way from S to N is a dark obscuration across galaxy’s width—3′ off S end F is a threshold star—P galaxy and a bit N by 3′ is a 13th-mag star—N very slightly P galaxy’s center by 7′ is a 14th-mag star—S and SF the galaxy is an irregular grouping of 9th-12th-mag stars that takes up a big chunk of S and SF edges of field—NP galaxy by 20′ is a diamond of stars whose major axis runs SP-NF and is composed of 10th/12th-mag stars; major axis 7′ long

The Zaurak Bend is one of two asterisms I use for finding objects in Eridanus. Consisting of Gamma (Zaurak, “The Boat”; there’s also an actual US warship named after the star), Pi, Delta, and Epsilon Eridani, the Zaurak Bend is a mere zig-zag of stars prominent mostly for being the only real bright stars in the immediate vicinity. It’s not even a real asterism; I’ve called it the Zaurak Bend since my Cincinnati days, as it was the only part of the constellation visible from my backyard other than Beta Eridani. Epsion Eridani is noteworthy for both its proximity (it’s the 10th-closest star to the Sun) and for having one of the first extra-solar dust disks discovered; the presence of a dust disk is a sign of a possible planetary system. No planets have yet been verified around Epsilon Eri, but time will tell. The dust disk is itself noteworthy.

The other asterism I “created” in Eridanus lies just below the Zaurak Bend, and consists of Tau4, 5, 6, 7 Eridani and 15 Eridani. This group resembles (at least to my cave-painting inspired brain) a downward-pointing radio dish, as seen in Episode 8 of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, in which Sagan fast-forwards the constellation Cetus until it looks like a radio telescope. The “Radio Dish” is a pretty feeble attempt at asterism-defining, but it works for me; the NGC 1332 group and NGC 1353 were all found using it, and I’d intended to go back for the NGC 1228/1229/1230 group in the Dish as well, but got sidetracked and didn’t return to it.

At this point, the wind had become an issue. I had noticed frost on my telescope’s shroud as early as 7:30, and the wind could be heard increasing in strength on some of my recordings. The cold by itself wasn’t a huge deal, although the chemical warmers I was using weren’t very effective tonight even in my gloves. Worried about my iPad being impacted by the below-freezing temperatures despite the precautions I’d taken, I took the iPad into the van and sat for a little while, running the heater for a bit in the dark, trying to warm my hands up a bit more. By the time I got back to observing, I was reasonably warmed up. It didn’t last long; it took me quite a while to star-hop over to my next target, despite it being in a star-rich region.

NGC 1762 (Ori)—tiny elliptical-ish—maybe 0.5′ round—not overly dim, but quite small—has a brighter core region and substellar nucleus—pretty well-defined galaxy amid a rich field—ADS 3623 P galaxy by 23’—ADS 3623 is yellow-white primary, bluish secondary; primary 7th-mag, secondary 9.5; primary SP the secondary; separated by 0.3’—brightest star in galaxy’s field is closest vertex of a triangle NP galaxy; brightest star (10th-mag) is 8.5′ NP galaxy, and is F-most vertex of triangle; bottom of triangle runs P-F and is 6′ long; P-most vertex is 11th-mag; third vertex is N of other two, NP brightest by 4′ and is 13th-mag

NGC 1832 (Lep)—much brighter than 1762, not bad—smallish, 1.0′ round—diffuse halo, brighter core, no visible nucleus—just outside halo on F side is a 12.5-mag star—N slightly F galaxy’s nucleus by 5′ is an 10.5-mag star; NF that star by 3.5′ is a 12th-mag star—galaxy forms NF vertex of a triangle with an 11th-mag star P and very slightly S by 11′; S very slightly P by 12′ is an 11.5-mag star—F galaxy by 18′ is a double star; very unequal components; separated P very slightly S-F very slightly N; brighter component F; separated by 0.4′; 11th and 13th-mags—double star N very slightly P galaxy by 8′; aligned P very slightly S-F very slightly N; F star is brighter; 13th– and 14th– mags, separated by 0.5’—seeing really mushy now

NGC 2283 (CMa)—a lot of nothing—quite difficult—extremely diffuse, no central brightening—inside a close triangle of 14th/15th-mag stars, two to N, one to S—hard to gauge galaxy’s dimensions, 1.5′ round?— two “brighter” vertices of triangle are on N side of galaxy; 14th/14.5-mags, with 14th-mag star NP galaxy, 14.5-mag to NF; third vertex on S edge of galaxy—P galaxy by 10′ is an 8th-mag star

NGC 2339 (Gem)—faint but obvious—1.75′ round—some slight irregularly-bright central concentration, very faint nucleus or threshold star slightly to NF center of glow—not well defined—galaxy bracketed to P and N slightly F sides by 12th-mag stars; star to P is slightly brighter than other; star to NF about 3′ from galaxy’s center; star to P is 3.5′ from center of galaxy; halfway between galaxy and star to P is a 14.5-mag star—15th-mag star 2.5′ S slightly F galaxy—13th-mag star F and slightly S galaxy by 4.5’—brightest star in field is one of a trio along N and NF edges of field; N slightly F galaxy by 19′ is a pair of 9th-mag stars separated by 3.5′; one is P slightly N the other; F and slightly N of galaxy by 20′ is an 8.5-mag star

I knew of the bright supernova in NGC 2525, but hadn’t prepared a chart for it—stupidly, as it turned out. Usually, with extragalactic supernovae, I would sketch the scene. I hadn’t remembered to bring my sketching gear, though, so I was stuck here. I took extra care to note every star in the vicinity of the galaxy, which was a lot; it’s the middle of the winter Milky Way, after all. When I originally wrote this post, I thought I had figured out which star was the supernova, but the more I looked at photos of the supernova and compared them with my notes, the less certain I became. So I’ve edited the notes a bit to remove the supernova reference; if I can’t positively identify which star was the supernova from my descriptions, I’m not going to claim to have seen it.

The galaxy also produced an unfortunate effect: try saying “NGC 2525” without doing it to the tune of Zager & Evans’ “In the Year 2525.” It stuck with me the rest of the night.

NGC 2525 (Pup)—Zager & Evans joke here—interesting galaxy—large, very diffuse glow—elongated P-F-ish—not much central concentration—2.5′ x 2.0’—whole lot of faint stars scattered around it—off P edge is a 13.5-mag star; that star has a threshold-level star 0.25′ due P—on S edge of the galaxy is a pair or trio of threshold-level stars about 1′ from galaxy’s halo; F and slightly S that group is another 15th-mag star—just on N edge of halo is a 14.5-mag star; another 14.5-mag star just beyond halo by 1′ on F side of galaxy—galaxy between a squiggle of 4 stars to S and a 9.5-mag star N of galaxy; brightest in squiggle (11th-mag) is on NP end, 5′ from center of galaxy; second-brightest star in squiggle on SF end—star to N of galaxy 6′ from galaxy’s edge; leading from N edge of galaxy up to SP side of that star is an arc of five 14.5/15th-mag stars

By now, I had starting getting chilled again. My list of galaxy targets was huge; I could’ve spent the whole night there, alternating between the telescope and the interior of the van. I could have also gotten a nap in the van before heading home. But I was starting to lose steam, having operated on only four hours’ sleep and almost no food all day. Much as I regretted the idea, I needed to think about heading home. Time, then, for one more target, another low-lier altitude-wise, and probably the best of the night.

NGC 2613 (Pyx)—interesting galaxy—large edge-on spiral—elongated P slightly N-F slightly S—3.25′ x 0.75’—irregular central brightening along length, very mottled—well-defined galaxy—a number of faint stars N and S of it—brightest of these is a 13.5-mag star P galaxy by 2.5′ from galaxy’s center—14th-mag star due N of galaxy’s center by 1.5’—brightest in field are NP galaxy; one (10.5-mag) is NP galaxy by 8′; other (10th-mag) is NP that star by 5′; NF galaxy by 9′ is an 11.5-mag star

It was tough to pack up. Clear nights in February were a rarity here in the Willamette Valley, at least in the three winters I’ve been here. But this last winter has been the best I’ve had in that three years with regards to observing; we managed at least one good session per Moon-dark phase, and I was less starved for starlight than I had planned for when October rolled in.

Nonetheless, I regretted leaving so early. The early spring galaxy fields were starting to rotate into view; Leo and the Big Dipper (and the rest of Ursa Major), Hydra and Lynx and Camelopardalis were all becoming prominent, and there were still winter galaxies to plunder. (I had missed NGC 1162 in Eridanus, for example, despite it being on my list.) For once, I let discretion get the better of me, and with no-one else there for encouragement, I slowly stowed my gear for the drive back down the mountain.

The mountain road is only 10.5 miles from the Ridge to the bridge that marks the junction with Lost Creek Road. This takes easily half of the driving time needed to get to and from Eagle’s Ridge, and requires much more concentration than the highway/town half of the drive; deer, fallen branches, and axle-busting potholes are among the hazards of the return trip down, and on this night, there was also frost on the road to make it just a little more treacherous.

By the time I hit Lost Creek Road and higher speeds, my concentration began to pall. I had a can of Pepsi (yuck) for caffeine, but chose not to use it. Instead, I spent much of the remaining drive pondering the question, trying to formulate an answer while getting safely home.

Why am I doing this?

The answer never came to me.

But I would most certainly be back out the next clear Moon-dark night with another list of galaxies, giving in to whatever need starlight fills.




Singing on the River of Silence

January 13th had been forecast to be clear for quite a few days, an isolated blue island amid a sea of white blocks on the Clear Sky Chart for Eagle’s Rest. As it was a Saturday night with a day off before a couple of work shifts—not to mention the first potential observing session of the new year—I’d been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to haul a scope or two out of town for some dark-sky time.

My initial plan, as the day grew closer, was to haul out the EAS 18″ scope for some extreme observing: Abell planetary nebulae, some of the more-difficult Hickson groups and Abell galaxy clusters (plus a few Shakhbazian groups), and a number of unusual nebulae (including Gyulbudaghian’s Variable Nebula around the star PV Cephei). I spent about four hours plundering the interstellarum Deep-Sky Atlas for targets, creating an observing list in Sky Safari that I could take out with the iPad as an adjunct to the iDSA.

And yet, on the morning of the 13th, I had a change of mind. The CSC was now showing the transparency going to crap before midnight. I’d been considering taking Bob the (12.5″) Dob to pick off a few more Herschel galaxies anyway, but figured the time I’d taken to make a list for the 18″ would force me to commit to the larger scope and fainter targets. The CSC was the final decider, though; there was less impetus to take the big scope if I was only going to get six or so hours out of it (an excuse, really—six hours was plenty of time). So when 3 PM rolled around, it was Bob the Dob that got loaded into the Caveman-Mobile for the fifty-minute trip southeast.

I was the second member of EAS to get to the gravel site, having left a bit earlier than I normally get to—Bill B was already there, setting up his astrophotography gear and getting the tedious process of polar alignment underway.  Not knowing where anyone else was going to set up (or what gear they would bring), I wandered around the gravel dump for a few minutes, looking for a spot that was neither too muddy nor too uneven. I finally started setting up on a newly-graveled section of the site, one that led into an opening in the woods surrounding the clearing. Jerry and Dan R pulled in a few minutes later and started to unload the 20″ TriDob; Joe E and his friend Roger (and Roger’s grandson) pulled in toward the edge of the clearing shortly after Jerry and Dan.

But the sky wasn’t nearly as clear as any of us had expected.  As I’d driven down to the site, I’d noticed rolling layers of thin, cirrusy haze covering much of the sky, and the crud was pretty all-encompassing from the gravel dump-site. As the sky darkened, there were far fewer stars cutting through the muck than one would see from this site on a completely-clear night. By the time it was truly dark, it seemed as though we’d wasted our time driving down. Cetus, Pisces, and Eridanus (the constellations I’d planned to spend most of my time in) were discernible only as their most-basic figures—almost the way I saw them from light-polluted Cincinnati when I was first learning the sky—with none of the many faint stars that usually filled them in from sites like this one. The farther-southern constellation Sculptor, in which several of my Herschel targets resided, was already well below the treeline from the gravel site.

The issue here was transparency, rather than cloud cover. Clouds can be dealt with; unless the sky is completely covered, it’s a matter of observing through the gaps in the clouds. With poor transparency, though, a thin layer of haze, cirrus, smog, or whatever can gunk up the entire sky, preventing extended nebulous objects (including galaxies) from shining through. In poor seeing, double stars and planets suffer the most, while galaxies and nebulae are somewhat less affected. (I’ve rarely observed in great seeing conditions, but great transparency can be had when there’s no humidity or smoke causing problems.) These three factors—cloud cover, transparency, and seeing—can and often do dictate how an observing session is planned and carried out. For now, the transparency was a serious issue.

I’d planned to work on Sky Atlas 2000.0 charts 18, 10, 11, and 4 this particular night, sweeping up the Herschel 400/HII objects on those charts. After a couple of looks at some of the Chart 10 objects (NGCs 217 and 665), however, I realized that the whole western sky was pretty-well off-limits for the time being; the cirrus in that direction made those two galaxies glow at a mere fraction of their expected brightness.  Chart 4 targets were still a possibility, though, even though I’d have later opportunities for those higher-declination objects than the soon-to-disappear targets on the other three charts. But better for the moment to observe overhead, where the muck was thinner, than down low in the west where I’d be looking through thicker layers of gunk. I wasn’t yet ready to give up on the night.



EAGLE’S REST (gravel pit) (43°50’07.0″N, 122°44’45.0″W)
MOON: 27 days; 9% illuminated, rose at 5:44 AM
SQM: 21.4 (at 10:30 PM)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 40s, slight breeze

Others present: JO, DR, BB, JE, OG, DB, others

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

NGCs 891, 906, 910, 911 (And): 891: not as obvious as on some nights but better than previous two galaxies I searched for tonight (217 and 665)—elongated S slightly P-N slightly F—8.5′ x 1.25′ (at its widest)—in Dob Hole at moment—in averted vision, dust lane is pretty obvious—fairly apparent brighter core/central bulge—galaxy reasonably-well defined—just off F side by 1.5′ from galaxy’s center is a double star of two 13.5-mag components aligned P very slightly S-F very slightly N, separated by 0.5’—NP from center of galaxy by 4′ is an 11.5-mag star—SP center of galaxy by 12′ is another double of equal-mag (11.5-mag) components aligned SP-NF and separated by 0.5′; NF star is closer to galaxy and very slightly fainter than other—galaxy has a 13th-mag star just on SP end—also has an 11th-mag star on P side halfway from center to N end—brightest star in field is of 7th-mag and is 22′ SF galaxy [NGC 898 not visible in poor conditions]—F and somewhat S of that star is a line of three stars, 9th/10th– mags, unevenly spaced, running NP-SF in field and marking the N end of a trapezoid containing much of Abell 347—N slightly F the two of those three stars closest to the 7th-mag star (which are separated by 3.5′) by 5′ is brightest and N-most visible galaxy of Abell 347 (NGC 906): 0.75′ round—fairly undefined with no real central brightening or nucleus—S from those three stars on N end of Abell 347 are the two stars making the S side of the trapezoid, 9′ long, line oriented SP-NF—about halfway between these two stars is second Abell 347 galaxy (NGC 910): 0.5′ round—little bit of central brightening—in averted, maybe a nucleus—third galaxy (NGC 911): due S of star on top line of three (farthest from 7th-mag star) by 2’—0.5′ round with prominent stellar nucleus—not well defined at all but fairly obvious–have seen more galaxies here before, but poor transparency really hampering the view

I had observed NGC 891 several times before; it’s one of the standout galaxies of any season, and a good test of the sky clarity. Even somewhat diminished by the cruddiness of the sky, it was still impressive enough to take notes on (I hadn’t bothered with the other galaxies I’d observed tonight already). I’d seen seven galaxies in Abell 347 on previous occasions but only managed three this time—a further sign that tonight was far from optimal. Nonetheless, we all pressed on with our agendas. Taurus was better placed amid the cirrus than some of the other constellations I’d intended to work in (I took a glance at the Nu Eridani trio [NGC 1618, 1622, and 1625] and found them still under too much haze-cover), so after an undetailed look at NGC 1514 (the Crystal Ball Nebula, a planetary), I went after the two galaxy targets the constellation held:

NGCs 1587, 1588, 1589 (Tau): still disappointing due to transparency—1587: more S of two by 12’—N of an upside-down Big Dipper asterism pouring out to S, oriented (slightly N)P-(slightly S)F—7.5′ due N of asterism star where “bowl” meets “handle”; asterism stars all 9th-10.5-mags—galaxy is roundish, 0.75’—fairly well-defined—brighter core and substellar nucleus—N of 1587 by 3′ is a 12th-mag star—P galaxy by 7′ is a 10th-mag star which has a 12.5-mag companion SF by 1′–another galaxy (NGC 1588) off to F side of 1587, almost in contact—1588: 0.3′ round?—very very slight separation between 88 and 87—up to 1589: elongated N very slightly P–S very slightly F—1.125′ x 0.5’—halo much broader in averted—reasonably well-defined—has an obvious bright core region and stellar nucleus—brightening along major axis—NF center of galaxy by 1′ is a 13th-mag star—trio here much better than Nu Eri trio ATM

Oggie pulled up into the clearing with his Zhumell Dob; not long after, Dan B and his daughter (and some of her friends) came down from Eagle’s Ridge proper, where they’d been observing. Dan commented that the winds on the Ridge were too strong for decent observing, reinforcing Jerry’s notion that we were better-off in the tree-lined gravel pit.

I took some time off from Herschel galaxies to explore the winter sky away from the late-fall galaxy fields. The transparency was gradually improving, and I hoped for it to be at least average before I went back into galaxy “work.” My list for the 18″ scope had included supernova remnant IC 433 in Gemini’s foot, but I was unable to ferret any traces of the nebula out of the background—even going with the wider (1-degree) field of the Meade 24mm SWA eyepiece and a UHC filter. NGC 2174 (in Orion’s club) showed a minor wealth of detail, however, along with the embedded open cluster NGC 2175. I failed to turn up Sharpless 2-261, Lower’s Nebula, even after ten minutes or so of sweeping in the right area of the sky.

I ducked down into Monoceros to take my chances with some of the bright nebulae there: the Rosette was quite striking, its central void plainly apparent amid the flower-like hydrogen cloud; Hubble’s Variable Nebula was a small but bright fan-shaped glow with well-defined edges; the Cone Nebula was beyond the grasp of my scope, but its attendant star cluster (NGC 2264, The Christmas Tree Cluster) was brilliant. I’ve long wanted to chase after the long string of reflection nebulae (starting at NGC 2175) that trail along toward Gamma Monocerotis, but got sidetracked and didn’t get to it.

I also had a treat courtesy of Jerry’s TriDob: the Horsehead Nebula, as easy to see as it could be and the best view of it I’d had since that long ago trip to the late, lamented Star Hill Inn. The illuminated strip behind the nebula, IC 434, shimmered like a faint auroral curtain running 1 o’clock-8 o’clock through the field, with the Horsehead itself—Barnard 33—silhouetted against it, an inky-black projection that was very obviously between us and IC 434. The NGC 2023 portion of the nebulosity wrapped cotton-like around its host star somewhere around 6 o’clock from the Horsehead. Dan commented that he couldn’t make out the direction the Horsehead was facing, just the black nebulous notch of the silhouette. I thought the Horsehead was facing toward 8 o’clock, but wasn’t totally sure; Jerry confirmed that this was indeed the right direction.

The constellation Eridanus winds its way south and west from Orion’s bright blue foot Rigel. It’s a fairly shapeless constellation, in keeping with what it represents: a celestial River, sometimes thought to be the River Po in Italy. A river in the city-state of Athens was later named the Eridanos, after the constellation. The constellation itself is a dim, winding string of stars that disappears below the southern horizon for mid-Northern observers, terminating in the 1st-magnitude star Achernar. The vast majority of the constellation’s objects of note are galaxies, many of them large and impressive targets for telescopes; there is also a bright planetary nebula (NGC 1535, sometimes called Cleopatra’s Eye) and a very difficult globular cluster (The Eridanus Cluster, not to be confused with the Eridanus Galaxy Cluster, centered on NGCs 1400 and 1407 [c.f.]). This globular was the object of an intense search and triumph by your Caveman way back in ’98 during his trip to the Star Hill Inn—one of the defining moments of his astronomy “career.”

Tonight, I was dredging the River for galaxies… Herschel galaxies, specifically those clustered around that portion of the River that flows by Orion’s foot. With the transparency temporarily improved, it was time to take advantage of the better conditions and capture photons from those Herschel objects still drifting above the treetops.

NGC 1779 (Eri): improving transparency (about 5 now)—galaxy elongated mostly P-F—0.67′ x 0.3, quite small—has a brighter core and a faint substellar nucleus visible with direct—not well defined—may extend to just under 1.0′ x 0.5′ in moments of better transparency–in field with a great many stars of a great range of magnitudes—SF galaxy by 2′ is a 13.5-mag star—a 13.5-mag star F very slightly N by 3’—4.5′ NF galaxy is another 13.5-mag star—NP galaxy by 6′ is a 12th-mag star; P that star by 9′ is an 11th-mag star

I did get caught up here in interest in Comet PanSTARRS, which Jerry had swept up in the 20″ scope, and made sure to take my turn gazing at this cosmic interloper. The comet was hardly an impressive sight: a faint wispy glow, like that of a diffuse elliptical galaxy (such as NGC 147). I don’t recall seeing a tail, although a couple of us did manage to catch a few glimmers from the comet’s nucleus. I noticed around this time that Oggie, Dan B and the kids, and Roger and his grandson had all left during the previous hour.

Somewhere during that time, the transparency had hit a peak. The Milky Way glittered brightly at the meridian. Orion, Gemini, and Auriga shone steadily and brilliantly against a dark background tapestry; Leo and Hydra’s head emerged from the treetops to the east. It was true that I’d seen much better skies here, but at the moment it was hard to be critical. The sky and its hidden jewels beckoned.

We also stopped by Messier 46, a naked-eye open cluster in the constellation Puppis. M46 is a rich cluster, made even more interesting by the apparent membership of a planetary nebula (NGC 2438) among its stars; the nebula is in fact just over halfway between us and the stars of the cluster, and therefore a mere line-of-sight coincidence.

And then it was back to a field I’d already observed earlier in the evening, when the transparency was awful:

NGCs 1618, 1622, 1625 (Eri): all lie in an arc N of Nu Eridani—1618 and 1622 both elongated SP-NF—1625 elongated NP-SF—1618: 12.5′ N vary slightly P Nu Eri—pretty diffuse—has a somewhat brighter core—not well-defined at all—not even brightest of three, despite Herschel seeing only 1618 of trio—1.0′ x 0.5’—Nu makes it very hard to view galaxies here—NF 1618 by 1.75′ is a 14th-mag star—F and slightly N by 1.75′ is a 12.5-mag star–11th-mag star SF galaxy by 3.5’—F and slightly S by 8′ is NGC 1622: 11′ N slightly F of Nu Eri—almost same size as 1618, but has less halo—1.0′ x 0.3’—brighter central region and faint substellar nucleus—galaxy NP a triangle of 11/12.5/13th-mag stars that are about halfway and F a line between 1622 and Nu Eri—sky is boiling down here now—triangle: F-most vertex is brightest star in it, equidistant from Nu and 1622 at 7′, SF 1622 and NF Nu—largest of three galaxies is NGC 1625: 10′ SF 1622—best defined of three—not too diffuse—not much central brightening, just a glowing streak —elongated NP-SF—1.67 x 0.3’—has a 12th-mag star just off P end—due N of galaxy by 6.5′ is an 11th-mag star—S by 4′ is a 12th-mag star

NGC 1637 (Eri): big roundish face-on spiral—super-diffuse, not well-defined at all—roundish, 2.5’—has a smallish brighter core, maybe central 0.75’— every now and then a faint hint of substellar nucleus which is better seen in averted—core offset to SP side—bracketed to N and S slightly F by stars 7′ from galaxy’s center; star to N is an 11th-mag; star to SF is 12th-mag—12th-mag star just off N slightly F edge of halo—13th-mag star N of galaxy by 3.5′ from edge of galaxy’s halo—NP galaxy by 14′ is a 10.5-mag star that has an 11.5-mag star to N by 2′ and a 13.5-mag star SF by 2′

NGC 1700 (Eri): not at all remarkable by the standards of Herschel galaxies—N slightly F 62 Eri—reasonably bright but small—0.75′ x 0.67′–in averted the halo pops more—slight bit of elongation maybe P-ish-F-ish—bright core—bright substellar nucleus—[very slow satellite through N edge of field, moving P-F]—not well defined, halo mostly vanishes without averted—11th-mag star SP galaxy by 2.5’—8.5-mag star NP galaxy by 6’—N slightly F galaxy by 17′ is a 10th-mag star—an arc of 8th/10th-mag stars along F edge of field from galaxy from NF to SF—”giraffe-like” asterism (including 62 Eri) extending its neck SF to NP from 62, with one leg N of 62 and 62 in the southern leg

NGC 1507 (Eri): really difficult at the moment; perhaps 6 transparency; seeing poor—long, thin N-S streak—just S of cool round asterism that takes up most of the edges of the field N of the galaxy, made of mostly 9.5/10th-mag stars; asterism about 30′ round—galaxy is almost “flat”—2.25′ x 0.3’—has very little central brightening—SF the S end of the galaxy’s halo by 3′ is an 11th-mag star—13.5-mag star just P the middle of the galaxy—galaxy well defined, better defined on F edge as if dust lane on that edge [no visible dust lane, but a dark “jut” into NF end of galaxy]—9′ due N of galaxy is bottom of round asterism—passed over galaxy the first time I looked for it here

By this point, the transparency was starting to fail again—just as the Clear Sky Chart had predicted. Naked-eye stars were taking on halos across much of the sky, and the fainter stars that filled in the spaces between the familiar, named ones were dwindling in number. The winter Milky Way, so spectacular through Orion, Monoceros, and Canis Major, had started to lose its definition. Time for observing was growing short.

NGCs 1600, 1603 (Eri): last for the night—transparency decaying again—”typical” NGC galaxy—reasonably bright—a bit elongated N slightly P-S slightly F—fairly poorly defined—sometimes more halo visible—1.0′ x 0.5’—brighter core that’s fairly small—no nucleus?—interior of galaxy seems “jumbled” somehow, as if irregularly bright—surrounded on P and S sides by a group of faint stars—to S by 2.5′ from center of galaxy is a 12th-mag star—due P by 2.5′ is a 12.5-mag star—NP by 3′ and 4.5′ is a pair of 12th-mag stars—NF galaxy by 12′ is an 8th-mag star—NP galaxy to NP edge of field is an interesting ‘Y’ asterism with fork to SP and stem to NF; star to end of stem is brightest; stars are 8th/10th-mags—just F and slightly N of galaxy by 2.5′ is another galaxy (1603): excruciatingly faint—0.75’—no central brightening at all—very difficult—just on threshold of direct vision—even averted doesn’t help much—this part of sky in poor viewing position

Jerry and Dan R began to tear down the TriDob; Dan was a church organist (among his many other talents) and needed to be home by 1 AM to be ready for his morning work. Joe had left at some point earlier after our view of M46 and NGC 2438. I spent several minutes absorbed in a view of the Orion Nebula—how could one not do so when the nebula was visible?—before beginning to tear down my own gear.

Jerry and Dan headed out. I waited with Bill B to make sure he got all his gear stowed. It was an old habit from my Carbondale days: as the AASI president, I made sure to always be the last man out of the observing field, to make sure no-one got left behind. I never minded being the last person out; at Giant City or Crab Orchard, I often stayed out observing long after the others went home, but here it was more a matter of safety. Having seen bears in the woods near one of our observing sites, I would have been uncomfortable leaving someone on his own unless his camper was nearby for shelter if need be.

Gear stowed, we headed home. There was a fair amount of fog on the drive down, and a surprising amount of traffic driving up the road as we descended it. And then the highway home, only half the total drive, with a headful of galaxies and a van full of Caravan.