Dispensing with the pithy quotes from famous authors as post titles, simply because this was too apt.
The winter of 2019/2020 was a harsh one. Our last observation occurred at the end of November; had everything stayed on track, I’d anticipated being able to finish the Herschel 400 and the Herschel II lists by May. The weather—as it so often did in Willamette winters—failed to cooperate, wiping out all of December and January and the first half of February (which has historically been our worst month anyway, cloud-wise). With my remaining targets in Canis Major, Monoceros, Puppies, and Pyxis, in addition to several galaxies in Camelopardalis, my prospects for finishing this year seemed poor—I had until the end of the dark phase in March to pick up forty-plus objects, most of them low in the south already as twilight ended.
Sometimes things fall together, though, and usually through no machinations of one’s own. The mid-February weather forecasts looked promising, and as those nights approached, the Clear Sky Chart began to agree. Clear nights were possibly at hand, and it only required readiness to take advantage of them. The stargazers of western Oregon were beginning to rise from their involuntary hibernation.
I. At our annual open house in early February, Loren and Dan B had suggested the possibility of heading out to the Eagle’s Rest amphitheater spot for our soonest observing session, the better to beat the inevitable crowd at Linslaw and the even-more inevitable dew at Eureka Ridge. I said that I’d be willing to give it a go, if only for the sake of having room to spread out my gear without fear of encroaching on someone else’s space. So when the various forecasts finally aligned on the 17th, we headed southeast for a long-awaited gathering of the photons.
When I arrived at the amphitheater, though, I wasn’t even sure I was in the right spot; only the fact that Loren was already parked there made me stop. The clear-cutters—who had been trashing areas all along Eagle’s Rest Road, including the area around our trusty gravel-pit site—had worked their Satanic magic on the amphitheater in our absence. What had been a somewhat sheltered (and very sky-limited, admittedly) alcove along the road had become a 270-degree view with no wind or light protection.
Still, the southern horizon was flat, there was enough space for us (Dan B hadn’t been able to escape his work responsibilities, but there was room for him had he been able to make a break for it), and—rarest of all—the February sky was clear.
As we were waiting for twilight to fall and mirrors to cool, a pickup truck drove past. (This was the primary hard at the amphitheater; you were at the mercy of the drivers… more for their stopping than for them swerving off the road to hit you.)
What was unusual about this one is that—after he had sped past us—he then drove a quarter-mile back to see what we were doing… and he drove it backward, reversing up the dangerous, winding road.
The driver was either slightly inebriated or just deliberate in his speech, but he had the usual question: what are those things? As I was still in the process of aligning both optics and Telrad, Loren took the job of explaining what we were doing there, giving the fellow a look at Venus for his trouble.
“I thought those were telescopes,” the local flavor said. “That or you guys were gonna blow up half the countryside with cannons.”
So he drove off, apparently satisfied with what he’d seen and heard. If only all of our run-ins with locals were as friendly!
And then, it was time to start “working.”
EAGLE’S REST (amphitheatre) (43° 52′ 12.1476” N, 122° 47′ 19.0392” W)
SUNSET: 5:44 PM
MOON: 24 days (rose at 2:58 AM; 27% illuminated)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps low 20s, cold; humid (lots of frost); air relatively still, no wind
OTHERS PRESENT: LR
All observations: 12.5″f/5 Discovery truss-tube Dobsonian, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted
NGC 2259 (Mon): It’s not yet entirely dark, but it seems like a good time to start, as I’ve got a huge amount of space to cover. This cluster presents as a very dim, misty, vaguely-rectangular patch filled with stars, many of them just outside the edge of resolution, plus a number slightly brighter. The cluster spans 3.5’ x 3’, and is elongated P slightly N-F slightly S. It’s moderately well detached and obviously a cluster but considerably faint, so not as easy to pick out of the rich starfield as it would be if it was a bit brighter; an observer could easily pass over it. There’s a moderate spread of magnitudes among the cluster members. It’s very very rich, even though most of its stars are just below the level of resolution; this contributes to the cluster’s slightly nebulous appearance; there are about seventeen stars visible and many more suspected. The brightest are poised on the N end, and then down along the P edge is a smaller patch of 14th-magnitude stars. There’s one star on the N very slightly P corner that’s a little brighter than the rest, at 12th magnitude, and it has N very slightly P it by 0.3’ a 13th-magnitude star; F very very slightly S of the lucida by 1’ is another 13th-magnitude star, and these mark the N extremity of the cluster. The patch to the P side has a number of 14th-magnitude and fainter stars in it; the patch is 1’ diameter and also contains a majority of the cluster’s brighter stars. From the lucida P very slightly S (so due P the cluster) by 5.75’ is an 8.5-magnitude star that’s surrounded by a group of brighter/brightish stars; from the 8.5-magnitude star P slightly S by 9’ is the brightest in field, at 6.5 magnitude, which has a bit of a yellowish tint.
NGC 2254 (Mon): This is another little blast of stars, much tighter and somewhat smaller than NGC 2259, but considerably brighter. The cluster is 4.5’ across (including the background glow from unresolved stars). There’s a knot of brighter stars central-P and because of this knot, 2254 is a more-obvious cluster than 2259 despite being less detached from the background. The cluster is very rich and has a number of stars in the 13th-14th range sprinkled over some unresolved background glow. The stars in the knot are in the 12th/13th-magnitude range; there are twelve in the knot, with the 12.5-magnitude cluster lucida on the P edge. Overall, there are maybe thirty total resolved stars, mostly in 13.5/14.5-magnitude range, with some 12th-magnitude stars scattered throughout and in the knot. Due SP the cluster is the NF vertex of an isosceles right triangle that has a fourth star toward the middle; the NF star in the triangle is 9th magnitude; SP it by 2.25’ is a 12th-magnitude star; from the first vertex (the 9th-magnitude star) due P by 2’ is an 11.5-magnitude star that’s the triangle’s right-angle vertex, and that star has 0.5’ SF it a 12th-magnitude star. From the lucida 16’ SP is the brightest star in the field, a double; the bluish-white primary is 6.5 magnitude and has due S of it by 0.25’ an 11th-magnitude star. NF the cluster by 12’ is the primary of another double: a 9.5-magnitude star with an 11.5-magnitude star 12” NF it.
NGC 2269 (Mon): This one is considerably different than the other two I’ve done so far tonight–it’s a little like Trumpler 1, in that it consists mainly of a long, thin line of stars that comprises the central axis and has the majority of cluster stars along it. The line extends N slightly P-S slightly F and is 3’ long and 0.5’ wide; there’s a star in the direct middle of it that’s brighter and two brighter ones on the ends; the star in the middle is barely the lucida at 11.5 magnitude, and it has SvsF it by 0.3’ an 11.7-magnitude star; at the S very slightly F end of the line is a 12th-magnitude star, and at the N very slightly P end is one of 12.5 magnitude. The cluster is pretty well detached and fairly obvious because it’s compact, dense, and quite rich, with about 25 stars ranging from the lucida down to 15th magnitude (so having a moderate range of magnitudes). There’s another close grouping of stars P that group that may still be part of the cluster; from the lucida to the brightest (at 11.7 magnitude, just slightly fainter than the lucida) in that grouping is 3.5’; that star is at the S end of that second group, which extends 2.75’ N very slightly F from there to a 13th-magnitude star at the N very slightly F end of that group. Also in the second group is a pair of 13.5-magnitude stars S and S very slightly P the star at the N end, each by 0.5’. The brightest star in the field is SF the lucida by 18.5’ and is 8.5 magnitude.
NGC 2302 (NGC 2299; Mon): This is an interesting two-part cluster, and the brightest so far tonight. The cluster sits in a pretty crowded field with a lot of bright stars in it; it’s about 4.5’ round total and obvious but not particularly well detached. It’s moderately rich, with 20 stars ranging from 10th-14th magnitude. The P subgroup consists of an arc of three on P side and a couple of stragglers F and SF; the arc, which contains the three brightest stars in the cluster, starts at its N end with an 11th-magnitude star; S very slightly P that star by 0.3’ is one of 11.5 magnitude; from that star 0.3’ SP is a 10th-magnitude star that’s the cluster lucida. From the star at the N of the arc SF by 0.75’ is another 11th-magnitude star; SF that star by 1.0’ is another 12th-magnitude star; from that star SP by 1’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; from this star due P by 1’ is a 12.5-magnitude star; these make up the P half of the cluster. From the star at the N end of the arc due F by 2.5’ is the N-most star in the second part, a 12th-magnitude star, which marks the NP vertex of a roughly-equilateral triangle comprising six stars; that star has SF it by 10” another of 12th magnitude; a 12.5-magnitude star lies 1’ F somewhat S from the first in this group, and from the same first star S by 1’ is a 12th-magnitude star. From the first in the triangle N by 1.25’ is a 10th-magnitude star that (if a member of the cluster) is the actual lucida, but I don’t think it’s a true member. 8’ NP the star at the N end of the arc in the first group is the brightest star in the field (at magnitude 6.5) and then 13’ due S from the star at the N end of the arc is the P very slightly N component of an almost-equal (9th-magnitude) pair separated by 0.5’; the component F very slightly S is just a bit fainter.
NGC 2309 (Mon): Impressive! Lots of stardust in this cluster, lots of tiny faint stars over the indistinct background glow of many that are unresolved. The cluster is elongated kinda N-S, with a secondary axis kind of NP-SF; the majority of the faint glow runs N-S but a lot of the brighter stars are in a NP-SF stream. The cluster spans 6’ overall, with the denser portion to the S end, where the majority of the brighter (12th/13th-magnitude) stars are along the NP-SF stream; the cluster is 5.5’ wide NP-SF, with the majority of stars in a 3’ circle at the S end of the N-S axis. There’s an arc of stars slightly detached from the circle that arcs from the P up to the NF, where it seems to reach toward a 9th-magnitude star which is very very slightly reddish [keeping in mind, of course, that I’m partially colorblind toward the red]. There are about 20 visible stars here in the 12th-13.5 magnitude range and a similar number fainter, with the majority of background glow in the S circle and reaching from the P to the 9th-magnitude star at the N very slightly F. The SF edge of that concentration/secondary axis is marked by a quartet of evenly-spaced 14th-magnitude stars. The brightest star in the field is of magnitude 8.5 and lies P very very slightly N of the 9th-magnitude star by 14’.
NGC 2311 (Mon): A broader, brighter cluster than any other tonight so far. This irregularly-shaped cluster is not well detached, largely because there are a lot of similarly-bright stars in the field. It spans 7’ NP-SF x 5’ N very very slightly F-S very very slightly P. It’s moderately rich without having a great mag range; the majority of stars are in the 11.5/12.5-magnitude range, so somewhat brighter than the other clusters tonight; the lucida is 10.5 magnitude and is on the NF corner. There are 35 stars here, plus a moderate amount of background density that could be unresolved stars. From the 10.5-magnitude star F very slightly S by 0.5’ is an 11.5-magnitude star, and from the 10.5-magnitude N very very slightly F by 3.75’ is another of 10.5 magnitude that’s probably outside the cluster boundary. The majority of stars are on the S end and trail away to the SF; these form a kind of trailing wing to the cluster, and it streams due F from there–perhaps these are not all part of the cluster. (I did not count them as part of the cluster in either size or star-count.) From the lucida S slightly P by 10’ is a single isolated 10th-magnitude star, and from the lucida 9’ F is the P-most of an arc of three 7.5/8th-magnitude stars that are equally spaced; the star on the P end of the arc is brightest and has F very very slightly N of it by 3’ one of 8th magnitude, which has F very slightly S of it by 3.25’ an 8.5-magnitude star; these are the three brightest stars in the field. NP the lucida by 13’ is a 9th-magnitude star that’s the N end of a NP-SF squiggle that looks somewhat nebulous at this magnification and has seven individual stars; this might be a small cluster on its own; that 9th-magnitude star, the 7.5-magnitude NF the cluster, and the brighter SP of the cluster form a large triangle; the cluster is in the SF edge of this triangle.
I regretted having taken notes on NGC 2362, the Tau Canis Majoris Cluster, back the previous March; the conditions were better now, and the cluster was a glorious sight in the eyepiece. I didn’t really have time to take notes on it again—I had too many objects I needed to get to—but it was as always a grand sight, the lower power the better.
NGC 2354 (CMa): Something of a change of pace from the smaller, fainter clusters, this one lies down between Wezen and Tau in the Big Dog; appropriately, it’s a big sprawling cluster, about 10’ N very very slightly P-S very very slightly F, 15’ P slightly N-F slightly S, and triangular. (Seeing is pretty poor down here at the moment.) The cluster’s interesting because its center is basically empty of stars, almost as if there’s a dark nebula there, although there’s no sign that there is, no dark edges. The SF vertex of the cluster’s triangular outline is 10th magnitude and is the SF vertex of a Hercules-keystone which is wider on the S than on the N; N very slightly P that vertex by 3’ is a 9.5-magnitude star that’s the other star on the F side of the keystone; the NP vertex is a double with 11.5- and 12th-magnitude components separated by 15” with the brighter P very very slightly N of the fainter; the primary of that pair is 1.75’ P very very slightly S of the 9.5-magnitude star (the NF vertex); the fourth vertex of the keystone is due S of the primary of the pair by 2.67’ and is 11th magnitude. The N vertex of the cluster proper is 11.5 magnitude and is 11’ N very slightly P the SF vertex [the transparency has also gone to crap now]. There are about sixty stars in the cluster, so it’s fairly rich, and it’s moderately-well detached, just barely identifiable as a cluster because the field is also pretty rich. The stars range from 9.5 magnitude down to 14th, so it has a pretty decent range. The member stars are concentrated in clumps here and there throughout. There’s a string of stars on the P edge that leads up to the star to the N, a 9’ long group of about seven/eight stars mostly of similar magnitudes to that vertex; the SP vertex of the cluster is a 12.5-magnitude star that has just F it and vsN by 0.67’ a very close pair of equally dim stars, about 13th-magnitude, separated P-F by 5”, and then from that vertex S very slightly F by 1.25’ is another faint close pair, with the brighter NF the fainter by 12”; those are 13th and 13.5 magnitude. It’s worth noting that each of the S vertices has a brighter star S of it; the one to SP has a 10th-magnitude star SP it by 3.5’ and the one to the SF has 2.75’ SF it a star of equal (10th) magnitude; that star is a very slight bit brighter than the SF vertex.
NGC 2367 (CMa): A hop, skip, and jump N of Tau, this is a really sharp little cluster (almost literally); it’s very much an arrowhead-type cluster, in the vein of NGC 6664 in Scutum. The cluster is exceedingly-well detached and obvious; I dropped right on it before needing to starhop to it. It’s elongated N-S, 4.75’ long on the P side and 3.25’ on the F side; across the N end, it’s 3’ wide. The cluster comes to a very sharp point; its second-brightest star (at magnitude 9.5) is the star on the S tip. The majority of the cluster’s bright stars is in the S half; those in the N half are fainter, and the N outline is less-well defined. N very very slightly P the 9.5-magnitude star to S by 1’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; N very very slightly P that star by 0.75’ is the primary of an excellent double: the primary is 9.5-magnitude and has a 10th-magnitude star due P it by 5”; from the star on the cluster’s S tip N very very slightly F by 1.25’ is another 10.5-magnitude star; those make up the brighter S portion of cluster; there’s also some unresolved glow and a few stars visible mainly with averted vision, and also a couple stars to the S and S slightly F of the S-most vertex that are much fainter, in the 13th/14th-magnitude range; a star 0.75’ to the S of the S vertex may be a close double but it’s too faint/close to tell. There’s almost a dark lane/void of stars that runs P-F between the N and S halves. The N end is wider but considerably fainter and sparser than the S end. The brightest star in this half is on the F end, with a faint (13th-magnitude) one 0.3’ F; the brightest on the F end is 3.25’ N very very slightly F of the star at the S tip and is 11th magnitude. There are seven visible resolved stars in the N half that stream P slightly N from that one; the most prominent of these is an 11.5-magnitude star SP the P-most vertex of the N section, and is P slightly N of the star on the F end by 2’; the P-most vertex is 0.67’ NP that star and is magnitude 13.5. The area around the cluster is also interesting; N of the cluster, 10’ N very very slightly F of the S-most vertex, is a tiny diamond whose two S-most stars are its brighter, 10.5- and 11th-magnitude (the one to F slightly N is the fainter), separated by 0.3’ P slightly S-F slightly N; the other two in the little diamond are much fainter: the more P of the two is 13th magnitude and the more F is 12.5 magnitude; the diamond spans 0.75’ x 0.3’, with major axis SP-NF. From the S-most in cluster S very slightly F by 11’ is a 7th-magnitude star; from the S-most vertex SP by 14’ is an excellent double: 7th- and 7.5-magnitude stars separated NP-SF by 4”; there’s another double a quarter of the way between that double and the S-most vertex of cluster: this one is very unequal, 9th and 11th magnitude stars, with its primary P slightly N of the fainter by 0.25’; the primary is 10’ SP the S-most vertex.
NGC 2489; Haffner 20 (Pup): We’re way way way down in Puppis now, where the transparency still isn’t great, and I’m dropping all my stuff (glasses, gloves) into the mud for some reason. This is pretty obviously a cluster: it’s pretty well detached, although many of the stars are of similar brightness to field stars, but they’re more concentrated here. The cluster is roughly round, 6’ across, with a frame of similar-mag stars; esp. to the S, SP, and SF to due F by a broken rectangular ring elongated NP-SF encircling the cluster; this ring is broken to the P and N with the cluster in middle. The cluster has a fairly narrow range of mags and is moderately rich, considering its size. There are about 25 stars in the 6’ circle, mostly of 11th/12th magnitude or so, with an additional smattering down to 13.5-magnitude star (I’m not accounting for extinction this low in the sky). On the N edge there’s a close double of dim components, 12.5 magnitude both, N slightly P-S slightly F each other by 9”; P very very slightly S of the double by 0.75’ is the brightest star in the cluster at 11.5 magnitude. N very very slightly P this lucida by 9’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; due S of the lucida by 14’ is a 6.5-magnitude star that has something unresolved S very slightly P it by 5.5’; not sure what it is: galaxy, nebula, or a very very distant unresolved cluster (turns out to be Haffner 20). There’s a 5th-magnitude star F very slightly S of the 6.5-magnitude star by 17’, and from the 6.5-magnitude star P very slightly S by 13’ is a 7th-magnitude star.
NGC 2482 (Pup): A nice cluster down here in northern Puppis, this one seems to be completely average based on the Trumpler categories–it has moderate detachment, is moderately rich, and has a moderate range of magnitudes, but it’s considerably better than that indicates: bright and obviously a cluster. The cluster is about 12’ diameter and elongated NP-SF and recalls a cartoon archery bow, with an arrow nocked and pointing to the SP and the bowstring on the F side, with the bow to the P side. The bow has more to it on the SF end; the NP end is separated as if by a dark lane running through; there’s another due S in the S-central part of the cluster. The NP end is made up of an isosceles triangle whose brightest star is the SP vertex and the triangle extends N and NF from there; its long end is the NF end; there are nine stars in the triangle; its SP-most vertex is the second-brightest star in the cluster at 10.5 magnitude; there’s a 10.5-magnitude star S very slightly F that star by 2.67’ which is very slightly brighter (10.3?) and that’s the lucida, almost dead center in the middle of the bow. The bow stretches 10’ long and from the lucida F very slightly N (at its widest) it’s 2.5’ wide. The arrow is 5’ long and its tip is a double of 10.5 and 12th magnitudes, with the brighter P slightly S of the fainter by 0.25’; the arrow is pointed at a solitary bright (8th-magnitude) star 6.5’ P somewhat S of the lucida. From the lucida N slightly F by 13’ is the brightest star in the field, which is 7.5 magnitude. There are two 8th-magnitude stars that form the F edge of a triangle that’s NF the cluster; the dimmer of these (10th magnitude) is the P vertex and is 11’ NF the cluster lucida; from that star F slightly S by 2’ is one 8th magnitude, and the other 8th magnitude (which is very slightly dimmer) is N very slightly F the first by 2’. There are about forty-five stars in the cluster, within a fairly narrow magnitude range, from the lucida down to 13.5/14th magnitude; the majority are within the 10-13th magnitude range.
One of the first areas of the sky to capture my attention on the Sky Atlas 2000.0 charts when I first purchased them (1988!) was the region around the Seagull Nebula, an extensive complex of clusters and reflection and emission nebulae that crosses the borders of Monoceros and Canis Major. As I learned more about the practical aspects of astronomy, I learned that I’d need a significant aperture boost over my old 8″ SCT and much darker skies than I had in Cincinnati in order to see the clouds of gas and dust and young stars that inhabited this region of local space—now, with a first great opportunity to peruse the area carefully, I didn’t really have the time. I’d have to stick with the clusters, saving the Seagull Nebula proper for another night.
NGC 2335 (Mon):–This cluster lies at the N end of the Seagull Nebula complex but that will have to wait for another time. The cluster is pretty shapeless and inhabits a bright field with a number of single-digit-magnitude stars in it. NGC 2335 is 10’ in diameter and vaguely roundish, moderately rich, and with a pretty wide range of magnitudes, from magnitude 9.5 down to 14th magnitude. The cluster doesn’t have much in the way of immediately-distinguishing features; the two most prominent are a double on the N central edge consisting of roughly equal (11.5) magnitude stars, separated P-F by 0.3’; S slightly F that double, on the SF edge of the cluster, is a regular diamond of stars whose SP vertex is its brightest at magnitude 9.5 and lies 4.5’ SF the F-most of the pair; N very very slightly F the 9.5-magnitude star by 1.25’ is an 11th-magnitude star, and those two form the diamond’s minor axis; from the 9.5-magnitude star NP by 1.3’ is the P-most vertex of the diamond, which is 10.5 magnitude, and the same distance F somewhat N of the 9.5-magnitude star is the F-most vertex, which is 11th magnitude; the diamond’s major axis is 2.25’ long. Overall the cluster has about thirty-five member stars; around the diamond there’s some ambient glow, perhaps from the Seagull complex or from unresolved starglow within the cluster. Between the diamond and the double to the N and running P and F, there seem to be some splotches of dark nebulosity in the cluster, especially to the P side. F the double to the N by 8’ is a 7th-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field; from that star S very very slightly P by 5.5’ is a small detached patch that looks like a possible chunk of nebula or a detached bit of cluster (or a separate faint cluster), 1’ across. NP the double on the N by 5.5’ is the brighter and more F of another pair; that star is 10th magnitude and has P it by 0.3’ a 12.5-magnitude star. S slightly P by 15’ from the double on the N is an 8th-magnitude star; there’s another 8th-magnitude star SF that one by 5’.
NGC 2343 (Mon): Lying very nearby 2335, this is a fine, bright, fairly-well detached, moderately rich diamond-shaped cluster, almost a regular diamond, elongated [seeing is really good now!] 7’ NP-SF x 4.25’ SP-NF. The SF vertex, at the end of the major axis, is a bright double [a slow bright satellite is moving P-F through the field] whose primary is the cluster lucida at 8.5 magnitude; it has P slightly N of it by 12” an 11th-magnitude star [another, smaller and slower satellite is wandering through]. N very very slightly P the primary by 3.25’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; P that star by 4’ is an 11th-magnitude star; there’s a 10th-magnitude star SF the first by 4’, and that star is almost due P the primary of the double by 4’; these mark the diamond’s outline. In the middle of the diamond and stretching to the P and S are the bulk of the cluster members, and the diamond’s SP vertex is also surrounded tightly within 0.5’ by a number of fainter stars. From the primary of the double P slightly N by 1.67’ is another double that’s very tight and very dim; it consists of an 11.5-magnitude primary and a 14th-magnitude secondary P by 4”. From the primary of the bright double (the SF vertex) NP by 2.5’ is a pair of 11th-magnitude stars separated P-F by 6”; also from the primary of the SF vertex NF by 23’ is the brightest star in the field (which is actually a bit outside the field), which is 6.5 magnitude. There are about twenty-five stars here overall, of a moderate range of magnitudes.
NGC 2353 (Mon): This cluster is also in the Seagull region; it’s a very impressive cluster with a huge magnitude range. It has a number of interesting features, not least of which is an extremely bright star on the due S that’s 6th magnitude, maybe 6.5, and also has a number of very bright pairs. The major axis is 11.5’ long, running due NP-SF; at its NP end is a 10th-magnitude star, with one of 11.5 magnitude N very very slightly F by 0.5’ and a 12th-magnitude star F slightly N by 0.67; at the F end of the major axis is an 11.5-magnitude star. The minor axis is S very very slightly P-N very very slightly F and is 7’ long, with the 6th-magnitude star on the S end; at the N end is a 9th-magnitude star. From the 6th-magnitude lucida N very very slightly F by 2’ is the brighter and more S of a pair that are 9th and 9.5 magnitudes separated by 0.3’. There’s about 30 stars here, the largest concentration lying just N of where the axes meet; at that juncture, there’s another pair, of which the primary is just N of the intersection of the axes: a 10.5-magnitude star with one of magnitude 12 NP by 5”; around that star is the greatest concentration of faint (threshold) stars. From the 6th-magnitude star 11’ SP is an 8th-magnitude star; from the lucida N very very slightly P by 23’ is the brightest in the vicinity, which is also 6th magnitude; there’s another 6th-magnitude star F slightly S of the lucida by 25’. There may be some dark nebulosity along the SP edge of the diamond and running a good chunk of the field, plus some on the SF, framing those two sides of the cluster.
It had been ten weeks since we had last observed; tonight felt like the breaking of a fast. There was still much more to see, but it would have to wait; the next several nights seemed equally promising, and would be equally busy. I had hoped to make it to at least midnight tonight, but the cold on this particular night eventually cut me a bit short. I’d try to do an all-nighter the next time out.
II. The next time out turned out to be the very next night.
This night, Linslaw Point was the site of the best local stargazing forecast per the CSC. Those who had used the site the night before, however, were squeamish—the wind had driven them off the bluff much earlier in the evening than the cold had chased me home from the Eagle’s Rest amphitheater. As a result, even a few of the stalwarts were reluctant to return to Linslaw with similar conditions forecast.
How bad could it have been?
It took little time to find out. Nathan and Mark had returned to the site from the previous night, but both agreed that the second night (this one) was worse. The skies were fine; my SQM readings were all in the 21.5 range once darkness was complete. But the wind and the cold… especially the wind…. There were times on my audio recordings that its howl was louder than my voice. It combined with the already-cold ambient air to become an oppressive force. Nathan and Mark had parked so as to shield their imaging rigs from as much of the onslaught as they could, but it would take a while for me to abandon my dark-adaptation in favor of pulling the Caveman-Mobile into windbreak position. Dan B and Loren were smarter, taking Mark and Nathan’s advice from the get-go.
LINSLAW POINT (43 58’ 48” N. 123 42’ 4” W)
SUNSET: 5:46 PM
MOON: 25 days (rose at 4:01 AM; 18% illuminated)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: brutally cold (due mainly to wind); temps to low 20s; no humidity but wind chill barely-tolerable; wind loud on audio
OTHERS PRESENT: LR, DB, NC, MW
All observations: 12.5″f/5 Discovery truss-tube Dobsonian, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted
NGC 2316 (Mon): I’m getting an early jump on things here with this very small, probable reflection nebula (SkySafari has it listed as NGC 2317). It’s obvious in the eyepiece with no filter. The nebula is very very small, no more than 0.75’ across, with a central region that’s a fair amount brighter than the periphery. At second glance, it’s 0.75’ x 0.67’, elongated P-F. The central region, where the illuminating star must be, is just about 0.3’ diameter, and the brightest section of the nebula (as usually is the case with reflection nebulae). The illuminating star itself is not quite visible beyond maybe a fleeting glimpse in averted vision only; every now and then in averted there’s a sense that there are two imbedded stars, just barely. It’s hard to describe the nebula’s texture at this magnification, as it’s a bit too small for much detail to be seen. The nebula is bounded on the S by a small, flat, almost-isosceles triangle of which the brightest star lies 1’ S of the nebula; it’s the closest to the nebula and is magnitude 12.5; 1.0’ F very very slightly S of that star is a 13th-magnitude star, and there’s another 13th-magnitude star 0.75’ P very very slightly S of the first star–a not-quite-isosceles triangle, but almost. F very very slightly S of the nebula by 6.5’ is a 9.5-magnitude star. P very very slightly S of the nebula by 5’ is a 10th-magnitude star. N very very slightly P the nebula by 10’ is a 9th-magnitude star; N very very slightly P of that star by 10’ is the brightest in the field (20’ N of the nebula), at 8th magnitude. S very slightly P the nebula by 9.5’ is another 9.5-magnitude star. With the UHC filter there are no real changes to the nebula’s appearance; I don’t expect much from either filter, but the UHC does almost nothing; it smooths out the brightness of the nebula and may be killing the central brightness around the imbedded stars and making the brightness of the nebulosity more uniform. With the O-III, the nebula is barely even visible; there’s certainly no improvement in the view.
The Bowl of the Big Dipper was by now just above the sandstone bluff—a subtle reminder that after I was done with the remaining winter clusters and nebulae, I still had forty-plus galaxies remaining in Ursa Major and Camelopardalis before I could finish my work on the two Herschel lists… and then had the unofficial third list to do before even getting halfway through William Herschel’s life list. So much to do, so few clear skies….
NGC 2346 (Mon): First of several planetary nebulae in Monoceros and Puppis I have on my list. With no filter, the central star is very obvious; it’s brightish at 11th (?) magnitude. The nebula lies in a very busy Milky Way field and is only visible as a very slightly elongated halo around the central star; there’s no annulus or anything but a P-F elongated glow. It appears to be about the same size as NGC 2316, 0.75’ x 0.67’. The nebula forms the S vertex of a roughly-isosceles triangle with two 12th-magnitude stars, one NF by 2.67’ and one NP by 2’. NP the nebula by 5.5’ is the F-most star in a lowercase ‘y’ pattern with five stars in it; this star is the end of the stem and is 11th magnitude; the N tine of the ‘y’ is the brightest star in it and is 10.5 magnitude and it lies 2.5’ from the previous star; the S tine lies 1.25’ due S of the N tine; the star in the middle of the ‘y’ is halfway between the end of the stem and the N tine and is 11.5 magnitude; there’s a 12th-magnitude star due P the star in middle by 0.75’. P very very slightly S of the nebula by 4.75’ is a 10th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field lies 15’ F somewhat N of the nebula and is 8th magnitude; there’s a 9.5-magnitude star S somewhat P that star by 4.5′, and this star is the N-most vertex of a tiny scalene triangle whose other stars (moving S-ward) are 11.5- and 12th-magnitude; the long (P) side of the triangle is no more than 0.75’. The 8th-magnitude star has S very very slightly F by 10’ a 9.5-magnitude star that has a 10.5-magnitude star SP it by 1’ and a 12th-magnitude star due F it by 10”. With the O-III filter, there’s a lot of change from the unfiltered view; the nebula is much brighter, really popping into view; there’s no trace of the tendrils that show in photos but central star is still visible. The brighter part of the nebula is elongated P-F and the glow around it, the outer edge, is much more visible N and S; it almost resembles a barred spiral with the bar cutting across the entire width. Without the filter I could have swept over it at first glance if I wasn’t specifically looking for it, but with the filter there’s no question that it’s a tangible object. This is an impressively-bright nebula, although not quite on the same tier as the Eskimo, NGC 3242, or even NGC 2438 in M46.
The next object on my agenda was NGC 2539, Thor’s Helmet; I had decided to use the higher SQM readings available at Linslaw to concentrate as much as possible on the remaining emission, reflection, and planetary nebulae on my agenda, as those objects would benefit the most from the darker skies. But even as I hunted down NGC 2539, I noticed a weird shadow effect in my eyepiece, with one side of the field being dark and the other having an unaccountable glare through it. It wasn’t extra light from Sirius, which was nearby but nowhere near close enough to cause such a glare. I fought with the glare until it disappeared on its own, but still don’t know what caused it. In retrospect, it was probably the telescope’s shroud being pushed into the light path by the wind, as the shroud is non-elastic and has stretched out of shape over the years I’ve owned the scope.
NGC 2359 (CMa): Thor’s Helmet! The nebula is quite obvious but surprisingly tough to find (at least tonight), in the wilds following Canis Major’s head. With no filter, it’s still pretty apparent; as it’s a Wolf-Rayet shell, it should be pretty good in O-III. With no filter, the nebula is visible in two sections: the central bubble and a section that extends S and then SP, giving the whole a comma shape. The central bubble encompasses an isosceles triangle of faint stars whose short side is to the P and long side to the NF; the short side is 1.75’ long and consists of an 11.5-magnitude star at the S end and a 12th-magnitude star at the N end; the 12th-mag has just F it by 0.3’ a 12.5-magnitude star; the third star is NF the S-most vertex by 2.5’ and is also 12th magnitude; that central bubble of the nebula encompasses the triangle, and is about 4’ around and extends S from the N edge of the triangle to an 11th-magnitude star, then extends 4.5’ SP from that star; if the nebula was a sock-shape, that 11th-magnitude star would be situated at the heel. That part of the nebula, the SP-NF angled part from heel to toe, is about 6.5’ long and ends near a small, faint triangle of stars; there’s a line of three very close-together 11.5-magnitude stars due S of the star at the “heel” by 6’. The nebula has a cloudy texture as opposed to a wispy one, more like a typical emission nebula than a reflection nebula. With the O-III: WOW! The contrast boost is immense! (The filter may have eliminated the weird reflections I was getting in the eyepiece.) The sock bend/heel, the S edge from heel to toe, is much more obvious and the second brightest part of the nebula; the brightest is along the N edge of the triangle, especially the P part of it along the NP vertex, where the nebula is very bright; the whole nebula extends a long way from that–in averted vision, it runs 10’ from the F-most vertex of triangle and is much more gossamer along that long stretch. It also extends backward F that F-most vertex of the triangle; there’s a faint tendril that reaches over to a line of four stars F and SF the nebula that contains two of the brightest in the field; the second from the S is the brightest in the field at 8.5 magnitude, and the other streak of nebulosity extends to just N of those stars (the two in the middle of the line) by 4’, and that tendril is much fainter from the edge of the main nebula out until it reaches just N of those stars and then brightens into a “detached” part N of that line of stars on the F; that brighter piece is 3’ long. The O-III just rocks this nebula! The P edge of the bubble is considerably brighter and better defined than the F edge, and the round part of the nebula is 5’ across; from the knot on the NP where the NP vertex of the triangle is, the nebulosity sweeps SP along the outer edge of the bubble, this is a much brighter rim, and the F side of the bubble is much more diffuse and dissolves into the background; the area where the bubble meets the toe part of the foot is also brighter where it intersects the bubble. Wow again! There are vague hints of darker patches among the bubble itself; its brightness is considerably irregular throughout, although the gradations in brightness aren’t huge–I wouldn’t necessarily call it Thor’s Helmet from a visual standpoint, but it’s certainly not a Duck either; both nicknames are inapt visually. The F-most extension toward the line of stars on the F is 0.67’ thick at its brightest portion; the brighter portion of the front (P-ward) extension varies but it’s generally about 0.75-0.67’ thick; the heel-toe extension is 1.75’ thick and also irregularly bright. With the UHC: not bad at all! [The wind is so bad at this point I have to hold onto the scope to keep it on target.] The UHC has better aesthetics than the O-III. In it, the nebula is still quite a bit better than the unfiltered view–the N extension toward the P is still quite visible; the F-ward extension is also visible, but not as clear as with the O-III. The brighter areas of the nebula are still considerably higher in contrast than in the unfiltered view, especially along the NF vertex of triangle on N edge of bubble and the area where the bubble meets the heel-toe region. In some ways the P extension is even more obvious than with the O-III; it extends quite a ways from the main body of the nebula. On the inside of the bubble on the P edge, inside that rim, there appears to be a darker strip that runs along the edge inside the brighter rim. This is a very very impressive object!–certainly among the ten best emission-type nebulae visible from the Northern Hemisphere.
Few of the remaining objects on my list could compare with Thor’s Helmet, although several were excellent in their own right. But aside from the mighty M42, the only object I would see this entire dark run that surpassed Thor’s Helmet was a view of the same object I would get on the last night of February’s observing run with much heavier artillery….
NGC 2374 (CMa): This cluster could be much larger than I’m listing because there’s a large scattering of much brighter stars F and NF it that could be part of it; I’m not including them. The central mass of the cluster is 4.5’ diameter, with its brightest star on the N very slightly P corner. The cluster is pretty well detached; it’s in a rich starfield but the cluster is still obvious as a cluster (although it’s still somewhat hard to tell where the cluster ends and the starfield begins). From the P down to the S, on the edge of the cluster, is a string of six stars; there are about eighteen resolved in the whole cluster. Just SP the S end of the string is a faint double; both components are 13.5 magnitude and they’re separated by 0.25’. There’s not a great range of magnitudes in this cluster; the average magnitude is about 11.5; there may be much fainter or threshold-level stars, but most are on the brighter end. From the bright star on the N very slightly P (the cluster lucida at magnitude 10.5) SP by 10’ is an 8th-magnitude star with a 9th-magnitude star 3.3’ N very very slightly F it; there’s an 8.5-magnitude star N of the lucida by 15’ and one of 10th magnitude N of the lucida by 5.75’. F the cluster is a grouping of fifteen stars that are brighter than the cluster members; these are in the 10th/11th-magnitude range and don’t seem to be part of cluster, but might be. From the lucida almost due F by 6.5’ is the P-most vertex of a narrow pentagon of stars that extends 1.75’ x 4’; from the lucida NF by 6’ is the S end and stem of a large bright ‘Y’ of stars; there are five main stars in the ‘Y’ and one off end of each tine; the star at the end of the stem is 10th magnitude; N very very slightly F of that star by 2.75’ is the center star of the ‘Y’, which is 10.5 magnitude; 2.25’ N very very slightly P the center star is the N tine, which is marked by a 10th-magnitude star and has 0.75’ N very very very slightly F of it an 11.5-magnitude star; the F tine is 1.75’ due F the center star and is 10th magnitude; F that tine star is a 12.5-magnitude star in a perfect line with that tine and the center star, and that star has P very very slightly S by 12″ a 14th-magnitude star. If these are all part of the cluster, it extends S very slightly P-N very slightly F 12’ and 8’ P slightly N-F slightly S.
NGC 2360 (CMa): A fine cluster! This one is 9’ around and roughly pentagonal; the pentagon has at its P-most vertex a trio of stars in a P-F then very very slightly S arc that’s 1.25’ long; the F-most vertex is the cluster lucida at 9th magnitude and is slightly reddish. The cluster is quite rich (with about sixty stars) and pretty well detached, but the field is rich and has a lot of similar-magnitude stars; the majority of cluster stars are in the 10.5-11.5 magnitude range, with a few fainter, particularly along the P side and especially on the SP edge. The major axis of the pentagon runs P-F; the N-most vertex is yet another 11.5-magnitude star and is 5.25’ P somewhat N of the lucida; the SF vertex is 11th magnitude and is 4.5’ S very very slightly P the lucida; from that vertex P very very slightly S by 7’ is a 12th-magnitude star marking the SP vertex of the pentagon. The P half of the pentagon is much richer than the F; there are two or three dark voids or zones in the F half that may be dark nebulosity; just outside the SP edge and running along that edge is another, longer dark zone 1’-1.25’ thick. There may also be some dark nebulosity just N of the cluster, but this is less distinct. From the lucida NF by 13’ is a 9th-magnitude star that’s the S end of a 5’ long chain of eight; that star is by far brightest in the chain. N of the lucida by 13’ is another 9th-magnitude star; from the lucida P by 28’ is a 5.5-magnitude star.
NGC 2422 (M47); NGC 2425 (Pup): A huge cluster that’s very bright and impressive, and a naked-eye target even on sub-par nights, M47 has a wide range of mags in its 33’ P-F x 23’ N-S borders. The cluster is considerably rich and moderately-well detached, like an overdensity of bright stars in the area. Its lucida lies on the P edge and is 5.5 magnitude; it has N very slightly F it by 0.3’ an 11th-magnitude star. Due F the lucida by 7.5’ is an impressive bright double that lies near the middle of the cluster’s brightest section and central region and forms the end of the stem of a lowercase ‘y’; the double consists of a 7th-magnitude star with an 8th-magnitude star P slightly N by 9”; 1.3’ due N of the 8th-magnitude star is another of 8th magnitude that’s the middle of the ‘y’; NF that star by 1.67’ is the F-most tine, which is 7th magnitude; from the middle star 1.75’ N is a 9th-magnitude star that’s the P tine [a slow satellite makes its way through the field]. From the lucida SF by 9’ is a 7th-magnitude star that’s the F end of a line/arc of four; 1’ P is a 9th-magnitude star; there’s another of 9th magnitude 1’ P very slightly N of that star; 1’ P very very slightly S of that star is an 11.5-magnitude star that’s the P end of that line. From the lucida almost due F by 23’ is the cluster’s second-brightest star at magnitude 6.5; this star is third from N in an arc of four, with an 11th-magnitude star due S of it by 1.5’ and a 9th-magnitude star 1’ N very very slightly P; 1’ N very very slightly P that star is a 12th-magnitude star. These are the cluster’s brightest stars. 2.5’ N very slightly F the F end of the line of four SF the lucida is a small clump of five stars in a tight knot, 0.5’ long, with its brightest (magnitude 12.5) on the N end; all five of these are 12.5-14th magnitude. There are about 80 members in the cluster; these form lots of small lines and chains, especially chains of three or four stars. The cluster is boxy, but there are also outliers S of the lucida that are probably members but distort the boxy shape. From the lucida 40’ SF is another cluster (NGC 2425): this one is a 3.5’ x 1’ smear and is wider at the F end (it’s elongated P-F) with an overlay of ten 12th-magnitude and fainter stars upon a long unresolved glow; it’s uncanny how much the overlaid stars conform to the shape of the background glow. This smaller cluster is very well detached and very rich for its size, with lots of unresolved stars; it’s roughly T-shaped, with the horizontal bar of the T on the F end running S very very slightly P-N very very slightly F.
NGC 2423 (Pup): just N very very slightly F M47; it’s closer to head there than M46 after M47. This is a pretty nice, reasonably-obvious cluster, fairly-well detached from the background, with lots of small groups of three or four stars; it’s a “lumpy” cluster that’s pretty rich, with sixty-five stars in an 18’ diameter. The member stars here have a pretty limited range of mags; there are many 10.5-11.5-magnitude stars and not many fainter ones; there are also lots of clumps about 1’ diameter or so with space between them. Near the center is a bright double, the primary of which is the cluster lucida at 9th magnitude; it has NP it by 7” a 9.5-magnitude star, and this double or pair is the N end of a line of four primary stars that extends S slightly P from the center of the cluster; this line runs 14’ and terminates with a pair of 8.5-magnitude stars with the second one “in” a very slight bit fainter; the star in that line closest to the lucida (which lies 3.5’ SP) is 10th magnitude. N of the lucida by 7’ is a pair that marks the N edge of the cluster. There’s an arc of five stars P and P very very slightly N of the cluster; this arc is 2.67’ end-to-end and has its brightest star at the N end, marking the cluster’s boundary. S very very slightly F the lucida by 3.5’ is the brighter of a pair separated by 0.3’, with the fainter P slightly S of the brighter; these are 10.5 and 11th magnitudes. SF the lucida by 9’ is another faint group of three oriented SP-NF, with its brightest star at the NF end. From the lucida 17’ due F is the brightest star in the field, which is magnitude 8.5 and is at the P end of another line of three; F it and very very slightly S by 1.5’ is an 11th-magnitude star; there’s a 12th-magnitude star due F that star by 1.25’ and then due N of that star by 1’ is a 13th-magnitude star; there’s also a couple along that edge that arc F, then N, and that little bit N has a couple of extra stars in it.
I gave up fighting the wind at this point. Giving up my dark adaptation was less an issue than freezing to death on the bluff (overdramatic? Only maybe….), so I got in the van and pulled it around for shelter. It did less to mitigate the steely breeze than I’d hoped, but if it did anything at all, it was worth it. I didn’t even wait to re-adapt before jumping in on the next object, which was bright enough that the lack of dark adaptation made less difference.
NGC 2438, M46 (Pup): One of the best pairs of deep-sky objects in the whole sky! M46, the cluster, is 20’ diameter, maybe extended P-F a bit; NGC 2438, the planetary nebula, is the most obvious “feature” of the cluster despite being a foreground object, and it’s situated pretty close to the N edge of the cluster. The cluster’s 9th-magnitude lucida lies very near its due P edge; the nebula is centered 8’ F very slightly N of the lucida. The F-most vertex of the cluster is in a right triangle; the right-angle vertex is 4.25’ P very very slightly S of the lucida and is magnitude 9.5; the third vertex lies 4’ N very slightly P the right-angle vertex and is 10.5 magnitude. (11th magnitude seems about the median magnitude here.) The cluster’s very rich, well detached, and unmistakable as a cluster; it’s well detached partly because it’s surrounded by dark lanes, especially on the P and NP edges; something there is obviously blocking the background light. There are 100 stars here, with many in the 11.5-magnitude range, lots in the 12th-magnitude range, and some of 13th magnitude. On the S edge, 10’ S of the nebula and stretching 8’ P-F, is another dark lane 1.5-2.0’ thick and may actually be + or x shaped; this stretches N-S also, with the S end of that dark nebula marked by the S-most star in the cluster, which is 16’ S of the planetary and is 9.5 magnitude. SF the planetary by 5.75’ is a little knot of stars, with another due S; the one SF the nebula is a little more obvious; it forms a ‘V’ or “duck flight” with the point star its N-most and brightest and is 1’ long per side. The densest part of the cluster lies more on the N half of the N-S axis; the N half of the cluster is much richer in part because of the dark nebula in the S half. Just F the planetary and running SF is another dark lane that runs 15’ and is 1.25’ wide and variably opaque; stars are much fewer along there; the duck flight/V pattern is on the F side of that dark lane from the planetary. The planetary is 1’ diameter and has a very very faint central star; its annularity is apparent even without a filter, and it has an extension to the N of the halo; there’s a brighter ring over a whole disk that’s gossamer, with a tiny shred N from the edge of the rim. Just outside the SF edge of the planetary is an 11.5-magnitude star. The central star flashes intermittently; there’s definitely an impression of darkness in the nebula’s center. With the O-III: the annularity is much stronger, the brighter annulus more profound. The gap between the edge of the halo and the star on the SP of the nebula is much thinner and the nebula’s center is much darker. The P edge of the nebula has a little more fuzz than the F side, which is better defined, and there’s a very very slight bit of NP-SF elongation. The F slightly N edge of the annulus may be brighter than the rest. (?) There’s still an impression of a hook/spur off the N edge, although the central star disappears with the filter in. This is one of the better planetaries of winter, set in an equally-excellent cluster!
NGC 2396 (Pup): A pretty bright, not particularly rich, not overly well detached cluster that’s just S of a very bright double star. The cluster is isosceles-triangular with its lucida on the P end of the triangle and the point of the triangle to the N. The S edge is poorly defined; the P and F edges have more bright stars; the P edge has the 8th-magnitude lucida and a star 1’ S of lucida; that star is the brighter of a double which is 11th magnitude and has a 13.5-magnitude star S very very slightly F it by 10”. P very very slightly N of the lucida by 1’ is a 10.5-magnitude star. F very slightly N of the lucida by 1.3’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; N very very slightly F that star by 1’ is an 11th-magnitude star; N slightly F that star by 1.25’ is one of magnitude 12.5; SF that star by 1’ is another 11th-magnitude star; due S of that star by 1.25’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; S very very slightly F that star by 0.75’ is a 12th-magnitude star (whew!)–this is the P half of cluster, plus the star to the N, which is NF the lucida by 5.5’, and then F the lucida by 6.5’ is the F-most vertex of the cluster; this has NP it by 1.75’ a 10.5-magnitude star; the F vertex is 11th magnitude, and the N-most is 13th magnitude. Due N of the lucida by 10’ is the brightest star in the field, which is 6th magnitude and has NP it by 0.3’ a 9th-magnitude star. S very very slightly F that 6th-magnitude star by 0.5’ is one of 12th magnitude. There are 25 stars in all in the cluster, which measures 8’ along the S edge and 5’ N-S, with a wide range of stars down to magnitude 13.5.
NGC 2414 (Pup): This cluster is a small elongated spray of stars that’s 5’ long P-F, or slightly P very very slightly N-F very very slightly S. The lucida (magnitude 8.5) lies in the middle of that axis; from the lucida the cluster runs 1’ S and from P the lucida it also hooks N for another 3.5’, so 5’ x 4.5’ total. The P half of the cluster is much the richer, especially the part along the major axis between the lucida and the P end; the F half is more devoid of stars. P slightly N of the lucida by 2.25’ is the P end of the cluster, marked by a 13th-magnitude star; there’s an 11th-magnitude star 0.75’ P very very slightly N of the lucida; S of the lucida by 0.67’ is a pair of 12th-magnitude stars separated by 10”; along that arc to the P and S that are the majority of the cluster members. From the closer of the two stars P the lucida (the 11th-magnitude star) due N by 1’ is a 13.5-magnitude star; from that star 1.75’ NF is a 13th-magnitude star; the area between and along that arc is the second-richest part of the cluster. F the lucida by 1.75’ is an 11.5-magnitude star that forms the F end of the cluster. The cluster is kind of anchor-shaped, even down to the spike on the bottom. N of the lucida by 4.25’ is a 12th-magnitude star; N slightly P the lucida by 3.5’ is an 11th-magnitude star. P very very slightly S of the lucida by 3.5’ is another 10.5-magnitude star that has yet another 10.5-magnitude SF it by 1.75’ and from that star SF by 3’ is a 10th-magnitude star which is 3.67’ due S of the lucida. The lucida appears to be the brightest in the field; N somewhat F the lucida by 13’ is a 9th-magnitude star.
NGC 2440 (Pup): Telescope is bouncing like crazy because of the wind, but we press onward. This is a bright elongated planetary with a brighter roundish core and a halo that’s elongated P very slightly S-F very slightly N. No central star is visible, but it might be lost in the center of the bright nebulosity. The nebula is about 0.75’ x 0.67’, with a 0.5’ central brighter region or core. There might be a few tendrils off the F side toward the S, and a few P, also extending S. 3’ F the nebula is an 8.5-magnitude star. 12’ due S of the nebula is a 9th-magnitude star. There’s a tiny knot of four 13th/14th-magnitude stars SF the nebula by 3’ and another knot (of much brighter stars; magnitudes 10-14) 4’ F somewhat S of the first, with a four-star triangle; the triangle consists of a 10.5-magnitude star with an 10th- and 11th-magnitude double (separated by 2”, with the fainter P very very slightly S) 0.5’ N of it and a star of 12.5 magnitude due P the primary by 0.67’. [I have to hold onto the scope while getting out the filter due to the wind.] With the O-III: the nebula is quite clearly elongated. There’s more distinction between the core and the halo, which expands to 1.0’ x 0.75’. The tendrils are still apparent, and the middle of the nebula is very bright with the filter in. The core region still doesn’t have a real sharply defined edge; it’s rather fringy in and of itself, and very slightly larger than in the unfiltered view.
NGC 2432 (Pup): Just S of NGC 2440 is this rich little compact obvious cluster, a pretty-well detached streak, running 4’ N-S and 2’ across the middle, where it’s widest. [There’s a very very slow satellite in the field, moving P-F just S of the cluster.] The cluster comprises two small chunks of stars: the S chunk is 0.75’ x 0.5’ and contains five stars of magnitudes 12-12.5 and a couple of magnitude 14.5; the N chunk is roughly diamond-shaped, 1.25’ x 1’, with nine stars in the magnitude 11.5-13 range and some unresolved (more unresolved than in the S chunk); perhaps fewer than 50% of the stars–fifteen total–are resolved. NF the cluster by 7’ from the N end is an 8th-magnitude star that is the NF vertex of a perfect isosceles triangle; the other two stars are roughly SP: one P slightly S, the other S very slightly P, each by 1.25’, and separated from each other by 1’; both are 11th magnitude. From the N end of the cluster N somewhat P by 16’ is an 8th-magnitude star. From the S tip of the cluster P very very slightly S by 3.5’ is a 10th-magnitude star; there’s a 9th-magnitude star F slightly S of the S tip of the cluster by 8’, and 7’ SF the S end of the cluster is a star of 8.5 magnitude. 12’ S of the S end of the cluster is the N end of an elliptical, almost football-shaped, ring of stars that’s 4.25’ S very slightly P-N very slightly F and 2’ wide and contains fourteen stars; the F side is more-sparsely outlined but the P side has a big gap in the middle; this may be a separate cluster or just a striking asterism.
NGC 2421 (Pup): A pretty little cluster, kind of a frosty little thing with a wide range of mags. This one is roughly triangular, although the vertices are each marked by a geometric pattern than by a single star: N is marked by a mid-sized diamond, the SF vertex by a little equilateral triangle, and the SP vertex by a pair. This is pretty-well detached and obviously a cluster; it’s also pretty rich, with sixty stars. The cluster spans 9’ N-S and 6’ P-F (along the S edge). The SP vertex is a 10.5-magnitude star with one of 11th magnitude F somewhat N of it by 1.25’; the F vertex is an equilateral triangle, with a 10.5-magnitude star the N-most vertex and sides of 1’ each; the SF vertex of this triangle is magnitude 11.5 and the SP vertex of it a double of magnitudes 12 and 12.5 with the brighter SP the fainter by 9”. The N vertex of the diamond (which is itself the N-most vertex of the equilateral triangle that makes up the cluster proper) is actually a tiny triangle of 12th/13th/14th-magnitude stars no bigger than 0.25’ on its longest side; the diamond’s major axis runs N very slightly P-S very slightly F and is 3.25’ x 2’; the star at the S end of the major axis is a double with a 12th-magnitude star 10” S of a 13.5-magnitude star; two 10.5-magnitude stars mark the minor axis; the first is due S of the triangle at the N end of the diamond by 1.75’ and the second lies SF the triangle at the N end of the diamond by 2’. The N ⅔ of the cluster is more populous, with some unresolved there, and they go down to 15th magnitude (although atmospheric extinction may play a part here). Four or five stars of magnitude 12-14 spill out of the F side of the diamond, outside the outline of the cluster. The brightest star in the field is NP the cluster, 11’ P slightly N the N vertex of the cluster, and is 8.5 magnitude; there’s a 9th-magnitude star (very slightly fainter) 2.75’ S slightly F the previous star.
Loren had already left, and now Dan was heading out as well; without imaging data to gather, there was no necessary duty in staying behind. I was torn—I was horrendously cold, but I had so many more targets to get to. I’d expected to be out much longer, but my cold-weather preparations had become mostly undone by the surging wind and the ambient cold. I decided to finish out the last nebulous target on my agenda and then leave, rather than risk getting sick and missing the entire rest of the dark-sky run. The remaining object turned out to be one of the more-pleasant surprises in the entire Herschel catalogue so far.
NGC 2467; Haffner 19, Haffner 18 (Pup): This will be the last for the night due to the wind, which is making things really uncomfortable. NGC 2467 is an impressive nebula/cluster combo down low in Puppis; I’m actually sitting on the ground to observe it! It’s a really surprising object, with very obvious dark and bright nebulosity; the nebulosity jumps out much more than the cluster does. What exists of the cluster is mostly contained within a rough equilateral triangle that consists of an 8th-magnitude star (the lucida) on the SF and a 9th-magnitude star on the SP that’s in the N-central edge of the largest, brightest chunk of nebulosity, which is a 4’ circle with a lane of dark nebulosity running across its N edge and across the cluster P-F; the two stars (the 8th- and 9th-magnitudes) are separated by 10’. From the lucida N slightly P by 9’ is what looks like a nebulous star/star embedded in a tiny circular patch of nebulosity that’s 0.3’ across but probably has a greater extent than that; the star in the center of that may be 11th magnitude [this is the N vertex of the large equilateral triangle] and it has an 11th-magnitude star 1.3’ F very very slightly N [this is a cluster/nebula combo, Haffner 19]. Most of the stars lie within the triangle, although there’s a small trapezoid of 13th-magnitude stars S and SF the lucida. There are about twenty-five stars here, but the cluster is not well detached (from this latitude anyway); it could be a slight overdensity in the Milky Way, although the nebulosity is quite notable. In the middle of the triangle is a smaller triangle [this area is Haffner 18, within 2467] that’s 3.75’ across the N edge and 3.25’ on the P and F edges; the P-most vertex of this smaller one is its brightest at magnitude 10.5 and there are twelve stars within; this smaller triangle is filled with either unresolved stars or nebulosity or both; the brightest in the smaller triangle is P slightly N of the cluster lucida by 7.5’. The nebulosity is brightest around the SP vertex and the smaller knot to the N. With the UHC filter, that circular knot of nebulosity at the SP vertex has more detail; it’s fuzzier to the SP side, extends a bit to its SP-to-N, and is no longer just round; it looks vaporous there, more gossamer, and the dark nebula is less defined due to the loss of contrast with the bright nebulosity. There’s definitely nebulosity around the smaller, central triangle [Haffner 18] as well. The N vertex of 2467 has a bright knot but is also surrounded more by a very faint cloud about 1.25’ around the central 0.3’ that was noted before. [The seeing just got terrible.] An interesting difference is noted with the O-III filter: just S of the star (the SP vertex) embedded in the brightest patch of nebulosity is a darker patch, like a hollow; the extension that went from the SP is not visible as much now; neither is the nebulosity around the N vertex. The O-III did less to improve the nebula than did the UHC; the unfiltered view in many ways was the best because of better contrast between the bright nebula and the dark lane. In both filters, the S edge of the larger patch is better defined and cuts off more sharply, and the nebula is cloudier in the N end.
By the time I got my gear packed up, I couldn’t wait to get into the van and thaw out. But it wasn’t until the next afternoon that I felt fully re-unfrozen again.
III. And, of course, it only lasted long enough for me to get to the next night’s observing spot—Eureka Ridge—which we chose in part based on the wind forecast. The “joke,” of course, was that it was always windy at Eureka, but the treelike there prevented the wind from being a major issue for those of us observing in the small roadside clearing that we used as an observing site.
What we made up for in calm air we lost in sky clarity, though; we were inundated with clouds much earlier than we’d hoped, and it cut our observation short. At least we didn’t have to worry about turning into popsicles, though.
I’d discovered a new “thing” for the twilight hour, thanks to Dan and Jerry: looking for the E and F stars in the Trapezium, the mini-cluster of stars at the heart of the Great Orion Nebula. The four brightest—A thru D—were easy in even my Pronto; E and F were more challenging, and a good test of the seeing and/or mirror cooling. Plus, it was an excuse (as if any was needed) to observe M42 some more. On this night, I caught the E star at 112x, but not F. (I didn’t return to it later; I rarely did after I got started on the Herschels.)
SUNSET: 5:47 PM
MOON: 26 days (rose at 4:56 AM; 11% illuminated)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: cloud bands after 8:30 (ended observation early), unexpectedly-light dew (none); temps to mid-30s F; no wind on observing field but howling beyond treeline; quite pleasant for February
OTHERS PRESENT: JO, LR, RA (later)
NGC 2506 (Mon): This is definitely one of the better clusters in the region; it’s exceedingly rich and needs a re-look when it’s darker. There are well over a hundred member stars here, many/most just on the edge of resolution and this gives the cluster a granular appearance. The brighter stars form an ‘X’ over the top of the granularity, with the (relatively) really bright stars in the 10.5-magnitude range; there are eight of those on the cluster’s periphery forming the ends of the X, and there are a number of magnitude 11.5/12 stars as well, especially over the center of the granular background. The cluster is not quite round; it’s elongated a bit P-F, spanning 9’ x 7’. There’s a stripe or band of brighter stars through the middle where the bars of the X cross; that band runs roughly N-S. Eight stars run along the band, which actually forms a fairly pointed 1.75’ x 1’ ellipse across the middle of the cluster. The arms of the X are marked on the P slightly N by a pair of 11th-magnitude stars separated by 0.67’; from the NF of the pair S by 3.25’ is an 11th-magnitude star; from that star F by 5.25’ is another of 11th magnitude that has a 12.5-magnitude star SF it by 0.75’ and from the 11th in that pair N by 5’ is another 11th-magnitude star with one of 12th magnitude SP it by 0.67’; these are the four ends of the bars of the X. This is unmistakably a cluster and moderately-well detached (“moderately” because the field is fairly rich). The brightest/richest portion of the cluster lies N of the crossing of the X’s axes, F the ellipse at the center, especially in the NP part of the ellipse; most of the unresolved stars/granularity is there. The brightest star in the field is SvsF the cluster, 15’ from the SP vertex, and is 9th magnitude. From the SF vertex (the brighter of the pair) by 4’ F somewhat N is a 10.5-magnitude star. This cluster needs more a southern viewing site and darker sky to really appreciate it!
NGC 2539 (Pup): A large, striking, boxy cluster with 5th-magnitude 19 Pup visible on the cluster’s F slightly S edge. It’s elongated 21’ x 13’ P-F. To the SP (just off the SP corner) it seems that there’s another cluster in the field [no–just a chance alignment/asterism]. The cluster is well detached, with lots of dark open space around it on all sides; a few brighter stars lie to the S, but it’s otherwise barren around the periphery; a prominent triangle of stars lies NF the cluster slightly. The cluster is also very rich, without a great magnitude range (aside from 19 Pup, which isn’t part of it); there are seventy-five or eighty stars, most of them in the 10.5-11.5-magnitude range, a small number are fainter but none really brighter than that. The cluster stars are looped in lots of chains. The lucida is situated in the middle of the N edge and is 10th magnitude; S very very slightly P it by 0.5’ is an 11th-magnitude star. [The seeing is boiling down there; some crud may be moving through.] S very slightly P the pair is a 2.5’ x 1.67’ ellipse that is NP-SF oriented and has its brighter stars on the P edge; it’s open toward the F, but then there’s a chain that loops F and then S from just beyond (1.5’ beyond) the F-most star in the ellipse; this chain runs roughly N-S and has seven stars; the one closest to the ellipse is a double consisting of two 11.5-magnitude stars, and that chain loops F and then S from there; that whole group reminds of a balloon with a string (which is the chain). At the NF end of the cluster, N of 19 Pup by 8’, is an ellipse that marks the NF corner of the cluster and is football shaped, with its major axis P very slightly S-F very slightly N, and is 5’ x 3’. On the P edge of the cluster, just slightly N of due P, is a solitary 9.5-magnitude star that probably isn’t a member; it’s flanked to the SP and SF, each by 3.5’, by two knots of stars, each 1’ across; the knot to the SP has the brighter stars and some unresolved; the knot to the SF has fainter visible stars and more unresolved glow than the first. The cluster is rectangular if considering 19 Pup part of it; otherwise it’s Capricornus-shaped, with the ellipse on the NF corner and the lucida at the point where the N edge bends S-ward. A number of patches around the cluster look nebulous or unresolved, especially to the S; 42’ SF 19 Pup there’s a pair of 8th-magnitude stars; the P star is slightly brighter and the F is 4.25’ F, and is the N end of a teardrop shaped cluster [??] extending to the S; this has a dozen resolved stars in the magnitude 11.5-13 range. 6.5’ S of the F of the pair is a 10.5-magnitude star.
NGC 2479 (Pup): This 9’ diameter cluster is a little lesser than the others tonight, but still quite fine. There are some forty stars in the cluster, which is pretty well detached and identifiable as a cluster; there’s not really much sense of background glow or unresolved stars. The cluster’s most distinguishing feature is an almost capital Omega-shape that’s a bit flattened, with the top of the loop to the NP and the two feet running SP-NF; this omega has about eighteen stars in it, the majority in the 11th/12th-magnitude range. On the N, S and F sides in particular there’s a lack of field stars near the cluster (but some to the SF) and the prominent stars in the field are all to the P. It’s hard to pick out an individual star as the lucida; there are many of very similar magnitudes here. F the more S of the omega’s feet by 1.25’ is a smallish clump or knot of five stars; there’s also a 10’ line of nine stars on the P edge running N-S, maybe N slightly P-S slightly F. 11’ P slightly S of the star on the bottom of the S foot is a double or pair that are SP-NF to each other, with the brighter to the NF by 0.3’, and these are 9th and 9.5 magnitudes; the primary is the brightest in the field. From the same star (at the S end of the S foot) NP by 11’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; from the same star on the S foot N slightly P by 9’ is a 10.5-magnitude star that has S slightly P it by 0.67’ a double of 11.5-magnitude components separated N-S by 10”. ⅔ of the way from the middle of the cluster to the N edge of the field is a long arc of brighter stars that’s 30’ long and borders the N and F edges of the field; these stars are roughly 10th magnitude or so on average.
As I was working through these, I noticed that Loren was covering many of the same objects I had been in recent nights; he’s working through the Herschel 400 himself, less than two years after getting involved in the hobby. At that stage, I was still trying to track down the last few of the Messiers I needed to scratch out from Cincinnati’s perpetually-grey skies, never mind the tougher Herschel stuff.
The clouds had started rolling in, too—right on schedule. They were thin and irritating at first, but were gradually becoming a menace to observe through.
NGC 2509 (Pup): Another fine Puppis object–a dense, fairly-well detached, very obvious cluster in an area of sky where the seeing is really poor, down low in the southern muck where seeing is no better than a 4. [We take what we have.] The cluster is very clumpy, very rich (with fifty stars), and 7’ round; there’s a pretty extensive range of mags, but it’s more difficult than usual to know entirely which stars are members and which aren’t. There are a number of 11th/12th-magnitude stars around especially the S half of the cluster (assuming the small obvious knot of stars is not the majority of its extent). The N end of the cluster is more populous; the most striking feature in the cluster is a duck-flight or flattened ‘V’ that starts at the N-central edge of the cluster, extends SP for 3.5’, and then bends back due S with its brightest star (and maybe the cluster lucida) at the joint where the bars of the V meet and the star at the S end/S-most star in the V is due S of the knot at the N end; that knot is just F the N end of the V; the knot is 1.75’ diameter and has a great many unresolved stars in it (although the seeing isn’t helping resolution). There are four stars counting the joint-star on the S bar of the ‘V’ and these are among the cluster’s brightest; the star at the S end of the ‘V’ also forms the S end of a line of three that runs NF for 5’; that star at the S end has NF it by 1.5’ another small clump of faint stars; that clump is 1’ diameter with six visible 13th or 14th-magnitude stars. 7’ S from the star NP of the star at the S end of the ‘V’ S is an arc that (including that star) has five primary stars in it, and so in a way gives the cluster a kite/stingray appearance like NGC 1664 in Auriga. The brightest star in the field is due SF the joint star by 7.5’ and is 9th magnitude; it’s also the N end of an arc of four and has S of it by 1.3’ a 12th-magnitude star that itself has an 11th-magnitude star S of it by 1.25’; there’s a 10th-magnitude star SF that star by 2.25’.
I took advantage of a sucker hole (a cloudless patch that usually draws astronomers in, only to slam it shut as they’re trying to figure out what’s “in” it to observe) to the north to catch M 81 and M82, two stunning galaxies in Ursa Major (and the latter one of the Herschel objects I still needed); I also took a look through Jerry’s trackball at NGC 188 in Cepheus, near Polaris; it’s possibly the oldest open cluster in the entire sky.
NGC 2548 (M48, Hya): With most of Puppis too into the muck, I’m moving to some more obvious stuff higher up; seeing is about a 5 here. M48 is a huge, sprawling mess of a cluster just over half a degree diameter, with outliers (especially to the N) out to about 45’. It’s pretty well detached and obviously a cluster; there’s nothing comparable nearby, and the starfield doesn’t offer much competition for the cluster members–they’re very much brighter stars than anything in the field. The cluster is pretty rich (80 stars minimum?); the majority are in the magnitude 8-10 range, down to magnitude 11.5 at the faintest. The most obvious part of the cluster is the central region, which is a N very slightly F-S very slightly P wedge with its point to the N and the wider end to the S very slightly P; the wedge is the richest part of the cluster, with twenty-four stars spanning 12’ long x 6’ at the S end. The P edge of the wedge is a bit shorter than the F edge. Just off the wedge’s SF end is a tiny (0.75’ x 1’) diamond of three 11th- and 12th-magnitude stars and a fourth that’s 14th magnitude but difficult to hold steady in the poor seeing. Off the SP end of the wedge is a faint trio, no more than 0.67’ long, with three stars in the 13th-magnitude range. The cluster has no distinct shape to it; it contains lots of chains and zigzags, but no real discernable eye-catching outline. The side of the cluster F the wedge is richer and more compact; the P side may have more of the brighter stars but they’re more spread out and the cluster is narrower on that end, maybe vaguely triangular, with the F side the widest and P end coming to a point. Clusters like this are hard to describe; every star is bright enough to give attention to, and when they have no real “pattern” to them, it’s kind of overwhelming to find a specific aspect to describe in detail.
Robert had arrived later, having had a full day’s work, and was now leaving; between work the next morning and the thick layer of clouds covering much of the sky, he’d seen the writing on the wall. The rest of us weren’t going to be far behind.
NGC 2520 (NGC 2527, Pup): A much more decent view of this one than before, when I couldn’t see it at all. This cluster is Auriga-shaped, broadly hexagonal, 8’ N-S and 5.5’ across the middle; it’s 4.5’ across the N edge and 3’ on the S edge. The cluster’s not overly-well detached; a casual observer might not recognize it as a cluster right away; nor is it very rich, with twenty member stars, most of the fainter ones on the SF edge. There’s not really a lucida; the seven brighter stars forming the hexagon are in the 9-10th magnitude range; there’s also a rough knot of faint stars around the star at the P end of the minor axis. The brightest star in the field lies F very slightly N of the NF-most vertex and is 8.5 magnitude [the seeing’s fading again]. Starting with the NP vertex, which is magnitude 9.5: 4.5’ due F is another of 9.5 magnitude; from the NF vertex S very slightly F by 3.25’ is another 9.5-magnitude star; S slightly P that star by 4’ is yet another 9.5-magnitude star; between the last two stars is a long chain of seven 11th-magnitude stars. 3’ due P the SF-most vertex is a 10th-magnitude star; there’s another of 10th magnitude 0.75’ N very very slightly F that one; from that star 1.5’ due N is a 10.5-magnitude star; from that star 2’ N slightly P is a 10th-magnitude star; and from that star 3’ due N is the NP vertex of cluster. From the SF vertex SF, then F, then NF is a faint chain of unresolved stars 4’ long.
The clouds quickly choked out the remaining clear starry areas. (To hell with the Pathetic Fallacy; I like the phrasing, and it’s my blog.) Sometimes it was nice not to have to make a decision about when to leave; tonight, the sky did it for us.
The drive home from Eureka was always mercifully short. I would be making that same drive several more times in the coming nights.
IV. I went out again the very next night–after the EAS meeting, which was unusual enough. Even more unusual, I went out to Eureka alone. After the incident a few Octobers ago in which I was nearly run off the road by a white pickup truck that had been stalking me as I was setting up, I’d said I would never go there alone again. Linslaw or the spur road at Eagle’s Ridge, yes. But not Eureka. And yet, there I was, preparing to snag the three remaining Puppis/Pyxis clusters I needed before they were too low in the sky from 44˚ N.
I set up quickly; I had no particular desire to stay any longer than necessary. The sky was already totally dark, which was also a blessing. I gave the mirror twenty minutes to cool as I was getting the rest of my gear set up, and then leapt into the sky’s southern wilds.
SUNSET: 5:48 PM
MOON: 27 days (set at 2:57 AM; 6% illuminated)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to low 30s; dewier than previous night; chilly
OTHERS PRESENT: none
NGC 2571 (Pup): This cluster is very small, extended 4.75’ x 2.75’ P-F; it consists primarily of a small right triangle and an ellipse (the ellipse is the P half, the triangle F). The triangle stars are much the brighter. The whole is pretty cluster-like, not super-rich (i.e. fairly star-poor, with twenty stars), and has some unresolved stars in it; it’s moderately well detached and less rich than NGC 2567 but with much a greater magnitude range. The triangle area, especially the P-most vertex, has the majority of the fainter stars around it (a mix of brighter and fainter stars). The P-most star of the triangle is the one closest to the cluster’s center and is also the lucida at 9th magnitude; the right-angle vertex is 1’ SF, and the third vertex is 1.75’ NF the right-angle vertex; the right-angle vertex is just a shade dimmer than the lucida, maybe 9.2 magnitude; the third vertex is 10.5 magnitude and 1.67’ NF the right-angle vertex. From the 10.5-magnitude star S very very slightly P by 0.75’ is an 11.5-magnitude star. N and F the lucida is a 0.67’ knot of unresolved stars, which is not surprisingly unresolved given its altitude. 0.67’ due N of the lucida is a 12th-magnitude star. P the lucida by 2’ is the brightest star in the ellipse; the ellipse is oriented P slightly N-F slightly S and is 1.75’ x 1.25’. The ellipse is better defined on the N edge, by an arc of three; starting with the brightest one which is 11th magnitude and is the P-most on that edge; F very very slightly S by 0.67’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; there’s another 11.5-magnitude star SF that star by 0.5’. The S half of the ellipse is formed by two pairs or doubles: the first pair lies SP the ellipse lucida by 0.75’, has components of 12.5 and 14th magnitude, and is separated P slightly N-F slightly S by 0.25’, with the brighter to the F. The more P of the other pair is S very very slightly F the ellipse lucida by 1.25’ with the brighter component to the F by 0.3’; those are 12th and 12.5 magnitude. N of the cluster lucida by 15’ is an 8th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is SP the lucida by 21’ and is magnitude 6.5. The second-brightest in the field is 22’ NF the lucida and is 7th magnitude and has SP it by 1’ an 11.5-magnitude star. NP the lucida by 14’ is a 9th-magnitude star. P very slightly N of the lucida by 17’ is a 7th-magnitude star that has N of it by 1’ a 10th-magnitude star; from the 7th-magnitude star N slightly F by 5.5’ is a 9th-magnitude star that has a 10th-magnitude star S very slightly P it by 0.67’; those two plus the ones to the NP and N of the cluster from a 20’ long chain. NP the 7th-magnitude star at the P end of that chain are a couple of very very faint knots of stars; one is 6’ NP and the other 9’ NP.
NGC 2567 (Pup): A “better,” even more interesting cluster just a couple of degrees S of NGC 2571, although the seeing has now gone moldy down there. This one is moderately rich, moderately well detached, and in a very busy field; it has a moderate range of magnitudes among its forty stars. The cluster is bigger than 2571 at 8’ diameter and elongated SP-NF; it has as its most distinguishing feature a 3.75’ line of nine ≈11th-magnitude stars running N very very slightly P-S very very slightly F through the middle and making up the center of the cluster; the line has a gap toward its middle. SP the line is a diamond of somewhat brighter stars and NF is also a diamond of three equal-magnitude stars and one brighter. The majority of fainter stars are along the line or slightly P its N end for 1.75’. From the N end of the line 4’ SP is the brightest and NP-most star in the first diamond, which is 10th magnitude; S of it by 1’ is an 11th-magnitude star; F that star by 1.5’ is a pair: the P-most is very slightly brighter, separated by 10” and both are roughly magnitude 11.5; NsF the fainter of the pair by 0.3’ is a 12th-magnitude star; NsF that star by 0.75’ is one of 11th magnitude; those make up the diamond, which is 2.5’ x 1.5’; at the crossing of its axes is an 11.5-magnitude star. 2.25’ due F from the N end of the central line in the cluster is the P-most vertex of the second diamond, which is 12th magnitude and has NF it by 0.75’ another of 12th magnitude; that star has 1’ SF it an 11th-magnitude star which has S very very slightly P it by 1’ another of 11th magnitude; these make up the majority of cluster. The brightest star in the field lies 18’ P very slightly S of the star at the N end of the line; that star is magnitude 8.5 and it has another of magnitude 8.5 4.5’ S very slightly P it; that second star has an 11th-magnitude star SF it by 0.25’; there’s another 8.5-magnitude star (very slightly fainter than the first one) NsP the star at N end of line by 12’.
Looking back at these notes, they’re lacking any information about the F side of the cluster. Perhaps I was too hasty in my note taking, but they seem incomplete.
I had three Puppis clusters still on my agenda, but as I centered up NGC 2482 in the eyepiece, I realized—from the cartoon bow-and-arrow shape—that I’d taken notes on it already. I was done with Puppis! I wasn’t sure why it had stayed on both my Sky Atlas 2000.0 chart and my Sky Safari list, but it was something of a relief to be ahead of the curve for once.
One other thing was for certain: the seeing was getting particularly poor down that low in the sky.
(A third thing is also now certain: spellcheckers love trying to change “Puppis” to “Puppies.”)
NGC 2627 (Pyx): This is the last of these low-south clusters, and the finest of the trilogy so far tonight. It’s obviously a cluster at first sight, and pretty well detached (despite there being a lot of stars of similar magnitudes in the field, some in fairly-dense patches, especially to the S and SP). It’s quite rich, with lots of faint stars; there are perhaps fifty overall, covering a pretty broad range of magnitudes, and a fair amount of granular, unresolved near-haze. The cluster is elongated roughly P-F; it spans 8’ x 3.5’, and has across the middle an arc of six stars sweeping from the F P-ward across center and then NP; the star at the F end of that arc is the brightest and is the cluster lucida at 10th magnitude; P very very slightly S the lucida by 1.25’ is a 12th-magnitude star; P that star by 0.75’ is an 11th-magnitude star that’s near the exact center of the cluster; P very slightly N of that star by 1’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; P very slightly N of that star by 1.3’ is a double: 11.5 and 13th magnitudes separated P-F by 10”, with F-more the brighter; N of the brighter of the pair by 0.5’ is a 12th-magnitude star; these make up the arc running across the middle of the main body of the cluster; outliers run to the P slightly N and F slightly N and another tendril stretches away from the star at the center for 3’ SF. From the lucida S slightly P by 6’ is the N end of another knot of stars 1.5’ across; those stars are quite faint, with one on the N end and one on the N slightly P the only ones resolved there; a couple of brighter stars lie S of the knot; is this knot not part of the cluster proper? From the lucida F slightly N by 5’ is an 8.5-magnitude star; from that star 6’ N somewhat F is a 10th-magnitude. NP the lucida by 8’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; from the lucida P very very slightly N by 7’ is a pair: the brighter is S very slightly P the fainter by 0.5’; those are 10.5 and 12th magnitudes. From the lucida P slightly S by 15’ is another 8th-magnitude star; there’s another of 8th-magnitude F slightly S of the lucida by 12’; this latter forms a right triangle with the 8.5-magnitude star F slightly N of the lucida (which is the right-angle vertex) and the 10th-magnitude star NF the right-angle vertex by 6’.
With the clusters done, I could have left. But I was still comfortable with the situation, and the weather conditions were still pretty good. I plowed on, with two more objects that I needed but still had some time to get had I not picked them up on this night. (I considered NGC 2610 a “must-get” at the time, but it wasn’t urgent like the others.) Even the arrival of clouds across the southwest wasn’t much of an immediate deterrent.
NGC 2610 (Hya): This is the last one that’s absolutely necessary tonight; I have more time on the few other ones remaining. The “second” planetary in Hydra (after the Ghost of Jupiter), this nebula is roundish, 0.67’ in diameter, with its 12th-magnitude central star (is it the central star?) off-center to the N. The nebula seems a bit brighter and better defined on the N as well; the S half, especially the SP, is vaguer and less-well defined. It’s a fairly ghostly, diffuse planetary overall. It’s situated in a field of bright stars; there’s a 6th-magnitude star due NF by 3.5’ and a 12th-magnitude star N slightly F the nebula by 1.25’; SF that star by 0.75’ is a 14th-magnitude star; 0.67’ SF that star is an 11.5-magnitude star. From the nebula SP by 4’ is an 11th-magnitude star that has S somewhat P it by 1.75’ an 8.5-magnitude star; P slightly N of the 11th-mag star by 2’ is a 12th-magnitude star that has a 13.5-magnitude star N of it by 0.25’. From the central star NP by 8’ is an 8th-magnitude star with one of 10.5 magnitude SF by 2’. The O-III filter helps quite a bit: the nebula isn’t as diffuse, has more presence; it seems to be a more complete disc than without the filter. The filter kills the central star, of course. [Clouds are massing through the S sky.] The filtered view shows the nebula larger; it might be 0.75’ diameter now, and considerably better defined. It’s pretty smooth across the face; no annulus can be detected. The 6th-magnitude star threw out a lot of distracting glare that’s quelled by the filter. The SF edge of the nebula is a little bit brighter than the rest of the rim; that quadrant is slightly bit brighter than before.
NGC 3524 (Leo): The last one for tonight; one I previously had missed on my list when I was working through Leo before. It’s easy to see why I could miss it in the eyepiece; this is not the most immediately-noticeable galaxy and it’s not well defined, but it’s reasonably obvious when you know exactly where to look in the field. The galaxy is an edge-on spiral, elongated S very very slightly P-N very very slightly F, 1.0’ x less than 0.25’. The ends are not well defined but it has a small brighter lane running ⅔ of its length and the faintest sporadic flash of a nucleus visible that’s 25% of the time. The galaxy is difficult in part because it has an 11.5-magnitude star 0.75’ N slightly P from the nucleus; there’s a 13th-magnitude star N very very slightly P that star by 1.25’, and due N of the galaxy by 8’ is a very distracting 10.5-magnitude star. From the nucleus S very very slightly P by 16’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; there’s another 10.5-magnitude star S slightly F the galaxy by 19’; that star has almost due S of it by 12’ a really striking double: 9th and 9.5-magnitude stars with the fainter P the brighter by 9”. [A bright meteor zips through the field!!] SP the galaxy by 10’ is a fourth 10.5-magnitude star that is the S-most vertex of an isosceles triangle; it has 4.5’ P somewhat N of it a star of 12th magnitude and F somewhat N of it by 5.25’ a 12th-magnitude star which has a 12.5-magnitude star P very very slightly N of it by 1.67’; there’s a star of 13th magnitude N slightly P the first vertex of the triangle by 2.67’.
My mood was a bit triumphant as I drove home from Eureka—even if we were clouded out for the rest of the month, I’d gotten through all the Herschel objects that I was in danger of losing to the advance of the seasons. I could theoretically miss all of March and still be able to get the two Herschel lists done, given that the only objects I needed were in circumpolar constellations (with one exception: NGC 3693 in Crater, which was another that I’d overlooked, like NGC 3524). And there were still clear nights on the week’s forecast, so even those circumpolar objects would get whittled down further.
I’d started the month wondering if I’d have to wait another whole year to finish a project that had already taken nearly six years, and was now staring at the possibility of being done with it by the end of the next month.
V. I didn’t make it five nights in a row, but that was in part due to the weather. The next clear night happened on the other side of New Moon, long enough after the previous session that I’d become a little paranoid in the interim: what if I misjudged the position of Camelopardalis in the sky from Eureka, and it was lower than I’d thought? I’d already had a surprisingly-difficult time trying to pin down the galaxies’ locations while I was out at site; how much leeway could I have without losing those galaxies in the evening sky? Eureka wasn’t as dark as our other sites, and didn’t have as plentiful a set of guide stars; I set up my agenda with the intention of using NGC 2403 (the easiest and brightest of the Cam galaxies) as my starhopping point for the others, but I had to find it first. I’d seen it before at the Eagle’s Rest gravel pit and elsewhere, but at Eureka, they were still near the brightest part of the sky.
I wasn’t alone on the night; new-guy Nathan was there, imaging the Rosette Nebula.
SUNSET: 5:54 PM
MOON: 1 day (set at 7:04 PM; 2.2% illuminated)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to mid 20s; slight dew; chilly; clouds rolling through between 8-10 PM; some haze at sunset
OTHERS PRESENT: NC
NGCs 2403, 2404 (Cam): This is the big one tonight, and all others will be starhopped to from here. I could probably wait a bit for more darkness, but I need to make sure I get all of these tonight. I’ve seen NGC 2403 before, of course, but have never taken notes on it. The galaxy’s very large, no less than 8’ x 4.5’, and elongated P somewhat N-F somewhat S. It has a large core that’s not particularly well defined (although the halo isn’t very well defined, either); the core is 1.25’ around and gradual and not well distinct from the halo, which is very diffuse on the circumference. Along the S edge are two brightish stars (cf.). It seems as though the light cutoff is greater on the N and F edges of the halo, especially just N of the star off the F end. There’s a suspected star just S of the core which is magnitude 12.5; 0.75’ S of that is a threshold star, maybe magnitude 14.5. From the star on the S edge of the core SP by 1.3’ is a 10.5-magnitude star that has a 13.5-magnitude star P very slightly S of it by 1’; from the 10.5-magnitude star N very slightly P by 3.25’ is a 14.5-magnitude star that’s in the middle of a patchy extension that may be part of the P arm of the galaxy; that star has N slightly F by 0.5’ and S slightly P it by 0.75’ two others of almost the same magnitude (although the one to the N doesn’t look quite pinpoint; it may be nebulous); the one to the S is almost threshold level. 7’ due P from the 10.5-magnitude star on the SP edge of the galaxy is a 9th-magnitude star, and from that star 4.5’ N slightly P is an 8.5-magnitude star; there’s a 9.5-magnitude star on the SF edge of galaxy, 3.5’ due F the 10.5-magnitude star on the SP; from that 9.5-magnitude star NP by 1.5’ is another small non-stellar spot (NGC 2404); I can’t tell if it’s in a spiral arm or not, but every so often a dark bay is visible S of the nebulous spot and running P-F. A 14th-magnitude star lies 0.67’ SP from the 9.5-magnitude star on the SF of the galaxy. 16’ due S of the 9.5-magnitude star is another 8.5-magnitude star, and it has a 9th-magnitude star S slightly P it by 5.75’. The two stars P the galaxy and the two S comprise all of the field’s brighter stars. Back to the group on the extreme P edge of galaxy (the two stars and the nebulous spot): these look like they help define the P-most end of the galaxy, although there does appear to be between that and the 8th-magnitude star that’s P somewhat N of the galaxy another small fuzzy detached area that might have a couple of threshold stars or something non-stellar involved in it; that detached spot lies 5.5’ due NP the 10.5-magnitude star on the SF edge of the galaxy. Every now and then is an obvious glimmer of that nebulous patch N slightly P the star on the SF edge of the galaxy (NGC 2404); that star has a bit of halo beyond it on the F, so it’s not the exact edge, and the same is true with the one on the SP (the 10.5-magnitude star).
Having gotten NGC 2403 picked up early, I felt a lot better about the course the evening would take.
NGCs 2366, 2363 (Cam): I expected this one to be kind of a bugger, based on what I’d read about it, and it is; it’s much like the big one in Draco, NGC 4236, only much smaller. The galaxy is very long and very very diffuse; it spans 3.0’ x 0.5’ and is elongated SP-NF, with no central concentration at all; just a faint smear. It’s much better in averted vision, where its full dimensions are more easily realized I would have noticed it scanning through the field, but not checked for its full extent [a bright NP-SF satellite traverses the field]. On the SP end of the halo is an almost stellar spot, like a dim 12th-magnitude star in nebulosity; from that object 3.75’ N is a 12.5-magnitude star; P that star by 1.75’ is a 13.5-magnitude star that has 0.75’ due N of it a 13th-magnitude star; from that star N very very slightly F by 3’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; these form the N half of a diamond whose S end is the quasi-stellar spot (NGC 2363) on the SP end of the galaxy [a bright satellite crosses N-S just toward the P end of the field]. The brightest star in the field is SF the quasi-stellar spot by 17’ and is 9th magnitude; due P that spot by 8’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; due F the galaxy by 7’ is a pair separated N-S by 0.75’, with the brighter to the N, and those are 12th- and 13th-magnitude; from the 12th-magnitude star N very slightly P by 2.25’ is an 11.5-magnitude star that’s the SP of another pair, with a 13th-magnitude star N very slightly F it by 0.67’.
NGC 2347; IC 2179 (Cam): The smallest of the three galaxies so far, but certainly brighter than NGC 2366 (how couldn’t it be?). It’s vaguely elliptical-looking, and lies in the SF edge (the hypotenuse) of a small isosceles right triangle. The galaxy is not particularly diffuse and is pretty well defined. The inner ⅔ of the diameter is the core, which is also pretty well defined and pretty fairly brighter than the outer halo; there’s no sign of a nucleus, though (maybe, very infrequently?). The galaxy is elongated N-S and subtends 0.75’ x 0.3’. It’s pretty obvious in the field, even with a very bright star to the N. The triangle consists of the following stars: P very slightly S of the galaxy by 1.75’ is a 12th-magnitude star; 4.25’ due N of the galaxy is the right-angle vertex, which is magnitude 7.5 (and very distracting from the galaxy itself); F very slightly S of that star by 1.67’ is a 14th-magnitude star; there’s another of 14th magnitude F slightly S of that star by 1’; from the 7.5-mag F very slightly S by 5’ is a 10.5-magnitude star that has SP it by 0.5’ a 13th-magnitude star. The galaxy is within the triangle’s 6.5’ hypotenuse, while the other sides are 5’ long. The 7.5-magnitude star is the brightest in the field; from that star NP by 10’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; there’s also a 10.5-magnitude N slightly F the 7.5-magnitude star by 12’. Due NF the 7.5-magnitude star by 10’ is a 10th-magnitude star with an 11.5-magnitude star 1.3’ P very slightly S of it and one of 14th magnitude 10” N of it. There’s a smaller galaxy (IC 2179) visible in the field, 1.5’ due F the 9.5-magnitude star that’s 10’ NP the 7.5-magnitude star: this smaller galaxy is roundish, 0.3’ in diameter, not particularly well defined but not diffuse, with a small brighter core and a substellar nucleus; I don’t know how I missed it at first glance, as it’s not that difficult. 0.75’ S very very slightly F the 9.5-magnitude star that’s due P the little galaxy is a 14th-magnitude star.
The next target requires some explanation.
There are numerous versions of the Herschel lists on the internet. I had started with one version, which informed my master database of objects, but this one had a number of errors in it: objects were included that weren’t actual (or current) Herschel 400/HII objects, and others weren’t included that actually were on the correct lists. By the time I’d figured this out, I’d already lost some objects that I’d had to sweep up later. I also had a spreadsheet downloaded from the Astronomical League, which ostensibly had all of the required objects for all of the AL programs that existed at the time (a number were added later and not included in the spreadsheet). But this too had several errors in it. So I had downloaded Alvin Huey’s guides to the Herschel 400 and Herschel II (in addition to all of his others; they’re excellent), only to find disagreements between Huey’s lists and the AL spreadsheet where there shouldn’t have been any. So I essentially made sure to capture notes on all of the Herschel objects from both the AL spreadsheet and Huey’s guides, for the sake of covering my own ass.
One object on the AL sheet but not included in Huey’s guide is NGC 2253, an open cluster in Camelopardalis which apparently has been dropped from the AL list for a simple reason: it doesn’t really exist. That is, there’s no object matching Herschel’s description (“A vF patch of eS stars”) at the coordinates he recorded, and nothing in the general vicinity that could fit the description either, even accounting for a transcription error in his coordinates. Numerous proposals have been offered for an object to fit Herschel’s description, even the faint galaxy UGC 3511, but none has satisfied the researchers who’ve dug into the question of the cluster’s identity.
Nonetheless, NGC 2253 remains on the AL spreadsheet, and I was therefore going to take notes on the whole area around Herschel’s set of coordinates, using information offered on the websites of Steve Gottlieb and Courtney Seligman, and the coordinates provided by Sky Safari, to identify the field and any possible identities for the object Herschel lost.
NGC 2253 (Cam): One of the most difficult observations in the entirety of the H400 and HII, simply because the object doesn’t exist. I’m here examining the two primary areas that those in the know have selected as being possible sites for this missing cluster, starting with the region around SAO 13933 (the site chosen by C. Seligman and S. Gottlieb based on W.H.’s notes). SAO 13933 is a 9.5-magnitude star that marks the N-most vertex of another right triangle, with a 7.5-magnitude star SF it by 12’ and a star of 7th magnitude [HD 47215] S of SAO 13933 by 15’. SAO 13933 is flanked to the SP and F/NF by two groups of very faint stars; the star at the F-most end of the P group is P very slightly S of SAO 13933 by 2.25’ [there’s a substantial wave of crud going through the sky at the moment, although I’m temporarily in the clear]; that group has five or six stars in it that stretch from that star SP for 2.75’, and those stars are in the 13.5-15th magnitude range. From SAO 13933 F very very slightly N by 5.5’ is the F group, which has nine or ten stars and stretches NF at P end of that group for 4’; these stars are in roughly the same magnitude range as the previous group, although one 2.25’ F slightly S of SAO 13933 is of 12th magnitude. Due N of 13933 by 12’ is a pair that are P very very slightly S-F very very slightly N to each other; both are 11th magnitude, and they’re separated by 0.67’.
The second suggested site for NGC 2253 is the actual spot of a multiple star some have claimed to be NGC 2253. [We’re getting lost in the oncoming clouds a bit]. This consists of two multiple stars aligned roughly P-F to each other, with the brighter 1.67’ P very very slightly S of the fainter; these are 9th and 11th magnitude, and each has a faint companion: the brighter of these has a 14.5-magnitude star 12” SP it, while the 11th-magnitude star has a 13.5-magnitude star 12” NF it. SF the brighter of these pairs–and due S of the fainter by 3.25’–is a very small, slightly-nebulous spot that’s possibly the UGC galaxy some have suggested as NGC 2253, or more likely is just a very faint, tight double of 14th/15th magnitude stars [it’s the latter]; this is the actual spot Sky Safari gives for NGC 2253. The brighter of the first pair of stars is S of the 7th-magnitude star that’s S of SAO 13933, so this area has been covered; the two faint groups of stars around 13933 are visible at the N end of the field with the multiple stars centered in it.
And then it was back to galaxies for the final Camelopardalis Herschel 400 target.
NGCs 2655, 2715 (Cam): Big and bright! I starhopped from NGC 2715 to find 2655 because I was having no luck otherwise. NGC 2655 is an elliptical-looking galaxy with a well-defined halo and a small bright core that has a substellar nucleus inside–a very impressive galaxy. It’s elongated slightly P-F and extends 2.0’ x 1.5’. The galaxy forms the middle of a ‘Y’ of bright stars, the two brightest of which are P and SF the galaxy; the star to the P marks the end of the ‘Y’ stem and is 16’ from the galaxy and is of 7th magnitude; due F that star is a trio of 12th/13th-magnitude stars in a 2’ NP-SF line: 2.5’ due F the 7th-magnitude star is the S-most of a pair: the N-most is also very slightly P; these are separated by 0.5’; 1.5’ SF the first star (the more S of the pair) is the third and brightest 12th-magnitude star. 9’ F somewhat N of the galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star marking the northern tine of the Y; a 7.5-magnitude star 10’ SF the galaxy denotes the southern tine. With the sky clearing, the galaxy is somewhat more substantial, 2.5’ x 1.67’ or 1.75’. S of the galaxy (and very slightly F) by 14’ is a 10th-magnitude star; F slightly S of the galaxy by 40’ is NGC 2715: this galaxy is a really elongated diffuse glow with not much central concentration; the central region or core is just very slightly brighter than the halo, which is much more diffuse on the N end than the S. The galaxy is elongated S very slightly P-N very slightly F, spanning 3.5’ x 1.0’. No nucleus is visible. From the center of the galaxy 4’ due S is an 11.5-magnitude star. N slightly F the galaxy by 9’ is a 10.5-magnitude star that’s the N-most star in a nice isosceles triangle, almost equilateral, whose S edge runs due P-F; from that star S somewhat P and S somewhat F, each by 2’, is a 12th-magnitude star and those two are 2.25’ apart. 1.67’ NP the 10.5-magnitude star is a 12.5-magnitude star. NGC 2715 as impressive as NGC 2655, a highly-inclined spiral just under a full field away from 2655, and worthy of its own attention.
I backtracked to the next target not because it was a Herschel object (it isn’t), but because it was cool and I stumbled over it while searching for NGC 2655.
NGC 2591 (Cam): Although not a member of the H400 or HII lists, this is a really cool galaxy I found while searching for NGC 2655 is worth taking notes on. It’s very thin, probably a flat galaxy, 1.67’ x 0.25’ and elongated perfectly SP-NF. The galaxy has no central concentration or nucleus, just a very even surface brightness. The galaxy is distracted from by a pair of brighter stars to the N somewhat F. Just P the S tip of the galaxy is a 14th-magnitude star; a couple of other 14.5-magnitude stars lie P the galaxy, forming an arc of three; this leads from the star off the galaxy’s S tip P slightly N for 1.75’; the star due P the galaxy has the third in that group NP it by 1’. From the galaxy due SP (so along the galaxy’s major axis) by 9’ is the more N of a pair that are N-S each other; these are both magnitude 11.5 and separated by 1’; from the S-most in the pair 1.67’ SF is a 12.5-magnitude star. From the galaxy roughly P by 7’ is an 11th-magnitude star; from the middle of the galaxy N somewhat F by 8’ is a 10.5-magnitude star that has 1.75’ F it a 10th-magnitude star; from that 10.5-magnitude star N very very slightly P by 3’ is a 13th-magnitude star, and from the galaxy SF by 4’ is a 12th-magnitude star.
Although some clouds had rolled in from the west, I was still in the clear up in the circumpolar reaches. So I pressed on into Ursa Major, where 95% of my remaining targets resided—the better to maximize what clear skies I had access to.
NGC 2742 (UMa): The sky is still holding up, so I’m going to press on into Ursa Major. This is a big, bright, P-F elongated galaxy inside the nose of the Bear. It spans 2.67’ x 1.3’. It’s very diffuse, with no real distinction between halo and core, but it’s also very lumpy or “non-smooth” in brightness; if I was a bettor, I’d say some spiral structure could be seen in a 14”, and it seems as if the galaxy’s really trying to be vaguely ‘S’-shaped just out of the grasp of my 12.5” scope. The halo is pretty well defined, with just a bit of irregularity hinting at spiral structure. Due NP the galaxy by 4.75’ is a brilliant 7.5-magnitude star that seems yellowish; SP the galaxy by 3.25’ is a 10th-magnitude star that’s the S-most vertex of a tiny isosceles triangle (reminiscent of the one that “feeds up” to Pal 12); from that star N very very slightly F and N very very slightly P each by 0.75’ is a 13.5-magnitude star, and those are separated from each other by 0.3’. F very slightly N of the galaxy by 13’ is a 9th-magnitude star that has 0.5’ SP it a 14th-magnitude and a 13.5-magnitude P it by 0.75’; along that same line P slightly N of the 7.5-magnitude star by 2.25’ is a 13th-magnitude star.
NGC 2768 (UMa): This galaxy lies just outside the field of 2742/just on the edge of the field but I didn’t see it earlier. In some ways, it’s like a brighter version of NGC 2742. This galaxy is 2.5’ x 1.25’, elongated P-F, and has a smallish, pretty suddenly-arrived-at core that has a substellar nucleus and what looks like (just P the nucleus) an embedded threshold star. The galaxy’s halo is well defined; the outer ends of the halo are considerably tougher, but that may be due to current conditions. The galaxy is situated in a fairly distinct but not busy field; there are a lot of bright stars present. N of the galaxy by 4.75’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; there’s another of magnitude 10.5 P slightly N by 3.75’; F somewhat N by 2.5’ is a 12.5-magnitude star. S of the galaxy by 2.67’ is a 14th-magnitude star; there’s another 14th-magnitude star 1’ N very very slightly F; that last star is also 1.5’ S very very slightly F the galaxy’s nucleus. SP the galaxy by 3.5’ is the N-most of a SP-NF pair of 13th-magnitude stars separated by 1.5’. The brightest star in the field is 8.5 magnitude and lies P somewhat N of the galaxy by 15’; this star has due N of it by 1’ a 10th-magnitude star; there’s a 9.5-magnitude star 16’ P somewhat S of the galaxy; those (the 9.5- and 10th-magnitude stars and the galaxy) form an equilateral triangle. F somewhat N of the galaxy by 21’ is a 9th-magnitude star.
NGC 2756 (UMa): A bright but not particularly distinguished galaxy with high surface brightness. It’s elongated N-S and is quite small, 0.75’ x 0.3’, with a well-defined not very diffuse halo and a very small 0.25’ core; it almost seems like a nucleus is visible in averted vision, but I can’t get a fix on it. The galaxy has S slightly P it by 7’ a 9.5-magnitude star; there’s an 11th-magnitude star F very slightly N the galaxy by 9’. There’s also an isosceles triangle SF the galaxy; the closest vertex is 2.75’ F very very slightly S of the galaxy and is magnitude 12.5; there’s another of magnitude 12.5 due F the first by 2’, and from the 2nd star S very very slightly P by 2.5’ is a 14.5-magnitude star; these make up the triangle, which points due S. S somewhat F the galaxy by 10’ is the N-most of a chain of three, of which the N-most two are 12.5 magnitude and the third 13.5; the two N are separated N slightly F-S slightly P by 0.67’ and two S are separated N very very slightly P-S very very slightly F by 0.25’; from the N-most of the three due S very very slightly F by 3.25’ is a double (probably an actual physical double) whose 10th- and 12th-magnitude components are oriented NF-SP to each other and separated by 10” (with the brighter to the NF).
The clouds had reached a point where I was fenced in; only a section of sky around Ursa Major remained clear. But that was no doubt illusory—whatever visible clouds there were were only the surface part of the iceberg; the transparency was no doubt seriously compromised beyond the threshold of vision. Best, then, to wrap things up.
NGC 2950 (UMa): The entire sky is clouded over at this point, except here in UMa; this will likely be the last object for tonight. This is a small but obvious galaxy with a very bright core and a bright substellar nucleus. It extends 1.0’ x 0.67’ NP-SF. The halo is pretty well defined, although on the P side it looks somewhat jagged–indicative of spiral structure? More magnification would help, but it would also violate the rules I set for doing the Herschel lists; I’ll have to come back to this one with greater aperture and/or magnification. [There’s a line of sub-threshold stars on P side causing this impression, but it’s more visible on photographs than in a 12.5” scope.] The halo seems extended along P edge. P the galaxy by 2.5’ is a 12.5-magnitude star; there’s another of 12.5 magnitude N very slightly F the galaxy by 4.25’ and from that star F very slightly N by 3.25’ is a 10th-magnitude star; F that star by 9’ is another of 10th magnitude. S of the galaxy and somewhat P by 20’ is a 7.5-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field. N very slightly F the galaxy by 19’ is the more N of a pair of 11.5-magnitude stars separated S very slightly P-N very slightly F by 0.67’; 2.5’ NF from the N of the two is a 9th-magnitude star.
The Clear Sky Chart had predicted the clouds rolling in, but was a little off time-wise. Nathan’s favorite app, Clear Outside, indicated that the crud would clear off within the next couple of hours. Having completed the night’s agenda and taken notes on all the Camelopardalis objects (even the non-existent one!) I needed, I decided against waiting around for the clouds to clear. Nathan, still buried in his imaging data, was willing to wait it out, and was comfortable waiting alone to do so.
So I tore down my gear and headed home, not particularly comfortable leaving someone alone at an observing site, but grateful that I’d had the few hours it took to finally clear out the “winter” Herschels for good.
VI. Two nights later, we reconvened at Eureka for what became an epic observing session with some of the best seeing I’ve ever experienced. Four of us made it out: me, Dan B (with his 16″ Dob and his double-barreled 6″ SCTs), Frank (with his binoscope) and Jeff L (with a TeleVue refractor and [I think] his 11″ SCT). Having cleared out Camelopardalis, I was much more at ease with my standing Herschel-wise; I had only about forty to go, almost all of them in Ursa Major, where they would be in decent observing position for most of the night.
The three-day-old Moon was still up in the west, not to set for a couple more hours. But there was no reason to waste that time: I set about working through some of the winter showpieces, even settling on a favorite Messier I’d never taken notes on.
SUNSET: 5:56 PM
MOON: 3 days (set at 9:04 PM; 9% illuminated)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to mid 20s; heavy dew; chill/clammy; some haze at sunset; seeing became the best I’ve ever seen it
OTHERS PRESENT: DB, FS, JL
M67 (Cnc): Going to take notes on this one while waiting for the Moon to go away, as I still don’t have notes on all the Messiers. This is one of the most underrated Messiers, a really fine splashy open cluster in an overlooked part of the sky. The cluster is elongated P-F; the brightest star within it is on the NF; it’s probably not a member but is the brightest star in the cluster body at 7.5 magnitude. The cluster is very well detached and very very rich; it’s a very obvious cluster (all the more so for the lack of background stars here). If the 7.5-magnitude star is an actual cluster member, it would be the lucida, and the cluster would have a considerable magnitude range; there are twenty-five stars in the 10th-11th magnitude range and many fainter, down to 14th magnitude; there are ninety or more stars here. There’s a N-S stripe of stars that sweeps across the center of the cluster; this is where the richest concentration of the cluster’s faint stars lies, and is also where an arc of brighter member-stars runs SP-NF and then N. From the “lucida” along the N edge to the NP vertex–which is P very very slightly S of the lucida by 13’–the cluster is 13’ x 10’ (along the F-most side). At the S end of the arc across the middle is a smaller arc of three stars that’s 1.3’ end to end; the P-most star in this is one of the two brightest in the main body of the cluster and is 10th magnitude [a satellite goes spinning through the F edge of field]; the star at the F end of that arc is also 10th magnitude (but very very slightly fainter than the first) and the third star, which is 0.75’ S very very slightly F the first, is 10.5 magnitude. 1’ NF from the F-most vertex is a clump of six very tight-knotted stars that has a train of faint stars running to the NP of it by 1.5’; the knot is 0.5’ across and has some unresolved stars in it; the train to the NP has four or five stars in it. From the lucida P somewhat S by 9’ is another clump of stars that runs 1.75’ x 0.67’ P-F and contains nine stars, the brightest of which is on N corner with its second-brightest on the P corner; the star on the N corner is 11.5 magnitude, and that star is 5.5’ N very slightly P the star on the F end of the arc of three at the S end of the cluster. There’s also an interesting area NF the first clump: from that clump 2.3’ NF is a 9.5-magnitude star that’s tied for the second-brightest star here, and it’s on the SF vertex of a quincunx pattern that has as its NF vertex a faint double of 11.5- and 13.5-magnitude stars, with the brighter P the fainter by 10”; the SP vertex of the quincunx is 2’ P very very slightly N of the SF vertex; from that star N by 1.75’ is a 12th-magnitude star, the NP vertex of the quincunx; from the SP vertex NF by 1.25’ is the center star of the quincunx, which is magnitude 10.5. It’s in the P edge of the quincunx that lies the largest concentration of faint stars in the cluster. From the lucida S very very slightly P by 4.5’ is the brightest star in a tiny triangle; that star is 10.5 magnitude and it has a 13th-magnitude star due N of it by 0.5’; that star has 0.3’ due SF it a 12.5-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is N slightly P the lucida by 15’ and is 8th magnitude (very slightly fainter than the lucida, so actually the second-brightest in the field).
By the time I was done with M67 and a couple of other bright targets—and with the light haze of the evening dispersed—the Moon had finally sunk out of sight. So it was back on to Ursa Major, with the only telescope on the field that was facing north, rather than south.
NGC 2880; PGC 26940 (UMa): Now that the Moon is down, it’s Herschel time. This is a moderately-bright, fairly-small galaxy just P slightly N of h UMa. It’s elongated NP-SF, 1.0’ x 0.5’, and has a small (maybe 12”) bright core and a substellar nucleus; maybe the core is larger and the nucleus is the 12” object? (I think the former.) The ends of the galaxy’s halo are very tenuous and require averted vision to pull out from the background. There’s a backward checkmark of four 13.5/14th-magnitude stars N and P the galaxy and an arc of five stars F it whose two brightest stars are on the ends, especially the N end. The checkmark’s heel is due P the galaxy by 1.75’ and is 14.5 magnitude, and it has a 14th-magnitude star NP it by 0.75’; from the heel 1’ NF is a 14.5-magnitude star barely above the magnitude threshold tonight; from that star 1.5’ NF (so due N of the galaxy) is a 13.5-magnitude star which is 2’ N of the galaxy. Every so often, 1.25’ NF that last star, is a tiny fuzzy glow (PGC 26940); it’s very very difficult and no more than 0.3’ round, with a very little central concentration that helps find and hold it in averted vision 50% of the time. F very very slightly N of 2880 by 1.3’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; NF 2880 by 9’ is a 10th-magnitude star that has F very very slightly N by 7’ another star of 10th magnitude; and from 2880 P very slightly S by 10’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; that star is barely the brightest in the field; it has 2.75’ N very very slightly F it a 12.5-magnitude star.
NGCs 2805, 2814, 2820 (UMa): This is a really fascinating field, even if the H object is a dud; there are at least three galaxies here, with 2805 (the Herschel) the dimmest of the three. NGC 2805 is positioned roughly between two brightish stars: one to S somewhat F and one N very very slightly P. The galaxy has no visible central concentration at all; it’s just a phantasm of 1.3’ diameter. It’s incredibly diffuse, almost to the point of nonexistence, and very poorly defined. It may have a threshold star just outside the halo on the NF [yes]. There’s a 10.5-magnitude star 4.5’ SF the galaxy, and a 9.5-magnitude star to the N very slightly P by 6.5’. NP the galaxy by 2.5’ is a 12.5-magnitude star. There’s a chain of five stars beginning (it’s hard to judge distances because the galaxy is so faint) 2.5’ due F the galaxy; this chain is 5.5’ long, and the star closest to the galaxy (the one I measured the distance to) is its faintest at 14th magnitude; the chain begins at that star, proceeds F, then arcs F slightly S and then NF at the very end; the second star F the galaxy is the brightest in the chain. In addition to NGC 2805, two edge-on galaxies occupy the field, NF-ish 2805–there’s an 11.5-magnitude star NF 2805 by 10’, and that star has 1.25’ N very slightly F it one of the edge-ons (NGC 2814), which spans 1.0’ x 0.25’, is oriented N-S, and is quite faint, although the view of it is partially wrecked by the close star. This galaxy has some moderate brightening along its length; averted vision really helps, even though it’s brighter than NGC 2805. From the 11.5-magnitude star off the S end of this second galaxy, almost due F by 4.5’, is brightest and largest of the galaxies in the field (NGC 2820); this one is 2.3’ long x 0.25’’ and elongated P slightly S-F slightly N, with irregularly-bright concentration along the major axis but no real core or nucleus; that galaxy is roughly 13’ F somewhat N of 2805. The second galaxy (2814) really comes to life with averted vision; the third (2820) is by far the brightest and the first one you notice due to the star closeby the second. [The sky just got a tiny bit better.] From 2805 F somewhat S by 15’ is a pair/double separated N-S-ish by 0.5’, both stars are of 12th magnitude. 2805 appears a bit better now, with a very faint amount of central conc visible, but very vaguely; it still has no discernable core or nucleus, just a better view in averted vision.
NGC 2787 (UMa): This is an impressive, brightish, moderately-large galaxy spanning 1.5’ x 1.0’, elongated P slightly N-F slightly S. It has a well-concentrated core that’s fairly suddenly arrived at and also elongated; every now and then there’s a flash of a stellar nucleus. The halo is quite well defined. To the S very very slightly F, just outside edge of halo and 0.75’ from the center of the galaxy, is a 14th-magnitude star; there another of 14th magnitude N of the galaxy by 2’. P very very slightly N of the galaxy by 5’ is a 12th-magnitude star; there’s an 11.5-magnitude star due F that star by 5.5’; S very very slightly P that star by 6’ is one of 8.5 magnitude; there’s another of 8.5 magnitude F that star by 7’; those four stars make up an almost-perfect trapezoid SP the galaxy; the last star (the second 8.5 magnitude) is S somewhat P the galaxy by 8’. S of the galaxy by 12’ is a pair: 12th and 12.5 magnitude stars P very very slightly N-F very very slightly S to each other (distance to the more F, which is the brighter) and separated by 0.5’. There’s a bright pair SF the galaxy from P-most of the previous pair by 14’; those are separated by 0.67’ and are both 10th magnitude; these (especially the more P of the pair) make up the P-most “vertex” of a small scalene triangle; from the more P of the pair NF by 2.25’ is an 11th-magnitude star; there’s another of 11th magnitude from the P-most of the pair SF by 3’. 23’ F very very slightly N of the galaxy is a 7.5-magnitude star that has a 9th-magnitude star N very very slightly P it by 7’.
NGC 2976 (UMa): A big fella—very impressive! This is one of UMa’s best galaxies. It’s mottled, not regularly illuminated, and huge at 3.5’ x 1.75’, elongated NP-SF. The halo is very very non-concentrated, not much (if any) core or nucleus is visible. The galaxy is pretty well defined all the way around; there’s a little a lack of definition along the more N edge, especially on the NF. Just outside the halo on the SP is a 13th-magnitude star; also just outside or on the NP edge is a 14.5-magnitude star; this may actually be a threshold star just inside the NP edge of the halo. There’s a kind of a dark intrusion into the N edge, about halfway along the length of the galaxy, a dark spur into the halo as if defining a spiral arm just beyond the threshold and grasp of the 12.5” scope. NF the galaxy by 4.5’ is a 14.5-magnitude star. To the F of the galaxy is almost a V-shape or duck-flight of brighter stars; starting almost due S of galaxy: 11’ due S of the galaxy is an 11.5-magnitude star; there’s a star of magnitude 10.5 NF that star by 7’; N very slightly F that star by 4.75’ is the brighter and more F of a pair, which is 11.5 magnitude and has a 12.5-magnitude star P very very slightly S by 0.5’; from the primary of that pair F somewhat N by 4.5’ is an 11.5-magnitude star which serves as the point of the V/duck flight and has 2.25’ NP it an 11th-magnitude star that has N very slightly F it by 1’ a 14th-magnitude star and F very slightly N by 0.67’ one of 14.5 magnitude; from the 11th-magnitude star N slightly P by 5.5’ is a 12th-magnitude star; there’s an 11.5-magnitude star NP that star by 2.75’. NP the galaxy by 11’ is an 11th-magnitude star.
As I was finishing up with 2976, Jeff called me over.
“Did you drop something that glows in the dark?”
I hadn’t, nor did I have anything with me that would.
“There’s something over by your van that’s glowing.”
We went over to check it out. In the grass by the van’s back end was indeed a small glowing object. But I hadn’t dropped it—it had crawled there.
Dan picked it up. It looked to me like a glowworm of some kind, but none of us could recall seeing fireflies in Oregon. After a few moments, Dan put the creature in a container to take home for further investigation. Excitement over, I went back to task.
NGC 2985 (UMa): A little beauty; nice but not quite as impressive as 2976. This galaxy is largish and round, 1.75’ x 1.25’, elongated N-S. The halo is not really well defined, kinda gossamer, with a gradual core that’s 0.5’ across and is quite bright; there’s an occasional glimpse of a substellar nucleus. Due F the galaxy by 1’ is a 12.5-magnitude star that’s the NP end of a chain of three; SF by 1.75’ is a 14th-magnitude star; 1.3’ S very very slightly F that star is a 13.5-magnitude star. N very very slightly P of the galaxy by 2.75’ is a 13.5-magnitude star. The galaxy lies at the middle of a roughly N-S/P-F ‘T’ pattern of brighter stars, with the brightest, a 10th-magnitude star, due S of the galaxy by 10’; 10’ N of the galaxy, maybe very very slightly F, is another of 10th magnitude, and there’s a 10.5-magnitude star P very very slightly S the galaxy by 12’.
NGCs 3065, 3066, 3027 (UMa): A striking pair of galaxies that are also within 40’ or so of a very very long skinny galaxy that I’ll get to afterward. NGC 3065 is a small, roundish galaxy no more than 0.67’ across, with a brighter but very very small sudden core and a bright quasi-stellar nucleus. Its halo is quite diffuse and faint but still fairly well defined. The galaxy has 1.5’ P very slightly N of it an 11.5-magnitude star; 4.25’ F very very slightly N of the galaxy is a 12.5-magnitude star. N very very slightly P the galaxy by 15’ is the brightest star in the field, which is 8th magnitude. 3’ S slightly F the galaxy by 3’ is NGC 3066, which is larger–0.75’ x 0.67’–and elongated slightly P-F. It’s more diffuse than 3065, and has a very slightly brighter core that’s broader than that of 3065, but no nucleus is visible. SF 3066 by 1.75’ is a 14.5-magnitude star that has a 13.5-magnitude star F very slightly N of it by 1.5’. From 3066 P somewhat S by 4.5’ is a 13th-magnitude star; from the galaxy 6’ SF is a 10.5-magnitude star that has a 12.5-magnitude star 2.5’ F very slightly N of it. From 3065 due P by 30’ is another galaxy (NGC 3027), this one a huge tenuous glow, 3.0’ x 1.0’/0.75’, oriented NP-SF and quite difficult at first glance. 3027 is also 25’ F very very slightly S of NGC 2985. The galaxy doesn’t have any real central concentration per se but is irregularly bright throughout its halo. It does, however, appear to have a 14.5-magnitude star due S by 1’ and a threshold star just outside its NP end. SF the galaxy by 11’ is the fainter of a pair: the brighter is SF it by 0.67’; those are 11.5 and 13.5 magnitude.
Sometime around 11 PM was when I first noticed the incredible steadiness of the background stars. I’d recently had an observing session that topped out at an 8 in seeing, and had thought things were unlikely to get any better than that here in the Valley. I was wrong. The stars at this moment were tack-sharp glowing pinpoints, steady as if they’d been caught on film at a moment of high clarity. I actually found myself wishing for more Herschel open clusters to explore, so I could take advantage of the conditions; some of the ones I’d done recently would’ve benefited greatly from the awesome sharpness that had settled in on us while I was chasing more-diffuse extragalactic wonders.
I always dread the really huge, detailed objects; there’s so much to say about them that it often becomes impossible to take an adequate set of notes. At this point in my agenda, I had one such object to get, and one very nearby that I couldn’t pass up taking notes on. So it was on to the sky’s premiere pair of galaxies, and hopefully two sets of notes that don’t need any further elaboration:
NGC 3034 (M82, UMa): Odd that this is a Herschel object, but here we go. This is a gorgeous galaxy, maybe even more so than M81. It’s elongated P somewhat S-F somewhat N; the brighter interior spans about 6’ x 0.67’, but the whole extends out to 10’ x 1.25’. The inner section is extremely textured, especially the middle 4’; a dark vein running across it splits it NP-SF, and is offset slightly toward the F end; the brightest portion of the interior is F that vein; there’s a 0.75’ section there that’s much brighter than the rest. Dark texture is in evidence throughout the galaxy’s interior, especially on the P end/half, which looks to have more of the dark tendrils running through it. S of the brightest section of the interior is a small dark jut that bites through halo and into the brighter part of the interior. There’s not anything “core-like” or resembling a nucleus here. The primary dark vein is super obvious, though. The extreme ends of the halo, especially on the F end, seem to narrow and then get a tiny bit wider on the ends, almost like the galaxy’s twisted. Two strings of three stars each run S from the galaxy, one from the SF and one from the SP; 2.5’ almost due SP the middle of the galaxy is a 9th-magnitude star; continuing that direction for 3.25’ is a 10.5-magnitude star and roughly the same direction for another 3’ is a 12th-magnitude star. S slightly P the galaxy by 16’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; NP the galaxy by 10’ is a 9.5-magnitude star that has an 8th-magnitude star N very slightly P it by 8’. N of the galaxy by 21’ is an 8.5-magnitude star that’s flanked on the N very slightly F and S very slightly P by 12th-magnitude stars; the one S very slightly P is very slightly fainter and is 2’ from the 8.5-magnitude star; the one to the N very slightly F is 2.5’ from the 8.5-magnitude star. F the galaxy by 4’ from the brightest part of the galaxy’s interior is a 13.5-magnitude star; S of that star by 2’ is a 12th-magnitude star; there’s a 12.5-magnitude S slightly F of that star by 3’.
M81 (UMa): WOW–spectacular! This classic spiral is elongated NP-SF and huge, no less than 15’ x 5’. The galaxy’s spiral arms are not distinct but are definitely visible, especially the one from the F end that hooks NP; the other arm, from the P side and hooking S is tougher; the gap between the previous arm and the main halo of the galaxy is a bit more discernible. The galaxy has a largish core, 3’ x 1.5’, and a very bright semi-stellar nucleus; the core is very gradually arrived-at, but the nucleus is sudden. The arm to the N is unmistakable, especially in averted vision, and is 8’ long from the F end. There are at least two embedded stars that are bright: one lies F somewhat S of the nucleus by 2.5’ and the other 1.25’ S of that one; both are magnitude 11.5; there’s a brighter patch of the galaxy F those two stars, from the midpoint between them, which seems to be on the outer edge of the halo, and is quite diffuse and not particularly well defined; 3.5’ SF those two stars, along the SF edge of the galaxy, is an area of slightly greater brightness, about 1.5’ x 0.67’. Off the P end, P slightly N of the galaxy by 5’ from the nucleus, is an 11.5-magnitude star; S of that star by 4.5’ is a 12.5-magnitude star; NP that star by 1.67’ is a 13th-magnitude star. The 11.5-magnitude star seems to be around the point where the P spiral arm branches off. NP the galaxy, 11’ from the nucleus, is an 11th-magnitude star; there’s a 9th-magnitude star SF the galaxy by 13’. S of the galaxy by 8’ is a really fine roughly-equal double (the P-most might be a tenth of a mag brighter); these are magnitude 10.5 and separated P-F by 12”. 2.25’ almost due S of the double is an 8.5-magnitude star; SF that star by 3.5’ is a 12th-magnitude star. The galaxy’s glow is surprisingly smooth and even for such a bright nearby object. This is definitely the best view of M81 I’ve ever had!
Having finished the two big targets for the night, I assumed the others would be letdowns. But this was far from the case, as tonight’s final targets—like many of the unsung galaxies of Ursa Major—were excellent objects themselves, only less-known because of the two giants lurking nearby.
NGC 3077 (UMa): This galaxy is also quite bright and impressive; not a bad one to follow up two of the best with. It’s elongated SP-NF and spans 2.75’ x 1.25’; it has a faint, diffuse, poorly-defined halo but a bright elongated core that’s no less than 0.75’ x 0.5’; the core is pretty suddenly arrived-at and is brighter at the center without having an actual definable nucleus. The halo seems a bit extended to the NF. This is a really fine galaxy that rewards patient observing. Due P the galaxy by 10’ is an 8th-magnitude star; there’s another of 8th magnitude 3.75’ N slightly P, and N very very slightly P by 19’ is yet another 8th-magnitude star; there’s a 9.5-magnitude star F somewhat S of the galaxy by 17’. The star N slightly P the galaxy by 3.75’ is a very close double: there’s a 10th-magnitude companion 4” P very slightly S of the primary.
NGCs 3079, 3073; PGC 28990 (UMa): NGC 3079 is a great one to go out on–a rather stunning edge-on long spiral! This is a Messier-quality object that CM just missed. It’s elongated 4.5’ x 0.67’ N very slightly P-S very slightly F. The galaxy’s halo trails off raggedly and narrowly to the S, where it dies away, while the N end has a bit of definable brightness to it. It looks as though there’s a kink in the galaxy’s disk, as it’s not perfectly straight; the disk bulges out to the F and is more concave on the P. [The seeing is fantastic right now! Stars are pinpoint (in retrospect, I should’ve looked for the Twin Quasar!)] The galaxy has a 2’ long brighter central bulge but no nucleus visible; just on the N end, inside the end on the F edge, is a 14th-magnitude star; S slightly P that star by 1.25’ is one of 14.5 magnitude; there’s another 14.5-magnitude star 2.5’ S of that star; from the last star P by 2.5’ is a 14th-magnitude star. From the middle of the galaxy 6.5’ S slightly P is an 8th-magnitude star; there’s a 9.5-magnitude star S very slightly F the galaxy by 7’, and those two stars and the middle of the galaxy form an almost-equilateral triangle. 3.5’ SF the galaxy’s center is another 9.5-magnitude star; this last star may be very slightly fainter than the previous star of 9.5 magnitude; from that star F somewhat N by 5.5’ is a 10.5-magnitude star. NGC 3079 is part of a trio, but it’s the only bright one; there are two much fainter galaxies in the field, one of which is NGC 3073, a pretty mediocre Herschel object: it lies 10’ P very very slightly S of the center of 3079; it’s also 7’ P somewhat N of the 8th-magnitude star that’s SP 3079. 3073 is 0.67’ round, with a slightly-brighter core and a hint of a substellar nucleus, but not bright at all; if you’re looking at 3079 you’ll eventually notice 3073. N of 3073 by 4.75’ is the more S of a pair of stars oriented SP-NF each other and separated by 0.67’; both are 13.5 magnitude. S very very slightly F 3073 by 6’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; 8’ SP 3073 is a 10th-magnitude star that has a 12.5-magnitude star N very very slightly F it by 1.5’. The third galaxy in the field (PGC 28990) is PsN the middle of 3079 by 6.5’; it’s elongated P-F, 0.5’ x 0.25’ and reveals very little detail; I can hold it steadily in direct vision but just barely, and averted vision shows significant improvement.
I could’ve stayed longer, I suppose; Frank and Jeff had already left, and Dan had hinted he wasn’t going to stick around much longer. I’d already observed more objects than I’d expected, given the late start we got due to the Moon’s prolonged presence, so I wasn’t disappointed when Dan decided he’d had enough of observing for the night. In any case, the forecast for the next night was also excellent, and I had a different sort of agenda scheduled for the next session….
VII. Having already finished the properly-winter objects in both of my Herschel lists, and having made a serious foray into the circumpolar spring galaxies, I had time for a break from the supposedly “serious” work of finishing out a six-year project.
The Eugene Astronomical Society has been, over the years, the beneficiary of many donations from the public, a large percentage of them telescopes. This charity has resulted in our building a substantial library of telescopes, of all sizes and kinds, for lending to club members. The donations we’d received in the previous couple of months had given us quite a wealth of scopes and other materials, but none was quite the jaw-dropper as the bountiful harvest we received the week before… the grand prize of which was a long-unused 20″ Obsession.
This was an old beast, circa 1993, when Obsession was still a fairly new company. It had a serial number in the 80s, although EAS’ Ken Martin had told me that the serial numbers were somewhat arbitrary in how Obsession assigned them. The gentleman who donated the scope—and its attendant trailer… and a rich collection of top-notch eyepieces… and a number of other fine telescopes… and books… and…—had told us the scope was bought in 1993, so we at least had a date for it. The scope was well-worn but still in fine shape, and we were astounded to be the recipients of such largesse. (I’ll post some pictures in an upcoming post, showing many of the items EAS had gratefully received during the four months prior to the February run, and all of the optical denizens of my garage.)
Dan B and I had spent some time one partly-cloudy night getting the beast prepped for some actual observing: getting it assembled and collimated, working out some of the (literal and figurative) rust from a decade or more in storage, and generally figuring out how to put it together. Assembled, it was almost exactly the same size as the 18″ f/5.5 that was the club’s previous-largest scope; the 20″ was an f/5, which brought it down to roughly the same focal length (and, therefore, height) as the 18″. It took a lot of time and effort to get it collimated—although we could get the mirrors well-aligned, we had to keep adjusting the primary mirror upward because the eyepieces (among them 20 and 12mm Naglers and a 35mm Panoptic) weren’t coming to focus on what few bright stars were punching through the clouds; we simply couldn’t get enough in-travel from the focuser. Eventually, we were able to reach a not-happy-but-working medium between the collimation travel and the focuser, so that the three larger eyepieces (we’d also gotten a 7mm smooth-side Nagler and a 3.8mm Orion Lanthanum, as well as several eyepieces for the other scopes in the haul) could reach focus with a few millimeters to spare. What we needed was a chance to see what the big beast could really do.
SUNSET: 5:58 PM
MOON: 4 days (set at 10:04 PM; 15% illuminated)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to mid 30s; heavy dew later; not particularly cold (no hand warmers needed)
OTHERS PRESENT: JO, DB, FS, DR, LR, NC
It was Jerry who had suggested a “20-inch Shootout,” a comparison with his 20″ TriDob. and I was eager to give the Obsession a good dark-site workout. So the next clear night saw us at Eureka, with a good-sized crowd of observers and a number of the largest scopes EAS could muster: in addition to the two 20-inchers, we also had Dan B’s 16″ ES Dob, Frank’s bino-Dob, and Orion, the club’s home-brew 14.7″ Dob, which Loren had brought with him. Nathan was trying to image among the forest of huge scopes, and Dan R had come along with Jerry so as not to miss the two large scopes at work and to provide an objective opinion on the comparison between them.
The first round of competition went to the TriDob: it only took two people to set it up, where the Obsession took three. Dan B and I had struggled with this the night we tuned the scope up; the clamping systems holding the upper cage to the truss poles seemed awkward at best, and were tarnished or corroded enough that they were particularly difficult to get working. In the end, it took one person to hold the scope at an angle—so we didn’t have to assemble it from a ladder—and two to get the clamps set and latched. (It would also take three of us and a lot of elbow grease to disassemble it.)
Jerry and I also spent a fair amount of time readjusting the collimation and getting an idea of what we’d need to do to fix the in-travel problem with the focuser. I suggested replacing the secondary-mirror holder with one that didn’t require a screwdriver to adjust, as there’s nothing scarier than holding a sharp implement over a $5000 chunk of precision-ground glass.
With the Moon up, we first turned to it, although there was little actual comparing happening. In fact, as the night went on, we spent far less time comparing the scopes and more just looking at our own choices of target. We did compare the views of the Orion Nebula and its Trapezium through both scopes, along with several of the other winter showpieces (M35 and NGC 2158, NGC 2362, M67, etc.), but most were open clusters and not really the best subjects for a comparison. (Not without extensive studies of the faintest stars in each cluster, anyway.)
My recent slate of Herschel objects provided some additional targets, starting with NGC 3079, the excellent edge-on Ursa Major galaxy. Jerry was impressed with this one, and we both spent a fair amount of time observing it through the two scopes, making sure to check on the visibility of the two fainter companion galaxies. The warp in the galaxy’s disk was even more readily-apparent than in 12.5″ Bob the Dob, although that was hardly a fair comparison; a 20″ scope has more than 2.5 times the light-gathering power of a 12.5″ (314.16 square inches of mirror area vs. 122.72 for the 12.5″). Still, the galaxy was a stunner in the 20″ aperture, as you’d expect. I didn’t have a chart with me for the Twin Quasar, so near to the galaxy line-of sight-wise, or I would’ve used that as a test for the comparison as well.
We discovered another problem with the scope while comparing the views on NGC 3079: the focuser was poor, and it would suddenly stop working as the user was trying to bring an object to focus. It didn’t seem like a stock focuser, as it was clearly not up to the quality of the scope itself, and Jerry surmised that it was an after-market focuser. This focuser was also the likely source of the in-travel focus problem, as it must have had a different profile length than the original, and the change of focusers had meant that eyepieces that reached focus near the inward end of the focal plane no longer had enough room to reach focus with the higher-profile focuser. We needed to fix this problem pretty permanently before the scope could be used for any length of time.
The next comparison object was another from my recent explorations, although I didn’t know it would bring the whole field to a standstill. On a whim, I suggested Thor’s Helmet, NGC 2359, having been blown away by it at Linslaw earlier in the month with the 12.5″. So we set the scopes upon the nebula, and were both impressed by the unfiltered views. I didn’t have a 2″ OIII filter—or so I thought—so I borrowed Dan B’s Astronomik O-III.
The nebula burst to life with the filter in place, to a point where taking notes on it would’ve been futile. The texture went from merely nebulous to downright filamentary, like the view of the Veil Nebula through Wade’s 17.5-inch scope that night several Mays ago when I was working through the Virgo Cluster and stopped to have my mind wrecked by the view. Thor’s Helmet looked so like a photograph that I had to revise my previous assessment—it really did look like Thor’s Helmet, wings and all, glowing gloriously in a corner of Canis Major.
Whatever I shouted upon seeing the nebula with the O-III must’ve been a rallying call, because I soon had a line at the eyepiece. Everyone on the tiny field agreed: this was a phenomenal sight! We couldn’t fairly compare the view through both scopes, though, because we were using different O-III filters, and each filter would yield a slightly-different view of the object. But it was certainly an amazing sight through each of the 20″ scopes, one still seared into my mind’s eye six weeks later. (It also made me realize that I needed to get ahold of an Astronomik O-III.)
The rest of the evening yielded a lot of other spectacular sights: NGC 3242, The Ghost of Jupiter Nebula, through Jerry’s scope; the magnificent globular M3; M81 and 82; M51; M101; the Coma Galaxy Cluster. I lost track of them, honestly; almost every object looked stunning in the large aperture of the Obsession. One target of astrophysical significance that I tracked down was NGC 3109, an unusual edge-on spiral in Hydra, which I had first seen here at Eureka a few springs before; depending on which astronomer one listens to, and which month it is, this galaxy was either the fourth major spiral in the Local Group of Galaxies, or the nearest non-member of the Local Group. Whatever the case, the galaxy spanned most of the 22-arcminute field of the 12mm Nagler, but was a surprisingly-difficult catch due to its diffuseness, even with a 20″ scope having been brought to bear on it.
It was while I was swapping out the 20mm Nagler for the 12mm that I made an unwitting discovery. I tried putting the lens caps on the 20mm, but the bottom cap just wouldn’t go on; there was something stuck in it. A moment’s red light revealed the culprit—there was a 2″ O-III filter stuck in the cap! It took a few seconds, but I managed to put two and five together: the tape I had seen on the eyepiece’s barrel had been used to hold the filter in place, because the barrel was very slightly oversized and the filter’s threads wouldn’t engage. (It fit fine in the 35mm Panoptic, as I would only discover the next day when trying to figure the problem out.)
Somehow we reached 1:30 AM. The night had gone by quickly; most of us who had come out to observe were still there. Temperatures were cold but not oppressively so—I’d opened up a couple of chemical hand warmers but had hardly used them. But we’d hit something of a wall, and with a longer-than-usual tear-down due to the huge scopes, we all decided we’d reached our limits. As with setup, it took three of us to wrangle the UTA of the Obsession, especially as the clamps had seized up and had to be released with a screwdriver. We swore to quickly find a solution to the clamp problems and the focuser issue so we could get the beast to peak user-friendliness.
Which scope won the shootout? We decided it was a draw. (Boos from the audience.) Jerry’s scope was very slightly sharper, possibly due to the Obsession’s thicker mirror taking longer to reach thermal equilibrium. The Obsession had a very slight edge in contrast, probably due to the TriDob not having a shroud for blocking ambient light. Both problems had relatively-simple fixes; the other issues with the Obsession were somewhat more serious but still pretty-easily surmountable.
I was tired driving home, but had enough adrenaline to keep alert. It had been an outstanding stretch of observing—seven nights out of ten—and had me poised to finish the Herschel 400 and Herschel II before the spring galaxy fields had even passed the meridian for the year. Another run like this in March and I’d be finished far sooner than had seemed possible two weeks ago. I even allowed myself to think about what my next observing programs would be once the Herschels were behind me. (Of course, there were actually another 1600 Herschels to go to catch up to the Great Observer himself, but that wasn’t totally relevant at present.) I had a huge amount of work ahead transcribing all the notes I’d taken, but a very specific finish line was in sight.