That Magical Light

The transition to summer observing, with its planetary nebulae and globular star clusters in abundance, accompanied several changes at ground level for me and the others in the EAS Irregulars. Being generally exhausted from work, I had time only to observe on the weekends; with sunsets being so late in the summer, observing couldn’t even really begin until 11 PM, and I needed to be awake for work by 5:30 to monitor the conditions of my digestive tract before spending the day at an injection press. This meant that at best, I got four nights a month to observe. So many targets, so little time.

The bigger transition was one of convenience. The great old Caveman-Mobile, which had served me so well for the last eight years in hauling telescopes up mountains and families cross country, had finally developed a chronic-but-incurable ailment; having put several hundred more dollars into replacing nearly everything on the dear old thing that could be replaced, we could no longer justify another $600 repair. It was time to retire the poor beast from active service while its dignity remained intact.

Enter the new Caveman-Mobile, a 2011 Ford Flex—an odd-looking beast that nonetheless somehow had room for the 20” Obsession and all of its paraphernalia and still drove like a luxury vehicle. Mrs. Caveman and her father tracked the monster down near Seattle and flew up to get it, taking it for a high-speed sojourn on the way home. Although I was somewhat dubious of this vaguely station-wagon-looking thing being an adequate replacement—-it seemed too pristine for the kind of heavy lifting needed to get to our sites of night-sky communion—there was no real turning back.

The Flex’s first excursion to an observing site actually occurred during the day, checking out a site that Dan B had been monitoring for some time. We had been searching for a site closer to town that could serve as a short-night site (i.e. one that we could conveniently use for a couple of hours, as opposed to hauling everything out to Linslaw for a full night’s work), and Dan had found this one—on rural Fisk Road—that appeared to pass muster. It was like a closer, mostly-paved Eagle’s Ridge, an intersection of a couple of gravel roads with a convenient widening to the side of the intersection where several telescopes could be set up. There were a few trees partially blocking the southern view, and the full light-pollution dome of Eugene/Springfield would be mostly visible, but the site seemed adequate for nights when we didn’t want the full drive time to and from Linslaw.

Two panoramas of the new Fisk site, directions added.

The weekend after our initial recon of the Fisk site, we headed there for a christening of sorts. With (waning gibbous) Moonrise coming shortly after astronomical darkness, we made it a casual evening; Dan and Alesha, Loren and Donna, and Jerry and Kathy and Dan R joined Mrs. Caveman and I for an on-site potluck to kick off the late May-early June Moondark phase. It was also a night for trying out a couple of recently-donated telescopes: a 130mm Celestron something-or-other that wasn’t a dreaded Bird-Jones-type scope, but was actually rather fine optically, and a really old (1976 vintage) 8” Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain with the classic orange tube and all original accessories. I brought along my own black-tube 8” Celestron—my first telescope—to give it some dark-sky time.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, with no expectations of serious observing to be done, but lots of high-spirited talk and telescope evaluation. (The 130mm Celestron has since been introduced into the EAS telescope-lending library, while the orange-tube classic 8” still needs some adjustments and fine tuning.) We left after Moonrise, with surprisingly strong winds howling up the road and plans to return the next night for somewhat more serious observing.

I. Jerry, Dan, and I arrived at Fisk well before sunset; Dan and I got there first and did some more exploring of the site, including climbing over one of the berms and checking out a large open field (which was slightly overgrown in patches) that lay beyond the accessible road. We’d never be able to haul larger scopes over the berm, but it was certainly a tempting possibility.

Jerry arrived a bit later, bringing with him one of his latest projects: a homemade electric guitar. He and Dan exchanged a few songs (Jerry had an amplifier running off of one of his 12-volt batteries), no doubt annoying some of the neighbors; I had visions of some of the nearby rustics trying to figure out where that rock-n-roll was coming from in the middle of the woods.

Dan B in concert. No Stairway!

The wind howled all night, apparently funneled up the road by the trees. Huddled into a corner of the clearing that was blocked from the brunt of the wind, we still had to deal with its effects, often hanging onto telescopes to prevent them from being buffeted about. The roaring of the wind made my audio recordings a chore to transcribe; in some ways it was fortunate that I only had three sets of notes from the evening. Conditions otherwise weren’t great, either; several intruding waves of cirrus caused temporary havoc as they passed through, and the seeing was particularly poor until after midnight.

In addition to working on the AL Planetary Nebula program, I’ve also undertaken to take notes on all of the 2450 objects that William Herschel catalogued during his spectacular and unequaled career. With the Herschel 400 and Herschel II programs already under by belt, and a number of others beyond those, I had at least 900 of Herschel’s discoveries in my repertoire. What was particularly welcome about the remainder of Herschel’s objects was that there were hundreds in every season; if I was stuck on another program, or didn’t have the motivation for, say, a list of flat galaxies on a given night, there were always more Herschels to dig into.

Tonight’s agenda consisted of both “the remaining 1600” of Herschel’s galaxies, clusters, and nebulae, and several of the planetaries on the Astronomical League’s program list. But I spent the first part of the night (and some time between Herschel objects and waiting for some of the needed planetary nebulae to rise) observing globular clusters, enjoying views of M13, M92, and NGC 6229 in Hercules, along with NGC 5634 in Virgo, M80 in Scorpius, and M71 in Sagitta. When all else is exhausted, globular clusters-—my first and ultimately foremost favorite type of deep-sky object— are a source of unending wonder and cosmic glory.

05/30-31/21
FISK ROAD
SUNSET: 8:47 PM
MOON: 20 days (rose at 12:44 AM; 71% illuminated)
SEEING: 4, 6
TRANSPARENCY: 5, 6
SQM: 21.33
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to mid-50s; no dew due to strong winds; some cirrus waves throughout the night
OTHERS PRESENT: JO, DB

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

10:55
NGCs 5468, 5472 (Vir):This is a Herschel object, while I’m waiting for planetaries to rise in Cygnus, Aquila, Lyra, and Draco; this is NGC 5468 in Virgo, seen in very variable transparency and strong wind. The galaxy is extremely diffuse; there’s no core to speak of, although in averted vision there’s a substellar nucleus that pops into view every now and then (or possibly a very tiny core). The galaxy is round, about 2.0’ diameter, very diffuse and poorly defined. It’s unevenly bright; the interior of the glow is kind of irregular; it appears that there may be a bar or something in it that’s just a touch brighter than the rest of it, oriented almost P-F; it’s hard to hold this for certain, but it’s always the same direction. NF the galaxy by 2’ is a threshold (14.5-magnitude) star. The brightest star in the field is only 4.25’ S slightly F the galaxy and is 8.5 magnitude. Due F the galaxy by 5.5’ is a 13th-magnitude star that has just P it by a couple of arcseconds a tiny faint glow (NGC 5472) that comes and goes with the variable transparency. It’s hard to get a fix on it; it may have a stellar nucleus, as there’s a hint of another stellar object there. From the star just F that galaxy, NP by 0.75’ is a 14.5-mag star. S very slightly F the 8.5/9th-magnitude star by 8’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; then S very very slightly P that star by 4.5’ is an 11.5-magnitude star that has a 14th-magnitude star 0.75’ S very slightly P it. From the 11.5-magnitude star P very slightly N by 6.5’ is an 11th-magnitude star.

11:07
NGCs 5427, 5426 (Vir): This is a really fine interacting pair in the back end of Virgo, NGCs 5427 and 5426, with -27 being due N and considerably larger; there’s a very faint (14th magnitude?) star right between the two of them. NGC 5427 is quite diffuse and not really well defined; it does have a distinctly brighter interior. It’s roughly round, with maybe a tiny bit of P-F elongation; this is indeterminate enough that I’m not going to say anything beyond the fact that it’s 1.67’ round. It’s roughly the same size as NGC 5468, actually, but considerably brighter. As with 5468, there is some inner irregularity to the brightness, if not outright mottling; there’s a very, very slightly brighter core that’s also very small; this is obviously a face-on galaxy. I’m actually going to say this is 1.75’ x 1.67’, very slightly elongated P-F. Every so often, there’s a flicker of a tiny, faint nucleus. (Immediately due S of the galaxy, exactly between the two galaxies, is a 14th-magnitude star that distracts from whether either galaxy has a visible nucleus, but I think they both do.) NGC 5426 is elongated N-S and has a brighter core that’s also elongated N-S within a 1.5’ x 0.75’ halo. The outer edges are pretty unevenly defined, but appear better defined to the S. It almost appears as if the two galaxy’s haloes are trailing slightly to the P, as if they’ve had material pulled off of them in that direction, but this is just an impression and I wouldn’t say anything about it with certainty. This would be a stunning pair in the 20”! At moments, with 5427, I get a feeling like the F edge has a little better definition, or a little more brightness, like there’s a subthreshold spiral arm on the F edge. 5426 also has the occasional flash of a nucleus. The core is 18” long (i.e. between 0.25’ and 0.3’). There is dark space between the two galaxies where the star lies, so they’re two distinct and discrete objects. Some very faint stars lie to the S; there’s a 14th-magnitude star S very slightly F 5426 by 7’; S very very slightly F 5426 by 7’ is another 14th-magnitude star. NF the pair, 11’ from 5427, is a 12th-magnitude star. SP 5427 by 12’ is an 11.5-magnitude star that’s the NP of a very thin flat scalene triangle, with a 12.5-magnitude star F somewhat S by 1.75’; from that star S very very slightly F by 1’ is a 13.5-magnitude star. There’s a very flat isosceles triangle F very very slightly S of 5426, actually a diamond, with the NF vertex very faint compared to the others; the point star in the isosceles triangle, the “roof-top” star, is a very close pair.

We took SQM readings about midnight, and were surprised to get 21.33s (on average) between us. The sky didn’t really seem quite that dark, due in large part to the unshielded light dome from the cities taking up most of the eastern half of the sky. The trees to the south weren’t a dealbreaker, at least.

With Cygnus and the higher-declination summer constellations well above the trees to the east now, I stopped by the Veil Nebula, the Dumbbell (which I’d already taken notes on), and the Ring Nebula (which I hadn’t, but I wasn’t willing to take notes on it in less than excellent conditions, as befitting its showpiece status). I also skipped taking notes on NGC 7027 in Cygnus, as it looked somewhat diminished from even my previous observations of it from the Giant City State Park visitor center parking lot. I didn’t want to go home empty-handed on the planetary-nebula front, though, so I revisited an object that I’d recently observed from The Oxbow. It, too, was diminished from its previous apparition, but for reasons unbeknownst to me, I pressed on with the observation.

12:09
NGC 6742 (Abell 50; Dra): After a huge amount of searching (it was a tough starhop from 16 Lyrae), this is the difficult (more difficult than it needed to be anyway) NGC 6742. I had found this previously at the Oxbow under apparently much better conditions, because here it’s a difficult object, really requiring averted vision to pick out at first, and that was not the case at the Oxbow when I saw the first time. It’s about 0.3’ across, round, just on the border between direct and averted vision (depending on the moment-to-moment sky conditions). It’s mostly just above the averted vision threshold, so it is visible in direct, but it’s not easy. It’s just a very round, very faint nebula with no obvious annularity, although the S rim in good moments looks to be a fair bit sharper than the rest. In the moments of much better seeing and transparency that we’re getting through here, the nebula looks substantially bigger; it might be 0.5’. There’s no central star, but it does have a faint star F slightly N of it by 0.75’; that star really interferes with the nebula, and is 13.5 magnitude. Also distracting from the nebula is the 8.5-magnitude star SP it by 3.5’; that star is the N end of a small zigzag of fainter stars; this zigzag is about 3.67’ long and has its second-brightest star (which is 11th magnitude) at the S end. There are a number of brightish stars in the field but the 8.5 to the SP is the brightest. N of the nebula by 9’ is the S end of another asterism of somewhat brighter stars, including a couple in the 9th/10th-magnitude range. With the UHC, the nebula is substantially “better” but pretty small, more like 0.3’ again (how does that work?). It’s significantly brighter now, a solidly direct-vision object. There’s still no annularity, but the S rim definitely seems a little brighter than the rest; it almost seems like the brighter part of the rim lies slightly inside the nebula and there’s some fringe around the S edge. The O-III filter really brings out the nebula! There’s a dramatic difference between the view in the two filters: now, the nebula’s substantially brighter again than in the UHC, which I didn’t expect based on the previous work I’ve done on the AL planetaries. The impression that the S end of the rim is brighter isn’t seen in this filter. Again, the nebula is distinctly round, and still 0.3’ diameter. The seeing’s gone to crap again, but I’ll throw in the 7mm Nagler anyway. Seeing is terrible at this magnification, but the nebula still pops right into view. I’m constantly amazed at how much just increasing the magnification is better than just adding a filter to the 14mm. With the 7mm, I’m still not getting a central star, but the nebula’s yet again much brighter. Adding the O-III makes the nebula almost unviewable in combination with the 7mm. Back to the UHC: it’s at least observable with this filter in the 7mm. The S rim still looks slightly more obvious and brighter than the rest; it’s obviously a UHC feature, and not merely a figment of my imagination. This is not a bad little nebula with the right combo; the 7mm and the UHC work pretty well.

Several times during the observation, a curiously warm (almost hot) breeze blew through, wiping out the seeing, drowning out my voice on my notes, and feeling as if—in Dan B’s words—we had “waded into someone’s pee spot in a swimming pool.”

About halfway through my notes on NGC 6742, Dan witnessed a brilliant fireball traveling west from Scorpius. As so often happens (to most of us!) during an observing session, Jerry and I were looking in the opposite sides of the sky, missing the meteor entirely.

The Moon crested the horizon, washing out the Milky Way entirely, completing the job the Eugene/Springfield light-pollution dome had started. We packed up our scopes, unsure of the long-term viability of the site due to the persistent winds, biding our time until weekend nights, Moonless hours, and clear skies coincided again.

II. The next weekend provided a better opportunity for observing, at least on the eastern side of the Valley (i.e. the Eagle’s Rest amphitheater, the only one of our Eagle’s sites that I was willing to drive to). Oddly, only Robert was willing to join me for observing; Jerry had his Friday book club, and Dan and Loren also had other plans.  On this particular night, having some extra comrades would’ve likely made a big difference in how the night turned out.

The “amphitheater” was a roadside pullout big enough for perhaps four cars. Until two years ago, it had been hemmed in by trees to the north and west, and by hills to the east; only the southern horizon—the direction of greatest astronomical interest—was clear, overlooking a steep drop into the valley. Now, though, timber and real estate interests had combined to clear-cut the entire northern quadrant, exposing stargazers to the glare of the double city. In place of the trees, some company had installed a large metal gate, for keeping out anyone who might venture past the roadside and into the clearings they had made. Wind frequently blew from the north and through the gate, adding to the nuisance of the light pollution; to remedy this, we often (as tonight) parked near the fence and parallel to the road, using our vehicles as simultaneous windbreaks and light blockers.

My agenda was the same as the previous session: Herschels (mostly galaxies) until target planetaries rose. Most of the Herschels were chosen from Alvin Huey’s guide to the Herschel III list, an unofficial list compiled by Thom Lorenzin from the best of the remaining 1600+ objects not included in the Herschel 400 or Herschel II programs. The sky was a cirrusy mess, but was clearing fairly quickly. And exactly two hours after sunset, I got started with my notetaking.

06/04-05/21
EAGLE’S REST (amphitheatre)
SUNSET: 8:52 PM
MOON: 26 days (rose at 3:22 AM; 20% illuminated)
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 6
SQM: 21.26
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to upper 50s; no dew; mild breeze; cool but not particularly cold; considerable haze at sunset which cleared off by 11:30
OTHERS PRESENT: RA
All observations: 12.5″ f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (225x, 0.36˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

10:52
NGC 5690 (Vir): While waiting for some of my planetaries to get into a good observing position, we’re looking at some Herschel IIIs in the meantime; this one is NGC 5690 in Virgo, a nice edge-on spiral– not really a flat galaxy because it doesn’t have the right dimensional ratio; it’s about 2.5’ long and 0.67’ wide, elongated due NP-SF (so about 135˚ position angle) and has a very faint (I’m going to say 14.5 magnitude) star on the SF end inside the halo. Observing the galaxy is very difficult because it has a 6.5-magnitude star 3.25’ due P that’s hugely disruptive to the observing. I can’t really get that star outside the field enough to get a good eye on the details here; I can’t tell if the galaxy is mottled and irregularly bright along the length of it, or if it appears that way because it has that threshold star on the end. It’s a pretty fine galaxy, with a pretty well-defined halo. NP the galaxy by 7’ is a 10.5-magnitude star that’s also 5.5’ N slightly P the 6.5-magnitude star. Due SF the galaxy by another 6.5’ is the right-angle vertex of a small triangle; that star is 12th magnitude and has N slightly F it by 1.5’ an 11.5-magnitude star; and then F somewhat S of the right-angle vertex by 2’ is a 13.5-magnitude star. N slightly F the galaxy by another 6.5’ (so almost forming an equilateral triangle with the galaxy and the 10.5-magnitude star) is a 12.5-magnitude star; and F the galaxy by another 7’ is another 12.5-magnitude star that has 0.5’ due P it a 14th-magnitude star.

11:07
NGC 5792 (Lib): NGC 5792 is apparently in Libra, but it’s actually very, very close to the Virgo border; it’s also in the very close vicinity of a distractingly bright star which happens to be P very slightly N of the galaxy by 1.0’. The galaxy is elongated P-F; it’s about 2.0’ x 1.0’, and has a much brighter core region that’s 0.67’ across; every so often there’s a very very brief flash of an extremely faint substellar nucleus. The P-F extensions of the galaxy are very poorly defined and diffuse; they are revealed primarily with averted vision. That core region is pretty bright, though. The star that’s P very slightly N of the galaxy is 9.5 magnitude; there’s another 9.5-magnitude star NF the galaxy by 6’, and that star has a 13.5-magnitude star N very slightly F it by 0.3’, and also has NP it by 1.5’ an 11th-magnitude star. 3.25’ NP the galaxy (so between the galaxy and the 9.5-magnitude star) is a 14th-magnitude star. Also NF the galaxy by 12’ is a 9th-mag star. N slightly F the galaxy by 14’ is a 10th-magnitude star.

As I was observing NGC 5792, I watched a pair of brightish satellites cross the field, both on the exact same trajectory—most likely some of Elon’s Folly.

11:28
NGC 5921 (SerCap): This is our third Herschel III object while we’re waiting for Aquila and the tail of Scorpius to rise; this is NGC 5921 in Serpens, and it is definitely a more interesting galaxy than should be limited to the 14 mm; I tried the 7mm Nagler, but the sky’s just not good enough for it really; I think this one needs a bigger aperture for a good look. It’s in a pretty crowded field; there is an arc of four stars to the south of it, and the galaxy is also bracketed on the P very slightly N and F very slightly S by stars almost equidistant from the galaxy. The galaxy itself is elongated S very very slightly P-N very very slightly F, about 1.75’ x 1.0’. It has a brightish stellar nucleus and a core somewhat brighter than the halo; the core is extended N-S… I don’t want to say that that’s a bar, but (especially in averted vision) there are definitely hints that that’s the case. The halo is reasonably bright and fairly well defined, and that inner region here is fairly complex; this is one that really would deserve a good look with the 20-inch. (They all do, really.) The number of bright stars in the area of the galaxy makes it a little bit harder to get a focus on it as well: here in the 7mm, the brightest of those stars in the galaxy’s immediate vicinity is F very slightly S of the galaxy by 2.75’ and is 10th magnitude; there’s a 12.5-magnitude star the same distance P very very slightly N of the galaxy, and that star also has between it and the galaxy (so about 0.75’ F very very very slightly S of the star) is a 14th-magnitude star. The arc of four S of the galaxy begins due S of the galaxy by 4’ with an 11th-magnitude star; NP that star by 1’ is a 13th-magnitude star; N very very very slightly P that star by 1.67’ is a 12.5-magnitude star; from the 12.5 magnitude star NF by 1.3’ is a 12th-magnitude star; and that 12th-magnitude star is halfway between the previous star and the galaxy, in a perfect line with those. The brightest star in the field is SP the galaxy by 12’ and is 8.5 magnitude.

12:03
NGC 5962 (SerCap): NGC 5962 in Serpens Cauda is a bright little galaxy, and a pretty impressive one as these things go. It’s elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S (about 100 degrees position angle) and spans 1.5’ x 1.0’. This one is actually more diffuse than most of the ones I’ve looked at tonight, at least halo-wise, and not particularly well-defined, but it does have a fairly small (0.67’) but gradually much brighter core to it and more than just a hint of a stellar nucleus—in averted vision, anyway; it’s not easy to lock it down, as it’s quite faint. The galaxy lies within a pretty attractive starfield, featuring a wide magnitude range. Due N of the galaxy by 3’ is a 12th-magnitude star; there’s a 13th-magnitude star 4.5’ N somewhat F the galaxy and a 10th-magnitude star 13’ NF. 11’ S slightly P the galaxy is a 10.5-magnitude star, and then F slightly S of the galaxy by 16’ is a 7th-magnitude star that’s kind of in the middle of a N-S oriented asterism; this asterism is about 12’ long and vaguely rectangular. 6.25’ P very very slightly N of the galaxy is the more S of a pair; that star is 11.5 magnitude, and it has a 12th-magnitude star almost due N of it by 1’. This is kind of a nice little galaxy to be relegated to the “other” 1600 Herschel objects.

By the time I finished with NGC 5962, Scorpius and Sagittarius had risen into a decent position for working through the remainder of their planetary nebulae. I had seen my target planetaries in those constellations numerous times before—especially the Bug Nebula, one of Scorpius’ showpiece objects—but either had no notes on them, or had notes that were inadequate for the fulfillment of the AL program. Whatever the case, it certainly wasn’t a chore to reobserve them (even though I had to be sitting on the ground at the roadside in order to catch them). The only negative was their extremely low declination; the Bug Nebula was only 6˚ or 7° off the horizon, and the two I had on my list after that were of similar declinations. The lousy seeing that low made the observation a challenge, but there was little chance of being able to do better at a future date; I could always observe them again if the seeing in the deep south was better at Linslaw, where we planned to be on Saturday night. Getting these low objects would enable me to work on the several I had remaining in Cygnus the next night. And I didn’t have much time for the Bug anyway, as it would be disappearing into a bank of trees in less than an hour.

Robert left just before I started taking notes on the Bug.

12:59
NGC 6302 (Sco): This is a difficult look way down low at the Bug Nebula, NGC 6302 in Scorpius, down here in the really poor seeing close to the horizon. The nebula is 1.75’ P-F by not quite 0.67’ N-S. It looks very much like a galaxy with a bright core that’s about the central 0.3’ and what looks like a central star visible as a nucleus in the galaxy analogy. The central star is hard to tweeze out from the rest of the brighter central region. The nebula’s very indistinct on the ends; on the P end it looks as if there’s something of a slightly brighter knot present. There’s no color to the nebulosity. SP the nebula by 10’ is what seems to be—it’s truly hard to tell because of the inevitable atmospheric extinction—a 9th-magnitude star. Due N of the nebula by 4.75’ is the N-most vertex of a scalene triangle composed of 12th-magnitude stars; there’s another SP the first by 1.25’ and a third 2.67’ due P from that first vertex. SF the nebula by 3.25’ is yet another 12th-magnitude star, and P somewhat N of the nebula by 2.5’ is an 11.5-magnitude star. Let’s try the UHC; I don’t know that the 7mm is going to be much use down here with the seeing, but we’re eventually going to try it anyway; I want to start with the UHC. The UHC really brightens the nebula. The supposed “central star” seems to be just a point in the brightness of the nebulosity, because it’s very, very bright now in the filter, and that shouldn’t be the case if it’s merely a star. The filter also helped to define the diffuse ends of the nebula: the P end has much better definition now; it’s much more distinct and tendril-like, while the F side is a little more diffuse and doesn’t really come to a distinct “sharpening” like the P side does. In fact, the P side seems a little bit longer, more extended, so the central region is kind of offset to the F. It really does look like a galaxy in this seeing. I think the view with the O-III filter is going to be roughly the same as in the UHC, given how low we are in the sky. With the O-III, the bright tendril on the P end twists N-ward a tiny bit; but the filter really brings out the F side too, the diffuse end which kind of fans out a bit, almost like a guppy’s tail. Again, that central region is almost glaringly bright, but that would imply that there’s not a central star that’s the visual driver of that, because it wouldn’t have brightened that much. So we’re gonna try the 7mm Nagler here. In the 7mm Nagler, that impression that the tendrils on the P end hook N-ward is well enhanced at this magnification. Adding the UHC first to the 7mm, that tendril to the P still gives that impression that there’s a tiny brighter knot at the end of it. It almost reminds me of NGC 772 in Aries, the way the one arm sweeps out, because that’s really dramatic how much more it is on the P than the F. In the O-III, the impression that I had in the UHC that there is more N-S depth along the middle, like there’s a vertical “stripe” there along the middle, is a little enhanced, but it’s really hard to get a focus on anything here. There also seems to be (and I noticed this earlier, both in the 14mm and the 7mm with the UHC) from the bright center NF, there’s just a tiny jut of brighter material out the top of the nebula heading NF, just a couple of arcseconds long; it’s not perfectly P-F and confined to that axis; it’s heading a little bit NF from there. That is a really fantastic planetary, even though the seeing’s not very good for it!

I wasn’t a fan of the amphitheater site as a lone observer. There was too much potential for an encounter with the locals; I was generally not afraid of observing alone, but close encounters of the two-legged kind always made me a bit leery, especially out in the hinterlands like this.

I had previously observed NGC 6563 at the Brothers Star Party in 2017, under much better conditions. Here, again, I had to sit on the ground in order to observe my target, while staring through the densest part of the atmosphere as seen from my vantage point.

1:25           
NGC 6563 (Sgr): This one is right in the Teapot spout, and it is NGC 6563, a.k.a. the Southern Ring, although in the 14mm and this low in the sky, there is no real annularity to be had; certainly not in this seeing. (I should say, though, that the seeing really steadies down well, and when it does, even this low, it definitely makes a difference.) The nebula is about 0.67’ round… well, it’s elongated a little bit P-F, so 0.75’ x 0.67’, just a very very slight bit of elongation roughly P-F. Knowing that this is an annular nebula, I’m surprised at how evenly illuminated it is; it’s not like the Cheerio or anything… there may be a a very very very faint rim around the periphery; it’s very hard to hold that impression steady. There’s no central star, no color, but it’s an obvious nebula when you hit the field. A couple of very bright stars are in the field: about 12’ due S is a 7th-magnitude star, while 15’ P somewhat N is a 6th-magnitude star, and from the 6th-magnitude star due SP by 8’ is another 7th-magnitude star

The galloping happened before the crash; I didn’t have enough time to get to my feet before something smashed into the metal gate with a loud CLANG. It was a full two seconds before I was able to focus enough to yell at whatever it was, which was my usual tactic when confronted by unwelcome wildlife (skunks aside; I usually just whistle when I know skunks are nearby… for obvious reasons). With the new Caveman-Mobile between me and the gate, I couldn’t see what had collided with the gate, or if it was still there… it seemed to have run off, but what if it hadn’t? It sounded large—bigger than me, anyway—and its footfalls had sounded more than a little like hooves. Perhaps a deer or an elk. But (as Jerry noted after I shared the incident with the other Irregulars) if it was indeed some sort of local ungulate, what had spooked it enough to cause it to run into the gate? Nor did I know, with the Flex in the way, which side of the gate said animal had run into.

Rattled by the incident, I lost both focus and interest in NGC 6563. I had no plans to leave, but I certainly wasn’t going to put myself at the disadvantage of sitting on the ground if the same creature—or its pursuer, had there been one—came back for a second engagement. I scrolled through my list via Sky Safari until I found a target that would keep me off the ground, one in good observing position and in an area of sky where the seeing was much better… an object that had bedeviled me the last couple of times I’d searched for it.

1:46
NGC 6807 (Aql): Here we have the utterly-stellar-and-completely-indistinguishable-from-a-star NGC 6807 which, at least in the 14mm at 112x, gives no hint whatsoever as to its identity; you have to really stare at this thing in order to realize it’s not a star, and in a crowded field like this there’s no way you would. It’s roughly the equivalent of a 12th-magnitude star, maybe 11.5, with very, very little to look at; it has just the tiniest bit—I mean, almost imperceptible—of non-stellarness; I had to flicker with the O-III filter in order to make anything out of it. It has a 10th-magnitude star N very slightly F it by 1.5’; there’s an 8.5-magnitude star F somewhat N by 11’. 18’ SP the nebula is the brightest star in the field, which is 6.5 magnitude, and F somewhat S by 20’ are a couple of clumps that could possibly be open clusters; I’m not gonna really do much with those, because I’m here with the nebula and I don’t want to lose it. So let’s go with the UHC, although I don’t think filters are going to have much effect other than brightening it, because it’s so tiny. So with the filter, the nebula is now the equivalent of the 10th-magnitude star N of it, but that’s it; there’s no fringe, no central star, anything, just a faint tiny stellar point. With the O-III, the nebula’s now brighter, considerably brighter, than the star N of it. So upward we go, to the 7mm Nagler, to see if there’s any detail or any improvement in size or anything to distinguish this planetary from a star. With the 7mm, focus is still really problematic; there’s still no distinct means of identifying this as a nebula; it’s just stellar. So we add the O-III… still nothing; still no identifying features; I can’t really focus it sharp enough to tell if there is a disk visible, but it’s now considerably brighter than the star next to it… but that’s all I get with the O-III in the 7mm.

My stomach rumbled while I was taking notes on NGC 6807. Or perhaps it was a cougar or a ravenous Bugblatter Beast or a sandworm or something. (It was loud enough to register on my audio notes.) Whatever the case, I was distracted enough by the earlier incident that further observing had lost its appeal.

I packed up earlier than I’d intended, leaving my agenda for the evening only half-finished.

III.  I don’t recall (at this remove) why only Dan and I went out to Linslaw the next night; it might have been that the others went out to the amphitheater, or perhaps they just stayed home. Whatever the case, I needed to get out again, if only to put the previous night’s events behind me.

Linslaw was the perfect place to do so. I had no qualms about observing there alone, if need be; the sandstone crag at Linslaw was the only one of our active sites that was unlikely to be encroached on by other people during the night, and we had yet to encounter any wildlife there aside from the tiny, scampering lizards whose scamperings we heard but never saw (and the occasional bat, nighthawk, or owl). Dan was there, anyway, although I also knew that should a Smilodon or some such apex predator choose to add astronomer to its diet, Dan could outrun me by a substantial margin.

But none of that intruded on the evening as much as the mediocre conditions. By the time astronomical twilight officially ended and the “real” observing began, the SQM was reading a surprising 21.33 (better than the sky appeared), but the transparency and seeing were only passable. The air was cool and damp and clammy. And the sky was lousy with satellites, both to the naked eye and in the eyepiece, as I prowled among the early summer showpiece objects, waiting for darkness to finish falling.

Little matter, though—galaxies awaited.

06/5-6/21
LINSLAW POINT
SUNSET: 8:52 PM
MOON: 27 days (rose at 3:42 AM; 9% illuminated)
SEEING: 6-8
TRANSPARENCY: 6-4
SQM: 21.33-21.54
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to mid-40s; heavy dew; air still; cold and clammy
OTHERS PRESENT: DB
All observations: 12.5″ f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (225x, 0.36˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

10:58
NGC 5669; PGC 51945 (Böo): I’m working on Herschel IIIs for the time that we have available to us tonight, because I don’t think the conditions are great for doing “serious” stuff; I’m currently looking at NGC 5669 in southern Böotes, which is a large diffuse round glow of irregular brightness. The galaxy’s really poorly defined and large, at about 2.5’ diameter. It has just the barest hint of a core, which is largish but just slightly brighter than the halo; no nucleus is present, but there’s some SP-NF glow in the interior of the galaxy that could be a bar; there could be spiral structure here. The galaxy isn’t bright, certainly, but I’ve been tracking it for a while, and we’re about still about 10-15 minutes from full astronomical darkness; it showed up identifiably fairly early on and I’ve just been following it since then. It’s bracketed to the N somewhat P and due NF by field stars; the star on the N somewhat P is somewhat brighter at 11.5 magnitude and is about 6’ from the galaxy; the one to the NF is about 12.5 magnitude and is 7’ NF the galaxy, and is also the N-most vertex in a small right triangle: the right angle vertex is P somewhat S of that star by 1’ and the third vertex is about 1.3’ almost due S of the first; the right-angle vertex is 14th magnitude; the third vertex is also of 14th magnitude. NF the galaxy by 15’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; there’s also a 10.5-magnitude star P somewhat S of the galaxy by 17’. This galaxy is an impressive sight; I’ll have to re-observe it with the 20 inch. I had an impression that there’s another galaxy [PGC 51945], a really small one, SP of the star to the N slightly P the galaxy by 3.75’ and P somewhat N of 5669 by 6; there’s just a very very very difficult diffuse spot, and that’s really all it is; it’s just a spot that really comes and goes. Averted vision really helps bring it out; I thought I’d seen it early on, but I kind of dismissed it because I couldn’t replicate it, but now it definitely seems like there’s something there.

In planning for the evening, I had flipped through Alvin Huey’s free PDF guide to the Herschel III objects, a subset of the brightest Herschel objects remaining after the Herschel 400 and Herschel II programs. Due to the unpredictability of the lower altitudes at Linslaw, I planned to stay higher in the sky; this led to wandering the galaxy fields of Boötes and Canes Venatici for the night, rather than trying immediately to finish my planetary-nebula wanderings in the lower reaches of the sky.

My next target, although I had forgotten so until I actually had it in the eyepiece, was popularly known as the Heron Galaxy, due to its obvious appearance on photographs.

11:34
NGCs 5394, 5395 (CVn): I’ve gone off the path a little bit, because my SkySafari doesn’t have the entire Herschel III in it, but this is the interesting interacting pair NGC 5394 and 5395; 5395 is kind of dominant here because of its size and brightness compared to 5394. This is a really excellent pair of interacting galaxies this has got to be an Arp [Arp 84]. I’ve discovered that a lot of these Herschel IIIs are really kind of crying out for the 20” Obsession to do a little more investigating on them. NGC 5395 is a long N-S slash that’s pretty well defined and has a 13.5-magnitude star just off the S end; it’s about 2.0’ x 0.75’, with a long streak of central brightening down the major axis. There’s nothing really resembling a standard core or nucleus, though. It seems as though the F side is a little better defined than the rest; it’s not a poorly-defined galaxy, but the F edge seems a little sharper, and it’s more diffuse on the P. The central brightening seems offset to the F edge as well. NGC 5394 is 1.75’ N slightly P from the center of NGC 5395. 5394 has a much more concentrated, very small core and a probable substellar nucleus. It’s only 0.3’ diameter. I don’t see actual contact between the galaxies, although I suspect it’s there, just out of reach in the 12.5”. (All field-star distances are from NGC 5395.) N somewhat P NGC 5395 by 10’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; there’s another almost due N of the galaxies, 15’ from NGC 5395. SP the galaxy by 17’ is another 10.5-magnitude star; there’s a 9.5-magnitude star SF the galaxy by 18’. SP the galaxy by 5.75’ is an 11th-magnitude star. S very slightly P the galaxy by 11’ is the N-most of a line of three; that star is 11th magnitude and has an 11.5-magnitude star S very very slightly F it by 0.75’, and then from the 11.5-magnitude star S slightly F by 2’ is a 12th-magnitude star.

I should’ve observed this one with the 7mm Nagler, or at least the 10mm Delos (the best eyepiece I own), but didn’t do so; the excuse I gave myself was that the transparency wasn’t good enough. What really wasn’t good enough was my list of excuses.

I stayed in Canes Venatici the rest of the night. The seeing improved even as the humidity—an infrequent problem up on the crag—increased; the stars shone with a rare steadiness through a visibly-apparent haze.

12:04
NGCs 5112, 5107 (CVn): NGC 5112 is another very diffuse, large, probably close to face-on spiral. (There’re probably a lot of unknown extra galaxies up there in that region that didn’t make it in the Herschel 400 or the Herschel II.) This is a big one, but still fairly bright; it’s elongated F somewhat N-F somewhat S and covers 2.25’ x 1.25’, with a very very diffuse halo and a somewhat-brighter core but no nucleus. It is brighter along the minor axis as well, but in a much more diffuse manner, which is odd for a face-on or inclined spiral and may mean there’s a bar there. (Right now, the seeing’s sharp as a tack.) The galaxy is really poorly defined; its light just falls away into space with no clear boundary to it. The galaxy has a distracting star about 1.75’ S slightly F the center, and that star is 13th magnitude; there are a number of other bright stars in the field that are difficult on the observing. F very very slightly N of the galaxy by 6.5’ is a 9th-magnitude star that has a 10.5-magnitude star F very very slightly N of it by 2.25’ and a 12.5-magnitude star S slightly F the 9th-magnitude star by 3’, and that star has NF of it by 1.5’ a 13.5-magnitude star. N slightly P the galaxy by 10’ is a yellowish 7th-magnitude star that has P very very slightly S of it by 6’ a 10th-magnitude star. P very very slightly S of the galaxy by 17’ is a 9th-magnitude star. Almost due S of the galaxy by 12’ is a 13th-magnitude star, and due P that 13th-magnitude star by 4’ is another galaxy [NGC 5107] which has almost the same orientation as NGC 5112 but is much smaller and somewhat more concentrated; it’s 1.25’ x 0.25’, oriented P slightly N-F slightly S, a thin little short streak of a galaxy. This smaller galaxy is much better defined and fairly faint but still reasonably obvious; it’s well-defined and fairly even in brightness. The 13th-magnitude star that’s due F the second galaxy also has a 13.5-magnitude star F it by 2.75’.

With the transparency failing, I checked the SQM, expecting no better than a 21.2. The 21.52 it registered was far beyond both what I expected and what the sky appeared to show. I then shone a red light on my scope’s secondary mirror, expecting it to be covered with dew; that too exceeded my expectations by being perfectly clear.

The sky was clearly diminished from its usually summer clarity, and even from the level it had been as it got dark. I flipped through Huey’s Herschel III guide for another—likely final—target in the vicinity of NGC 5112, something to close out my notetaking for this Moon-dark phase, finding several to choose from and picking the best of the lot.

12:35
NGC 5301 (CVn): This is the interesting not-quite-flat galaxy NGC 5301, which I saw in Alvin Huey’s guide to the Herschel III and assumed would be super easy, but it’s surprisingly… it’s relatively easy, but it’s not quite as impressive as one would expect from the photograph, which kind of gives the lie to the idea of photographs as good indicators, although it’s still a fine sight. The galaxy’s elongated N slightly P-S slightly F, about 2.5’ x 0.75’, so pretty much an edge-on galaxy, but not quite flat; based on the strict definition of a flat galaxy, I don’t think it qualifies. But it’s reasonably bright; there’s no straining to see it. The galaxy is a little brighter on the N end than the S. It’s well defined and not at all diffuse; it has just a strip of central brightening, with a faint substellar nucleus but no core. Due S of the galaxy by 2.75’ is a 12.5-magnitude star; there’s an 11.5-magnitude star SF the galaxy by about 2.5’. The S and slightly brighter of a pair lies NF the galaxy by 4.25’; that star is 12th magnitude and has a 13th-magnitude star N of it by 0.75’. There’s also a 14.5-magnitude star NP the galaxy by 2.67’. The brightest star in the field is 18’ F somewhat N of the galaxy and is 9th magnitude, and it has a 10th-magnitude star due P it by 2.75’. There’s a bright isosceles triangle P the galaxy: P somewhat S of the galaxy by 9’ is a 9.5-magnitude star; there’s a 10th-magnitude star P somewhat S of that star by 5’, and those two form the base of the triangle, and then from the first star NP by 6’ is another 10th-magnitude star; that one’s maybe just a touch fainter than the others.

I checked in on some of the summer globulars, then tore down my gear. Dan was already loaded up, starting down the mountain. I followed a few moments later, the galaxies still wheeling above, their feeble light crossing the vast expanse of space to fall unseen on the sandstone crag.

All Things Possible

May was a busy month, both personally and astronomically. I had ended up starting yet another new job—one much more physically demanding than I’m probably capable of at this point in time, and one that has ended up confining my observing sessions to weekends (generally no more than two per month, given the lunar cycle). Meanwhile, the night skies above transitioned from nearly-endless galaxy fields to the advent of the summer Milky Way and its plethora of “nearby” galactic objects (star clusters and nebulae). This was a chance at some last few flat galaxies until the fall, and the relatively-few planetary nebulae that dotted the spring skies before the rich hunting grounds of the summer took hold of the night.

I. The second weekend in May brought with it our first observing opportunity. Although several members of our group-within-a-group (which we’ve sort-of informally dubbed “The EAS Irregulars”) had plans, those were quickly adapted to allow for some guerilla astronomy on the familiar sandstone crag at Linslaw. With my now-truncated observing schedule, every opportunity was one to be taken. Jerry would arrive after his book club meeting was finished, while Loren and Robert arrived at roughly the same time I did. Feet aching from a week on cement floors, I stayed with the old workhorse Bob the (12.5”) Dob, rather than standing on the ladder beside the 20” Obsession all night.

05/07-08/21
LINSLAW POINT
SUNSET: 8:24 PM
MOON: 26 days (set at 4:29 PM; 11% illuminated)
SEEING: 6, 7
TRANSPARENCY: 6,7
SQM: 21.64 (did not look as good to the naked eye)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to upper 40s; some dew; cool and clammy
OTHERS PRESENT: JO, LR, RA
All observations: 12.5″ f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (225x, 0.36˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

10:25
NGCs 3501, 3507 (Leo): We’re starting off what may not be a short night with NGC 3501; I wasn’t going to bring the 12.5” scope to do flat galaxy work, but at the end of a long workday I also wasn’t about to bring the 20” and then spend the whole night on the ladder murdering my feet. This is a pretty fine flat specimen here: it’s about 2.75’ x 0.25’, elongated in PA 30˚. The galaxy has fairly even low surface brightness along its major axis. There’s an occasional trace of a nucleus, but not much in the way of a core; in better moments, the nucleus has some distinct presence. It has a neighboring galaxy in the field with it, which I’ll expound on in a bit. There are also some very faint threshold-level stars (as opposed to bright threshold level stars, I guess) F it and NF the galaxy, but they’re very difficult to pin down. NP the galaxy by 7’ is the brightest star in the field, which is 9th magnitude and has N somewhat P it by 3.25’ a 12th-magnitude star. NF the galaxy by 10’ is a 10th-magnitude star that has an 11th-magnitude star N of it by 3’, and that star has just P it the second galaxy (NGC 3507); that star is in the halo of this smaller galaxy, very close to the core. This second galaxy is 1.5’ across, with a very diffuse halo and a somewhat brighter core; in averted vision, it looks like it’s got a stellar nucleus to it, but the nucleus is hard to hold, due in part to the 11th-magnitude star there
.

Jerry had arrived while I was working on NGC 3501; he and Robert were in the background discussing Elon Musk (and his SNL hosting gig) while Jerry was setting up his scope. The temperature had already plummeted after sunset, becoming surprisingly cool for May, and it was already more humid than usual at Linslaw. With the clammy weather, it was already time for gloves.

11:00
NGCs 3454, 3455 (Leo): NGC 3454 is not an easy target here in the 12.5”; the neighboring galaxy is much, much brighter and much more obvious. The two galaxies bracket an 11th-magnitude star. 3454 is a little needle; it’s pretty small, only 1.25’ long and maybe 10” wide at center. It has pretty even and low surface brightness; it’s fairly obvious when you know it’s there, but…. The galaxy is about 1.67’ N very very slightly P that 11th-magnitude star. There’s really not a nucleus or a core, anything that flashes out; it’s a fairly evenly bright (evenly dim is more like it) galaxy. Due S of that 11th-magnitude star, by 1.75’, is the companion galaxy (NGC 3455), which is considerably easier to see. It’s 1.0’ round and diffuse; it seems to have some P very very slightly S-F very very slightly N extension, like a bar in it, with a very slightly brighter core in the middle. This extension is slight, and the galaxy spans 1.25’ x 1.0’.  F very very slightly N of this galaxy by 5.5’ is an 11.5-magnitude star, and from NGC 3545 N very very very slightly P by another 4.0’ is a 13.5-magnitude star. I like that S-more galaxy a lot; it’s an interesting target, maybe even more so than the galaxy that’s actually on my list. I’ll need to revisit these with the 20” when Leo rolls around again.

Although I often reached for the 7mm Nagler for higher-power views of my targets (more often with planetary nebulae, but frequently with galaxies as well), the chill, damp weather helped squelch my interest in doing so this particular night.  Even though I was taking notes, I was more inclined to keep my gloves on and my equipment arsenal minimal than I was to be as thorough as I usually was. Obviously, I’ll want to revisit some of these galaxies under better conditions and greater aperture. I could complete the AL’s Flat Galaxy program entirely with the 12.5-inch scope, certainly, but that wouldn’t really do justice to the galaxies I was observing.

11:15
NGC 4019; PGC 37931 (Com): Just following Denebola here with NGC 4019, which may actually be over the border in Coma. It’s not a bright galaxy, but it has some presence in the field. It’s in position angle 135˚, pretty much due NP-SF. It’s fairly small; 1.0’ x 7” or so (these are all so  infinitesimally thin… all less than 0.25’, so I might as well just give the major axis on some of them).  It’s fairly evenly dim; there’s not much going on visually here regarding core, nucleus, or any distinctive features.. S slightly F the galaxy by 3.5’ is a 14th-magnitude star that has due S of it by 2.5’ a 10th-magnitude star, and every so often in averted vision I get a flash… yeah it’s definitely there, F very very slightly N of the 9.5-magnitude star by 2’ is another tiny faint fuzzy spot [PGC 37931] that forms an almost equilateral triangle with the two stars, the 13th and the 9.5. It’s just a speck. Also P 4019 by 3.5’ is a 12.5-magnitude star.

11:26
NGC 4517 (Vir): A great contrast with the previous, this is the very impressive NGC 4517, inside the arms or the head of Virgo, and it’s a massive galaxy compared to what I’m usually after with these flat galaxies. It’s not a super-bright galaxy, but it’s very, very diffuse and long; it almost reminds me of NGC 3109, the “other” (disputed) Local Group spiral. This is no less than 8.0’ x 1.25’; it’s tapered at the ends, especially the F end, and seems to peter out more in the F half. It’s brighter in the center, but there’s not really what I would actually call central brightening; there’s no core or nucleus or anything. The galaxy shows hints of being irregular in brightness; the S edge is much more distinct and cut off (is this a possible dust lane?). The most noteworthy feature, aside from its hugeness and flatness, is the 11th-magnitude star on the N edge just F center, just on the edge of the halo. Just P the 11th-magnitude star is a kind of a darker vein that runs more P-F (?). That P end, from the 11th-magnitude star P-ward is very irregularly bright or mottled; it seems to have a brighter patch just on the P end before it fades out. Just inside the P end is a threshold star. There are several other noteworthy stars here; F that star, toward the F end of the galaxy and very very slightly N (also outside the halo but by a bit more than the 11th-mag) is a 13.5-magnitude star; those are separated by 3’; 3’ FvsS from the second star (so just past the end of the galaxy) is a 14.5-magnitude star. From the 11th-magnitude star due S by 4.5’ is a 12th-magnitude star that is the right-angle vertex of a triangle with the 11th; F very very slightly N of the right-angle vertex by 3.5’ is a 13th-magnitude star; from the right-angle vertex N very very slightly F by 1.3’ is a star of 14th magnitude. That’s a fantastic galaxy!

Although these are good notes on NGC 4517—yet another galaxy that needs the extra aperture of the Obsession (really, they all do)—I managed to somehow miss NGC 4517A in the field. Perhaps its surface brightness was too low, or perhaps I rushed too much in my observations.

By midnight, we’d all had our fill of photons. It had been a fine night’s observing, but the weather won out. I took time for a final object before joining the others in tearing down and heading back to our light-swamped city.

12:19
NGC 4197 (Vir): Remaining up here in the head region of Virgo with NGC 4197, and it’s back to the relatively-smaller galaxies like those I was looking at earlier. This one is pretty faint but fairly unmistakable; it’s immediately noticeable in the field. Position angle about 40-45˚; 1.75’ x 0.2’. There’s not a lot of central brightening but what there is is more toward the S end; the NF end, is much more diffuse than the rest. It’s somewhat-irregularly bright, but not what I would call “mottled.” 1.5’ S of the galaxy is a 14.5-magnitude star; due F the galaxy by 3.75’ is a 12.5-magnitude star that has due S of it by 3.75’ an 11th-magnitude star. Even further due S of the galaxy by 9’ is an 11.5-magnitude star. There’s also a small right triangle whose 12.5-magnitude right-angle vertex is PvsS of the galaxy by 6.5’. This is a fairly faint but fairly obvious flat galaxy for this aperture.

II. A week later, it was back to planetary nebulae; these would turn out to be among the most difficult planetaries I needed for the AL Planetary Nebula list owing to their deep-southern declinations. I hadn’t realized, when I initially went through the AL’s list, how many of these there were lurking among the crowded, horizon-hugging fields of Lupus and southern Scorpius; they were a challenge not only because of their low altitude but for the brief period of time each of them remained observable. I had just a month or so for NGC 5873 in Lupus, for example. With opportunities limited, there was no time to waste.

Needing flat, low southern horizons, Linslaw was the only choice to observe from. (Had we not been effectively banned from using Eureka Ridge, it would’ve served just as well, if dewier.) I gave Alan a lift out; Jerry was setting up as we arrived. Mark, of course, was already set up, and was running his imaging rig through some preliminary paces as I parked the Caveman-Mobile, while Loren was on his way over after work.

Conditions weren’t great. The transparency—the clarity of the air—was average at best, with strands of cirrus drifting through; this also affected the seeing (the steadiness of the air). One of these cirrus tides went through as I was taking notes on my first object. The temperature wasn’t unpleasant, though, especially compared to the previous excursion. The waxing crescent Moon was still in the sky, too, and would be until past midnight.

I had my old phone with me, rather than the newer one with the better battery. This meant that I needed to conserve battery power in order to get through the list of objects I’d assembled. And I needed a good run of planetaries tonight, to keep on pace with the AL list; as I intended to reobserve all 110 of the planetaries on the list with the 20” (giving me multiple observations of each), I really needed to get through all of them in the 12.5” scope this year.

Ironically, although my first target was indeed a planetary nebula, it wasn’t actually on the AL list.

05/15-16/21
LINSLAW POINT
SUNSET: 8:33 PM
MOON: 4 days (set at 12:32 AM; 16% illuminated)
SEEING: 5 (3)
TRANSPARENCY: 6
SQM: 21.58
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to mid-40s; no dew; mild breeze, cool to cold
OTHERS PRESENT: JO, AG, LR, MW
All observations: 12.5″ f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (225x, 0.36˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

10:15
IC 972 (Vir): IC 972 here, in Virgo, is the first one of what hopefully is a productive evening of planetary nebula hunting here at Linslaw. The Moon is still being a bit of a problem right now. This is a very indistinct not quite 1’ diameter glow with some slightly uneven brightness. It’s very diffuse and quite difficult here in direct vision in the 14mm unfiltered, with the Moon still being problematic; averted vision helps a great deal. I suspect this is actually not a bad little nebula when the moon isn’t a problem. The nebula has NP it by 3.67’ a 12th-magnitude star, and it has 2.5’ N very very very slightly F it another 12th-magnitude star; continuing 6.5’ N very very slightly F the nebula is a 9.5-magnitude star that has an 11.5-magnitude star SF it by 1’. NP the 9.5-mag star by 5’ is an 11th-magnitude star; from the 9.5-magnitude star 6.5’ almost due N is another 9.5-magnitude star, and there’s a 10th-magnitude star NF that star by 3’. Going to go ahead and throw the UHC in the UHC pops the nebula out well, but it’s still diffuse and undetailed. Maybe 0.67’ or 0.75’ diameter. Every now and then in averted, it looks like there’s some “shape” to it other than just being round. There’s no central star or anything at this magnification. The O-III definitely bumps the contrast on the nebula way up: the edges of the nebula in the O-III have more distinctiveness or definition to them; I’m still not 100% sure of annularity, color, or any other detail. This is the only view where the nebula is a little “crisp” around the edge. Averted vision still really helps. There seems to be something at threshold level on the NP edge, even in the filter (so it wouldn’t be a threshold star), a little stellaring of nebulosity that’s very tentative.

The International Space Station made a spectacular pass overhead as I was observing IC 972; earlier, the Chinese equivalent had made a scene itself, traveling in a roughly-perpendicular trajectory. Jerry tracked the ISS in his scope, announcing that the solar panels were quite visible on this pass. (In fact, the number of naked-eye satellites visible on the night was kind of ridiculous… and would become even moreso quickly.)

I wandered about the sky for a while, waiting for my next target to reach a favorable position. With Ophiuchus well placed, I took a tour through some of its globular clusters, also stopping by its brightest galaxy, NGC 6384. I also paid a visit to an old friend, NGC 5894, a small, visually-unremarkable globular cluster in the tail of Hydra. One of the Milky Way’s most distant globulars, NGC 5894 was also one of the prized observations from my early days as an observer, when I found it from the garishly-overlit skies of Cincinnati with a “mere” 8-inch scope.

I heard a shout—from Robert, I think—and turned toward the direction the shouter had indicated. It took no time at all to see what the commotion was about: across the northern sky wormed a greenish glow, at least three, maybe four, degrees long, changing shape as it crawled from east to west. Although it was dark, I didn’t need light to tell that all eyes on the crag were glued to the weird, squirming green coil making its way through the sky.

The telescope wasn’t necessary to identify this particular flying object—or series of flying objects, as we all knew it to be. This was a chain of Starlink satellites, recently launched, the folly of our recent Saturday Night Live host. Bob the Dob split them with ease, a whole string of fast-moving starlike specks flashing through the eyepiece field. I lost count; there were sixty in the chain, but I didn’t stay with them that long in the scope. The naked-eye view was the most compelling; we followed the chain until it faded from sight behind the small copse of trees atop the bluff and into the dome of the city, blocked from our view by the sandstone crag.

Fifteen minutes later, we had only just gotten back to our individual tasks when a glorious meteor fireball gashed its way across the southern sky, almost completely east to west, leaving a persistent smoke trail behind it. I’m pretty sure we applauded; whatever successes we each had on the night, just being at Linslaw for the night’s fireworks was enough. We’d hit the most dramatic man-made and natural sights imaginable in the night sky—how could those be topped?

We followed up with an observation of the brilliant nova in Cassiopeia. Not as spectacular to our eyes as what we’d witnessed already, but even moreso when the astrophysics involved were weighed in. It was astonishing that this nova was still a going concern to such a degree; discovered in March, the nova had continued to flare, reaching naked-eye brightness the week before this.

Then it was back to my list, and an object far off the beaten path. The Moon was still present, low in the west. More intrusive was the flickering screen on the back of Alan’s camera, a neon-sign glow straight ahead that (albeit dimly) lit up the ground in front of me every few seconds.

12:40
NGC 5873 (Lup): This is one of the more difficult sightings I’ve done, ever:  a planetary in Lupus, NGC 5873, which is tiny and faint and difficult in the poor seeing down this low… and we are really low, a couple of degrees above the horizon tops [8˚ from the horizon, 6˚ from the mountaintops], about a Telrad and a half diameter off the horizon. The nebula is faint, but it’s also identifiable fairly quickly as being just barely non-stellar. The nebula serves as the NF vertex of a diamond having a star of equal magnitude (and I’m actually gonna say that equal magnitude is 11th) P very very very slightly S of it by 1.75’;  S very very very slightly P by 2’ is a 12th-magnitude star, and from the nebula SP by 3.25’ is a 12.5-magnitude star; those stars comprise the diamond. Due N of the planetary by 4.25’ is a 12th-magnitude star, and then from the nebula due NF by 5.5’ is a 9th-magnitude star. F very slightly S of the nebula by 15’ is the N-most of a pair of nearly equal-magnitude stars oriented N very very slightly P-S south very very slightly F to each other, separated by 0.5’, with the N one the brighter; those are 9.5 and 10.5 magnitude; SP the brighter one by 2.75’ is another 9.5-mag star. I suspect that with the filters, there still won’t be much to look at, and this is a very difficult object anyway; it’s so far south to be notable as a planetary of the stellar variety, and I don’t think anything’s going to be much useful for it. Wow, did the UHC filter just blow that up! The nebula’s a rival for the brightest thing in the field now. There’s still no detail, but it’s definitely a remarkably bright little thing with the filter in.. I don’t think I would’ve ever known that this was down here (or bothered with it) without it being on the AL list. I’m not even going go to the O-III; I’m just going to put the 7mm in here and see what happens. The seeing is just terrible down here… OK… there’s almost no way to get a focus on anything down here with the 7mm; still, it’s slightly larger than stellar. It may be a little bit elongated, maybe, with some SP-NF elongation. Adding the UHC in here with the 7mm… with the UHC, it’s still really bright, but anything detail-wise is washed out by the low altitude and crappy seeing.

Jerry and I took SQM readings with the Moon now set; it was useful to occasionally use both his SQM and the one owned by EAS (currently in my possession) to keep track of their calibration with each other. We each had several readings of 21.57 and 21.58 over in the vicinity of Corona Borealis (a useful part of the sky for such readings, due to the relative sparseness of the starry background there), the close agreement likely demonstrating that both meters were in good working order.

1:40
NGC 6072 (Sco): After a side detour to poke around with M5 and Seyfert’s Sextet, this is NGC 6072, again way down scraping the horizon, and it’s a much more impressive specimen that it has any right to be down that low. It’s about 0.75’ around and irregularly bright across its dimensions; it’s brighter more N-S than P-F, with the F edge especially kind of vague and ill-defined. The nebula is very irregularly round, and not well defined at all (this is with no filter); it’s very obvious even with no filter, and even down this low (it’s less than 8° from the mountaintops here). It’s surrounded to the roughly P and roughly F by a bunch of fainter stars in the 12th/13th magnitude range. Due N of the nebula by 7’ is an 8.5-magnitude star (I probably need to account for extinction more than I am). That 8.5-magnitude star is actually the point of a narrow isosceles triangle, and has F somewhat N of and NF it by 6.5’ each a pair of 10th-magnitude stars, and those are themselves separated by 2.5’. P slightly N of the nebula by 2.25’ is a 12.5-magnitude star that has another 12.5-magnitude star almost due P it by 1.5’. F by 4’ is a 12.5 magnitude star that has NF it by 1.67’ a star that looks to be an actual double and has a fainter companion S very very slightly F by 15”; those are 12th and 13.5 magnitude; and the brighter of that pair has a 12.5-magnitude star N very very slightly P it by 1.25’. This seems well worth taking the time to examine; it’s by far the best planetary of the night so far, so we’ll go ahead with the UHC:  it’s hard to get focus down here, but the filter provides a nice contrast boost, although the seeing’s still so poor. This planetary almost resembles a small, very distant globular, not like a galaxy like some of these other fainter, mid-sized ones do. The O-III really brings out the brightness of that N-S axis in a way that the UHC did not. I want to say that it’s elongated that direction, but it isn’t; it’s almost like the Dumbbell, round but much brighter in one axis, almost like a bar across the middle of a rounder general glow. Aside from that, there’s just not much else coming through, so we’re going to head on to the 7mm. [Going to pass on Ton 2, which I’d hoped to scout for, because the sky isn’t good enough. The advantage to working this low in the sky: I can use my chair as a table, as I’m sitting on the ground.] So the 7mm… seeing is crap down there, and I don’t know that the 7mm is bringing out any more detail. (I feel like these notes are poor quality, but I can’t do much with nebulae this low.) The S edge seems more well delineated, a little sharper than the rest of the nebula; the interior brightness is quite irregular. 1/3 of the way from N-S, there’s a roughly P-F kind of dark slash or occlusion against the brighter part of the nebula. I don’t know at this point if filters even have any use, what with the terrible seeing this far south. There’sa kind of vaguely Dumbbell-ish impression in terms of overall shape, but… it’s really, really hard to make out anything in the way of detail, other than the fact that there’s detail to be had that I can’t make out.

On some of these nebulae, I feel like I have to wrack my brain to come up with enough of a description, particularly when the sky conditions won’t support the observation. This is how I end up with long sets of notes on some of the tiny, stellar objects like NGC 5873. NGC 6072 was a considerably more impressive object, but I still found myself sometimes grasping at barely-relevant thoughts while trying to make this one seem more memorable than it might have really been.

Note to self: get a new, better O-III filter. It’s past time.

2:06
NGC 6153 (Sco): NGC 6153 is showing up really well considering its closeness to the horizon; I would be willing to say it’s less than 4° above the horizon here, because we’ve got a couple of hills that rise a couple of degrees above the actual horizon. (I starhopped from NGC 6139, the globular up there, to find it; we’ve hit this nebula right at the meridian by sheer luck.) The nebula is very obvious; it’s smallish, roughly 0.3’ around, maybe 0.4’, but it’s the southern vertex of a very compressed diamond which is longer in the P-F axis than the N-S axis, at the S end of which is the nebula. The middle of this nebula is pretty nicely bright, but there’s no central star to speak of, although it kind of hints that there may be. The F side of the nebula’s a little bit sharper defined, but that’s all relative down in this muck. The N-S axis on this diamond is about 2.75’, and the star at the N end of that axis, again with no accounting for extinction, looks to be of 10th magnitude. The P-F axis is about 4.25’; the star at the F end of that axis is the brightest not just in the field, but certainly the brightest in the diamond at 8th magnitude; there’s a 10th magnitude star at the P end of the P-F axis. The 8th-magnitude star is NF the nebula by 2.67’ and the star at the P end of the axis is 2.75’ from the nebula. The 8th-magnitude star is also the primary of a pair/double, with a 14th-magnitude star FvvsS by 15”. From the P end of the diamond, P slightly S by 3.75’, is an 11th-magnitude star that may be double, but I can’t tell in the seeing, and SP that star (the supposed double) by 2’ is an 11.5-magnitude star. The UHC filter does basically nothing; the field looks almost unchanged. So out with that filter and in with the O-III; I think this nebula will shine a bit in the 7mm, as I’m still impressed with how good the nebula looks despite the conditions. In the O-III, it’s really bright, but the focus just isn’t happening. It’s more evenly illuminated with the O-III. The 7mm Nagler doesn’t let me focus at all down here, but it does show some irregularity to the outside of the nebula’s rim; it’s definitely more indistinct. No central star is visible at either magnification; the seeing is so poor I’d never be able to focus on it if there was one. The S arc of the nebula is a little brighter than the rest, but only very vaguely; certainly the S half is a bit brighter and better defined than the N. I’m sure this would be a really nice object even from 10˚ farther south.

Loren began packing up for the drive home, citing the wounded pride that comes with difficulty in finding some of one’s targets for the evening. He was doing far better than I was at the same stage of our observing careers, having completed the Herschel 400 only two years after getting involved with astronomy, and currently working on carbon stars; finding an individual, specific star in an out-of-the-way starfield in some obscure constellation takes a lot more skill than one might think.

“The Universe is a harsh mistress,” I replied, citing a much-loved (and very true) aphorism on amateur astronomy.

I’ve often likened astronomy to fishing—sometimes the process is the only reward a session provides. The fish aren’t biting; the faint glimmer of a galaxy just eludes even a skilled observer. There’s the enjoyment of the search, or of being on the water, but the fisherman or observer ends up with an empty bucket, and the communion with nature is the only takeaway. Regardless, it’s a more-rewarding pursuit than being blasted with televised nonsense or frittering away slivers of one’s lifespan (and intelligence) on Internet detritus.

Time and energy were running low. All that remained on my agenda for the evening was a re-observation of a planetary I’d caught before from Eureka, but on a much better night than this one; unsatisfied with my notes from that (seemingly-ancient) session, I’d resolved to do better. The results were mixed, to say the least. I’d hoped to also get the Bug Nebula, NGC 6302, only a few degrees away from my current target, but my phone battery had also dwindled to a minimum.

2:29
NGC 6337 (Sco): This is not an easy find compared to the last two, but it’s there and distinctly so; it’s much better in averted version. This is NGC 6337, the Cheerio Nebula, and with the greyness of the sky down there and the poor seeing, it’s a tough catch. It’s a very ill defined… I shouldn’t say ill-defined, because the edges are decently defined, but the glow itself is not really an easy one to hang on to. Moving the field, or moving the scope, helps a great deal, but it’s still pretty ghostly; you can barely see it in direct vision, and averted helps a great deal—in averted vision, it’s quite apparently round. But it’s just a ghostly disk about 0.75’ across. It’s relatively easy to see that there’s a nebula there; it just might catch the attention without knowing that it’s there, as it’s fairly obvious though quite faint. A number of faint field stars are nearby and detract from the view; the brightest of these are SF and NF, with the one to the SF the brightest in the field at 10th magnitude, while the one to the NF is 11.5 magnitude. The 10th-magnitude star is 3.5’ from the nebula, and the 11.5-magnitude star 2.75’, and those are separated by 4.25’. There’s a very, very thin scalene triangle of stars to the N slightly F of the nebula by 13’; the brighter of the two P stars is the brightest in the field, 18’ N slightly F the nebula, and it has SP it by 0.3’ the second star; those are 8th and 10th magnitude respectively; there’s a 9th-mag F very very slightly N of the brighter star by 2’, and that triangle is the signpost for finding the nebula. In the poor seeing, all of the stars look like they’re all underwater. The UHC just pops this sucker right out! The nebula is 0.75’ across, and with the UHC one can definitely suspect the annularity. The ring itself seems to stand out a bit more from the darker interior. Averted vision is still a big help in observing the nebula. There seems to be a star on the SP just outside the nebula that wasn’t possible to separate from the glow of the nebula without the filter; that’s unusual. But the central star and the other stars that I know are “within” the nebula aren’t visible at all. With the O-III, the view is roughly similar to that in the UHC, but the O-III brightens the center of the nebula to an extent that the annularity is harder to pick out. There’s no color, no central star… but in averted the annularity seems reasonably strong. The rim seems strongest on the NP. Using the 7mm Nagler, unfiltered, it’s still visible. There’s definitely a star on the SP just outside the nebula; there’s also one on the N very very slightly F as well. With the UHC/7mm, the nebula’s barely visible. The annularity now seems as if the F edge is better defined than the rest. The O-III doesn’t do a good job with it; especially in the poor seeing, although it does make the annularity stand out.

Loren left first, with some trepidation. Living in Springfield, he had a longer drive home than any of us. And none of us knew of any 24-hour gas stations along the way. I always made sure to keep the van at least ¾ full when driving out to Linslaw, but I’d also run afoul of the fuel gods while observing. It wasn’t a comfortable feeling. We only half-kiddingly promised to give him a lift home if he ran out of gas along the way; I offered to let him spend the rest of the night at the Caveman Cave if he didn’t think he could make it all the way home. My voice was thoroughly hoarse from all of the notetaking and chatter of the evening, and the need to talk above the considerable breeze that rumbled in the background (and frequently the foreground) of my audio notes.

And so closed May’s first Moon-dark phase. When we reconvened at month’s end, it would be under significantly-different circumstances.

(Loren made it home; the gas station on the far west outskirts of Eugene was indeed a 24-hour stop.)

Yet Another Strange Land

Our first observing session of the April Moon-dark phase happened without me; Robert and Jerry stopped by the Eagle’s Rest “amphitheater” on the 9th to catch a few photons before the clouds rolled in. It was two nights later, on Sunday the 11th, that I was able to come down from the trees and gather up some starlight. Of the rest of the EAS Irregulars (as we dubbed our little group-within-a-group), only Jerry was undeterred by the weather forecast.

I.The Clear Sky Chart forecast called for clear, mostly-transparent skies with poor seeing and 12-16 MPH winds, but that wasn’t quite what we got. Some high clouds drifted through during the early part of the session; this was common at Linslaw, with the ocean less than a half-hour’s crow flight away. The seeing wasn’t great, but wasn’t as terrible as expected, although the transparency wasn’t quite as good as the prediction, either—at least early on. The wind was another matter, though; it rumbled and roared on my audio recordings of the session, and occasionally drowned out my voice. It also made it difficult to work on planetary nebulae, as I had to let go of the scope at times in order to swap out eyepieces and nebula filters, leaving the scope at the mercy of the wind. (You wouldn’t think a 75-pound telescope would be vulnerable to a 20MPH wind, but such a finely-tuned and –balanced instrument is easy to blow off course in an unexpected gust.)

But we prevailed, as we had to in order to glean ancient starlight from the sky we were given.

04/11-12/21
LINSLAW POINT
SUNSET: 7:52 PM
MOON: New
SEEING: 6, 7
TRANSPARENCY: 6, 8
SQM: 21.78 
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to upper 30s; no dew; very windy; high clouds early
OTHERS PRESENT: JO
All observations: 12.5″f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (225x, 0.36˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

9:06
Struve 742 (Tau): Up here at Linslaw with Jerry on what’s turning into a breezy night, looking at a Struve double star I’ve stumbled across between the Crab Nebula and the outer horn of Taurus: the two are not quite equal magnitude; the preceding of the two (they’re roughly P-F) is a little bit fainter. I’m gonna say those are 7th and 7.3 magnitude, separated by about 7” [actually 4”]. 

I don’t normally take notes on double stars, unless they’re on the Astronomical League’s double-star list, and then there’s a sketch involved with the note-taking. But this one was pretty striking, and well worth the effort; I swept over it while looking at the Crab Nebula. And then it was on to planetary nebulae, and one that I’d started back in March only to give up for a better night; tonight wasn’t great, but was better than my previous attempt.

The wind and the cold combined to make the observing rather uncomfortable; I was already stopping to put my gloves on.

10:01
Abell 21 (Gem): Abell 21 is the first object on tonight’s agenda here at Linslaw, on a not horrendously cold, but very gusty, windy night so far on the crag. Seeing and transparency are a little bit iffy, or a little bit variable, rather, so things have come and gone a little bit; at the current moment it looks a bit better than it did earlier, so we’re gonna presumptively go ahead and start the notes here. The nebula is a very, very indistinct gossamer glow some 12’ roughly SP-NF, and is definitely weakest on the NP. I unfortunately know a little bit more about this nebula visually than I like to know before I find something, but it is definitely distinctly not a full annulus—rather a crescent—with the opening to the P, especially the NP. The brightest portions of the nebula are those to the F and SP. The F-most (and brightest) portion lies between a 10.5-magnitude star 7’ S very very slightly F the nebula’s center and an 8th-magnitude star 18’ N very very slightly F the center. Those two stars are about 24’ apart. 9’ N of the 10.5 magnitude star (so between the two stars) is an 11.5-magnitude star, and one of the brightest portions of the nebula is 4’ N slightly P that star; it’s a very ill-defined slightly-brighter patch roughly 1.25’ diameter; it’s very very very indistinct and tenuous. Running from that brighter patch and through the 11.5-magnitude star for 8’ is one of the brighter arcs of the nebula, helping to define the nebula’s F edge. 6’ NP the 10.5-magnitude star is the middle of a 6’ long spray of ten 13th/14th-magnitude stars; that spray runs NP-SF. N of the middle of that spray by 3.67’ is another very ill-defined patch of nebulosity; it’s on the nebula’s SP quadrant and due N of the middle of the spray, and is roughly 1.67’ diameter. There’s not really anything that could be identified as the central star; it’s so poorly-defined that it’s hard enough just to identify the center of the nebula. At the moment, the F arc of the nebula is a little bit more apparent, running along through the 11.5-magnitude star.

With the UHC… that’s really impressive! One would expect the glow of the nebula to pop out more, and it really does; the arc on the F side, in particular, takes on a whole new life. The filter almost completes the arc of the whole nebula, from the F side all the way around; the brighter patches I’d noted previously are considerably brighter still. In averted vision, the whole area of the nebula seems filled with nebulosity, as opposed to being a crescent shape; it seems more completely filled-in than it is in reality. The arc to the SP is substantially brighter and runs 3’ x 1’ P slightly N-F slightly S. It’s gained a lot of “bulk”; this is the area the filter improves the most, even more than the F-most. From the 11.5-mag star on the F arc up to the brighter node on the NP is significantly brighter as well—not quite as much as the SP portion, but it makes the whole F arc of the nebula substantially more impressive. Rocking the scope back and forth really brings out the interior of the glow, where the annulus should be. (Got a lot to talk about for something so indistinct and vague.) This is really impressive with the UHC. The NP quadrant, where the nebula’s kind of broken open, almost has a straightish edge across it, that edge of the really faint nebulosity; it’s not razor-straight but generally so from the N edge down to the SP. The O-III really brings the whole nebula into view. Those two brighter chunks are quite obvious now, especially for an Abell planetary. The F (outer) rim of the F arc, between the 10.5- and 11.5-magnitude stars, is a little better defined, a little bit sharper than the rest of it (I didn’t notice this with the UHC). This is not at all an obvious object, but averted vision and rocking the scope make it stand out from the background.

While I was taking notes, Jerry and I also discussed a couple of extragalactic supernovae that were currently visible: one in NGC 3310—which Jerry looked for with his 12” binoscope, but couldn’t find; and the one in IC 3322A, which he did find, and which I would visit later.

And then it was off on an extensive hunt for another planetary rather similar to Abell 21. The wind continued to rage (somewhat mildly, admittedly, but it felt like rage to those of us on the sandstone crag).

11:05
JnEr1 (Lyn): After a great deal of searching and having to start over a couple of times during the search, using 27 Lyncis as the “home star,” I have finally—and only through the use of the UHC filter—been able to extract Jones-Emberson 1, the Headphones Nebula, from the background. It’s being very difficult tonight; I’ve seen it before, under slightly worse conditions darkness-wise, and it appeared better than this, but we’re gonna take what we’ve got. The nebula–and I have the UHC in at present–is a glow of approximately 6’ diameter. It has a couple of embedded stars in it: a 13th-magnitude star just outside the N edge of the nebula, and a 13.5-magnitude star to the S that’s somewhat inside the nebula. F slightly N of the nebula by 7.5’ is a 10.5-magnitude star that serves as the F-most vertex of a small isosceles triangle, the N and S sides of which are 2.25’ and the P side of which is 1.67’; the NP vertex is 12.5 magnitude and the SP vertex is 14th. N very slightly P the nebula by about 9’ is an 11th-magnitude star. Due P the nebula by about 6.5’ is an 11.5-magnitude star, and then almost due S of that star is another 11.5-magnitude star which lies 8’ from the middle of the nebula. Every so often the transparency seems to improve a little bit, and in averted vision a hint of annularity to the nebula becomes visible, with brighter portions along the rim to the NP and SF; these are very indistinct though—this nebula’s actually worse than Abell 21 in that regard; the outer edges here are much less distinct than they were in the Medusa. With no filter, I’d be really hard-pressed to tell there’s anything in the field, even in averted vision. [There’s a bright asterism that I’ve used as “home” for the nebula, consisting of an almost-equilateral triangle of 9.5/10th-mag stars, and that is 1.3/1.75’ on a side; S and SP that triangle is an arc of three, the N-most of which is the brightest in the field at 9th magnitude, and then P very very slightly S of that by 4’ is an 11.5-mag star; from that star P somewhat N by 2.67’ is a 10.5-mag star.] With the O-III, the disk of the nebula is visible in direct vision, but there’s not even the sense of annularity there was in the UHC; I’m still getting a little more definition on the NP and SF arcs, where the “headphone cups” must be, although this is in part an averted-vision thing. Even though it doesn’t show a regular annulus, there’s definitely irregularity in the interior brightness, but it’s very indistinct as to discreet details. (Rocking the scope helps.)

Jerry was currently observing one of the many galaxies dubbed “The Needle Galaxy,” this one NGC 4424 in Canes Venatici. I turned my attention to an object I’d attempted to find several times over the years, unsuccessfully, and one not on any of the AL lists I’d been working on. It had been discussed recently online, and that discussion had refueled my determination to find it. With clear(ish) skies and some extra time, I wasn’t going to let it go this time, even with the wind howling in the background.

11:34
Frosty Leo (IRAS 09371+1212; Leo): One that’s not on the Astronomical League list, but has been much discussed on CloudyNights this week; this is Frosty Leo, IRAS 09371+1212, and boy, is it a tiny little bastard, but one that’s considerably bright. Even in the 14mm it’s clearly non-stellar: it actually looks extended N very very very slightly P-S very very very slightly F and perhaps 8” x 5”. N slightly F this protoplanetary by 0.75’ is a 12.5-magnitude star, and that star is the S-most vertex of a diamond that consists of two other 12.5-magnitude stars and a 14th-magnitude star: N slightly P that first 12.5-magnitude star by 2.5’ is another of the same magnitude, and then NF the first star by 2.75’ is yet another of magnitude 12.5, and then 3.5’ N slightly F from the first 12.5-magnitude star is the 14th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is N slightly P the nebula by 12’ and is 8th magnitude, and it has 2.5’ N slightly P it an 11.5-magnitude star, and then S of the nebula is a line of four stars that’s about 10’ long and consists of three 12th/13th-magnitude stars (actually two more of magnitude 12.5 and a pair that’s almost due S of the nebula; the pair consists of 13th- and a 14th-magnitude stars, separated SP-NF each other by 10”, with the SP star the brighter), and an 11.5-magnitude star which is at the SP end of that line; the line is actually angled P somewhat S-F somewhat N and the F-most star (one of the 12.5-mags) is F somewhat S of the nebula by 5.75’. This nebula definitely needs the 7mm Nagler, but first… I know it’s a protoplanetary but I’m going to try the UHC anyway, even though I don’t think it’ll do much of anything. And my suspicions are confirmed; the UHC doesn’t really do much of anything to improve the view. It’ll be a function of magnification to make any difference. So because the UHC did nothing, I’m going to skip trying the O-III and just plop the 7mm in here. In the 7mm, every so often the transparency clears, giving the nebula a distinctly bilobed character. It’s clearly elongated NsP-SsF, and big enough that I might’ve given this a second look while sweeping the field. The N lobe looks a little smaller than the S one, and in moments of great clarity, there’s a (possibly illusory?) trace of space between the two lobes.

Jerry had somewhat miraculously tracked down Hoag’s Object—a perfect ring galaxy in Serpens, and a difficult target even in much larger scopes—in his binoscope while I’d been taking notes, but he did stop over to check out Frosty Leo. (It’s called “Frosty Leo,” by the way, because of the amount of water ice that’s been detected within the nebula.)

One character flaw that had been bothering me in my recent observations was my unwillingness to use more of my eyepiece arsenal in observing some of these difficult objects. In addition to the 14mm and 7mm eyepieces (the latter belonging to EAS), I had at my disposal a 6mm Radian, a 4.8mm Nagler, and my prized 10mm Delos… none of which I used with any regularity, and all of which would be useful on these varied planetaries. Why wasn’t I using the 4.8 Nagler on these tiny objects? Why didn’t I use the 10mm Delos on the larger ones like Abell 21, where the 7mm was too much power but where the 158x the Delos offered might be perfect? Part of this was the constant worry of having to clean the prized Delos if it was to get dirty somehow, but that didn’t explain my reluctance to use, say, the 4.8 Nagler, which would be eminently useful in gleaning extra detail from the stellar and barely non-stellar objects I was running across. I made a mental note to do so in the future, as there was no good reason not to.

I spent a fair amount of time searching for Abell planetaries 35 and 36—the former in Hydra, the latter in Virgo. These are huge nebulae, among the biggest in the sky, but devilishly faint and vulnerable to imperfect sky conditions. Neither was able to grant me even the faintest trace of their existence, even using my 24mm Meade SWA eyepiece. Of all of the planetary nebulae on the AL list, these were proving to be beyond the 12.5” scope and my eyes; it wouldn’t be until my sojourns in Cygnus that I would strike out again so thoroughly to find one of these dead star remnants.

Jerry had already observed the bright nova in Cassiopeia, which was remarkably still visible, and had moved on to another extragalactic supernova—this one in NGC 5018. Meanwhile, I was aiming my own scope at the previously-noted IC 3322A, which in addition to currently hosting a supernova was also a member of the Flat Galaxies Catalogue.

12:32
IC 3322ASN2021hiz; NGCs 4365, 4370 (Vir): Having struck out with the last couple of planetaries that I needed (Abells 35 and 36), I’m taking a bit of a detour to get a couple of nice flat galaxies in, starting with a really impressive one that is hosting at the moment a very bright supernova. We’re in the head of Virgo, where everything is of course galaxies; this is IC 3322A. The galaxy is 2.67’ long by about 10” wide, and the supernova is very much at the N tip, possibly 8” from the N end of the galaxy on the inside of the galaxy’s halo. The galaxy is elongated 150˚ PA. It has the classic flat-galaxy brightness profile to it: little in the way of nucleus or central bulge; arms fading out at the ends. There’s mottling evident along the galaxy’s length, which isn’t often enough the case with these flat galaxies. The S end is much less distinct than the N, but it could just be the supernova drawing attention to that side; the supernova is as bright as 12th magnitude. This is definitely one of the more impressive extragalactic supernovae I’ve seen. There’s no nucleus, but 1.67’ F the middle of the galaxy is a 14.5-magnitude star; that star has another of the same brightness due P by 0.75’. NP the galaxy by 5.5’ is a 10th-magnitude star, and then P very slightly S of the galaxy by 4’ is a 13th-magnitude star. 20’ P somewhat N of the galaxy is a much larger, brighter galaxy [NGC 4365]; very bright and unmistakable, with a stellar nucleus and brighter core; the core is 0.3’ diameter but gradually arrived at; the halo is 2.75’ x 1.75’ and is elongated P slightly S-F slightly N. That galaxy is bracketed by a 12th-magnitude star to the N slightly P by 3.3’ and an 11th-magnitude star S somewhat F of the galaxy by 5.75’. The larger galaxy doesn’t come to a crisp halo/core distinction and is not well defined; the edges just fade out into the background. NF that galaxy by 10’ (and therefore NP IC 3322A by 18’) is a smaller, much more diffuse galaxy [NGC 4370], with a very poorly-concentrated core, a diffuse poorly-defined halo and no visible nucleus. This galaxy is elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S, 1.67’ x 1.0’. [I could probably go on for hours about all the galaxies up here!] In the 7mm, the large galaxy doesn’t show much more detail. The smaller one is a little irregular in brightness across its halo. IC 3322A is just a really nice edge-on galaxy, although the supernova kind of overshadows the rest of it. At this magnification, the galaxy extends N a little bit beyond the SN. A nice flat galaxy for the 12.5-inch scope!

I had previously observed NGCs 4365 and 4370 before, but had made no mention of IC 3322A; I had either not seen it, or had ignored it because it wasn’t part of my agenda that week. This time, I missed IC 3322 to the due N of IC 3322A, which was also in the field, despite panning around looking for other galaxies. So much for being observant!

Having had a productive observing session, and having had enough of the cold and the wind, we decided to save some energy for the next night (i.e. later that day), which also boasted a clear forecast, albeit with somewhat better seeing… and even more wind. We called it a night, having seen multiple extragalactic supernovae and a few of the larger planetary nebulae that I was already late in getting to.

II. Frank joined Jerry and I later that night at Linslaw. I think we might have bailed on the night—or gone elsewhere—had we anticipated the even stronger winds that awaited us when we got to the crag, although the conditions weren’t enough to deter us from setting up.

I had brought along the 20” Obsession this time, having decided to take a break from planetary nebulae to focus on flat galaxies (and other objects, some just for the hell of it). You might expect the 20” to be more stable in the wind than the 12.5”, but this doesn’t account for the amount of surface facing the wind and the even-greater smoothness of the 20” azimuth bearings. Several times I had to hold onto the scope to avoid it blowing around in circles. Jerry’s binoscope was heavier and less-slick in azimuth; it also didn’t have a wind-catching shroud around it like the Obsession did. Frank’s own binoscope (which he had brought of his myriad scopes) was similarly more solid in the wind, although Frank himself was fairly displeased with the conditions on the crag.

04/12-13/21
LINSLAW POINT
SUNSET: 7:53 PM
MOON: 1 day (set at 8:41 PM; 1% illuminated)
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.58 
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to upper 40s; no dew; very windy; wind eventually drove us off mountain
OTHERS PRESENT: JO, FS
All observations: 20″f/5 Obsession Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (181x, 0.45˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (363x, 0.21˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

10:16
IC 2531 (Ant): We’re back at Linslaw for Round Two and starting off with an obscure one way down low in Antlia, IC 2531. The seeing is pretty crummy down here—it of course has moments where it’s a little bit better; the scope collimation isn’t great, either, as this is the first session since we cleaned the mirror and disassembled the scope. This galaxy is a huge kind-of-a little-brother to NGC 891 in Andromeda. Certainly in the pictures that’s what we’re looking at here; it’s a long thin streak with a noticeable central hub. (I actually “discovered” this one first on photographs and decided that I had to look at it.) But the dust lane that helps make it a clone of 891 is nowhere near visible… or at least obvious; the seeing down that low is no better than a 4, so it’s not the best of conditions, but this may be the best chance I get at it, given how low it is and how briefly it’s visible from this far north. The galaxy is no less than 5’ long; it’s 0.5’ wide at the hub. It looks as though there’s texture to it that should be visible but is just out of reach, because of the seeing and transparency at this altitude; it kind of hints, especially in averted vision, that there’s more detail that’s just below the threshold of visibility right now. It’s situated in a surprisingly active field for being in Antlia, which is always thought to be pretty desolate (Luginbuhl and Skiff refer to it as “the astral Empty Quarter”). The galaxy is pretty close to due P-F in elongation; might be 85° position angle, maybe even 90°. It’s really hard to get a fix on because of the altitude/declination and the poor seeing. There are several notable groupings of stars around the galaxy, starting just off the P end, 3.5’ P very very slightly S of the Galaxy’s center, at a 13.5-magnitude star with another of the same magnitude P very very slightly S of it by 0.67’. NP the central hub by 2.25’ is a 14th-magnitude star with another of the same magnitude N slightly P it by 0.75’. There’s another 14th magnitude star FsS of the hub of the galaxy by 2’, and there’s also, 3.3’ F very very slightly N of the galaxy’s central hub (so just north of the F end of the galaxy from the central hub) a 14.5-magnitude star. 6.5’ due N of the galaxy by is the middle star of a roughly N-S arc of three stars; that star is 12th magnitude and has another of the same magnitude 1.25’ S very slightly F it, and also has an 11.5-magnitude star N very slightly F it by the same distance. The S-most of that bend of three, the second of the 12th-magnitude stars, also has another of equal magnitude F it by 1.5’, and that star has a 13.5-magnitude star 0.67’ N very slightly P it. There’s a bright right triangle of stars that I actually used to help find the galaxy; this is SF the galaxy, with its S-most (and brightest, at 9th magnitude) vertex actually 10’ due SF the galaxy; the right-angle vertex is N somewhat F it by 1.75’, and the third vertex is 1’ NP the right-angle vertex; those two are both 10.5 magnitude. There’s no point in using higher magnification given the lousy seeing down here, but I’m plenty impressed by the view in the 14mm.

Jerry and I both commented on how fine a galaxy IC 2531 was, and how being so far north kept us from winnowing out the fine objects in that part of the sky.

Having extracted the gorgeous galaxy from the reaches of Antlia, I spent the remainder of the evening on the ladder, observing targets in parts of the sky more suited to the conditions, even as being on the ladder was less confortable due to the regular gusts of cold air that billowed around our little “mountaintop.” To say the wind was howling by this point would be underselling it a bit; the noise on my audio was a constant roar. (Perhaps because of the winds, Frank was discussing air shows he’d been involved with, as well as some pretty harrowing tales of his time in Vietnam.)

11:19
Hickson 40 (Hya): In the 20”, this couldn’t be more obvious, and considering that it’s a bunch of PGC galaxies, that’s pretty impressive. A great little compact group! It’s located roughly halfway between two 10.5-magnitude stars. There are three distinct objects here: the brightest galaxy [HCG40A] is approximately in the middle [wind blows scope away from my hands]; it has a stellar nucleus (a bright one), a compact little core, and a pretty well-defined 0.3’ x 0.25’ halo elongated N-S. NF that galaxy by 0.75’ is the second brightest [HCG40D], and that one has a brighter core and a PvsS-FvsN halo that spans 12” x 10” and is more diffuse than that of the brightest of the group; it also seems that there’s a threshold star on the F slightly S side of this second galaxy but no visible nucleus. Just S of the largest of these galaxies is a larger indistinct glow that consists of multiple galaxies, including two edge-ons [HCG40C/E] that I’m not able to separate/resolve at this magnification. That glow is very generally NsP-SsF oriented and in very brief moments, it looks separable into its constituent galaxies. At the S end of the group, in moments of better seeing/transparency, there’s an identifiable core and a very very faint substellar nucleus, but the two edge-on galaxies are just a diffuse indistinct glow between that last, S-most one [HCG40B] and the largest one. That third group (the two edge-ons and the S-most discrete object) is 1.25’ x 0.67’ in total. The brightest of the galaxies is almost exactly between the two 10.5-magnitude stars, 10’ from each. The 10.5-magnitude star to the SP is the S-most vertex (and SP vertex) of a right triangle, with its right-angle vertex NF that star by 2.67’; NvsP the right-angle vertex by 2.3’ is the third vertex, which also lies exactly in line with the brightest galaxy in the group and the star to the SP; the right-angle vertex is 12th magnitude and the third is 11.5. Due S of Hickson 40 by 16’ is another 10.5-magnitude star. [I have to let go of the scope for a second to get the 7mm Nagler so I can split the galaxies apart; this is risky in the wind. I’m impressed that I could let the scope go that long and the wind didn’t blow away the galaxies!]  The two N components are very much separated out in the 7mm, with a star on the SsF edge of the N-most; that N-most galaxy has both a threshold star on its NP edge and a stellar nucleus. The glow between the “big” galaxy and the one to the farthest S definitely has a definite shape to it, although it couldn’t be identified as intersecting edge-on galaxies; the more P of the two in that glow has more “presence” to it than the other. I can definitely see three main galaxies, while the fourth and fifth blur together. The third, the one to the far S of the group, has the occasional flash of a very faint substellar nucleus and a tight core that bleeds out into its compact halo. 

I called Jerry over for a look at HCG 40; Frank had already started packing up. 

12:44
NGC 3365 (Sex):NGC 3365 is set in one of the most barren fields I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a big flat galaxy with almost nothing within 10’ of it; it’s pretty close to N-S in elongation; it looks to be 170° in PA. It spans 3.5’ x not quite 0.5’. No nucleus is visible, and there’s not much in the way of a central bulge; the illumination is pretty even except at the very ends of the spiral arms. 4.5’ NF from the center of the galaxy is a 15th-magnitude star; SF it by 8’ is an 13.5-magnitude star, and then from that star P somewhat S (so SvsP the galaxy) by about by 10’ is a 14th-magnitude star. This is how much I’m for reaching for field stars here! There are a couple of brighter ones on the periphery, and there’s also a triangle within a triangle outside the N edge of the field, whose N-most vertex is the brightest star in the area at 9th magnitude. I don’t know what’s more intriguing about this: the flat galaxy or the absolutely barren field immediately around it; the emptiness of the field definitely makes the galaxy hard to miss. The galaxy seems to be a little bit more diffuse on the S end than on the N, but the galaxy doesn’t really seem to have any mottling or anything else to it detail-wise; it’s a very smooth brightness gradient.

While I was taking notes on NGC 3365, Jerry was observing M92, the “other” globular cluster in Hercules. We traded views during a lull in the weather.

Just as on the previous night, I struck out on Abell 35, the large planetary in Hydra. Either I was going to need perfect conditions to find it (and Abell 36), or I was probably going to have to head south to view them above the horizon muck and the distant (but prominent) glow from Roseburg. So I wandered around the sky a bit, observing familiar targets with the huge scope, and finally settling on one that I’d never bothered with before.

1:56
NGCs 4676A, 4676B (ICs 819, 820; The Mice; Com): We are pretty close to the end of the night here; it’s been a good night despite the wind and the chill. We’re closing out with an interesting sight, The Mice in Coma Berenices, which aren’t on any of my lists except the mental one I keep. (These are pretty close to the meridian, so it’s a long way up the ladder.) These galaxies are both pretty small; they’re actually quite similar in appearance. The more P of the two, which is elongated roughly due N-S, is quite diffuse, reasonably well-defined, and has a somewhat brighter core but no nucleus; the main “body” of the galaxy is 0.3’ long, but the tail (it’s the only visible tail between the two of them) is elongated due N-S, but bends P just a tiny bit at the very N end; the tail is 1.25’ long. The second galaxy is brighter and more concentrated, with a more-obvious core than the first, and is slightly-better defined; the core is reasonably large compared to the halo. The galaxy is elongated 0.3’ x 0.25’ and is elongated SP-NF; it has no tail visible. These two form an almost-right triangle (as the right-angle vertex) with a 10th-magnitude star almost due F (a bit S) by 5.75’ and a 12th-magnitude star 9’ almost due S of the galaxies. The 12th-magnitude star has a 14th-magnitude star NsP it by 2’; the 10th-magnitude star to the F has a pair of 15th-magnitude stars SsF it by 0.5’ and 0.1’, so those are roughly in a line. In the 7mm Nagler, the galaxies blur out badly, but the extra magnification does yield a bit more detail. The more F of the pair may have a tiny very, very faint stellar nucleus that flashes every now and then, and definitely has a better-defined core that the P galaxy; in the P galaxy, the core is smeared into the halo with little definition. There’s about 0.3’ of space separating the two galaxy cores.

Having survived the conditions until after 2 AM, we agreed that it was time for lower elevations and warm drives home. My notes said that “the wind drove us off the mountain,” but considering that we’d been there for more than five hours already, that would’ve been hyperbole.

III. Two nights later—after having thawed out—I joined Dan B back at the crag. The CSC forecast was mixed with regards to sky conditions, but showed little dew and even less wind. With the previous session’s gale still fresh in the memory, Frank and Jerry opted for the amphitheater rather than the darker but more “elemental” observing to be had at Linslaw Point.

So we made it a bit of a competition, texting across the Willamette Valley to compare notes on the observing conditions. Not long after we’d gotten set up, Dan and I knew we’d gotten the better end of the deal; the amphitheater crew was already dealing with partly cloudy skies. We could see those same clouds low in the east from the edge of the crag; it was only a matter of time before they arrived our way.

With the Moon still present early, I turned the giant scope toward it, spending considerable time examining areas along the lunar terminator—specifically the region around Mare Fecunditatis, and especially the chain of three deep, shadow-ridden craters on the N side of the mare. I’m not much of a lunar observer, and am pretty unfamiliar with most of the surface features—I know the Straight Wall, and the Lunar Alps, and the craters Tycho and Copernicus, and that’s about it. Yet another question I should answer: given that the Moon makes deep-sky observing impossible at least two weeks each month, why don’t I spend some time observing the nearest world whose surface we can see?

As the Moon sank toward the horizon, it was evident that the sky crud Jerry and Frank were contending with was having some impact as it spread west, toward where Dan and I were set up. I’d taken some readings with the SQM, only to disagree with them from just eyeballing the sky; it didn’t look as good as the numbers indicated. But we were already set up, and I wasn’t going to abandon the session just because of some high cirrus haze… at least not while we weren’t totally clouded out. So it was time for deep-sky, and making do with what the sky-gods gave us.

04/14-15/21
LINSLAW POINT
SUNSET: 7:56 PM
MOON: 3 days (set at 10:46 PM; 8% illuminated)
SEEING: 6, 7
TRANSPARENCY: 6
SQM: 21.51 
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to upper 50s; no dew; slight breeze, high cirrus haze to the E that became problematic later in the session
OTHERS PRESENT: DB
All observations: 20″f/5 Obsession Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (181x, 0.45˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (363x, 0.21˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

10:24
NGC 2997 (Ant): I had not intended to take notes on NGC 2997 tonight, but I’m gonna do it anyway—this is too good a look at it to pass up, even as down in the muck as it is; the transparency’s not awful down there, but the seeing is pretty atrocious. This is such a wonderful galaxy in photographs, and this is a really nice look at it here, despite everything working against it. The galaxy is elongated P-F and covers a considerable 8.0’ x 5.0’. It’s difficult to trace the outer halo here; I know it’s face on, obviously, but I didn’t notice a lot of the halo at first so I overlooked it in the eyepiece. It’s very diffuse and poorly-defined, with a 0.5’ core  that is not particularly well defined, and every so often it seems as if there might be a very broad nucleus in there, but I’m not sure that’s true. From the middle of the core, about 2.67’ SP, there’s an 11th-magnitude star that’s inside the edge of the halo there, and halfway between the core and that star there’s a darker gap in the halo that has to be space between the spiral arms; that gap stretches from S of the core counter-clockwise up to the N and is about 3.5’ long—from S of the core it sweeps NP, N, and NF. The halo itself is quite mottled or irregular in brightness.  Due F the core by 3.25’, toward the outer edge of the halo, there’s a very very very faint (14.5 magnitude?) star that doesn’t quite seem totally stellar; this could be just the effect of being inside the halo. That star has SF it by 1.75’ a 14th-magnitude star that is the right angle vertex of a triangle, with the star in that edge of the halo and a 13.5-magnitude star due NF the RA vertex by 2.25’. F somewhat S of the core [??] by about 1’ there’s another glimmer inside the halo that’s hard to define; it also looks non-stellar. I’m losing some of my definition of the galaxy here, probably due to the high cirrus crud that’s over in the west; the moon is still up which is not helping either, although it’s in a much better position than it was when I started. The part of the halo from N of the galaxy’s core and sweeping down toward that star on the F edge is just a tiny bit better defined there; this may be the edge of that spiral arm. (There’s quite a lot of detail to be had here.) Almost due P the galaxy, near the P edge of the field (so 12’) is an 8.5-magnitude star; there’s a 9.5-magnitude star F slightly N of that one by 4’. F slightly S of the galaxy, also by about 12’, is a 7.5-magnitude star that is the right-angle vertex of a very bright triangle of stars; 5’ due S of that one is an 8th-magnitude star, and F the right-angle vertex by 7’ is a 7th-magnitude star. From the 8th-magnitude star, S very slightly F by 4’, is a 10.5-magnitude star. The northern arm of the galaxy that sweeps down to the F side seems to be significantly better defined in moments of better sky, and that dark gap between the core and the star to the P somewhat S edge is quite well defined, especially in averted vision; the arm that the gap is separating from the core is not really that well-defined, and seems to be the weaker of the two arms. 

By this point, some honest-to-Crom clouds had rolled in, although they were fairly confined to portions of the sky I could avoid. (Of course, the clouds one could see usually meant that there was a lot of higher-altitude stuff we couldn’t see.) Jerry had texted Dan: he and Frank were reduced to observing through sucker holes (clear “windows” in the sky that promised some fleeting observing, only to cloud over just as the observer pointed his scope that direction). The wind had also picked up a bit, although it was still bearable and had little impact on the observing.

11:19
PGC 36026 (MCG-3-30-3; Crt): I’m here in Crater with the somewhat difficult, diffuse PGC 36026; this flat galaxy has some decent size to it, but no real concentration or internal structure or much of anything anything detail-wise to it at all: no nucleus, no central bulge, just a very evenly illuminated streak (and faint at that, at least in the 14 mm). The galaxy extends 2.0’ x 0.3’ and is pretty much 180° PA, maybe 175° at least. It doesn’t look 100% straight; there’s a little bit of a kink to it on the N end where it bends very slightly F. (Averted vision is your friend with this one, especially as the seeing’s still not good down there.) It has a number of faint stars nearby: 1.67’ due P the galaxy is a 14th-magnitude star that has a 14.5-magnitude star P very veryslightly S by another 1.3’; the first star also has a 15th-magnitude star S slightly F it by 1.3’. 2.5’ SF from the center of the galaxy is another 14.5-magnitude star. N very very slightly P the galaxy by 4.5’ is an 11th-magnitude star; there’s an 11.5-magnitude star NF the galaxy by 7’. 13’ N of the galaxy is a 9.5-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field. With the 7mm Nagler, the extra magnification almost kills the galaxy; the 14mm is a much better view.

I lost the galaxy during the eyepiece switch, while trying to wrestle the 7mm Nagler into the focuser; I ended up pushing too hard and throwing the scope off target. Fortunately, it was a minor matter to get back on target.

And as with the planetary nebulae, I don’t understand my reticence in using the 10mm Delos, which would’ve provided a better view of the galaxy. I need to move past this; the Delos isn’t doing any good just sitting in my eyepiece case.

I took twenty minutes to try to track down the eye-bleedingly faint globular cluster Palomar 3 in the dim constellation Sextans. Try as I might, though, I couldn’t ferret out the cluster from the dark grey background, even though I knew I had the field exactly correct. I suspect the poorer transparency was to blame (at least that’s what I’m going with). I planned to make another attempt on the cluster when I next had the 20” scope out at Linslaw, but we all know what happens to such plans.

I stayed in the borders of Sextans for my next target, but it was harder to track down than I’d anticipated; I’d accidentally left the comet tracking on in Sky Safari, which filled the screen with spurious objects that looked like stars at first glance on the screen.  I also had to swap out my two-step stepladder for the bigger 6’ ladder, which surprisingly felt more stable than the smaller one. (I never thought I’d say that.)

12:10
UGC 5708 (Sex): Going for some higher-declination galaxies now, so I can stay out of the murkier reaches of the sky.This guy is UGC 5708 in Sextans, and it took quite a while to figure out where it was. I’m still thinking that the transparency’s going to hell on us here… but the galaxy is another one of those that’s almost due N-S in orientation; it’s pretty much 180° PA. This galaxy’s difficult to observe because it not only has a bright star on the due N, it also has a faint one just P it toward the S end. The galaxy is 2.0’ x 0.25’ and is pretty diffuse but not a difficult find. I noticed it right away, but it’s almost even harder to study it when it’s centered in the field better—the star on the N end just really screws up the observing; it’s about 11.5 magnitude and really makes it hard to get a good read on the galaxy; the star just P the galaxy near the S end is much closer to threshold, probably 15th magnitude. The galaxy doesn’t have a classic flat galaxy profile (no nucleus, no central hub); it’s even a little bit mottled, a little bit irregular in brightness. SF it by 4’ is the F-most star in a P very very slightly S-F very very slightly N elongated diamond of 12th-magnitude stars: from that star 4.25’ P somewhat S is another of 12th magnitude, maybe slightly fainter than the first; from that star 2.75’ P somewhat N is an 11.5-magnitude star; from that star 2.75’ F slightly N is another 11th-magnitude star that has one of 15th magnitude 0.75’ N very very slightly P it; the galaxy lies N very slightly F of the 15th-magnitude star by 2’. With the 7mm Nagler, the galaxy is even more difficult—the extra magnification is not doing the galaxies any favors tonight; I’ve got a lock on the star P the galaxy’s S end, but the galaxy is wiped out by the extra magnification; even in averted vision, it’s hard to see.

Dan had work the next morning and had to leave; he’d packed up while I was observing UGC 5708, apologizing for his departure, then headed off down the tricky gravel road that spiraled down the side of the crag.

12:45
UGC 5341UGC 5339 A/BPGC 28676 (Leo): At a really interesting field here near the Sickle of Leo, almost exactly halfway between the end of the Sickle and the star just above Regulus. My primary target is the flat galaxy UGC 5371, and of the ones that I’ve done so far tonight, this is definitely the most difficult; although I’ve often passed on the really-difficult flat galaxies in favor of those that are more “worthy” of taking notes on, I’m doing a note on this one anyway because of the excellent field it’s in. The galaxy is elongated about 45° PA (so due SP-NF), and is just a faint diffuse glow about 2.0’ x 10”, without much of any detail to be seen in it; it’s very, very difficult to pick up anything visually. It’s halfway between and just P the point halfway between two stars of 14.5 and 14th-magnitude, with the fainter to the S very slightly F and the brighter N very slightly F, each by 2.25’.  N somewhat F by 9’ is an 8.5-magnitude star with a 13th-magnitude star 1.3’ NsF it; F slightly S of the galaxy by 8’ is a 9.5-magnitude star. What’s really interesting here aside from the main galaxy—which is really just a phantasm of a galaxy—S very slightly P the galaxy by 10’ is the brighter pair of a trio of galaxies; these two are obviously in contact; these are brighter than the third member of the group and lie S slightly F and N slightly P each other; the one S slightly F [UGC 5339B; MCG+4-24-005] is 0.25’ and has a brighter but more diffuse core and a not particularly well-defined halo; every so often there’s a trace of a stellar nucleus; this galaxy is 0.3’ x 0.25’, elongated P slightly N-F slightly S (position angle was hard to acquire given the faintness and size of the galaxy). The galaxy to the N slightly P [UGC 5339A; MCG+04-24-004] has a little more concentration to its core but no nucleus, and is generally even less defined than the previous. The cores of these two galaxies are separated by 0.3’, center-to-center. 2’ P somewhat N the more N of the pair is another galaxy [PGC 28676] of the same size, this one fainter and even more diffuse, with a slightly-brighter core; this galaxy is much more difficult than the pair. Those three galaxies make up the F edge of a diamond: 2.75’ S of the S-most of the three is a 14th-magnitude star; there’s a 13th-magnitude star 2.5’ P very very slightly S of the S-most of those galaxies; those two stars and the three galaxies make up the diamond. Back to UGC 5341 with the 7mm (even though haven’t had good results with it tonight): UGC 5341 has roughly faded into the background, and is now a very, very difficult catch; the others are somehow still present. The more northern member of the pair is elongated S very slightly P-N very slightly F and has a fainter core than its companion. Every so often, 0.67’ NF the N member of the pair, it looks like there’s another galaxy or a threshold star: very small, brutally faint… I think it’s another galaxy. No, it’s a threshold star. An excellent field!

Having worked through several denizens of the Flat Galaxy Catalogue, I ended the night—and the month, given the current Moon phase—with my second new Hickson group in as many nights.

1:45
Hickson 67 (Vir): My last one for the night: this is Hickson 67 in Virgo, a fine little group. It’s only minutes past the meridian, so it’s in good observing position, and the seeing is kind of good right now; at the moment, though, in the 14mm, I’m only seeing two obvious galaxies: there’s an elliptical [NGC 5306;HCG67A] and then 3.5’ NP the elliptical is an edge-on [HCG67B] that’s much bigger and is elongated not quite SP-NF, maybe 20° PA. There’re also some distractive elements here, because due S of the elliptical galaxy by 5.5’ is an annoying 9th-magnitude star, and then NP the elliptical galaxy by about 0.67’ is a 14th-magnitude star, and then P slightly S of thatstar by 1.25’ is a double star or pair, NP-SF to each other, with the brighter one to the SF, and those are separated by about 15”; those are 15th and 14.5 magnitude. The 9th-magnitude star to S is part of a kind of a funky T-shaped asterism that stretches from a 14th-magnitude star P very very slightly S of the elliptical galaxy by 6.5’ and stretches SF, runs through the 9th-magnitude star, and the top of the T is formed by two pairs that are SF and due F the 9th-magnitude star. But the elliptical galaxy is 1.0’ round, with a thin, poorly-defined halo and a somewhat-brighter core that takes up at least a third of the galaxy’s diameter; there’s a fairly smooth transition from halo to core, and there also seems to be a very faint substellar nucleus there. The edge-on galaxy to the NP is 2.25’ x 0.3’ and in keeping with the rest of my flat galaxies tonight (I don’t know if this is considered an official flat galaxy or not; it’s got the right ratio of dimensions [7:1]), it’s pretty evenly illuminated across the way; there’s not a lot in terms of central brightening or anything noteworthy; it’s pretty dim but fairly obvious (especially in averted vision), and when you look toward the elliptical you see the edge-on unmistakably there. I don’t believe I pick up a third or fourth galaxy there (and Hickson groups have at least four members, so they have to be here somewhere). So let’s go ahead and put the 7mm in here… with the 7mm, it’s again hard to focus; the jetstream has parked itself over us, making the seeing really crappy at this magnification. With the 7mm, I’m getting a very difficult third galaxy [HCG67C], N of the elliptical but almost in contact. This one is really, really diffuse; there’s almost nothing to grab onto. It’s only 0.25’ or 0.3’ diameter, with no central brightening; it just looks like an extension of the elliptical. Exceedingly difficult in the poor seeing!  I know there has to be a fourth in there, but I can’t see it. Wait a minute… Got it!  The fourth member [HCG67D] is SP the elliptical by 0.5’, and a little easier than the third, perhaps 0.25’ diameter at best; in averted vision, it looks like it might have a little central concentration; it forms a not-quite-isosceles triangle with the elliptical and the star to the NP the elliptical. This fourth member lies outside the halo of the elliptical, while the third member, the one to the NF, looks like it could be just a contact artifact or a distended streak of the halo pulled N-ward.

Although I’d only managed three nights’ observing for the month, I was pretty pleased with what I’d been able to observe; I’d made headway on three of my projects and had seen some fascinating sights. This—more than checking objects off of a list—is the true reward of observing: being able to explore forgotten corners of the universe, studying objects that had only ever been seen by a relative handful of people, and appreciating them for the magnificent natural structures that they were, from the ghostly shells of dying Sun-like stars to the basic building blocks of the Universe itself (the galaxies) and the smallest structures those building blocks could form (the compact galaxy clusters). And the next month would bring yet other strange lands for observing and contemplating, some hundreds of millions of light-years away, others closer to home.

Marathons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morning. Photo by Jerry Oltion.

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

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

Gifts From The Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bill

Bill Basham died in February. 

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

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


Summer’s Last Will and Testament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0657

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

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

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

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

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

It turned out to be a very brief return.

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

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

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

And then the clouds took over and ended the night.

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

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

Nights of Starlit Secrets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Purest Sky, A Half-Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OTHERS PRESENT: LR, MW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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