South in Winter

Why am I doing this?

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

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

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

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

Why am I doing this?

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

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

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

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

Others present: none

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was well-compensated for by the next target.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why am I doing this?

The answer never came to me.

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





Singing on the River of Silence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


… echoes of december…

A week after our previous excursion, we found ourselves again out at Eagle’s Rest under clear December skies—an unlikely occurrence, given my previous winter experiences here in the Willamette Valley. The CSC forecast was as good as I’d seen it for a winter’s night, so there was no doubt I’d be making the nearly hour-long drive. Herschel objects awaited.

The fog was ominous, however. In fact, it didn’t even wait for nightfall this time; it was already pea-soup dense by the time I reached Highway 58 south, letting up only slightly down at the “bottomlands” along Rattlesnake/Lost Creek Road. Fortunately, despite the fog, I was able to find the bus stop at the end of Eagle’s Rest Road, the stop that we all used as a landmark for turning up the mountain.

I left the fog behind early on the trip up, but there was still the unsettling feeling that it would make its presence felt before long. Even though it was perfectly clear at the gravel site, I didn’t start unloading my gear, choosing instead to wait for the others and their opinions.

Jerry and Joe E pulled in a couple of minutes after me. None of us was quite willing to commit to going up to the Ridge yet; we had a new member (Dan B, owner of Doge, who had trekked out to Eureka with us during the summer) who had been to neither of the Eagle’s sites and might not know his way up, and I was leery of taking the Caveman-Mobile up on the gravel road if it was icy. After a few minutes’ hedging, though, we decided to take the risk and go the final four miles to the spur road at Eagle’s Ridge, our decision further abetted by Jerry’s contacting of Oggie G (as Oggie knew Dan and would pass along the message that we’d gone to the “summit”) in a moment of good cell reception.

It was not a simple drive up. The ridge itself is only 3.4 miles farther up the mountain than the gravel site, but it’s not a fast 3.4 miles—the road winds in ways that roads shouldn’t wind, and the last half-mile is a steep climb up rutted gravel. This particular night, the gravel was also spotted with patches of ice—some of them large and treacherous. This was where I ran into trouble, getting stuck about a third of the way up, with Jerry already at the top and Joe behind me in a vehicle much more capable of handling the conditions.

At length, Jerry walked down to see what had happened, and he and Joe managed to help me extricate the van from where it was stuck. Once we got the van moving, I kept it moving until I got to the Ridge spot at the junction; I felt bad leaving Jerry to walk, but I think Joe must’ve given him a ride up (I don’t recall at this point). I waited for them before we decided to pull onto the spur road and set up, Dan finding his way up as I was putting my scope together. (Jerry had to walk down to the junction to direct Dan to the spur road site, as he went too far up the road in the opposite direction.)

I had no intention of staying past midnight this particular night, as I had a four-day run of work beginning the next morning. But this looked to be a pretty spectacular night, and with clear winter nights so rare here, I needed to make some headway on the Herschel lists while conditions allowed it. So I got to work as quickly as possible—our wait at the gravel site and my getting stuck on the road having used up the evening twilight—jumping in just before 7 PM with what turned out to be the brightest member of a long chain of galaxies in Pisces… one I had first seen at the 2016 Oregon Star Party, which by now seemed an eternity ago.


EAGLE’S RIDGE (spur road)
MOON: 22 days (44% illuminated; rose at 12:56 AM)
SQM: 21.5 (at 11 PM)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 30s, breezy early

Others present: JO. JE, DB

All observations: 12.5″ f/5 Discovery truss-tube Dobsonian, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV); 10mm Delos (158x, 0.5˚ TFOV) used for observation of Arp 141

NGCs 198, 200, 194, 193, 204, 203, 182  (Psc): galaxy central–chain goes on a long S-N way and a bit P–198: diffuse round glow–somewhat brighter core–does not have a visible nucleus–1.25′–not well defined, fades into background–gradually brightens to core but halo fades out–galaxy is N-most vertex of an isosceles triangle–to SP by 5.5′ is a 11.5-mag star; to SF by 5.5′ is a 10th-mag star; two stars separated by 8′–long side of triangle is to the S edge of field–N of galaxy by 3.5′ and 4.5′ are two 12th-mag stars–NF 198 by 6.5′ is a second galaxy (NGC 200):  elongated NP-SF–1.25′ x 0.75′–equally bright as 198–not much of a core but a substellar nucleus–face-on spiral?–almost due N of NGC 200 by 5.5′ is an 11th-mag star–NP that star by 6′ is a third galaxy (NGC 194): smaller than previous two–slightly elongated N-S–1.0′ x 0.75′–brightish substellar nucleus but not much visible core–not particularly well defined, fades away raggedly–N slightly P 194 by 5.5′ is a 7th-mag star–12′ N of that star is NGC 193: has a 13th-mag star on SP edge of halo–roundish–has diffuse halo with a brighter core–no real nucleus visible–F and slightly S by 3.5′ is a 10.5-mag star–F and slightly S of that star by 4′ is NGC 204: round–quite diffuse–very poorly defined–1.0′ round–distinct substellar nucleus–may have a threshold star just off SF edge of halo??–13.5-mag star 2′ to NP–back to the 10.5-mag star between 193 and 204: due N by 7.5′ is another fainter galaxy, NGC 203: very intangible–brighter nucleus that’s most obvious thing about it–0.67′ round–extremely diffuse, very difficult, could be mistaken for a threshold star in poorer seeing–N of that galaxy by 11′ is an 8th-mag star–back to 198: 21′ SP 198 is an 8th-mag star–SF that star by 4′ is another galaxy (NGC 182): quite diffuse–1.25′ round–substellar nucleus and slightly-brighter core–quite diffuse–one of brighter galaxies in group; none are “bright” and all would be better served by a few more inches of aperture

NGC 175 (Cet): very very diffuse, plus seeing “soft”–largish galaxy–slightly elongated P slightly N-F slightly S–1.5′ x 1.25′–has a very faintly brighter core–core not well defined–very faint nucleus, threshold star on P edge of halo?–forms nearly-isosceles triangle with an 11th-mag star F very slightly N of galaxy by 5′ and a 12th-mag star S very slightly F of galaxy by 4.25′–two stars separated by 6.5′

NGC 337 (Cet): very interesting galaxy–a colliding pair P-F? [No]–bright galaxy with irregular-shaped core–elongated NP-SF–large galaxy–2.0′ x 1.5′–SP point of pentagon of stars–no nucleus–N very slightly P galaxy by 6′ is a double star of NP-SF aligned components separated by 0.5′; SP star 12.5-mag, NF star 13th-mag–5.5′ NF galaxy is an 11th-mag star; 4.5′ NF that star is an 11th-mag star; NP by 6′ is the brightest in pentagon at 10th-mag which is separated from double star by 5′ from fainter component–5.5′ NF of galaxy in middle of pentagon is 13th-mag star 

NGC 428 (Cet): nice large diffuse galaxy–elongated P somewhat N-F somewhat S–2.5′ x 1.75′–bracketed on P slightly N and F slightly S edges of halo by 13th-mag stars–just off NF edge of halo is a 13.5-mag star–irregularly bright, almost mottled–long brighter central region that makes up inner 50% of galaxy–halo irregularly bright and pretty well defined–no visible nucleus–bracketed on NP and SP by 9th-mag stars each 6′ from center of galaxy–due F galaxy by 9′ is a 10.5-mag star–on NP edge of central brightening are a couple of very faintly brighter spots

NGC 636 (Cet): surrounded by brightish stars in an interesting field–galaxy pretty bright–roundish–0.75′ round–bright core and bright substellar nucleus–well-defined halo–probably elliptical–forms a diamond with two 14th-mag stars and a 13th-mag star; one of 14th-mag stars is 3′ SF and other is 3′ N very slightly F; 13th-mag star is 3.5′ F slightly N the galaxy–S very slightly F galaxy by 7′ is an 10.5-mag star; SF that star by 7.5′ is another 10.5-mag star–star S slightly F galaxy is southernmost vertex in triangle of one 10.5-mag and two 9th-mag stars whose N side is 17′ long and other two sides are 20′ long–brightest star is NF galaxy by 16′ and other 9th-mag star NP galaxy by 16′

NGC 779 (Cet): very bright edge-on spiral–TriAtlas has wrong orientation–galaxy elongated N slightly P-S slightly F–very large–2.5′ x 1.3′–obvious stellar nucleus–brighter core/central region–well defined–no hint of a dust lane–to S of galaxy by 4.5′ is a 12th-mag star–S slightly P galaxy by 11′ is the brighter of a double star, which is 10th-mag and fainter is 13.5-mag; fainter component is SF brighter by 0.67′–N of galaxy by 8.5′ is a 12th-mag star–NP galaxy by 10′ is a 12.5-mag star–Messier-quality galaxy!

Jerry’s primary target of the evening was asteroid 3200 Phaethon, and he located it among the stars of Auriga. I’d never seen an asteroid visibly drift before, and took a break from faint(ish) galaxies to take advantage of the opportunity; it was incredible to see a natural object move among the stars at such a rate of speed.

NGC 1045 (Cet): least-impressive individual galaxy so far this evening–0.75′ x 0.5′–elongated SP-NF–bracketed to N and SF by brightish stars; star to N is 10.5-mag 7′ from galaxy; 9.5′ SF is an 11th-mag star–galaxy fairly diffuse and not well-defined–somewhat brighter core and a substellar nucleus–maybe a threshold star on SP edge of core, almost like a double nucleus–just outside field of view to F and SF (22′ each away from galaxy) are 10th-mag stars–NP galaxy by 11′ is a double star: less than 0.25′ separation; 11th-mag and 12.5-mag components; brighter star SP fainter

NGC 991 (Cet): very very large diffuse galaxy–pretty round–very little central brightening, no nucleus–central 80% very slightly brighter–3.0′ round–poorly defined–13th-mag star just on S very slightly F edge of halo–SF galaxy by 9′ is a double star of 11.5 and 12.5-mag stars separated by 0.3′, with brighter F very slightly S of the fainter–on P very slightly N edge of field 14′ from galaxy is a 11.5-mag star–SP galaxy by 8′ is the F-most, 11th-mag vertex of an isosceles right triangle of 10.5- and 11th-mag stars; star P slightly N of it by 7′ is also 11th-mag; star 7′ S very slightly F-most one is 10.5-mag; hypotenuse faces SP and is 9′ long

As I settled in on my next target, NGC 1022, I stopped to check something; when I looked back, the star field had changed—one of the stars was moving exceedingly slowly through the field. I watched as it passed over the galaxy, calling for Jerry and Dan to have a look. This was the first of several geosynchronous satellites I would sweep up while scouring the skies in Cetus and Eridanus this particular evening.

NGC 1022 (Cet): much brighter than 991–1.3′ round–pretty well defined–small fairly-bright core and stellar nucleus–galaxy has a 13.5-mag star N slightly F by 2.5′–12th-mag star 5′ F very very slightly S of galaxy–10th-mag star NF galaxy by 10′–P and P very slightly N of the galaxy is a small triangle of 10th- and 11th-mag stars; two 11th-mag stars on side of triangle closest to galaxy, 12.5′ P galaxy; 10th-mag star 3′ P very slightly N of the more-S of the 11th-mag stars; 11th-mag stars separated by 4.5′; S-most of 11th-mag stars has a couple of threshold stars P very slightly S of it and F very slightly S of it–12.5-mag star 5′ SF galaxy

NGC 1084 (Eri): very very bright impressive galaxy–also Messier-worthy–elongated SP-NF–2.25′ x 1.25′–large bright core but no detectable nucleus–well-defined halo–due N by 14′ is the middle star of a bent line of three 10th-mag stars bending slightly toward galaxy; middle star is 10th-mag; 10th-mag star P slightly N of it by 6′; 10.5-mag star F and very slightly N of middle star by 7′–galaxy forms tip of arrowhead-shaped pattern with these three stars–two 12th-mag stars between galaxy and brighter stars in bent line; one N very slightly P by 9′ and one N very slightly F by 10′–S very slightly P galaxy by 12′ is a 12.5-mag star–13th-mag star SP galaxy by 7′–SP galaxy by 35′ is a 7th-mag star–SP galaxy is a pair of 8th- and 9th-mag stars 30′ from galaxy separated by 2.5′; brighter is P slightly N of the fainter–poor seeing this low

NGCs 936, 941, 955 (Cet): contrasting galaxies–936: considerably bright–large diffuse halo and small bright core, substellar nucleus–well defined–elongated P slightly N-F slightly S–core region only 25% of total diameter–1.75′ x 1.25′–has bent/crook asterism to NP; “handle” of crook is NP galaxy by 5.5′ and is 11.5-mag; 9.5-mag star NP that star by 4′; NP previous star by 4′ is 10th-mag star; 4′ NF that star is 10.5-mag star–NP brightest star in crook by 17′ is a 7.5-mag star; F and somewhat N of 7.5-mag star by 6′ is a 9th-mag star; 10th-mag star N slightly F previous by 7′–back to 936: F and slightly N of galaxy by 5.5′ is a 13th-mag star; SF that star by 5′ is a 12th-mag star; N of that star by 7.5′ is NGC 941: faint, diffuse, but fairly obvious–elongated NP-SF–1.5′ x 1.0′–poorly defined–NF galaxy by 17′ is a 12th-mag star–F and slightly N of 941 by 33′ is another galaxy (NGC 955)–much brighter than 941–elongated SP-NF–1.25′ x 0.67′–bright nucleus–brightish central region along length–definitely an inclined spiral–SF by 3′ is a 13th-mag star–F and S of galaxy by 11′ is a 12th-mag star–NF galaxy by 25′ is a 6th-mag star that’s somewhat reddish (even to my colorblind eye)–F and somewhat N of galaxy by 25′ is an 8th-mag star

NGC 1032 (Cet): reasonably bright–elongated SP-NF–1.25′ x 0.67–has a brighter core and substellar nucleus–fairly-evenly illuminated–maybe sharper on S and F edges?–forms a tiny diamond with three 13th- and 14th-mag stars; two 13th-mag stars are P (by 1.5′) and N slightly F (by 2′) of the galaxy and the 14th-mag star is NF the galaxy (by 0.75′)–N of the galaxy by 16′ is an 8.5-mag star–NF the galaxy by 21′ is a 10th-mag star–S of the galaxy by 5′ is an 11th-mag star–SP the galaxy by 16′ is a double star, the brighter component of which is about 0.25′ SP the fainter; 11th- and 12.5-mag stars

NGCs 1199, 1188, 1190 (Eri): 1199 quite bright–supposedly in the middle of Hickson 22, but can see two other galaxies with a LOT of effort–1199: elongated SP-NF–1.25′ x 0.75′–has a brightish core and a substellar nucleus–fairly well-defined/evenly illuminated–N slightly F by 3′ is a 12.5-mag star–due N by 6′ is a 13th-mag star–F the galaxy by 8′ is an 11th-mag star–star due N of galaxy: N slightly P that star by 3′ is a very faint glow elongated N-S (1188)–no central brightening–0.67′ x 0.3′–extremely faint, just above threshold-level–SP 1199 by 11′ is an 11-mag star–SP 1199 by 4′ is a fleeting apparition of a galaxy (1190) that is a smudge in averted–seemingly elongated NP-SF but too faint to be sure or to estimate size

NGC 1209 (Eri): not far from Hickson 22–P-F glow–1.25′ x 0.75′–edge-on or inclined spiral? [elliptical]–bright stellar nucleus and bright middle–halo well defined, regularly illuminated–F by 13′ is an 11th-mag star–6′ F and slightly S is a 13th-mag star; due S that star by 5′ is a 12th-mag star–NP galaxy by 7′ is a 12.5-mag star–19′ SF galaxy is the N-most vertex of a small triangle of 10th- and 11th-mag stars; this N-most vertex is the brightest at 10th-mag; SF that star by 4.5 is an 11th-mag star; another 11th-mag star 5′ F and very slightly S that last star; long side between brightest star and second 11th-mag star is 8′

NGC 1172 (Eri): fairly faint, apparently elliptical galaxy–slight SP-NF elongation–1.0′ x 0.75′–has a brighter core and faint substellar nucleus–not really well-defined but low in sky–due P galaxy by 3′ is a 13th-mag star–S very slightly P galaxy by 5′ is a 12.5-mag star–F and very very slightly N by 2′ is an 10.5-mag star–even more P galaxy by 8′ is an 11.5-mag star

NGCs 1400, 1407, 1393, 1391, 1394, 1383 (Eri): two ellipticals (likely) separated by 12′–1400: elongated very very slightly SP-NF–1.5′ x 1.25′–gradually brightening to somewhat brighter core and substellar nucleus–SP galaxy by 2′ is a 15th-mag star–S of galaxy by 19′ is an 8.5-mag star–double star due P galaxy by 15′; components are 10th- and 12.5-mag separated by 0.5′; brighter component SP fainter–12′ F and slightly N of 1400 is 1407: much bigger–pretty round–1.5′ round–slight bit of NP-SF elongation?–galaxy is N-most vertex of a triangle with a 13th-mag SF by 4.5′ and SP that star by 4.5′ is a 12.5-mag star (about 6.5′ S of galaxy)–N of galaxy by 6′ is S-most (13th-mag) vertex of another triangle of 12th- and 13th-mag stars; a 12th-mag star 3.5′ N very slightly P that star; 13th-mag star P very slightly S of second star by 3.5′–back to 1400: 20′ NP galaxy is brighter of a pair of galaxies (1393)–fairly obvious–elongated NP-SF–0.75′ x 0.67′–not easy but well defined–small brighter core and substellar nucleus–NF that galaxy by 5.5′ is another (1391)–much fainter–elongated P very slightly S-F very slightly N–0.5′ x 0.3′–almost no central brightening to speak of but a very faint stellar nucleus–N very slightly F 1391 by 1.5′ is a 15th-mag star; NF that star by 2.5′ is another galaxy (1394): elongated N-S–brighter than second of group–obvious substellar nucleus–0.67′ x 0.3′–better defined than previous–1.5′ N of 1394 is a 13th-mag star that disrupts view of galaxy–back to 1393: P slightly N galaxy by 8.5′ is a 12.5-mag star; NP that star by 7′ is another galaxy (1383): elongated SP-NF–reasonably well defined but faint–brightish substellar nucleus–0.75′ x 0.5′–SP galaxy by 1.5′ is a 13.5-mag star–NF galaxy by 1.25′ is a 14th-mag star

At this point, I was torn between my desire to keep observing and my need to make sure I got at least four hours’ sleep before my shift the next morning. I’d had Mrs. Caveman load me up with caffeine while shopping earlier in the day, so I could make it through eight hours on scant sleep, and it was certainly a rare thing to have such a great night in December. Against my common sense, I plowed on ahead.

Jerry had been looking for planetary nebulae with bright central stars for part of the night, and had shown me NGC 40 as a good example. I suggested NGC 1501 in Camelopardalis, and remembered that I had looked for Arp 141—the Deep Sky Forum’s “Object of the Week” for the first week of the month—at the gravel pit the previous time out, being skunked then both by the treeline and the early Moon rise (1501 is in Camelopardalis not far from Arp 141; hence the connection). Here, though, this colliding pair of galaxies was well placed, and there were several other objects along the way that I wanted to observe.

I took long looks at NGC 2683, the UFO Galaxy in Lynx, and NGC 2403 in Camelopardalis while working my way toward Arp 141. I had observed both of these before, but had only taken notes on the former; why I didn’t take any on 2403 (a Herschel object) while I was there I can’t say. I had also seen UGCs 3714 and 3697 (the Integral Sign Galaxy) before, but couldn’t pass up another shot at the Integral Sign—it was as elusive and fascinating as on the previous occasion. I eventually made my way over to my intended target, and was quite surprised to see it so easily, despite mistaking one of its nuclei for a star.

UGC 3730 (Arp 141) (Cam): DeepSkyForum’s Object of the Week: using 10mm Delos–difficult but obvious–1.0′ long–radiating S from a 14th-mag star [actually one of the galactic nuclei in this colliding pair]–wedge-shaped–0.5′ wide at the base–a couple of little knots within it, including one a third of the way down from the star to the base–along the edge of the base is brighter, with a knot at the end of the base–a knot on P side just off end of base–galaxy is definitely an irregular object–not consistently bright–isosceles triangle of 11th- and 12th-mag stars N slightly P galaxy; triangle 1′ on two sides and 1.25′ on long side–to P and SP is a Capricornus-shaped asterism made mostly of 10th- and 11th-mag stars–SF of the galaxy by 15′ is a 9th-mag star

By this point, the three of us all decided to call it a night, with the Moonrise imminent and having seen our share of celestial wonders for the evening. I took one long lasting look at the Orion Nebula—never break down the scope without a look at M42, as skipping it is nearly a cardinal sin among astro-types.

Teardown after a session usually takes about a half-hour from covering the primary mirror to pulling the van out onto the road. Unlike past drives down from Eagle’s Ridge, I went first, so as to ensure that the van was able to manage the icy gravel without hitting someone driving in front of me. Past the ice, I expected the fog from earlier in the evening, so thick it could’ve been used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, to be waiting for us. But even the fog had retreated by this hour, and the drive home was considerably easier than the drive out had been.




Echoes of December

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Others present: JO, KO, OG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Norway of the Year

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

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

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

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


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

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



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

Others present: JO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Beyond the Pearled Horizons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Others present: JO, RA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Band of Brothers

The Brothers Star Party normally takes place in September, after the more-famous Oregon Star Party but before the clouds of autumn close off the sky for those of us who spend our nighttime hours reaching into the Universe beyond our planet.  This year, however, OSP is later on the calendar in order to coincide with the August 21 solar eclipse, and Brothers was moved (perhaps not only for this reason) into the July new-Moon week.

BSP takes place just west of the “town” of Brothers, which is actually an unincorporated area with nearly zero population and very little activity, day or night. The star party is situated a couple of miles south of Highway 20, in a dusty high desert region near a prehistoric dry riverbed; whereas OSP is covered with rock, making it very difficult to anchor one’s ground cover, tents, or equipment, the BSP site is soft and covered with crumbled pumice. By my guess, it was probably 70% pumice and 30% dried jackrabbit shit.

I’d been able to pack better than I had for OSP the previous year, and managed to get both main scopes in the van in addition to my 70mm Pronto and a twin mattress. My plan was to spend the first two nights at Brothers using the 18″ to track down Hickson and Shakhbazian galaxy groups, various and assorted galaxy trios and flat galaxies, and a few very difficult globular star clusters. The third night was to be spent with my own 12.5″ scope, hunting down globulars and planetary nebulae; the final night was going to be reserved for the Pronto and my 11 x 80 binoculars, browsing the Milky Way and sweeping up dark and bright nebulae.

I arrived at the site on Thursday afternoon, having overshot the gate to the site and having had to turn around after (finally) programming my GPS to take me to the exact spot. The off-road driving was smooth and easy to drive on, until I hit the electric “fence” that crossed the road at a right-angle turn–I didn’t notice the single wire that crossed the road at windshield level, and had no idea what to do about it until the rancher whose property bordered the BSP site drove past and kindly let me through. He’d been wondering what the campers and tents at the site were doing there, and in exchange for an answer he showed me how to unhook the electric wire if I needed to leave or enter the site.

I was in a bit of a foul mood as I pulled up among the other four or five vehicles at the site, having wasted time trying to find the place (the star-party sign had been too small to see from the road, even though I’d been looking for it, and no-one had warned me about the electric fence). That mood simmered down after I found a space to park and began to unload my gear: 18″ scope, 12.5″ scope (Bob the Dob, now with functioning tracking platform), Pronto, and various and sundry other bits (table, chairs, book-and-small-gear trunk, etc.). This time, I’d set a tarp down tight on the ground to minimize the blowing of dust onto the scopes and gear; only a few patches of scrub-brush or sage resisted my efforts to make my personal site perfectly flat.

As it turned out, I had parked next to Thomas from Grant’s Pass, a member of my tribe from OSP 2016. Thomas had quite a camp: a pickup truck with cap (where he was sleeping); a trailer for his gear, which he had detached and left about eight feet behind the truck; a canopy bridging the space between truck and trailer; and a set of “solar panel” tarps/shades, each made of a multitude of silvery strands woven together, so that the wind could blow through them while reflecting away the Sun’s heat. Thomas recognized me right away, and came over to talk as I was finishing my setup.

To the other side of my van (the side where I’d set up) was a motor home owned by a fellow named Norman, and we sat in his shade for about an hour while waiting for the Sun to fade and the warm day to turn cooler. I’d be sleeping in the van, with a couple of tarps and a canopy Jerry had loaned me as shade.  Thursday was to be the coolest day of the four, but I’d slept in the van before at OSP and had survived the heat–I even had a comfortable mattress to sleep on this time. I had no trees for shade this time, though, and it would definitely make a difference.



Half of a panorama of the Brothers site, facing east, with my van and Norman’s camper.

A number of the other attendees stopped by to check out my scopes as the sunset advanced: there was another Thomas there, an older gent with a long grey Dumbledorish beard (I recognized him from the BSP website, holding a sign displaying the site’s coordinates); his wife was there with him. There were also Robert and his wife; they and bearded Thomas and his wife were parked a little farther east at the site, and I’d passed them on the way in. There was another vehicle parked west of (Grant’s Pass/OSP) Thomas, but I didn’t meet its owner. Amusingly, there were as many Porta-Potties at the site as there were observers–we could each pretty much claim one for ourselves.

The sky was slightly cruddy with cirrus as it got dark; I rated the transparency at about a 4/10–a bit of a disappointment after a 3-1/2 hour drive, but I suspected successive nights would be progressively better. Two things were nonetheless already apparent as day faded into night: the BSP site was indeed extremely dark, and (as I’d already gone to my heavy winter coat) it was going to be very chilly at night here in the desert. I’d prepared for the cold and anticipated the darkness, having prepared an observing list designed to maximize the grey-zone (Bortle 2) skies.

I got to work quickly—unlike at OSP 2016, where it had taken a few hours to get moving. I had memorized the position of M9 earlier in the summer, having searched for it with Randy B at Eureka Ridge, and added this cluster to my usual retinue of falling-twilight objects: Jupiter, Saturn, M80 (usually my first deep-sky target in summer, given its high surface brightness), M4, M5, M13, M11, and M 10 and M12, the latter two of which I’d also memorized the positions of.  Sunset these nights had been approximately at 8:45, and by the time I’d worked through the list of twilight objects (hitting some of the bright summer nebulae—M8, M20, M17, M16, M57, M27, the Veil Nebula—along the way), it was usually dark enough to start on my observing plan.

I spent a chunk of each night letting others look through the 18″—it was the biggest mirror and tallest scope at the site the first night, although its aperture was superseded the second night. I’d just found Shakhbazian 16 in Draco–somewhat to my surprise–when bearded Thomas stopped by, so we compared notes on the group; by the time he came down from the ladder, he’d spotted one of the elusive six galaxies in Shk 16, although he acknowledged that his eyesight wasn’t what it had once been.

Shk 16 was the only target I recorded notes on the first night–as with OSP the year before, I ran out of steam a bit early, even though I stayed up until 3 AM in the 40˚ temps.



43˚ 47’ 55” N, 120˚ 39’ 0” W
MOON: 27 days (10% illumination); rose at 4:05 AM
TRANSPARENCY: 5; Milky Way bright but lacking in detail
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.5
WEATHER CONDITIONS: 80s falling to low 40s; light dew late, air still

Others present: 8

Notes with EAS 18” f/5.5 Dob

Shakhbazian 16 (Dra): very faint—couple of very faint glows S and slightly P a 10th-mag star—picking up two fairly close together, one farther S—should be six, but only getting larger ones—trail away toward 14th-mag star to S—bright star is part of a triangle that extends not quite halfway across field to P and N side of field—now three glows visible—one between but F previous two—galaxies separable

By the time I crawled onto the mattress and closed up the van for the night, I was pretty damned cold. Even though I’d “prepared” for it, I hadn’t really—I’d spent more time planning my observing lists and packing telescope gear than I did warm clothes. I threw a couple of blankets on and slept in both of my jackets, adding my winter coat as a third blanket.


Day Two started about 7:30, when the van had warmed noticeably. I ditched the two jackets, checked my phone for the time—surprisingly, I got terrific reception and Internet there at the site; we discovered a batch of cell towers on a “nearby” mountain which were likely the reason for this. I then went back to sleep for a couple more hours until the van was hot, then rolled down the front windows and opened the back vents on the van, adding a breeze from my portable fan to circulate the air. I woke up with a low-level headache that stayed with me for much of the day, and I spent the day in the van, watching the strong breeze spin the scopes in slow circles, eating various dried meats and fruit, and generally living in a van down by the long-dry river.


If OSP has a classic revival-meeting atmosphere—complete with tents and speakers and events and raffles—BSP is more like a yoga retreat. There were no events, no formal organization; Pat, the organizer, stopped by at dusk to note that I was the only pre-registered attendee at the site, and wondered where the others were. The only event at BSP was observing. I spent less time socializing at BSP for some reason, although I spent a good chunk of the second evening over at Thomas’ camp, talking about work and travel.

As I was moving some of my gear around, to minimize the effects of both Sun and wind, I noticed a rather large moth anchored tightly to the tripod of my Pronto. As it didn’t fly away when I moved the tripod, I put the tripod in the van’s shade and left the moth to his/her own devices. I also chose not to set up Jerry’s canopy—the wind was gusting hard enough at times that I didn’t want to risk the canopy getting damaged. Had it been mine, I might’ve gone ahead, but I wasn’t going to have someone else’s property get exposed to the unfavorable elements if I could avoid it.


Mothra, a two-day visitor to my Pronto tripod.

I noticed that the site had gotten more populous throughout the day—two more vehicles had pulled in to my east, and another two to my west. To the west were Warren and Rod; Warren was a fellow CloudyNights member, and came armed with a 12″ Zhumell dob, while Rod came to BSP in a motor home that probably cost as much as my house and was  observing with a gorgeous 20″ f/3 (or so; I never asked) Dob whose frame was made entirely of scarlet, silver, and gold hand-machined aluminum. Rod wanted a scope short enough that his wife could observe through it without needing a ladder when it was pointed at the zenith. It was one of the most beautiful telescopes I’ve ever seen.

(I should note that I generally feel about telescopes the way most people feel about sports cars; while cars do nothing for me, I find a gorgeous scope as drool-worthy as most guys would find [for example] an Aston Martin.)

To my east was Ted J, a Bay-area observer who usually observed at Pinnacles National Park in California; he’d come to BSP at the behest of a couple of other observers, Dave and Cal, who were parked just east of him. Ted had (IIRC) an 8″ Dob, and had included the star party as part of a trip north. He’d attended the Golden State Star Party the month before—I had intended to go to GSSP, but finances and time had made doing so a poor choice this year.  Ted and Warren would both stop by during the night, taking looks through the 12.5″ and 18″ scopes at various targets.

The second night was more productive, with better transparency. I even broke out the sketch kit to make a couple of sketches as a memorial to two of the more-exotic objects I swept up (having returned to Shk 16 specifically to get its appearance down on paper).


43˚ 47’ 55” N, 120˚ 39’ 0” W
MOON: 28 days (4% illumination); rose at 5:07 AM
TRANSPARENCY: 6-7; haze kept low on horizon; Milky Way moderately detailed
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: upper 80s falling to mid 40s; light dew late, some breeze until midnight

Others present: 16 (inc. Thomas, Peggy, Thomas, Rod, Cal, Ted, Warren)

All notes with EAS 18” f/5.5 Dob

NGCs 5714, 5717, 5722 (Boo)—5714: very thin galaxy with two stars just N of it—elongated S slightly P-N slightly F—2.5’ x 0.25’—not much central brightening or nucleus—to N of 5714 and slightly F by 1’ is an 11th-mag star; due F that star by 0.5’ is a 13th-mag star—S slightly P galaxy by 3’ is another 13th-mag star—P and slightly N of galaxy by 3’ is another 13th-mag star—F 5714 and N a bit are two more galaxies—5722 is most distant from 5714—closer one [5717] is brighter—roundish—stellar nucleus—fairly obvious central brightening—elongated a little bit—0.75’ x 0.5’—elongated SP-NF but hard to tell—pretty faint—about 5’ from center of 5714—5722: F and very slightly S of 5717 by 3’—much more difficult—much smaller—obvious stellar nucleus—very compact—0.3’ round at best—poorly-defined—easy to see but hard to get a “fix” on—N slightly P of 5722 by 6’ is a pair of 13.5-mag stars; one closer to galaxy is a tiny bit fainter; stars separated by 0.4’—with 5714 centered, a 10th-mag star is 13’ S of galaxy—N of 5714 by 9’ is a 12th-mag star

NGCs 6120, 6119, 6122 (CrB)—6120: much the brightest of group—maybe 0.75’ tops—roundish—has a brighter central core but no real visible nucleus—NP by 2.5’ is 6119: most difficult of trio—no more than 0.3’ round—no central concentration but a very faint star (16th-mag?) in contact with it on SP edge—NF by 2’ is a 15th-mag star—SP 6120 is a pair of stars, brighter of which is due P the fainter; brighter is 2.25’ SP 6120 and is 11th-mag; fainter is F that one by 1’ and is 14th-mag—P and N of 6120 by 14’ is a 9th-mag star—F 6120 by 5’ is 6122: edge-on thin streak—elongated N very slightly P-S very slighty F—hint of a nucleus popping into view on occasion—1.0’ x 0.25’—2.25’ F and very slightly S is a 16th-mag star—threshold star due N of galaxy by 3’—field dominated by a number of bright stars (7th/8th-mags) P and N of galaxy group on edge of field

Hickson 82 (Her): not the most difficult of Hicksons I’ve seen—galaxies between two bright stars; star to SP of group is 7th-mag; other is NF galaxies and 9th-mag; two stars separated by 20’—two of galaxies about halfway between the two stars—P-most galaxy slightly brighter; NF that galaxy is third component; fourth component of group not seen at this magnification—galaxy to SF [6163] appears elongated P-F—has a brighter core—not more than 0.75’ x 0.4’—6161: slightly brighter than other two—separated from 6163 by 2.75’—brighter core—very slightly elongated SP-NF?—0.5’ x 0.25’—possible substellar nucleus—6161 best defined of group—6162: F and slightly N of 6163 by 1’—much more diffuse—not much concentration

Hickson 55 (Dra): spectacularly difficult!—group is elongated SP-NF—very difficult to tell—1.25’ long?—very faint—averted necessary to hold—0.125’ wide?—one distinct glow, no real separation—does look a bit brighter in middle as if brightest galaxy in middle—brief flash of separation on N end as if one galaxy separable—P group is a trio of stars in an isosceles triangle with two added fainter stars—SP star (farthest S of three) is brightest at 11th-mag; other two at 12th and 13th mags with dimmest in middle of triangle—long side of triangle is 9’—galaxies are 7’ NF that 11th-mag star—with 10mm Delos: hints of separation—tiny flash of stellar nucleus to one of galaxies, as faint as can get—SF group by 3’ is a 14th-mag star 



Hickson 55, as seen with the 18″ f/5.5 scope at 178x. All five galaxies are crunched together in that tiny, faint streak above center. Preceding side is indicated by the arrow.


Shakhbazian 16, as seen with the 18″ f/5.5 scope at 178x. The three brightest galaxies are seen here; three more lie closer to the bright star and one more between the galaxy to the lower right and the star closest to it. Preceding side is indicated by the arrow.

The second night was slightly warmer than the first, but I was still thoroughly chilled by 3 AM when I crawled back into the van. It had been a great observing night quality-wise, if not as much quantity-wise. Hickson 55 had made the whole trip worth it, to say nothing of the other targets.


Day Three was more of the same, but even more so: windier, hotter, clearer. I awoke early to gusting winds, and as I’d intended to spend the evening using the 12.5″ scope, I took the 18″ down, stowing the truss poles under my observing table and the secondary cage on the passenger seat of the van. It had already lost a strip of the secondary-cage flocking, which had blown loose and folded up on itself, so it was better to break the whole thing down than to leave it exposed to the wind. I also noticed tiny footprints on much of my gear, perhaps from a chipmunk or something slightly larger. (I had heard little footsteps on my tarp the first night, although those sounded heavier than a mere chipmunk.)

I went back into the van—still surprisingly cool to stay in during the punishing days–and went through my copy of the interstellarum Deep-Sky Atlas (previously reviewed here) looking for globular clusters and planetary nebulae (and a few other objects) to comprise a list for the evening. Among them were AL3, a globular I’d never heard of, square in the Sagittarius Milky Way “steam”, Abell 39, a gorgeous round planetary in Hercules, Sharpless 2-71, an odd planetary in Aquila, and Hickson 86, a group of faint galaxies in extreme eastern Sagittarius. Thomas had given me a mirrored mylar tarp to use as a sun shield on the side of the van, and between the portable fan, the mylar tarp, and my still-cool supply of water, I wasn’t at all uncomfortable lying in the van under the blazing desert sun.

The wind grew particularly violent, waking me up from a quick doze. It took me several minutes to react after it died down; a quick look out the van window nearly made me ill.

Bob the Dob had blown off of its tracking platform and was lying on the ground beyond the edge of the tarp. I had wrapped the scope with an old duvet cover to keep it protected from the sun, but the cover had given it more surface for the wind to act against. Normally, I would pull the scope’s shroud down to let the wind pass through the truss poles, but the cover had made this a moot point, and the wind had simply tipped the whole assembly over. The tracking platform lay on the tarp, the moving top section tipped over onto the base.

A brief inspection relieved my concern over the condition of the 12.5″. The primary mirror was fine, despite the mirror cover having fallen off. The scope had landed on its Telrad finder, which was broken (a look would indicate that the reticle had been knocked loose and would possibly be repairable). I would find, when collimating the scope that evening, that the secondary mirror was loose on its rotational axis, and collimation would prove difficult—I had dealt with this problem before, and it was surmountable with patience.

I lifted the scope back into its rocker box, took off the duvet cover, lowered the shroud, and bungeed the scope to my trunk of books and tools in order to prevent it from moving too much. All that was left was to wait for dark to see if there was any unseen damage. My Milky Way browsing night with the Pronto might have come a night early. (Thomas would later tell me that a dust devil had come through; my site must’ve gotten the brunt of it.)


Full twilight panorama of BSP, with Bob the Dob near center, Ted’s car to right, and Rod’s motor home to left. The Three Sisters mountains, still snow-covered, can just be seen in the far distance just to the right of the road.

As night encroached, I discovered the collimation issue (and that the primary was way off collimation-wise), and another I wouldn’t be able to diagnose: the dew heater for the secondary mirror was no longer working. Perhaps the battery had died, as I had left it on the entire day before, Given the knock the scope had taken, though, I suspect that there’s a more-serious problem with the heater. (I haven’t yet checked.)

Getting the secondary collimated was tricky, but it stayed well-collimated the whole night; in fact, some of the views that night were among the sharpest I’ve had through the scope. And the night was clearly shaping up to be stunning.

As twilight faded, Ted stopped by. We marveled at the clarity and three-dimensionality of the Milky Way, especially in the area around Cygnus; Le Gentil 3, the dark nebula “behind” Deneb, was Coal Sack-like, and the stars in Cygnus seemed to have a depth that I’d never seen before, as if their relative distances could be gauged simply with a naked-eye view. We took a long look at the Fetus Nebula, NGC 7008, which lay in the midst of LG3 and was superb even without a filter, then poked around the giant North America Nebula complex for a while before Ted went back to his scope and I started on my list.

Abell 39 was the first target, and was surprisingly easy with a UHC filter; it was better in the UHC than in the OIII, counter to expectations.


43˚ 47’ 55” N, 120˚ 39’ 0” W
MOON: 29 days (1% illumination); rose at 6:15 AM
TRANSPARENCY: 8; Milky Way bright and detailed into Ophiuchus; Cygnus Milky Way brilliant and 3-dimensional
SQM: not checked
NELM: 7+
WEATHER CONDITIONS: upper 80s falling to mid 40s; light dew late, some breeze until midnight

Others present: 16 (inc. Thomas, Peggy, Thomas, Rod, Cal, Ted, Warren)

All notes with 12.5” Dob (Bob the Dob)

One of my best-ever nights of observing in terms of production of difficult targets.

Abell 39 (Her): NF a large diamond of 8th and 9th-mag stars—UHC does better job on nebula than OIII?—nebula 2.5’ diameter—using 24mm SWA and UHC (best combination?)—pretty round—SF by 14’ is a 10th-mag star—hints of annularity in 14mm that vanish at 24mm—just a broad glow like Helix Neb in 24mm—no central star visible even at higher powers (didn’t see even w/o filter)—surprised that UHC better than OIII—on P edge may be a threshold star or stellaring—interesting field of stars of various brightnesses—to N of nebula is a pair that may be a wide-separated double of equal mags (edge of field, 30’ from nebula)—to NP and SF are faint (13th/14th-mags?) stars 6’ each from edge of nebula

NGC 6563 (Sgr): “Southern Ring Nebula”—very fine planetary—very low in sky—0.75’—round—annularity only suspected in 14mm—P nebula are two bright stars; one (8th-mag) 18’ due P; other brighter  (7th-mag) 15’ P slightly N—S of nebula by 13’ is another 8th-mag star—S slightly F nebula by 6’ is a faint double; hard to split, 11th and 12th mags—1.25’ NP from center of nebula is 11th-mag star—F nebula by 8’ is an 11th-mag star—in middle of diamond of 13th/14th-mag stars

NGC 6563 was a very difficult observation, with the scope pointed near the horizon and the observer not wanting to sit in the pumice-dirt; the southerly declination of the nebula required some awkward contortions of my neck and shoulders to look into the eyepiece while sitting on my chair (which was adjusted to its lowest position).

AL 3 (Sgr): didn’t even know about this one until earlier in the afternoon—much easier than expected—direct-vision object—N of an upside-down dipper-shaped asterism by 3.5’—globular may be granular; may also have field stars overlaying it—1.25’—small triangle of 14th/14.5-mag stars NF cluster—two 8th-mag stars form almost-equilateral triangle with cluster; F slightly N and SF cluster;  almost equidistant at 16’ from globular—globular at P point of triangle; opposite side to F side of field—several stars from 14th-mag and lower around S edge of cluster; including one star P and one F of cluster

NGCs 6440, 6445 (Sgr)—6440: SP 6445—in a line of four equally-bright (12.5-mag) stars—line extends NP-SF—star closest to globular a bit F of line—bright—pretty highly concentrated—core region 0.75’, whole globular 2.0’—CC 4?—10th mag—faint (15th-mag) star SP globular by 2’—2.25’ NP globular is one of 12.5-mag stars; NP that star by 5.5’ is another of the 12.5-mag stars; SF globular by 4.5’ is another of the 12.5-mag stars; SF that one by 3’ is last of those 12.5-mag stars—6445: N slightly F 6440 by 22’—even at low mag, not round—elongated NP-SF—has to NP tip by 0.5’ a 12.5-mag star—no central star visible—0.75’ x 0.5’—S very slightly F by 0.5’ from edge of planetary is a 13th-mag star—P slightly S by 2’ is a 14.5-mag star—planetary is therefore in long non-hypotenuse side of right triangle of stars—due F nebula by 5’ is a 8th-mag star that has a 14th-mag star due S by 0.75’—nebula certainly annular, but there may also be hints of “bridge” between two lobes—outer edges slightly fuzzy—N edge is brightest part of nebula

NGC 6440 has long had a peculiar significance to me; it was the object I observed during a moment of astronomical moksha—a moment when, with my 8″ scope back in Cincinnati, Pink Floyd’s “Coming Back to Life” had come on the radio and everything but the globular cluster had ceased to exist. It was almost a religious moment, a moment of transcendence that forged a bond between me and the Universe, in which I knew that the Universe had chosen me to observe it in depth. NGC 6440 is not a particularly impressive cluster, but it will always have that significance, a reminder of the spiritual experience that comes with making contact with the wider universe of which our planet has sprung.

NGC 6629 (Sgr): expecting something bigger?—nebula very small but pretty obviously not stellar, maybe 15”—well-defined central region in OIII—fringy outer region that’s quite small—no central star seen, but central area of nebula very bright—cool nebula—no color noted—without filter, nebula is easy once found with filter—NP a large diamond of 10th/11th/12th-mags—nebula NP 10th-mag star by 2’—NP nebula by 4’ is a 12th-mag star—due N of nebula by 8’ is a 8th-mag star—N slightly F nebula by 5’ is a 14th-mag star—P and slightly S of nebula by 12’ is an 11th-mag star

Hickson 86 (Sgr): not easy—galaxies P a triangle of 10th-12th-mag stars—wedge shape that points toward galaxies—to SP on edge of field is another triangle that’s very skinny and points toward galaxies, also of 10th/11th/12th-mags—a number of galaxies in field, some hovering around a 11th-mag star that is pointed to by triangle to SP; those galaxies are just F that star; N of that star by 5’ is the Hickson cluster—consists of a couple small contacting glows almost due N of that 11th-mag star—galaxies very ghostly; number of galaxies hard to tell as seeing varies—almost impossible to define any of these galaxies—“main” group or pair about 0.75’—P that group by 5’ is the brighter (12th-mag) of a double star; 14th-mag companion SP the brighter by 15”—galaxies visible but tough to discern any details

Sh 2-71 (Aql): TriAtlas and Sky Safari had incorrect position—nebula quite bright with an OIII filter—quite impressive—2.0’ x 1.0’ [elongation direction?]—central star fairly obvious even with filter—nebula is in a lopsided diamond of 8th to 11th-mag stars—brightest star in diamond is to S slightly P end—diamond 8’ major axis—nebula toward F end, nearer to stars in minor axis (minor axis 3’)—nebula is very diffuse—doesn’t have much definition or edges—interior brightening is irregular, especially on S side—nebula has uniform background haze and some internal mottling that’s brighter over top of haze—14’ SP is a 7th-mag star—nebula somewhat visible without filter; central star even more obvious

Abell 70 (Aql): very faint, round—OIII necessary to see it—not really picking up annularity—F the nebula by 3’ is a 12th-mag star—almost due P by 8’ is a 10th-mag star—NF by 6’ is a double star; brighter component (11th-mag) has a dimmer (14th-mag) NP by 0.5’—nebula has well-defined edges—0.75’ round—details not easy to winnow out—galaxy on N edge not visible—nebula visible without filter once located with OIII—no central star visible—maybe a star in contact on N edge but not galaxy?

By the time I finished observing this night—one of my best-ever in terms of quality of observations—I was elated. Despite the cold, despite not having had a decent amount of sleep over the past three days, I could’ve kept observing until dawn. I looked around the sky: not only were the Pleiades well-risen by this point, Venus looked like the light from an oncoming train, a painfully-brilliant silver-blue glare low in the northeast. The autumn sky, my favorite quarter of the night, had crept up on me; given the awful observing conditions that had dominated the past two autumns, this might be one of my best times to observe the Celestial Oceans (the water-themed constellations of the fall).

But Abell 70 had been a good target to end on. I had decided a bit earlier in the evening that I was going to make this my last night at Brothers for this year; the forecast for Sunday night was not promising, and my brain was pretty full after the past three nights.


I reluctantly packed up the next morning, but I wasn’t the only one—many (if not most) of the others were heading out as well, spurred by the poor forecast and the need to work Monday. (I was off for Monday anyway.) I said my goodbyes and exchanged media contacts with Thomas and Ted—Thomas cut the tag off one of his silvery canopy-shades so that I could look it up online; Ted and I had a light discussion of my Miskatonic University t-shirt and the Jack Chick parody that featured Cthulhu (“Who Will Be Eaten First?”).

Repacking the van went exactly as packing it had, with everything in its same place. My moth, which had disappeared for a day, had returned to its spot on the Pronto tripod, and needed to be shooed away. I was impressed by how easily my personal observing spot had disappeared, leaving not a trace except for some slightly-flattened scrub-plants. Having awakened at about 9 AM, I was on the road by 12.

Leaving behind the Brothers Star Party had a sense of finality. With being in Carbondale for the August new-Moon phase, it’s likely I won’t get any deep-sky observing in until September and—given the horrid weather conditions of Willamette Valley autumns, it’s possible that even September may be a wash. Should that be the case, I might not get to observe until April 2018, when the autumn/winter clouds finally break… in which case it will be a long, dreary hibernation from seeing into the Universe beyond us.