If on a Winter’s Night….

This has generally been an awful winter for observing; skies have been overcast (if not downright cloudy) almost since early November.  Exceptions have included nights with Full- or nearly-Full Moons (of course), and a couple of nights when the temperatures hovered in the single digits.  December was a complete washout, except for one night at the end of a several-day stretch of work–a point at which the brain simply wants nothing to do more technical than giggling at ragecomics, watching videos of eating-challenge morons consuming cacti, and other stupidities.

The apparition of Comet Lovejoy, however, required pulling the grab-n-go scope (a 4.5″ Orion Starblast mini-dob, on a homemade tripod [tripod courtesy of Bob M]) out to the patio for some impromptu solar-system touring; on January 5, with the mercury stalled at 0˚, some neighbors joined us to observe the comet, then 5th magnitude and residing in Eridanus.  The only other observing we’d done for the winter was on Thursday the 15th, with the Starblast at Steve R’s house, with Bob M and I knocking off a number of Messier objects (35, 36, 37, 38, 41, 42/43, 47, and 78), Lovejoy, and Jupiter–that’s not counting some naked-eye observations of the spectacular Mercury-Venus conjunction, at its closest and most stunning the evening of January 10.

Sunday the 18th was a better opportunity; I was determined to make some headway on the AL’s Planetary Nebula and Herschel 400 lists, so I hauled out the big scope.  Having been dealing with some unpleasant recent medical turmoil, I decided to make a stand at Steve’s house again (plus, with Steve wanting to image Lovejoy, he was preferring to stay at home).

I didn’t get as far as I would’ve liked on my observing list, but headway was made nonetheless–skies were good, although the neighboring streetlights were more annoying than usual.


MOON: 28 days, absent
SEEING: 8 (was forecast to be poor)
TRANSPARENCY: 8, later 7
NELM: 5.2
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 30s, low humidity (lots of interfering streetlights)

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

 IC 418 (Lep)—v. bright, little tiny nebula—10th mag?—about 10” across, round?—OIII increases contrast—no central star seen—hint of wider outer fringe (may be dew on filter/EP)—no real color seen—not difficult to find (used 24mm, still stuck out as “fuzzy star”)—another 10th star in field, dimmed w/OIII—removing OIII—cute nebula, should be visible in 6” scope—in some ways, stands out better w/o OIII—central star more visible w/o filter—still tiny—about 25 stars in field—brightest form right triangle to following side, about 16’ along hypotenuse

NGC 2022 (Ori)—much larger than IC 418—no central star—20-25” across—roundish—OIII filter almost overpowering—shape hard to tell—edges bleed away into surroundings, not sharply-defined at all—maybe an extra 1-2” around inner part—11-12 mag—not one of brightest winter planetaries, but easy to find—w/o filter, brightest star in field maybe 7-8 mag—nebula very diffuse, little smaller w/o filter—brightening to south side—almost like E-W separation, nebula brighter N-S—7th mag star off to P side of nebula by about 18’

 Also seen this session: NGC 2362, M42/42/NGC 1977, M78, Comet Lovejoy, Jupiter (three moons, transit shadow between N and S EBs)