Rites of Spring

April has so far turned out to be far less a cruel month than was March.  Two nights after my attempt at the Herschel Sprint, I was back out observing, having taken the previous night off to catch up on the rest I was sorely lacking.  This time, I went to the EAS’ closer-by observing site, Eureka Ridge, in the Coastal Range.

I was rather late to arrive, having spent part of the evening at my daughter’s school art gala.  I hadn’t been to Eureka Ridge before, and didn’t relish the idea of driving there at night.  The road to the site was a bit rough, full of potholes and washboard stretches, but I made it there in one piece–if a bit low on gas. Four others had set up already: Jerry, Randy B, Bill “Dr. Lapser” B, and Cory W.  A good group to observe with: three other Dobs (two of the Porta-Ball type) and an imager (Bill).

The site is on a high ridge overlooking a logging site; it slopes downhill to where the loggers have been tearing things up. The effect of this is that the site has excellent horizons to the east, south, and west.  The “road,” such as it is, is typical of construction-site roads, but was fine for setting up on.  Sunset was already fading as I chose a spot and began to set up.

The skies were average in quality but dark.  Smoke had filtered in from some nearby fires and the transparency was already only average. Nonetheless, we made the most of it until the dew began to settle (it wasn’t as bad as in Illinois; I could’ve observed longer but for the clouds that began rolling in).

The most notable feature early on was the impossible-to-miss zodiacal light, a triangular glowing wedge stretching from the area the Sun had gone down in to just above the Pleiades.  I had never seen it before (at least that I noticed), and was a bit dazzled by how obvious it was here. Consisting of sunlight reflecting off of dust in the plane of the solar system, the visibility of the zodiacal light can be a good indicator of sky darkness.

My goals this evening were to observe a number of the planetary nebulae on the Astronomical League’s Planetary Nebula program before moving into a list of my own making (The Night of 100 Galaxies,” a survey of Hickson and Abell clusters with a few other interesting objects mixed in for variety).  As it turned out, after observing the first few planetaries (and only taking notes on the first of these), I lost some interest in tracking down tiny pinpoint planetaries and decided (in another occurrence of Rare Night Syndrome) to work instead on a mix of objects from the 100 Galaxies list and “Forgotten Gems of the Spring Sky,” a presentation I’m giving to the Eugene Astronomical Society later in April.


EUREKA RIDGE (43 52′ 38.88″ N, 123 18′ 33.32″ W)
MOON: 25 days (Last Quarter), rose 3:55 AM
SQM: 21.4 (midnight)
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in 40s, moderate dew after midnight, haze/smoke in air, slight breeze—zodiacal light bright and obvious, reaching past the Pleiades by 9:15

IC 2165 (CMa)—tiny planetary—maybe 8”?—responds well in  O-III—no central star—with UHC, better view—slightly blue w/o filter (found without)—almost looks as if there’s an outer shell around bright center—if true, maybe 1.0’ diameter—possibly elongated E-W—“central part” really sharply defined—squashed little triangle of stars to F side—“center star” of triangle fairly bright (?)

After IC 2165, I also observed Jonckheere 900 in Gemini and NGC 2346 in Monoceros before turning to galaxies.

I’d bought an extra charging battery for my iPhone, which I use to record my notes and which usually runs out of power in about twenty minutes. Yet for all of the galaxies I observed, I took notes on only two groups–both of which were very deserving.

I ended up observing the NGC 4485/90 pair, NGC 4424, NGCs 4327 and 4361 (The Whale and Cub), NGC 4656/7 (The Hockey Stick), NGC 4565, NGC 5746 in Virgo, the Leo Trio, M53/NGC 5053 (Coma globulars), NGC 5634 (globular in Virgo), NGC 3344 in Leo Minor, M95, M96, and M105 (with its two attendant galaxies–the Trio within a Trio), NGC 3115 in Sextans, and Copeland’s Septet in Leo in addition to these others–most of these will factor into my presentation, as they’re almost all impressive objects.  I regret not taking notes on Copeland’s Septet, but will observe it again at next opportunity. Jerry and I spent a fair amount of time trying to discern individual galaxies amid the two glowing patches we observed in the eyepiece.

I also tracked down Wild’s Triplet, a nastily-faint trio in Virgo, also known as Arp 248.  I’m quite proud of finding this one in average conditions with “only” a 12.5″ scope.  Jerry and I compared notes as we observed it, using his copy of Sky Safari to discern the orientation of the three interacting spirals in the group.

Arp 248 (PGCs 36733/36723/36742; Wild’s Triplet; Vir)—a bright (8th mag) field star—brightest of 3 galaxies 60% of the way between that star and an 11th-mag star off to F edge, bright star on P edge—two stars separated by 15’—another star to S of dim star by 8’, same mag—galaxy in middle and one just S of that are two brightest—middle one [PGC 36733] has tiny bit of central condesation—about 0.5’ or a bit more—no PA possible—S of that is second brightest [PGC 36723], separated by 3’ or so—more diffuse, no concentration—all really small, need 10mm—third galaxy [PGC 36742] exceedingly difficult, not convinced I’m seeing, certainly can’t hold even averted

The sky was degrading in quality a bit; I spent some time casting about for a new target.  Jerry tracked down the Ursa Minor Dwarf Galaxy, a largish threshold-level glow seen mostly by sweeping his scope back and forth over the field.  It was most definitely there–a satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way, so dim that it had eluded detection until its discovery on a photographic plate in 1955. An A+ find in a 12″ scope!

My own next find was Hickson 68, a stunning small cluster of galaxies in a corner of Canes Venatici:

NGC 5350/5354/5353/5355/5371 (Hickson 68; CVn)—at center of field is bright star, 7th mag—above by 4’ is 2’ round, very diffuse galaxy (NGC 5350)—slight central condensation—averted brings out possible stellar nucleus—to SF side are two brighter, smaller galaxies—more northern (NGC 5354) is more diffuse—both about 1.5’—almost touching—more northern slightly more diffuse, slightly larger—one farthest south (NGC 5353) smaller but has brighter core—star-like nucleus—forming triangle with these three, farher from star on F side is smaller, almost “edge-on” (NGC 5355)—0.5’—oriented SP-NF—fairly obvious but would need to know where to look—between this last and previous pair is 14th star—when group drifts toward P edge of field, at top of field is much larger diffuse galaxy (NGC 5371)—3.5’—just off to F edge of galaxy is 8th star— maybe 0.5’ core—stellar nucleus visible in averted but not direct—subsumed into core

This one immediately vaulted to the top of my galaxy-group list, and to my computer desktop–an absolutely beautiful little group, wrapped around a bright golden star and followed by a larger, obviously-spiral galaxy.

Not long after, the dew had reached a point where Randy and Jerry decided they’d had enough; they’d been out the night before (Jerry had observed four consecutive nights), and  the dew was a sign to them to call it a night.  With my gas tank low and not being too familiar with the roads back to civilization, I decided they were right.  Bill had already started tearing down his imaging gear, having taken at least a half-dozen sets of shots.  Jerry and Randy headed out first; I waited with Bill until he was ready to go (a habit from my AASI days–the President of the club should be the last man out of the observing field).  Bill stayed for a few extra minutes; he said he’d follow in case I ran out of gas.  I agreed to this for pragmatic reasons.

Although not as productive as my attempt at the Herschel Sprint, Wild’s Triplet, Copeland’s Septet, and especially Hickson 68 had made this session a success.  The sketchbook is going to be getting several new entries the next time out.




2 thoughts on “Rites of Spring

  1. Pingback: So Fair the Sky | The Unfrozen Caveman Astronomer

  2. Pingback: Setting Sages Questioning | The Unfrozen Caveman Astronomer

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