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

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 (Peg)–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 tricky, 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:


One thought on “Beyond the Pearled Horizons

  1. Pingback: Ghosts and Shadows | The Unfrozen Caveman Astronomer

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