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.