I. Despite having one observation each in January, February, and March—better winter observing than I’d had in any year since we left southern Illinois—I was still well behind my usual observing schedule by New Moon week in June. The two sessions in May helped, but were still nowhere near enough for me to ensure that I’d finish the Herschel 400 and the Herschel II this year… or even next.
It was with a bit of both desperation and resignation that I approached the Clear Sky Chart forecast for the week before New Moon: the skies looked good, but I wasn’t as eager to go out as I usually was. Although there shouldn’t have been any time-crunch regarding the finishing of the two programs, I had still been hoping to have them finished sooner than they were going to be. April had indeed been the cruelest month, in a way; by not being able to work through Leo, Leo Minor, and the rest of the early-spring galaxies due to extended clouds and rain, I was SOL as far as getting the Herschel lists finished within the next twelve months. My plan had been for galaxies in April, May, and June, then Milky Way objects July-September, finishing the few fall galaxies I’d missed and then ending the year with the Winter Milky Way (even if that meant doing the fall and winter stuff in September as well due to the usually-lousy November-February weather here in the valley).
Still, I was feeling stubborn and persistent as I made the drive up to Eagle’s Ridge for the first of the clear Moonless June nights. Temperatures were still cool—cool enough that dew was a problem almost immediately for Jerry, Wade, and I. My secondary dew heater gave up the battle about a third of the way through the evening, and my PowerTank ran out of steam to power either the Kendrick heater I use to keep my eyepieces clear or the portable hair dryer I’ve borrowed from Randy to clear those optics that couldn’t be kept clear of dew. My hour-long hiatus between NGC 4414 and NGC 4449 was spent using Jerry’s dryer to clear my secondary and eyepiece; after NGC 4414, I could tell that something was amiss in secondary-land, and had to mooch power from Jerry’s spare battery in order to close out the night’s observing.
EAGLE’S RIDGE SPUR ROAD (43° 48′ 17.9496” N, 122° 42′ 45.6912” W)
MOON: 27 days; 6% illuminated, rose at 4:53 AM
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid 40s, no breeze, excessive dew that hampered observations
Others present: JO, WR
All observations: 12.5″ f/5 Discovery truss-tube Dobsonian, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted
NGC 4336 (Com): This is not among the easiest of Herschels, although it’s been made more difficult by the amount of eyepiece fogging I’ve gotten and the Coma region being well past the meridian and heading slowly toward the Eugene light dome. The galaxy is pretty diffuse and fairly small; it’s not particularly bright, either, but it is pretty obvious in the field. It’s elongated NP-SF, about 1.25′ x 1.0′. The halo is reasonably-well defined and cuts off pretty cleanly, rather than fading into the background. There’s no visible nucleus, and the core is only somewhat brighter than the halo itself. The brightest star in the field is 8th-magnitude, and is NP the galaxy by 15′. To the P and N (P by 2.25′ and N by 1.5′) of the galaxy are threshold stars. S slightly F by 3.75′ is a 10th-magnitude star; also S slightly F by 15′ is a 12.5-mag star, and there’s another 10th-mag star SF by 14′. SP by 8.5′ is an 11th-mag star, and S slightly P by 18′ is a 9.5-mag star.
NGC 4245 (Com): I could easily get lost among all the galaxies in this part of Coma; but the TriAtlas gave me a solid identification here. This is a decent-sized and pretty prominent galaxy (like many up here), although I’ve passed up some that were even more so. This one is elongated NP-SF (it seems that this is by far the most-common orientation among the Herschel galaxies I’ve looked at so far!), and 1.75′ x 1.25′. The halo is diffuse, poorly-defined, maybe even mottled a bit (??); the core is a bit brighter and smallish, and a stellar nucleus is visible. The galaxy is at the N end of a long arc ,with five stars P and one F the galaxy; the stars P the galaxy stretch from SP to P slightly N of galaxy. The closest to the galaxy is a 12th-magnitude star P very slightly N, 3′ from the galaxy; P slightly S that star by 2′ is a 14th-mag star; 2.5′ SP the 14th-mag star is an 11th-mag star; SP the 11th-mag star by 4.5′ is a 10th-mag star; an 11th-mag star is SP that 10th-mag star by 2.5′. F the galaxy by 8′ is a 12th-mag star. N of the galaxy by 14′ is the long edge of a small triangle of 11.5/12.5/14-mag stars.
NGC 4314 (Com): This is an interesting, long and thin (obviously) spiral galaxy that’s quite bright and has a number of very faint stars in its immediate vicinity. It’s elongated NP-SF, 2.75′ x 1.0′. The oval-shaped halo is very tenuous and dwindles into nothingness in the background. The core is pretty bright, and there’s a long streak of interior brightness—perhaps a bar? The nucleus is bright, obvious, and not-quite-stellar. Just outside the halo on the NP end is a 14th-magnitude star. A 15th-mag star is NP galaxy by 4′. NF the core of galaxy on the edge of the halo is a 15th-mag star. Just SF the core is a threshold star embedded in the halo, along the central lengthening/bar. 9′ NF galaxy is a 12th-mag star, and 15′ NF galaxy is an 11th-mag star, which is the S end of an arc of four that leads slightly P and then N toward the edge of field; the 14th-mag star at the N end of the arc is 24′ N of the galaxy. P very slightly N of the galaxy by 11′ is a 12th-mag star, and a 12.5-mag star lies 11′ F the galaxy. 13′ S is NGC 4308 (cf.).
NGC 4308 (Com): This is a very faint, small, round glow NP NGC 4314 by 13′, and 8′ almost due N of the 12th-magnitude star that’s 11′ P very slightly N of 4314. At first, it looked like a mere out-of-focus star. It’s only about 0.3′ in diameter, with a tiny halo and either a substellar nucleus or a very small core—it was hard to discern which.
NGC 4414 (Com): I found this a somewhat tricky star-hop from NGC 4314. This is a fine galaxy—pretty big and bright—although not as spectacular as some in the region. It’s elongated N very slightly P—S very slightly F, and about 2.25′ x 1.25′. The largish halo contains a small, bright oval core and a bright stellar nucleus. The galaxy is bracketed on the SP and NF sides by 12.5-magnitude stars; the star to the SP is 6′ from the galaxy; the star to the NF is 7′ from the galaxy. NP the galaxy by 11′ is the brightest star in the field at 10th-mag; it forms the N vertex of a triangle; the S-more stars are both 11th-mag and are S very slightly P the 10th-mag star by 6.5′ and SF the previous star by 5′. S very slightly F the galaxy by 12′ is an 11th-mag star.
NGC 4449 (CVn): Having dealt with the crudded-over secondary mirror, I can observe this huge, bright Magellanic-type galaxy. I’ve seen this one a number of times (when it didn’t live up to prior observations, I knew something was amiss with the dew and the secondary), and it’s one of the real showpieces of this region of sky. Boxy (rather than roundish or elliptical) and very mottled, it’s easy to tell that there’s something unusual going on here. The galaxy is pretty-well defined, especially on the S end, with a very mottled halo that may be wider at the N end; the NF part of the halo is particularly ragged-looking, mottled, and diffuse. There’s a brighter interior region (if not a “core” per se) that’s about 3.0′ x 1.25′ and more offset to the S end of the galaxy and may be analogous to a bar. There are “stellarings” on the NF and SP edges of this core. The galaxy is 4.5′ x 2.5′ overall and elongated SP-NF. There are occasional glimpses of either a stellar nucleus or a random stellaring close to where a nucleus should be. F and very very slightly N of the galaxy, 3′ from the middle of the galaxy, is a 15th-magnitude star. F slightly S of the galaxy by 6′ is a 14.5-mag star. There’s a 12th-mag star 7′ F the galaxy. NF the galaxy by 9.5′ is a 10th-mag star, while there’s another 10th-mag star NP the galaxy by 14′. F the galaxy by 19′ is a 12th-mag star; SF by 21′ is an 11th-mag star.
And that was then that. Although it had been an enormously-frustrating session dew-wise, it was still good for rekindling enthusiasm in the whole Herschel project, and in observing in general. Sometimes, all you really need is some starlight.
As we reached the junction where the various BLM roads met, Jerry stopped to pick up the weeding tools he’d used to make the drive up to the ridge a little bit easier on all of us. As he did so, we noticed a thick glow to the north: not an aurora (as we thought at first), but a dense layer of blue, teal, and rusty noctilucent clouds that shimmered, stationary, in the pre-dawn sky above the still-sleeping city.
II. With a four-hour work shift planned for Wednesday the 13th, I was grateful that Jerry agreed to go to Eureka on Tuesday night, rather than making the hourlong trek to Eagle’s Ridge—among other things, Eureka was expected to have lower humidity (which is a rarity). As it turned out, it was an excellent choice: the sky conditions were the best we’d ever seen them at Eureka, and some of the best I’d seen since my days in Arizona; the seeing, in particular, was outstanding. Jerry repeatedly hit 21.6 on his SQM, which was unheard-of at Eureka Ridge, and there wasn’t a trace of dew to be found.
Nor had there been a trace of potholes on the road to the ridge. The BLM road, largely gravel and usually strewn with axle-busting potholes at the best of times, had been graded and widened since our March excursion there. I normally made my assault on the road expecting it to assault me back, and it wasn’t until I had reached the fork in the road that led off to the ridge that I was willing to entertain the notion that someone had actually fixed the road to one of our observing sites. (That someone was, no doubt, a someone with lumber-company interests at heart, and our good fortune may well be temporary. For now, though, the repaired road was a blessing.)
I remained on Herschels, having gotten into a good observing habit and wanting to follow through with it. By doing as much as possible in the Canes/Coma/Virgo region, that would leave less mopping-up this time next year, and observing galaxies—ENTIRE FRIGGIN’ ISLAND UNIVERSES, FOR DOG’S SAKE—was never not fascinating and wondrous.
MOON: 28 days (2% illumination); rose at 5:39 AM
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; some breeze below ridge level, no dew
Others present: JO
NGC 5054 (Vir): Even though it’s not 100% dark yet, this is an impressive galaxy S of Spica—big and very “present” compared to most of the Herschel galaxies I’ve observed so far. It has an interesting and irregularly-bright halo that’s pretty-well defined and almost triangular, with the N end being the wider. It’s mostly elongated N-S (maybe slightly NP-SF) and 2.75′ long, with the N end about 1.75′ wide. The core is fairly small and quite a bit brighter than the average brightness of the halo, but it’s hard to tell if there’s a nucleus visible. There is a 14.5-magnitude star involved in the halo on the NF end. There’s also a threshold star 2.5′ NP of the galaxy. Due N of the galaxy by 4′ and 7′ are a pair of 13th-mag stars. NF the galaxy by 4.75′ is a 14th-mag star. NP the galaxy by 11′ is a 10.5-mag star; P slightly S of the galaxy by 10.5′ is another 10.5-mag star. There is a 9.5-mag star SP the galaxy by 9′; it has a 12th-mag star 1.5′ due P it. N of the galaxy by 17′ is the more-northern of a pair of 11th-mag stars, the second of which is P slightly S the first by 2.75′.
NGCs 5047, 5044, 5049, 5037, 5035 (Vir): This is a quite varied and intriguing group P NGC 5054, well worth a return visit with a bigger scope, and at a better time of year. NGC 5047 is P slightly N 5054 by 19′. It’s a thin, small galaxy, about 1.5′ x 0.3′, elongated P very slightly S-F very slightly N. The halo is well defined, and there’s both a somewhat brighter core and an elongated bright region in the interior. No nucleus is visible, though. Due P by 5.5′ is an 11th-magnitude star (which will serve as a leaping-off a reference for other two galaxies); 8′ N of that star is NGC 5044; SP that star by 9′ is NGC 5037. NGC 5044 is the brightest of the group, and is quite bright. It’s about 1.5′ in diameter and round, with a halo that very gradually brightens to center; there’s not much cutoff between core and halo. The halo is pretty well defined, and a stellar nucleus can be seen with difficulty. NF the galaxy by 5′ is a 13th-mag star; N of that star by 5′ is an 8th-mag star; SF the 13th-mag star by 4.5′ is another galaxy (NGC 5049). NGC 5049 is reasonably-bright but small, about 0.5′ x 0.3′, elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S. Its core is very very small but bright and contains a bright stellar nucleus. Returning to the 11th-mag reference star brings NGC 5037 back to center. This galaxy is the biggest and second-brightest of the group; it’s 14′ from NGC 5044 and 13′ from NGC 5047, and elongated SP-NF. It seems almost like a flat galaxy at 2.0′ x 0.3′. The halo is quite well-defined, and there’s a streak of brightening along the length of it in addition to an obvious small core. No nucleus is visible at this aperture, but there’s an obvious 14th-magnitude star just off the NF end of the halo. NF 5037 by 8′ is an 11th-mag star. 5.5′ due N is the brighter of a faint pair/double; the fainter is SP the brighter by 0.3′; these are 13th– and 13.5-mags. NP the galaxy by 5′ is a 10th-mag star; there’s another 10th-mag star N very slightly F that star by 4′; between the two (2′ from the more southerly of the two) is another galaxy (NGC 5035). NGC 5035 is very diffuse and not particularly bright, but it’s fairly-obvious and doesn’t need to be hunted for. It’s pretty small (0.75′ diameter) and round, with a poorly-defined halo and very little central brightening or core present. In averted vision, there’s an occasional trace of a stellar nucleus that isn’t seen with direct vision. 10′ SP the galaxy is an 8th-magnitude star.
After the excellent 5054 group, there was an equally-good follow-up target. I’ve long avoided taking notes on many of the sky’s showpieces, both because they’re often played-out by astronomy standards and because there are so many fine details to catch. But I need to take notes on them, so showpiece object it was:
NGC 4565 (Com): This is, of course, a big one and one that I’ve been avoiding for a while—the undisputed classic edge-on galaxy. It’s huge—14.5′ x 1.5’—and elongated NP-SF. The F end of the galaxy is more “tangible” and well-defined, the P end a little bit more diffuse or weaker, but overall this is a sharply-defined galaxy. The core is smallish and bright and the famous dust lane is very obvious, running a bit closer to the N edge of the galaxy, the core and halo more obvious on the S side of the dust lane and the nucleus also on that side of the lane. (Unsurprisingly, there was no trace of the 2MASSX galaxy cluster off the SF end [naturally], nor of NGC 4565A to the SP of 4565.) There is a 13.5-magnitude star NF the galaxy’s nucleus by 1.5′, and a 13.5-mag star S very very slightly P the nucleus by 4′. Running on the exact P edge of the field from NP the galaxy to S is an arc of five stars; the brightest (11th-mag) is in the middle, 9′ P the nucleus; the arc is 11′ long. S of the galaxy is a random pattern of stars of which the two brightest are S of the galaxy’s nucleus by 15′ (at 10th-mag) and a 9th-mag star (the brightest in the field) SF the galaxy by 13′.
NGC 4494 (Com): This impressively-bright, elliptical-looking galaxy is between NGC 4565 and the wide double 17 Comae. It’s elongated N-S and very large at 3.75′ x 1.75′. The very well defined halo contains a bright core that’s about a quarter of the galaxy’s diameter, which itself contains a very bright non-stellar nucleus. N very slightly F the galaxy by 6′ is an 8th-magnitude star; NF the galaxy by 3.25′ is a 13th-mag star, and NF the galaxy by 17′ is a 9th-mag star. P the galaxy by 6.5′ is a 12th-mag star; another 12th-mag star lies F very very slightly N of the galaxy by 10′.
One of the key areas in the Herschel lists is the area around Messier 106, itself a Herschel object—a region that contains galaxies from both the Canes I and Canes II physically-bound groups. Five of these are in the Herschel lists, all residing within an area the size of the Full Moon. That made this area a high-value target for Herschel hunting, and I’d made a note beforehand that I was going to get these five before the season was out.
M 106, NGC 4248 (CVn): M106 is a massive galaxy and quite breathtaking when sweeping onto it. Really one of the unsung jewels of the Messier catalogue. It’s fully 13′ x 4.5′, elongated N slightly P-S slightly F. The halo is better defined along the NP edge to the NP end of the galaxy, while the more-diffuse S end extends quite a long way but is less defined; the large bright extended core seems offset toward the NP end of the galaxy and contains a very bright substellar nucleus. A 14th-magnitude star sits inside the halo on the NP end. 4.25′ P and slightly N from the nucleus is a 12.5-mag star; the nucleus and this P star and the star on the NP end of the galaxy form an equilateral triangle. A 12.5-mag star sits at the SF tip of the halo. F the galaxy by 9′ is a 14th-mag star; F and slightly S of the galaxy by 12.5′ is a 13th-mag star. S slightly P the nucleus by 15′ is an 11th-mag star, while P and somewhat N of M106 by 14′ (nucleus to nucleus) is NGC 4248, a very nice galaxy that’s very apparent in the field even with M106 present. 4248 is elongated NP-SF and about 1.5′ x 0.5′ (although it may be a bit wider—perhaps 0.6’—at the SF end of the halo). The halo is fairly diffuse and not overly well defined, and there isn’t much in the way of a core or central concentration. A very faint stellar nucleus may be visible in averted vision, and an 11.5-magnitude star resides just inside the NP end of the halo. (I’m annoyed that I missed the interacting pair NGC 4231/4232 P and very slightly N of 4248.)
NGCs 4220, 4218 (CVn): These two galaxies are also part of the M106 group, with that more-dominant galaxy to the SF of this pair. NGC 4220 is a bright, obviously edge-on or highly-inclined spiral, oriented NP-SF and subtending 2.5′ x 0.5′. Its halo is very well defined and evenly-illuminated, but the core itself is somewhat hard to define; there’s brightening along the arms that makes up much of the galaxy’s dimensions. A tiny stellar nucleus is visible with direct vision. SP this nucleus by 1.25′ is a 15th-magnitude star, and a threshold star is P slightly N the nucleus by 4′. NF the galaxy, starting at 7.5′ NF, is an upside-down lowercase ‘y’ pattern; its four stars are all 12th/12.5-mag; the stem of the ‘y’ points toward the NF (away from the galaxy; the arms of the ‘y’ point toward the galaxy); the ‘y’ is 6′ end-to-end. Due N of the galaxy by 15′ is the brightest star in the field at 9th-mag; this 9th-mag star has another galaxy (NGC 4218) P and very slightly N of it by 2.5′. NGC 4218 is small, faint, and diffuse, and benefits greatly from averted vision. The galaxy is 0.75′ x 0.3′, elongated NP-SF. Its halo is fairly well defined and contains a very small core that’s much more visible in averted vision, although no nucleus is visible in either averted or direct vision.
NGCs 4217, 4226 (CVn): Another pair in the M106 group. NGC 4217 is quite an interesting galaxy but not an easy one, diffuse and “unconcentrated” as it is… a ghost of a galaxy. A wedge-shaped pattern of 7th– and 8th-magnitude stars dominates the field and lies mostly to the S of the galaxy (although there’s one N slightly F the galaxy and one due P the galaxy). NGC 4217 breaks with the trend of the M106 group and is elongated perpendicular to them, SP-NF, and is pretty large at 4.75′ x 0.75′. Its halo is poorly-defined and there’s very little central brightening to the galaxy at all, with nary a core or nucleus identifiable. Just on the SP edge of the halo is a threshold star that requires averted to see at all. 0.5′ N very slightly F the galaxy’s center is a 13th-magnitude star; 1.5′ N very slightly F that star is an 8.5-mag star. S very slightly F the galaxy by 2′ is a 14th-mag star. Due P galaxy by 6.5′ is a 7th-mag star (as noted above). F very slightly N of the galaxy by 8′ is a 12th-mag star; halfway between that star and the galaxy is a 15th-mag star. F slightly S of the galaxy by 7.5′ is an extremely faint galaxy glow, that of NGC 4226—this galaxy is even more diffuse and difficult than 4217, and much smaller, at a mere 0.5′ x 0.25′. It has very little concentration at all, with only the possibility of a faint stellar nucleus visible in averted vision only.
NGC 4346 (CVn): This is the last Herschel galaxy in the M106 group, and considerably brighter than the previous pair. It’s elongated P-F, 1.75′ x 0.5′, with a well-defined halo and a small round very prominent core, but although it’s apparently an inclined spiral there’s little brightness along the length of the arms. 20′ NP the galaxy is a bright yellow 6.5-magnitude star. P very very slightly N of the galaxy by 14′ is an 11th-mag star. S very slightly F of galaxy is a ‘Y’-shaped pattern with the star at the middle and star at the end of the stalk separated by 1.5′; the star at the end of the P tine is 4.5′ from the center star, the star at the end of the F tine is 4.75′ from center; the stalk points S very slightly F; the star at the end of the stalk is 10′ SF the galaxy, and is the brightest in the Y at 11.5-magnitude. 19′ F very slightly S of the galaxy is a 10th-mag star. N of the galaxy by 13′ is the middle and brightest star in a bent arc of three; this middle star is 12th-mag, flanked to S very slightly P and N very slightly P by 12th-mag stars, each 2′ from the middle star.
The worst aspect of observing in June is the solstice-shortened nights, and after finishing the M106 group, only an hour remained before the break of dawn. I looked at some of the showpiece globulars–M13 was near the zenith by this point, and M15 (my favorite) was surprisingly-high in the east–before deciding that I’d reached a good stopping point, and we agreed that the observing night was essentially over.
There were no noctilucent clouds on this morning, but we did have another aurora imposter: a bright arc of contrail-like cloud curving low in the sky above town. Intent on our observing, we hadn’t even noticed this band of cloud rolling in until it was time to leave; conditions elsewhere in the sky hadn’t degraded much, if any, at all.
And then it was a lazy half-hour drive home without the potholes to keep me extra-alert.
III. With a few extra work shifts behind me, and clear skies ahead, I joined a small group at Eureka two nights later. Suddenly, with the road fixed, Eureka had taken over the top spot in my ranking of local observing sites; that and the dew problems our last night at Eagle’s Ridge made the slightly-less-dark skies at Eureka seem of far less concern. I could now drive to a dark site without having to search for my collimation wing nuts in the van after they’d been rattled loose by rough road. And my van might actually forgive me for the punishment clear skies have forced it to endure.
I remembered my tracking platform this night as well—the platform Jerry and I had put time, effort, and money into. Jerry had to remind me how to use it (including which way it should face), and we never got it working as well as it could; among other things, it had developed a tendency to skip a tooth every thirty seconds or so. Jerry wasn’t thrilled with how the platform had turned out, but I was grateful just to not have to constantly be nudging galaxies back into the field after only a few seconds.
One of the benefits of the short June nights is that there’s also less time for the Moon to be an issue. With sunset near 9 PM, we never even noticed that the Moon was up, let alone having it interfere with any observing.
Dan’s ladyfriend and daughter were there. And Doge was there again. Never underestimate the power of a living Internet meme to make an observing evening complete.
MOON: 1 day (1% illumination); set at 10:02 PM
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; some breeze below ridge level, some dew on plastic surfaces but optics clear throughout
Others present: JO, FS, DB, Elise, Ruby, Doge
NGC 4699 (Vir): This first galaxy of the night is very bright and obvious, and probably an elliptical. It covers 2.75′ x 2.3′ and is oriented S slightly P-N slightly F. The well-defined halo comes suddenly to a much brighter 0.5′ core, and a bright stellar nucleus is readily apparent. Due F the galaxy by 5.5′ is a 10.5-magnitude star; halfway between the galaxy and that star is a 13th-mag star; due N of the 10.5-mag star by 4′ is the brighter component of a double star; the fainter component is just SP the brighter by 15″, and the components are 12.5- and 14.5-mags. S slightly P the galaxy by 2′ is a threshold star. SF the galaxy by 12′ is another double, this one separated N-S; the primary is 10.5-mag and the secondary 10.7′; these are separated by 10″. S somewhat F the galaxy by 8′ is a 12.5-mag star, and NP the galaxy by 11′ is an 11th-mag star.
NGCs 4742, 4760, 4781 (Vir): NGC 4742 is fairly smallish (0.75′ x 0.5′) and very slightly elongated P-F. It has a pretty well defined halo that suddenly brightens to a small, moderately-bright core that contains a very bright stellar nucleus. SF the galaxy by 1.5′ is a 12th-magnitude star. 9′ NP the galaxy is the primary of a double (S1682, brightest in field) whose primary is 7th-mag and whose secondary is 11th-mag; these are separated by 30″, with the secondary P very slightly N of the primary. N slightly F (by 4.5′) and S slightly P (by 2.25′) the primary of the double star are 12th-mag stars. SP the galaxy by 6.75′ is an 11th-mag star, while S somewhat P the galaxy by 20′ is a 9th-mag star. F somewhat S of the galaxy by 18′ is a 9th-mag star; NF that star by 5′ is another galaxy (NGC 4760). 4760 is larger but more diffuse than NGC 4742, with a 2.0′ x 1.5′ halo that brightens gradually to a moderately-brighter core; the core contains a very faint substellar nucleus. The galaxy is oriented S very slightly P-N very slightly F. NF NGC 4760 by 4′ is a 10th-magnitude star. F the galaxy by 10′ is a 10.5-mag star; F very slightly S that star by 8.75′ is another galaxy, NGC 4781. This galaxy is very large (2.75′ x 1.25′), elongated P-F, and brighter than NGC 4760. It has a reasonably well defined halo but not much of a visible core and no visible nucleus. Just on the P edge of the halo is a 12.5-magnitude star, however. There’s also a 13th-mag star 1.5′ P slightly S the star on the edge of the halo; SP this star by 1.5′ is another 13th-mag star. NF the galaxy by 9.5′ is a 9th-mag star (the brightest in this galaxy’s field). SP the galaxy and trailing toward the S edge of the field is a scattering of 10th-mag and fainter stars.
NGC 4487 (Vir): This galaxy is a tough one, just preceding Chi Virginis—it’s pretty much the definition of diffuse. The poorly-defined 3.0′ x 2.25′ halo is elongated mostly P-F and has very little central concentration, with a small core that’s only slightly brighter than the halo and no nucleus apparent. A 14th-magnitude star lies just on the N edge of the galaxy; just outside the halo on the F side is a 13th-mag star. N very very slightly F the galaxy by 5′ is a 12th-mag star. P very slightly N of the galaxy by 5.5′ is a 10th-mag star. SF the galaxy by 9′ is a 9th-mag star. There is a 10th-mag star SP the galaxy by 15′; this star has an 11th-mag star S slightly P by 1.5′.
NGC 4546 (Vir): This galaxy is framed by an interesting field, with pairs or trios of stars bracketing the field to the SP, NP, and N slightly F. The galaxy is decent-sized (2.5′ x 1.0′) and considerably bright, elongated P-F, with a pretty well defined halo that brightens to a small, moderately-bright core with a very obvious stellar nucleus. To the SF of the galaxy by 2′ is a 12th-magnitude star, and there’s another 12th-mag star P slightly N of the galaxy by 5.5′. NP the galaxy by 2′ is a 14.5-mag star. NF the galaxy by 3′ is a 14th-mag star. To the P somewhat N edge of the field (20′ from the galaxy) are two stars separated by 2′; the more southerly is slightly brighter; these are 9th and 10th-mags. S of the galaxy by 17′ is a 9.5-mag star that has an 11.5-mag star F slightly N of it by 5′. N of the galaxy is an arc stretching SF-NP; the brightest star in this arc (of five) is an 8th-magnitude star second from S, 15′ N of the galaxy.
NGCs 4725, 4712, 4747 (Com): NGC 4725 is an excellent galaxy! This one vies with NGC 4559 as the best in Coma after the Messiers and NGC 4565. It’s very large and very bright, and it’s hard to begrudge it having a popular name (the Tie Fighter Galaxy) as it does indeed resemble its namesake. The galaxy is elongated SP-NF and spans 6.5′ x 3.75′; the SP end of the very well defined halo seems sharper than the NF edge in averted vision, as if there’s a more-definite spiral arm just outside the threshold of vision on that side of the galaxy. Averted vision also adds about an arcminute to the galaxy’s length. The core of the galaxy is small and highly concentrated, with the halo becoming suddenly brighter toward it, and the core seems of-center to the SP just slightly. A possible substellar nucleus shows intermittently, and there’s a threshold star inside the NF end of the halo. N of the galaxy by 2.5′ is a 13.5-magnitude star. NP the galaxy by 6.5′ is a 12th-mag star, and P slightly N of the galaxy by 13′ is a 12th-mag star; due S of that star by 4′ is another galaxy (NGC 4712). To the F and NF of 4725 by 13′ and beyond is a grouping of brighter stars (of 7.5- to 11th-mags); these make an arrowhead shape that points S from the F edge of the field; N very very slightly P the brightest in that group (7.5-mag) by 6.25 is another galaxy (NGC 4747); the 7.5-mag star also has a 12th-mag companion P it by 0.6′. NGC 4712 is hard to “lock down” precisely, with a very diffuse and poorly defined 2.25′ x 1.0′ halo elongated N-S. There is no real central brightening or nucleus visible here. 6′ S slightly F the galaxy is a 12th-magnitude star; F very slightly N that star by 3.5′ is a 13th-mag star; 3.5′ F very slightly N of the 13th-mag star is a 12th-mag star which is 5′ S very slightly P the center of 4725. NGC 4747 is also weakly concentrated and diffuse, a poorly defined 2.5′ x 0.75′ halo elongated SP-NF with no central brightening or nucleus. NGC 4747 is P NGC 4725 by 25′.
NGCs 4914, 4868 (CVn): both of these galaxies are fairly non-descript. NGC 4914 is elongated 1.5′ x 0.75′ and N very slightly P-S very slightly F, with a very small brighter core and a tiny stellar nucleus. N very slightly P the galaxy by 6′ is a 12th-magnitude star. NF the galaxy by 6.5′ is a 9th-mag star. P very slightly N the galaxy by 6.75′ is an 11th-mag star. 5.5′ SP the galaxy is a 13th-mag star. The brightest star in the field is an 8th-magnitude star 19′ due F the galaxy. NGC 4868 lies 19′ P very very slightly N of 4914, and is the more diffuse of the two galaxies. It’s elongated N-S, with a 1.3′ x 1.0′ that comes very gradually brighter to a middle/central region that seems to be irregularly bright; a stellar nucleus may be fleetingly visible. A threshold star is inside the SP end of the halo, and 1′ N of the galaxy is a 12th-magnitude star. 1.75′ F the galaxy is a 13.5-mag star. S very slightly F the galaxy by 4.5′ is a 13th-mag star; there’s a 12.5-mag star 4.5′ S slightly P the galaxy. Due S of 4868 by 12′ is another possible galaxy, an averted-vision object only [there’s nothing nearby on the POSS plate except NGC 4870, 16′ to S—due to the disparity in distances I can’t consider this a sighting].
NGCs 4618, 4625 (CVn): NGC 4618 is a very interesting galaxy with an unusual shape. It’s large (2.75′ x 2.0′) and elongated N-S. The halo is moderately well defined and quite diffuse; it’s also unevenly-illuminated, with an apparent void between the core and the S end of the halo on the F side. The core itself is elongated slightly—but not in the same direction as the halo, rather P slightly S-F slightly N—and offset toward the N end of the galaxy. The core is fully 1.5′ x 0.75′, with a stellar nucleus. There may be a threshold star embedded just on the core’s N edge. S of the core by 4.75′ is an 11th-magnitude star. NGC 4625 lies 8.5′ N very slightly F NGC 4618; it’s smaller and rounder than the previous, about 1.25′ in diameter, with a slightly-brighter core and a hint of a stellar nucleus. 1.75′ P slightly S of the galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star. Due F the galaxy by 4.5′ is a 12th-mag star; there’s a 12th-mag star N very very slightly F that star by 5′. With 4625 centered, there’s an 8.5-mag star 19′ F the galaxy that is the brightest in the field. F slightly S of the galaxy by 15′ is a 10th-mag star. N slightly P the galaxy by 12.5′ is an 11th-mag star, and due N of that star by 2.5′ is a 10.5-mag star.
NGC 4369 (CVn): The last galaxy of this particular night is a small, slightly-generic probably-elliptical target. It’s about 1.5′ round, with a well-defined halo that gets suddenly brighter to a brightish core. A faint stellar nucleus can be seen. Due S of the galaxy by 5.25′ is the brighter of a pair; the brighter (13th-magnitude) is NF the fainter (13.5-magnitude) by 20″; this pair forms the SP tip of a triangle with the galaxy at the N and a 12.5-mag star 7.5′ SF the galaxy as the other vertices; in the middle of the southern edge is a 13th-mag star; in the middle of the P edge of the triangle is a 13th-mag star. SF the galaxy by 13′ is a 10th-mag star. N somewhat P the galaxy by 15′ is a 10th-mag star, and due N of the galaxy by 21′ is a 10.5-mag star. Just out of the edge of the field, SF the galaxy, is a 5th-mag star (6 Canum), which is slightly yellowish.
In all, it turned out to be an uneventful night; the most unusual aspect of it was the sheer number of bright satellites passing through fields in which I was observing. Numerous times during my audio-note transcription I had to elide “there goes another bright satellite through the field” so as not to constantly have to keep making reference to it. It was a trend that would continue the next time out, as well.
IV. The next night out would in fact happen two nights later, under slightly less-optimal skies. It was a bigger group this time; Kathy had come along with Jerry, Alan had brought his astrophotography gear, and Dan’s daughter had brought a friend along. Jerry, Alan, and I took turns using Jerry’s grass whip to “mow” the small clearing that we used for telescopes, so that more of us could fit into the clearing. We ended up with five telescopes and two camera platforms in the clearing, and the banter included Monty Python and Blues Brothers references for much of the evening (as Matt “Guitar” Murphy had died earlier in the day). It turned out to be my most-productive night of the run, despite having the lowest SQM readings of the week.
I started with another showpiece object while waiting for the three-day Moon to vacate the western sky.
MOON: 3 days (13% illumination); set at 11:48 PM
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to low 50s; some breeze below ridge level, occasional small clouds drifting through, some dew on plastic surfaces but optics clear
Others present: JO, KO, FS, AG, DB, Ruby, Ruby’s friend
M104 (Vir): The Moon is still about 35 minutes from setting, but I didn’t want to put off my notes until midnight, so here we are. Even so, I’m always surprised by how relatively small M104 is—I always expect it to be the size of M51 or M81, but I know better. It’s still a superb galaxy. It’s elongated P-F, and after about ten more minutes, the galaxy grows to 5.75′ x 2.0′. At first, the dust lane seemed as much a sharp cutoff of the galaxy’s S edge as it did an actual dust lane, but as the sky darkens, the region of the galaxy S of the dust lane becomes more obvious and it can be seen for what it is. The dust lane runs about ¾ of the way from N to S, with most of the core and nucleus visible N of the lane. The halo of the galaxy is very smooth and well defined, and it has a very bright core and substellar nucleus. N of the galaxy by 1.75′ from the nucleus is a 14.5-magnitude star. N very very slightly F by 10′ is a 10.5-mag star; F very very slightly N of the galaxy by 16′ is a 9th-mag star; N very slightly P that star is a pair of 11th-mag stars separated NP-SF from each other by 1′. Due P the 9th-mag star by 3′ is a 12th-mag star. SF the galaxy by 7′ is a 10th-mag star that is the N-most vertex of a triangle; S very slightly P that star by 7′ is the brightest in the triangle at 9th-mag; there’s also a 10.5-mag star F slightly N the second star by 3′. P very slightly S of the galaxy by 5′ is a 10th-mag star; due P that star by 1.5′ is a 13th-mag star; 3′ P very slightly S of the 13th-mag star is an 10.5-mag star; a 12th-mag star lies 5′ P somewhat S the 10.5-mag star; this is an arc of four P and arcing S-ward from the galaxy. 21′ P slightly N of the galaxy is the “Jaws” asterism, which doesn’t really remind me much of a shark; Jaws looks like he has a harpoon of five stars extending N slightly F from his back; Jaws is composed of a small triangle and a small trapezoid of stars; these stars range from 8th-mag to 12th-mag, while the “harpoon” is made up of 10th– and 10.5-mag stars.
NGC 4030 (Vir): This galaxy is remarkably bright given that the sky is still not 100% dark. It’s a large and impressive galaxy, although it’s somewhat difficult to determine a morphological type from its appearance. Its diffuse halo is elongated 2.25′ x 1.25′ N v slightly F-S v slightly P and fades into the background without much definition. The core region accounts for perhaps 2/3 of the galaxy’s dimensions and brightens toward the center but doesn’t come to a point; there’s no visible nucleus. The galaxy is bracketed on the N very slightly P and the S very slightly P by 11th-magnitude stars; the star to the N slightly P is 1.5′ from the galaxy, while the star to the S slightly P is 2.25′ from the galaxy; the star to the S slightly P has a 13th-mag star SF by 1′. There’s a pair of brightish stars 9.5′ SF the galaxy; the brighter is NF the fainter; these are 10.5- and 11.5-mags and separated by 2.5′.. Oddly, almost all stars in the field are on the F side of the field except for two 13th-mag stars, which are 14′ P slightly N and NP the galaxy (almost equidistant). 24′ N of the galaxy (out of the field) is a 9.5-mag star. P very slightly N of the galaxy by 25′ (also out of the field) is a 10th-mag star. The brightest star in the field is a 10th-magnitude star 16′ NF the galaxy.
NGCs 4856, 4877 (Vir): The seeing has temporarily gone crappy in the Virgo region for a few moments as some small black clouds have drifted through. Once they clear, it reveals NGC 4856 to be a long, thin galaxy, elongated 3.25′ x 0.67′ and oriented SP-NF. The galaxy still seems reasonably well defined despite the variable seeing, and has a very very bright core, although a stellar nucleus is very tenuous; there’s also a 13th-magnitude star just off the F edge of the halo. 19′ P the galaxy, just on the edge of the field, is the brightest star in the field (7th-mag). SP the galaxy by 10′ is a double star or close pair of unrelated stars; the primary is 11.5-mag and is 20″ P the secondary, which is 13.5-mag. SF the galaxy is a pentagon of stars, the closest of which is a 10th-mag star 7.5′ SF the galaxy; S very slightly P that star by 5.5′ is a 12.5-mag star; SF this star by 8′ is a 10th-mag star; NF this star by 6.75′ is a 9th-mag star; N very slightly F this star by 12′ is an 11th-mag star. But back to the 9th-mag star (4th in the pentagon): F slightly S that star by 3′ is another galaxy, NGC 4877. This galaxy is extremely difficult, faint, and diffuse. It’s elongated perhaps 1.75′ x 0.5′ and oriented N very slightly F-S very slightly P; the halo may be very slightly brighter at the S end. There’s no real central brightening or core evident, and the very faint stellar nucleus visible in averted vision may or may not be real. SF the galaxy by 5.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star.
NGC 4902 (Vir): This one is a round diffuse glow, to the N of NGC 4856. It’s 1.75′ diameter, with an irregularly-bright and reasonably well defined halo that hints at further detail just on the edge of resolution. The core is quite small and only subtly-brighter than the halo, but no nucleus is visible. The galaxy is in the middle of a ‘w’-shaped asterism, at the “narrow” end of the ‘w’. The brightest stars in the ‘w’ are the closest to the galaxy, NP and P slightly S of the galaxy; the star to the SP is 10th-magnitude; the star to the N slightly P is 10.5-mag; the star to the N slightly P has a 14th-mag star , to the N very slightly P of it by 0.67′; the star N slightly P the galaxy is 2′ from the galaxy; the star to the SP is 2.25′ from the galaxy; from the 10.5-mag star NP by 3′ is a 12th-mag star; from that star S very slightly P by 1.25′ is a 13th-mag star; from the 12th-mag star NF by 3.75′ is an 11.5-mag star. Back to the star SP the galaxy: the last star in the ‘w’ is SF that star by 4.5′ and is 13th-mag. SF the galaxy by 18′ is the center star of a bent ‘Y’ pattern which is composed of 10th– and 11th-mag stars.
NGC 4179 (Vir): This is an obvious edge-on spiral, and a very fine one at that. It’s elongated NP-SF, 2.5′ x 0.5′, with a pretty well defined halo and a bright core that seems slightly offset to the NP end; this impression is heightened in averted vision, which also brings out a substellar nucleus. A long string of stars stretches from NF the galaxy toward the NF edge of the field; there are seven primary stars in this train; these trail away from the galaxy and are between 10th– and 11th-mags, although there are a couple of fainter ones among these. The closest of these seven stars is NF the galaxy by 2′. 12′ SF the galaxy, along the plane of the galaxy, is a 10.5-mag star. There’s a 9.5-mag star SP the galaxy by 14′. S very slightly P the galaxy by 12′ is a 12th-mag star.
NGC 4697 (Vir): A good-sized, bright galaxy, it’s obvious that this one is a Herschel 400 object. It has a very well defined, football-shaped halo, 2.25′ x 1.25′, elongated P very slightly S-F very slightly N. The core—perhaps 0.5′ x 0.4’—is significantly brighter than the halo, and contains a bright stellar nucleus. Off the NF end of the galaxy by 3′ is a 12th-magnitude star, and a 14th-mag star is 1.5′ off NP end. A row of five brightish stars stretches S of the galaxy from F to SP the galaxy; the star F the galaxy is 10′ F the galaxy and is 10th-mag; a 12th-mag star is due P that star by 2′; 6′ S of the galaxy is a 10th-mag star; SP the galaxy by 11′ is a 9.5-mag star; P slightly S of the galaxy by 17′ is a 9th-mag star. 23′ N very slightly F the galaxy by is a solitary 9th-mag star.
NGC 5020 (Vir): This is not an easy galaxy at all, after a couple really fine ones. It has a very diffuse, not particularly well defined, and it’s hard to tell its size and orientation as a result—perhaps 1.67′ x 1.0′, oriented S very slightly P-N very slightly F. There is some vaguely-defined central brightening that might not merit being called a core, but a faint stellar nucleus is fairly obvious. There’s a 14.5-magnitude star due N of the galaxy by 3.5′ and a 13th-mag star S of the galaxy by 7.25′. F slightly S of the galaxy by 10.5′ is an 11th-mag star. 15′ P very slightly N is an 8.5-mag star. SP the galaxy by 21′ is a 9th-mag star; NF that star by 3.75′ is a double star; components separated NP-SF by 12″; the 13th-mag SF component is the primary, while the secondary is 13.5-mag.
NGCs 5129, 5132 (Vir): This is a pair of small galaxies, neither of which is a standout. NGC 5129 is somewhat difficult, with a faint 0.75′ x 0.5′ halo that’s elongated mostly N-S. There’s almost no central brightening beyond a very faint, barely-visible nucleus. 1.75′ F the galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star, and S slightly F the galaxy by 3.25′ is a 9.5-mag star. NP by 8′ is a 10th-mag star which has a 12.5-mag star N of it by 1.75′; NF the galaxy by 8.5′ is another galaxy, NGC 5132. This one is smaller and even more diffuse than NGC 5129. It’s no more than 0.5′ in diameter and round, with a poorly-defined halo, no central brightening, no core, and no nucleus. N slightly F the galaxy by 2.25′ is a 12th-magnitude star. F the galaxy by 2.25′ is a 14th-mag star, and NP the galaxy by 10′ is a 9.5-mag star.
By about this point, Dan and I were the only ones left in the clearing; his daughter and her friend had gone off to his van to sleep until the sunrise (they wanted to watch the sun come up), and the other observers had called it a night. Alan had taken some fine shots of the central Milky Way to document the evening, although an occasional jet-black cloud had made its way through the region and into a couple of his photos.
NGCs 5444, 5445, 5440 (CVn): A very interesting trio of contrasting galaxies in eastern Canes Venatici. NGC 5444 is a fairly small and round (1.25′) galaxy, not overly well defined. The halo becomes suddenly bright to the core, which is bright enough that it makes determining whether or not there’s a nucleus quite difficult. P the galaxy by 1.5′ is a 15th-magnitude star, and there’s another 15th-mag star N of the galaxy by 6′. 7′ S of the galaxy is another galaxy, NGC 5445. 5445 is fainter but larger than 5444, and is a 1.25′ x 0.3′ edge-on streak that’s elongated SP-NF. It has a very tiny moderately-bright core and a fleeting stellar nucleus. Just off the SP end is a 13.5-magnitude star. NF the galaxy (along the plane of the galaxy) by 3.5′ is a 14th-mag star. Due F the galaxy by 2.5′ is a 12th-mag star. S very slightly F the galaxy by 6.5′ is a 10th-mag star. A 9th-mag star lies P very slightly S by 13′; from this last star, another galaxy (NGC 5440) lies 13′ S slightly F. (5440 also sits 16′ SP NGC 5445.) It’s also edge-on, and the largest and brightest of the three in this group. Its irregularly-bright halo is elongated SP-NF and subtends 1.5′ x 0.3′; it has little central brightening, but the galaxy does have either an off-centered (to the NF end) nucleus or a threshold star on the NF end. There is also an 11th-magnitude star embedded in the SP end of the halo.
NGCs 5273, 5276 (CVn): NGC 5273 is a brightish, large, but diffuse and undefined galaxy. It has only a slight bit of N-S elongation (1.75′ x 1.67′), with a broadly concentrated but not overly-bright core; there’s a definite stellar nucleus that really benefits from averted vision. Due P the galaxy by 5.5′ is a 13.5-magnitude star, and 3′ P very slightly S is a threshold star. A 14.5-mag star lies 5.75′ due N. F very slightly N of the galaxy by 19′ is an 8th-mag star; 8.5′ N of that star is a 9.5-mag star. SF the galaxy by 3.25′ is another galaxy, merely a fuzzy spot. This is NGC 5276, which is hard to hold steadily even in averted vision; it’s even hard to tell the galaxy’s orientation because it’s so difficult. It appears to be elongated NP-SF, and about 0.67′ x 0.3′, with a very faintly brighter core and no detectable nucleus.
While over in this section of Canes, I stopped in on a favorite object: the Hickson 68 galaxy group and nearby spiral NGC 5371, inviting Dan over for a look. For my observing money, this is the best of the Hickson groups, framed nicely around a 6th-magnitude star and with the big, bold NGC 5371 looming close by for perspective. A stunning field.
And then it was back to Herschel hunting, with just enough time for a few more targets before dawn.
NGC 5383, UGC 8877 (CVn): Not much time left for Herschel hunting; dawn isn’t far off. NGC 5383 is certainly a decent galaxy to end with—it’s pretty bright and pretty large (2.25′ x 1.5′), elongated NP-SF, with a diffuse halo that fades into the background. The core isn’t well-defined; it’s brighter than the halo but not particularly bright, and is elongated slightly NP-SF, especially in averted vision. There’s a faint substellar nucleus within, and on the NF end inside the edge of the halo is a 14th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is 11.5-magnitude and lies SP the galaxy by 8.5′. NP the galaxy by 3′ is a 13th-mag star; there’s another 13th-mag star NF the galaxy by 4.25′. SF the galaxy by 3′ is a 12th-mag star that has an 11th-mag star due S by just under 1′; this last star has a 12th-mag star SF it by 3.75′. Every so often, S of the galaxy by 3.5′ and mostly in averted vision, a fuzzy indeterminate spot (UGC 8877) can be seen. This galaxy is very small and extremely faint, hard to hold steadily even in averted vision. It’s impossible to determine its size or orientation, and appears to have little if any central brightening at this aperture.
NGC 6217 (UMi): This really fine galaxy will be the last for the night, as dawn is definitely beginning to break. It’s an obvious, highly-inclined spiral in the middle of a surprisingly-busy field. The irregularly-bright halo is nonetheless well-defined, oriented N very slightly P-S very slightly F, and measures 2.25′ x 1.25′. There’s not much of a core here, just a slight streak of brightening down the middle, and a very obvious stellar nucleus. The field is quite crowded with stars: NP the galaxy by 9′ and 6.5′ are 11th-magnitude stars; P the galaxy by 21′ and 18′ are 10th– and 10.5-mag stars, respectively. S very slightly F the galaxy by 19′ is an 8.5-mag star. SP the galaxy by 15′ is a 9.5-mag star, and there’s an interesting diamond pattern of 10th– and 11th-mag stars F the galaxy just on the SP edge of the field.
Before tearing down for the month, I went back to M13, M92, M5, M22, M55, and M15, the bright globulars of summer, whose locations I’d long ago memorized. This closed out the June dark-sky run—it wasn’t as productive as that in 2017, but it was a much-needed stretch of clear skies and galaxy light to make up for a mediocre spring.