Permanence and Change

For only the second time in our tenure here in Oregon (the first being last year), we had a stretch of clear Moonless nights in October. With autumn being my favorite observing season, this was an opportunity not to be wasted.

I was also giving the presentation at the October EAS meeting, as a last-minute replacement for the scheduled speaker. Having already given a talk on “Forgotten Gems of the Spring Sky,” I decided to give an autumn counterpart, while planning winter and summer versions for down the road. (I also somehow got myself elected president of EAS at the same meeting.) I put together a list of forty objects for the program, based on past observations and recommendations for those classes of objects (carbon and double stars, etc.) I had fewer observations for; after settling on a few open clusters I hadn’t actually seen, I decided to use the first night of this October run verifying that the objects I had chosen for the program were, in fact, gems of the autumn sky.

I’d hoped to get a long session in, checking out the program objects and then moving on to more Herschel objects–particularly those remaining in Cygnus and Cepheus. I hadn’t been able to convince anyone else from EAS to join me at Eureka Ridge, and while this wouldn’t normally have been a problem, on this night it made for an uncomfortable session that was cut far short.

Shortly after I arrived at the tiny Eureka clearing, I heard approaching tires on the gravel. Rather than an unannounced fellow from EAS, though, this was a white pickup truck with nearly-opaque window tinting; it drove past me very slowly, clearly checking me out as I was starting to set up my gear. Having already had a bad experience with a white pickup truck at Eureka earlier in the year—back in May, one had blocked the road in front of me and nearly forced me into the trees—I was immediately wary of this one. And with an observation interrupted by apparent deer poachers a couple of years ago, I knew that the clearing at the end of the Eureka road was occasionally used for less-than-wholesome purposes. I watched the truck drive to the end of the road, keeping an eye on it even as I continued setting up.

At length (probably fifteen minutes), the truck turned and drove slowly back toward me. I made sure not to make eye contact with the unseen driver as it passed, and was startled as they gunned the truck around the corner up the road and disappeared.

Ten minutes later, I heard yet another vehicle, hoping again that it was someone from EAS. No, this was a small car that had obviously survived a fair number of accidents, with a driver about whom the same looked like it could be said. He and his passenger grinned as they drove past, and I could hear echoes of Duelling Banjoes somewhere in the back of my Australopithicene brain. That car, too, drove down the road and parked in the clearing, waiting until the sky had darkened appreciably before turning and driving back… without headlights.

I was now the most uncomfortable I’d ever been observing alone. I was used to passing traffic at Giant City, and it wasn’t even unheard of for cars to pass (and turn around) at the Crab Orchard wildlife loop during the night. But out here, so far away from civilization (on obscure backroads, rather than as the pteranodon flies), I was pretty unnerved.

Four- and six-legged wildlife didn’t usually bother me. The two-legged kind does bother me, when it’s hanging out with unknown purpose in the places where I’m observing; even the sovcits are OK when they’re shooting things up, because I know why they’re there and they generally pack up after sunset. Having vehicles driving back and forth when I’m observing alone is not a comforting feeling, and I tend to be uneasy when they’re present. I resolved, after this night and my previous encounter, that I wouldn’t observe at Eureka alone anymore.

I went through my program list, making sure each of the objects on it qualified as a “forgotten gem of autumn,” and packed up for the night.

I. A couple of nights later, there was interest in going up to Eagle’s Ridge, so a few of us made the trek up the mountain.

The winding mountain road, so pitted with gigantic potholes and sliding down the mountain in some spots, had been thoroughly repaired. (Just as the road to Eureka had been early in the year.) I had even brought the two cans of road paint I’d bought earlier in the summer for marking the potholes, but it wasn’t even necessary—although the road was still a bit rough, there were no major catastrophes awaiting.

But things weren’t all good. I noticed, as I drove, that there was more debris on the road than usual; as I passed the gravel pit (our tertiary Eagle’s site), I could see that the lumber companies had been hard at work. Huge hundred-plus-year-old trees were down along the roadsides, with bark and branches everywhere strewn across the road. Heavy logging vehicles parked along the shoulder where the road actually had a shoulder. It was an ominous sight, and I was grateful to still have daylight for picking my way between the wreckage of fallen trees and their abandoned automotive conquerors.

By the time I made it to the top of the ridge, the junction was already busy with astronomers. Dan B was there, setting up a largish refractor; Robert A was there, too, with his superb 3D-printed binocular-scope. And there was another fellow new to the group; his name was Mark, and he’d come in from Florence on his way to visit family in Springfield (at least I think it was Springfield; I apologize, Mark, if I got it wrong). Mark had an SCT with him, and was putting it through its setup paces as I began to set up.

Rather than jumping into the remaining objects in Cygnus—mostly planetary nebulae—I went to work on Herschels in Cepheus and Cassiopeia, starting with NGC 6939; I’d gotten the neighboring face-on spiral NGC 6946 my last time out, but had been clouded out before I could grab the nearby open cluster. Then it was on to objects on Sky Atlas 2000.0 Chart 4, so that I kept ahead of the meridian as much as possible. It turned into a night of (primarily) galaxies… all the more enjoyable after a season of open clusters and planetaries.

Conditions deteriorated quickly, with dew falling early and heavily. Several thin waves of cirrus drifted through, disrupting the transparency and seeing throughout the early part of the evening.

MOON: 2 days; 3% illuminated, set at 7:58 PM
SEEING: 7 (Variable)
TRANSPARENCY: 7 (variable, some cirrus coming through)
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.8
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 40s, cold and clammy, breezy, very dewy until 11:00 (then ceased dewing up)
OTHERS PRESENT: FS, DB, RA, Mark W from Florence

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

NGC 6939 (Cep): I’m starting with this one because I couldn’t get to it the last time out (when I got NGC 6946). This is a very, very rich, well-detached open cluster of the NGC 7789 type, with no fewer than ninety stars packed into a 9′ area. This one is also much more like a flight of wild ducks than M11, with the brightest stars in the cluster forming a very obvious ‘V’ shape pointing due P. The star at the “point” of the ‘V’ is pretty close to the P edge of the cluster, and, at 11thmagnitude, is the brightest star that’s obviously a cluster member. One of the bars of the ‘V’ starts at that star and runs SF along the S edge of the cluster proper; this bar has five of the brighter cluster stars along it. The other bar starts on the NF edge of the cluster and runs SP to the “point star”; this bar has more stars (almost too many to count) but these are fainter than those in the other bar. Both of these bars are about 3.5′ long. The bar on the N extends beyond that; after the 3.5′ length, there’s a wide gap and then a small triangular clump of four or five 13th-magnitude stars. A couple of other clumps of stars lie N of this bar, in what is the densest part of the cluster. The cluster itself lies within a diamond of brighter stars: 5′ P very slightly N of the “point star” is a 10th-magnitude star; nearly due N of the point star by 7.5′ is a 10.5-magnitude star that is itself the S central star in a small rhombus; NF the point star by 9′ is a 10th-magnitude star that has a 12th-magnitude companion due F by 0.3′; there’s another clump of four or five 13.5/14th-magnitde stars between this pair and the clump to the NF.  9′ S slightly F the point star is another 10th-magnitude star; 5.25′ S somewhat F this last star is a 7th-magnitude star, the brightest in the field. An isolated brightish (12thmagnitude) star lies 4′ F very slightly S of the point star, in between the bars of the ‘V’ toward the S. 2.5′ P very very slightly S of the point star is a faint trio of stars in a N-S running line that’s 0.67′ long and is probably outside the boundary of the cluster; the brightest in this trio is in the middle and is 12.5 magnitude.

NGCs 185, 147 (Cas): Back to galaxies!  NGC 185 is a large (4.0′ x 3.5′, elongated SP-NF), weakly-concentrated and very diffuse glow. There’s little core visible here and no nucleus. The edges of the galaxy are poorly-defined and fade away into the background sky. Curiously, it has a graininess to it, as if it’s just beyond the verge of possible resolution; it’s not mottled, but has a texture to it almost like a faint, unresolved globular. It’s in the middle of a triangle of bright stars: 11′ P very slightly S is an 8.5-magnitude star; 10′ NF is another 8.5-magnitude star; due S of the galaxy by 12′ is a 10th-magnitude star. Also NF (by 3.75′) is the brightest (11.5 magnitude) vertex in a small triangle; the other two vertices of the triangle are 12.5 magnitude. 19′ S of the galaxy is a 9th-magnitude star. Also S of the galaxy is a very flat trapezoid of stars of which the two brightest are on the SP end: there’s an 11th-magnitude star on the SP corner, a 12th-magnitude star 1′ SF that first star, another 12th-magnitude star 2.25′ F very slightly N of the previous, and a 13th-magnitude star 1.25′ NF the second 12th-magnitude star. The longest side of the trapezoid is the N side, and the 13th-magnitude star is the closest to the galaxy at 5′.

NGC 147 lies 55′ P very slightly N of 185. This is quite a difficult galaxy, and one that was a real challenge from southern Illinois. It’s larger but even more diffuse and considerably fainter than 185, although it’s still surprising that William Herschel missed it. 147 is, like NGC 185, elongated SP-NF, but larger at about 5.0′ x 4.0′. The galaxy has only very weak central brightening, and a faint star near the middle rather than a visible nucleus. A very faint star (14thmagnitude?) is embedded in the NF end of the halo, and another on the SP edge. S of the galaxy is a random pattern of 10th/12th-magnitude stars that’s 7′ long. SP the galaxy by 10′ is a 10.5-magnitude star. The brightest in the field is 8thmagnitude and lies 16′ NP the galaxy. 7′ N slightly P the galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star that’s the SF end of an ‘X’ pattern that extends NP from that star, while the crossbar extends from P to N of that star; the faintest star in the ‘X’ is in the middle, where the bars cross. Due NP the galaxy is a very thin isosceles triangle whose base is the S end, with the 9.5-magnitude star on the P end of the base the brightest in the triangle; the star on the N tip is 10th-magnitude, while the F end of the base is 12th-magnitude; the triangle is 1′ x 4′. F the galaxy by 8′ is a 10.5-magnitude star.

NGC 278 (Cas): A bright (but much smaller) one to follow two much tougher galaxies. This one’s only 1.25′ in diameter, with a very small bright core and a possible faint stellar nucleus. The halo here is well defined, and seems to have some brightness variation in the SP quadrant, like a dark spot in the halo. The overall appearance of the galaxy is similar to that of a planetary nebula as much as a galaxy. A number of 8th-magnitude and dimmer stars surround the galaxy: 3′ N is a 9th-magnitude star, and there’s an 11th-magnitude star NF the previous by 2.5′. SP the galaxy by 4.5′ is the brightest star in a long chain that extends from that star to the NP; the chain is 3.5′ long with its brightest two stars at the ends—the star at the S end (the one SP the galaxy) is 10thmagnitude and the one at the NP end (P very slightly S of the galaxy) is12.5 magnitude; between these two are a number of 13th/14th/14.5-magnitude stars. Due S of the galaxy by 4.75′ is the brightest (12.5 magnitude) in another small line extending from that star ; this line runs F very slightly S for 0.75′ and includes two more fainter stars. The brightest star in the field is 9thmagnitude and lies 3′ N of the galaxy. An interesting double/pair lies 9′ NP, with equal-magnitude (12th– magnitude) components separated SP-NF by 0.3′.

By this point, I was already having to monitor my secondary mirror for dew coverage—my built-in dew heater simply couldn’t match the conditions at the factory preset setting, and I’d have to remove the secondary to change the setting. It tried to keep up with the dampness of the air and gave up the ghost several times, forcing me to resort to a portable hair dryer to get the offending humidity off the secondary mirror. I was determined to plow onward, though, having yielded my first observing night of the month to my unease at the passing vehicles at Eureka.

NGC 214 (And): The first one tonight I’ve never seen before, this galaxy is pretty underwhelming. It’s small at 1.125′ x 0.67′, elongated P somewhat P-F somewhat N, with a small brighter core, a trace of a very faint stellar nucleus, and a poorly-defined halo that seems as if there should be more to it; the halo fades away and the ends can’t be held steadily in either direct or averted vision. This is certainly not one of the more impressive or obvious Herschel galaxies! The field is quite interesting, however, with a number of small patterns of stars. Due N of the galaxy by 6′ is an 11th-magnitude star. NF the galaxy is a small right triangle; the 11th-magnitude right-angle vertex is 9′ NF the galaxy, with a 10th-magnitude star P by 1.75′ and a 13.5-magnitude star S by 1.5′. An almost-right triangle is SP the galaxy, its brightest star (and N-most vertex) at 10.5 magnitude and 5.75′ SP the galaxy; the 13.5-magnitude not-quite-right-angle vertex of this triangle is due S of the first star by 1.67′, with a 13th-magnitude star due P the second star by 1.25′. P the galaxy by 8′ is a 10th-magnitude star that’s the NF vertex of a small trapezoid. (I didn’t note the others.) The brightest star in the field, at 9.5 magnitude, is S very slightly P the galaxy by 15.5′.

NGCs 315, 311 (Psc): NGC 315 is small but quite bright and obvious, certainly a “better” target than NGC 214. 315 is elongated SP-NF, 0.75′ x 0.5′, with a small bright core and obvious stellar nucleus. The brightest in the field is an 8.5-magnitude star 3.5′ SF the galaxy. 6′ due F is the P-most and faintest (at magnitude 12.5) of a bent line or arc of three stars; F slightly S this star by 1.25′ is an 11th-magnitude star, with another 1th-magnitude star 2.25′ F the second star. 19′ P very slightly S of the galaxy is a 9th-magnitude star. 5.5′ SP NGC 315 is another galaxy, NGC 311, which is much fainter and smaller than 315. 311 is very slightly elongated NP-SF, 0.3′ x 0.25′, with a weak core and tiny, faint stellar nucleus. 2.25′ F slightly S of NGC 311 is an 11th-magnitude star that’s 7′ S of NGC 315. NGC 311 itself appeared like a star at first glance but became more obvious while I was examining NGC 315.

NGCs 410, 407 (Psc): Another brighter galaxy with a faint companion. NGC 410 is an elliptical-looking galaxy, with a well-defined halo, a bright core, and a brightish substellar nucleus. It’s elongated 0.75′ x 0.67′, SP-NF. There’s not much detail here otherwise. N by 7′ is the brighter of an interesting double or pair; the brighter is 10.5 magnitude, with a 12.5-magnitude companion P by 0.3′. S very slightly F by 4.5′ is a line of three 13th-magnitude stars, equally spaced over 1.25′, with the brightest in the middle. 19′ S of the galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star; with 10th-magnitude stars SP by 18′ and another SF the galaxy by 20′; these are the brightest in the field. F the galaxy by 16′ is another double/pair, an 11.5-magnitude star S very very slightly F 1 12th-magnitude star by 7″.  P slightly S of 410 by 5′ is a very very thin N-S streak, NGC 407, which is 0.5′ x 0.125′ and has a somewhat-brighter core and (surprisingly) a very faint nucleus visible. By the time I finished taking notes on the starfield, NGC 407 had improved a bit, apparently with some improvement in the sky transparency.

NGC 404 (And): The Ghost of Mirach is the brightest galaxy of the night so far, even with 3rd-magnitude Mirach (Beta And) just 6.75′ S slightly F. Galaxy and bright star form a nearly-equilateral triangle with an 8.5-magnitude star Sf the galaxy by 6.67′. It’s necessary, of course, to get Mirach out of the field before observing the galaxy. NGC 404 is 1.67′ in diameter, with a small bright core and a stellar nucleus. Its core is quite well defined and not as diffuse as those of many of the galaxies I’ve observed recently. 4.5′ N slightly F the galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star that turns the equilateral triangle into a diamond. Due N of the galaxy by 1.25′ is a 13.5-magnitude star. N of the galaxy is a very thin triangle, the brightest star in which is 10.5-magnitude and 7.5′ NP the galaxy; there’s an 11th-magnitude star 2.5′ N of that star and a 13th-magnitude star due P it by 0.5′. S of the 10.5-magnitude star by 0.75′ is another 13th-magnitude star.

NGC 499, 496, 495, 494, 507, 508, 504 (Psc): This is a superb field, part of the Perseus-Pisces filament.  At the center of the field is an 8th-magnitude star, which has F very slightly N of it by 0.75′ an 11th-magnitude star, and 10.5′ N of it NGC 499. This is a small P-F glow, 1.0′ x 0.3′, with an obvious core and bright stellar nucleus, in a well-defined halo. F the galaxy by 3.5′ is an 11.5-magnitude star. Due N of the galaxy by 4.25′ is another, much more diffuse galaxy (NGC 496) with no central concentration; it’s just a small faint spot of indeterminate size and orientation. 3.25′ due P NGC 499 is yet another small glow (NGC 495), 0.67′ x 0.3′, elongated N-S, with a small, slightly-brighter center.

SP the 8th-magnitude star by 8′ is another brightish galaxy (NGC 494), which is bracketed to the S by a trio of 13.5-magnitude stars, each about 1′ from the galaxy’s very faint, intermittently-visible nucleus. This galaxy is elongated P-F, 0.75′ x 0.25′, with a small obvious core but a weak halo. 6′ SF the bright star is the field’s brightest galaxy, NGC 507. This galaxy has a 0.75′ round halo, a small, fairly-obvious core, and a substellar nucleus; like 494, this one is fairly poorly defined. N of 507 by 1.5′ is another small, poorly-defined galaxy, NGC 508, which has a 0.3′ halo but no central brightening at all. SP 507 by 4′ is the final galaxy in the field, NGC 504; this one has a vague 0.3′ x 0.25′ halo, elongated P-F, with a visible stellar nucleus but no other central brightening.

Also in the field is a 9th-magnitude star, P slightly S of the 8th-magnitude star by 14′; this has a 9.5-magnitude star P very slightly N of it by 3.5′.

I love these fields of small galaxies, even when none of them is particularly noteworthy on its own. The mind boggles at the vastness of these island universes and their interactions in the emptiness of space, and even a faint, featureless galaxy is still an object deserving of awe and reverence. Even more so that these feeble unimaginably-distant glows are individual cells in the Perseus-Pisces Filament, one of the largest structures in the entire known Universe.

We are the Universe contemplating itself. — Carl Sagan



The Perseus-Pisces Filament (mostly) in isolation.  Image courtesy R. Brent Tully/University of Hawai’i.




Three 3D views of the Perseus-Pisces Filament. Top shows the NGC 410 and NGC 507 Groups (upper left) in relation to the filament; middle looks along the filament, with the NGC 410 and 507 groups at lower right. Bottom shows our own Local Group of galaxies (right) with the onrushing Virgo Cluster (lower left) as they speed toward the Perseus-Pisces Filament (center, just above the void). Images courtesy Institut de Recherche our les Lois Fondamentales de l’Univers (IRFU); larger versions can be found at

NGC 513 (And): While (at least visually) part of the NGC 499 group, this one isn’t particularly impressive or inspiring. While obviously not a star (as Herschel had listed it), it’s small and not particularly bright; once you know where to look, though, it’s fairly apparent. The galaxy is very slightly elongated 0.3′ x 0.25′, P slightly S-F slightly N, and fairly evenly illuminated, without an obvious core or visible nucleus. Due S by 3.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star with a 12th-magnitude star 3.5′ S of it.

It was around this point that we realized that the dew had largely vanished, leaving our gear once again dry. This was due in part to the increase in the wind; at the road junction, there was somewhat less protection from the elements than the spur-road site provided, and the breeze was more of a nuisance. (I would personally trade dew for wind any night—my scope was far less affected by the wind.)

But back to observing….

NGC 1023 (Per): This is a very impressive edge-on spiral! It’s quite large, elongated 3.5′ x 0.75′ P-F, with a very bright core and bright stellar nucleus. The halo is fairly well defined, with the P side more so than the F, and the F side more extensive than the P. In averted, the halo expands to 4.5′ x 1.0′. The galaxy is bounded on the S and F sides by a line of seven stars, the ends of which are both 9thmagnitude. The P end of the line is SP the galaxy and the NF end is due F the galaxy. Starting at the SP: there’s an 8.5-magnitude star that’s 3.5′ SP the galaxy’s nucleus; F very slightly N of that star by 1.75′ is a 10.5-magnitude star; F that star by 1′ is a 13th-magnitude star that’s due S of the galaxy by 1.5′; then there’s a gap of 3′ in the line. The next star F the gap is 14.5 magnitude; F very slightly N of that star by 1.5′ is an 11.5-magnitude star; 1.5′ F very slightly N of that star is another 11.5-magnitude star, and F very slightly N the second 11.5-magnitude star is the 9th-magnitude star at the end of the line. Elsewhere: due N of the galaxy by 2′ is a 13th-magnitude star; 4′ more N is the more S of a pair of 12.5-magnitude stars separated N very slightly P-S very slightly F by 0.5′. The brightest star in the field is 8th magnitude and is 19′ P slightly N of the galaxy.

NGC 706 (Psc): not an easy one, even compared to some of the earlier galaxies. (The wind is still a factor, and it’s getting colder.) It’s still somewhat obvious. The galaxy is 1.3′ x 1.0′, elongated N slightly P-S slightly F, with a 12.5-magnitude star just outside the N edge of the halo. The galaxy’s core is pretty weak, but there’s an almost-mottled quality to the halo that I wouldn’t have expected in a galaxy this obscure; I noted that “there’s stuff going on in this galaxy.” No nucleus is visible. The halo is generally pretty well defined, especially along the P edge, as if a spiral arm is present. (I clearly need to come back to this one with more aperture and/or magnification.) SF the galaxy is an arc of four evenly-spaced bright stars, each about 3.25′ apart. From S-most: a 10th-magnitude star, a 10.5, an 11.5, and another 10th-magnitude star. The arc proceeds N and then NF. A 9.5-magnitude star is 17′ N very slightly F the galaxy. 10′ NP the galaxy is an 8.5-magnitude star. The brightest in the field, an 8th-magnitude star, is 22′ SP the galaxy.

Somehow I missed NGC 693, SP 706.

On my audio recordings, the wind is a persistent and impressive presence; by this point, it was as loud on the recordings as I was. That may have contributed to the fact that my next field of objects was my last, and the others must have concurred with the decision.

NGC 665, ICs 156, 154 (Psc): The field here is very interesting, with more than first met the eye. NGC 665 is very slightly elongated NP-SF, 0.67′ x 0.5′; it has a brighter core and a possible stellar nucleus that’s very faint and hard to hold steady, even in averted vision. This is a nicely-compact and well-defined galaxy, not very detailed but still a nice catch. S of the galaxy by 1.5′ is a 14th-magnitude star. There are 13.5-magnitude stars due F by 2.75′ and due N of the galaxy by 4′. NP the galaxy by 4′ is the brighter of a pair, the 12.5-magnitude “primary” due F the 13th-magnitude “secondary” by 0.5′. P the galaxy by 6.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star. 14′ NF the galaxy is a 9.5-magnitude star; 2.5′ P that star is another galaxy (IC 156). This is a small, round (0.3′) galaxy, with a poorly-defined and difficult halo and no central concentration. Another galaxy, IC 154, lies NP IC 156 by 7′: this one is a very faint, thin SP-NF streak, 0.75′ x 0.25′. On the SP tip of the galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star that interferes with observing a bit. This galaxy has a classic edge-on profile, without much central concentration and no visible nucleus; it lies S slightly F NGC 665 by 15′.

So we packed up for the night. It was a fine session despite the dew and the wind, and the next night promised to be even better.

II. The next night saw Frank S and I the only ones to return to the junction. We must’ve expected more of the group to return, or we would have set up on the spur road instead.

The lumber vehicles had been conspicuously absent on the road this night, and they had cleared out much of the debris left behind on the road. I did pass a couple of vehicles coming down the mountain, but the drive was faster overall than it had been perhaps ever, with no potholes to evade and no large branches strewn here and there to swerve between.

Frank was working with his new 10-inch binocular scope when I got to the top, fine-tuning some of the difficult quirks that binoscopes tend to suffer from. (They’re far too technical for my Australopithicene brain.) I was extra-grateful for the company, as the Caveman-Mobile started hissing beneath the hood just after I shut it down. It had been fighting a leak somewhere in the coolant system, and after a quick examination of the vehicle’s innards, Frank pointed out that the coolant was totally empty. I had a gallon of drinking water with me in case such a thing happened, but Frank had a gallon of distilled water in his van and insisted that I take it. We refilled the radiator and reservoir, and I left the van’s hood up for it to cool down faster. (Knowing so little about vehicles, I’m not even sure that would help.) With nothing more to be done to the van, I let the water settle and got to work setting up telescope and table.

Weather and sky conditions were considerably superior than the night before, so after setup we wasted little time getting to observing.

MOON: 3 days; 8% illuminated, set at 8:31 PM
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.8
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid-low 40s, no breeze, some dew

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

M76 (Per): The Little Dumbbell is always listed as one of the hardest Messier objects, but I’ve never quite been sure why—it’s quite an impressive object, even in smaller scopes than the 12.5″. It’s long reminded me of a circus peanut, more than anything else. The bilobed nature of the nebula is quite apparent at this aperture and magnification; it’s about 0.3′ thinner near the middle than at the ends, with a total extent of 2.0′ x 0.75′ (the latter measurement at the ends). The SP end is brighter and slightly wider than the NF end. Even without a filter, there’s a fair amount of extended, diffuse halo on the F edge, particularly to the SF side. The P side of the nebula is more defined. Seeing the nebula from a dark sky, I get an impression of a bar magnet with iron filings strung along the magnetic lines. With the O-III filter in, the extended halo pops right out of the background, while the “dumbbell” part is nearly opaque. The SF part of the halo was already so visible even sans filter, but the NP side is now much more impressive; on the P-most edge of the nebulosity on the halo’s NP side is a fairly-obvious dark void that makes it look “broken” without averted vision—like an arc that sweeps down the edge from the NF corner and sweeps P, then S. This rim is much better defined than any of the S and F sides, which are more diffuse. The dumbbell shape gets lost a bit with the filter, amid all the outflowing diffuse nebulosity.

The central star is not visible, with or without the O-III. Several stars are close by the nebula, however: due P the nebula’s middle by 2′ is a 12th-magnitude star, and there’s an 11.5-magnitude star 2.5′ N slightly P the nebula; these two form a nearly-equilateral triangle with the center of the nebula. (The 11.5-mag star to the N slightly P has a 13.5-magnitude companion 12″ due S of it.) Further N is a pair of which the brighter (10.5 magnitude) is the NF component and is 6.5′ from the center of the nebula; the fainter (12thmagnitude) star is 0.67′ SP the brighter. 10′ P the center of the nebula is a 9.5-magnitude star that’s the N-most vertex of a pentagon that looks a lot like the Circlet of Pisces and consists of the 9.5-magnitude stars, along with two 11th– and two 12th-magnitude stars; the pentagon runs 6′ N-S and 5.5′ P-F. S very slightly F the nebula by 9.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star. F very slightly S by 12′ is a 6.5-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field. 26′ NF the cluster is a jumble of 15 stars in a 5′ circle; the brightest is on the S tip of this “cluster” and is 9th-magnitude.

NGC 7139 (Cep): This planetary is considerably more difficult, especially compared to M76. (I’d left the O-III filter in after observing M76, but took it out after finding the nebula, to examine the nebula unfiltered first.) It’s not one of easier H planetaries so far, although it’s still pretty obvious. The edges of the nebula are quite diffuse; it’s a relatively-featureless grey glow, 1′ diameter with no real visible detail, no central star, and no annularity.  The nebula sits at the P end of the N branch of a distorted ‘V’ that points due F; one line of the ‘V’ runs from the nebula due F and the other runs S slightly P from the F tip of the first line and then curls NP very slightly; most of the stars in the ‘V’ are in the 12/12.5-mag range; the star at the point is F the nebula by 4′ and is 11.5 magnitude; the line that extends S slightly P from that star has six stars in it and is 5′ long; it then hooks PvsN for 0.75′. One of the V stars is on the SF edge of the nebula, just outside the edge of the glow. Also SF the nebula by 8′ is the fainter of a pair, which is 11.5 magnitude and has a 10.5- magnitude star P it by 1′; from the fainter of the pair, running 12′ S and SP, is a long arc of 12th-/13th– magnitude stars. With the OIII, the nebula doesn’t change much; it’s still roughly the same in appearance, only with more contrast. The halo is a little more obvious, with a bit more fringe. The brightness across the halo is slightly more irregular; there’s some inner texture hinted at that would benefit from greater magnification.

NGC 7160 (Cep): This is a very bright, obvious, well-detached cluster near NGC 7139. It’s fairly small—5.5′ SP-NF x 2.75’—with twenty-five stars of a wide range of magnitudes. The cluster’s most obvious feature is a bright pair of stars on the P edge of the cluster’s F half (it’s easy to divide this cluster into P and F halves). The cluster lucida is the NP member of this pair, at 7thmagnitude; SF by 1′ is an 8th-magnitude star. These two form the wide end of a ‘V’, with the “point” star to the NF, and a wider pair between the bright ends and the point star: NF the brighter star by 1.25′ is a 12th-magnitude star; SF that star by 0.67′ is an 11.5-magnitude star; the point star is 0.75′ NF the 11.5-magnitude star and is 13thmagnitude.  The P half of the cluster is dominated by an arc of three (or a very small flat triangle): SP the lucida by 2.25′ is a 9.5-magnitude star, with another of equal magnitude 0.5′ P; from this second star SP by 0.75′ is a 9th-magnitude star which has a 13th-magnitude companion F by 8″. These last three make up the majority of the P half of the cluster. There are a number of interesting pairs or doubles S very slightly F or SF the lucida, one of which is SF the lucida by 5′ and oriented P-F, although this pair may be outside the boundary of the cluster. N slightly P the lucida by 11′ is the brightest star in the field, at 6.5 magnitude.

NGC 890 (Tri): An obvious, quite-bright elliptical galaxy in a busy field. This one is elongated 1.3′ x 0.75′ SP-NF, with a smallish but obvious core and a bright substellar nucleus in a pretty-well defined halo whose brightness falls away quickly past the core. The nucleus and core may be offset very slightly toward the SP end. There’s a pattern of 11.5/12th-magnitude stars toward the P: P very slightly N by 1.5′ is a 13th-magnitude star; due P that star by another 1.5′ is the brighter of a pair at 12thmagnitude, with a 13.5-magnitude secondary P slightly S the brighter by 0.5′. N very slightly P the brighter of the pair by 2.25′ is a 12.5-magnitude star that’s also 5′ NP the galaxy. Due N of the galaxy by 8′ is a 10th-magnitude star. N very slightly P the galaxy by 14′ is a 9.5-magnitude star that is the middle of a curly ‘y’ pattern, with the tines of the ‘y’ to the NP and NF and the stem to the S slightly P; 0.67′ N of the 9.5-magnitude star is a 10th-magnitude star from which the tines extend—NF this star by 1.25′ is a 12th-magnitude star and 1.25′ NP the 10th-magnitude star is a 12.5-magnitude star that’s actually a very faint double’ from the 9.5-magnitude star in the ‘y’ S slightly P by 1′ is an 11.5-magnitude star. (Whew!) There’s an 8.5-magnitude star 23′ NP the galaxy and a 9th-magnitude star 20′ SF the galaxy, on the edge of the field.

NGCs 1060, 1061, 1066, PGC 10325 (Tri): A pretty complicated field with multiple galaxies, of which the Herschel object and brightest is NGC 1060. This is a small, brightish, roundish (0.75′) galaxy with a quite small, bright core and a substellar nucleus; the outer halo is poorly defined and diffuse. 2.5′ N is another galaxy, NGC 1061, which is small (0.4′) and round and very diffuse, with no central concentration to speak of; I didn’t see it at first, but caught it in a moment of excellent clarity. 8′ F very slightly N of NGC 1060 is NGC 1066, which is round and about the same size as 1060 but much fainter and more diffuse; this one does have some weak central brightening, but no visible nucleus. S very slightly F of 1066 by 7′ is the brightest star in the field, at 7.5 magnitude. S of this star by 7′ is an 8.5-magnitude star; 5′ due P this star is yet another tiny, faint galaxy (PGC 10325); it’s 0.3′ diameter, with some slight central concentration and an extremely faint and intermittent stellar nucleus. This galaxy is S very slightly F 1060 by 11′.

Examining the field later, I discovered that I’d missed NGC 1067 and UGC 2201 somehow, while catching the fainter PGC 10325. I’m not sure how I managed that, but it probably won’t be the last time I did something like it.

NGC 1058 (Per): This is the most-interesting galaxy of the night so far—a moderately-large face-on spiral whose identity can be discerned visually, down in the foot of Perseus near NGC 1023. The galaxy is 1.75′ diameter, without much central brightening of any sort; a very faint spot on the NP edge may be a threshold star. The halo of the galaxy is pretty-poorly defined. There are two nearly-symmetrical arcs of stars N and F the galaxy. The first arc runs N to F the galaxy, with an 11.5-magnitude star 4′ N of the galaxy serving as the F end of this arc; P very slightly N that star by 2.5′ is a 12th-magnitude star; due P
that star by 3.75′ is a 10th-magnitude star. The F end of the second arc is marked by a 12th-magnitude star 7.25′ due F the center of the galaxy; NP that star by 3′ is another 12th-magnitude star, and P that star by 2.5′ is an 11.5-magnitude star with a 14th-magnitude star NF it by 0.75′. Aside from these two arcs are several other noteworthy stars in the field: SP the galaxy by 2.25′ is a 12th-magnitude star, and there’s an interesting double/pair P the galaxy by 7′, consisting of a 12th-magnitude star NP a 13th-magnitude star by 0.25′. SP the galaxy by 13′ is the brightest in the field, an 8th-magnitude star.

NGC 1207 (Per): This may be the weakest H galaxy I’ve examined since last May, when I caught NGC 2500 and a few of the others in Lynx after they’d dipped into the worst of the Eagle’s Ridge light pollution. It’s little more than a small diffuse spot, 0.5′ x 0.3′, elongated N very slightly P-S very slightly F. It has a thin streak of central brightening… possibly a central bar? There appears to be a threshold star on the NP edge, and an extremely-faint nucleus seems to be sometimes visible. Overall, though, it’s very poorly-defined, a barely-there wisp. F somewhat N of the galaxy by 2′ is a 13th-magnitude star with a 14th-magnitude star 0.5′ NP. N of the galaxy is a smallish triangle of four stars (the long side has three in it); the closest to the galaxy is the 12th-magnitude SP-most vertex, which is due N of the galaxy by 4.75′ and 12th-magnitude; N of that star by 1.5′ is an 11th-magnitude star; SF
that star by 0.75′ is a 13.5-magnitude star which is in the middle of the long side of the triangle; the final vertex is F very slightly N of the 11th-magnitude star by 2.25′ and also 11th-magnitude. The field’s brightest star is 7.5 magnitude and 22′ due F the galaxy. F very slightly S of the galaxy is an 8.5-magnitude star; a 10th-magnitude star is S of that star by 7.5′.

NGC 1003 (Per): A very intriguing, bright galaxy, the second-best in Perseus after NGC 1023. It’s elongated mostly P-F and quite large (2.75′ x 1.0′). It has poor central concentration and no visible nucleus, but the halo is irregularly-bright (if not outright mottled) and has indistinct ends and poorly-defined edges. This gives the galaxy a distinctive “shimmery” appearance. This one really needs more magnification!  The galaxy is bracketed to the S, SP, and NF by field stars: 2′ SP the galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star; a 13th-magnitude star is just off the NF edge of the halo; and due S of the galaxy by 2.5′ is a 12.5-magnitude star. To the NF is a group of five star-pairs that seem to radiate outward from an invisible radaint point, 8′ NF the galaxy. The brightest in the field is a 9th-magnitude star 18′ SP the galaxy, and there’s a 9.5-magnitude star 18′ NP the galaxy.

With Cetus in good position above the mountain ridge and between two stands of trees, I took the opportunity to follow up on my September observation of NGC 246, the Skull Nebula, which I’d not gotten to observe with the O-III filter due to the heavy dew that evening.

NGC 246 (Cet): This is an addendum to my previous observation of NGC 246 from September, when everything had dewed up before I could observe the nebula with the O-III.  The filter really brings out the nebula’s inner texture, giving a “spongy” appearance to the nebula’s interior. The outer rim is clearly “broken” or incomplete at a few points, most notably along the SP. The NP part of the rim is the best-defined and brightest.

NGCs 1161, 1160 (Per): NGC 1161 is a Herschel object, but its companion isn’t. 1161 is small, slightly elongated but reasonably bright. It’s no more than 0.75′ x 0.67′ and elongated N-S. The halo is diffuse and weakly defined, but the interior 33% of the galaxy is a much brighter core; no nucleus can be seen. A pair of nearby stars make the observation a little bit difficult: there’s a 10th-magnitude star 0.67′ P the galaxy and a 9th-magnitude star 0.67′ SP the previous star. Two more 9th-magnitude stars are in the field, one N of the galaxy by 14′ and one NP the galaxy by 18′. 1.5′ F the galaxy is an 11th-magnitude star; F very slightly N of that star by 1.25′ is a 12th-magnitude star; these four stars form a small checkmark or swoosh across the galaxy’s face. 3.5′ N of 1161 is NGC 1160, which is slightly smaller but much fainter and more diffuse than 1160. It’s 0.75′ x 0.3′ and elongated SP-NF, with no central brightening at all. 1′ N of 1160 is a tiny (0.5′ x 0.25′) triangle of 12th– and 14th-magnitude stars.

NGC 1193 (Per): It took a fair amount of time searching, relatively (Perseus was in an awkward position at the time), to find this really striking and intriguing cluster. It’s barely-resolvable and powdery, with several “layers” of star-powder atop each other. The cluster is also fairly small, 3′ P-F and 2.5′ N-S. It’s very rich, with a narrow magnitude range after the two more-prominent stars, and could be mistaken for a distant globular at first glance. There’s a prominent 11th-magnitude star on the very P edge of the cluster, and a 13th-magnitude star 1.75′ due F that star which is on the F edge of the cluster. Few other cluster members are easily resolved. The brightest star in the field is 7.5 magnitude and is 3′ P very slightly N of the 11th-magnitude star; NP the 7.5-magnitude star by 1′ is a 9.5-magnitude star. F the cluster is a messy wedge-shaped pattern of 10.5-/11th-magnitude stars that points away from the cluster, and a pair of 9th-magnitude stars are 9′ from the cluster (one to the N and one to the S of the cluster).

NGC 1169 (Per): A very diffuse, not-particularly-easy galaxy. Its 1.5′ x 0.75′ halo is weak, poorly defined, and elongated SP-NF. It has a very small, bright core and a substellar nucleus. The galaxy gives an elliptical profile, but is in actuality a spiral. 1.5′ due F the nucleus of the galaxy is a 13.5-magnitude star; NF that star by 2.25′ is the fainter and more S of a pair separated by 0.5′ SP-NF; these are 13thand 13.5 magnitude. S of the galaxy is a line of five stars extending 8′ N-S; the S-most two are both very close pairs; the N-most is 7′ S of the galaxy, although there’s another P slightly N of this star that turns the line into a hook; these stars are mostly 12.5/13th magnitudes. 8th-magnitude stars lie F very slightly S of the galaxy by 18′ and NF the galaxy by 19′; these are the brightest in the field.

NGC 1175 (Per): As a Herschel 400/II object, this one kinda sucks. (OK, it’s still a galaxy and therefore cool, but this one isn’t exactly crying out for another look.) It’s apparently an edge-on spiral, elongated 0.75′ x 0.125′ N-S. Its core is very faint and there’s no trace of a nucleus present. Despite its faintness, it’s still fairly-well defined. In averted, the core is reasonably obvious, and there’s an occasional threshold glimmer of a stellar nucleus. A 7.5-magnitude star (the brightest in the field) is NP the galaxy by 11′; it’s also the S-most vertex of a triangle, with an 8.5-magnitude star 8.5′ NP and the 9th-magnitude “primary” of a double/pair N by 8′. F the galaxy by 6′ and arcing 11′ to the SP is a quartet of evenly-spaced pairs/trios of stars, all of which are in the 10.5-12.5 magnitude range; these pairs are all oriented NP-SF, and their arrangement is actually more interesting than the galaxy itself.

NGC 1342 (Per): This cluster is unmistakably a single, unified object, well detached from the Milky Way and considerably bright. It’s elongated P slightly S-F slightly N, and about 15′ x 7′ in extent. Although it’s roughly rectangular, it doesn’t have a very ordered appearance to it, and has a wide range of magnitudes represented among the fifty or so stars here. The NP corner of the rectangle is a very interesting double/pair of 10thand 11thmagnitudes, the fainter star SP the brighter by 15″. This double lies along a curved arc that marks the P end of the cluster. The S edge is the most populous part of the cluster. Along that S edge, 7′ SF the aforementioned double/pair, is an 8.5-magnitude star, with a 9.5-magnitude star F very slightly N of that star by 6.5′. F slightly N of the double by 11′ is the cluster’s brightest star, at 8.3 magnitude; NF this star by 2.5′ is a 9.5-magnitude star; this pair sticks off the NF corner of the cluster and extend further to the NF. Overall, there are eleven stars brighter than 10th magnitude and about 40 of 11th magnitude and fainter.

The next object was dazzling, and immediately found a place in my “Forgotten Gems of the Autumn Sky” program.

NGC 1245 (Per): OK, this one has to go in the program! This is a beautiful blast of star-powder, unmistakable as a cluster and well detached from the Milky Way. Unlike 1342, this one doesn’t have much of a magnitude range, but it’s exceedingly rich, with probably more than 100 stars in a 7′ area. The vast majority of these are in the 13th magnitude range or fainter. Aside from a quintet of brighter stars that runs P very slightly N from the extreme F corner of the cluster, there’s an arc of five 11th-magnitude stars that make up the N edge of the cluster, and these ten are about the only ones here brighter than 13th magnitude. NP the cluster, about 9′ from center, is a backward “cocktail shrimp” pattern consisting of four stars at the head and four along the body; at the far SP end of the body is a close, faint double, while the shrimp’s head is composed of a small triangle and a single discrete “outlier” of 9.5 magnitude. An 8th-magnitude star just outside the extreme S end of the cluster is the brightest in the field, and it has SF it by 1.5′ a 10.5-magnitude star. The 11.5-magnitude star just on the F end of the cluster’s N arc has a 9th-magnitude star 2′ N of it. [I missed the remarkable N-S string of 14th-magnitude stars on the F edge of the cluster, which is apparent in photographs.]

While searching for the small reflection nebula van den Bergh 16, in Aries, I swept across a superb double star, a mini-Mesarthim; it had equal-magnitude components, and another, fainter double just next to it. Checking my atlases later, it seems I stumbled across Σ401 and ΣΙ7, although I’d need to observe them again to take clearer notes and better positions.

I didn’t actually even find vdB 16, but it was late enough that I was more tired than disappointed. Frank had left earlier, so I was on my own if the Caveman-Mobile couldn’t make it down the mountain. (We did exchange phone numbers in case I needed help with vehicle issues.) I kept my eye on the temperature gauge all the way home, but the drive went without incident.

III. The final night of the run was with company—an old friend from my Alaska days, Dale P, had flown into Portland with his family, and had driven down for the week; his wife was Mrs. Caveman’s cousin, and it had been several years since we’d all seen each other. Dale is also an amateur astronomer, and had a rotating-tube 10″ Dobsonian; we’d been two of the only three Dob users in the Eagle River astronomy group in Alaska.

Dale and his family had left North Dakota that morning, and had spent time in Portland before driving down to Eugene, so he was understandably pretty wiped out by the time we got to the spur road. He spent some time sleeping in the van while Dan B and I were wandering through some obscure objects (Dan had grown up in Anchorage, so there was common ground for the three of us even beyond astronomy). We spent most of the time looking at more “showpiece-style” objects, but I did take notes on one object while Dale was grabbing some extra rest in the van.

MOON: 4 days; 15% illuminated, set at 9:08 PM
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.4
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 40s, some breeze, mild dew

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

M110 (And): I’m observing this one independently of M31/NGC 206 and M32, given that I have company and don’t want to spend the whole evening taking notes and boring my guest. M110/ NGC 205 is, of course, very bright and obvious (as befits a Messier object). It’s very diffuse, in contrast with the compact and well-defined M32. It’s extended 9.0′ x 3.5′ N-S and pretty poorly defined, with a weakish 2.5′ x 0.75′ core but no visible nucleus. 2.75′ due S of the core, between the edges of the core and halo, is an embedded 13.5-magnitude star; there’s another 13.5-magnitude star 2.75′ F the point where the galaxy’s nucleus would be. Due F the galaxy by 7.5′ is a 9.5-magnitude star which has a 10th-magnitude star 4′ NF. A 9th-magnitude star 19′ NP the galaxy is the brightest in the field. There’s a pair of 11th-magnitude stars SP the galaxy; the N-most of these is about a quarter-magnitude dimmer and is 4′ SP the galaxy, with the brighter 2.25′ due S the fainter, and a 13th-magnitude star due S the brighter of the pair by 2′. The center of M31 is 35′ SF.

It was a relaxed observing session, and a good ending to the October run. I fully expected this to be the end of any observing for 2018; after all, clear skies and New Moon rarely coincided in the autumn and winter of the Willamette Valley. That November and December would be equally fruitful was a huge bonus. But by the next time I would get out to observe, Jupiter and Venus would be gone from the evening sky, along with many of the iconic summer constellations. Already, Taurus, Auriga, and Orion were becoming more prominent in the evening skies as the seasons cycled through their changes—the endless repetition of those starry changes a cycle of permanence.


One thought on “Permanence and Change

  1. Pingback: More Warming Than Any Wine | The Unfrozen Caveman Astronomer

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