A Great White Brooding Silence

I. February was not kind this year; the Willamette Valley skies were uniformly grey, even when they weren’t actively dumping rain on us. After our spectacular session to close out January (and the fine skies we observed for a few days each Moon-dark cycle in the months before that), this felt almost like some sort of karmic retribution. And just as the late February/early March dark cycle hove into view on our 10-day weather forecasts, all hell broke loose, in the guise of 15-18 inches of snow in a two-day stretch. A whole forest’s worth of trees came down in the Valley, crushed under the weight of snow and ice and made wore by the fact that many had already started to bloom. Between the tree damage and the snow, the roads to Eureka Ridge and Eagle’s Rest became completely impassable.

But we persevere, as always; let nothing stand in the way of determined astronomers. With our two main sites inaccessible and the College Hill Reservoir unsuited to “serious” observing, we cooked up an alternative; having used the Dexter State Recreation Area for many years as the site of our dark-sky public star party, and having standing permission to use the site so long as the gates were open, we made our usual trek south to Eagle’s Rest/Ridge and kept going until reaching the Dexter Reservoir on the first night that the forecast held.

We arrived before dark, to avoid being locked out when the park closed. (This would not, of course, prevent us from getting locked in, should the rangers not see us.) The rangers passed by without treating to boot us out; the park superintendent might have given us permission to be there, but did the security folks know this? The parking lot was still half-covered with snow or ice, and the temperatures were falling quickly. We set up hastily, keeping an eye on passing vehicles while waiting for darkness to fall. Our proximity to the highway meant that my voice had to compete with road noise on my recordings.

DEXTER STATE PARK (parking lot) (43˚ 55′ 06″ N, 122˚ 48′ 48″ W)
MOON: 27 days old (5% illuminated); rose at 5:34 AM
SQM: not checked
NELM: 5.5
WEATHER CONDITIONS: foggy-ish, dewy early, icy parking lot (lots of threat of rangers)
OTHERS PRESENT: JO, DB, Bill M, RA, OG, Leticia, a couple others

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

NGC 2186 (Ori): This cluster is about 60% of the way from Betelgeuse to 8 Mon. It’s quite compact, 3.5′ x 1′, and elongated roughly P-F. It’s not a well-detached cluster but is pretty obvious. On the due N central edge is a solitary bright (10th-magnitude) star; S very slightly F that star by 1′ is the brighter of a close pair with the fainter N of the brighter by 8″; these are 11thand 12th magnitudes, and form the F edge of a small triangle; from the 10th-magnitude star SP by 1.25′ is a 13th-magnitude star; these three form a triangle overlaid across the rest of cluster. The cluster’s not very rich (twenty-five stars?) but has a great magnitude range. If the two stars on the F edge of the triangle are actual cluster members, the stars here range from the 10th-magnitude star down to 14th magnitude. A number of very faint stars become visible in averted on the P edge. On the F edge, within 1.5′ of the F edge of the triangle, is a number of 12.5/13th-mag stars that are fairly obvious. From the double star due SF by 2.5′ is a 9.5-magnitude star; 3′ N from the 10th-magnitude star at the N is an 11.5-magnitude star. Flanking the cluster P slightly S by 5′ from the 10th-magnitude star is another 10th-magnitude star; there’s another 7′ F very slightly N of the first 10th– magnitude star. The brightest in the field is a 9th-magnitude star just on the S edge of the field, 18′ from the double star.

NGC 2194, Skiff J0614.8+1252 (Ori): The final one Herschel 400/II object in Orion, and a really fine one! This is a very rich, very obvious cluster of considerably faint stars, near the end of Orion’s Club. This open cluster is 7′ round and contains fifty or sixty stars, mostly magnitude 13.5 and lower; the majority of the brighter stars (12.5-13th magnitudes, maybe a couple in the 11.5-magnitude range) are on the F end. There’s also a fair amount of unresolved background haze. A rectangle of stars is overlaid roughly P-F over the top of the cluster; on the SF corner of the rectangle is the cluster lucida, which is 11.5 magnitude, and is also the N vertex of a larger triangle to the S of the cluster. The majority of the brighter stars in the cluster form a ‘V’ with the lucida at the SF tip; this then bends N slightly P and then due F; the point star [where the ‘V’ bends] lies at the N slightly P of the lucida; each branch of the ‘V’ is 1.75′ long; there are four stars in the S branch and four in the F branch (both including the point star). From the lucida N very very slightly F by 5′ is a 10.5-magnitude star that’s not likely an actual cluster member; N very slightly F that star is a little shrimp-shaped asterism that’s 1′ on its longest axis. From the lucida S very very slightly P by 4′, almost due S of the cluster itself, is a 10th-magnitude star which, with the lucida, forms the P edge of the larger triangle mentioned earlier; from the lucida SF by 4.25′ is the third vertex of this triangle, which is 11.5 magnitude. 15′ F very slightly N of the cluster, with the lucida centered in the eyepiece, is what looks like another cluster [Skiff J0614.8+1252]. This one is elongated N-S, 5′ N-S x 1.75′ P-F. It’s much sparser than 2194, with twelve 12.5-13.5 magnitude stars. SF that group by 5′ is another cluster-like concentration [not an actual listed cluster] that’s roundish and 3′, with the majority of its brighter stars on the S edge, running SP to due S, and another brighter star on the NvsF corner; the cluster/asterism looks like a small sailboat, with ten or twelve stars of 11.5-13th magnitudes. 13′ SP from the lucida of 2194 is the SP end of a line of twelve stars that’s roughly straight (with a few kinks in it) ; four or five of these form a triangle at the SP end of the line and the rest form a train running NF from there; these stars are mostly 10.5-11.5 magnitude. Due S from the lucida, starting 15′ due S and running 17′ S very slightly F from there is another long serpentine “rope” of thirteen stars, most of which are between 10.5 and 11.5 magnitude. This is a very intricate field, with two clusters and two prominent asterisms; the brightest star in the field of 2194 is SvsP the lucida by 16′ and is 10th magnitude.

My next target was NGC 2232, and I took extensive notes on it. But when I tried to reconcile my notes (which were confusing just to listen to) with a photograph of the cluster, I couldn’t do it. So I left the notes unfinished and will have to reobserve the cluster at a point where I can do a better job of it.

NGC 2236 (Mon): A very interesting cluster! The main body of this one centers around a 10.5-magnitude star which is the only brightish one in it; this “main body” is 1.25′ around and the majority of the stars in it are quite faint; there’s no unresolved background glow, but averted vision is needed to resolve the fainter stars. There are twenty stars within 1.5′ of this lucida, the majority of them to the SF of the lucida (which is the NP corner of the main body), with a few S of it and a few NF it. The majority of cluster stars are 13thmagnitude and fainter. From this main body, the cluster extends N and then loops P and then S and looks very much like a shrimp, with the end of its tail almost due S of the main body by 4′; it also extends N from the lucida for 1.25′ before heading SP and then due S of the main body. This cluster is a difficult object; there are lots of bright stars in the field, and it would be easy to pass over the cluster entirely. This is obviously a cluster only once one notices the majority of stars that are visible around the lucida; otherwise, it’s not totally obvious at first [although my secondary may well be fogged as well]. The majority of stars in the “tail of the shrimp” and around N of the main body are in the 13th-14th magnitude range; there’s a largish magnitude range unless excepting the lucida as a cluster member. There are twelve stars in the loop/tail. From the lucida NF by 8′ is the more S of a pair of 9th-magnitude stars; these are separated N very very slightly P-S very very slightly F by 1.25′. From the lucida due N by 18′ is the more S (and brighter) of a very bright pair, which is 7th magnitude, with an 8th-magnitude star 2.25′ NP it; the brighter one also has a 12th-magnitude star due N of it by 12″; this may be an actual double. This cluster itself is somewhat difficult at first, but quite excellent once you actually see it. 

And this ended our first session at Dexter. It was fairly short, but the cold and the gradual dew shut us down, one by one, and I had no real desire to stay there freezing by myself in average conditions. It would be nearly a week before we had clear skies and motivation to come out again, but we would be ready for the opportunity.

II. Dan B and I were the only ones to make the drive to Dexter the next time out. (I vaguely recall another session between the two that I couldn’t attend, so I don’t know if anyone else made it out in the interregnum.) Our observing session was still most exactly as long as the previous one. It felt even colder.

As with our earlier session, I stayed with open clusters; conditions just weren’t quite good enough for galaxies or nebulae. A couple of these clusters were cases of confused identity, where there was uncertainty about what grouping actually constituted the cluster in question.

DEXTER STATE PARK (parking lot) (43˚ 55′ 06″ N, 122˚ 48′ 48″ W)
MOON: 3 days old (12% illuminated); set at 9:21 PM
TRANSPARENCY: 6; decent glow of winter MW through Auriga.Monoceros/Puppis
SQM: not checked
NELM: 5.7; M47 visible to the naked-eye
WEATHER CONDITIONS: hazy, temps in mid-30s, no breeze, moderate dew

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

NGC 2204 (CMj): Conditions aren’t great but good enough for observing this cluster; there’s also an annoying obscuration/glare in the eyepiece as I observe this one. I found this cluster after several evenings’ attempts (at both Dexter and Eagle’s; it was obscured by trees or mountains at the latter). The cluster is quite large and is due S of a 6th-magnitude star; the N end of the cluster lies 8′ due S of that star and is marked by cluster’s brightest star, which is 9thmagnitude. The cluster is ‘X’ shaped, with one branch running N-S, and the lucida is on N end of that; the other bar runs PvsS-FvsN and 2nd-brightest in the cluster (10thmagnitude) is on SP end of that second bar; N-S line is the minor axis at 7′ long and the other axis is 8.5′. On the S end of the minor axis is a pair of 11th-magnitude stars that are not exactly N-S to each other, the N star is also very slightly F. The P side of the N-S axis is somewhat empty relatively; there’s the bright star at the end of the P axis, and then until the star at the middle of the ‘X’ there’s nothing really obvious, although there’s a clump between the star at the center of the ‘X’ and the star at the P end of the P-F axis; this clump has three or four stars “just this side of threshold”; it’s more visible as a group than as individuals; there’s one star between the clump and the star at the P end of that axis. Starting with the star at the cross of the ‘X’, there are five stars on the F end of that axis. The majority of stars in the ‘X’ are, especially on the S and F parts, in the 12th/13th-magnitude range. The cluster is not well detached but is very rich, although most of the stars are threshold/averted objects, especially on the N-S axis; there are fifty stars minimum. The brightest in the field is the 5th-magnitude star N of the cluster, which is also the NP corner of a square; this square is 1.75′ per side, and the star on the SF corner of square is its 2ndbrightest at 8.5magnitude. This is an interesting cluster, but wouldn’t have noticed it at first glance under these conditions; its “clusterness” improves with concentration, just as it did with NGC 2236 a few nights before. 

NGC 2251 (Mon): Conditions aren’t “nebula-favorable” tonight, so I’m going to skip the nebulosities that I need to get, despite the fact that I’m right by the Rosette Nebula (among others). This is another interesting cluster, one divided into three major sections: the central-most of these is an arc of three stars, of which the S-most is a (probably optical) double, the 9th-magnitude primary of which is the brightest in the group and the secondary of which is 11th  magnitude; the secondary is due P the primary by 10”. N very slightly F the primary of the double by 0.67′ is a 10th-magnitude star; N very very slightly F the primary by 1.3′ is an 11th-magnitude star, and with the double, these make the central group in the cluster. N of that group is a 2.5’ long P-F line of stars running P very slightly N-F very slightly S; the star at the P end of this is due N of the primary by 4.25′ and is the 2nd-brightest in that group at 11th magnitude; the 10.5-magnitude star at the F end of that group is its brightest. In the middle of that line is the S edge of a very small triangle, consisting of two 11th -magnitude stars and one 14th -magnitude star, with the first two actually within the line of stars and the 14th-magnitude star slightly N of that line; the triangle is no more than 0.3′ on two sides and twice that on its long side. [The seeing has gone to crap at this point.] SF the primary of the double (the lucida) is the last major group in the cluster, which runs N slightly P-S slightly F in the field and contains the majority of the cluster’s brighter members; there are twelve stars here of 11th-12th magnitudes and a number of fainter ones; this group stretches 3.5′ major axis and 1.25’ on its minor axis; star on the P-most end of this group is F the primary by 2’. Overall, this is not a superbly well-detached cluster but is pretty obvious and eye-catching nonetheless, due to the presence of so many 10th/11th-magnitude stars in the area. The whole of the cluster is about 10′ NP-SF x 4.5′ SP-NF. NP the primary of the double by 5′ is another noteworthy star, a 9.5-magnitude star that’s isolated there away from the central group and equidistant from the short N line. The central region of the cluster has a number of faint background stars which are not well resolved even in averted; there are four primary stars (including the double as two). The cluster is pretty rich (with thirty-five stars) and contains a pretty large range of magnitudes, from the 9th-magnitude lucida down to below 13th magnitude.

NGC 2252 (Mon): This one is another controversial cluster; Seligman has the bright object as the cluster, but the DSO Browser has it somewhat removed from this location. I’ve been seeing a lot of crustaceans tonight, as this looks like another shrimp-shaped cluster. It’s perched on the NF edge of the Rosette, which is quite visible in the field to the SP.  The cluster is an obvious group that looks pretty established as a unity, reasonably cluster-like. It runs 12′ N-S and at the N end it bends P-ward, which is where the “shrimp-ness” comes in; the head of the shrimp is roughly diamond-shaped, with the brightest in the cluster sitting at the NP end of the diamond’s minor axis (which is 1.25’, with the major axis 2.25’). The brightest star here is 9th magnitude and the three others in the diamond are 11th magnitude. There are twenty-four stars in this group, most of them along the N-S. In the middle of the N-S chain is what looks like a double, two 13th-magnitude stars separated N-S by 6″; there’s another star due P them by 0.3′ that’s 12th-mag (making this a trio, then). Due F the shrimp pattern, F slightly N of the double/trio, is what the DSO Browser considered the cluster to be: a P slightly S-F slightly N line 2.25′ long that has three stars; the star on the P end is 11.5 magnitude and the star on the F end 10th magnitude; the star in the middle is due P the star on the F end by 1.25′ and is 13th magnitude. (The NGC/IC Project had this second part as the cluster as well–naturally, as the DSO Browser uses images created for the NGC/IC Project.) The whole area is teeming with asterisms; there’s a large Collinder cluster (Cr 106) NF it; from the bright star at the NP (lucida) of the shrimp F slightly S by 30′ is a very small, almost-equilateral triangle of bright stars; the brightest of these is the SP vertex, which is 8th magnitude; the two others in the triangle are 9th magnitude; the NP side of the triangle is slightly longer at 0.67′, while the other sides are 0.5’.

NGC 2301 (Mon): A beauty! This cluster is quite a bit away from the Rosette, in the hinterlands of Monoceros, SF 18 Mon. It’s a fine, rich cluster that seems to have tendrils of dark nebulosity around it. Its primary feature is a N-S pair at center of cluster; these are 8th (the cluster lucida) and 9th  magnitudes, separated by 0.3’, with the brighter S of the fainter; the southern star is somewhat reddish. These are on the NF end of an ellipse that curls SP from there—it’s a rather poor ellipse or kidney shape. From the fainter of the pair P very slightly N by 0.67′ is a 10th-magnitude star; with the double, this forms the N end of the ellipse; four stars form the S end. The ellipse is 2.5′ x 1.75′ at widest; it’s wider toward the S end, then narrows farther N. The  other four stars in the ellipse are in the 10.5-12th-magnitude range. Off the S end of the ellipse is a brighter star that’s 8.5 magnitude and is the NP end of a parenthetical arc of four stars that sweeps S and then SP from there and stretches 7.5′ due S from that first star (the 8.5); the arc bows SF and then proceeds around to due S of the 8.5-magnitude star: SF, due S of the second star, and then SP so that it ends due S of the 8.5 star; second star S from that is 8th magnitude; the third star 9th magnitude and the one at the S end of the “parenthesis” is also 8th magnitude. The cluster itself is quite obvious and rich with forty stars in an 8’ diameter. From the fainter of the bright central pair, even more N from there by 1′ from the fainter is a star of equal (9th) magnitude. Due N of the pair (and maybe slightly P) is a line of three equally-spaced stars; this is N slightly P the dimmer of the pair, with the P-most of the three 4.5’ from the fainter of the pair; the two on the ends of this line are 10th magnitude; the star in the middle of the three is 12th magnitude; the three span 0.67’. NP the star on the P end of the trio by 0.75′ is another of that same magnitude (10th) that forms a small triangle with that trio. F the cluster and possibly part of it are a pair of smaller asterisms; one is a mini Sagitta with its arrowhead P-most and 4.3′ FvsN of the brighter of the double; this extends F and very slightly N from the arrowhead for 2′ and the stars at the end of the arrow are separated by 0.3′; F the more N of the stars at the end of the arrow by 1.75′ is a 9th-magnitude star; S of the arrow and slightly F is the middle star in another “curve” that’s 3′ SF the arrowhead; this branches S and then NF from that middle star; the majority in the curve are 11-13th magnitudes; the star on the NF end of the curve is the faintest in the curve; on the S end of the curve, the 11th-magnitude star has a 12th-magnitude companion NP it by 0.25’.

NGC 2286 (Mon): This cluster marks the last of the northern Monoceros stuff I need in the Herschel lists aside from several nebulosities, and in many ways reminds me of NGC 2301. It’s bigger than 2301, rectangular, and NP-SF oriented; it’s also quite a bit fainter than 2301. The cluster spans 11′ x 7’. It’s not as well detached as the previous. There are many fainter stars and fewer bright ones, with the majority of 12th-14th magnitudes; overall, though, there’s a large magnitude range among the fifty stars here. The majority of the bright stars form the outline of the overlaid rectangle; the cluster somewhat reminds of the “water jar” in Aquarius (not the Y-shaped asterism but the one seen in some artwork, sometimes representing the streams of water pouring from the Jar itself; this includes Delta Aqr) On the NP end, there are several trios of stars; the three stars NP corner are tight, with the brightest on the S end of that trio, which extends N from there; the SP vertex of the rectangle is a trio with the third star being threshold magnitude. The cluster’s dominant feature is a small triangle on the S edge just a bit S very very slightly F the center of the cluster; as with 2301, these are N-S to each other, with the  brighter to the S by 0.5’; these are 10th and 10.5 magnitudes; the 10.5 magnitude star is the right angle vertex of this little triangle, with the 12th-magnitude third vertex due P it by 0.75’. Along the S edge of the rectangle, moving NP from that previous triangle, is another triangle, the brightest member of which is the 11th-magnitude N-most vertex, which is 5′ NP the brighter of the right triangle; it is flanked on the SF by 0.3′ by a 13th-magnitude star and on the SP by 0.5′ by another of 13th magnitude. These triangles are the most obvious feature of the cluster and comprise a large percentage of what’s on the S edge of the rectangle. F slightly S from the bright star in the right triangle (the S-most vertex in the right triangle) by 7′ is the slightly-fainter in a pair of much brighter stars (9.5/9.7 magnitudes), with the brighter 1.5′ NF the fainter. NF that bright star in the right triangle by 8.5′ is the S-most in an arc (and brightest in the arc at 10th magnitude); this arc stretches 4.75′ and includes four more stars running N-NP, with two faint other stars in a triangle at the S end of the arc with the 10th-magnitude star. The middle of the rectangle is the richest region of the cluster, and this runs along the major axis of the rectangle across the cluster’s middle; it’s also a bit richer toward the NP end, where eight stars form a NP-SF ellipse near the NP vertex of the rectangle; this  ellipse is 4′ x 1.75’. [I originally misidentified the cluster, on my recording, as NGC 2282.]

By this point, Dan had already left. I wasn’t quite ready to go yet, although my energy was flagging a bit. I decided on one last object, given the low horizon to the south (which Eagle’s Ridge simply didn’t have); it happened to be my favorite of all open clusters.

NGC 2362 (CMj): My favorite open cluster, which I’m taking notes on even though the seeing is getting really poor. A stunner! The cluster surrounds 4th-magnitude Tau Canis Majoris. (The view here is more magnification than I would normally use, as I prefer keeping clusters “compact” in the eyepiece, which keeps their unity more apparent.) Tau is a brilliant blue-white. The cluster is roughly triangular-shaped, with the N edge running P very slightly N-F very slightly S, and Tau just S of that edge; the triangle of the cluster body points S very slightly P from Tau. The triangle has a P edge running mostly N-S and a F side which runs S very slightly P-N very slightly F; the N edge is 5′ long and the other two are 6.5’. The cluster is very well detached/unified, and very rich, with seventy stars of a great range of magnitudes (if Tau is included); the majority of stars are in the 10th/11th-magnitude range, but they extend down to below 13th magnitude. Tau has a pair of very close companions that are F and NF; these are 6″ apart; the one to the F is brighter at 10th magnitude, the other 12th. N of Tau by 3.25′ is the P end of a small clump that runs 1.25′ P very slightly S-F very slightly N and includes six stars; this is outside the frame of the main cluster; there’s a gap between the N edge of the cluster and the clump, and this gap is a couple of arcminutes wide on average; the two stars on the P and F ends of clump are the brightest in it at 10.5 magnitude. Due F Tau by 7′ is a 7th-magnitude star; due N of Tau by 24′ [outside the edge of the field] is a 5th-magnitude star.

And that was that. With the Moon already a presence in the sky, there would likely not be a followup session for a couple of weeks; with luck, we’d get at least one opportunity in the post-Full phase.

III. One opportunity was what we got, but I was the only one to take it.

Of our three sessions in March, this one was the poorest in terms of conditions—naturally, it was the one in which I decided to go back to observing galaxies again. Clusters, as readers might have noticed, take me longer to describe than galaxies; there’s just too much to say about them. So, despite the fact that I had a number of open clusters to still “collect” in Auriga, Gemini, Canis Major, and Puppis (along with a number of nebulae that were well beyond their best visibility), I was chomping at the bit to get back to the object class I prefer. I did something of a disservice to these observations, then, but  I was still glad to get them under my belt. After the initial galaxy duo, I dropped back to clusters until the sky steadied down well enough to return to the realm of the extragalactic.

DEXTER STATE PARK (parking lot) (43˚ 55′ 06″ N, 122˚ 48′ 48″ W)
MOON: 25 days old (20% illumination); rose at 5:10 AM
SQM: not checked
NELM: 5.6
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 40s, breezy, not yet dewy; some visible patches of cirrus sweeping through

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

NGCs 2274, 2275 (Gem): It’s not yet totally dark, and there’s lots of thin cirrus crud sweeping through the sky, but I’m going to start anyway. This galaxy pair lies just SE of Theta Gem. NGC 2274 is an elliptical galaxy for certain, and has NGC 2275 visible just N of it. The pair is situated below a large grass-whip shaped asterism (or an ‘s’ with the top flattened). 2274 is faint, round, and quite small (0.5’ diameter), and has a brighter core and (possibly) a stellar nucleus. The halo is pretty diffuse and quite thin; the core makes up most of the galaxy. The galaxy as a whole doesn’t really pop in the field; it would be pretty easy to sweep over it due to its size and faintness. 1′ N is 2275: this one is no more than 0.5′ x 0.25′, elongated N-S? This little galaxy is very diffuse, with no real discernable details, no core/nucleus. On the S very slightly P and N, on opposite edges of field, roughly 20′ from 2274, are 9th-magnitude stars which are the brightest in the field. P very slightly S of 2274 by 1.5′ is a pair of stars, the brighter of which is S slightly F the fainter by 0.3′; these are 12.5 and 13th magnitudes. S of 2274 by 1.75′, and SP by 2′, are 12.5-magnitude stars.

NGC 2158, M35 (Gem): Although the seeing sucks right now, this is still a striking pair! NGC 2158 is still somewhat diminished in these conditions; but it’s better to observe clusters in mediocre conditions than galaxies, so we plow on ahead. NGC 2158 lies 25′ SP the center of M35.  The cluster has a very “finely ground” and granular appearance, but is pretty well resolved despite the sky working against it. It’s 3.5′ diameter and incredibly rich. On the SF-most edge is a prominent 10.5 mag star; there’s a sprinkling of brighter resolved stars, mostly in the 13th-magnitude range, especially on the S half of the cluster; perhaps eighteen individual stars are resolvable here, with the rest of the hundreds of cluster members being an unresolved background glow. If the 10.5-magnitude star is a member of the cluster, then there’s a wide range of magnitudes here; otherwise, it’s a fairly narrow range, from 12th-magnitude down to threshold. It really does appear like a fairly distant globular cluster. NF the cluster and stretching 7′ is an airplane-like asterism, with its “wings” running NP and SF and the “fuselage” running SP-NF, with the tail widening toward cluster and the nose pointing away; the tail is an equilateral triangle, 2.25′ on a side, consisting of two 10th- and one 10.5-magnitude stars; the 10.5-magnitude star is the S vertex of the triangle with the others NP and N of it. Halfway between the triangle and the cluster is a smaller triangle: there are two stars on its P side, these are the closest to the cluster and are 12th-magnitude, separated N-S by 0.67′; F the S-most of those two stars by 0.5′ is a 13th-magnitude star. The other two stars in the airplane “fuselage” are both 9.5 magnitude. The  “wings” are composed of three stars each, on each side of the “fuselage,” and the wings span 9′ long; the whole “airplane”  is 9′ x 7′.

M35 is 20′ round (it’s a little flatter on the S edge) and contains two primary lines of stars, one straight along the S edge and a more condensed arc starting at the N edge and running NP. The line on the S runs P very slightly N-F very slightly S, 2/3 of the way from the N edge across the cluster (averaging about 12′ from the N edge) and is 12′ long. The cluster is well detached from the rich Milky Way background and quite rich, with well over 100 stars in its 20’ diameter, but not a huge magnitude range despite a lot of brightish stars; the majority average magnitude 10.5. There are lots of little patterns and chains among the member stars. The cluster’s brightest star is on the SF end of the S line and is 7.5 mag; it’s also the F-most vertex of a small isosceles triangle of which the other two stars are due P (a 10th-magnitude star) and NP (a 10.5) by 1′; these two are about 0.75′ apart. The S line starts on the due S edge of cluster and contains five stars, plus the triangle on the end; the second brightest star in this line is on the P end and is 9th-magnitude; the second and third stars (moving F) are each the N end of a 1′ line of three. The N arc/line is more interesting; it’s better defined, 7′ long and has its two brightest stars on its ends; the F end star is on the N edge of the cluster, due central; this arc runs SP, and the star at the NF end is the brightest in the line/arc at 7.5 magnitude; it has S very very slightly P it by 0.5′ a 9th-magnitude star. The star at the P end of this arc is 8th-magnitude; the arc has twelve total stars, including several triangles. 

NGC 2129 (Gem): Sticking to clusters a bit longer, as the sky is starting to clear somewhat. This is a really obvious, well-detached blot of stars, in the foot of Gemini P 1 Geminorum and near to M35. It’s elongated 6’ P-F,  x 3′ N-S. There are thirty stars in the cluster. Its most obvious feature is its minor axis; on the S end is the brightest star in the field at 7.5 magnitude; on the N end of the minor axis is an 8.5-magnitude star. NGC 2129 is in a way like M6: it’s vaguely butterfly-shaped; the minor axis breaks it into two roughly equal lobes. N of the star at the N end of the minor axis is a close pair, of which the brighter is more S by 0.25′; these are 11.5 and 12.5 magnitudes, and kind-of serve as the “butterfly’s” antennae. A third prominent cluster star is on the NP corner of the cluster (which is roughly rectangular, with the antennae sticking out of the rectangle); this star is 10th magnitude and is due P the star on the N end of the minor axis by 2.75′. F that same star on the N end of minor axis (the 8.5-magnitude star) by 0.75′ is a prominent 10.5-magnitude star. The cluster has a great magnitude range; the N central region around the 8.5-magnitude star is the most-crowded part of the cluster. 

NGC 2415 (Lyn): Back to galaxies now. This one is a troublemaker; I’ve looked for it before with no success and it’s easy to see why; it’s small, though not particularly faint, just a 0.5′ spot with a bright large core and a very thin faint halo. In some ways, it looks like a small, faintish planetary nebula. At this magnification, I’m not picking up a nucleus, although a 14th-magnitude star 0.67’ N of the galaxy and a 14th-magnitude star 0.75′ S make it hard to tell. The galaxy’s core is pretty bright and makes up most of the galaxy’s diameter. To the F of the galaxy and very very slightly N by 1.67′ is a 9.5-magnitude star that also distracts from the observation. Due P by 2′ is a 12.5-magnitude star. The brightest in the field is 5.5-magnitude 70 Gem, 22′ SF the galaxy. 9.5’ N of the galaxy is the primary of a really interesting double, which is 9th-magnitude and has P very very slightly S by 12″ a 12th-magnitude secondary. NP the primary by 3′ is an 8th-magnitude star. This is probably a nice galaxy under darker skies, but it’s not particularly outstanding here. 

NGC 2841 (UMa): A real gem!  This is a highly-inclined spiral in UMa’s front foot. It’s 4.0’ x 0.75’, elongated NP-SF, with a long, diffuse halo that’s not super-well defined, a bright 0.5’ core, and a bright stellar nucleus. On the NP end of the halo is an embedded 11th-magnitude star; there’s another star embedded in the NP end, 1.25′ SF from the first, but this one is fainter at 13.5 magnitude. 1.75’ S slightly P the 11th-magnitude star is another 13.5-magnitude star. F the 11th-magnitude star by 6′ is the brightest in the field, which is 8.5 magnitude. S of the galaxy by 23′, just outside the field, is a superb double consisting of two 9th-magnitude components separated P-F by 0.3′ (the P-most of the pair is very slightly brighter). A fantastic galaxy!

NGC 2841 was definitely the highlight object of the month, yet I haven’t gotten to return to it: by the time we had clear skies again—in May—I had other objects to worry about, and had forgotten to return. Now, as I write this, it’s summer, and the galaxy is unfavorably placed for most of the night.

NGC 2681 (UMa): A little galaxy, much smaller than 2841 but still impressive and easy to notice in the field. It has a 1.25′ halo that’s roundish and pretty weakly defined, and a small bright core with a very bright stellar nucleus.  1.75’ P the galaxy and very very slightly N is the F of a pair of 13th-magnitude stars, with the brighter P very slightly N of the fainter by 0.5′. Due F the galaxy by 1.5′ is a 13.5-magnitude star; SvsF that star by 1.67 is another of the same magnitude. F and very slightly S of the galaxy by 10′ is a 9th-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field; a 10.5-magnitude star lies due N of the galaxy by 8′.

NGC 2639 (UMa): If I didn’t know better, I’d say this bright, not-particularly-large galaxy is an elliptical. It’s 1.25 x 0.67, elongated NP-SF, and pretty well defined. A brighter core is smeared out along its major axis. It’s hard to tell if there’s a visible nucleus; even averted doesn’t seem to pull one out. 2.5′ SF from the center of the galaxy is a 14th-magnitude star. The brightest in the field is 14′ S very slightly P the galaxy and is 8.5 magnitude; it has a 10th-magnitude star P very slightly N of it by 6′. N of the galaxy by 7.5’ is the bend point of a ‘V’ of stars, with three on the F side and one to the NP (which is the brightest of the four at 10th magnitude, and is 8.5′ NP the galaxy). The “bend point” star is 11th magnitude; there’s another of equal brightness S slightly F that one by 2.5’; SF the second star by 4.5’ is another 11th-magnitude star,  and these last two form a nearly-equailateral triangle with the galaxy. The third star on this F side is 4.5′ F slightly N of the galaxy.

NGC 3067 (Leo): A nice elongated (almost edge-on) spiral, elongated 0.75’ x 0.3’ P-F. This one has a brighter central region/core and a pretty well defined halo. It’s followed by two triangles of stars; more noteworthy is a large right triangle whose closest vertex to the galaxy is 4′ F very slightly N of the galaxy and 10th magnitude; the 9.5-magnitude right-angle vertex is NF the first vertex by 8′, and the third vertex (10th magnitude) is NP the right-angle vertex by 11′; the right-angle vertex has 1.25′ due N of it a 13th-magnitude star. Another bright right triangle F the galaxy includes the brightest star (9.5 magnitude) in the field, 23′ F very very slightly S of the galaxy.

My observing chair had been in dire need of repair for months; it wouldn’t actually be fixed until May, and its presence was sorely missed. I had resorted to using a 2-step ladder as a chair, and if I perched just on the edge of the bottom step, it gave me two heights at which I could observe. Problem was, this was terrible for my back, as I had proven to myself several months before and every observing session since. So now, I elected to treat my son back by standing all the time, which made my feet hurt constantly. (Australopithicines have notoriously weak arches.). And by this point of this particular night, my feet were on the verge of rebelling and joining a body that knew how to care for them better.

NGC 3254 (LMi): This galaxy is ghostlier and more diffuse than any so far tonight. It’s highly inclined, elongated 1.3’ x 0.3’ due SP-NF, and pretty obvious (despite its diffuseness) in an interesting field. The core region is very small and bright relative to the halo, which is more distinct in averted vision but still hard to trace the full extent of; the halo is pretty poorly defined. There’s no nucleus visible, although there’s a possible flash of one in averted vision, but not enough to confirm it. There are many bright field stars here, including a pair due F the galaxy, separated by 1.25′, with the brighter N very slightly P the fainter; these are 9.5 and 10th magnitude, with the brighter 5.75′ F very slightly N of the galaxy. P very very slightly N of the galaxy by 8.5′ is a 10.5-magnitude star, and in the same direction (almost due P) by 2.5′ from the core is a 14th-magnitude star. Due N of the galaxy by 12′ is a 9th-magnitude star; there’s a 6.5 magnitude star 6′ P somewhat N of
that star, and from the 6.5-magnitude star P by 4.5′ is an 11th-magnitude star that may be double; there’s a 10th-magnitude star 7′ NF the 6.5-magnitude star, making the 6.5-magnitude star the middle of a ‘Y’ pattern.

NGC 3652 (UMa): one of the more difficult and underwhelming of the evening, up in the region where Ursa Major borders on the Leos. This is a mostly N-S glow, 0.75’ x 0.3’, quite diffuse and ghostly and quite a bit fainter than most others tonight. I had to use the TriAtlas and others to be sure that I had the right galaxy. It’s not well defined, and its central region/core is only very marginally brighter than the halo and doesn’t have much in the way of definition. The field is similarly non-descript: F the galaxy by 18′ is an 8.5-magnitude star; SvsP galaxy by 17′ is a 9.5-magnitude star. NP the galaxy is a largish triangle of 11th-magnitude stars, the closest of which is 9.5′ P somewhat N of the galaxy; P slightly S of that star by 3′ is another; from the star second star 6.5’ N slightly F by 6.5′ is another 11th-magnitude star.

NGCs 3665, 3658 (UMa): This one is better than NGC 3652 by a fair margin, a fine elliptical-looking galaxy up between 55 and 57 UMa. It has a largish halo and a bright core with a substellar nucleus, and extends N-S 1.75′ x 0.75′.  The core is fairly small, not particularly well defined, and blends gradually and indistinctly into the halo, which fades out rather than coming to a defined edge. There are not a lot of stars in the field; the brightest in the field, a 9th-magnitude star, lies P very slightly S of the galaxy by 14′. F very very slightly S galaxy by 3.75′ is the P-most of a line of three stars, the brightest of which is 12th magnitude; there’s a 12.5-magnitude star F that star by 2.5′ and a 14th-magnitude star F that second star by 1.25′. N very slightly P the galaxy by 7′ is the NF end of a serpentine line that has eight stars in it and terminates at an 11.5-magnitude star 8′ P slightly S of the galaxy; the star at the NF end of the line is 13th magnitude. Off the end of that line, 8.5’ S very slightly P the star at the P slightly S end of the line, is another galaxy (NGC 3658) that is considerably smaller and fainter than 3665; it’s 0.5′ diameter and more ghostly than 3665, but has a very small core that’s much more concentrated than the halo; the halo is very diffuse.  Either this galaxy has a stellar nucleus or there’s a really faint star just S of the core; the galaxy lies due S of the brightest star in the field by 9′. 

My feet were done. The only astronomy-related thing that made them hurt worse was standing on the ladder that accompanies the 18″ EAS scope; there, my arches got the full brunt of my weight so that I could stay steady on the rungs. But I couldn’t justify another fifteen minutes standing scope-side, and so I decided to take my barking dogs home, letting their final work of the night be pushing gas and brake pedals.

NGC 3813 (UMa): This may be my last target for the night because my feet are killing me and it’s getting dewy. But it’s another fine galaxy, 1.3’ x 0.3’ and elongated P-F, and maybe a bit wider on the P end than the F end, rather than being regularly elliptical-shaped. It isn’t as well defined as many this evening, a little ghostly, with a large but not very distinct core and no discernable nucleus. The edges of the halo are not well defined. The galaxy is bracketed by faint (14th-magnitude) stars to the P and F. Just outside the F edge of the halo is a 14th-magnitude star and a couple of 14th-mag stars are on the P side, starting 2′ from the center of galaxy . P slightly S of the galaxy by 14′ is the brightest star in the field at 8th magnitude. NF the galaxy by 17′ is a 9.5-magnitude star; due S of the galaxy by 9′ is an 11.5-magnitude star with a 12.5-magnitude star NF it by 4′.

I made it home shortly after midnight, staggering from the car with feet aching and eyepiece case in hand. Reflecting on these notes after the fact—and very much distanced from the moments in time that they represent—it’s easier to say that it was worth it than I might’ve been able to say at the time. And yet some of the objects of March were showpieces, and many more were worth another visit when time made itself available.