Setting Sages Questioning

Wild’s Triplet, Arp 248. Image is 30′ x 30′. Courtesy POSS-II.

[Note: this entry has been edited to include the second observation, which was inexplicably left out in the previous version.]

Two more observations before surgery; two more before unusually-relentless rains wiped out May and part of June.

April had already proven difficult, weather-wise. Where we usually had several days of clear Moonless skies during the month, we’d only had one day early in the month, and now only two toward the end. With a week before I had my foot cut open and three months of rehab afterward, I had no hesitation getting out when a halfway-decent forecast finally presented itself. Nor did most of the others, really—having been cooped up by the rain, the Irregulars were champing at the bit. And so we made the 45-minute pilgrimage out west toward the sandstone Linslaw crag, in pursuit of individual agendas but a singular goal: the capture of ancient starlight.

With the 20-inch Obsession and new ladder in tow, and galaxy season well underway, it was time for another round of chasing down flat galaxies. By the time I was healed up, it would be time for the flat galaxies of autumn, of which I had barely scratched the surface.

As darkness overtook daylight, our first actual target for the night was SN2022hrs, the brilliant supernova in NGC 4647 (the companion galaxy to Messier 60). This was one of the brightest extragalactic supernovae I’d ever observed, reaching better than 12th magnitude in our estimation [although officially only 12.3 at its peak]. EAS members would end up tracking this supernova all the way into July. Five scopes lingered on the supernova; Robert even viewed it in his 50mm binocular scope (“Magic”).

Two hours after sunset, it was time for note-taking and more-structured observing. I started with an object that I had previously seen from Eureka Ridge in the 12.5-inch scope, but which really deserved notes made through the Obsession.

MOON: 23 days (rose at 3:15 AM; 46% illuminated)

SQM: 21.60
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to low 40s; humid with slight dew; air still; chilly
All observations: 20″ f/5 Obsession Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (181x, 0.45˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (363x, 0.21˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

NGC 3044 (Sex): First for the night—probably the last night until September—is NGC 3044 in Sextans. I’ve seen this one before; I first got it in the 12.5-inch scope and made a note to come back to it because I was so impressed with it then. This is a huge, very underrated edge-on/flat galaxy, elongated 100° PA. It’s an irregularly-bright galaxy with no central brightening (or widening, for that matter), and there’s no real hint of a nucleus here. The galaxy is not razor thin; it’s 4.25’ x 0.4’. It seems as if the SF end is the brighter end; both of the ends fade out gradually, but the NP end is stretched out a little longer and more diffusely than the SF. 1’ N of the NP end of the galaxy is a 14.5-magnitude star. 6’ NP the galaxy is a 12th-magnitude star with a 13.5-magnitude star S of it by 0.5’. P somewhat N of the galaxy by 8’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; 3’ SF the galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star that has another 13th-magnitude star S of it by 2’. The brightest star in the field is 15’ N very slightly F the galaxy and is 10th magnitude; it has a 14th-magnitude star P very very slightly N of it by 0.5’. In the 7mm Nagler: the galaxy is huge at this magnification; there’s still no real nucleus or core visible. But it seems like on the NP end there’s a detached segment that’s very slightly brighter than the rest of it—I mentioned that it was irregularly bright, and that’s really coming out here. It’s hard to get a good read on that detached bit beyond its presence there. This is certainly one of the better objects in the Flat Galaxy Catalogue.

Loren had built a riser for his 18-inch Obsession, the better to track down horizon-scraping planetary nebulae like NGC 3132 and NGC 2818. He was unsatisfied with it on the evening, though, and while observing NGC 3044, I stopped to help him and the others lift his scope down from the riser. (It was quite a team effort, judging by the conversation in my audio notes.) Apparently, Dan had been observing the Draco Trio at the time, as I warned him about the “false trio” that I’d stumbled across several years before.

But back to the task at hand, with a galaxy significantly more difficult than the previous. (And speaking of hands, I’d already gone to my electric gloves for warmth; the evening was already well into the “hibernation” range of temperatures.)

UGCA 221 (MCG-3-28-15; Hya): A really difficult one here, UGCA 221 in Hydra, down near Alkes (Alpha Crateris). This galaxy is very wraithlike and difficult but pretty immediately noticeable when swept into the field; the eye definitely says there’s something there, even though it’s very difficult to detect and hold. It’s 2.0’ by 0.25’, with almost no real identifiable characteristics to it at all. Averted vision doesn’t really help it that much— actually, it’s almost as difficult in averted vision as it is in direct. I’m gonna say it’s 160˚ PA, but I’m certainly not gonna hold to it; it’s so faint you could probably convince me it was 90˚ if you wanted to. At moments, it seems like the S end is more diffuse than the N, although everything about this is diffuse and poorly defined. (You’d think a flat galaxy would be fairly well defined, but not this one.) It really is just kind of a glow. There are some vaguely noteworthy stars in the field, but the galaxy is so faint it’s even hard to get distances from it: 5’ due P the galaxy is the N-most of a pair, angled NP-SF to each other and separated by 0.67’; those are both 12th magnitude, with the one to the NP somewhat brighter than the other… maybe 12 and 12.5 magnitude. Due N of the galaxy by 2.75’ is the SP star in an arc of three; that star is 12.5 magnitude and has a 13.5-magnitude star 2’ F very very slightly N of it, and that star has an 11.5-magnitude star NF it by 2.5’. The brightest star in the field is 13’ SP the galaxy and is 8.5 magnitude. So let’s throw the 7mm on this one and see if anything improves; as we saw from NGC 3044, just adding the magnification doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
 At this magnification, there still isn’t much to the galaxy: no core, no nucleus, no strip of central brightening… just a really weak wraith of a galaxy. I wish I had more to say about it, but there’s just not that much there. 

I’d been planning for several Springs to return to Wild’s Triplet with heavier artillery, having first (and unexpectedly) seen this trio at Eureka with the 12.5-inch several years before. Since then, I’d forgotten about it, or put it on the back burner, or only thought of it when I had the 12-5-inch out. But the topic had reappeared on CloudyNights, and so I made sure to add it as a break from the flat galaxies in my agenda. And here it was:

PGCs 36733, 36723,36742 (Wild’s Triplet; Arp 248 [Vir]): After several years of forgetting about it and not going back to it, this is Wild’s Triplet. Once again, I’m impressed with how bright the “main two” of these galaxies are; the third one is very difficult. But I could see all of them in my 12.5-inch scope, one of the most-difficult things I’ve ever seen in that scope, and from Eureka Ridge no less. But here, the two more S galaxies are unmistakable; I’m really surprised at how easy they are (the third one is just a real bugger tonight), but it’s the second one from P [OK, that was a good momentary look at the third one], the largest one of the group, [PGC 36733], that’s the most obvious of the three. In the 14mm, it’s 0.5’ in diameter, with a distinctly obvious core and every now and then what looks like just the faintest flash of a nucleus. Even in averted, though, it doesn’t steady up. The galaxy’s not smoothly round; it’s kind of irregular-shaped overall, even if the overall effect is roughly round. (This magnification probably isn’t the best to use; this might be one for the Delos.) The P-most of the three galaxies [PGC 36723] is second in brightness, and it’s not particularly bright; the first one I noted is really bright relatively for what it is; this second one is much more diffuse, 0.5′ x 0.3′, and elongated somewhat P-F; it’s P very slightly S of the brightest one by 2.5’. It’s much more diffuse, much less defined, but does have a smallish brighter core to it; I know these three are all interacting, but I wonder if it’s being pulled in the direction of the other one and that’s the cause of the visual distortion. For a second, [36733] seemed to have a tiny sliver extending from the S edge of the core toward the F; this was more than illusory, it was almost certainly there. The third galaxy [PGC 36742] is very much an occasional averted vision flash about 1.75’ N slightly F [36733]. But I can’t do anything to get a good visual fix on it; it’s just a tiny faint spot. It may have a nucleus, though, which is what I’m picking up every so often. From [36733] N very very slightly P by 6.5’ is a 7.5-magnitude star that is a huge unavoidable distraction from the galaxies, and that star is the P-most vertex of a little isosceles triangle; the other two stars are F slightly S of it by 2.25’; the third one is 1’ S very slightly P that one (the second vertex that I mentioned is 14th magnitude, and the third vertex is 13.5 magnitude). 5.25’ S very very slightly P [36733] is an 11.5-magnitude star. So I’m going to go ahead and change eyepieces and see if I can pick that third one out a little bit better. There’s definitely a stellar nucleus to [36733].  The third [36742] is very slightly N-S elongated, but very small, and that was a nucleus that I was seeing in that one too; I know I saw that in the 12.5-inch, but I’m surprised as hell as to how. This is too much power for it. [36742] is super diffuse other than that nucleus, and might be 0.25’ x 0.125’. There’s another glimpse of a possible spiral arm or whatever off [36733]; it definitely seems to extend from the N to the P, which is the opposite direction from the earlier sighting I had of such an extension. That galaxy also seems to be extended P from the nucleus; or, rather, the nucleus is not centered in it. It’s good to revisit this group after several years with both more experience and larger aperture.

I suspect it won’t be long before I return to Wild’s Triplet yet again—a fascinating group.

One of my heated gloves had died; I had to switch it out for an unheated one with a chemical handwarmer in it. But to hell with inconvenience; this was SCIENCE.

NGC 4703; PGC 43343 (Vir): One that’s not as impressive in the eyepiece as it is in photographs: NGC 4703 in Virgo, P and N of Spica, and it is not as easy as one might expect from an NGC. (I know that generalizations like that aren’t scientific.) This one is surprisingly long in averted vision; in averted, it’s about 2.75’ x 0.3’ at the middle, and is elongated in PA 160˚. There is definitely a core there, a central bulge; it has obvious central brightening and central enlargement to it, and the overall appearance is clearly irregularly bright. The spiral arms just peter out completely—that’s why averted vision is so important on galaxies like this; without averted, this is only about 1.5’ long. S somewhat P the galaxy by 8’ is a 7.5-magnitude star; S of the galaxy by 6.5’ is a 12.5-magnitude star, and then further S of the galaxy, 10’ S, is an 11.5-magnitude star that has S very very slightly F it a diffuse little galaxy [PGC 43343] with a small, slightly brighter core to it and a very, very diffuse halo; that galaxy is no more than 0.75’ around. There may be a substellar nucleus, but it’s intermittent at best. In the 7mm, 4703 also seems to have a nucleus, a very faint stellar one. The arms definitely need less in the way of averted vision to see at this magnification, and that central region, the brighter central region, is much more obvious. That’s a really fine galaxy; I don’t have much more to say about it at 7mm, but the extra magnification really helped on this one, and it’s definitely got a good presence to it.

I noticed, while taking notes on NGC 4703, that Scorpius had risen; Antares flickered in multi-colored splendor through the haze circling low around the horizon. (The changing colors of a star low to the horizon meant that there was considerable turbulence to the atmosphere—not uncommon along the horizons at Linslaw, due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean.) Would I even get to observe Scorpius again this summer? Several bright Lyrid meteors added to the evening spectacle throughout; I even saw a few of them.

Meanwhile, Robert was packing up to leave. I suspected most of us would be following fairly soon; four-plus hours after sunset, the chill in the air was substantial. For me, I’d been awake since 5 AM, having put in a full day at the factory. My caveman brain was going a million miles per minute, but I had to admit that the shambling corpse it was housed in was pretty run down already.

Robert left while I was taking notes on my last object for the night. This was more noteworthy than it seemed—the crag had space for six vehicles at most, and then only if parking and telescope setup allowed for that many vehicles to pass. I usually parked at the far end, setting up my scope on the eastern-most flat space in the observing area; this time, I was closer to the western edge, near the road up/down the crag. This meant that Robert had to negotiate his car between my scope and Dan’s, as well as Loren’s truck. The resultant maneuvering required headlights, which required covering our heads to preserve dark adaptation (for those of us still observing; Loren guided Robert through). It took several minutes, but he eventually made it, with Loren soon after him. During the course of Robert’s departure, I added a friendly “drive careful,” which drew snickers from the others; I warned them not to taunt the group linguist on his grammar (the words that I used were, quote, “I will roast somebody’s ass.”).

Meanwhile, my final galaxy for several months continually called me back to the eyepiece.

NGC 5073 (Vir): Another from the 160-170˚ PA club tonight, this is NGC 5073 in Virgo, and it’s a long, fairly-bright-as-such-things-go streak, maybe 3.0’ x 0.3’. It’s actually a really well-defined galaxy; there’s no real sense that there’s more to it that’s visible in averted vision or anything like that. This is a good example of how the visible profile of a flat galaxy creates a different expectation than that of a face-on spiral—even though it’s an NGC, you think it should be brighter than it is; it’s still certainly readily apparent, but not as it would be if it was more inclined, with the core visible. I’m gonna just average it and say it’s about 165˚ PA, with even illumination all the way along the major axis. This is one of the few that I’ve done where you can actually see the taper in the spiral arms to its full extent.  N very slightly P the galaxy by 6.5’ is a 9th-magnitude star that has a 14th-magnitude star SF it by 1’, and then 0.5’ P slightly S of the 9th-magnitude star is a 15th-magnitude star. Then from the galaxy N slightly P by 3.75’ is a 15th-magnitude star, and from the galaxy P somewhat S by 5’ is a 12th-magnitude star with a 14.5-magnitude star 10” N slightly F it. 9’ S very very slightly P the galaxy is the N-most of a pair, which has S very very slightly F it by 0.75’ the second and brighter star; those are 13th and 12th magnitude. The brightest star in the field is P somewhat S of this one by 14’, just on the edge of the field, and is 8.5 magnitude.
With the 7mm Nagler, I’m seeing a fair amount of irregularity to the surface brightness here, but again, it’s just a really well-defined object—there’s still no sense that there’s anything beyond the directly visible extent of it. There may be, in the galaxy’s N end, a very, very faint embedded star, just above threshold level. I’m actually suspecting a quasi-stellar nucleus in averted vision (despite talking about how everything with this one is apparent in direct). This is a really beautiful and classic, though not overly bright, flat galaxy.

Dan and I joked about my not using my 10mm Delos, which he refers to as “the Precious.” I was back to fearing for the eyepiece’s safety, and made it a Spinal Tap reference, in which Nigel tells Marty not to touch or even look at one of his guitars.

I drove home after a final, lingering look around the site. A lot could happen in the three months I was going to be laid up—what if, for some reason, I never made it to Linslaw again? We had fair warning that Eureka Ridge was going to be gated off, but what if someone gated off the road to Linslaw? What if the gun worshippers or the forest squatters made it unsafe or unusable? This was the best observing site I’d ever had. It felt like sacred ground.

Despite my self-assurances, the drive home seemed like a finality.

II. We had one more observation before the month closed and my foot got opened up and the unseasonal rains came.

The lot of us convened at the Oxbow that next night, as it was the site of best forecast—and a fairly middling one, at that. We could tell the transparency was mediocre, even in daylight; a literal purple haze colored the southern reaches of the sky, and there was a “softness” to the sky behind the rocky hills in every direction. Still, this was a final swing at celestial glory for a considerable while, and none of us was willing to pass it up. (Prescient for the others, given the amount of rain that was to come.)

There were three 20-inch scopes, an 18-inch scope, and Robert’s binoscopes arrayed in the observing area, all of them making use of the better conditions early; things were predicted to get worse sky-wise as the night progressed.

MOON: 22 days (rose at 3:15 AM; 48% illuminated)
SQM: 21.2
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to upper 40s; slight dew; slight breeze, hazy; chilly
All observations: 20″ f/5 Obsession Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (181x, 0.45˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (363x, 0.21˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

While waiting for it to get fully dark, and hoping the transparency would be good enough for me to examine a few more flat galaxies, I stopped in on some of the familiar spring showpieces. Hickson 44, in Leo’s mane, was the most impressive I’d ever seen it; even the fourth galaxy, faint NGC 3187, stood out clearly from the background, and nearby NGC 3190 showed the barest hint of a dust lane. This was astounding—in such mediocre transparency, fine details and dim objects were still well within our grasp.

I continued on: NGC 2903, the Leo Trio, the Antennae Galaxies (accidentally sweeping up NGC 4027, a distorted one-armed spiral, along the way; I’d already taken notes on this one with the 12.5-inch), and the Sombrero (M104). But as I observed these galaxies, I could tell that we were already losing the already-tenuous transparency.

I started on my list for the night, but it was already too late. Each of the flat galaxies I’d made note to explore was fainter than the one before it. These were already difficult objects to observe; decaying sky conditions made them—if not impossible to take notes on—then certainly so diminished that it wouldn’t be “fair” to take notes on them now. I’m sure I dropped a few epithets off the ladder as my chances of taking notes came to an end for the season.

What to do when the big scope is set up and the faint stuff just can’t cut through the haze? Look at brighter stuff. The seeing was still decent, at least, so I simply went back to the first object class to have captured my attention: globular clusters. Spring isn’t prime time for globulars, but enough of them were visible to make the rest of the evening worthwhile: the M53/NGC 5053 pairing, NGC 5466 in Boötes, M3, NGC 5634 in Virgo, NGC 5694 in Hydra (an object of great nostalgia for me, as it was the most-difficult object I’d seen with my 8″ SCT in Cincinnati, and I was proud of the observation), M5 in Serpens, and M107 in Ophiuchus. I would’ve ended with M13, but it was still thoroughly buried in the light-dome of Eugene (which was worse than usual because of the reflecting haze).

But the transparency continued to dwindle, to the point that even the globulars were visibly diminished. We yielded, as a group, to the failing sky.

I packed up more slowly than usual and was last one out for the tricky drive home.

Pine Mountain Breakdown

Our previous observing session had been a one-off, rather than part of an extended run; our next two dark cycles would be the same (well, after getting clouded out for March, that is). The early April dark run could’ve been a multi-nighter, except for the fact that at least a couple of us decided to make the first night an epic.

Dan B had been keen to go somewhere beyond our immediate local sphere (Linslaw, Oxbow, Eureka [if open], and the various sites along Eagle’s Rest Road). The lot of us in The EAS Irregulars had discussed running down to Champion Saddle, but hadn’t had a chance to check the driving conditions on the way up; with winter still an ongoing concern and no reports on the maintenance of the one accessible road to the mountain summit, we abandoned the idea as potentially unsafe.

It was Dan who suggested Pine Mountain, the site of the University of Oregon’s research facility. Pine Mountain sits between Bend and Brothers, off OR-20; I’d been past it several times, but had never driven up. The facility was amateur-friendly, offering tours and camping for those willing to make the trip; although it was still closed post-COVID, the road to the observatory still provided several places for intrepid amateur astronomers to set up their own gear for exploring the universe. And although conditions were predicted to be somewhat iffy, the site was a Bortle 2 and had tremendous potential. It was also a 3-hour drive from home.

Dan had procured lodging in Bend for when the observing was done. Having decided (after much waffling) to make the trip, I was unsure whether to take him up on the offer to stay there or to drive home afterward. I didn’t really want to pay for a hotel, given how expensive the gas would be to get there, but I also didn’t want to drive home after nearly 24 hours of being awake.

Mrs. Caveman insisted that I take her car, given the price of gas and the car’s MPG versus that of the Flex. This then altered my observing plans somewhat; I’d planned to take the 20″ Obsession, but it wouldn’t fit in the car. In the course of my discussion with Dan, he offered to bring his 16″ Explore Dob along with his own 20″ Explore, letting me use the 16″. This would be perfect, providing the aperture I’d need to dig into the springtime flat galaxies; I loaded Bob the Dob into the car for redundancy’s sake.

Dan left for the mountain just after noon; I followed a half-hour later, making sure I had a full tank of gas, plenty of cold-weather gear, enough lactose-free food to last a couple of days, and plenty of caffeine for the trip home. I spent the trip gleeful at the thought of having the early-spring galaxy fields, one of my favorite regions of the entire sky, to sift through; my list of galaxy targets was heavily skewed toward the Cancer-Leo-Sextans-Hydra slice of the heavens.

Once east of Bend, traffic on OR-20 thins out dramatically. This was welcome, as the turnoff to Pine Mountain Road comes up quickly, and I had no GPS to warn me; I was able to bring my speed down enough to follow the few signs. The observatory, of course, was closed; I continued past it, getting directions over the phone from Dan to the spot he’d chosen as an observing site.

It was dusty, but so was eastern Oregon as a whole. The view to the south reached almost all the way to the horizon, although the north was partially obscured by stands of tall conifers; east and west were both largely obstruction-free. Dan was already setting up when I got there, having two scopes and their attendant sundries to unload. An older couple hiked by, surprised to see anyone else there, as we put the two big scopes together, and we chatted about astronomy for several minutes before they returned to their trek. I was a bit uncomfortable using someone else’s telescope, given the idiosyncrasies each had—I was well attuned to the quirks of Bob the Dob, and had become fairly accustomed to the sometimes-cranky 20″ Obsession, but I’d only ever had some brief looks through the 16″. It would take a bit of getting used to, as would the site itself.

There was some urgency to be productive on the evening, as it could be my last observing session until the autumn: I had gotten scheduled for surgery on my right foot, having four corrective procedures planned for the end of the month. This would sideline me from May through August, at least as far as using my own scopes and driving went, and would probably affect my observing for some time even after that. I was scheduled off from work for three months, given the extent of the surgery, but my podiatric surgeon had my full confidence, and I was ready to be free (or close to it) from the merciless pain my feet had been causing for more than fifteen years.

None of the other Irregulars made the trip, unsurprisingly, having opted to stay close to home. Dan and I were joined by Karen, his professor friend from Willamette University, and Carolyn, a coworker who lived in Bend and was also a member of EAS, having borrowed one of the club’s library scopes. Closed in somewhat due to the trees, the site seemed somewhat cramped, despite everyone having ample space. Dan had set the two Explore scopes fairly close to where we had parked, given the need to hand-carry their various components.

Dan was busy making some adjustments to the secondary of the 20″ scope when the first alarming moment of the night happened—the whole secondary assembly came off in his hand. Had he not been there to catch it, it would have smashed into the big 20″ mirror and caused who-knows-what amount of damage to both optical surfaces. I was impressed by the relative lack of cursing as Dan set about jury-rigging a fix for the secondary crisis, especially compared to my language over a stuck filter five weeks before.

I offered to set up with Bob the Dob so that Dan could use his 16″ scope, but he was determined to get the 20″ up and running. It took a while, but his determination to get the big scope in working order paid off, and Bob the Dob stayed in the car.

At length, scopes were fine-tuned, finders were attached and aligned, and we waited for nightfall to reveal the sky’s secrets to us.

PINE MOUNTAIN OBSERVATORY (43˚ 48’ 38.27” N, 120˚ 57’ 36.96” W)

MOON: 2 days (set at 9:31 PM; 3% illuminated)
SQM: 21.5
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps down to upper 30s; no dew; increasing wind; cold; clouds/haze increasing after midnight
OTHERS PRESENT: DB, Karen, Carolyn
All observations: 16” Explore Scientific Dobsonian (1826mm f/4.5); 14mm ES *82 eyepiece (130x, 0.63˚ TFOV) and 7mm TeleVue Nagler (261x, 0.3˚ TFOV)

UGCA 150 (MCG-1-24-1; Hya): We’re up at Pine Mountain, having kinda last-minute decided to come out (if you can call making a 3-hour drive “last minute,” anyway), and this is the flat galaxy UGCA 150 in Hydra, just west of Alphard by about 4°. This particular galaxy is quite bright in photographs, but not nearly as apparent in the eyepiece; this is largely because it has a really annoying 8.5-magnitude star just P it, just outside the galaxy’s edge, right around the brightest part of the galaxy. The galaxy is oriented in position angle 45˚. There’s another problem, too: there’s a star toward the SP end of it and a pair of very close stars just F the NF end of it, but the galaxy doesn’t run in a line perfectly along those stars; the stars at the N end are just P the end of the galaxy, and with all those stars interfering, it sometimes looks almost like the galaxy is running the opposite direction [as if that makes any sense], like it’s at 135˚ instead of the 45˚ PA the galaxy is actually oriented. I suspect there should be texture visible in this galaxy, possibly in the 20-inch, or even the 16-inch here without the presence of the 8.5-magnitude star; the galaxy is quite large, maybe 4’ x 0.3,’ and quite bright, but it’s also easy to see why Herschel and later observers missed it. The two stars in the N end are very faint, 14th and 15th magnitude; the one at the S end is moderately brighter, maybe also 14th magnitude* [I’m using Dan’s 16” Explore Dob, so it’s a little hard to get used to]. The more S of the pair at the N end is about 1’ F somewhat N the 8.5-magnitude star, and the star at the S end, which is 14.5 magnitude, is 0.75’ S very very slightly F the 8.5-magnitude star. From the 14.5-magnitude star F somewhat N by 4.5’ is an 11th-magnitude star; that star has a 14th-magnitude star S of it by 1.75’; then from the 8.5-magnitude star F by 7’ is a 9th-magnitude star that’s the P-most vertex in a scalene triangle which also consists of a 10.5-magnitude star F by 4’, and that star has SP it by 2.5’ an 11th-magnitude star. From the 8.5 magnitude star 19’ P slightly N is the brightest star in the field, just on the edge of the field here in the 16-inch scope, and that star is very slightly yellowish and is magnitude 5.5. I’m going to try the 7mm Nagler here and see if I can get a better look at the galaxy by spreading those stars out a little bit: this really would be a showpiece flat galaxy if it weren’t for the stars there; they just absolutely play havoc here with observing the galaxy, which otherwise almost qualifies as bright. I want to say that there’s texture visible to it, and it’s a little bit mottled, but it seems to be just below the threshold of vision (even in the 7mm), like unresolved stars in a distant open cluster. I cannot quite make out a core or a nucleus to it, as that 8.5-magnitude star just screws up everything; in moments, it almost seems like there’s a core there just F the star, but with that star nearby, it’s almost impossible to pick out any sort of contrast feature. If not for the presence of that star, this might be one of the showpieces of the Flat Galaxy Catalogue.

In going back over my notes, I noticed that my magnitudes and distances were farther off than usual—the result of using a scope with which I wasn’t familiar. That wouldn’t explain, however, why the 14th-magnitude star marked [*]—the star to the SP end of the galaxy—doesn’t exist, at least on photographs. Sometimes things like that happen, but it’s still disappointing when it does.

I looked at a couple of other flat galaxies from Gemini, Leo, and Cancer—NGC 2357, UGC 4171, UGCs 5164 and 5173—and was disappointed there, too. The sky seemed hazy somehow, in ways that weren’t noticeable to the naked eye but showed up in the SQM readings. I would’ve judged the conditions to be 7/7 for seeing and transparency, but the eyepiece view didn’t lie. I began whittling my list down to NGCs, working from the basic supposition that the average NGC galaxy would be more obvious than the average UGC galaxy.

NGCs 2820, 2814, 2820A (UMa): Up in Ursa Major now, with NGC 2820, which has a little companion that also is very flat. NGC 2820 is 2.5’ x 10”, oriented about 80˚ in position angle. It’s irregularly bright; I wouldn’t say there’s a core or nucleus visible here in the 16”, but the halo is definitely showing some mottling or variation brightness-wise. There seems to be a dark gap along the major axis, a little dark fissure towards the P end. The galaxy has a number of 10th- and 11th-magnitude stars in its immediate field, including an 11th-magnitude star that lies along the major axis of the galaxy about 4.3’ to the P very slightly S of where the center of the galaxy lies. 6.5’ S of the galaxy is another 11th-magnitude star; there’s an 11.5-magnitude star 2.5’ F very very slightly S of that star, and then from that 11.5-magnitude star 4.5’ F somewhat S is the more N of a pair that’s separated by 0.5’, that star is 12th magnitude, and just a shade brighter than its companion to the S. Going back to the 11th-magnitude star P NGC 2820: 1.25’ N very slightly F that star is another galaxy [NGC 2814]: this one’s oriented 180˚ PA and is 0.75’ x 0.125˚; it’s stouter than 2820, and it has some central brightening along the major axis that 2820 doesn’t have. 2820 does not really show much of a distinct halo; it just fades out a little more toward the P end; it may be weighted a little bit more toward the F end. This other little galaxy is really not that much fainter; it’s just much smaller than 2820 (although it has that star distracting from it as well). Let’s try the 7mm here: this group really lives up to the perceptions I had in the 14mm, and the 7mm just reinforces what I’ve seen at the lower power: the smaller galaxy really kind of springs out; and 2820 is definitely “weighted” toward the F end. At very fleeting moments, it looks like there might be an incredibly faint nucleus to 2820, but that’s just an impression and I can’t say for sure that it’s real. It almost looks like there’s yet another galaxy there to the P between 2820 and that star 4.3’ P… yeah, there’s definitely another galaxy [NGC 2820A] there: It’s pretty faint… I wonder if it’s visible in the 14mm and I just missed it. It’s roundish, about 0.3’, and definitely has either a very very small brighter core or a faint substellar nucleus that called attention to the fact that something was there; it’s almost obvious here in the 7mm. Putting the 14mm back in to see if I can get a fix on it… yep, it’s there; I mistook it for a very faint star that wasn’t worthy enough to include, and yet there it is. That’s a really interesting group, the NGC 2820 group in Ursa Major.

Three different sources gave three different names for the third galaxy in the group: Sky Safari referred to it as UGCA 159; Steve Gottlieb noted it as NGC 2820A, while the Night Sky Observers’ Guide makes reference to it as IC 2458. I stuck with Gottlieb’s designation, as it’s the most thoroughly-researched, despite Sky Safari’s ubiquity; the Webb Society notes that the discoverer, Guillaume Bigourdan, had intended the IC designation to go to a knot in the halo of NGC 2820, so that designation is incorrect anyway. However, Courtney Seligman, another authoritative source, warns against using NGC numbers with alphabetic suffixes, and uses the IC designation for the galaxy. To make matters worse, Sky Safari notes two actual objects here, with the other, overlapping object called PGC 4533011. (This all goes to show how tricky it can be to catalogue and refer to discrete astronomical objects.)

One more bit of carelessness: I completely missed the giant face-on spiral NGC 2805, which would’ve been faint but should’ve been pretty apparent in the field with the 2820 trio.

My quest for flat NGC galaxies led me from Ursa Major to Canes Venatici… not where I expected to be working on the night, but offering the chance to take notes on two showpiece objects.

Around this time Karen left.

NGC 4183 (CVn): This guy is the fainter-than-it-looks-on-photographs-but-still-very-intriguing NGC 4183 in Canes Venatici, which is not far from the actual “Silver Needle,” NGC 4244, but is quite a bit dimmer. I’m actually considerably surprised this is not a Herschel object of any sort; it’s his discovery, but I would’ve thought this would be a more-noteworthy object on the various lists of Herschel objects. It’s oriented 170˚ PA, 3.5’ long, somewhat irregular in brightness, and a little irregular in width, too—it seems to be a little thicker on the S end, but there’s also a 14.5-magnitude star in the S half on the F side, not far from the end of the visible length of the galaxy, which makes it seem a little more stout on that end, where it’s close to 0.3’ wide; it tapers a little bit toward the N. The galaxy has three notable stars to the P, SF, and F, and there may be a visible nucleus to it, but it’s hard to tell; that star on the SF flank is very distracting, but every now and then, there seems to be a flicker of nucleus amid the galaxy glow. P the galaxy by 2’ is another 14.5-magnitude star; SF that star by 2.5’ is a 14th-magnitude star that almost looks like a really tight double at this magnification; and then 3’ SF that star is a 13th-magnitude star that is also 5.3’ S somewhat F the galaxy; and then F the galaxy by 6’ is a 13th-magnitude star. N of the galaxy by 8’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; there’s another of the same brightness N somewhat F the galaxy by 10’, and then N of the galaxy by 13’ is an 11th-magnitude star; those last three stars form a very obvious triangle N of the galaxy. I’m really surprised this was not on the Herschel lists, the 400 and the second 400, because it is most definitely apparent enough to be, and certainly worthy of interest. In the 7mm there’s definitely a little bit of… not necessarily a core, but a little bit of added brightness to the middle of the galaxy. I’m not picking up the nucleus that I thought I was getting earlier; the nearby star is even more distracting at this magnification, so if there’s a nucleus there it’s vanishingly faint; there’s also what looks like a 16th-magnitude star just F the middle of the galaxy, and that may have been what I saw as a nucleus earlier. That’s quite a fine galaxy at this magnification too!

Next up was a galaxy I’d taken notes on already, but was one of the very best flat galaxies in the sky; it deserved another observation. Meanwhile, Dan was showing Carolyn M13, which was now low in the east. The cold had begun to sink in, affecting my already-questionable concentration; I could also hear the wind beginning to surge on my audio recordings.

NGC 4244 (CVn): One of the biggest of the flat galaxies, NGC 4244, a.k.a. the Silver Needle Galaxy; this one is 14.0’ x 1.0’. It seems (and I don’t know if this is for real) that the central 4’ is much brighter, and almost like there’s a central bulge, but I don’t know; that may just be illusory, because it’s brighter in the middle as opposed to necessarily being wider in the middle (?). There’s no nucleus visible. The galaxy is elongated almost perfectly 45°, SP-NF in other words. and every now and then there may be a flash of a quasi-stellar nucleus. Near the galaxy’s NP end, there’s a 12.5-magnitude star that has a 13.5-magnitude star P very very slightly N of it by 2’. SP the 12.5-magnitude star by 2.5′, along the length of the galaxy, (so just outside the edge of the galaxy and about 3’ from the center of the galaxy) is a 15th-magnitude star. From the SP end, 9’ almost due SP the center of the galaxy, is the N-most in a line of three; that’s the faintest star in that line at 13.5 magnitude; it has a 12.5-magnitude star S of it by 0.67’, and then 1’ SF that star is a 13th-magnitude star. Then from the center of the galaxy, S slightly P by 14’, is a 9.5-magnitude star. NF the galaxy by 16’ is an 11.5-magnitude star. Even at low power such as 112x, this is a really stunning, very-underappreciated, very-underrated galaxy. With the 7mm, the galaxy dims out quite a bit but fills the field of view. It’s surprisingly even in illumination, with no expected dust lane; even the brighter core region sort of smooths out, levels out, at this magnification. The 15th-magnitude star on the NP edge of the galaxy, about 3’ N slightly P from galaxy center, is actually a double; it’s hard to get a fix on it, but I think it’s oriented almost N-S to each other; the S component of that is very, very slightly brighter, and they’re quite close (8”, if that). The S end of the galaxy is a little bit more diffuse and vanishes into the background more than the N end does; I wonder if that’s in part because the stars at the N end help define it. There appears at the S end to be a brighter patch slightly beyond the more obvious part of the galaxy, like a star cloud or something there, an NGC 206 analogue for this galaxy. Incredible!  

Carolyn left as I was taking notes on NGC 4244. With the later-spring constellations (Virgo, Bootes, eastern Hydra) now available for plundering, I could turn back to the more-southerly reaches I’d planned to work, although these were “later” constellations than I’d really expected to mine. And yet the sky conditions were still a source of frustration. Dan and I took numerous SQM readings from various spots in the sky, repeatedly getting divergent results; I simply noted an overall average of 21.5, as the result of two meters that didn’t seem able to agree.

I continued to skip taking notes on galaxies after initially looking in on them: PGC 24479, NGC 5170, NGC 4157 all got passed over in favor of brighter galaxies or better nights.

It was during my initial stab at NGC 5170 that Dan’s phone rang—a startling sound in the quiet night. But answering didn’t initiate a connection, and no-one responded when Dan answered. He noted that it was Carolyn, and tried to return the call; it wouldn’t connect. So he waited a few moments until it rang again.

I continued poring over my observing list while Dan got the story from Carolyn: she had taken a wrong turn driving down the mountain and had gotten her car stuck off the side of the road. So he apologized for the forthcoming headlights and took his truck down the road for a rescue mission.

By now, the cold and the breeze had me reconsidering my plan to spend all night observing. The sky wasn’t great, either, but that was the least of my concerns. I had a three-hour drive home, should I try to make it, and even though the night had been enjoyable so far, I wouldn’t be able to stay much longer if I was to attempt the trip. I would wait until Dan came back before helping disassemble the 16″ Dob and heading out—normally, I’d always try to be the last one out, as the club president, but Dan was an experienced camper and was always well prepared.

I locked in on the very difficult galaxy UGCA 311, preparing to take notes on it, when a truck drove up the road, stopping only twenty feet from where I was set up. I assumed it was Dan, but the truck stayed on the road rather than pulling in to where he’d set up his scope. I kept my back to it, not wanting a direct look at its night vision-destroying headlights (they had already compromised my dark adaptation enough), but also unsure whether it was a wise idea to not keep an eye on the truck’s occupants. They waited for a few moments, perhaps a full minute, before driving off further up the road.

A bit creeped out by the encounter–I’m a lot leerier of two-legged animals than four-(or more)-legged ones while observing–I kept my eyes shut to restore my dark adaptation. I would need it just to find the galaxy again, let alone make the observation productive. A few minutes later, I’d recaptured the faint sliver of light in the eyepiece, tracking it for several further minutes while my eyes still readjusted to the night.

UGCA 311 (MCG-1-33-60; Vir): This is the quite difficult UGCA 311 in Virgo, a very, very ghostly object 2.25’ x 8”, elongated in PA 100˚. It’s seriously difficult and really needs averted vision for a good look, but is clearly visible in direct vision. It is distracted from by a 7.5-magnitude star that’s 9’ S slightly P; there’s another 7.5-magnitude star 25’ F very very slightly S of the previous one. The galaxy has a 14th-magnitude star 3.75’ F slightly S, so along the major axis, and then 4’ F slightly N is another of the same magnitude; those two form an almost-equilateral triangle with the center of the galaxy. There’s a 13.5-magnitude star 3.67’ NP the galaxy, and then N very very slightly P the galaxy by 8’ is a 12th-magnitude star. There’s not a lot to the galaxy; it’s very very tough to hold. In the 7mm: interestingly, the galaxy looks as if it’s no longer evenly illuminated, although the star makes it difficult; there’s definitely a sense that the galaxy isn’t a continuous glow, with something like a darker patch toward the NP end. 

My notes were short; the cold won out. Even my electric gloves weren’t proof enough against it. I got back in the car to warm up, waiting for Dan to return. Worse yet, I mislabeled my notes as UGCA 331, which led to endless confusion when I went back to check them later—the Flat Galaxy Catalogue uses the galaxy’s MCG designation, and my misidentification took considerable checking and rechecking to clear up.

It took a surprisingly long time—nearly 2:00—before he made it back, and he had a pretty harrowing tale: Carolyn had gone off the road just opposite a sheer drop, which Dan hadn’t seen well in the dark. In the process of extricating her car, he’d come perilously close to going off the other edge himself.

I let him know that I was pretty much done observing for the night; he was pretty much done himself, after his adventures in towing. So we packed up the two scopes, the spring stars yielding to summer; Scorpius poked its head above the horizon while Vega shone through the trees to the northeast. Dan again reiterated his offer of lodging in Bend. But it was only 3 AM when we had everything packed up and ready to go; surely I could manage a three-hour drive home, loaded with caffeine and loud music.

I’ve done a lot of stupid things in fifty-plus years, some of them even in the name of astronomy; one such was the drive home from Champion Saddle on little sleep. But Champion Saddle was only a ninety-minute drive from home; Pine Mountain was twice that distance, and that assumed that the driver takes the most-direct route. Which I didn’t, making a wrong turn going past Bend and not realizing it until I was well on the way.

I forget now where I pulled off the road to check my phone’s map app; it may have been after seeing the row of semis pulled off the road, their hazard lights on, or after being followed by a police car for fifteen minutes between Bend and Sisters. Wherever it was, it was far enough out of the way that the app had added forty minutes to the trip versus the route I’d taken driving to Pine Mountain. Now I would be pushing the gas-tank’s capacity, too.

I stopped in the town of Sisters, having found a 24-hour gas station. But the pumps weren’t registering any of my credit cards, and I drove away fueled by a useful, sleep-dispelling burst of anger, hoping that the car’s own estimate of its remaining gas was accurate and not an overestimate.

The exhaustion caught up to me around the Clear Lake turnoff; all the caffeinated drinks—which I’d finished before reaching Sisters—hit me by McKenzie Bridge, where we’d observed seemingly forever ago. Driving at night, it was possible to forget how badly destroyed the surrounding area had been by the previous few years’ forest fires, the miles upon miles of charred trees barely noticeable in the pre-dawn light as they sped past.

After several instances of split-second sleep at the wheel and a urinary tract that had reached a caffeinated critical mass, I reached a well-lit gas station somewhere around Leaburg, still 45 minutes from home. I took care of the latter problem first; if I was going to die in a car wreck, at least I wouldn’t have pissed myself beforehand. (Assuming that the place had security cameras, I found a convenient tree on the edge of the parking lot.) I then proceeded to walk several laps around the car, pretending to look for a non-existent problem (again, for the possible cameras’ sake); this took five minutes in the cold air, which served the cause of re-energizing my alertness better than a bottle of grape Jolt, and without the unpleasant side effects.

I reached home just as the Sun was breaking the horizon and sat slumped at the steering wheel for several minutes before trudging into the house, swearing that I’d never do something that stupid again, even as I reminded myself that the evening full of galaxies had totally been worth the danger.

So Fair the Sky

Between the first weekend of October and the last weekend of February, stargazing in the Willamette Valley largely ground to a halt. Intermittent breaks in the clouds and rain allowed some of the other EAS Irregulars to sneak in some observing breaks, but these were mostly short and had lesser skies than our spring or summer sessions. And with my work schedule, I couldn’t even get out for those.

I watched the e-mail list with envy as the sky for those five months occasionally took pity on photon-starved Oregonians and gave them succor—those nights that proved to be both clear and Moonless always happened during the week, when I had work the next morning. (Yes, the sky did get dark early enough that I could eke out a few hours’ observing before it got too late, but I was usually too tired from a 5 AM wake-up call to risk an hour’s winding drive home in the dark.)

So I waited for clear skies, absent Moon, and weekend to coincide. And, finally, they did.

It took until the last weekend of February, and the forecast gave us only a few hours before clouds were to take over again. But a few hours would do; I had three planetary nebulae to take notes on from the Astronomical League list and one from the Deep Sky Forum, and any other time left over would go toward the winter/early spring highlights that I hadn’t seen in a whole year. The Eagle’s Rest amphitheater site had the best Clear Sky Chart, so off we went.

I arrived first; Dan B, Jerry, Loren, and Robert also made the trek out, and we kept one eye on the still-cirrusy sky as we assembled telescopes and staked out our small individual spaces in the roadside clearing.

All of my “required” nebulae were in the Index Catalogue (IC), which was a supplement to the better-known New General Catalogue (NGC). Two of these were in Perseus, as was Bohm-Vitense 5-3, an intriguing planetary that featured as the Deep Sky Forum’s Object of the Week on January 9th. The fourth nebula for the night was IC 2165 in Canis Major, for which I’d taken a sparse set of notes several years ago.

EAGLE’S REST (amphitheatre)
MOON: 24 days (rose at 3:32 AM; 28% illuminated)
SQM: 21.2
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to 29F; no dew; air still; cold
OTHERS PRESENT: JO (20”), DB, RA, LR (18”)
All observations: 12.5″ f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV), 7mm TeleVue Nagler (225x, 0.36˚ TFOV), or 4.8mm TeleVue Nagler (323x, 0.25˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

IC 2003 (Per): Here at the amphitheater with the 12.5-inch, and I’m looking at IC 2003 in the back foot of Perseus; it’s surprisingly not just easily visible, but easily visible as a non-stellar object a few arcseconds in diameter, perhaps 8”. The nebula very clearly has a brighter center that looks stellar, and at first it seemed to display a little bit of maybe bluish (maybe greenish) color; it’s so small it’s hard to tell, but it seems like it did have some actual color to it. It also has a faint star just off the P slightly S which is 13.5 magnitude, and also due N of it by 1.3’ is another 13.5-magnitude star that has N slightly P of it by 0.67’ a 13th-magnitude star. The nebula and its companion star form the S-most vertex of a diamond: due N of it by 5.25’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; from the nebula almost due NP by 3.25’ is an 11.5-magnitude star, and then N slightly F by 2.75’ is a 10th-magnitude star that has an 11th-magnitude star F very very slightly S of it by 0.75. SF the nebula by 2.25’ is an 11th-magnitude star that’s an outlier from the diamond. N very slightly F by 17’ is the brightest star in the field, which is 8th magnitude. The UHC filter really brightens the nebula; it’s now the brightest object in the diamond, just slightly brighter than the 10th-magnitude star to the N slightly F. It’s still very much a non-stellar object, and I’m still not totally sure, as with the unfiltered view, that there’s anything fuzzy or diffuse to be seen there. This is going to be another one with which the magnification makes all the difference. So with that said, let’s try the O-III. 

The conversation, as it usually did, took numerous convoluted paths as we observed; somehow, as I was swapping filters, it ranged from new names for the Eskimo Nebula (NGC 2392) (my suggestion was “The Itel’men Nebula,” after the Itel’men people of Kamchatka, whose language I had studied quite a bit while working on my Master’s degree; mentioning Kamchatka of course required a digression on the game Risk) to the new astronomy ladder I’d gotten for Christmas, to the obscenely-high power Jerry was using on NGC 2392, to a quality assortment of Monty Python references, and all of it caught on my audio recording. And in all of this, I managed to not only lose the nebula, but to make the mistake that had been inevitable for so long: I got my O-III filter stuck in my 14mm Explore Scientific Nagler clone… which just happened to be my workhorse eyepiece.

The amount of profanity that ensued would’ve made George Carlin or Frankie Boyle wince. Dan, Jerry, and Loren all took turns trying to extricate the filter; we even used a pair of pliers, writing the old filter off as a loss. Nothing worked—the filter remained stuck. One planetary in and I was ready to call it a night. Fortunately, Dan came to the rescue, loaning me his 14mm Explore to use in place of mine. I went sans O-III for the night, not thinking that I simply could’ve swapped my own eyepiece in when the time came to use the O-III, using only the UHC for filtration. Magnification always beat filters anyway, in my experience, so perhaps I could make it work.

It took me several minutes to recapture the nebula, cursing all the while. I apologized to the others later.

With the O-III stuck in the 14mm, we move straight to the 7mm, where the nebula is very much a non-stellar object with some real dimension to it; it definitely has a bright core region, but my certainty that there was a central star is no longer quite as obvious. There’s now a fringey halo visible, but the distinction between the brighter inner region and the fuzzy outer halo is not that great, even at this magnification—not like they are in some of these; this one just kind of smoothly bleeds from concentrated to unconcentrated moving outward from center. The 10th-magnitude star to the N slightly F has a 13.5-magnitude star 0.75’ P very slightly N of it  (this is a lot more visible with this magnification than in the 14mm), and the P-most vertex also has S very slightly F it by 15” is a 13.5-magnitude star (which I don’t know how I missed earlier). That’s a really good little tiny nebula; I wish they were all this good at higher powers! With the UHC, the inner region definitely brightens up in relation to the outer parts, so it’s definitely showing that distinction better, and there’s no real chance to say that there is a central star in there with the UHC in. I feel as if one should be visible among all the middle region there, but I just can’t ferret it out; it’s probably only just a shade brighter than that core region. With the 4.8mm… oh yeah, that’s excellent! Focus is fiddly at this magnification, but this is a great very small planetary, one of the better ones I’ve seen. The fuzz is just all the more obvious at this magnification. It almost appears to be a little lopsided on the N slightly F edge, as if there’s an embedded stellaring or very faint star there. Wow!

With my groove slightly back, it was only a short hop-skip-jump—just over two degrees—to my second nebula, IC 351.

IC 351 (Per): This one, IC 351, is pretty near IC 2003, and it’s somewhat smaller than IC 2003 (6” vs 8”), not much above stellar, but it still in the unfiltered view has a funky non-stellarness and a very slightly bluish tint [rather than an actual color] to it. And it’s very, very slightly diffuse on the edges, unlike IC 2003, which was very clearly pretty well-defined at lower magnifications. This one could in fact be a little more distant version of 2003. I found it using a very small triangle that’s F somewhat S of it, the brightest star of which is about 3.5’ F somewhat S of the nebula; it’s magnitude 9.5, and it has SP by 0.5’ a 12th-magnitude star that has a 13th-magnitude star P somewhat N of it  by about the same distance, and then from the nebula S by 3.25’ (and so forming an almost equilateral triangle between the nebula, the little compact triangle, and the star here) is a 12.5-magnitude star; those stars form an almost equilateral triangle—it’s not perfect, but which of us is? N of the nebula by 6.5’ is an 11.5-magnitude star, and then further N of the nebula by 17’ is a very close pair that has to be a double; the S-most of those two is what I measured from, and those are both 10.5 magnitude, separated SF-NP to each other by 6”. The seeing is just a little bit unsteady enough for me to be unable to tell if one or the other is very slightly brighter. S of the nebula by 13’ is a 9th-magnitude star that has an 11th-magnitude star NP by 0.25’. The UHC filter definitely brightens things up contrast-wise; it doesn’t do much else to the view at this magnification, but the nebula’s now almost the equal of the 9.5-magnitude star to the F somewhat S. So we’ll remove the filter and go with the 7mm, which among other things really brings out the triangle and the non-stellar quality of the nebula, as well as the fact that there’s a 15th-magnitude star P slightly N of the nebula by 0.3’. Even at this magnification the nebula resembles a distant version of IC 2003Adding the UHC filter nets a great contrast gain! The halo is a little more apparent now with the filter; in many of these, the fringe disappears when I put the filter on, but this one responds “normally.” I think the central star is more apparent in this one, but it’s still hard to pick out of the interior. This one has a better-defined core/halo distinction than IC 2003, with the halo standing out much better with higher magnification. With the 4.8mm Nagler, the seeing isn’t helping at all, and I’m not able to focus enough for more detail. That 15th-mag star really stands out better, though.

I noticed that Dan’s eyepiece had no problems with the UHC filter….

I’d intended to pick up Bohm-Vitense 5-3 while in the area; a much fainter nebula, it lay up in the northern regions of Perseus. But it also currently fell right into the Eugene light-pollution dome, which was much worse at the amphitheater than at Linslaw; even if I could manage to winnow it out of the light pollution, it wouldn’t be worth taking notes on it when I could wait and pick it up more on the rise in the autumn. There were patches of cirrus here and there in the sky, too, as the CSC had said there would be; we probably didn’t have long before the sky was crudded over.

I had already done two of the three nebulae I’d had on my agenda for the night, and the third wasn’t really an option. So I swung the scope down to Canis Major and IC 2165, just past the meridian. My previous set of notes on this one wasn’t adequate, so now was as good a time as any to correct that problem.

IC 2165 (CMj): Up near The Greater Dog’s head is IC 2165, and it’s not as easy a find as the previous two; there are fewer landmarks here, and it’s a little less obvious than the others (2003 was the easiest). The nebula still yields up at a cursory glance that it’s non-stellar. It has a Baby-Eskimo profile to it at 14mm. There’s a very bright, very tiny core present with a possible (likely?) central star and a very thin, faint bit of outer fuzz (less than the other two). N somewhat P the nebula by 6’ is an 11th-magnitude star, then N very slightly F the nebula by 3’ is a 12th-magnitude star; there’s a 13th-magnitude star F very very slightly N of the nebula by 2.67’. The nebula and the two stars almost make an equilateral triangle. N very very slightly F the nebula by 1’ is a 13.5-magnitude star. 12’ F very very slightly N of the nebula is the brightest star in the vicinity, which is 8.5 magnitude, and that star is the S-most in a diamond that was my landmark for finding the nebula: 2’ N very very slightly P that star is a 12th-magnitude star; there’s a 10.5-magnituide star 1.67’ F very slightly N of the first star; and from the first star 2.5’ P somewhat N is an 11th-magnitude star; those make up the diamond, and were measured from the brightest/first vertex. So with the UHC in, the nebula leaves little doubt that it’s not a star; the filter really boosts the contrast. The nebula appears concentrated to a really sharp central star or point, and is as bright as the brightest star in the diamond; it’s lost a bit of its non-stellar character, but has a little bit of a “blinking” effect where it becomes more non-stellar the more you look away from it (shades of NGC 6826). With the 7mm, the nebula a lot more concentrated, maybe 2” across, much smaller than IC 2003 and less than half the size of IC 351, with no real color (I wasn’t sure at first). With the UHC added: aside from the contrast increase and the 7mm, the nebula is still not showing any nebulous character (although it’s still obviously non-stellar); although it may be the worsening seeing at fault. Moving to the 4.8mm Nagler really brings out the non-stellar character to its best; the nebula has a very tenuous, fuzzier outer edge, although the seeing is breaking down at this magnification. The central star, which seems like it’s just below the threshold of visibility, is not really discernable at this magnification.

By the time I finished my notes on IC 2165, much of the western sky was under a blanket of cirrus (including M42, the great Orion Nebula, which I hadn’t looked at in nearly a year). I poked around in Leo for a few galaxies—NGC 2903, Hickson 44–and over into Cancer for a brief look at M67, even as the others started disassembling their gear. I made sure to give Dan his eyepiece back before he got his eyepiece cases stowed.

The amphitheater has two advantages over our other sites: it has the most-usable southern horizon among them (a smaller window, but less haze than Linslaw has in the very low south) and the shortest drive home. This latter was particularly welcome on the night, as I spent most of the drive stewing over the damned O-III filter. I was home by 10:15 and on the internet at 10:30, looking for solutions, and by midnight had ordered a filter wrench from ScopeStuff and an Astronomik O-III filter from High Point Scientific (courtesy of a Christmas gift certificate from Dan). The wrench, a 3D-printed open ring with handles, made short work of the recalcitrant filter, removing it intact from the barrel of the 14mm. The Astronomik was briefly backordered (like so much astronomy gear these days, thanks to the pandemic), and wouldn’t arrive until galaxy season was well underway, and few suitable targets were available. Appropriately, our next observing opportunity would also only arrive once galaxy season was underway.

But at least I couldn’t complain about the ancient Lumicon anymore. Now, I just had to do something about the problematic eyepiece barrel….