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.

03/03/19

DEXTER STATE PARK (parking lot) (43˚ 55′ 06″ N, 122˚ 48′ 48″ W)
MOON: 27 days old (5% illuminated); rose at 5:34 AM
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6
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

7:49
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.

8:10
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.

9:14
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.

03/09/19 

DEXTER STATE PARK (parking lot) (43˚ 55′ 06″ N, 122˚ 48′ 48″ W)
MOON: 3 days old (12% illuminated); set at 9:21 PM
SEEING: 6
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

Others present: DB

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

7:40
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. 

8:06
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.

8:24
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’.

8:43
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’.

9:03
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.

9:15
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.

03/30/19 

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

Others present: none

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

 9:05
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.

9:32
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. 

9:41
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. 

9:55
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. 

10:08
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.

10:19
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′.

10:33
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.

10:46
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.

10:58
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.

11:16
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.

11:28
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.

11:39
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.

 

 

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With Crystal Spangles Dight

Our run of clear-sky runs for the winter of ’18-’19 came to an end in January. The New Moon phase was well and thoroughly obliterated by clouds and rain, as so many have been since we moved here. It was only by quirk and timing of the Moon that got any observing in during January at all; the very end of the month yielded one single night worthy and promising enough to fill the van with telescope gear and make the haul down to Eagle’s Ridge for a night among the stars and the elements.

But what a night it would turn out to be.

It hadn’t snowed appreciably yet in the valley, not even up into the lower mountains of the Cascade Range in which Eagle’s Rest mountain is situated, and on the side of which Eagle’s Ridge runs. Usually by the beginning of the year the narrow, winding Eagle’s Rest Road had gotten slightly treacherous, and its last half mile a struggle for a non-four-wheel-drive vehicle such as the Caveman-Mobile (hell, the last half-mile could be a struggle even without snow). But the drive was remarkably smooth sailing, perhaps as an augury of how remarkable the conditions in the sky were to become. As we were setting up—Jerry, Dan B, Frank, and Robert were the other hardy souls to make the trek—the sky conditions were pretty good but visibly getting better. By the 10 PM, they were as good as any I’d ever seen anywhere.

I started out with a couple of open clusters while still waiting for evening twilight to completely fade. Rather than continue with the Herschel clusters across Auriga and Gemini—which I needed to observe—I took advantage of the conditions to plow through the various nebulosities of Orion and Monoceros. It turned into the Night of the Living Nebulae. (In retrospect, I should’ve also taken advantage of the conditions to look for the fragments of Simeis 147, the huge supernova remnant in Taurus that’s eluded me for years, but that will have to wait a bit longer.)

01/30-01/31/19

EAGLE’S RIDGE (junction)
MOON: 26 days (16% illuminated); rose at 4:29 AM
SEEING: 7-8
TRANSPARENCY: 6-8
SQM: 21.75
NELM: not checked

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid-40s, no breeze, no dew, spectacular skies

Others present: JO, DB, FS, RA

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

7:27
NGC 1662 (Ori): The first item on the agenda for tonight is the well-known Klingon Ship Cluster, NGC 1662. It’s not a particularly rich cluster, with twenty-three stars, but is well detached from the starry background and very obviously a cluster. The Bird of Prey pattern makes up the majority of the 14′ diameter and includes seventeen or eighteen of the cluster’s member stars, including the vast majority of the brighter ones. The pattern consists of a small diamond of stars that contains five stars, including the 8.5-magnitude lucida; this diamond serves as the head of the ship, and the “wings” to the F side extend NP-SF. The major axis of the diamond runs SP-NF, with the lucida on the NF of the diamond. 0.75′ S very slightly P the lucida is the brighter component of a double star; the brighter component, 9.5 magnitude, has an 11th-magnitude companion 10″ S very slightly F. P the primary of this double by 0.75′ is a 9.5-magnitude star, and NP the double’s primary, 0.3′ P the cluster lucida, is the fourth star in the diamond, which is 10thmagnitude. The 8.5-magnitude lucida also forms the S-most vertex of an isosceles triangle with a 8.5-magnitude (very slightly fainter than the lucida) star that’s 2.25′ N of it and a 9th-magnitude star 1.5′ to the NF; these also form the brightest section of the cluster and the middle of the “ship.” The N-most wing of the ship is composed of five stars, of which the N-most is the brightest at 9thmagnitude; this star is on the NP end of the cluster, 6.25′ NP the cluster lucida. Due S of this 9th-magnitude star by 0.5′ is an 11th-magnitude star, and 2.5′ almost due F of the 9th-magnitude star is an 11th-magnitude star; there’s a 12th-magnitude star F very slightly S of the 11th-magnitude star by 0.75′. The S Wing” of the cluster is made up of three stars with a couple of much fainter stars sprinkled throughout. F somewhat S of the lucida by 5′ is a 9.5-magnitude star; there’s another 9.5-magnitude star S very slightly P the previous by 1.5′ and a 12th-magnitude star 1.5′ SF that star. The two wings and the diamond make up the great majority of the cluster. Outside the outline of the Klingon ship, there’s also an 11th-magnitude star N very slightly F the lucida by 5′. An arc of stars loops between the two wings to the SP and forms the remainder of the cluster; this consists of seven or eight stars of 11th-magnitude and brighter, and a few fainter stars. The 8.5-magnitude cluster lucida is the brightest star in the field.

7:48
NGC 1663 (Ori): This cluster is a much different proposition from 1662. It’s fairly difficult and only somewhat detached but not overly obvious as a cluster, and it doesn’t stand out very well at first. This is a very jumbled mess of a cluster. It’s fairly poor, with three main bright stars in an arc on the S-SP, and the rest in the 12th-14th-mag range. It reminds me more than a little of NGC 6664 in Scutum in shape, with that trio of brighter stars arcing SP to due S of the cluster and the remainder (fifteen to eighteen stars) N of those three. The whole cluster extends 7′ x 3.5′ (N-S major axis, P-F minor). The three brighter stars include the 10.5-magnitude lucida, which is at the S tip of an arrowhead pointing S, just like 6664; NP the lucida by 2.75′ is another star of very nearly equal brightness; 2′ N of that second star is an 11.5-magnitude star. There’s also a 13th-magnitude star F very very slightly S of the lucida by 1.25′. The dimmest of the three brighter stars is at the SP corner of the remainder of the cluster, which branches out NF and N from there. On the N end is a P-F line of four stars of which the two on the P end are close together, 0.5’apart, and the remaining two spread out by 1.5′ apart from there; there are the two close, then 1.5′ F to the next and then another 1.3′ to the fourth; from the F-most of those four N very slightly F by 1.3′ is the more S of a pair of 13th-magnitude stars (all four of these brighter ones are in the 12th-13thmagnitude range). From the dimmest of the three brightest NF by 1.25′ is the P-most of a pair of 13.5-magnitude stars separated by 0.5′.

By now, the sky had darkened as much as it was going to, and the seeing and transparency had both improved to 7s.

8:14
NGC 1788 (Ori): Hanging out near Beta Eri, this is a little reflection nebula in Orion. It’s small but easily noticed in the field, and has a 2′ major axis (running N very slightly P-S very slightly F) x 1.5′ minor axis (90 degrees from major). The texture is wispy and considerably cloudlike. On the S slightly F end is a bright knot a few arcseconds in diameter, with an 11.5-magnitude star embedded; on the opposite end, the N slightly P end, is a 10th-magnitude star, N very slightly P the knot by just under 1.5′; SP that star by 1.5′ is a 14th-magnitude star. N very very slightly P the 10th-magnitude star is another 9.5-magnitude star that’s 5′ N very very slightly P the first. The nebula itself is inside a diamond of bright stars that are among the brightest in field; this includes a second 9.5-magnitude star (to the N very slightly P of the nebula); from the 10thmagnitude star [the one inside the nebula] P very very slightly S by 6.5′ is an 8.5-magnitude star; there’s another of the same magnitude 11′ S very slightly F the 10th-magnitude star; from the 10th-magnitude star F very very slightly N by 10′ is another 8.5-magnitude star (the brightest in the field is farthest from the nebula, S very very slightly F, at 8.5-magnitude, just slightly brighter than the other 8.5-magnitude star). NF the 10th magnitude star by 13′ is the 8.5-magnitude bend star of a wedge of seven star that points to the SP of the field; from that star NP and F very slightly N are three stars in each direction forming a “duck flight” that stretches 13′ end-to-end; the other six stars in the wedge are in the 10.5-12th-magnitude range. The UHC filter is no help at all, of course, as this is a reflection nebula. The knot is still visible, as is some of the fuzz between the knot and the star N very slightly P it; however in the unfiltered view, just on the NP edge of the nebulosity there appears to be a notch or darkening on that edge; seems like a bit of dark nebulosity arcing around from the N to the S between the nebula and the bright stars in the diamond along that way. It’s definitely darker in the NP-SP region and down S around the blob of nebulosity.

8:32
M79 (Lep): This is the third-last Messier/NGC globular for me, as I’ve taken notes on all the others visible from mid-latitude North America; only NGC 2419 and M68 remain. (I’ve also done a number of the Palomars, a Terzan, and many of the other non-NGC globulars visible from my latitudes.) M78 is decent-sized and very bright, with a busy, packed 1′ core and 1.75′ halo, and with outliers to 4′, especially along the N rim. The brightest of these outliers are due N of the core by 1.75′. The cluster itself is about 6 CC [actually a 5]. There’s lots of resolution down into and beyond 14th magnitude. The brightest of the outliers is 12thmagnitude. The cluster is not overly well resolved in the core itself and is no more than granular there, but does break out quickly into resolution. A string of stars that stretches due S from the cluster may not be cluster members but are of the same magnitude range (13th-14th); these stretch 5.5′ S of the core, almost like a kite string; the arc along the N edge is the top of the kite, with the cluster in the middle of the kite and the string trailing S toward the brightest star in the field (8.5 magnitude, due S of the cluster by 9.5′). F that star by 3′ is a knot of three 13th/14th-magnitude stars that at first glance looks nebulous. P the globular by 5′ is a 1′ long P-F string of three 13th-13.5-magnitude stars.

9:10
NGCs 1977, 1973, 1975 (Ori): Off into the Orion Molecular Cloud now, with the Running Man complex. This large field of reflection nebulosity is 30′ across at its widest (the S part) and roughly triangular; 20′ N-S. There are two primary sections, the wide S part and the N section, which is primarily focused around a pair of bright double stars and consists of NGCs 1973 and 1975. The S section, which is 7′ thick, is much the longer of the two. It surrounds a group of stars roughly in the shape of a cartoon diamond/gemstone, with the point to the S and four stars marking the facets on the N edge. The star on the point is magnitude 9.5. Moving F-P across the “top” of the gemstone: N slightly F the point star by 3.5′ is a 6th-magnitude star; N of the point star by 4′ is a 7.5-magnitude star; N slightly P the point by 4.5′ is a 5th-magnitude star; due NP the point by 5′ is a 10th-magnitude star; halfway between that star and the point star is a 12th-magnitude star. From edge to edge, the top of the diamond is 6.5′. S very slightly P the point star by 1′ is an 11th-magnitude star. The nebula is brightest along N arc of stars and the middle of the diamond and then streams 13′ P from that arc, and several arcminutes further F (dipping S-ward) from the arc, although it’s less distinct on the F side. Between the P-most star in the arc and the 12th-magnitude star in the middle of the P side, and slightly S of that line, is a large knot of dark nebulosity jutting N-ward into the nebula; the bottom edge of this knot disappears into the larger space between the Running Man complex and M42/43, but the upper chunk of the knot is prominent where it’s silhouetted against the bright background. From the brightest star in the arc (42 Orionis, the 5th-magnitude star) 0.67′ SP is a 14.5-magnitude star. This knot of dark nebula is 3.5′ x 2.5′, with its major axis P-F, and it has really high opacity. Another knot lies off the F edge (and slightly S) of the gemstone, but this one is much less opaque, so tenuous it’s hard to gauge its size; this knot lies 5.75′ SF the 6th-magnitude (F-most) star in the arc and is maybe half the size of the other knot. N of the gemstone and the nebulosity around it is an variably-opaque dark lane that runs mostly P-F but juts N in the middle; this one is 2′ wide except just N of the brightest star in the gemstone by 5′, where the N-ward-jutting notch gives the dark lane the appearance of a “thunderbird” pattern, with the notch as the thunderbird’s head; this dark nebula occupies the middle of the triangular structure of the entire Running Man complex and runs 13′ P-F and is about 4′ thick between the head and the bottom of the wing structure.

The N part of the whole complex features stars at the N tip and along the P edge of the triangle. There are two obvious double stars/pairs and a third bright star along the P edge of the complex. Starting at the N tip of nebula triangle: a double of 10thand 11thmagnitudes separated by 0.25′, with the brighter to the NF and the fainter to the SP; these lie amid the diffuse 0.75′ glow of NGC 1975. 4.5′ SP that double is the brighter of a 7.5- and 11.5-magnitude pair; the secondary is NP the primary by 0.67′, amid NGC 1973. 2.75′ SP from the brighter of the second pair is a 9th- magnitude star; the area between those three stars/pairs is all shrouded in fainter nebulosity and the head of the thunderbird is due F the pair in the middle by 5′. The UHC filter has an interesting effect: it dims a lot of the nebulosity (as you’d expect because this is reflection nebulosity) but enhances the section P the gemstone pattern; this stretches over toward an 8.5-mag star that’s 15′ P the brightest star in the gemstone [42 Ori]. Otherwise, the filter made much of the nebulosity (and thus the contrast in the region) disappear, making the dark lanes invisible.

All I could say at this point was “Wow.” Just as I had done so examining the Lagoon and Trifid Nebulae during the summer. Expansive nebulae such as those and the Running Man complex were objects that absolutely demanded dark western-American skies to see in their full glory. No previous observation of the Running Man could’ve prepared me for how detailed and awe-inspiring it truly is in outstanding conditions. But the sky was still getting better….

9:25
NGC 1980 (Ori): This brilliant cluster lies just S of the Orion Nebula, so close that part of the outer bubble of M42 sweeps through the stars at the cluster’s NP end. (I first looked at the cluster with UHC still in from observing NGC 1977.) It’s unmistakable as a cluster, dominating the field with Iota Orionis as a member alongside several other piercingly-bright stars. The cluster has a classic 60s rocket shape, like something from one of that era’s sci-fi movies, with a teardrop-shaped fuselage and fins on the back. The brightest member of the cluster is a beautiful double or triple star [Iota Orionis] with a 3rd-magnitude primary and an 8th-magnitude secondary SF by just under 0.25′; due P the secondary by 0.75′ is a 10.5- magnitude star; the two brighter are almost certainly a pair but the third may be an outlier. This double/triple lies on the SF edge (at the wide end) of the teardrop-shape which is the head of the rocketship. There are eight other stars in the teardrop, which stretches 8′ x 5.25′ NF-SP; Iota Ori lies on the F end of the minor axis. SP Iota by 3.75′ is an 8.5- magnitude star with a 9th-magnitude star N very very slightly P by 3.5′; 3′ N very slightly F that star is another 9th-magnitude star; NF that second 9th– magnitude star by 3.3′ is a 10th-magnitude star; SF the 10th– magnitude star by 0.5′ is a 14th– magnitude star that may be a very close double; from the 10th-magnitude star (the N-most in the rocketship) almost due S by 2.75′ is another 10th-magnitude star that has an 11th– magnitude star 1′ due P it; from this last 10th-magnitude due S by 3.5′ is Iota Ori. The “base” and fins of the rocket are made up of a line of three pairs: from the primary of Iota due S by 8′ is a 7.5-magnitude star; P that star by 1.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star; SP Iota by 8′ is the NF of a pair (4.5- and 5.5-magnitude stars) separated by 0.67′ with the N-most the brighter; 1′ due N of that brighter of the two is a 9th-magnitude star; from the brighter of that last pair P slightly S by 3.3′ is the brighter of another pair, which is 8.5-magnitude and has a 9.5- magnitude star N very slightly P by 0.5′; from the fainter of the last pair P slightly N by 1.25′ is a star of 10.5 magnitude. Together with the teardrop, these form the body of the cluster. The SF part of the loop of the Orion Nebula sweeps through the N end of the teardrop; not quite in contact with Iota; this begins 12′ P Iota and sweeps F and N.

9:30
NGC 1990 (Ori): Although I know this doesn’t exist from doing a little research, this “nebula” gives a good convincing impression of being real, although it might probably be just because my optics aren’t super clean. If a nebula isthere, it’s about 30′ across and centered on Alnilam. At moments, it does indeed look like there’s a lot of very diffuse hydrogen gas here, surrounding this searingly bright star.

I can sympathize with the astronomers of yore seeing something at the location of NGC 1990. Had I not had access to the collective observing acumen of the crew at CloudyNights.com, I would’ve certainly fallen for this non-existent phantasm myself.

9:53
NGC 1999 (Ori): A little “dark keyhole” nebula, S of NGC 1980 and M42, the whole complex of which it’s part of. This is a small nebula, 1.5′ round, with pretty well defined edges compared to most of the other flocculent reflection nebulae sprinkled around Orion. This one almost looks like an elliptical galaxy with a bright core (which here is a brightish star of 10thmagnitude and only-slightly cottony outer fringes. The dark “keyhole” is actually visible but tiny at this magnification, and is due P the star at the nebula’s center; it’s no more than 10″ across, and its shape is not possible to discern at this magnification. In the UHC filter, there’s an impression that S of the nebula by 4.5′-5′ there seems to be another nebulous spot that’s extremely tenuous and impossible to hold steady or estimate size. In averted vision, there’s definitely something there, and a second possible nebula SP the main nebula by 2′; this second nebula is also a very small, tenuous fuzzy spot, very very difficult; the first one mentioned is definitely the stronger of the two, although no detail is possible. The O-III filter wipes out the entire complex, although NGC 1999 is still somewhat visible. This is not an overly impressive field for Orion; there’s a squiggly pattern of stars, almost an open ellipse, to the N of the main nebula, with a bright (8th-magnitude) star at the N end and a 9th-magnitude star due N of the nebula by 15′; this squiggle has nine stars in it and extends 13′ N somewhat P-S somewhat F. To the NP of the nebula by 4.5′ is an 11th-magnitude star. Due P the nebula by 11′ is the middle star in a prominent line of three; the middle star of this trio is double, with a 10th-magnitude primary and a 13.5 magnitude secondary separated by 0.25′, with the secondary N of the primary. From the primary 2.67′ N very slightly F is a 10th-magnitude star; from the primary S very slightly P by 1.5′ is an 11th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is 20′ due F the nebula and is 8th-magnitude; it has an 9th-magnitude star NP it by 1.25′.

As had happened on a few other occasions the last year, I had difficulty removing O-III filter again. It made me reluctant to use it for the rest of the night, lest it get stuck in the eyepiece I’m using for the Herschel survey. This was the only negative to the night.

10:32
NGCs 2023, 2024; B33 (Ori): Back toward Alnitak, over by the Horsehead Nebula, and—I CAN SEE THE HORSEHEAD WITH NO FILTER! It’s little more than a dim dark spot that stays put in position against the background when I’m rocking the scope, but it’s more than just a vague impression. But I’ll get to the Horsehead in a few minutes, because my actual prey here is NGC 2023: this is another small nebula of the kind that’s so common in Orion, a reflection nebula around a reasonably-to-fairly bright (in this case, 8th-magnitude) star. The nebula is just under 2.5′ diameter and roundish, but it’s cut off abruptly by darkness along the N to SP on the P side, so it’s not fully round. To the SF of the bright star in the nebula by 2.5′ is a 12th-magnitude star; 9.5′ P and very very slightly S from the nebula’s illuminating star is an 8th-magnitude star; and the Horsehead Nebula, B33, lies 9′ S very slightly P that second star. None of the famous Horsehead shape is visible, just a roundish dark blot, a vague bit of darkness 3.5′ around that precedes from the dark cutoff on NGC 2023’s P side and seems to be a part of the same dark obscuring cloud. S very slightly F the Horsehead is a faint double with the brighter component 0.5′ SF the fainter; these are 12thand 14thmagnitudes. 2.25′ S of the 12th-magnitude star is an 11th-magnitude star.

N of NGC 2023 by 18′ is the S edge of the Flame Nebula: as I expected from seeing the Horsehead unfiltered, the Flame really excellent tonight!! It’s necessary, of course, to keep Alnitak out of the field for a good view. The Flame spans 13′ N-S and 12′ P-F and is divided into three lobes by dark nebulosity. The F-most lobe runs P very slightly S-F very slightly N and is 4.5′ x 1′. From the F end of that lobe and stretching N for 12′ is the largest lobe, slightly bisected itself; from the F end of the first lobe is a 0.67′ gap where the dark lane runs and then the nebula picks up again and runs another 4′, then narrows where the dark neb crosses it again, then takes off N again; the dark vein here is 0.67′ wide across middle of that lobe, and the N part of that lobe (N of the dark nebula) stretches between two stars: just N of the dark narrowing in this lobe, on the P side of the lobe, is an 11th– magnitude star; at the N end of that lobe is a 10th-magnitude star; that lobe is widest (about 2.25′) between the two stars. The third, P-most lobe runs parallel to the second one; the dark lane is 3.5′ thick along there, fades out to the N, and runs from the P edge of the first lobe, between the 2ndand 3rdlobes, and then fades out at the N where the contrasting bright nebulosity fades out. The third lobe is the widest of the three, runs NP from the first lobe and mostly fills a triangle of three stars: the S vertex is 12th-magnitude [a geosync satellite “drifts” past it as I’m recording!]; 5.5′ N very slightly P that star is an 11.5-magnitude star; P that star by 7′ is a 9.5-magnitude star; Alnitak is SP that third vertex by 7′. The triangle formed by those three vertices is filled with nebulosity, especially between the first two stars (the S and N vertices) and to the P of them, where the brightest part of the Flame is. With the UHC, I’m less impressed with Flame in UHC than I thought; it’s disappointing. The extent of the nebula is bigger overall but the lobes blur together; there’s more ghostly nebulosity in the background that smears everything together and detracts from the Flame’s character. NGC 2023 is also greatly diminished in the UHC, but the Horsehead is a slight bit darker, although if I hadn’t seen the Horsehead without the filter I probably wouldn’t have found it with the filter [I should’ve used the OIII as well, but didn’t want to risk screwing it in and getting it stuck in the eyepiece again].

Stunning. That’s all I can say. Had I thought about it, I should’ve borrowed someone’s H-Beta filter, as it’s the only one to really bring out the nature of the Horsehead itself. But I was in a zone and didn’t want to interrupt it, even for an experience I might not be able to duplicate again.

10:50
NGCs 2071, 2064; M78; Bernes 106 (Ori): Another reflection nebula, a little one N very slightly F M78 by 15′. This one is not a very noteworthy object compared to most of those I’ve seen tonight. It’s roundish but pointed on the S edge, and roughly 1.75′ diameter. Amid the nebula is a 10th-magnitude star; another 10th-magnitude star lies NP the nebula by 3.5′. The nebula is textured in the same way but more so than M78; it’s got that reflection-nebula flocculence, especially on the S end and especially in averted vision where the texture really comes out—there are several slightly-brighter striations in it, very thin, like the inner texture of NGC 1514. The star inside the  nebula is located more to the N end so nebula extends farther S, and is bright enough to make viewing the striations in the nebula difficult. Around the nebula is a star-poor field due to the presence of lots of dark nebulosity, which is very visible in its contrast with the field tonight. M78 is very similar to 2071, but has two stars embedded: one on the N edge and one S very slightly P the first, both of them magnitude 10.5; a third star is embedded just inside the S edge and is 13thmagnitude. The two brighter stars are separated by 0.75′ and the more S of those is almost due N of the 13th-magnitude star by 2′. M78 is 3.5′ N-S and 4.25′ P-F . The N edge is very well defined because the band of dark nebulosity between the two nebulae cuts off the light on the N edge of M78. M78 has very gossamer appearance to it; it fades out on the other three edges and is poorly defined there where it fades into the dark nebulosity. The ring of dark nebulosity surrounding this group is darkest N and NF of 2071; there are no bright stars in that region for 28′ to the F of 2071, only pitch blackness and a couple of very very faint (14th-magnitude and lower) stars. The region S of M78 also very dark, although there’s another patch of reflection nebulosity S slightly P M78, 19′ from the star on M78’s N edge; this is just a tiny knot 0.3′ across [Be106], seemingly shrouding a 14th-magnitude star; 6′ P slightly S of the bright star on the N edge of M78 is a slightly larger (than the previous) knot that’s quite diffuse [NGC 2064], perhaps 1′ across, but has no star visible in it; this second patch is SF a 10th-magnitude star by 3′. This is a very interesting/intriguing field, with four nebulae possible in field when M78 is centered.

Bernes 106 is a pretty obscure little nebula, and identifying it took a surprising amount of digging. And yet it wasn’t even difficult in the eyepiece.

I ended up taking notes on a few more open clusters; one was in the vicinity of some of the little nebulae on my list, but the others were my only other Orion objects. Best to add them to the inventory tonight and be done with Orion altogether.

11:04
NGC 2112 (Ori): The Rush Cluster, a cluster that’s pretty obviously a cluster by default, given that it’s the only condensation of stars in the region; the starry background is poorer here so the cluster stands out more. The cluster is embedded within Barnard’s Loop, and some of the nebulosity is clearly visible through the region as I sweep [given the conditions, I should’ve taken the time to explore Barnard’s Loop further!]. It’s a reasonably-rich cluster (25 stars?) about 9′ across with a wide magnitude range; on the NP corner is the brightest at 10.5-magnitude and there’s a roughly-rectangular or bent trapezoid of brighter stars across the face of the middle of the cluster; there are a few other brighter stars, with a few extending from the rectangle NP; these are in 11.5-magnitude range, with seven of these between 11thand 12thmagnitudes and the rest mostly 13thmagnitude and fainter. The rectangle is oriented N-S and is 2.5′ long, 1.3′ on the S end and 1.75′ on N end. There are several clumps of faint stars here. The most obvious of these is 1.25′ off the NF corner of the rectangle; this clump has six quite faint stars in the 14th-magnitude range and fainter in an ellipse that’s 1′ x 0.3′ with its major axis N-S; another clump lies 1.25′ due S of the SF vertex of the rectangle, with three or four very tightly packed faint stars. The other main concentration is on the N edge of the rectangle and slightly F, and there are a number of unresolved stars in this clump; a 13th-magnitude star at that corner and then N of that by 0.3′ is a knot of unresolved stars. Due N of the cluster by 14′ from the N edge of the rectangle is a 9.5-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is NF the cluster, 19′ from the NF vertex and is 8.5 magnitude.

11:40
NGC 2170, vdB 69 (Mon): This is near the P end of the long chain of nebulous knots extending from Orion into Monoceros, near Gamma Mon. NGC 2170 is supposedly one of the brighter ones in the chain. It’s certainly obvious, though not really eye-grabbing at this aperture and magnification. The nebula is small, 1′ across, and quite like NGC 2023 in texture, with an embedded 10.5-magnitude star; due S of that star by 1.5′ is an 11th-magnitude star; N of the 10.5-magnitude star by 0.75′ is a 13th-magnitude star. Due NP the nebula by 14′ is the brightest star in the field, at 6.5-magnitude. F the nebula by 8.5′ is a 9.5-magnitude star that also appears to have some faint reflection nebula [vdB 69] around it; this is even smaller than 2170, much fainter, and smaller (0.5′ diameter). Almost due N of this second nebula is a 10′ long string of nine stars, with the brightest (at magnitude 9.5) on the P end; this string runs P slightly S-F slightly N in the field, a zig-zag; the rest of its stars are mostly 11thmagnitude with a couple slightly fainter.

11:53
NGCs 2182, 2183, 2185 (Mon): These patches of nebulosity are not far from NGC 2170, but the starhopping sure seems like it. NGC 2182, the Herschel object, is another quite small, faint reflection nebula, with another brightish star (9.5-magnitude) embedded. The nebula itself is 0.75′ diameter, but seems distorted a bit because on the F, just outside the nebulosity, is a 12.5-mag star, F the 9.5-magnitude star by 0.5′. P the 9.5-magnitude star and slightly N by 2′ is a 12.5-mag star. Due S of the nebula by 13′ is the brightest star in the field, which is 7.5-magnitude. F very slightly N by 23′ is a quartet of stars aligned roughly P slightly S-F slightly N, 2.5′ x 1′ and those too seem shrouded in nebulosity, a decent-sized but fairly faint patch [2185]; more obvious than it should be because of its size (there’s so much here that could be reflection nebulosity!). P slightly N of the larger patch by 3.25′ is another small patch [2183] that doesn’t seem to have an obvious associated star in it; this patch is F very slightly N of 2182 by 21′, and is no more than 0.3-0.5′ round; it’s not obvious at first glance due to the lack of an illuminating star.

12:16
NGC 2215 (Mon): I’m starting to lose the winter constellations now, into the interfering trees on the Ridge. This is a relatively sparse and average but fairly obvious cluster, pretty compact, about 8′ diameter. It has about thirty stars, many/most in the 12th-magnitude range and pretty uniform in distribution, to the point that it’s tough to pick out a defining feature; there aren’t many faint stars to fill in the spaces between the brighter ones. On the SP edge is a slightly richer knot that has several of the few fainter stars in it. On the F side, about 2/3 of the way across the cluster, is the greatest concentration of the majority of the fainter cluster stars; they run N-S along that side. P the cluster by 13′ is the brightest star in the field at 8thmagnitude. S very slightly F the cluster by 10′ from the cluster center is a very compact trio of stars in a 0.3′ line; these are equal (13th) magnitudes and at first glance look like something more interesting.

My notetaking was starting to wind down. It had been an exhilarating night so far, and though I wasn’t ready to pack up and call it a night, I was starting to get tired (and a bit sloppy in my observations). With one more object in Orion, I managed to close the book on the Hunter as far as Herschels went, before turning my optics toward some of the bright spring galaxies that were rising into prominence in the east.

12:58
NGC 2169 (Ori): The famous ’37’ Cluster, although at the moment it looks more like an upside-down 7 with a capital Greek sigma. This is a very bright, interesting cluster, very detached and obvious even in a crowded field. It’s not tremendously rich in number but enough so for its size (5′ x 3′, elongated NP-SF). Even more appropriately, the 7 has seven stars in it; the 3 has thirteen stars in it, although a couple also lie outside the edge of the 3. There’s a huge magnitude range here.  The ‘3’ almost looks more like an X or hourglass, adding in a couple of slightly-fainter members. The cluster lucida (and brightest in the field) is on the NP corner of the ‘3’ and is a tight double, with the brighter star NP the fainter; these are 8thand 9.5 magnitudes. 0.25′ P slightly N of the double star is a 12th– magnitude star; F the double by 0.5′ is a 9th-magnitude star which has another 9th-magnitude star 0.75′ S very slightly P it; from the first of the 9th-magnitude stars F slightly S by 1′ is a 10th-magnitude star, and from the more S of the 9th-magnitude stars and forming the midpoint of the X/hourglass (0.3′ S of the second 9th-magnitude star) is an 11th– magnitude star. The S half of the ‘3’ has three 9th– and 10th-magnitude stars and then two fainter ones trailing the F-most of the brighter ones; the brightest in this part of the ‘3’ is the SF corner, which is 9thmagnitude. There’s a 2.25′ gap between the bright double and the F edge of the top of the ‘7’. The top of the ‘7’ only has two stars: an 11th-magnitude star that’s closest to the top of the ‘3’ and a 9th– magnitude star 1.25′ NP the 11th-magnitude star; from the 9th– magnitude star 3.25′ S very very slightly P is a 13.5-magnitude star that’s the bottom end of the ‘7’ stalk. The brightest in the stalk is an 8th– magnitude star 2′ due S of the 9th– magnitude star.

There’s no way to observe winter’s bounty of nebulae without observing M42/43, the Great Nebula in Orion, and I spent quite a while doing so. (I also took a good look at the Rosette Nebula in Robert’s 8″ binocular scope.) We managed to snag a last look at Comet Wirtanen, 41/P, and one more comet whose name escapes me at this far a remove from that night.

Of the galaxies, then. M51 was as good or better than I’d ever seen it, its spiral structure unmistakable even in the 14mm eyepiece. M101 was also stunning, its plethora of individual nebulous patches and star clouds impossible to miss, including some well removed from the shimmer of the galaxy’s halo-glow.  I had excellent looks at M94 in Canes and NGC 4565 in Coma Berenices through Jerry’s 12″ binocular scope, and made sure to check out the Leo favorites, NGC 2903, the Leo Trio, and Hickson 44, the small quartet in the Lion’s mane.

It was well past 2 AM and heading toward 3 AM by the time we’d seen enough for the night. Jerry’s final set of SQM readings averaged nearly 21.8; he said that the conditions were probably better than he’d ever seen at Eagle’s. They were certainly the best I’d ever observed in; at Flagstaff’s Anderson Mesa, I didn’t have the superior telescope gear I had now, even if the sky itself was as good, and the same went for my week-long trip to the late, lamented Star Hill Inn in New Mexico back near the turn of the century—the first time I’d ever seen the Horsehead Nebula.

It hardly mattered that it would be more than a month before we could observe again, and that we’d have to use a new venue to do so.

 

Bob

Chances are that if you attended an astronomy event in southern Illinois in the past thirty years, you met Bob Morefield. Bob was the proverbial pillar of the community, not just for his love of promoting astronomy in the community, but for his work as a Scoutmaster, a devoted historian of the Carbondale/Murphysboro/Du Quoin region, an officer of the Sons of the American Revolution, and the telephone lineman who had to get out of bed in the middle of the night to keep southern Illinois on the grid.

But it was as an amateur astronomer that Bob had his true calling. As a high school student, he’d won numerous science fair awards for home-built telescopes, most (if not all) of which he still owned. With these, he began his 60+ years of astronomy notes, keeping inventory of the objects he observed over the years. As the treasurer and membership director of the Astronomical Association of Southern Illinois—positions he held for most of the club’s twenty years (so far) of existence—Bob knew pretty much every amateur astronomer in the “south third” of the state of Illinois, and this was how I came to meet him.

When Mrs. Caveman and I moved to Carbondale from Alaska, we made sure to first contact the local astronomy club, so that we’d have a social contact in the community even before we got there. Two weeks after arriving, we joined AASI at their (then) annual dinner meeting at Giant City Lodge, where we met Bob and his wife Betty, sharing a table with them at dinner. We hit it off right away; they were warm, accepting, and easy to talk to, with a lot of common travel experiences. In fact, they were off to visit relatives in a tiny German town—relatives who lived right next door to Mrs. Caveman’s  host family when she spent a semester living in Germany.

Over our years in Carbondale, we spent more hours with Bob than just about anyone else we knew there. Bob knew that I’d be up for observing just about anytime he wanted to do some stargazing, and we organized and manned public astronomy events dozens of times over the years. When Bob felt like he could no longer physically handle the setup and teardown of his 12.5″ Discovery Dobsonian, he left it to me to do. “Take it out anytime you want,” he said, “but make sure I get a chance to look through it.” After an observing session—either a public event or one of AASI’s scheduled or impromptu club sessions—we’d often stop by Denny’s for ice cream or some such. There was always a lot to talk about, astronomy-related or otherwise. When I became president of AASI, Bob was the one who had to drop an occasional reminder that the club newsletter needed to be sent out the week before the monthly meeting, to keep me on schedule. And Bob was the one who could be counted on to give the “What’s In The Sky” talk every month, keeping us all informed about upcoming sky sights and events in an easy, accessible manner that was probably a relief from the more-esoteric topics I often talked about at the meetings.

Bob was one of the best friends of my adult life, and moving away from Carbondale was all the more difficult because he wasn’t in the best of health. He mentioned to me that he hoped he’d be around to see the 2017 solar eclipse, and doubted that he’d live to see the eclipse of 2024. (I told him I fully expected him to see both.) Before my family and I  moved to Oregon, Bob agreed to sell me the 12.5″ Dob—the best telescope I’ve ever used, of any size and type—considering that I would get more use out of it than anyone. (This, of course, is why the scope has been christened “Bob the Dob”; we had taken to naming many of my daughter’s stuffed animals after the person who had given them to her, and it only seemed right to continue the practice.) And when our 2017 eclipse trip was over and we had to head back west, Mrs. Caveman and I joined Bob and some of the other AASI alumni who’d left for different climes for one last stop at Denny’s.

Bob died this April, one month to the day after being diagnosed with cancer, and ten days before I was scheduled to fly back to Carbondale to visit him. But this isn’t about me; it’s about Bob, and the family he’s left, and the community of which he was such an important part. It will be impossible to observe through the telescope he owned without remembering his sense of humor, his vast wealth of knowledge, and his desire to know even more. And every starry night will be a memorial to him, one more profound than anything I could write here.

 

And on a Dark December Night

I. It still seems impossible, but our luck held steady for another month. After solid observing runs in October and November, we managed to make it three for three for the autumn/winter stretch. Even the temperatures this early December were conducive for long hours at the eyepiece.

With snow and ice at the higher elevations, we kept to the Eagle’s Rest gravel pit site for the three nights in December. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of trying to push the Caveman-Mobile up to the ridge with non-winter tires, and as most of my remaining targets for this time of year were at higher declinations, there was no worry about the treelike at the gravel pit blocking the view.

This first night was fraught with intermittent cloudy patches. Jerry decided to pass, having other things he needed to do anyway, so Dan B and I were the only ones of the usual suspects to make the trek out. Conditions were mediocre, but for December, mediocre would do.

12/4/18

EAGLE’S REST (gravel pit)
MOON: 27 days; 6% illuminated, set at 3:27 PM
SEEING: 5
TRANSPARENCY: 5-6 (variable, some cirrus coming through, possibly clearing later)
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.2

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid 40s, some considerable waves of clouds rolling through, very breezy, damp but not much dew

Others present: DB

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

7:17
NGC 1444 (Per): This cluster is not particularly obvious at first glance, due to the fact that it’s small and fairly star-poor, with only about sixteen stars. It’s primarily composed of two individual clumps. If the brilliant double star on the SF end of the larger clump is a cluster member, there’s a wide range of magnitudes here, although most of the stars appear to be in the 12th/13th-magnitude range. The larger clump is diamond-shaped and has a bright double star at the SF end, which is also the S end of the major axis (2.25′) of this larger clump; the minor axis consists of four 12th/13th-mag stars running SP from just N of the brighter component of the double, to end due P the double. The first clump consists of the double star, a 13th-mag star on the opposite end of major axis, and the line on the minor axis , which is 1.25′ long and runs SP-NF. The star at the F end of the minor axis is 1′ N of the double; the brighter component of the double is also the brightest star in the field at 7th magnitude; it has PvvsN of it by 9″ a 10th-magnitude star as its secondary. 3.75′ SP the brighter component of the double is the brightest star in the smaller clump, which has five stars in it and looks like a backward numeral ‘7’; the brightest in this smaller clump is 12thmagnitude, and this star is on S end of the clump. There’s a 13.5-mag star PvsS of the brightest in the clump by 0.3′; N and NF the 12th-magnitude star, each by 1′, are two 13th-magnitude stars that form the top of the ‘7’ and are separated by 0.5′.The fifth star in this clump is 0.5′ NF the brightest and is 14th-magnitude.This second clump is 1.5′ x 0.5′ (it’s widest at the N) and is roughly triangular.The diameter of the whole cluster is 5′ SP-NF x 2.25′ (along the major axis of the larger clump). 14′ SF the brighter star in the double is a 7th-magnitude star that’s very slightly dimmer than the double’s primary.

7:40
NGC 1513 (Per): Part of the expanse of clusters around the hand of Perseus, this is quite a rich and obvious cluster. It’s pretty round, and about 11′ in diameter. NGC 1513 contains about fifty stars, most of them 13thmagnitude and fainter; many of these are threshold objects (due in part to the poor seeing?), and there is a fair amount of unresolved glow among the stars here. On the N edge is a solitary 9.5-magnitude star that may or may not be a cluster member. The primary feature of the cluster is an ellipse of brighter stars (mostly 11thmagnitude) that runs 5′ x 3′ SP-NF; this ellipse is outlined by twelve stars and extends from just S of the cluster center to the SF edge of the cluster—the ellipse and the cluster itself share a SF edge. Near the SF edge is a double star/pair with 12th-and 13th-magnitude components separated by 15″, with the primary SP the secondary. Between the ellipse and the 9.5-magnitude star is a barren patch that’s largely devoid of stars. On the SP corner of the cluster is a small knot of perhaps five very faint stars clumped very close together. Just on the due P edge of the cluster is an 11th-magnitude star that’s quite obvious due in part to its isolation from other brighter cluster members; this star is 8′ P slightly S of the 9.5-magnitude star on the N edge. 11′ F slightly N of the star on the N edge is the brightest in the field at 8.5 magnitude; there’s a 9th-magnitude star 9′ S of the 8.5-magnitude star.

The wind picked up progressively as the evening rolled on. Usually, it caused few problems in the gravel pit, because the trees acted as a windbreak (as they usually do at Eureka Ridge). Tonight, though, it seemed to come from just the right angle to be a problem, billowing my laminated Sky Atlas 2000.0 around on my table and flipping the large pages constantly. We pressed on—even though the forecast was for a few more decent nights, we didn’t want to bet on the accuracy of a December forecast.

7:59
NGC 1545 (Per): This is a fine, very large, quite obvious and detached cluster. It’s not overly rich given its size, with fifty or so stars, but has a great range of magnitudes and a number of bright apparent doubles. The most eye-catching aspect of the cluster is a triangle of bright stars at cluster center, with the cluster’s brightest star (at 7thmagnitude) on its SF corner. This star has an 8th-magnitude star N very slightly P by 1.25′ and a 9.5-magnitude star 2.5 P it; these make up the triangle. The 8th-magnitude star has a 13th-magnitude star due P by 20″. On the N edge of the cluster proper, 7.5′ N of the 7th-magnitude star, is the primary of another double; this is the second-brightest in the cluster (at magnitude 7.5) and has a 10th-magnitude companion 15″ to the N. From the 9.5-magnitude star on the P end of the bright triangle, and trailing SP, is a 16′ long curving chain of 11th– 12th– and 13th-magnitude stars that continues out of field and terminates near a 5th-magnitude star (cf.). SF the cluster lucida by 16′ is another 7th-magnitude star which may be a shade fainter than the lucida. Also SF the lucida, by 4′, is the middle of a small not-quite-square of eight or nine 11th-, 12th-, and 13th-magnitude stars; this square is very roughly 2.5′ per side; its NP-facing edge has three stars on it, the SF-facing edge has four stars, two just outside the frame of the square, and there’s an obvious star near the center of the square, somewhat toward the P edge. The NF vertex of the square is a close double, 12th– and 12.5-magnitude stars separated by 10″. Back to the cluster lucida: 7′ P very slightly N is the F-most of  pair of 10.5-magnitude stars, with the other 1.3′ P it. Overall, the cluster has an interesting bird-like shape to it, with the bright double on the N edge as its head and the small square as its tail; the long arc to the SF marks out one wing, while a much-less well-defined arc from the lucida F marks the other wing. SP the cluster, perhaps 21′ from the lucida and just on the edge of the field, is a 5.5-magnitude star which has N slightly P it by 18′ (just outside the field) a 5th-magnitude star; this is the star to which the long trailing arc stretches.

8:15
NGC 1528 (Per): From NGC 1545, drawing a line through the 5.5- and 5th-magnitude stars and proceeding N brings us to this beautiful, very rich cluster. It’s immediately identifiable as a cluster, very large, and triangular, roughly isosceles. Its vertices are on the N, SP, and SF. The N vertex is 10.5 magnitude; the star on the SP vertex (the S-most of three similarly-bright stars, of which the brightest is in the middle) is 11thmagnitude. The SF vertex is actually a tight trio, with a 10.5-magnitude star flanked to the SP (by 0.3′) by a 12th-magnitude star, and to the NF (by 1′) by an 11.5-magnitude star. The 15′ P edge is the shortest of the three; the S edge is 17′ and the F edge 18′ long. The cluster has an interesting texture, with a lot of small clumps within it, and about 75 stars are in it, from 10thmagnitude down to 14th, although the majority are in the 10.5-11.5 magnitude range. The fainter stars are mostly arranged in the clumps, of which at least four of these are along the F edge, which is the best defined of the three edges and runs NP-SF; there are too many of these clumps to describe them all. The interior of the cluster is also quite clumpy. One prominent clump is 5.5′ due S of the N vertex of the cluster; this clump is a smallish triangle of four 12th-magnitude stars; the long side of this clump runs 0.75′ SP-NF. Halfway along the P edge is an irregular pentagon of brighter stars; the P-most of these stars is the brightest in the cluster—and the field—at 9thmagnitude. The major axis of the pentagon runs P-F and is 4.5′ long, with a minor axis of 3′. This pentagon is the most obvious feature of the cluster. Starting at the 9th-magnitude star and running F very slightly S through the cluster is the largest quantity of the cluster’s brighter stars; this averages a few arcminutes N of the cluster’s S edge.  A pair of bright stars (9th– and 10thmagnitudes) lie 30′ S of the N vertex of the cluster triangle, the fainter P the brighter by 0.67′. SF the N vertex by 33′ is a 7th-magnitude star.

8:51
NGC 1491 (Per): Something slightly different from the open clusters so far this evening. This is a little blotch of nebula, one of several in the lineup on this Sky Atlas 2000.0 chart. With no filter, the nebula is a 3.0′ x 1.5′ cloud extending S very slightly P-N very slightly F. On the F side, just outside the main mass of the nebula, is an 11th-magnitude star. On the SP edge is a close pair of 14th-magnitude stars; another faint pair/double lies just off the N tip of the nebulosity, very slightly P. Due N of the nebula by 10′ (very slightly P the 11th-magnitude star) is a 10th-magnitude star, which is the F-most star in a 25′ meandering stream of stars that runs mostly P-F. SF the nebula by 21′ from the 11th-magnitude star is another double/pair, with a 9.5-magnitude star that has a 13.5-magnitude companion 0.5′ due N of it. In averted vision, there’s a hint of irregularity in the brightness of the nebula, especially on the F side. There’s not much shape to the nebulosity, but the brighter mass is surrounded by a faint outer envelope; the nebula gives a vague impression of a barred spiral galaxy, with the main mass as the central bar, giving the whole an appearance slightly reminiscent of NGC 7479. With the UHC filter in place, the irregularity in brightness, or texture, is much more apparent. The F edge of the nebula is much more distinct or cut off, especially to the N end. On the SP end is a “hook” that appears to stretch toward the P slightly, although this needs more magnification to draw out. The nebula shows a somewhat triangular shape, being wider at the SP end than the NF. Oddly, the star on the F edge seems more detached from the nebulosity with the filter than without, although some of the nebulosity seems to curl toward the star from the S. The P side is less diffuse. The whole of the nebula spans 3.25′ x 2.25′ with the filter in place.

My next target was one that had skunked me in November, and was still quite a pain on this night. I had spent a fair amount of time researching it in the days since that last failure, so I knew better what I was looking for.

9:25
NGC 896 (Cas): Had a tough time tracking this one down; I missed it at the end of the last November session, and it took me a while this night, too. This nebula is a detached chunk of the Heart Nebula, difficult to track down but not excessively difficult to see (given that I still have the UHC filter in from NGC 1491). The nebula is roughly rhombical (?), elongated SP-NF, with a 10th-magnitude star on the SP. The NF edge of the nebula is a detached chunk that’s separated from the larger piece by a gap or dark lane that’s about 1.5′ wide on average. A couple of stars are embedded in this northern section. From the 10th-magnitude star SF by 2.25′ is another slightly brighter portion of the nebula; due F the 10th-magnitude star by 6′ is a fourth section of the nebula, and this also has a few embedded stars. The section to the NF could have its own number, given its prominence and detachment from the rest; this piece is 2′ around and has faintish stars on the F and SF sides. The main portion of the nebula is about 6′ across and flattened across the N and NF. The whole complex is 9′ x 6′ overall; it’s quite diffuse, and none of it is particularly well defined, although the NF chunk is a little bit more obvious than most of the rest. The minor axis is offset to the S end of the major axis. In averted vision, there’s another brighter section on the SF of the main portion, about 1.5′ across. Every now and then the transparency seems to steady, and the NF section of the nebula appears bilobed, like M76, with the “pinch” across the middle and the two lobes N-S. The nebula also extends slightly P the 10th-magnitude star. Without the filter, the nebula is much more difficult, and I doubt I would’ve spotted it without much more searching (and luck). The brightest portion is around and just F the 10th-magnitude star. There are two stars, 11.5 and 12.5 magnitude, F and SF the NF portion of the nebula; the brighter star is the more northern, and these are separated by 1.25′. The SF end of the nebula has three stars embedded and this is one of the most visible portions of the nebula. A triangle of brighter stars lies S of the nebula: due S of the nebula is the triangle’s N vertex, which is 10thmagnitude; due F by 8.5′ is a 10.5-magnitude star; SP the 10.5-magnitude star by 9.5′ is a 9.5-magnitude star. The first vertex of the triangle is 12′ S of the star on the SP corner of the nebula. This nebula is one of the more-difficult of the fall Herschels, and it’s a testament to WH’s observing skill that he swept this one up.

9:49
NGC 1624 (Per): This is an unusual, small nebula, much easier than 896. This one has an embedded cluster, which is rather poor in number with only six visible stars. The brightest star (11.5 magnitude) is very close to the nebula’s center. The nebula itself is cottony in texture but not particularly well defined or impressive; it looks like a reflection nebula (gauzy, rather than cloudy) despite the fact that the cluster might imply that it’s an HII object. It’s roundish, about 3.25′ across. Without the filter, the nebula is quite a bit fainter but still pretty obvious. The cluster sits at the SF “joint” of a zig-zag of perfect right angles, which extends 4′ NF and NP from the cluster; from the NP end, it takes a right angle SP for a further 2′. The stars in this zig-zag are mostly 12th-14thmagnitude, with the second-brightest in the pattern a 12.5-magnitude star on the NF end. A 9.5-magnitude star 17′ SF the cluster is the brightest in the field; there’s also a 10.5-magnitude star 20′ F the cluster.

With the temperatures and the wind conspiring to make the observing more like work that it should have felt, we began discussing whether it was time to leave. Dan was working with the club’s new Revolution imager and was about done with it, so I made sure to catch one (actually two) more object, another that I’d been putting off for a long time:

10:17
NGCs 869, 884 (Per): The showpiece of this (and many another) evening, the Double Cluster is perhaps the most magnificent object in the autumn sky, with the possible exception of M33. The two components, NGCs 869 and 884, are both well detached from the Milky Way and very obvious, even to the naked eye. NGC 869is dominated by two 6.5-magnitude stars, both brilliant blue-white. One is in the cluster’s center, the other 2.5′ N slightly F the first. F slightly S of the first of these (the one at cluster center) is a flattened-top/kite shaped pattern with its long end to the SP and the three brighter stars to the N and F. The kite is 0.5′ on the F and NF sides and 0.67′ on the P side; the three stars along the NF are 8.5-9.5 magnitudes, while the S (fourth) star is 10thmagnitude. P slightly N of the central 6.5-magnitude star is an elongated ellipse of stars which contains six brightish and two faintish stars; this is about 1.0′ P-F and 0.5′ N-S. The kite and the ellipse are the two most-obvious features of the cluster beyond the pair of 6.5-magnitude stars. NGC 869 is about 20′ across, not particularly round, and contains more than a hundred stars within that diameter. From the central 6.5-magnitude star and running N slightly P is a 17′ long chain/line of stars that hooks SP at its N end; most of the stars in this chain are in the 11th-magnitude range. 19′ P slightly S of the central 6.5-magnitude star is the more-northern of a pair of bright stars; this star is blue-white and 6.5 magnitude, while its companion, 1.75′ to the S very slightly P, has a slight reddish cast and is 7thmagnitude. NGC 869 has  large magnitude range, and the majority of the brighter stars are in the central region around the 6.5-magnitude star. There are several largish ellipses of brightish stars on the P side, about 7-8′ P the pair of 6.5-magnitude stars; these contain many of the fainter cluster stars. The majority of the brighter stars in the cluster are in the 10.5-11thmagnitude range.

The center of NGC 884 lies 26′ F very slightly N of the 6.5-magnitude star at the center of NGC 869. NGC 884 is a little less detached than NGC 869, with a smaller range of magnitudes and a slightly-dimmer average magnitude (11th?). It’s also somewhat smaller at about 12′ and a little less rich than 869 (about a hundred stars). The central region of 884 is marked by a pair of small triangles. The more-northern triangle is slightly smaller; at its NP end is an 8th-magnitude star, the brightest in this triangle (and second-brightest in this central part of the cluster); due S of this star by 0.5′ is a 9.5-magnitude star; S slightly F the first star by 0.4′ is a 10th-magnitude star. From the NP vertex of this triangle S very slightly F by 2.25′ is the brightest in the second triangle—an 8.5-magnitude star—which is the S-most vertex in this second triangle. Due N of this star by 0.75′ is a 9th-magnitude star, and N very slightly F the first (S-most) vertex by 0.5′ is a 9.5-magnitude star. From the NP vertex of the first triangle N very slightly P by 6′ s a 6.5-magnitude star; there’s a 7th-mag star NF that one by 12′. The first triangle is in the S end of the richest part of the cluster; the second triangle has some threshold star in it and a few around it that are just above threshold, but this part of the cluster is still somewhat less rich in this aperture.  Along the axis of the two triangles (NP-SF) are obvious clumps of faint stars, one 6′ NP the NP triangle and one 6′ SF the SF triangle. N of the first triangle and running parallel with its NF side is a trio of 10th/11th-magnitude stars that’s 0.5′ end-to-end.  A number of bright stars are scattered around the P and N sides of the field, but these may well be unassociated with the cluster itself.

It hardly needs to be said that this is a magnificent area of the sky—these two clusters would each be one of the highlights of the autumn, and together are one of the most spectacular objects in the heavens!

 

II. The next night it was Dan’s turn to pass, as he had work obligations the next day. Conditions were somewhat better, even down to the temperature. Jerry had the Revolution imager this time, and he arrived just after me into the clearing. We were later tonight; I felt less urgency in getting out to the site, as I had dinner with the in-laws and a visiting family friend, and the constellations I was going to search could use just a little more time to rise to a good viewing position.

Tonight was a night for Big Game. I was counting on two specific objects tonight and not much else; instead, it turned out to be a considerably productive night.

12/5/18
EAGLE’S REST (gravel pit)
MOON: 28 days; 4% illuminated, rose at 5:39 AM
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6 (variable, some cirrus coming through)
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.2

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid-upper 40s, some thin clouds rolling through, breezy but not affecting inside clearing, damp but not much dew

Others present: JO

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

8:40
M33; NGCs 604, 595; ICs 135, 136, 137, 139, 140, 143; A14, A115?, A116? (Tri): Going to start tonight with another that I’ve been dreading, making sure that I get it while the sky conditions are pretty good. M33, the Pinwheel Galaxy, is one of the most remarkable objects in the sky—to my mind, the most spectacular galaxy visible from Earth, although more dependent on sky conditions than the more-celebrated M31. Even at first glance a number of nebulous patches are visible in the easily-traced spiral arms. The galaxy extends a huge 40′ x 16′ (at least) S very slightly P-N very slightly F, with a brighter interior pattern of milky spiral arms and a mottled 2.5′ diameter core region, although a possible flicker of a stellar nucleus may also be visible. On the N edge of the core is a somewhat-bright star; on the NP side of the core is a dark fissure or gap. Of the spiral arms, the “heavy” one, starting F the core and sweeping S to SP, is the most obvious and detailed, although the arm that contains NGC 604 [the Herschel object here], which starts P the core and sweeps N to NF, is also plainly apparent. To the S, 16′ S of the core, is an 8th-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field, and the galaxy extends past this to the S.

Both of these arms are speckled with knots and puffs of visible starstuff; my identifications of most of these have a slight bit of uncertainty to them. A scattering of faint (13thmagnitude and fainter) stars are visible across the galaxy’s face, and a prominent pattern of six of these is notable S of the core. These six stars extend SP-SF and wrap around one of the larger knots (IC 139/140) in the S spiral arm; this knot is about 5′ SF the core toward the N end of the southern arm and extends 2′ x 1′ S very slightly P-N very slightly F in averted vision. SP this large knot by 5.75′ is another patch (IC 137) toward the most-obvious part of the S end of that spiral arm; this patch is 1.25′ in diameter, and makes up, with IC 139/140, much of that heavy southern arm, which sweeps a little bit S and P from IC 137. SP the core by 7′, P the two larger glows that make up much of the southern arm, is another small spot (A14?) that’s a little bit fainter than most of the previous and about 0.5′ in diameter, with a substellar knot within it. F very slightly S of the core by 6′ is yet another diffuse or nebulous patch (IC 135) that’s 1′ across; this one is fainter than the ones in the heavy southern arm, but seems itself to be part of an extension or short arm that juts out F the core and then S; this extension is N and F of the heavy arm. Another patch (IC 136) is to the S of the previous, 8′ SF the galaxy’s core, and these two make up the bulk of the definable extent of this third arm/extension; the second of these patches is the larger, about 1.5′ long. NP the core by 4′ is another small spot (NGC 595) that’s 0.25′ across; it’s more difficult than the previous (A14), and has a 14th-magnitude star 1.5′ NF it. 8′ NF the core is another glowing patch (IC 143) within the northern arm of the galaxy, and this spot is somewhat larger but fainter than 595, with a 14th-magnitude star just on its F edge that detracts from the view of the patch.

NGC 604 itself lies due NF the core by 12′. It’s about 0.5′ across and has an 11th-magnitude star 1′ to the SF and a 13th-magnitude star 1.25′ to the S; these stars and NGC 604 form a small triangle, whose third side (between the two stars) is just over 1′. NGC 604 has a distinctly brighter center and is fringy on the edges, like a small planetary nebula. The visible extent of the galaxy stretches at least 10′ further N and P beyond 604. At times, the transparency seems to clear and the northern arm of the galaxy stands out nearly as well as the southern, making the galaxy’s noted ‘S’-shape unmistakable. This isn’t even the best I’ve seen M33 (that might’ve been at the Mill Creek Retreat near Van Buren, MO), and it’s still so detailed that I don’t know if the description here is adequate. A very faint satellite runs N of the galaxy, moving from SF to NP, during my observation.

With the UHC filter, the galaxy comes even further to life, its glow diminished much less overall than I would have expected. NGC 604 is much brighter with the filter, although its center is quite diminished—is this the site of a star cluster? The nebula is elongated slightly P slightly N-F slightly S. NGC 595 is also well enhanced and brighter than the rest aside from 604. IC 135 also becomes more apparent with the filter. SP the core by 17′ is another nebulous spot (A116?), probably an HII region given that I didn’t note its presence without the filter. 6′ N of this spot is another obvious 0.3′ spot (A115?). In general, the S half of the galaxy is more enhanced by the UHC than is the N half.

A spectacular object in all. I could’ve spent a whole night on it alone—and probably will at some point.

9:12
NGC 1348 (Per): This problematic cluster required parts of two nights to positively track down, for some reason; it’s not really that difficult (although the seeing isn’t great right now). It’s not overly well detached and fairly poor, with no more than twenty stars in a 7′ x 4′ area (major axis P-F, minor N-S). Most of the stars are of magnitude 13 and fainter. The main body of the cluster is fairly compact, with a not-quite-square frame. The SP corner of the almost-square is the cluster’s brightest star at 11thmagnitude; due F by 1.25′ is a 12th-magnitude star; due N of the 11th-magnitude star by 1.3′ is a 13th-magnitude star; the fourth vertex of the almost-square is NF the 11th-magnitude star by 2′ and is 13.5 magnitude.. The majority of the stars in the cluster are along the S edge of the square or just S of it; these are weakly resolvable at best, with a number of 14th-magnitude-and-fainter stars among them. An 4.5′-long arc of stars bends SP and then P from the 11th-magnitude star on the almost-square’s SP, terminating on the P end with a 12th-magnitude star. There’s a bright asterism of five stars on the P edge of the field, due P the cluster; it consists of three 10th/11th-magnitude stars in a P-F line and two more that arc 4′ N and then NP from the star on the F end of the line. Several other 10th/11th-magnitude stars inhabit the field—none of the 10th-magnitude stars stands out as being brighter than any other. N very slightly P the cluster lucida by 11′ is the S-most of a prominent pair, which is 10.5 magnitude; its 12th-magnitude companion lies due N by 1′.

9:32
NGC 1582 (Per): This is a considerably large but fairly sparse cluster, with a number of brightish stars. It’s not well detached, and could simply be a slightly-denser Milky Way field. There’s a pretty wide range of magnitudes here, from 9thto 14th, although which ones are actual cluster members is hard to determine from a simply visual scan of the field. The cluster consists primarily of a pair of arcs, offset against each other like a pair of misaligned parentheses; taken together, they form a rough ellipse some 18′ x 9′. The northern arc begins with a 9th-magnitude star at the P end of the cluster. F slightly N of this star by 4′ is the P-most of a close trio; this star is 10thmagnitude, with another 10th-magnitude star N slightly F by 0.5′ and a 12th-magnitude star due F the second 10th-magnitude star by 0.25′. The final star in this N arc is 7.5′ F slightly N the first star in the arc and is just a shade fainter. The southern arc begins with a 9th-magnitude star 9′ SF the F-most star in the northern arc; due F this 9th-magnitude star by 3.25′ is a 9.5-magnitude star, and a 10th-mgnitude star is NF the previous star by 4.5′; this last has a 12th-magnitude star F slightly S of it by 6″. About 1/3 of the way from the star on the F end of the northern arc and the star on the P end of the southern arc is a 1.5′-wide string of seven 12th/14th-magnitude stars running P-F. SP the star at the P end of the northern arc is a small pentagon with a very small S edge: the N-most star in the pentagon is the brightest at 10thmagnitude and is closest to the star at the P end of the northern arc at 5′. F slightly S of this star by 2′ is another 10th-magnitude star with a 12.5-magnitude star SP it by 0.67′. From the second 10th-magnitude star SP by 2.25′ is an 11th-magnitude star; 0.67′ due P that star is another of 11thmagnitude (these last two make up the short S edge of the pentagon); and NP that star by 2.5′ is an 11.5-magnitude star that’s the pentagon’s final vertex. If this pentagon is part of the cluster, it extends the cluster’s area to 23′ x 9′.

With M33 and NGC 604 off my list of Herschels, and time still being in great supply, I decided to catch the next one early.

10:02
M31, M32, NGC 206 (And): M31 may not be at the same level of detail as M33, but it’s still a huge object that would reward greater scrutiny with a more-detailed chart. The galaxy is a vast glow, seemingly more tangible than any other galaxy in the northern hemisphere. It’s elongated SP-NF and extends at least 106′ x 24′, measuring the width from the P-most of the dark lanes to the F side. The huge core is at least 4′, with a substellar nucleus easily visible. Two dark lanes are notable on the P side: one due P the core by 4′ and the other 2.5′ P the first. The lane closer to the core is 1′ at its widest and runs 30′ SP-NF; this one is the more prominent of the two, by dint of having greater contrast against the smooth glow of the galaxy’s halo. The second dark lane cuts off the halo on the P side (there’s some very weak halo-glow on its P side, but not enough to make the dark lane stand out as much as the first one does) and is 0.75′ wide and 23′ long; it is more diffuse and less-defined on its S end, where it gradually disappears as the halo fades out.

SsP the nucleus is an embedded star of 12.5 magnitude. There are a number of stars embedded here, and a prominent group of them lies N of the nucleus by 10′-12′. NF this group, 22′ N of the nucleus, is a 9th-magnitude star that’s the brightest embedded in the halo. SF the nucleus by 23′ is M32: this satellite galaxy is elongated 2.75′ x 1.75′ N slightly P-S slightly F, and quite well defined (unlike M31, which fades away indistinctly into the sky background). M32 has a very bright almost-stellar nucleus but not much of a core; the brightness increases gradually from halo to core, then very suddenly to the nucleus. N slightly P M32 by 5.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star.

NGC 206, the Herschel object here, lies 38′ SP the nucleus of M31. This stellar association, listed as a nebula in both Sky Safari and Sky Atlas 2000.0 (my two primary sources now), is elongated N-S and extends 4.0′ x 1.5′.  It’s very diffuse, and not particularly bright but certainly obvious when panning across M31. A 13th-magnitude star sits just F off its N end. Averted vision really helps to bring out the full extent of 206. SP the object by 7.5′ is the N-most of a N-S pair of 10.5-magnitude stars separated by 2.5′; with the S star maybe another 0.3-magnitude fainter. The UHC filter may give NGC 206 a slight bit of contrast boost, but not really enough to make a statement about the object’s composition without consulting a good reference.

I’ll return to M31 et al. on another occasion to do a more-definitive exploration of it (including at powers high enough to track down some of its globular clusters). For now, though, this was a really fine view of our closest major neighbor in space. (I explored and took notes on M110 back in October, so skipped it tonight.)

10:30
NGC 1514 (Tau): This is an excellent, large planetary nebula with a bright (10thmagnitude) central star. I’ve taken sketchy notes on this one before, but this will be a better visit. The nebula is extremely diffuse, elongated a bit NP-SF (2.5′ x 2.25′). With the OIII—I found the nebula with the UHC still in the eyepiece after examining NGC 206—the nebula’s elongation is much more noticeable and its outer perimeter is better defined.  The swirly, irregularly-bright  internal structure that gives the nebula its name (the Crystal Ball Nebula) really stands out in the OIII; there’s a prominent small dark notch intruding inward from the S slightly P edge. 10″ N very slightly P the central star is a particularly bright speck or knot which appears more easily and is steadily holdable in averted vision. The nebula’s perimeter is considerably more ragged with the OIII in, especially along the SP and NF, where it’s more diffuse. The nebula sits within a field of bright stars. 8′ due S of the central star is an 8.5-magnitude star; another 8.5-mag star is N very slightly P the nebula by 9′, and there’s a 9.5-magnitude star 14′ P slightly N of the nebula. A few very faint (14th/14.5-magnitude) stars lie within a 7′ radius of the nebula.

10:58
NGC 1535 (Eri): Night of the Showpiece Objects continues with this outstanding planetary nebula, located in the hinterlands of Eridanus. (I’m actually observing it through a gap in the trees.) It’s a bright one and easy to sweep up, even low in the sky and with no filter. It’s 0.67′ in diameter and round, with a distinct blue cast to the usual planetary-nebula grey. Even without a filter, the edges of the nebula are fuzzy with an obvious outer fringe. It has a notably-brighter inner region and an obvious central star (13thmagnitude?). The OIII filter really brightens the nebula although further details at this magnification are quite fleeting. The surrounding field is quite populous with stars; due P the nebula is a small triangle of 13.5/14th-magnitude stars, with the long side to the S. SP the nebula by 7.5′ is the F-most vertex of an isosceles triangle, a 10th-magnitude star; there’s a 10.5-magnitude star SP that star by 3.5′ and a 12th-magnitude star 3.5′ NP the 10th-magnitude star, and these three form the triangle. F very slightly S of the nebula is a further diamond of strs, the N-most two of which are the brightest: P-most of these is the brightest at 11thmagnitude; NF that star by 1.75′ is an 11.2-magnitude star; from that star SF by 2.75′ is a 12.5-magnitude star; 2.25′ P slightly S of that star is a 12th-magnitude star. (I didn’t get much time on the nebula with the OIII as the nebula disappeared back into the trees.)

11:22
NGC 1647 (Tau): A very large, loose open cluster, fairly detached due to the relative diminishing of the Taurus Milky Way in its vicinity. It’s still pretty obviously a cluster, rather than a field of random brightish stars. It’s also quite large, about 40′ x 30′, with the major axis running P-F (minor axis N-S). Sixty stars are here, the majority between 10.5 and 12thmagnitude. There are a lot of pairs and little triangles in the cluster; the most obvious feature of the cluster being a small triangle in the center of the N edge. This triangle consists of  9th- and 9.3-magnitude stars, separated by 0.5′, with the brighter P slightly N of the fainter, and a 12th-magnitude star 0.75′ due S of the 9th-magnitude star. 5′ SP the 9th-magnitude star is the brighter of a pair; these are 10thand 10.5 magnitude, with the brighter 0.75′ S of the fainter. Due P the first triangle is another triangle: its brightest star is 10′ P the 9th-magnitude star in the first triangle, and is 10thmagnitude; 0.67′ N very slightly P that star is an 11.5-magnitude star, and an 11th-magnitude star is N very slightly F the 10th-magnitude star by 0.75′. The brightest star in the cluster is a shade brighter than the first 9th-magnitude star, and is 10′ N very slightly P the former one; a 9.5-magnitude star is N very slightly P this brightest star by 2′. Due S of the cluster, 22′ due S of the first 9th-magnitude star is a 7.5-magnitude star, and a 6th-magnitude star 5′ to the SF is the brightest in the field.

By now, I was actually tired. We hadn’t been out that long, but it felt like we had. Rather than overextend our welcome, and with an hour’s drive home, we decided it was getting to be time to close out the session. My final object, though, turned into something of a puzzle.

11:41
NGCs 1746, 1750, 1758 (Tau): I haven’t had one of these cases of confused identity since I was working through Cygnus, but here we are. NGC 1746 supposedly contains the smaller clusters NGC 1750 and 1758, but my sources here aren’t much help. (Archinal & Hynes would come to my rescue, but after this observation; I would re-observe these the next night, with clearer notes.) Just looking at the agglomeration of stars in the eyepiece, it’s not really possible to discern two or three separate objects here. 1746, overall, is a 40′ spray of about ninety stars of all sorts of magnitudes. I would suspect [wrongly] that NGC 1750 is the fainter, slightly-richer patch on the NF side; there’s a concentration of faint stars there that might be a single collective. The F side of 1746 is bounded by a “crook” of bright stars: The N-most of these is 8th magnitude; SF it by 9′ is a 7.5-magnitude star; SP that star by 13′ is another 8th-magnitude star; S very very slightly P  that star by 8′ is another 7.5-magnitude star. These four make up the F boundary of the cluster, but the three northernmost also bracket the clump of fainter stars that may be NGC 1750. The primary component of “1750” is a small clump of stars that’s S of the N-most of the previous four stars by 6′. This clump is 0.75′ x 0.5′ and oriented S very slightly P-N very slightly F; it contains six or seven stars in a roughly-diamond shape, with the brightest in the clump (at 10.5 magnitude) on the S tip of the diamond. There are a couple of other faint stars just N of the diamond and a scattering to the S and SF. P the first clump by 6.5′ is another smaller clump of five even fainter stars (12th-14thmagnitudes). P this second clump is a tiny equilateral triangle of 11.5- and 12.5-magnitude stars about 0.67′ on a side. S very slightly P the triangle by 8.5′ is the N-most of a pair, which is 9.5 magnitude and has a 10th-magnitude star due S by 0.3′. If this is indeed NGC 1750 here, it’s about 6′ across and not overly rich but with a fairly-small range of magnitudes. NGC 1758 is also contained here, but I’m at a loss where it might be.

With a mystery to solve and a better forecast for the next (and final) night of the December run, I had some more research to do.

III. One last December night, unless the nights on the other side of Full Moon were as inviting. Even though this particular night was New Moon, the Clear Sky Chart for the next two nights wasn’t promising, and the 10-day forecast was downright bleak. Not wanting to even consider the possibility of good nights in January, I planned to make this last December night even more productive than the previous one had been.

Jerry was there, and both Dans (B and R). Jerry had the 20″ TriDob, and Dan B had an array of scopes, including his 11″ SCT and a 5″ refractor. Throughout the night, we had to stop and look at objects in each others’ scopes, because they were too good to pass up: Comet Wirtanen, M74, M77, the Horsehead Nebula, NGC 1055, and the tight Mars/Neptune conjunction. My notes also recorded a lengthy conversation about comedy and what fit the definition.

I borrowed a spare observing chair from Jerry (thanks, Jerry!). It made observing infinitely more comfortable, and reminded me that I still hadn’t repaired my own chair.

12/6/18
EAGLE’S REST (gravel pit)
MOON: New
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.35
NELM: not checked

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid-40s, very little breeze, damp but not much dew, a few clouds low in sky that did not intrude on the areas observed

Others present: JO, DB, DR

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

7:29
NGC 1502 (Cam): Starting with a very underappreciated object, NGC 1502. This is a beautiful, well-detached and obvious cluster, pretty rich (fifty stars), with a large range of magnitudes. I know the Toadstool asterism is pretty far from here, but that’s exactly what this cluster reminds me of: the tip of this toadstool’s cap points NP, the stalk runs NP-SF, and a number of faint stars S of the “stalk” represent the ground. The most obvious feature here is a pair of 7th-magnitude stars, separated 0.3′ NP-SF, which lie in the middle of the S edge of the toadstool’s cap. This double also forms the SF edge of a small parallelogram; both members of the double have a 13.5-magnitude star N of them: the S component of the double has its companion 0.25′ to the N and the N component has its companion 0.3 to the N. A lot of pairs/doubles abound in this cluster; another lies 1.25′ P the S component of the 7th-magnitude pair, with an 11.5-magnitude star 4″ NP a 12.5-magnitude secondary. Due N of that 11.5-magnitude star by 0.5′ is another of the same magnitude; the two 11.5-mag stars form the parallelogram with the 7th-magnitude pair. An 8th-magnitude star, 5′ NP the N-most of the 7th-magnitude stars, serves as the top of the toadstool’s cap. The P side of the toadstool runs from that star 4.5′ SP to a 10th-magnitude star that has a 10.5-magnitude star N very slightly F it by 0.75′. The S side of the toadstool runs 5′ from the SP vertex to a 10.5-magnitude star; from this star, the F side of the toadstool spans 6.25′ back up to the 8th-magnitude star NP. Between the SF vertex and the 7th-magnitude pair, 1′ P the SF vertex, is another interesting double, with the brighter component NF the fainter by 3″; these are 11th  and 12thmagnitudes. The stalk of the toadstool is represented on its P side by 10th– and 11th-magnitude stars separated NP-SF by 1.75′. The “ground” here runs parallel with the S side of the toadstool and runs an average of 4.5′ S of it; it’s represented by a series of 13-magnitude and fainter stars, with a couple slightly brighter toward the P end. A bright pair is P the cluster, with an 8th-magnitude star NF a 10th-magnitude star by 0.75′; the 8th-magnitude star is 5.5′ SP the star at the tip of the toadstool. The brightest star in the field, at 7thmagnitude, lies 20′ SP the star at the tip of the toadstool.

7:45
NGC 1501 (Cam): This lovely planetary nebula is an excellent example of the type, a ghostly but obvious disk that’s completely obvious even sans filter. It’s about 0.75′ across and largely round, with no real color or central star visible (which is surprising; I’d always thought 1501 to be one of the planetaries with a bright central star). Even at this low magnification, there’s a lot of interior mottling visible, as with NGC 1514 but not quite so obvious. The edges of the nebula are a little more diffuse on the NP and SF. With the OIII filter, not much detail is added; the bright outer rim of the disk is a little more substantial, and a small void seems to lie just inside the N edge. The nebula lies in the middle of the F side of a triangle of 13th– and 14th-magnitude stars; this side of the triangle is 5′ long. The brightest of the three vertices of the triangle is to the NP of the nebula. Due S of the nebula by 6′ is a double/pair oriented N very slightly P-S very slightly F, with the brighter the more northern of the two by 12″; these are 13thand 13.5 magnitudes. This double sits at the F end of a 2.25′ line with two even-fainter stars. NP the nebula by 9′ is a 9.5-magnitude star with a 10th-magnitude star NP it by 5.5′. F the nebula by 11′ is the brightest in the field, an 8th-magnitude star.

8:30
NGC 1579 (Per): This small nebula is pretty easy even without a filter. It’s very diffuse, with no “clean” edges to it, and brightest on its F side. With averted vision, there appear to be two separate lobes, with a fainter one SP the main mass as if there’s a dark lane separating them. The whole is elongated SP-NF and about 2.0′ x 1.0′. Averted vision also brings out a couple of stars near/at the center of the brightest part of the nebula (the central 0.5′). S of the nebula (and a very slight bit P) by 2.25′ is a faint double star, with 12.5- and 13.5-magnitude components separated by 0.3′, with the brighter P slightly N of the fainter. 2.5′ due N of the nebula’s center is an 11th-magnitude star; 9.5′ further N  is another 11th-magnitude star. NF the nebula by 2.75′ is a 12.5-magnitude star with a 13.5-magnitude companion 0.75′ SP it. The brightest star in the field is due P the nebula by 12′ and is 7thmagnitude. S of the nebula by 12′ is a 9.5-magnitude star that’s the SP end of an arc or crooked line of four; the others in this line are 10th, 10.5, and 12.5 magnitudes and the line trails away to the F slightly N. The UHC filter, as I suspected, is of little help here, as this appears to be a reflection nebula. The only improvement is a very slight contrast boost in the separate lobe to the SP.

9:03
NGC 1605 (Per): This is a really tricky, difficult cluster, one that I could have easily swept over if I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for. It’s really quite faint, almost nebulous, with most of the stars just on or below the threshold level. The cluster actually benefits from rocking the scope slightly to get a fix on it. It’s elongated roughly P-F, and extends 4.75′ x 4.25′. Not at all well detached due to its faintness, but it’s obviously very rich (a count of the stars isn’t possible given their faintness; there’s obviously a very narrow magnitude range here). On the S edge is a line of 13.5/14th-magnitude stars that are the brightest in the cluster, with a knot of them on the SF corner; a couple of these are also on the P edge. The brightest star is 13.5 magnitude and is just inside the cluster’s F edge. The brightest in the field is a 7.5-magnitude star 9.5′ F very slightly S of the cluster. Another brightish (10thmagnitude) star is S very slightly F the cluster by 14′; this star is flanked on the N (by 1.25′) and S (by 0.5′) by 12th-magnitude stars.

9:20
NGCs 1750, 1758 (Tau): A return engagement, trying to make sense of the tangle of clusters (or “clusters”) here. On my previous exploration, I noted the clumps of stars on the cluster’s F (especially NF) side; this is actually NGC 1758, with NGC 1750 being P and SP that area. Starting at the little equilateral triangle of 12th/13th-magnitude stars on the N central part of the field, 1750 is S of that triangle, and also due P the bottom two bright stars on the F edge of what’s considered NGC 1746 (see previous notes). 1750 mostly consists of a large N-S ellipse, 11′ x 7′, which has a small isosceles triangle in its N end, F very very slightly S of the ellipse; the brightest star in both triangle and ellipse is SF the F-most vertex of the tiny equilateral triangle by 1.67′; this star is 9.5 magnitude and is the P-most in the isosceles triangle. F very slightly N of the 9.5-magnitude star by 2.25′ is an 11th-magnitude star; 2.5′ F slightly S of the 9.5-magnitude star is another of 11thmagnitude, and due F the second 11th-magnitude star by 0.25′ is a 13th-magnitude star (there’s a fourth star in the triangle, a 12th-magnitude star on the triangle’s S edge, 1.25′ F very very slightly S of the 9.5-magnitude star). The majority of the stars in 1750 are in the P and SP edges of the ellipse (there are twenty-four in the ellipse in total); the most obvious feature here is a bright double star of 10th– and 10.2-magnitude stars, with the fainter S of the brighter by 0.3′, and this pair is near the P slightly S edge of the ellipse. NGC 1750 is not well detached at all from the rest of NGC 1746, let alone from the background, and it’s not certain what led to it being considered a separate object. P very slightly N of the 10/10.2-magnitude double star by 18′ is a small, faint asterism that looks like a backward Lyra, with its triangle to the NF corner; the stars in this asterism are all in the 12.5/14th-magnitude range. N and NF “Lyra” is an 11′ long line of stars that stretches SP-NF and has ten stars of a wide range of magnitudes in it; the brightest of these is 8.5 magnitude.

9:58
NGC 1664 (Aur): this is a welcome break from very faint or barely-existent clusters. This striking object is just off the “nose” of Auriga. It looks for all the world like a Valentine-heart balloon with a long, trailing string (Jerry called it the Kite Cluster, but says that it looks like a stingray.) It’s 12′ long N very slightly P-S very slightly F, and 6′ at its widest (across the heart). There are sixty stars here, so it’s quite rich, and the majority of these are in the 11th/12.5-magnitude range. A number of slightly-brighter stars are along the F edge. The cluster is quite well detached from the starfield and is very obviously a cluster, as opposed to a chance gathering. S very slightly F by 6′ from the star where the “heart” meets the “string” is the brightest star in the field, which is magnitude 7.5. The heart opens to the N very slightly P and the string runs S and arcs S very slightly P at its S end. The string contains nine prominent stars and is 7′ long. Between the two lobes of the heart and running NP is a fairly obvious string of six 13th-magnitude and fainter stars.

The temperatures had plummeted throughout the evening, but the transparency—pretty variable throughout the entire week—had become considerably better. It wouldn’t last, but it didn’t need to for much longer.

10:36
NGCs 1817, 1807 (Tau): A pair of large open clusters S of the horns of Taurus, these two are a good example of contrast. NGC 1817 is the Herschel object here, but as it would be a waste not to take notes on nearby 1807 (a pretty fine cluster in its own right) I’m going to do so. NGC 1817 is pretty large (15′ x 13′, major axis P-F), quite rich (eighty stars?), and well detached. It’s roughly rectangular, with a high concentration of 12th-magnitude stars; the only concentration of brighter stars is on the P side. The NP corner of the cluster is marked by a 9th-magnitude star, the brightest in the cluster, and it has an 11th-magnitude star 0.3 to its F very slightly N. Three other bright stars line the cluster’s P side: (from N-S) a 9.5-magnitude star SF the 9th-magnitude star by 5.5′, another 9.5-magnitude star S slightly P the previous one by 2.67′, and a third of 9.5 magnitude 3.25′ S slightly F that star. (The N-most of these is very slightly brighter than the others, the S-most very slightly fainter.) The second of these, the P-most, is surrounded by several fainter stars (11th/13thmagnitude) to the N and S. Outside the S boundary of the cluster is an interesting pair, two 10.5-magnitude stars separated N very slightly P-S very slightly F by 0.25′, 19′ SF the 9th-magnitude star on the NP corner. Toward the F side of the cluster are two obvious clumps of stars, one on the NF corner and one on the SF. The clump on the SF is slightly brighter and contains six stars, while the NF clump is larger and roughly V-shaped (pointing toward the P side), with nine stars in it. NGC 1807 lies 23′ P very slightly S of the NP corner of 1817. It’s much brighter but coarser and less rich, with thirty stars in a 14′ x 10′ area (major axis P-F). The N-S axis is marked by a majority of the cluster’s brighter stars, including a bright triangle in the middle of the line. The NP vertex of this triangle is a double star, consisting of 10thand 11th-magnitude stars separated by 10:, with the fainter due P the brighter. S very very slightly F by 1.25′ is a 9th-magnitude star; from the primary of the double due F by 1.25′ is a 10th-magnitude star. The cluster is a vague stick figure, like NGC 457, with its head to the P slightly S and the feet stretched toward NGC 1817; the arms extend N and S from the central triangle. The star at the S end of the figure’s arms is the brightest (at magnitude 8.5) and S-most in the cluster, and is 5.5′ S very slightly F the double star; a 95-magnitude star sits at the N end of the arms, 5′ N very slightly F the double.

11:10
NGC 1857 (Aur): A pretty cluster to end with, as it’s considerably colder now and the transparency (so good not long ago) is starting to decline. This is a well-detached cluster, even in the rich Auriga Milky Way. It has a huge magnitude range, from a 7th-magnitude star just N of the cluster’s center down to 14thmagnitude. The cluster is considerably rich, with some sixty stars packed into a 9′ x 8′ area (major axis SP-NF) that’s shaped something like a five-pointed star. The majority of the faintest cluster members are gathered toward the S, S of the lucida. Aside from the 7th-magnitude star, the most obvious feature of the cluster is a star-chain running from the lucida SP, twelve stars in a 5′ arc that terminates at a 12th-magnitude star that also serves as the tip of one of the five-point star’s branches. Another branch extends 4.5′ S from the lucida and ends at an 11th-magnitude star. NP the lucida by 3.5′ is a 9th-magnitude star; just S of the lucida by 0.75′ is a small group of three or four faint stars of 12thand 13thmagnitudes. To the S end is a clump of ten very faint (13.5 magnitude and fainter) stars; this clump is 1′ x 0.3′, with its major axis N-S. Just N of the lucida is a scattering of cluster members. N of the cluster by 14′ is a prominent triangle of 9th– and 10th-magnitude stars. NP the lucida by 18′ is a 7.5-magnitude star; another of the same magnitude lies due P the lucida by the same distance.

By the time I finished my notes, we’d been observing for almost exactly four hours. But, as with the previous nights, they’d been extremely productive hours. I felt like I could observe for several more, but I also knew the drive home would be taxing, and the “observing rush” would fade by the time I got home. Considering how rarely I got to observe in December here in Oregon, every object I managed to take notes on was a year-end bonus. So we tore down scopes for the evening, pleased with what December had given us and hardly daring to hope that January might be as generous.

 

In That Quiet Earth

I. With a successful October observing run in the books, I immediately began to resign us to striking out the rest of the fall and through the winter—there was no way we could be lucky enough to get another stretch of clear, Moonless nights until April. Could we? It seemed to be a fundamental truth of living in the Pacific Northwest that we were damned to miss the wonders of the winter skies entirely, save for possible fleeting glances through rapidly-closing sucker holes in the clouds: the astronomy equivalent of Whack-A-Mole.

And yet the forecast for New Moon week in November held promise, at least in its second half. So when the night of New Moon rolled around, and the Clear Sky Chart promised a decent evening of observing, there was no hesitation in making the drive up Eagle’s Rest and braving the chilly temperatures to proceed in my quest to observe more of the Herschel 800.

Only three of us made the trip: Jerry, Dan B, and my Australopithicene self. We’d obviously expected more, as we set up in the road junction, rather than the flatter, smaller spur road site. Conditions weren’t all that great—it was hazy, and even a strong, consistent breeze wasn’t enough to keep a heavy layer of dew from settling in from the get-go—but even mediocre skies would do when the next clear night could be months away. By the time the sky darkened enough to observe, even a muted Milky Way was a welcome sight. I picked up in Cygnus, with the two objects I had remaining there.

11/07/18

EAGLE’S RIDGE
MOON: New
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6, 5
SQM: 21.18
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 40s, cold and clammy, windy, dewy

Others present: JO, DB

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

7:15
NGC 6826 (Cyg): A fine object to start November’s run with—The Blinking Planetary. This one is way up high in Cygnus now. It’s a very bright, fairly small planetary, roughly the same size as the Saturn Nebula at 20″ round. The famous blinking effect is easily apparent on this night, the 10.5-magnitude central star swallowed up by the nebulosity in averted vision. At this aperture and magnitude, there’s little structure seen, although there’s a fuzziness to the nebula’s edge that’s not visible directly, especially on the N edge; the nebula may be elongated very slightly P-F. With the O-III filter in, the nebula dominates the entire field and overwhelms its own central star. The blinking effect disappears with the filter in. The nebula’s fringe is more apparent, and it swells the size of the nebula to over 20″. Any hint of internal detail there may have been is washed out in the overall brightness of the planetary with the filter in place.  The field is fairly dense with brighter stars: due S of the nebula by 1.67′ is an 11.5-magnitude star; 16′ due N of the nebula is an 8.5-magnitude star, the brightest in the field. 16′ N very slightly P the nebula is a 9th-magnitude star that is the F-most and brightest vertex in a small triangle that’s oriented roughly N-S; from that star -.5′ N very very slightly P is a 10.5-magnitude star, and a also a an 11th-magnitude star 0.75′ SP the 9th-magnitude star.  S very slightly P the nebula by 10′ is a 10th-magnitude star that’s the brightest and S-most star in a smallish trapezoid of six stars: some of these are within the trapezoid, and all six range to about 13thmagnitude. The trapezoid is 2′ x 1.75′ with the major axis running SP-NF and the brightest star as the SP vertex. 28′ due P the nebula—and thus outside the field—is a bright double star [16 Cygni] which is in a lijne of three doubles/pairs; 16 Cyg consists of two 6th-magnitude stars separated NP-SF by 0.67′.

With both of my remaining Cygnus objects being planetary nebulae—the ghostly death-shrouds of Sun-like stars—I opted to stay with that object class for the rest of the evening (not realizing that the evening would be fairly short). Observing planetary nebulae practically demands the use of an oxygen-III filter, which suppresses all wavelengths of light beyond the oxygen-III band (in which planetary nebulae happen to radiate their strongest) so that the nebulae appear brighter and more contrasty. My O-III filter is particularly suppressive, so that it’s somewhat difficult to use, and its threads don’t mate up with those in my workhorse eyepiece, the ES 14mm 82˚ Nagler clone. This being the case, I kept the filter handy and minimized the amount of threading in/unthreading it as much as possible.

Worse than the filter issues, the dew had become a considerable nuisance. I had to constantly check my secondary mirror  to ensure that it was clear, and it took several uses of Jerry’s hair dryer to keep the secondary from being useless; it was during my observations of the next object—of which I took three separate sets of notes, reflective of the dew status of the secondary—that I first noticed how far gone the secondary had become. Despite having a permanently-mounted secondary heater, the dew at some of our sites often simply overwhelmed the technology. (I need to crank up the sensitivity of the heater so that it works more consistently, but this requires taking the secondary out, and uses more 9-volt battery power.)

7:45
NGC 7008 (Cyg): The Night of the Planetary Nebulae continues with the Fetus Nebula, perhaps my favorite object in the whole class. It’s a quite large object with irregular brightness and a wealth of detail. The appearance of the nebula as a whole is not entirely unlike that of the Crescent Nebula. The central star isn’t visible but the nebula’s interior is mottled and teeming with structure. The nebula isn’t quite elliptical; it’s more a rounded-cornered diamond or an ellipse laid over a rhombus. It’s elongated mostly N-S with a P-F minor axis, 1.5′ x 1.0′. The N half of the nebula has more detail than the S half, and the F side is dominated by a dark void, almost like an “opening” there, as if the nebula had been bent around it. There may be a very faint star embedded in the NP quadrant, or it may be a small knot of brighter nebulosity. A bright double star sits on the S slightly F tip of the nebula, with the brighter component at 9.5 magnitude and a 10.5-magnitude secondary 20″ due S of the primary. With the O-III in, there are several knots on the N end, which is much more morphologically complicated than the S half. The dark void on the SF quadrant is even more apparent, and the brighter portion of the nebula resembles a question mark with a very short stem, with the brighter member of the double star being right on the stem to the S and the dark void as the opening of the “hook.” There’s a much brighter region on the N slightly F edge, about 0.3′ from the due N tip, and another brighter region on the due P side at the end of the nebula’s minor axis, along the arc of the question mark. [It was at this point that I noticed that my secondary mirror had completely dewed over, despite the secondary dew heater; after a good drying, I returned to the nebula.] After the drying, the N end of the nebula is even more impressive; the brightest part of the whole begins at the bright knot in the N end and sweeps SP. There’s another distinct knot on the P edge, and the nebula dips back S and SF from there. Now that the secondary mirror is clear and the filter is out, I can see some of the extra stars that Jerry pointed out from his scope, scattered across the nebula’s face: there’s a threshold star just outside the P edge of the nebula, another just above threshold N very very slightly F the brighter component of the prominent double by 0.5′, and another NF the previous one by 8″. Two other stars are nearby the primary of the double star: 2′ F the primary is a 12th-magnitude star, and SP that primary by 3.5′ is the brighter of another double or pair; these are 11.5 and 12.5 magnitude, separated by 20″, with the brighter P slightly N the fainter. The brightest star in the field is SF the nebula by 15′ and is 10thmagnitude, and a slightly fainter (10.2?) star is NF the nebula by 21′, right on the edge of the field.

8:43
NGC 7354 (Cep): This underappreciated planetary nebula was a bummer to find for some reason, even though I swept for it with the O-III filter still in the eyepiece. With filter in place, its edges are fuzzy and not as well defined as NGC 6826, although the nebula is in size and appearance otherwise quite like 6826 (only a fair amount fainter and somewhat more diffuse). It’s about 22″ diameter, though possibly very slightly elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S; this impression of elongation is fleeting and hard to sustain. No central star is visible, with or without the filter. With the O-III removed, there’s a 14th-magnitude star S very slightly P the nebula, just outside the edge of the halo by 15″, and a threshold star lies SF the nebula by 1.25′. The nebula is still pretty obvious in the unfiltered view. N very slightly P by 3.5′ is the brighter of a pair/double (11.5 and 11.7 magnitudes), with the fainter 0.5′ F the brighter. The fainter of another pair lies 8′ N slightly P the nebula; these are separated by 0.67′ N-S and are 10thand 10.5 magnitude. The brightest star in the field is NF the nebula by 16′ and is 9.5 magnitude. A 10th-magnitude star lies 13′ S very slightly F the nebula. 

It wasn’t enough that the dew was nearly impenetrable and the transparency and seeing were wildly inconsistent; now, clouds were actively starting to seep their way across the northern sky, toward the south. Our New Moon night was about to be curtailed by the same forces of nature that had made it possible in the first place. Time, perhaps, for one more object. 

9:01
NGC 40 (Cep): Way up near the North Celestial Pole, this is a really impressive object. The central star is considerably bright as such go (11thmagnitude) and is surrounded by a small bright internal knot, around which is a dark “ring” or circular void. The nebula is elongated slightly N-S, about 0.75′ x 0.67′. The outer perimeter is quite indistinct and fuzzy. The P edge of the nebula is a bit brighter than the rest, and the F edge is brighter than either the N or S. With the O-III filter, not much changes; it’s actually a surprise how little the filter does. It mostly “blows out” the middle of the nebula and makes it appear more evenly-illuminated, reducing the nebula to two brightness gradients and making the central star vanish. The nebula is bracketed on the NF and S by brightish stars: to the NF is a 9th-magnitude star (the brightest in the field) and to the S is a 9.5-magnitude star. These are both 3.67′ or 3.75′ from the nebula. The star to the NF has a fainter companion (12.5 magnitude) N slightly P of it by 0.5′, and the star to the S has a 10.5-magnitude star 2.75′ P very slightly S of it. SP the nebula’s central star by 1′ is a 12.5-magnitude star, and 13′ N of the nebula is a 9.5-magnitude star.

It had been less than two hours since I began taking notes toward the Herschel lists, but the sky and the dew were conspiring to put an end to the proceedings. I was, surprisingly, not too disappointed—the next few nights had better forecasts, and even a couple of hours under the night sky had been satisfying. After a few looks at some of the fall showpieces, we packed up for the trip down the mountain, knowing that we’d probably be back the next night.

II. We did indeed head back out the next night, spurred on by a CSC forecast that started off good and improved as the day went on. I prepared for a long evening, plugging in my power tank to charge all day, and loading up on extra warm clothing. I was chomping at the bit until the hour before sunset—the time I usually leave, as it gives me a full hour to make the fifty-minute drive and enough remaining daylight to set up without the need for a flashlight.

Only Jerry and Robert A were able to join me on the mountain, so we set up on the spur road, where the ground was flatter. Jerry had his larger trackball scope there, and Robert his terrific 8″ binoscope, most of which was 3D-printed. We chatted while setting up and then settled in while darkness fell.

Rather than proceed into the deep winter skies, which were rising in the east, I continued among the circumpolar constellations—primarily Cepheus and Cassiopeia. My first target for the evening was the Cepheus open cluster NGC 7160, which I had also taken notes on during the second night of our October run (and which I had forgotten to strike from my Sky Safari observing list). A comparison with my impressions from October is enlightening, and demonstrates how differently an abstract object can be viewed from session to session.

11/08/18

EAGLE’S RIDGE  (spur road)
MOON: 1 day; 2% illuminated, set at 6:02 PM
SEEING: 5-8, got better as evening went on
TRANSPARENCY: 7 (variable, some cirrus coming through)
SQM: 21.2
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 40s, no dew, slightly breezy (JO called one of best nights at Eagle’s)

Others present: JO, RA

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

 7:10
NGC 7160 (Cep): This is a bright, compact cluster, but not a very rich one. Depending on how one defines its boundaries, there are between ten and fifteen stars here. The cluster is composed of two main small groups: on the F end, and including the two brightest stars in the cluster, is a small keystone pattern, and on the P side of the cluster is a small triangle. The keystone consists of a 7th-magnitude star with an 8th-magnitude star 1′ SF; NF the 8th-magnitude star by 1.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star, and 0.5′ N very slightly P of the 10th-magnitude star is a 12th-magnitude star. SP the 7th-magnitude star by 1.75′ is the F-most of the triangle, a 9.5-magnitude star; due P by 0.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star, and 0.75′ SP the 10th-magnitude star is a 9th-magnitude star. From the 12th-magnitude star in the keystone to the 9th-magnitude star in the triangle is 4.25′; the minor axis of the cluster runs from the 7th-magnitude star in the keystone to an 11.5-magnitude star 1.75′ NP it. 4′ SF the end of the keystone (and due S of the 8th-magnitude star) is an 11th-magnitude star with an 11.5-magnitude star NF it by 0.5′; if these are part of the cluster, they’re fairly removed from the rest of the cluster. From the brighter of that pair due S by 4.5′ is the dimmer of another pair, which is 11.5 magnitude and has an 11th-magnitude star F very slightly S by 0.5′. From the 7th-magnitude star NP by 10′ is the brightest star in the field, which is 6.5 magnitude.

7:29
NGC 7023 (Cep): A difficult object to observe and describe, the Iris Nebula is an extremely diffuse blotch of reflection nebulosity amid a much darker envelope of dust. The reflection nebulosity is centered on an 8th-magnitude star and runs 2′ N very slightly F of the star and 3.5′ S very slightly P; the brightest bits are N and just S very slightly P of the star. The minor axis is 1.5′ long. In averted vision, there’s a dark notch that approaches the star from the P but doesn’t quite touch the star. The bright nebulosity here has a wispy appearance to it, rather like the Pleiades nebulosity as it appears on photographs. NF the 8th-magnitude star appears to be another faint extension of the nebula. S very slightly F the 8th-magnitude star by 3.25′ is a 12.5-magnitude star, one of the few within 20′ of the “central” star. Much of the field is covered by a “dead zone” of dark nebulosity that rather suddenly yields to a brighter starfield, especially on the F side (it’s a more-gradual yielding on the P side); this dead zone extends a long way (perhaps 20′) S of the 8th-magnitude star, and within it, the only stars of note are a pair of 10.5-magniude stars on the P edge, the closer of which is 7.5′ P very slightly S of the 8th-magnitude star. 4.75′ P very slightly S of this pair is another, fainter pair. This object gives the distinct impression that it has a lot more to reveal in a larger aperture—that the 12.5″ is only scratching at the surface of what can be visible here.

7:44
NGC 7142 (Cep): This is a fine, exceedingly rich cluster of fifty stars with a lot of indefinable starglow strewn within it. At first glance, the cluster isn’t particularly well-detached, but it becomes more “clusterlike” as one observes it and the faint glow of the unresolved stars is drawn out. There’s a fairly-wide range of magnitudes here, although the majority of the resolved stars are within the 13th/14th-magnitude range. The cluster is roughly triangular, pointing toward the N; the F side is 9′ long, the P side is 8′ long, and the S side (the least-defined of the three) is 8.5′ long. The F side is defined by three 10.5-magnitude stars (including the N and SF vertices of the triangle) and bows outward in the middle, with 4.5′-5.0′ between the three stars on that side; the two more northern stars on that side are slightly closer together. The N-most vertex is the S-most and brightest star in a group of five that extends N-ward. The SP vertex of this triangle is 12.5 magnitude. The middle region of the triangle is the richest in terms of resolved stars, while much of the unresolved glow extends from the middle through the P side of the triangle and somewhat beyond. Much of this background glow is almost nebulous in averted vision. There’s a clump near the triangle’s center that’s composed of five 13th-magnitudish stars in a 2′ x 0.75′ area; there’s also another obvious clump in the middle of the P side, containing five 12.5- to 14th-magnitude stars.  The brightest star in the field is 8′ NF the N-most vertex of the triangle, and is 8.5 magnitude.

8:03
NGC 7129 (Cep): A small, poor cluster of six stars with bonus nebulosity. The stars are arranged in a pattern resembling the constellation Delphinus, with the small diamond to the NF side of the cluster and the body/tail stretching to the SP. The star on the P end of the diamond is the cluster’s brightest. The major axis of the diamond runs 1.5′ P-F, the minor axis 1.0′ N-S; the vertex to the N (0.5′ NP the star on the F end of the diamond) is much fainter than the others at threshold level, and is not always held steadily. The P vertex is 10.5 magnitude, the F vertex 12.5 magnitude, and the S vertex 11thmagnitude. SP the star on the P end of the diamond by 2.25′ is the SP end of the “tail,” which is a 10.5-magnitude star; NF that star by 0.67′ is an 11th-magnitude star, the other in the tail. There are stars SF and NP the main pattern of the cluster that are probably not cluster members. The diamond is filled with reflection nebulosity, which is brightest around the two brightest stars and stretches toward the stars in the tail without enveloping them. The brightest star in NGC 7129 is N slightly P the star at the N end of 7142 by 23′.

8:52
NGC 7380 (Cep): This is another nebulous cluster, but far more impressive than the previous. The Wizard Nebula—that this one has a proper name and NGC 7129 doesn’t may say something about their visual interestingness—comprises a fairly-rich cluster of perhaps forty stars in a triangular pattern. The stars span a wide range of magnitudes, and the cluster is pretty well detached and quite obvious in the starfield. The P vertex of the triangle is the cluster’s brightest star at 8.5 magnitude. F that star by 8′ is an 11th-magnitude star and N very very slightly P the 11th-magnitude star is a 10.5-magnitude star; these are the three vertices of the triangle. The cluster itself expands a bit beyond the boundaries of the triangle, to about 12′ overall. S very slightly P the F-most vertex (the 11th-magnitude star) is a 2.5′ string of five or six 12th/13th-magnitude stars. The F edge of the triangle is the best-defined and has many of the cluster’s fainter stars along it; there may be some unresolved stars among the nebular glow. Eight stars (counting the N and P vertices) define the triangle’s N edge, with six along the S edge. The brightest portion of the nebula runs along the F edge of the triangle. Without a filter, it’s hard to tell if there are any other brighter patches, but a dark obscuration runs along the S edge of the triangle, beginning near a bright pair of stars P the cluster (cf.) and running roughly F and somewhat S for 18′; this obscuration is 3.5′-4′ wide. With the UHC filter, the nebulosity is generally much brighter but evenly-illuminated, and mostly spans the confines of the triangle, without many knots or brighter patches. It stretches somewhat NP of the N-most vertex of the triangle. In averted vision, a brighter spot can be seen just N of a 12th-magnitude star that’s 1.67′ N of the SF vertex of the triangle. The view through the O-III filter is only slightly better than the unfiltered view and not a good as with the UHC; in the O-III the little patch on the F side disappears. With both filters, the small chain of stars running S of the SF vertex of the triangle may appear to contain some nebulosity. The pair of stars P the cluster (the pair from which the dark obscuration extends) is P the P-most vertex of the triangle by 6′; these are 9thand 7.5 magnitude, with the brighter NP the fainter by 0.5′. NP the brighter of the two by 9′ is the brightest star in the field, which is 6thmagnitude. From the P vertex N very slightly F by 13′ is another 9th-magnitude star; N slightly F that star by 13′ is another 6th-magnitude star, which has a 10th-magnitude star 0.75′ to the NP.

By this time the previous night, dew and clouds had conspired to drive us off the mountain; tonight, there was no trace of either (although we suspected a few belts of high-level cirrus had been creeping through from time to time). Even my eyepiece case—usually the first thing to get covered with dew—was completely dry. The sky was quickly steadying down as well, and the seeing had already exceeded the predicted level.

9:11
NGC 7419 (Cep): Another among a run of fine, interesting clusters here in Cepheus. This one looks nebulous at first glance but soon resolves into about twenty stars over a haze of beyond-threshold starglow. The cluster is obviously elongated NP-SF, and the 8.5-magnitude star at the NP corner—if an actual cluster member—is far brighter than the rest of the cluster stars (most of which are in the 13.5-and-fainter range). Many of these fainter stars are gathered on the cluster’s S end. The cluster is 4.0′ x 1.5′ with about sixty stars overall. There’s an obvious double or very close pair on the SF end, a pair of 13.5-magnitude stars separated N-S by 4″; halfway between this pair and the bright star on the NP end is a 10.5-magnitude star, and between this star and the double is a granular cloud of faint unresolved stars that resolves into a spray of stars in averted vision. Due F the 10.5-magnitude star is another patch of unresolved stars, 0.25′ across, near the F end of the cluster’s minor axis. Due S of the 10.5-magnitude star by 8′ is a 10th-magnitude star, and from that star F very slightly S by 3′ is a 9.8-magnitude star. 1.25′ NF the 8.5-magnitude star at the NP corner of the cluster is the brighter of a pair (11th– and 13.5-magnitude stars), the fainter N of the brighter by 0.3′. From the 8.5-magnitude star NP by 10′ is the brighter of yet another pair; the brighter of the two is the brightest star in the field at 7.5 magnitude, with a 10th-magnitude companion 10″ S very slightly F the brighter.

9:42
NGC 7510 (Cep): This cluster is a knockout, and a showpiece cluster for this aperture—the best cluster in Cepheus! It’s very rich and well detached, an arrowhead of more than fifty stars set within a triangle of 8thand 8.5-magnitude suns. The member magnitudes range from 9.5 (a single star on the F corner of the cluster) down to threshold level; many of the brighter (10.5-12thmagnitude) stars are in chains across the cluster, the two most-notable of which converge at the 9.5-magnitude star. One of these chains runs along the S edge of the cluster, from the lucida P very slightly S for 2.75′, and contains five stars including the two on the ends; the star on the P end of that chain is 10.5 magnitude. The other prominent chain runs due P from the 9.5-magnitude star and contains four stars (most of which are multiples) plus the lucida. These chains actually don’t stretch all the way to the 9.5-magnitude star; there’s a gap of 1.25′ between that star and the F-most star in each chain, but the illusion is that they both meet at the lucida. The star that marks the cluster’s N-most point is 2.25′ NP the 9.5-magnitude star and is 12.5 magnitude. The majority of the threshold/unresolved stars in the cluster are in the N half between the 12.5-magnitude star and the more northern of the two prominent chains. The sides of the cluster proper are about 2.75′ each, although a couple of much fainter (13.5-magnitude) stars are F the cluster lucida slightly, extending the S edge of the cluster. NF the lucida by 9′ is a bright double/pair, components of which are 8.5 and 12.5 magnitude, with the primary N of the secondary by 10″. F slightly N of this double by 4.5′ is another 8.5-magnitude star, and 19′ SP the double is an 8th-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field; these three stars (the double, the 8th-mag and the 8.5-mag) form the triangle in which the cluster is bounded. This is a superb object that deserves to be much better known!

Seeing had sharpened considerably by this point, and my primary mirror seemed to have long since reached equilibrium. Stars were steady tack-points in the eyepiece. Conditions tonight were proving to be even better than the CSC had predicted, and the seeing was on its way to being the sharpest I’ve experienced here in Oregon.

10:06
NGC 7635 (Cas): The Bubble Nebula seems, on photographs, to be a showpiece object; the reality, however, is quite more underwhelming at this aperture. The majority of the visible nebulosity surrounds a 9th-magnitude “central” star, but without a filter only a 1′ segment, mostly P and N of this star, is plainly seen in direct vision. In averted, the F side of the star, and arcing S-ward, is a hint of the F arc of the bubble itself. With the UHC filter, the nebula is considerably enhanced: the F-side arc of the bubble is much more apparent and defined but still quite faint in averted vision, and the remainder of the bubble is still not seen. The central 1′ glow is also much brighter with the filter, and another detached chunk of nebulosity is apparent some 2′ N of the 9th-magnitude star; this separate section is about 0.5′ across and really improves in averted vision. In the filter, the whole arc of the nebula—from the S end of the F-side arc to the secondary chunk N of the 9th-magnitude star—is about 3.5′ x 2.0′. Overall, this is another object that really would benefit from a substantial increase in aperture. From the 9th-magnitude star SP by 6′ is a the brightest star in the field, at 7th-magnitude, and from the 9th-magnitude star SF by 7.5′ is another of 9thmagnitude. 11′ NP the “central” 9th-magnitude star is a 9.5-magnitude star that’s the N-most vertex of a very flat triangle 1′ long; NF the central star by 13′ is the brightest (at 10th-magnitude) in another small triangle. The impressive M52 is outside the field, 39′ to the NF.

10:34
NGC 7789 (Cas): The autumn sky’s best open cluster! Caroline’s Rose is almost indescribably rich, with 150 or more stars packed into a 14′ round area (a nice change from triangular-ish clusters). It’s very obviously a single entity, and well detached in that it’s considerably denser than any standard Milky Way field. The majority of the stars are of 13thmagnitude or fainter. On the P side, running mostly N-S, is a run of sixteen brighter stars (11th/12thmagnitude), which hooks P a bit on the S end and then back NP for one more star; that last star is the brightest in the run at 10.5 magnitude and the P-most star that’s obviously a cluster member, and then P very very slightly S of that star by 1.67′ is a very small clump (maybe 0.3′ around) with perhaps seven 13th/14th-magnitude stars; even further P slightly N from the 10.5-magnitude star by 4.5′ is an 8.5-magnitude star, and a 9th-magnitude star lies 5.5′ NP from the 8.5-magnitude star. There’s a detached group outside the NF edge of the cluster some 12′ from cluster center; this group is an NP-SF running line with seven stars (and some unresolved) that spans 4′ in length. The famous dark lanes that give the cluster its flower-like appearance are quite obvious tonight. On the N edge of the cluster is a 4.5′ x 1.0′ dark arc whose ends point to the SP and SF; this lane has a few cluster members N of it. The second lane is on the NP corner of the cluster, running NF the aforementioned 10.5-magnitude star, and spans 5′ x 1′; this dark spot has no cluster members N of it. On the S edge of the cluster, forming a “pair of parentheses” with the lane on the N edge, is one of similar size and shape to the N-most lane; this one starts near the cluster’s SP corner, arcs S, and then back to the NF, almost like a smile. Just N of the cluster’s center is a lane that runs P-F 7′ x 0.5′; below this lane, halfway between this lane and the one on the S edge, is a smaller spot that’s 1.5′ long and is wider at the F end (0.67′) but narrows as it runs to the P. So in total there are four lanes running across the cluster and the one that runs NF from the NP edge of the cluster. This is a stunning, intricate object that yields new details with every passing moment spent observing it!

Jerry took a series of SQM measurements to get an indicator of the sky darkness and transparency. The 21.2 he got was surprisingly poor, but there was little doubt the seeing was far superior to the transparency. We all remarked on the sharpness of the star-points, even at higher magnifications; Jerry said that it was probably the best night seeing-wise that he’d ever had on Eagle’s Ridge.

10:52
NGCs 7790, 7788 (Cas): NGC 7790 is an impressive little cluster, a bit like a more-distant NGC 7510: it’s also an arrowhead-shaped spray of stars, pretty obvious and rich, with a decently-wide range of magnitudes. There are about forty stars here, with some granular, unresolved glow among them. On the P end is a diamond of stars with axes of 2.0′ x 1.5′; the major axis runs SP-NF, the minor NP-SF, with the minor axis offset toward the S slightly. The stars on the SP, P, and NF of the diamond are the three brightest in the cluster, with the one due P at 10.5 magnitude, the SP and NF stars 11thmagnitude, and the fourth in the diamond (the SF star) at 12thmagnitude. The cluster is 4′ x 1.5′, with its major axis running P-F and a 13.5-magnitude star at the extreme F end. The majority of the fainter stars are gathered halfway between the 13.5-magnitude star and the 10.5-magnitude star on the P end of the diamond. SF the 10.5-magnitude star by 5.25′ is a 10th-magnitude star; SP the cluster by 13′ is a 6th-magnitude star, while the brightest in the area, a 5.5-magnitude star, is due F the cluster by 23′. S of the 10.5-magnitude star by 11′ is a very close, almost-equal double (10thand 10.2 magnitudes) whose components are separated by 5″ NP-SF each other, with the SF of the double the fainter by a slight amount. F that double by 0.3′ is a 12th-magnitude star. NP the cluster by 18′ is NGC 7788: a much smaller cluster at 1.5′ diameter, it’s also quite rich. Its 9.5-magnitude lucida is perched on its P edge, and the cluster contains perhaps eighteen stars plus a bit of unresolved glow.

My notes for NGC 7762 are a mess, perhaps befitting an object that was tough to track down.

11:17
NGC 7762 (Cep): Sky Safari has this one plotted wrong, which contributed to the considerable delay I had in finding it. It’s roughly halfway between Caph (Beta Cas) and Errai (Gamma Cep), and is pretty good-sized; it’s not super-obvious or very well detached, but it’s plainly a cluster. There are about 30 stars here, many of which fall into the 12th/13th-magnitude range. The cluster’s most obvious feature is a stripe of seven closely-packed 12th-magnitude stars, 1.5′ long, that runs N very slightly P-S very slightly F. This line is near the middle of the cluster proper. A 10.5-magnitude star 7.5′ NP of the line marks the NP (and right-angle) vertex of the triangular shape of the cluster. SP this vertex by 9′ is the P-most vertex of the triangle, which is 11th-magnitude. An 11.5-magnitude star 15′ SF the right-angle vertex serves as the third vertex. N of the “stripe” of stars by 1.5′ is a small knot of stars, no more than 0.3′ across, which contains six stars of 14thmagnitude and fainter. 12′ F very slightly S from the right angle vertex is an 8th-magnitude star with a 13.5-magnitude star P very slightly N of it by 0.5′; 1.5′ N slightly F the 8th-magnitude star is a 10.5-magnitude star with a 13th– magnitude star 0.25′ due P it; 6.5′ F the 10.5- magnitude is an 8.5- magnitude star. SP the cluster, 17′ SP the star in the middle of the “stripe” is the brightest star in the field, which is 5thmagnitude and bluish.

Although it was still before midnight, we’d been observing for close to five hours already (thank you early sunsets!), and despite the rush from observing in such excellent conditions, we were all beginning to feel a bit fatigued; Robert also had work the next morning. With an hour’s drive home and having reached a good stopping point, I chose one more Herschel object from my list, one that I had somehow missed during my previous forays into Cetus and Eridanus.

11:42
NGC 1162 (Eri): Finally gotten to this… unspectacular little galaxy in Eridanus, after having accidentally skipped over it last winter. It’s not really worth the wait, with the caveat that all galaxies are worthy of awe in their own right. This one is round and 0.75′ across, with a somewhat brighter, compact core and a substellar nucleus. (Admittedly, the sky down this low isn’t as dark or transparent as it is higher in altitude/declination.) It’s in a pretty interesting field with a lot of brightish background stars. NF the galaxy by 5.75′ is the P-most vertex in a right triangle, at 11thmagnitude; the 12th-magnitude right angle vertex lies 3.75′ due F the 11th-magnitude star, and there’s a 12.5-magnitude star 3.25′ S of the right-angle vertex. Beyond the triangle, there is another 12th-magnitude star 4′ S of the galaxy, and an 11th-magnitude star 6.75′ NP the galaxy. The brightest in the field is a 9.5-magnitude star S very slightly F the galaxy by 12′; and, 26′ N very slightly P the galaxy (and outside the field) is a slightly reddish 6th-magnitude star.

So our evening of superior seeing reached an end, with a needed but pretty mediocre galaxy. Along the way, I had also observed Comet 46/P (Wirtanen), the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1300, NGC 1360 (the Comet Nebula) in Fornax, M15 (as always), the glorious Local Group spiral galaxy M33, which was overflowing with detail, the Orion Nebula (a stunning object as always, particularly in Robert’s binoscope), and the planet Neptune, always a target when it’s in the sky. By the time I got my gear disassembled and stowed, it was well after midnight, and I arrived home through foggy streets somewhere around 1:30 AM.

III. The forecast for the next two nights was mediocre, and I had other obligations regardless. Our next clear night would likely be the last one for November, given the advance of the Moon, and so I made sure to take one last stab at the whale for the month when conditions finally proved amenable.

Although Jerry couldn’t make it, we set up in the road junction with the expectation that we’d have a fair number of observers. Jeff L was there setting up when I arrived, and Dan B pulled up in short order; he had his daughter and her friend Jazlyn in tow. Surprisingly, no-one else from EAS showed.

The Moon made its presence felt early on, but was already behind the trees by the time the sky grew dark. The sky wasn’t nearly as good as our previous night out, but it was still mostly clear; the occasional wave of cirrus rolled through, and the sky near the horizons (where we could actually see the horizons from the junction) was pretty cruddy. Overhead, though, conditions were good enough.

I’d prepared to wade through the extensive list of Herschel objects in Cassiopeia; these were mostly open clusters, and most of them in and around the ‘W’ pattern of the constellation’s brighter stars. Aside from the Virgo Cluster, there may not be a comparable area of sky so densely-packed with Herschel objects. After taking a view of the lovely triple star Iota Cassiopeiae—ostensibly to check the seeing overhead—I got down to my long-delayed survey of Cassiopeia’s riches.

11/11/18

EAGLE’S RIDGE
MOON: 4 days; 17% illuminated, set at 8:11 PM
SEEING: 5 (Variable)
TRANSPARENCY: 5+ (variable, some cirrus coming through; gunky at horizons although MW still fine)
SQM: 21.2
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid 40s, some high clouds rolling through, very breezy, no dew to speak of

Others present: JL, DB, Ruby, Jazlyn

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

7:34
NGC 129 (Cas): The first of a whole night in Cassiopeia, and an obvious cluster, well detached and moderately rich with 50 stars. The cluster overall spans about 12′ P-F x 8.0′ N-S. Its most-prominent feature is a right triangle of brighter stars (9th/9.5 magnitude) spanning across the middle of the cluster: the right-angle vertex is the F-most of the three, and is 9.5 magnitude; 3.25′ NP is the second vertex, which is 9thmagnitude; the third vertex is SP the right-angle vertex by 3′ and is also 9thmagnitude. The hypotenuse runs N very slightly P-S very slightly F and is 3.75′ long. This triangle is overlaid upon an irregular ellipse of fainter stars, mostly in the 11th/12th-magnitude range; this ellipse is elongated NP-SF, and the three stars in the triangle form part of the ellipse. A mostly-straight line of seven (mostly 11th/11.5-magnitude) stars, F the right-angle vertex of the triangle by 4.5′, runs 3.75′ N very slightly P-S very slightly F and forms the F edge of the cluster. There are a couple of stars P the NP vertex of the triangle, and these form the cluster’s NP bound. From the SP vertex of the triangle S by 2.5′ are a couple of cluster members that mark the S end of a line that runs S-NF along the F edge of the ellipse. S of the right-angle vertex by 13′ is the brightest star in the field, which is 5.5 magnitude. SF the right-angle vertex by 11′ is a 9th-magnitude star. F slightly N of the right-angle vertex by 9′ is the P-most of a pair of 8.5-magnitude stars; the second is due F the first by 1.5′; NF the second of these by 0.75′ is a 10th-magnitude star. NP the NP vertex of the triangle by 2.75′ is a small clump of seven 12th-magnitude stars (and maybe a couple of 13thmagnitude); this clump is 0.75′ across.

7:52
NGC 136 (Cas): The epitome of ‘compact,’ NGC 136 is no more than 1.25′ across but very rich and dense with stars. These stars are primarily fainter than magnitude 13; there are two that bright on the N edge of the cluster. It’s not much more than a nebulous spot, almost like a loose, small and distant globular, and very much a singular object despite not being overly well detached from the rich background. The field surrounding the cluster is pretty evenly-populated with stars, but there are no real patterns or asterisms that stick out.  SP the cluster by 5.5′ is the brightest star in the field at 7.5 magnitude; 0.67′ S very slightly P that star is a 12th-magnitude star. N slightly P the cluster by 12′ is a 10th-magnitude star, and due N of the cluster by 3.5′ is an 11th-magnitude star. SP the cluster by 17′ is a 16′ long straight line running S-NP, containing fifteen stars of 9thto 11.5 magnitudes; the brightest in this line is 9thmagnitude and on the S end of the line; P that star by 6.5′ is another of the same magnitude.

8:06
NGC 225 (Cas): This cluster is very bright, but not one of the richer or more detached open clusters I’ve done so far. There are only about twenty stars here, and of a fairly narrow range of magnitude; most are of 8thor 9thmagnitude. The cluster is roughly triangular (as so many seem to be!); it’s 15′ on the F side, 13′ on the N side, and 8′ on the P side. The most distinctive feature of the cluster is a line of stars on the F side that runs due N-S and has a couple of “kinks” in it; it’s 9.5′ long and has five stars in the 8th/9th-magnitude range and a few that are fainter; the bottom three in the line form a flat isosceles triangle whose long side is 3.5′ and the other two sides 2′; the N-most in this triangle is brighter than the other two by 0.5 magnitude (at 9thmagnitude); then there’s a gap between this star and a 12.5-magnitude star N of it by 2′ and two 10th-magnitude stars and three much fainter ones. The main body of the cluster itself is also triangular, and it shares S and NP vertices with the larger triangle as well as P and N edges (although the N edge of the larger triangle extends out to the N end of the line on the F side. The line on the F side of the larger triangle runs parallel to the F side of the smaller; there’s an average gap of about 4.5′ between the two sides). The shared S-most vertex of the two triangles is 11thmagnitude. 2.25′ F very slightly N of the shared NP vertex of the triangles is a double star of 11thand 12.5 magnitudes, with the secondary F the primary by 13″.

By this point then sky was already deteriorating somewhat, and the seeing and transparency had proven to be extremely variable from moment to moment. The wind had also picked up, becoming a sussurus of noise in the background of my recorded notes. Jeff measured an average of 21.2 on his SQM–as good as the fine night previous on the spur, but still below the average we got at the junction. Not knowing if we would get completely crude out or not, I pressed on.

8:21
NGC 381 (Cas): A fine, fairly-rich cluster of perhaps forty stars in a 5′ diameter. It’s moderately-well detached, in a field containing a couple of very bright stars and a couple of interesting asterisms. The stars in the cluster range from an 11th-magnitude beacon just on the N edge down to below 13th magnitude, perhaps to 14th. The majority of the stars are on the fainter end of this range. There’s a prominent group of very faint stars on the SP edge of the cluster and a clump of brighter stars on the SF edge. There’s also an obvious string of 11th-magnitude stars, perhaps five, that stretch 8′ N from the cluster lucida. 10′ F slightly S of the 11th-magnitude star is a 7.5-magnitude star, and an 8th-magnitude star is 18′ NF the 11th-magnitude star. S very slightly P the cluster is an interesting asterism of seven stars running S-NP for about 4′; around the middle of this asterism are a few threshold stars that give a fleeting impression of nebulosity; the brightest in this asterism is one the NP end and is 16′ S very slightly P the lucida. NP the cluster are two other clumps of stars: one is 11′ NP the 11th-magnitude star and is a small line of four in the 11.5/12.5-magnitude range; this line runs 1.25′ N-S. The second clump is 17′ NP the previous clump and smaller, perhaps 0.75′ round, with eight stars of 12th-13.5 magnitude, with its brightest star on its SP corner.

8:50
NGC 436 (Cas): Another compact but very distinct cluster. The central “body” of NGC 436 spans 1.5′ and has on its N edge a close double: 11.5-mag components separated by 8″ N very slightly P-S very slightly F. S of the N component of this double by 1.25′ is an 11th-magnitude star, and this and the double from the major axis of the cluster’s rich central region. Twenty of the cluster’s thirty stars are in this region, which is also bounded by an 11.5-magnitude star 0.5′ S very slightly F the S component of the double, and another 11.5-magnitude star SP the N component of the double by 1.5′. The area between these is filled with faint stars, especially to the S; between the two brighter ones on that end is an averted-vision clump of unresolved stars, and the cluster has a centralized clump which is “smeared” toward the P side. The cluster’s overall dimensions are 4.5′ x 1.67′. There’s a conspicuous line of three stars S of the cluster, running P-F, that ends SF the cluster; the faintest of these is the P-most and 11.5 magnitude, and it’s 3′ S very very slightly F the double star by 3′; F this star by 1.75′ is a 9.5-magnitude star, and F that star by 2′ is a 10th-magnitude star. Due S of the first of these three by 2.75′ is an 11th-magnitude star, which forms a right triangle with the previous group of three. P the double star by 14′ is the brightest in the field, a 7th-magnitude star, which is on the P edge of an asterism that ‘s vaguely Capricornus-like and consists mainly of 9.5-11th-magnitude stars.

9:10
NGC 457 (Cas): The famous ET/Owl/Dragonfly/WALL-E Cluster is one of the showpieces of the autumn sky, and one of the best objects for public outreach event for any season. It’s also the nicest cluster in Cassiopeia regardless of which aperture one uses. It’s a large, quite rich (eighty stars) and very well detached cluster with a wide range of magnitudes, from 5th-magnitude PhiCassiopeiae down to 13thmagnitude. (Phi1may not actually be a member of the cluster.) Phi1 and 7th-magnitude Phi(2.25′ P slightly S of Phi1) form the SF end of the cluster, which extends 15′ to the NP and contains more than eighty stars in its borders; from the ends of the figure’s arms is 22′. On the NF corner of the cluster (the more-F foot of the figure) is a 9th-magnitude star, and the NP foot is a star of magnitude 9.5. The figure’s F arm/wing runs mostly P-F, while the P arm/wing runs SP-NF. The P arm is slightly less-defined than the F arm, and is composed primarily of two 9.5-magnitude stars which each have SF them by 1′ an 11th-magnitude star; these four make up most of the P arm. The F arm also has four stars: the P-most of these is the cluster’s third-brightest star at 8.5-magnitude and is the “joint” where the arm meets the figure’s body. The star at the F end of the arm is 10th-magnitude and lies 9′ NF Phi1. There are three primary subgroups around the center of the cluster: a bright double star of 10th-magnitude components (N slightly P-S slightly F each other, separation 0.25′) lies halfway between Phiand the NP foot of the figure, and a pair of small triangles lie SF the double; the closest to the double has as its brightest star its P-most vertex, 1.25′ S slightly F the southern component of the double; NF that star by 0.75′ is a 12th-magnitude star; F very slightly N of the P-most/brightest in this triangle by 0.67′ is the brighter of a double (11th and 12th magnitudes, the brighter 6″ N of the fainter). The second triangle lies just less than halfway from the bright (10th/10th) double to Phi2; NP Phiby 3.75′ is the S-most and brightest (9.5 magnitude) of this second triangle; NP that star by 0.67′ is the 10th-magnitude right-angle vertex of this second triangle, and the third vertex is 10.5 magnitude and 0.3′ NF the right-angle vertex. NP Phiby 1′ is a small rhombus of 12th– and 13th-magnitude stars that is about 0.5′ on each axis. A superb object.

By now, the wind was fairly howling in the background; in listening to my voice recordings from the evening, there are times when my voice is hard to hear over the rumble of the wind. It only moderately-affected our gear, rippling the shroud on my telescope and occasionally blowing my charts open to a different page. But the sky was still clear, and the transparency had improved a bit as the wind blew the sky clean.

9:25
NGC 559 (Cas): A very rich, obvious and well-detached cluster, with sixty stars compressed into a 3.5′ area. These don’t have a particularly wide range of magnitudes. Most prominent are three brighter stars that form a small isosceles triangle, with its base to the SF and its tip to the NP; the stars along the base are 0.3′ apart, with the more southern of the two being the brightest in the cluster at 11thmagnitude and the other 11.5; the star at the triangle’s tip is NP the brighter star by 1′ and is just a shade dimmer (11.2 magnitude?). This triangle bounds the brightest, densest part of the cluster, with the cluster spreading out SP and NF from that and the brightest portion toward the NF end of the cluster. The cluster overall is roughly rectangular, although the brightest stars mark out a circle. The rectangle is elongated SP-NF. The F side of the cluster has a long string of stars along it with the two at the base of the isosceles triangle as part of it; the line runs 1.75′ NF from those stars and also contains six or seven 13th/14th-magnitude stars; this line defines the F edge of the rectangle. 1.5′ SF the two stars at the triangle’s base is an 11.5-magnitude star; SF that star by 1′ is a clump of discrete 13th-magnitude and fainter stars. NP the cluster, about 3′ NP the star at the triangle’s tip, is a 10.5-magnitude star; P very slightly N of that star is another 10.5-magnitude star; 2.5′ due P that star is an 11th-magnitude star. The cluster is halfway between the two brightest stars in the field: F the cluster by 12′ is a 7.5-magnitude star; P the cluster by 11′ is an 8.5-magnitude star. S of the 7.5-magnitude star is another small isosceles triangle, the tip of which is 10.5 magnitude and is S of the 7.5-magnitude star by 1.67′ and the two stars on the base are F and F very slightly S of that 10.5-magnitude star and are both 12thmagnitude; these are separated by 12″ and oriented SP-NF to each other.

9:49
NGC 637 (Cas): Another smallish, pretty rich cluster, one of many gems here in Cassiopeia. This one contains 25 stars in a 2.5′ diameter, with a wide range of magnitudes among them. A delta pattern of brighter stars is superimposed upon the fainter (13.5 magnitude and below) majority; many of those in the delta are in the 10th/11th-magnitude range. The P-most of these, which is the “bend” of the delta, is actually a double, with the 10th-magnitude primary S of the fainter by 7″; the secondary is 11thmagnitude. The primary of this double is the brightest star in the cluster. S of the primary by 1′ is a 10.5-magnitude star, while another 11th-magnitude star is 0.67 NF the primary; NF this second star by another 0.67′ is the dimmest of the delta stars at 12thmagnitude. Due N of the primary by 2′ is another 10th-magnitude star. Due F the lucida by 3′ is the brighter of a pair (10.5 and 11thmagnitudes), with the brighter P very very slightly N of the secondary by 20″. Several bright stars are in the field as well: there are three 8th-magnitude stars, one S very very slightly P the lucida by 9′, with another 7.5′ SF that star, and the third 17′ NP the lucida; this last star is also the F end of a string of four stars that runs SP from that star, with a gap between the 8th-magnitude star and the next one SP.

10:01
NGC 654 (Cas): NGC 654 is one of a trio of impressive clusters on the eastern side of Cassiopeia’s ‘W’ pattern, and probably second among the three in visual impact. It’s a showy splash of forty stars, roughly triangular, and with a wide range of brightnesses, well detached from the surrounding starfields. It’s fairly rich, especially across the middle of its 5.75′ x 5.0′ span. The SF vertex of this triangular cluster is both the brightest star in the cluster and in the field at 7thmagnitude, and even to my colorblind eyes has a slightly reddish hue. The SP vertex of the triangle is P the previous star by 3.5′ and is 9.5 magnitude; the N vertex is N of the lucida by 4.5′, but is formed from a tiny triangle of two 12th– and one 14th-magnitude stars, with the two brighter forming the little triangle’s S edge. The three vertices are the cluster’s most obvious feature. The secondary axis of the cluster runs roughly P-F and consists of five 11.5-magnitude stars, of which the two on the F end form the N edge of a diamond which includes the cluster’s 7th-magnitude lucida as its SP vertex, with a 12th-magnitude star F the lucida by 1′. The lucida is on the S end of the diamond’s minor axis (1.3′ long; the major axis is 2.25′ and oriented NP-SF. Just N of the middle of that P-F line, right in the middle of the cluster, is its most-concentrated clump of stars, which is roughly 2′ P-F and 1.25′ N-S. Although the field is fairly populous, little stands out around the cluster.

10:18
NGC 659 (Cas): The second of the eastern Cassiopeia trio, and probably the least of the three. It’s smallish and moderately-rich, with forty stars, and pretty obviously a cluster, although it’s less detached than many of the previous clusters I’ve done. The cluster is round, but the predominant bright stars form a pentagon, out of the bottom of which some of the cluster spills out. The pentagon’s major axis runs NP-SF and is 1.75′. The minor axis is 1′ and runs SP-NF. The NP vertex of the pentagon is 11.5 magnitude and lies at the NP end of the major axis; S of it and very slightly F is a trio or triple star, of which the brightest is in the middle at 11.5 magnitude; this has a 12.5-magnitude star to the P by 15″ and a 13th-magnitude star F by 6″. From the middle star in the trio SF by 0.67′ is a 10.5-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the pentagon; 0.67′ due F that 10.5-magnitude star is an 11.5-magnitude star that lies on the SF end of the major axis; N of that star by 1.3′ is a 12.5-magnitude star that’s the NF-most vertex of the pentagon. SP the cluster is a trio of very bright stars of which the star in the middle is the brightest in the field at 6th magnitude; this star is SP the triple star by 11′; P that star by 5.5′ is a 7th-magnitude star; SF the 6th-magnitude star by 8′ is a 7.5-magnitude star (these three form their own triangle). Due F the cluster by 19′ from the triple star is another 7.5-magnitude star. From the triple star N slightly F by 40′ is the N-most star in NGC 663 (cf.).

10:33
NGC 663 (Cas): The third, most-impressive, and largest of the trio of clusters on the eastern side of Cassiopeia’s W, NGC 663 is somewhat reminiscent of NGC 457.  The cluster’s four most-prominent stars are on the N end; there are no very bright stars here, and so the range of magnitudes here is less extreme than that of 457. The cluster is very rich, with eighty stars, possibly as many as a hundred in its 9′ x 9′ area. The brightest star, at magnitude 8.5, is on the due N edge of the cluster; there are two 9th-magnitude stars on the NP corner. The richest concentration of stars lies due S of the 8.5-magnitude star. There are at least two fine doubles (or pairs): one due F the lucida by 1.25′, with the brighter P the fainter by 5″, at 9th and 10.5 magnitudes; this and the cluster lucida form the upper end of a roughly-elliptical section of the cluster and serve as the “eyes of a Santa Claus-like figure, with the remainder of the ellipse forming his beard, running N-S 3.5′ and 2.5′ P-F and containing the majority of the fainter cluster members. The other notable double/pair consists of a 9.5-magnitude star with an 11.5-magnitude secondary F the primary by 8”; this double is SP the 8.5-magnitude lucida by 3′, and with another 9.5-magnitude star 1.25′ P slightly N of the double, these form the P arm of the Santa figure. SP this 9.5/11.5-mags double by 1′ is yet another double, 10.5 and 11thmagnitudes, separated by 6″, with the fainter NF the brighter. The other arm of the Santa figure is SF the lucida and consists of two unequal magnitude stars: an 11th-magnitude star 5.75′ SF the lucida, with a 9.5-magnitude star 1′ F and very slightly S. The stars marking Santa’s feet are a 10.5-magnitude star S of the lucida by 8′ (the P foot) and an 11.5-magnitude star SF the previous by 1′. These two also form the S edge of a parallelogram with two 10.5-magnitude stars to the N: one due N of the P foot by 2.5′ and one NF the P foot by 1.67′.

11:02
NGC 1027 (Cas): Of all the clusters I’ve observed tonight, this one is probably the least. It’s well out in the Cassiopeia hinterlands, and not particularly easy to find. The cluster is roughly round and 14′ in diameter, but fairly weak in terms of population, with thirty stars. The cluster is not overly-well detached, just somewhat denser than the typical Cassiopeiac star field. The magnitude range is pretty extreme, with a 7th-magnitude star near the center of the cluster and a number of stars of 13thmagnitude. (The 7th-magnitude star is also the brightest in the field.) NF the 7th-magnitude star is a very thin right triangle with three equally-spaced stars on the S edge; the star in the middle of this edge is 2.75′ F slightly N of the lucida, and is the brightest in the triangle and the second-brightest in the cluster at magnitude 9.5; NP that star by 1.67′ is a 10th-magnitude star, and 1.67′ F very slightly S of the 9.5-magnitude star is an 11th-magnitude star which has an 11.5-magnitude star 0.75′ N of it; the 11th-magnitude star is the right-angle vertex of the triangle. The richest section of the cluster is NP the 7th-magnitude star and begins in an arc just N of the P-most star in the right triangle, running S roughly toward the lucida and the P slightly N; the ned of this arc is a pair of 12.5-magnitude stars and a 13th-magnitude str that the closest of these to the 7th-magnitude star, at 1.75′ P. Defining the S edge of the cluster is a pair, 10th and 10.5 magnitudes, with the fainter 4.5′ S of the 7th-magnitude star and the brighter F the fainter by 1.67′.

NGC 1027 was the last of the Cassiopeia clusters on my list. I still had NGC 896 (a small patch of nebulosity) remaining on my list for Cassiopeia, but I wasn’t able to track it down even after twenty minutes or so of searching. (It didn’t help that Cassiopeia was in an awkward position at that point, very near the zenith.) Jeff had gone home some time earlier, and Dan was considering calling it a night as well. I could hardly argue; I was at a good stopping-point, and it was just chilly enough that I wouldn’t mind leaving for the warmer environment of home. I’d accomplished quite a lot this evening, and during this run—there’d be no disappointment now.

After a few stops by some showpiece objects—M31, the Double Cluster, etc.—I tore down my gear for the long drive home, satisfied with the spectacular sights I’d looked upon and by the details I’d wrung out of them.

 

Permanence and Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

10/10-10/11/18

EAGLE’S RIDGE
MOON: 2 days; 3% illuminated, set at 7:58 PM
SEEING: 7 (Variable)
TRANSPARENCY: 7 (variable, some cirrus coming through)
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.8
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 40s, cold and clammy, breezy, very dewy until 11:00 (then ceased dewing up)

Others present: FS, DB, RA, Mark from Florence

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

8:15
NGC 6939 (Cep): I’m starting with this one because I couldn’t get to it the last time out (when I got NGC 6946). This is a very, very rich, well-detached open cluster of the NGC 7789 type, with no fewer than ninety stars packed into a 9′ area. This one is also much more like a flight of wild ducks than M11, with the brightest stars in the cluster forming a very obvious ‘V’ shape pointing due P. The star at the “point” of the ‘V’ is pretty close to the P edge of the cluster, and, at 11thmagnitude, is the brightest star that’s obviously a cluster member. One of the bars of the ‘V’ starts at that star and runs SF along the S edge of the cluster proper; this bar has five of the brighter cluster stars along it. The other bar starts on the NF edge of the cluster and runs SP to the “point star”; this bar has more stars (almost too many to count) but these are fainter than those in the other bar. Both of these bars are about 3.5′ long. The bar on the N extends beyond that; after the 3.5′ length, there’s a wide gap and then a small triangular clump of four or five 13th-magnitude stars. A couple of other clumps of stars lie N of this bar, in what is the densest part of the cluster. The cluster itself lies within a diamond of brighter stars: 5′ P very slightly N of the “point star” is a 10th-magnitude star; nearly due N of the point star by 7.5′ is a 10.5-magnitude star that is itself the S central star in a small rhombus; NF the point star by 9′ is a 10th-magnitude star that has a 12th-magnitude companion due F by 0.3′; there’s another clump of four or five 13.5/14th-magnitde stars between this pair and the clump to the NF.  9′ S slightly F the point star is another 10th-magnitude star; 5.25′ S somewhat F this last star is a 7th-magnitude star, the brightest in the field. An isolated brightish (12thmagnitude) star lies 4′ F very slightly S of the point star, in between the bars of the ‘V’ toward the S. 2.5′ P very very slightly S of the point star is a faint trio of stars in a N-S running line that’s 0.67′ long and is probably outside the boundary of the cluster; the brightest in this trio is in the middle and is 12.5 magnitude.

8:52
NGCs 185, 147 (Cas): Back to galaxies!  NGC 185 is a large (4.0′ x 3.5′, elongated SP-NF), weakly-concentrated and very diffuse glow. There’s little core visible here and no nucleus. The edges of the galaxy are poorly-defined and fade away into the background sky. Curiously, it has a graininess to it, as if it’s just beyond the verge of possible resolution; it’s not mottled, but has a texture to it almost like a faint, unresolved globular. It’s in the middle of a triangle of bright stars: 11′ P very slightly S is an 8.5-magnitude star; 10′ NF is another 8.5-magnitude star; due S of the galaxy by 12′ is a 10th-magnitude star. Also NF (by 3.75′) is the brightest (11.5 magnitude) vertex in a small triangle; the other two vertices of the triangle are 12.5 magnitude. 19′ S of the galaxy is a 9th-magnitude star. Also S of the galaxy is a very flat trapezoid of stars of which the two brightest are on the SP end: there’s an 11th-magnitude star on the SP corner, a 12th-magnitude star 1′ SF that first star, another 12th-magnitude star 2.25′ F very slightly N of the previous, and a 13th-magnitude star 1.25′ NF the second 12th-magnitude star. The longest side of the trapezoid is the N side, and the 13th-magnitude star is the closest to the galaxy at 5′.

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

9:05
NGC 278 (Cas): A bright (but much smaller) one to follow two much tougher galaxies. This one’s only 1.25′ in diameter, with a very small bright core and a possible faint stellar nucleus. The halo here is well defined, and seems to have some brightness variation in the SP quadrant, like a dark spot in the halo. The overall appearance of the galaxy is similar to that of a planetary nebula as much as a galaxy. A number of 8th-magnitude and dimmer stars surround the galaxy: 3′ N is a 9th-magnitude star, and there’s an 11th-magnitude star NF the previous by 2.5′. SP the galaxy by 4.5′ is the brightest star in a long chain that extends from that star to the NP; the chain is 3.5′ long with its brightest two stars at the ends—the star at the S end (the one SP the galaxy) is 10thmagnitude and the one at the NP end (P very slightly S of the galaxy) is12.5 magnitude; between these two are a number of 13th/14th/14.5-magnitude stars. Due S of the galaxy by 4.75′ is the brightest (12.5 magnitude) in another small line extending from that star ; this line runs F very slightly S for 0.75′ and includes two more fainter stars. The brightest star in the field is 9thmagnitude and lies 3′ N of the galaxy. An interesting double/pair lies 9′ NP, with equal-magnitude (12th– magnitude) components separated SP-NF by 0.3′.

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

9:25
NGC 214 (And): The first one tonight I’ve never seen before, this galaxy is pretty underwhelming. It’s small at 1.125′ x 0.67′, elongated P somewhat P-F somewhat N, with a small brighter core, a trace of a very faint stellar nucleus, and a poorly-defined halo that seems as if there should be more to it; the halo fades away and the ends can’t be held steadily in either direct or averted vision. This is certainly not one of the more impressive or obvious Herschel galaxies! The field is quite interesting, however, with a number of small patterns of stars. Due N of the galaxy by 6′ is an 11th-magnitude star. NF the galaxy is a small right triangle; the 11th-magnitude right-angle vertex is 9′ NF the galaxy, with a 10th-magnitude star P by 1.75′ and a 13.5-magnitude star S by 1.5′. An almost-right triangle is SP the galaxy, its brightest star (and N-most vertex) at 10.5 magnitude and 5.75′ SP the galaxy; the 13.5-magnitude not-quite-right-angle vertex of this triangle is due S of the first star by 1.67′, with a 13th-magnitude star due P the second star by 1.25′. P the galaxy by 8′ is a 10th-magnitude star that’s the NF vertex of a small trapezoid. (I didn’t note the others.) The brightest star in the field, at 9.5 magnitude, is S very slightly P the galaxy by 15.5′.

9:37
NGCs 315, 311 (Psc): NGC 315 is small but quite bright and obvious, certainly a “better” target than NGC 214. 315 is elongated SP-NF, 0.75′ x 0.5′, with a small bright core and obvious stellar nucleus. The brightest in the field is an 8.5-magnitude star 3.5′ SF the galaxy. 6′ due F is the P-most and faintest (at magnitude 12.5) of a bent line or arc of three stars; F slightly S this star by 1.25′ is an 11th-magnitude star, with another 1th-magnitude star 2.25′ F the second star. 19′ P very slightly S of the galaxy is a 9th-magnitude star. 5.5′ SP NGC 315 is another galaxy, NGC 311, which is much fainter and smaller than 315. 311 is very slightly elongated NP-SF, 0.3′ x 0.25′, with a weak core and tiny, faint stellar nucleus. 2.25′ F slightly S of NGC 311 is an 11th-magnitude star that’s 7′ S of NGC 315. NGC 311 itself appeared like a star at first glance but became more obvious while I was examining NGC 315.

9:52
NGCs 410, 407 (Psc): Another brighter galaxy with a faint companion. NGC 410 is an elliptical-looking galaxy, with a well-defined halo, a bright core, and a brightish substellar nucleus. It’s elongated 0.75′ x 0.67′, SP-NF. There’s not much detail here otherwise. N by 7′ is the brighter of an interesting double or pair; the brighter is 10.5 magnitude, with a 12.5-magnitude companion P by 0.3′. S very slightly F by 4.5′ is a line of three 13th-magnitude stars, equally spaced over 1.25′, with the brightest in the middle. 19′ S of the galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star; with 10th-magnitude stars SP by 18′ and another SF the galaxy by 20′; these are the brightest in the field. F the galaxy by 16′ is another double/pair, an 11.5-magnitude star S very very slightly F 1 12th-magnitude star by 7″.  P slightly S of 410 by 5′ is a very very thin N-S streak, NGC 407, which is 0.5′ x 0.125′ and has a somewhat-brighter core and (surprisingly) a very faint nucleus visible. By the time I finished taking notes on the starfield, NGC 407 had improved a bit, apparently with some improvement in the sky transparency.

10:09
NGC 404 (And): The Ghost of Mirach is the brightest galaxy of the night so far, even with 3rd-magnitude Mirach (Beta And) just 6.75′ S slightly F. Galaxy and bright star form a nearly-equilateral triangle with an 8.5-magnitude star Sf the galaxy by 6.67′. It’s necessary, of course, to get Mirach out of the field before observing the galaxy. NGC 404 is 1.67′ in diameter, with a small bright core and a stellar nucleus. Its core is quite well defined and not as diffuse as those of many of the galaxies I’ve observed recently. 4.5′ N slightly F the galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star that turns the equilateral triangle into a diamond. Due N of the galaxy by 1.25′ is a 13.5-magnitude star. N of the galaxy is a very thin triangle, the brightest star in which is 10.5-magnitude and 7.5′ NP the galaxy; there’s an 11th-magnitude star 2.5′ N of that star and a 13th-magnitude star due P it by 0.5′. S of the 10.5-magnitude star by 0.75′ is another 13th-magnitude star.

10:39
NGC 499, 496, 495, 494, 507, 508, 504 (Psc): This is a superb field, part of the Perseus-Pisces filament.  At the center of the field is an 8th-magnitude star, which has F very slightly N of it by 0.75′ an 11th-magnitude star, and 10.5′ N of it NGC 499. This is a small P-F glow, 1.0′ x 0.3′, with an obvious core and bright stellar nucleus, in a well-defined halo. F the galaxy by 3.5′ is an 11.5-magnitude star. Due N of the galaxy by 4.25′ is another, much more diffuse galaxy (NGC 496) with no central concentration; it’s just a small faint spot of indeterminate size and orientation. 3.25′ due P NGC 499 is yet another small glow (NGC 495), 0.67′ x 0.3′, elongated N-S, with a small, slightly-brighter center.

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

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

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

We are the Universe contemplating itself. — Carl Sagan

 

pp-sw_myLBLD

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

SDvision_V-Web_PerseusPiscesNode_dev018b-12699

SDvision_V-Web_PPfromArch_dev018b-14481

SDvision_V-Web_LocalGroup_dev018b-13561

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

 10:52
NGC 513 (And): While (at least visually) part of the NGC 499 group, this one isn’t particularly impressive or inspiring. While obviously not a star (as Herschel had listed it), it’s small and not particularly bright; once you know where to look, though, it’s fairly apparent. The galaxy is very slightly elongated 0.3′ x 0.25′, P slightly S-F slightly N, and fairly evenly illuminated, without an obvious core or visible nucleus. Due S by 3.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star with a 12th-magnitude star 3.5′ S of it.

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

But back to observing….

11:44
NGC 1023 (Per): This is a very impressive edge-on spiral! It’s quite large, elongated 3.5′ x 0.75′ P-F, with a very bright core and bright stellar nucleus. The halo is fairly well defined, with the P side more so than the F, and the F side more extensive than the P. In averted, the halo expands to 4.5′ x 1.0′. The galaxy is bounded on the S and F sides by a line of seven stars, the ends of which are both 9thmagnitude. The P end of the line is SP the galaxy and the NF end is due F the galaxy. Starting at the SP: there’s an 8.5-magnitude star that’s 3.5′ SP the galaxy’s nucleus; F very slightly N of that star by 1.75′ is a 10.5-magnitude star; F that star by 1′ is a 13th-magnitude star that’s due S of the galaxy by 1.5′; then there’s a gap of 3′ in the line. The next star F the gap is 14.5 magnitude; F very slightly N of that star by 1.5′ is an 11.5-magnitude star; 1.5′ F very slightly N of that star is another 11.5-magnitude star, and F very slightly N the second 11.5-magnitude star is the 9th-magnitude star at the end of the line. Elsewhere: due N of the galaxy by 2′ is a 13th-magnitude star; 4′ more N is the more S of a pair of 12.5-magnitude stars separated N very slightly P-S very slightly F by 0.5′. The brightest star in the field is 8th magnitude and is 19′ P slightly N of the galaxy.

12:04
NGC 706 (Psc): not an easy one, even compared to some of the earlier galaxies. (The wind is still a factor, and it’s getting colder.) It’s still somewhat obvious. The galaxy is 1.3′ x 1.0′, elongated N slightly P-S slightly F, with a 12.5-magnitude star just outside the N edge of the halo. The galaxy’s core is pretty weak, but there’s an almost-mottled quality to the halo that I wouldn’t have expected in a galaxy this obscure; I noted that “there’s stuff going on in this galaxy.” No nucleus is visible. The halo is generally pretty well defined, especially along the P edge, as if a spiral arm is present. (I clearly need to come back to this one with more aperture and/or magnification.) SF the galaxy is an arc of four evenly-spaced bright stars, each about 3.25′ apart. From S-most: a 10th-magnitude star, a 10.5, an 11.5, and another 10th-magnitude star. The arc proceeds N and then NF. A 9.5-magnitude star is 17′ N very slightly F the galaxy. 10′ NP the galaxy is an 8.5-magnitude star. The brightest in the field, an 8th-magnitude star, is 22′ SP the galaxy.

Somehow I missed NGC 693, SP 706.

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

12:26
NGC 665, ICs 156, 154 (Psc): The field here is very interesting, with more than first met the eye. NGC 665 is very slightly elongated NP-SF, 0.67′ x 0.5′; it has a brighter core and a possible stellar nucleus that’s very faint and hard to hold steady, even in averted vision. This is a nicely-compact and well-defined galaxy, not very detailed but still a nice catch. S of the galaxy by 1.5′ is a 14th-magnitude star. There are 13.5-magnitude stars due F by 2.75′ and due N of the galaxy by 4′. NP the galaxy by 4′ is the brighter of a pair, the 12.5-magnitude “primary” due F the 13th-magnitude “secondary” by 0.5′. P the galaxy by 6.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star. 14′ NF the galaxy is a 9.5-magnitude star; 2.5′ P that star is another galaxy (IC 156). This is a small, round (0.3′) galaxy, with a poorly-defined and difficult halo and no central concentration. Another galaxy, IC 154, lies NP IC 156 by 7′: this one is a very faint, thin SP-NF streak, 0.75′ x 0.25′. On the SP tip of the galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star that interferes with observing a bit. This galaxy has a classic edge-on profile, without much central concentration and no visible nucleus; it lies S slightly F NGC 665 by 15′.

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

 

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

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

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

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

10/11-10/12/18
EAGLE’S RIDGE
MOON: 3 days; 8% illuminated, set at 8:31 PM
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.8
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid-low 40s, no breeze, some dew

Others present: FS

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

8:22
M76 (Per): The Little Dumbbell is always listed as one of the hardest Messier objects, but I’ve never quite been sure why—it’s quite an impressive object, even in smaller scopes than the 12.5″. It’s long reminded me of a circus peanut, more than anything else. The bilobed nature of the nebula is quite apparent at this aperture and magnification; it’s about 0.3′ thinner near the middle than at the ends, with a total extent of 2.0′ x 0.75′ (the latter measurement at the ends). The SP end is brighter and slightly wider than the NF end. Even without a filter, there’s a fair amount of extended, diffuse halo on the F edge, particularly to the SF side. The P side of the nebula is more defined. Seeing the nebula from a dark sky, I get an impression of a bar magnet with iron filings strung along the magnetic lines. With the O-III filter in, the extended halo pops right out of the background, while the “dumbbell” part is nearly opaque. The SF part of the halo was already so visible even sans filter, but the NP side is now much more impressive; on the P-most edge of the nebulosity on the halo’s NP side is a fairly-obvious dark void that makes it look “broken” without averted vision—like an arc that sweeps down the edge from the NF corner and sweeps P, then S. This rim is much better defined than any of the S and F sides, which are more diffuse. The dumbbell shape gets lost a bit with the filter, amid all the outflowing diffuse nebulosity.

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

8:39
NGC 7139 (Cep): This planetary is considerably more difficult, especially compared to M76. (I’d left the O-III filter in after observing M76, but took it out after finding the nebula, to examine the nebula unfiltered first.) It’s not one of easier H planetaries so far, although it’s still pretty obvious. The edges of the nebula are quite diffuse; it’s a relatively-featureless grey glow, 1′ diameter with no real visible detail, no central star, and no annularity.  The nebula sits at the P end of the N branch of a distorted ‘V’ that points due F; one line of the ‘V’ runs from the nebula due F and the other runs S slightly P from the F tip of the first line and then curls NP very slightly; most of the stars in the ‘V’ are in the 12/12.5-mag range; the star at the point is F the nebula by 4′ and is 11.5 magnitude; the line that extends S slightly P from that star has six stars in it and is 5′ long; it then hooks PvsN for 0.75′. One of the V stars is on the SF edge of the nebula, just outside the edge of the glow. Also SF the nebula by 8′ is the fainter of a pair, which is 11.5 magnitude and has a 10.5- magnitude star P it by 1′; from the fainter of the pair, running 12′ S and SP, is a long arc of 12th-/13th– magnitude stars. With the OIII, the nebula doesn’t change much; it’s still roughly the same in appearance, only with more contrast. The halo is a little more obvious, with a bit more fringe. The brightness across the halo is slightly more irregular; there’s some inner texture hinted at that would benefit from greater magnification.

8:53
NGC 7160 (Cep): This is a very bright, obvious, well-detached cluster near NGC 7139. It’s fairly small—5.5′ SP-NF x 2.75’—with twenty-five stars of a wide range of magnitudes. The cluster’s most obvious feature is a bright pair of stars on the P edge of the cluster’s F half (it’s easy to divide this cluster into P and F halves). The cluster lucida is the NP member of this pair, at 7thmagnitude; SF by 1′ is an 8th-magnitude star. These two form the wide end of a ‘V’, with the “point” star to the NF, and a wider pair between the bright ends and the point star: NF the brighter star by 1.25′ is a 12th-magnitude star; SF that star by 0.67′ is an 11.5-magnitude star; the point star is 0.75′ NF the 11.5-magnitude star and is 13thmagnitude.  The P half of the cluster is dominated by an arc of three (or a very small flat triangle): SP the lucida by 2.25′ is a 9.5-magnitude star, with another of equal magnitude 0.5′ P; from this second star SP by 0.75′ is a 9th-magnitude star which has a 13th-magnitude companion F by 8″. These last three make up the majority of the P half of the cluster. There are a number of interesting pairs or doubles S very slightly F or SF the lucida, one of which is SF the lucida by 5′ and oriented P-F, although this pair may be outside the boundary of the cluster. N slightly P the lucida by 11′ is the brightest star in the field, at 6.5 magnitude.

10:24
NGC 890 (Tri): An obvious, quite-bright elliptical galaxy in a busy field. This one is elongated 1.3′ x 0.75′ SP-NF, with a smallish but obvious core and a bright substellar nucleus in a pretty-well defined halo whose brightness falls away quickly past the core. The nucleus and core may be offset very slightly toward the SP end. There’s a pattern of 11.5/12th-magnitude stars toward the P: P very slightly N by 1.5′ is a 13th-magnitude star; due P that star by another 1.5′ is the brighter of a pair at 12thmagnitude, with a 13.5-magnitude secondary P slightly S the brighter by 0.5′. N very slightly P the brighter of the pair by 2.25′ is a 12.5-magnitude star that’s also 5′ NP the galaxy. Due N of the galaxy by 8′ is a 10th-magnitude star. N very slightly P the galaxy by 14′ is a 9.5-magnitude star that is the middle of a curly ‘y’ pattern, with the tines of the ‘y’ to the NP and NF and the stem to the S slightly P; 0.67′ N of the 9.5-magnitude star is a 10th-magnitude star from which the tines extend—NF this star by 1.25′ is a 12th-magnitude star and 1.25′ NP the 10th-magnitude star is a 12.5-magnitude star that’s actually a very faint double’ from the 9.5-magnitude star in the ‘y’ S slightly P by 1′ is an 11.5-magnitude star. (Whew!) There’s an 8.5-magnitude star 23′ NP the galaxy and a 9th-magnitude star 20′ SF the galaxy, on the edge of the field.

10:44
NGCs 1060, 1061, 1066, PGC 10325 (Tri): A pretty complicated field with multiple galaxies, of which the Herschel object and brightest is NGC 1060. This is a small, brightish, roundish (0.75′) galaxy with a quite small, bright core and a substellar nucleus; the outer halo is poorly defined and diffuse. 2.5′ N is another galaxy, NGC 1061, which is small (0.4′) and round and very diffuse, with no central concentration to speak of; I didn’t see it at first, but caught it in a moment of excellent clarity. 8′ F very slightly N of NGC 1060 is NGC 1066, which is round and about the same size as 1060 but much fainter and more diffuse; this one does have some weak central brightening, but no visible nucleus. S very slightly F of 1066 by 7′ is the brightest star in the field, at 7.5 magnitude. S of this star by 7′ is an 8.5-magnitude star; 5′ due P this star is yet another tiny, faint galaxy (PGC 10325); it’s 0.3′ diameter, with some slight central concentration and an extremely faint and intermittent stellar nucleus. This galaxy is S very slightly F 1060 by 11′.

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

10:58
NGC 1058 (Per): This is the most-interesting galaxy of the night so far—a moderately-large face-on spiral whose identity can be discerned visually, down in the foot of Perseus near NGC 1023. The galaxy is 1.75′ diameter, without much central brightening of any sort; a very faint spot on the NP edge may be a threshold star. The halo of the galaxy is pretty-poorly defined. There are two nearly-symmetrical arcs of stars N and F the galaxy. The first arc runs N to F the galaxy, with an 11.5-magnitude star 4′ N of the galaxy serving as the F end of this arc; P very slightly N that star by 2.5′ is a 12th-magnitude star; due P
that star by 3.75′ is a 10th-magnitude star. The F end of the second arc is marked by a 12th-magnitude star 7.25′ due F the center of the galaxy; NP that star by 3′ is another 12th-magnitude star, and P that star by 2.5′ is an 11.5-magnitude star with a 14th-magnitude star NF it by 0.75′. Aside from these two arcs are several other noteworthy stars in the field: SP the galaxy by 2.25′ is a 12th-magnitude star, and there’s an interesting double/pair P the galaxy by 7′, consisting of a 12th-magnitude star NP a 13th-magnitude star by 0.25′. SP the galaxy by 13′ is the brightest in the field, an 8th-magnitude star.

11:17
NGC 1207 (Per): This may be the weakest H galaxy I’ve examined since last May, when I caught NGC 2500 and a few of the others in Lynx after they’d dipped into the worst of the Eagle’s Ridge light pollution. It’s little more than a small diffuse spot, 0.5′ x 0.3′, elongated N very slightly P-S very slightly F. It has a thin streak of central brightening… possibly a central bar? There appears to be a threshold star on the NP edge, and an extremely-faint nucleus seems to be sometimes visible. Overall, though, it’s very poorly-defined, a barely-there wisp. F somewhat N of the galaxy by 2′ is a 13th-magnitude star with a 14th-magnitude star 0.5′ NP. N of the galaxy is a smallish triangle of four stars (the long side has three in it); the closest to the galaxy is the 12th-magnitude SP-most vertex, which is due N of the galaxy by 4.75′ and 12th-magnitude; N of that star by 1.5′ is an 11th-magnitude star; SF
that star by 0.75′ is a 13.5-magnitude star which is in the middle of the long side of the triangle; the final vertex is F very slightly N of the 11th-magnitude star by 2.25′ and also 11th-magnitude. The field’s brightest star is 7.5 magnitude and 22′ due F the galaxy. F very slightly S of the galaxy is an 8.5-magnitude star; a 10th-magnitude star is S of that star by 7.5′.

11:32
NGC 1003 (Per): A very intriguing, bright galaxy, the second-best in Perseus after NGC 1023. It’s elongated mostly P-F and quite large (2.75′ x 1.0′). It has poor central concentration and no visible nucleus, but the halo is irregularly-bright (if not outright mottled) and has indistinct ends and poorly-defined edges. This gives the galaxy a distinctive “shimmery” appearance. This one really needs more magnification!  The galaxy is bracketed to the S, SP, and NF by field stars: 2′ SP the galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star; a 13th-magnitude star is just off the NF edge of the halo; and due S of the galaxy by 2.5′ is a 12.5-magnitude star. To the NF is a group of five star-pairs that seem to radiate outward from an invisible radaint point, 8′ NF the galaxy. The brightest in the field is a 9th-magnitude star 18′ SP the galaxy, and there’s a 9.5-magnitude star 18′ NP the galaxy.

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

11:41
NGC 246 (Cet): This is an addendum to my previous observation of NGC 246 from September, when everything had dewed up before I could observe the nebula with the O-III.  The filter really brings out the nebula’s inner texture, giving a “spongy” appearance to the nebula’s interior. The outer rim is clearly “broken” or incomplete at a few points, most notably along the SP. The NP part of the rim is the best-defined and brightest.

11:55
NGCs 1161, 1160 (Per): NGC 1161 is a Herschel object, but its companion isn’t. 1161 is small, slightly elongated but reasonably bright. It’s no more than 0.75′ x 0.67′ and elongated N-S. The halo is diffuse and weakly defined, but the interior 33% of the galaxy is a much brighter core; no nucleus can be seen. A pair of nearby stars make the observation a little bit difficult: there’s a 10th-magnitude star 0.67′ P the galaxy and a 9th-magnitude star 0.67′ SP the previous star. Two more 9th-magnitude stars are in the field, one N of the galaxy by 14′ and one NP the galaxy by 18′. 1.5′ F the galaxy is an 11th-magnitude star; F very slightly N of that star by 1.25′ is a 12th-magnitude star; these four stars form a small checkmark or swoosh across the galaxy’s face. 3.5′ N of 1161 is NGC 1160, which is slightly smaller but much fainter and more diffuse than 1160. It’s 0.75′ x 0.3′ and elongated SP-NF, with no central brightening at all. 1′ N of 1160 is a tiny (0.5′ x 0.25′) triangle of 12th– and 14th-magnitude stars.

12:13
NGC 1193 (Per): It took a fair amount of time searching, relatively (Perseus was in an awkward position at the time), to find this really striking and intriguing cluster. It’s barely-resolvable and powdery, with several “layers” of star-powder atop each other. The cluster is also fairly small, 3′ P-F and 2.5′ N-S. It’s very rich, with a narrow magnitude range after the two more-prominent stars, and could be mistaken for a distant globular at first glance. There’s a prominent 11th-magnitude star on the very P edge of the cluster, and a 13th-magnitude star 1.75′ due F that star which is on the F edge of the cluster. Few other cluster members are easily resolved. The brightest star in the field is 7.5 magnitude and is 3′ P very slightly N of the 11th-magnitude star; NP the 7.5-magnitude star by 1′ is a 9.5-magnitude star. F the cluster is a messy wedge-shaped pattern of 10.5-/11th-magnitude stars that points away from the cluster, and a pair of 9th-magnitude stars are 9′ from the cluster (one to the N and one to the S of the cluster).

12:26
NGC 1169 (Per): A very diffuse, not-particularly-easy galaxy. Its 1.5′ x 0.75′ halo is weak, poorly defined, and elongated SP-NF. It has a very small, bright core and a substellar nucleus. The galaxy gives an elliptical profile, but is in actuality a spiral. 1.5′ due F the nucleus of the galaxy is a 13.5-magnitude star; NF that star by 2.25′ is the fainter and more S of a pair separated by 0.5′ SP-NF; these are 13thand 13.5 magnitude. S of the galaxy is a line of five stars extending 8′ N-S; the S-most two are both very close pairs; the N-most is 7′ S of the galaxy, although there’s another P slightly N of this star that turns the line into a hook; these stars are mostly 12.5/13th magnitudes. 8th-magnitude stars lie F very slightly S of the galaxy by 18′ and NF the galaxy by 19′; these are the brightest in the field.

12:46
NGC 1175 (Per): As a Herschel 400/II object, this one kinda sucks. (OK, it’s still a galaxy and therefore cool, but this one isn’t exactly crying out for another look.) It’s apparently an edge-on spiral, elongated 0.75′ x 0.125′ N-S. Its core is very faint and there’s no trace of a nucleus present. Despite its faintness, it’s still fairly-well defined. In averted, the core is reasonably obvious, and there’s an occasional threshold glimmer of a stellar nucleus. A 7.5-magnitude star (the brightest in the field) is NP the galaxy by 11′; it’s also the S-most vertex of a triangle, with an 8.5-magnitude star 8.5′ NP and the 9th-magnitude “primary” of a double/pair N by 8′. F the galaxy by 6′ and arcing 11′ to the SP is a quartet of evenly-spaced pairs/trios of stars, all of which are in the 10.5-12.5 magnitude range; these pairs are all oriented NP-SF, and their arrangement is actually more interesting than the galaxy itself.

12:56
NGC 1342 (Per): This cluster is unmistakably a single, unified object, well detached from the Milky Way and considerably bright. It’s elongated P slightly S-F slightly N, and about 15′ x 7′ in extent. Although it’s roughly rectangular, it doesn’t have a very ordered appearance to it, and has a wide range of magnitudes represented among the fifty or so stars here. The NP corner of the rectangle is a very interesting double/pair of 10thand 11thmagnitudes, the fainter star SP the brighter by 15″. This double lies along a curved arc that marks the P end of the cluster. The S edge is the most populous part of the cluster. Along that S edge, 7′ SF the aforementioned double/pair, is an 8.5-magnitude star, with a 9.5-magnitude star F very slightly N of that star by 6.5′. F slightly N of the double by 11′ is the cluster’s brightest star, at 8.3 magnitude; NF this star by 2.5′ is a 9.5-magnitude star; this pair sticks off the NF corner of the cluster and extend further to the NF. Overall, there are eleven stars brighter than 10th magnitude and about 40 of 11th magnitude and fainter.

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

1:08
NGC 1245 (Per): OK, this one has to go in the program! This is a beautiful blast of star-powder, unmistakable as a cluster and well detached from the Milky Way. Unlike 1342, this one doesn’t have much of a magnitude range, but it’s exceedingly rich, with probably more than 100 stars in a 7′ area. The vast majority of these are in the 13th magnitude range or fainter. Aside from a quintet of brighter stars that runs P very slightly N from the extreme F corner of the cluster, there’s an arc of five 11th-magnitude stars that make up the N edge of the cluster, and these ten are about the only ones here brighter than 13th magnitude. NP the cluster, about 9′ from center, is a backward “cocktail shrimp” pattern consisting of four stars at the head and four along the body; at the far SP end of the body is a close, faint double, while the shrimp’s head is composed of a small triangle and a single discrete “outlier” of 9.5 magnitude. An 8th-magnitude star just outside the extreme S end of the cluster is the brightest in the field, and it has SF it by 1.5′ a 10.5-magnitude star. The 11.5-magnitude star just on the F end of the cluster’s N arc has a 9th-magnitude star 2′ N of it. [I missed the remarkable N-S string of 14th-magnitude stars on the F edge of the cluster, which is apparent in photographs.]

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

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

 

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

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

10/12-10/13/18

EAGLE’S RIDGE
MOON: 4 days; 15% illuminated, set at 9:08 PM
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.4
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 40s, some breeze, mild dew

Others present: DB, Dale P

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

9:27
M110 (And): I’m observing this one independently of M31/NGC 206 and M32, given that I have company and don’t want to spend the whole evening taking notes and boring my guest. M110/ NGC 205 is, of course, very bright and obvious (as befits a Messier object). It’s very diffuse, in contrast with the compact and well-defined M32. It’s extended 9.0′ x 3.5′ N-S and pretty poorly defined, with a weakish 2.5′ x 0.75′ core but no visible nucleus. 2.75′ due S of the core, between the edges of the core and halo, is an embedded 13.5-magnitude star; there’s another 13.5-magnitude star 2.75′ F the point where the galaxy’s nucleus would be. Due F the galaxy by 7.5′ is a 9.5-magnitude star which has a 10th-magnitude star 4′ NF. A 9th-magnitude star 19′ NP the galaxy is the brightest in the field. There’s a pair of 11th-magnitude stars SP the galaxy; the N-most of these is about a quarter-magnitude dimmer and is 4′ SP the galaxy, with the brighter 2.25′ due S the fainter, and a 13th-magnitude star due S the brighter of the pair by 2′. The center of M31 is 35′ SF.

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

 

Summer’s Wreckage, Summer’s Ghosts

The month of September may be a crapshoot observing-wise here in the Willamette Valley, but historically, September and October have been my favorite months to observe: the harsh heat and humidity of summer are on the wane, nights are growing long again, the glories of the summer Milky Way are still well-placed for observing, and the icicle-delicate constellations of the autumn are in the ascendant. Messier 15—for my money the most beautiful globular cluster in the sky—transits the meridian just before midnight in early September. Staying up until dawn allows for observing the winter constellations (Orion, Canis Major, Gemini, etc.) in the relatively warm temperatures of an early-fall morning, while one can still wander among the rich star-clouds of the summer as twilight fades; perhaps my favorite stretch of sky (Andromeda/Pisces/Perseus, covered by Sky Atlas 2000.0 Chart 4) wends into view early enough for lengthy sweeping.

A sense of nostalgia pervades every pass through Pisces and Pegasus that I make, every view of the rising Pleiades, every apparition of Fomalhaut low in the south. The recollections of sitting out on my front sidewalk amid the glow of the neighbors’ porch lights, searching for M74 with my C8 as Led Zeppelin played in the background from the brand-new box set are as vivid now as they were thirty years ago, and they’ll live on in my astronomical DNA as long as my brain still functions. Those autumn nights were as formative as my years in high school, and I remember my “discovery” of the Blue Flash Nebula as clearly as I recall marching victoriously off the field in the freezing rain at LaSalle High School my senior year. The fall constellations were the last that I learned, but are some of the first I think of when I think about doing astronomy. (I eventually found M74 from that front sidewalk, too.)

And so the forecast of a clear New Moon week in the early autumn was as energizing as hitting the lottery—and nearly as unlikely. As smoky, disappointing August drew to a close, I had expected the year’s observing to be ending on a down note; looking back, though, September provided one of the most remarkable observing runs I’d ever had, especially given our previous Septembers in the Willamette Valley, which were almost-uniformly rainy, grey, and waterlogged.

Having only started delving deep into the Cygnus/Vulpecula/Sagitta region in order to plunder their Herschelian riches, I was keen to start taking notes on the objects in this area. I also had only a handful or so of Messier globulars left (and an NGC globular I’d forgotten about, NGC 288, down very low in Sculptor; this was also a Herschel object). I managed to make great strides in both tasks during the two weeks around New Moon in September, despite the occasional smoke-out from late-season forest fires and the deep-down tiredness that comes from repeated long nights examining the cosmos from sites forgotten by the “civilized” world.

I. The first night of the run and the month was pleasantly routine: some of the usual cast of characters observing the night sky in weather conditions as fine as could be hoped for.

09/01/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 21 days (64% illuminated); rose at 11:42 PM
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6
SQM: 21.3
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to low 60s; no appreciable dew

Others present: JO, FS, BA, RA

9:17
M80 (Sco): It’s still not totally dark yet, but there are only 2-1/2 hours before Moonrise and there’s no time to waste. M80 is a favorite of mine, as it’s bright and easy to find; it’s often the first DSO I go for in the summer as I’m waiting for darkness to fall. Seeing and transparency down this low in the sky aren’t particularly great tonight. M80 has a small, intense core, perhaps 1′ diameter, with the halo extending to 4′ and stragglers out to 7′, with two prominent outliers P the core by 3.5′. The cluster has three primary brightness gradients. The halo is pretty-well resolved, with many tiny stars. This globular has a high degree of concentration, perhaps a CC of 3 [actually a 2]. An 8.5-magnitude star lies 4.5′ N slightly P the cluster, and halfway between this star and the cluster is a 12th-magnitude star. S slightly P the cluster by 9′ is a 9th-magnitude star that serves as the NF vertex of a diamond whose major axis is 13′ and whose minor axis is 5′; the minor axis has three stars, including an equal-magnitude (10.5) pair; the S-most vertex of this triangle is its brightest at 9th-magnitude; the P-most star in the diamond is also 10.5-magnitude. 9′ SF the cluster is another 10.5-magnitude star.

9:35
NGC 6507 (Sgr): This is one of the most-nondescript open clusters I’ve done among the Herschels so far. It’s not well-detached or easily-identifiable as a cluster, and not particularly rich, with about 25 stars in a 12′ area. There’s not a huge range of magnitudes once the brightest star [9.5-magnitude WX Sgr] is excluded, with most of the stars in the 11th-13thmagnitude range. The 9.5-magnitude star is on the cluster’s NP corner, somewhat separate from the main body of the cluster. A faint pair is obvious at the cluster’s center, and a faint unequal pair (10.5 and 12thmagnitudes) is on the SP edge of the cluster’s main body; this latter has the brighter star 0.5′ N of the fainter. The main body of the cluster is a headless stick figure, with the 9.5-magnitude star on the P end of a line representing the cluster’s arms. This line, almost an integral sign, runs 11′ P-F across the N edge of the cluster, with the two legs branching off from it toward the S. Where the figure’s head would be is a single 13th-magnitude star about 1.5′ N of the P-F line. The figure’s P leg ends with the unequal double to the SP, while the F leg begins with the more-equal pair at cluster’s center.

I’ve always hesitated to take notes on the sky’s showpiece objects—the amount of detail that needs to be recorded is daunting, and I’m not good at focusing on a single object for  an extended length of time (this is one of my biggest flaws as an observer). But there was no escaping it anymore; I had some of the major globular clusters yet to get to, and many of the major summer nebulae were (even if only in part) among the targets on my current lists. So despite having observed these showpieces dozens of times, it was time to be disciplined about observing them.

9:49
M20 (Sgr): The famous Trifid Nebula is a glorious object even without a filter; with the UHC filter, it’s a show-stopper. Even the northern reflection component seems more impressive with the filter in (contrary to the prescribed use of the filter). I’ve always seen the nebula’s 14′ diameter HII component as a rose, its dark lanes dividing petals. The most-prominent of these dark lanes begins on the P side of the nebula’s central ionizing triple star and is pitch-black with the old (1987-vintage) Lumicon UHC. This dark lane runs N slightly P and S very slightly F of the triple star, with its widest (but faintest) point in the middle just P the triple. The other dark lane starts just SP the triple star and runs to the NF; there are two stars along this lane (a 10.5-magnitude star on the NF end of the lane and an 11th-magnitude star about halfway along the lane). These two are among the seven stars—not counting the triple—visible across the face of the nebula with the filter in, and the triple star itself appears only double until the filter is removed. The southern half of the nebula’s HII component is the brightest portion; the triple star is offset slightly toward the S rather than being directly in the nebula’s center. The N edge of the HII nebula is bounded by two 10th-magnitude stars—one 4.5′ N slightly F the triple star and the other 4′ NP the triple—and the 10.5-magnitude star on the end of the NF dark lane. A 7.5-magnitude star lies 8′ N of the triple star, and this star sits on the S central portion of M20’s reflection component. This reflection nebula extends 7′ P-F and 4′ N-S and is brightest along its SP edge; a dark lane cuts off the light on the P-most edge of the reflection nebula. A shaggy, dark strip runs P-F, separating the HII and reflection portions of the nebula, curling SP at its P end. 12′ P somewhat N of the 7.5-magnitude star is a 6th-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field; 14′ N slightly F the 7.5-magnitude star is a 7th-magnitude star, and there’s another 7.5-magnitude star 20′ F the first.

Without the UHC filter, the whole of the nebula is considerably diminished—even the reflection component (which may show slightly more detail but less extent without the filter). The dark strip dividing the reflection nebula from the HII portion is much less obvious. The number of visible stars within the nebula rises to ten, and the third component of the triple becomes visible. The  triple consists of a 7.5-magnitude primary, an 11th-magnitude tertiary due N of the primary by 5″, and a 9th-magnitude secondary 12″ S very slightly P the primary. 

10:03
M8, NGC 6528 (Sgr): WOW! I still haven’t gotten used to seeing these bright summer nebulae so well after so much time in the Midwest. I’ve put off doing these major objects simply due to not knowing where to start, which is borne out by looking at the Lagoon here; it’s almost overwhelmingly detailed. Starting without the UHC filter: the P side of the nebulosity is centered around and running S of a trapezoid that includes three stars and the 0.5′ diameter Hourglass Nebula, M8’s brightest ionized region; the Hourglass is the SP vertex of this trapezoid. A 6th-magnitude star [9 Sgr] is NF the Hourglass by 3′; this is the brightest star in the nebula. A pair of threshold stars are NP that star by 0.5′, and the second-brightest star in the nebula, a 7th-magnitude star, is 3′ N of the 6th-magnitude. The fourth star in the trapezoid (not counting the threshold pair) is an 11th-magnitude star 4.5′ NP the 6th-magnitude star. Just off the P edge of the Hourglass is an 11.5-magnitude star, and the brightest star in the field (magnitude 5.5 7 Sgr) is also P (and very slightly N) the Hourglass by 10′. NF the Hourglass by 1.5′ is another 11.5-magnitude star, which has a 13th-magnitude star 20″ N very slightly F it. The NP edge of this first chunk of nebulosity is a brighter, well-defined 7′ x 0.75′ streak that extends P slightly S of the trapezoid’s faintest star, while the SP edge of this whole “Hourglass chunk” is much more diffuse and poorly defined. N of this chunk is a dark lane that’s 5′ thick and then another bright streak of nebulosity that runs 14′ P-F and terminates at its F end at a pair of bright stars (a 9th-magnitude star P a 10th-magnitude star by 4′).  These two stars form the S edge of an isosceles triangle whose third vertex is a 10th-magnitude star 5.5′ N very slightly P the 9th-magnitude star.

F the Hourglass chunk of the nebula is the famous dark lane, the Lagoon itself. This lane runs SP-NF and is narrower and darker at the SP end, where it’s 2.25′ wide; the NF end is 4.5′ wide and extends almost into the P edge of the embedded star cluster, NGC 6530. The cluster’s 10′ major axis is oriented SP-NF, and contains some 28 stars, while the minor axis is 8′ and runs NP-SF; its shape is roughly pentagonal, with the minor axis pointing roughly to the P side. The brightest star is the cluster is 7.5 magnitude and sits on the middle of its F side, on the S tip of a diamond of 8th– and 9th-magnitude stars whose major axis is 2.25′ and whose minor axis is 2′, with the minor axis offset slightly to the N. Just NP the cluster lucida is a compact, bent ‘y’-shape of fainter stars with the open end to the S slightly P and the stem trailing NF. S of the cluster and F the dark Lagoon is the second bright portion of the whole of M8; this is NGC 6526, the Herschel object within the Lagoon Nebula complex. The P side of 6526 is most prominent, with contrast against the dark Lagoon. On the S of 6526 is another dark zone that runs P slightly N-F slightly S, with yet another dark lane on the F side (particularly prominent on the NF). NGC 6526 therefore has a triangular aspect: its P side is 8′ long, running SP-NF; the S edge is 12′ long, running P-F, and the third edge runs N-SF for 10′. The N end of 6526 runs into the S edge of the cluster, ending roughly at the cluster’s lucida. Following NGC 6530 is another band of darkness, 6.5-7′ wide, that runs SP-NF along the F edge of the cluster. On the F side of this dark lane is a 7th-magnitude star, which is at the NF end of a much fainter band of nebulosity that also runs SP-NF—this is the fourth major section of nebulosity within M8 (after the Hourglass, the P-F , and the faintest.

With the UHC, the WOW! factor increases. All four of the bright regions stand out much more, even the faint streak on the F side. The Hourglass chunk  stretches to 14′ round and connects to NGC 6526 around the bottom of the dark Lagoon. NGC 6526 extends further N and S as well, all the way through NGC 6530, and is considerably brighter than without the filter. The section to the N of the Hourglass chunk benefits the most from the filter, extending 18′ P-F and 6′ thick. Even the F-most section of the nebula is larger as seen through the UHC, connecting to NGC 6526 on the S end. With the filter, the unity of this entire object is much more obvious, with the four main sections of nebulosity and the cluster clearly parts of a much larger object—one which extends beyond the 42′ field of the 14mm ES eyepiece to no less than 48′ x 30′.  A truly stunning sight! 

I could’ve spent an hour or more on the Lagoon; as it was, this was already the longest I’d ever spent on it in one go. Appropriate, given that it was the best view I’d ever gotten of this vast nebulous cloud in a telescope that I owned. I’d always considered the Lagoon somewhat overrated as a showpiece object. No longer.

10:33
NGC 6583 (Sgr): This smallish open cluster is quite an impressive object, even after M8. It’s a little blast of star-powder, 3.5′ N-S and 2.75′ P-F. It’s very well detached from the background and very rich, but doesn’t have a great magnitude, with most stars in the 13th/14th-magnitude range. The brighter (12th-magnitude) stars form a line along the N-S axis. S of the cluster and running SF is a trio of brighter stars: an 11th-magnitude star 3.5′ from the cluster center, a 12th-magnitude star SF the previous, and an 11.5-magnitude star 1.5′ SF the first star. (The 12th-magnitude star is closer to the 11.5-magnitude star.) N, P, and F the cluster are pairs of stars that are all oriented S slightly P-N slightly F: the pair to the N is 5.25′ N of the cluster, and consists of a 12th-magnitude star 1′ N of a 13th-magnitude star; the pair to the F is 2.5′ from the cluster, and consists of two 12th-magnitude stars separated by 0.67′; the third pair, 5.5′ P the cluster, consists an 11.5-magnitude star 1′ S very slightly P a 12.5-magnitude star—the 12.5-magnitude star may itself be a very close double. There’s also a bright pair 16′ P slightly N, with an 8th-magnitude star NF a 9th-magnitude star by 1.5′; the former is the brightest star in the field.

10:56
NGC 6596 (Sgr): This is a loose, not very rich, not-particularly impressive cluster, although still an interesting one. Most of the 25-30 stars here are in the 11th/12th-magnitude range. The brighter stars form an upside-down ‘I C’ (perhaps a plea for reassignment?), with an obvious but tiny diamond of stars inside the open (F) end of the ‘C’. The ‘I’ precedes the ‘C’ and runs N slightly P-S slightly F and is 6′ long; it consists of six stars, with three bunched together at the N end, then a gap, and the three evenly spaced on the S end. The ‘C’ is blocky and has four stars on its S edge (which is 3′ long); the N edge has three stars, including the 10th-magnitude cluster lucida on the F end of the N edge. The star in the middle of the N edge is an equal-magnitude double (both 12th-magnitude) separated by 12″ and aligned NP-SF, while the third star in the N end is a tighter unequal double (11.5 and 13th-magnitude stars separated by 10″, the brighter N very slightly P the fainter). Between the two ends of the ‘C’, on its P side, are three more stars in a rough line that runs NP-SF. SF the lucida by 2′ is the N-most star in the little diamond, which is 11th-magnitude and on the end of the major axis; another 11th-magnitude star is 1′ S of the first, on the other end of the major axis; the minor axis consists of two 12th-magnitude stars 0.5′ apart, oriented NP-SF. Preceding the ‘I’ is a stylized numeral ‘7’, with its top bar to the S. The ‘7’ is the same length as the ‘I’ but with a curved stem, with a group of four stars in the middle of the stem. The top of the ‘7’ is parallel with the S edge of the ‘C’ and consists of seven stars; this top edge curls NF-ward. The star at the P end of the ‘7’ and the star at the end of the stem (the most northern in the ‘7’) are both of 10thmagnitude, while the brightest in the ‘7’ is a 9th-magnitude star in the middle of the stem. (I believe the ‘7’ to be outside the cluster, hence why the 9th-magnitude star isn’t considered the lucida.) An 8th-magnitude star sits just on the F edge of the field.

11:16
NGC 6664 (Sct): NGC 6664 is badly misplotted in both Sky Safari and the TriAtlas, leading me on a wild goose chase. (I actually swept over the cluster in searching, and suspected it was misplotted even before tracking down a POSS image.) The cluster lies 20′ F 4th-magnitude Alpha Scuti. It’s roughly arrowhead-shaped, with the point to the S, with a curved N side and a well-delineated F edge; the P side is much less-defined. There are some 60 stars here, and the cluster is very well detached from the background. The major axis is N-S and 18′, while the 12′ N edge is the minor axis. Twelve of the brighter stars cluster along the N edge, and these are in the 10.5/12th-magnitude range. A scattering of fainter stars also inhabit this N end. Just off the N end, 5′ N of the cluster, is a 1′ round grouping of 14th-magnitude stars. The F side of the cluster curves F-ward and back down to the S tip of the cluster. Not quite halfway down this side is a conspicuous ‘V’ of fainter stars that branch NP and N slightly P and arc S, joining at an 11th-mag star; there are four stars on the first branch (which is 3.5′ long) and five on the latter (which is 3.75′ long and has the fainter stars).

11:37
NGC 7009 (Aqr): The Saturn Nebula will be my last target for the night due to impending Moonrise. It is of course very very bright, too bright even to see its central star. It’s not as greenish as in photographs but shows a strong aquamarine color. The nebula is 30″ x 20″, but the famous ansae (which give the nebula its name) can’t be seen at this magnification. Even the UHC and OIII aren’t of much help. The filters do reveal a faint fringe of halo around the brighter core region. The brightest star in the field lies 20′ NF the nebula. N very slightly P are two stars: a 9.5-magnitude star 13′ from the nebula and a 14th-magnitude star 2′ distant from the nebula. NF the nebula by 8′ is the 10th-magnitude right-angle vertex of a small triangle; the second vertex lies 3.5′ N of the first, and is 11th-magnitude, while the third vertex is 12th-magnitude and 2.5′ F the first. A 13th-magnitude star lies 0.75′ N very slightly F the right-angle vertex.

 

II. We had plans, the next night, to head over to Mel B’s house in Cottage Grove; he was going to unveil his new 25″ scope and several of us were going to join him with our own scopes. But Mrs. Caveman and I left early the next morning to take my Caveman-in-laws’ Japanese student (they were hosting, and the university dorms weren’t open yet) out to Crater Lake, and we ended up getting home after dark; with little sleep from the night before, I had to bail on the trip to Mel’s.

Jerry was unable to make it out the next night, and most of the other bailed after a second night in a row. So Jeff L and I were the only participants at Eureka Monday night, which also turned into a fine observing session.

09/03-09/04/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 23 days (43% illuminated); rose at 12:46 AM
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.2 (into Milky Way)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to low 60s; no dew; considerable breeze by session’s end

Others present: Jeff L

9:07
M9 (Oph): Once again, it’s not totally dark when I’m starting, but I’m again starting with a Messier object. M9 isn’t super-bright, but it’s still very easy. The cluster is pretty loose and unconcentrated (CC 8), with a large core (3.5′) and a total diameter of 4.5′, with outliers to 7.25′.  The cluster is granular across its entire face with several discrete stars visible over the core and fairly-well resolved in the halo, with more outliers to the N than the S. A few prominent outliers can be found on the NP edge of the halo and one particular on the SF edge. Another lies SF between core and halo; this one is 12.5 magnitude and is P-most of a line that extends from that star to the SF; with the previous star on the SF and another 3.5′ from the cluster center as the three in that line. P slightly S on core’s edge is a small group just on the threshold of resolution, and this group makes the core of the cluster seem elongated in that direction. A final outlier lies 1.75′ N of halo’s edge. S of the cluster by 4.75′ is the N-most vertex of a very skinny isosceles triangle; that star is 12th-magnitude, with an 11.5-magnitude star SP it and an 11th-magnitude star 4′ SF from the second star. 1.75′ N very slightly P the first vertex is a 12th-magnitude star. SP the cluster, 3.5′ from center is a very faint line of three stars that runs P-F; this line is 1′ long, with the brightest star in it (a 12th-magnitude star) on its F end. P slightly S the cluster by 5′ from the edge of the halo is an 11.5-magnitude star that has an 11th-magnitude star 2’P very slightly S of it.  A 9.5-magnitude star is F somewhat S of the cluster by 13′, and the brightest star in the field—an 8th-magnitude star—lies just on the SF edge of the field.

9:20
M28 (Sgr): Messier 28 is one of the most underrated globulars. It’s quite a bit more concentrated than M9—CC 4—and is actually quite a bit more like M15 in terms of brightness profile. The core is small (1.5′) with a halo extending to 3.5′ and outliers in a triangular pattern to 6′. There are many resolved stars over the face of the cluster, and a number of 13th-magnitude outliers over an evenly-illuminated background of powder. There are outliers to the N, SP, and SF that give the cluster its illusion of triangularity; to the N is a tiny triangle of faint stars; to the SP is a prominent pair on the outliers’ edge; those on the SF are less-obvious.  Along the S edge/F very slightly S is a line/arc of 12.5/13th-magnitude stars. Averted vision also reveals a fuzzy blot of unresolved or threshold stars just to the NF of the body of the cluster, a 0.75′ line that runs NP [a satellite crosses the cluster].  SP the cluster by 9′ is a 9.5-magnitude star which is the P-most in an almost-right triangle; F slightly S of this star is an 11th-magnitude star that is the right-angle vertex of the triangle; 1.67′ S of the right-angle vertex is a 10.5-magnitude star. 10′ NP the cluster is another 9.5-magnitude star that has an 11.5-magnitude star NP it by 0.75′; 0.5′ SF that star is a 12th-magnitude star.

10:11
M22 (Sgr): GLORIOUS! M22 is one of the five best globulars in the entire sky. It’s rather loosely concentrated (CC 7), with a 6′ core region; the core is fairly weakly defined and blends into the halo fairly imperceptably. The halo extends to at least 9′, and outliers spread out to no less than 13′, but more P-F than N-S, giving the cluster a somewhat-elongated appearance. An uncountable number of stars is resolved all the way across the cluster and in the halo. A line of starry clumps runs along the SF edge of the core from the N edge. There’s a large group of outliers to the NF side and two short chains on the P and NP, both running toward the P side of the field; the NP arc is 1.5′ long and has eight stars, and is the more prominent of the two. SP the cluster, just outside the edge of the halo, is a 1.5′ clump of uniformly-faint stars 4.5′ from the cluster’s center, forming almost a separate cluster in itself; this is helped greatly by averted vision, which reveals a number of 13th/14th-magnitude stars packed into it. A prominent 10th-magnitude star lies 13′ S of the cluster, while the brightest in the field, an 8.5-magnitude star, sits 11′ NF the cluster’s center.

10:30
NGC 6793 (Vul): This is a pretty… uninspiring cluster. It’s really the only cluster-like object in the vicinity, so it’s almost detached by default. The cluster consists primarily of two tiny right triangles, set N-S. The triangle to the N has three 10th/11th-magnitude stars; it’s about 0.5′ on the P side, 0.75′ on the S side, and 1′ on the hypotenuse. The N-most star is a tight double with a 10.5-magnitude primary, with a 12th-magnitude secondary 8″ N very slightly F. The N edge of the second triangle is 1.75′ from the S edge of the N triangle. The S-most star in the second triangle is 11.5-magnitude, the other two stars being of 12th-magnitude. The right-angle vertex of the S triangle is the star to the NP. This triangle is 0.5′ on the P side, 0.67′ on the N side, and 0.75′ on the hypotenuse. A much fainter fourth star lies to the SF; it’s 13.5-magnitude, and makes the S triangle into a slightly-squashed square. Between and P the two triangles, on the P-most side of the cluster, is a pair aligned P-F with the F star 13.5-magnitude and the P star 13th; these are separated by 0.3′. The N triangle also has a 13th/14th-magnitude pair SF it.  There are two 8th-magnitude stars in the field: one P the cluster by 10′, and one 20′ F very slightly N of the cluster. In total, there are about fifteen stars here, with a fairly narrow brightness range.

10:42
NGC 6800 (Vul): Not particularly impressive, but more so than NGC 6793, this is a scattered, shapeless cluster of perhaps 40 stars in a 10′ area. It’s moderately detached from the Vulpecula Milky Way. The greatest concentration of stars in the cluster is on the F end of the S side; there’s a 1.5′ patch of six stars (plus some unresolved background stars) that’s anchored by a small diamond of slightly-brighter stars, of which the brightest is on the NF corner. P very slightly S of that clump is another small group anchored by a 12th-magnitude star. Due F the first clump is a line of unresolved stars with a 13th-magnitude star on its P edge; this group is 1.5′ x 0.3′. The majority of the cluster’s stars are in the 10th/12th-magnitude range. The brightest in the field is an 8th-magnitude star 16′ P slightly S of the cluster. P the cluster by 18′ is a 9th-magnitude star. The most-striking object in the field is a superb double 21′ N of the cluster’s center; this has 9.2- and 9.4-magnitude compnents separated by 5″, the brighter star P the secondary.

10:55
NGC 6823, Sh 2-86 (Vul): This is a really complicated object, a cluster enshrouded with nebulosity. The nebula is visible without a filter, lurking on the F and NF periphery of the cluster. The cluster itself (NGC 6823 proper) is a small knot of stars whose central feature is a tiny diamond (major axis running 0.67′ NP-SF, minor axis 7″ SP-NF), the brightest star of which is on the SF corner and is 9thmagnitude. The star on the opposite end of the major axis is 10thmagnitude. The stars on the minor axis are both 12th-magnitude, and the minor axis is offset to the N slightly. Other prominent stars in the cluster include a 9.5-magnitude star 3.5′ NP the diamond and a 10th-magnitude star 7′ S slightly P the diamond (the latter is probably outside the boundary of the cluster). There are perhaps 25 total stars here, mostly ranging from 10.5- to 15thmagnitude. The cluster is pretty detached from the Milky Way background. The nebulosity (Sh 2-86) is most visible to the F and NF of the cluster, with a prominent arc on the NF outside the cluster boundaries, 4.5′ from the diamond and sweeping F to NF. With the UHC filter, there’s not a lot of improvement in the nebula’s appearance; there are hints of a dark lane beginning 5′ NF the diamond and running NF in the field. I’m not sure the UHC is much help, and the O-III provides little increase in contrast from the unfiltered view at all. Maybe this nebula would benefit from an H-Beta.

11:28
NGC 6830 (Vul): It took a fair amount of starhopping to get here from NGC 6823, despite the shortness of the hop; the Milky Way through here is quite rich, making the hop more difficult. NGC 6830 isn’t as obvious or as well-detached from the background as NGC 6823. It’s not overly rich, either, with about 25 stars in a 7.5′ x 5.5′ area (major axis oriented P slightly S-F slightly N, minor axis N-S). The majority of stars are of 12.5-13thmagnitude, although a few are brighter. The fainter stars are gathered more toward the P side of the cluster. There are two arcs on this side: one arcing NP and one arcing NF, both from a point on the cluster’s S side; the latter ends at a point roughly N of the cluster’s center and is 4′ long, while the former is 2.5′ long. These arcs contain the majority of the faint stars in the cluster, while the brighter stars are concentrated along the N-S axis and F that axis. SP the cluster by 20′ is an 8.5-magnitude star, the brightest in the field. 11′ P somewhat S of the cluster’s center is a 9th-magnitude star; there’s another 9th-magnitude star 7′ F the cluster; SF this star by 2′ is a 10th-magnitude star.

11:40
NGC 6834 (Cyg): The wind has picked up quite a lot in the last twenty minutes, becoming a more noticeable presence here in the little Eureka clearing. I managed to drop the scope right on target with this cluster after aiming with the Telrad; it’s an obvious cluster and very rich, maybe the best of the night so far. A wide range of magnitudes is represented here. The cluster is 9′ P-F and 8′ N slightly F-S slightly P, with the minor axis shifted slightly toward the P end.  Along the major axis are the five brightest stars in the cluster; the one in the middle is 10thmagnitude and the other four are of 11thmagnitude. Around the middle star is a 1.5′ clump of fainter stars, perhaps ten in all, ranging from 12.5 to 14thmagnitude. This clump is more-easily seen/resolved in averted vision.  At the ends of the minor axis are also star-clumps, which have very few stars between them; the clump to the N end is a 1.3′ long Delphinus-shaped pattern of six 13th-magnitude and fainter stars, with the head to the S and the tail extending slightly NF, while the S clump is a 1.25′ long ‘v’-shaped pattern pointing to the NF, composed of six 13th-magnitude stars. A few extra 13th-magnitude and fainter stars are sprinkled along the minor axis around the intersection of the axes. Just N of the ‘v’-shaped clump may be a small knot of dark nebulosity, but its presence is mostly implied. There may be another, larger knot S very slightly P—there’s a triangle of stars there, and the larger, comma-shaped knot lies mostly inside that triangle, with the comma’s curve arcing N and then NP toward the cluster. The P-most vertex of the triangle is an 8th-magnitude star; a 10th-magnitude star is 6′ F very slightly S of that first vertex, and an 11th-magnitude star lies 5′ SP that second vertex.

12:05
NGC 6857 (Cyg): This little nebula isn’t unlike a small galaxy, as viewed through the UHC. It’s vaguely square, about 1′ on a side, oriented slightly SP-NF. There’s a faint (13thmagnitude) star just to the SP of the nebula, and (possibly) one off the NF corner that’s even fainter (14thmagnitude). There’s also a hint of a faint star (or possibly a bright knot) within the main nebula, near center. 4.5′ NP the main mass of the nebula is a tiny piece of nebulosity that’s mostly an averted-vision object; this is less than 10″ across. With the O-III filter in place, this smaller bit of nebula disappears, although the “main” nebula expands a bit to 1.25′ x 1.0′, with the edges slightly more diffuse. There’s just too little magnification at work here to discern meaningful detail in this object; I could go with higher power, but that would violate the terms I set for myself in working through the Herschels. I’ll just have to return to this little nebula on a later occasion with some heavier artillery. As for field stars, there’s a fairly-prominent arc of three stars S of the nebula: 4.5′ S of NGC 6857 is a 10th-magnitude star that’s the middle star of the arc, with a 12.5-magnitude star to the NP and a 13th-magnitude star to the NF. Also NF the nebula, by 8′, is an 8.5-magnitude star, with a 9.5-magnitude star 10′ further NF. N slightly P the nebula by 1′ is a 13th-magnitude star.

12:24
NGC 6866 (Cyg): Another intriguing object, this cluster could be dubbed “the Cygnus Cluster,” given its resemblance to its host constellation. It’s 18′ P-F and 10′ N very slightly P-S very slightly F, and quite rich with about 80 stars (these are mostly within the 11th/12th-magnitude range). The cluster is obvious and well detached from the Cygnus Milky Way, although it helps that the field is pretty much devoid of bright stars. Its two brightest members—an 11th-magnitude star, with an 11.5-magnitude star S very slightly F by 1.3’—are at the S end of the cluster. The majority of the cluster’s stars inhabit the two axes, with more of them along the N-S axis. The two axes merge in a ‘T’, but the N end sticks up a bit N from the P-F axis, terminating at the cluster’s brightest member (a 10.5-magnitude star that serves as the cluster’s “Deneb”). At the F end of the major axis is a small diamond of 12th– and 13th-magnitude stars; at the P end of the major axis is a line of seven stars that runs further P-F and then dips toward the SF. Off the F end, 3.5′ to the S of the major axis, is a 2.5′ clump of eight stars that’s detached from the rest of the cluster (maybe not a part of NGC 6866?). Another clump of eight stars lies 3′ NF the major axis.

Jeff was beginning to pack up at this point, so we chatted for several minutes. As I was aiming my scope at the next target, the landscape around us lit up—a bright meteor had streaked through the sky behind me. I missed it, naturally, because I was busy with my scope; Jeff managed to spot the meteor, and noted that it passed through the space between Polaris and Auriga before bursting into a shower of sparks. Although I missed this one, there would be several others of similar spectacle in the nights to follow.

Jeff drove off; once his headlights disappeared around the corner of the ridge road, I went back to what would be the last object of the night, given the imminent Moonrise.

12:40
NGC 6910 (Cyg): Last object of the night, and another interesting cluster. This one is shaped like the astrological sign for Aries, with the bottom of the stem to the N and the curved “horns” to SP and SF. This one is quite small (4.5′) and very well detached from the Milky Way here near Sadr, and it contains about twenty stars, most of which are in the 10th-magnitude range. The N end and SF corner are tipped with 7th-magnitude stars (a 6th-magnitude star 16′ N very slightly P the cluster is the brightest star in the field). 3.5′ P very slightly S of the star at the N end is a 13th.13.5-magnitude pair separated by 12″; the brighter is F very slightly N of the fainter. 4′ almost due F the star at the N end is a small group of five stars; F slightly N of this group is another group of four; I didn’t count these among the cluster stars, as they seem too far removed from the main body of the cluster.

 

III. There was a fair amount of confusion about observing the following night; most of the group went up to Eagle’s Ridge, while I went out to Eureka. It was fortunate that I had, as Donn M (who had worked at the visitors’ center at the Mauna Kea observatories in Hawai’i) drove down from Salem to join us at Eureka. I took fewer notes, rather than bore Donn with my narration, and we spent the evening looking at all manner of objects. The two objects I did get notes on helped complete my list of Messier globulars.

 

09/04-09/05/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 24 days (32% illuminated); rose at 1:42 AM
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 5
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.0
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to low 60s; no dew; considerable breeze by session’s end

Others present: Donn M

9:01
M4 (Sco): M4 is already quite low and well past the meridian, so I’m not going to wait until twilight is completely over before taking notes. This is a very loose, very poorly-concentrated globular, probably with a CC of 10. It’s very well resolved, all the way across, with a 4.5′ core and outliers all the way to 14′. The cluster is so loosely-concentrated it’s hard to separate the halo from the outliers (the core was defined in part by the length of the N-S line of prominent cluster members that gives M4 its distinctive character). On the S side of the cluster is a line of five stars that forms a cutoff for most of the outliers (although a few are still S of this line). This line is roughly perpendicular to the N-S line, and there are three brighter stars on the F side of this line and two on the P side. Halfway between the S tip of the N-S line and the P-most star of the three on the F side of the P-F line is a double star or faint pair, both 11thmagnitude and oriented SP-NF to each other, separated by 20″. The stars on the P-F line are 10.5/11thmagnitude, while the stars in the N-S line are 11.5/12thmagnitude. Well over a hundred indivisual stars are visible in the cluster. On the P edge of the halo is another pair, both 12thmagnitude, that’s N-S aligned; this pair is 2.75′ from the central N-S line. F the N-S line by 1′ is a small clump in the middle of the F side (right on the core’s edge) that consists of five 12th/13th-magnitude stars. N very slightly P the cluster’s center by 5′ is another pair, separated by 0.5′, of which the SP star is slightly brighter (10.5 vs. 11thmagnitude). N of the cluster by 16′ is the S-most of a pair that are among the brightest in the field (the 8.5-magnitude primary is the brightest in the field; the 10th-magnitude secondary is N slightly P the primary by 2.5′.

9:26
M62 (Oph): Much more concentrated (CC 5) but much smaller than M4, M62 more-closely resembles M14 in the powdery quality of its stars. The cluster is already starting to sink into the smoke pall circling the horizon. Its core spans 2.25′, with a 5.25′ halo and outliers to 7′. The cluster doesn’t quite reach granularity, being just on the verge of resolution over the body of the cluster and faint pinpoint stars just outside the edge of the halo. S very very slightly F the cluster by 3′ (from cluster center) is an 11th-magnitude star that’s individually prominent. A 10.5-magnitude star is NP the cluster by 9′. SP the cluster by 7′ is a 10th-magnitude star; 13′ SP of the cluster is an 8.5-magnitude star, the brightest in the field, and this and the previous star are in a perfect line with the cluster.

At 10:49, another brilliant fireball meteor erupted in the northeast, very near the spot where Jeff had caught the meteor from the previous night.

 

IV. We were thoroughly smoked out the following night; the smoke was dense enough in Eugene to be irritating to eyes and noses alike. No sense, then, in hauling out to Eagle’s or Eureka to try to peer through a thick layer of particulates.

The night after that (Thursday), more than made up for it.

 

09/06-09/07/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 26 days (12% illuminated); rose at 3:59 AM
SEEING: 8
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.4
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to upper 40s; no dew until after midnight, heavy by 3 AM; considerable breeze throughout; a bit cloudy in south toward end of session

Others present: JO, DB, FS

9:12
M13 (Her): No sense putting it off further!  M13 is one of the sky’s most spectacular objects. I would rank it fourth among globulars visible from the northern US, after M15, M22, and M5, although in some ways it’s the finest of them all. The cluster has a well-defined 4.5′ core in a 9′ halo, with outliers out to 14′; CC seems about a 5. From the outliers in, the brightness curve is quite smooth, although the core has a fairly-distinct edge. The cluster is well-resolved all the way across, with countless visible stars. Many of these cluster stars are spun out into tendrils, giving the cluster an insect-like appearance; there are four primary tendrils in all: two off the S edge and two off the N, with all but the one to the NF curling P-ward. On the P side, to the S, is a 4′ tendril; on the NP of the cluster is a 5′-long tendril. The two tendrils on the F side actually seem to be one long chain stretching N-S—6′ S and 3.5′ N (extending N very slightly F) from the edge of the halo. There are quite a few more visible cluster stars on the SP quadrant of the cluster than on the rest of the cluster, including a number of very close pairs (chief among these being one on the P side of the core and one on the S side of the core). This heavier population in the SP quadrant may be due to the presence of the dark “propeller” on the SF side; this wasn’t seen directly, but is possibly inferred by the lower star density on the SF and F side of the cluster. Many of the visible cluster stars are in the 11th/12th-magnitude range. A pair of 10.5-magnitude stars lie 9′ and 11′ to the P side of the cluster. M13 itself is bracketed by a pair of 7th-magnitude stars, one 17′ SP the cluster and the other 17′ F the cluster; 20′ NF the latter star is the galaxy NGC 6207 (cf.). Between the two 10.5-magnitude stars and the 7th-magnitude star SP the cluster is a pattern of 11th– and 12th-magnitude stars shaped like a mirror-reversed constellation Crater, with the “cup” open to the P side.

9:35
M92 (Her): Once again taking second place after M13, M92 is a considerably underrated globular in the Messier catalogue (with M2 and M 28), and would of course be a much better appreciated object if M13 wasn’t so near. It’s concentrated roughly to the same level of its better-known neighbor (CC 5), with a 2.25′ core, a 4′ halo, and outliers perhaps to 9′, especially on the NF side (and a lesser extent to the SP). The core of the cluster is on the SP end of a rectangle of resolved cluster members, with the three stars on the NF end of the rectangle about 4.5′ from the core; the sides of this rectangle run SP-NF, just P and just F the cluster’s core. The cluster is well resolved, especially on the N side of the core, with a prominent duo of stars on the NF edge of the core. Due F the cluster by 6′ is a 9.5-magnitude star; NF that star by 7′ is a 10.5-magnitude star; NF that star by 7′ is an 8.5-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field. SF the cluster by 20′ is the brightest (at 9.5 magnitude) of an extended diamond; this star is both the SF-most in the diamond and one end of the major axis of the diamond, which is 5.5′ x 1.75′; the stars on the minor axis and the 9.5-magnitude star on the SF end of the major axis also form a nearly-equilateral triangle (as the minor axis of the diamond is offset to the SF by a fair amount). P the cluster by 6′ is another 10.5-magnitude star. An 11th-magnitude star lies P somewhat N of the cluster by 8′.

10:07
NGC 6888 (Cyg): The Crescent Nebula, aka the Dividing Cell Nebula as listed in Sky Safari. I can no longer observe this fine object without thinking of mitosis. With the UHC filter in, the nebula spans 20′ x 10′ SP-NF and is not perfectly elliptical—call it the Anti-Dumbbell Nebula. The nebula’s brightest portion is on the NP edge, running around to the NF through a pair of bright stars that form the N edge of a trapezoid of bright stars on the N edge of the nebula; the three brightest in the trapezoid (the two on nebula’s edge and one in the nebula’s interior) also form a right triangle. These three stars are of 7th/7.5 magnitude, while the fourth star in the trapezoid (the SF vertex) is 10thmagnitude. The N-most of the stars in the triangle/trapezoid is the triangle’s right-angle vertex; the second vertex is 7′ SF; the third vertex is 5.5′ S very slightly P the first; the fourth trapezoid vertex is SF the first vertex by 7.5′. The hypotenuse of the right triangle is 8′ long. The brightest portion of nebulosity starts SP the right-angle vertex and runs NF, then loops F and very slightly S to end very closely by the second vertex. Drawing a line between the first and third vertices of the right triangle (i.e. along the short side of the right triangle) and continuing 6′ along that line finds a small knot of nebulosity, about 0.5′ diameter, which really pops out in averted vision. Continuing along that line about 4.5′ further (just outside the S edge of the nebula) brings us to a small arc of four stars, of which the 10th-magnitude star on the F end is the brightest; this arc is just SF another bright portion of the nebula (the S-most edge), which extends 5.5′ NP from that arc. The interior of the nebula, especially on the S end, is vaguely brighter than the Milky Way background; between the S-most star in the right triangle and the S edge of the nebula is a general milky or wispy glow that’s much more evident than the interior in the N half of the nebula. 7′ SP the right-angle vertex of the triangle, on the P edge of the nebula, is another bright knot of nebulosity that marks the point where the edge turns due S.  Just F the nebula (right across the middle of the nebula and F from there) is a tiny diamond of stars whose brightest star is 9thmagnitude; this star has a 10.5-magnitude star N of it by 0.5′, and these two stars make up the P side of the diamond.

In the O-III filter, the whole extent of the nebula is much brighter, with the two knots and the NP rim considerably more contrasty; the S edge is also more well defined. This is definitely an object for the O-III! With no filter at all, the number of visible stars inside the nebula increases dramatically. The right-angle vertex has a 12th-magnitude companion 0.5′ to its NF. A tiny equilateral triangle of 13th-magnitude stars lies in the NF end of the trapezoid. The nebula itself is much poorer without a filter: the two bright knots are visible but not overly obvious at first glance; the arc of the S end is difficult; the arc on the N end and the bit extending S very slightly P from the right-angle vertex of the triangle are the most obvious parts of the nebula when no filter is used.

10:47
NGC 7044 (Cyg): This is a new favorite among open clusters! The cluster presents as a faint, uniformly-lit 4′ x 2.5′ glow, extended mostly P-F, with only a few visible stars and much background granularity. It’s well-detached and obvious and very rich, with maybe 70 stars (although most are just beyond resolution). A couple of stars are visible on the P end, especially to the N. Right on the F edge of the unresolved glow, kind of marking the corners, are two prominent stars of which the star to the N is actually a very close double or pair. This star is the brighter of the two on the F edge at 12thmagnitude; 0.5′ N very slightly F it is a 13th-magnitude star. The star on the SF corner of the glow is 2′ S of the 12th-magnitude star and is 13.5 magnitude. 4.5′ F the double on the NF edge is a 9.5-magnitude star that has a 12th-magnitude star NP by 1′. The field’s brightest star is 8.5 magnitude and lies 20′ N slightly F the cluster, while a 9th-magnitude star is 12′ SP the cluster.

11:10
NGC 6940 (Vul): This is a huge cluster, but one that’s still fairly obvious and moderately detached—just a big (40′) spray of mostly 11th/12th-magnitude stars, perhaps a hundred overall. Several brighter stars are also among the cluster members. A 9th-magnitude star sits near the cluster’s center; this one is at the NF corner of the most concentrated region of stars in the cluster, a 6′ x 3.5′ clump. SP the 9th-magnitude star by 6.5′ and 7.5′ P it are two of the more-prominent fainter stars in the cluster.  13′ NF this 9th-magnitude star is another 9th-magnitude star. Due S of the first 9th-magnitude star by 11′ is an 8.5-magnitude star that forms a rhombus with two 9.5-magnitude stars and a close double/pair (8.5 and 9.5 magnitudes, separated by 5″), the latter of which is the P-most vertex of the rhombus; the double and the 8.5-magnitude star are separated by 11′ and on opposite ends of the rhombus’ major axis.

Next on the list was one of the first non-Messier objects I ever observed, hearkening back to that Cincinnati sidewalk in 1988, with my C-8 pushing its urban limits and Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” on the portable CD player. Thirty years later, I was finally recording an observation of this fine planetary nebula.

11:38
NGC 6905 (Del): The Blue Flash is one of the best planetary nebulae in the entire sky. It’s very bright and fairly large (0.75′) as planetaries go. Unfiltered, there’s a bit of P-F brightening on the S part of the interior, like a rim on an inner core region. Any outer halo that there might be is very faint and tenuous, not easy to discern against the bright core. No central star is visible. With the O-III filter, a bit more internal structure is visible, but’s hard to make out at this magnification; there’s also several arcseconds’ more outer halo, especially to the S. The nebula nestles inside a tiny triangle of stars (adding a fourth much fainter star makes this a trapezoid). The brightest star in the triangle is 11th-magnitude and lies 0.75′ N of the nebula; S of the nebula by 0.75′ is a 12.5-magnitude star; there’s an 11.5-magnitude star 1.25′ SF the nebula; the fourth, faintest star—which makes the triangle a trapezoid—is 13th-magnitude and lies 0.75′ F the 11th-magnitude star to the nebula’s N. 7′ P very slightly N of the nebula is the middle star of a ‘v’-shaped asterism that branches NP and NF from that star, which is 10.5 magnitude; the star 1.25′ F very slightly N of this star is the brightest in the group at 9.5 magnitude; P slightly N of that star by 1.5′ is another 10.5-magnitude star. On the NP side of the ‘v’, 1.75′ from the middle star, is another 10.5-magnitude star, and 1.75′ NP that star is a 12th-magnitude star. S very slightly F the nebula by 16′ is a 7th-magnitude star, the brightest in the field. MF the nebula by 16′ is an 8th-magnitude star; N very slightly P the nebula by that same distance is an 8.5-magnitude star.

The next object also had a nostalgic aura to it. In 1994, I was doing my (much-delayed) freshman year at Northern Arizona University, where I had ingratiated myself into the campus astronomy club; the club ran the public nights at the campus observatory. The telescope at the observatory was a 24″ classical Cassegrain with a steel frame and a mirror that was suffering from years of neglect. As a result, the finderscopes (3″ and 6″ refractors) usually gave better images than the main scope. But on one superb and frigid fall night, with a sizable crowd at hand and a medium-power 3″ eyepiece in the diagonal, the battered old scope gave a view of Messier 2 that left everyone in the freezing dome (myself included) nearly speechless—another indelible, frozen-in-time moment.

12:24
M2 (Aqr): Another very underappreciated Messier globular. This one is pretty tightly concentrated [I called it as a CC of 3; it’s actually a 2.] It’s a particularly pretty cluster, with a 3′ core and outliers to 7′; the halo is difficult to separate from the core. Many 13th/14th-magnitude stars are resolved across the cluster—far too many to count. The most prominent outliers include a very close pair on the P very slightly N side, 4′ from cluster center. N very slightly F the cluster by 4.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star, perhaps the brightest outlier or a superimposed field star. SF the cluster by 4′ is the more S of a pair of 11.5-magnitude stars, with the second in the pair 1′ F very slightly N of the first. The brightest star in the field is 9.5 magnitude and sits 21′ P the cluster. A 10th-magnitude star lies 10′ SP the cluster.

It’s amusing, sometimes, to read old astronomy books, to remark on the objects considered challenging in days past. The Veil Nebula in Cygnus is one of those; the one-time bible of deep-sky observing, Burnham’s Celestial Handbook, had described it thusly: “A very dark clear night and a wide-field eyepiece of low power are absolutely essential for the detection of this difficult object.” If only Burnham had access to today’s large Dobsonians, nebula filters, and high-contrast eyepieces!

Growing up, I also had at my disposal the LIFE Nature Library, a series of thin but oversized volumes that covered the gamut of natural and anthropological topics. The volume titled “The Universe” was one of my earliest influences in the subject of astronomy, and it contained a color photograph of the Veil with the description “… a diaphanous filagree of star-spangled red, white, and blue.” This description stuck with me even beyond my exposure to Carl Sagan’s writing, which I discovered much later, and I made frequent use of the words diaphanous and filigree whenever the situation allowed for it.  The nebula itself had to wait for the purchase of a UHC filter before I could assess the accuracy of the LIFE book’s description. (The colors, of course, are well beyond visual capability.)

12:39
NGC 6960 (Cyg): The western half of the Veil Nebula is a huge, contrail-like arc sweeping across the brilliant double star 52 Cygni (4th- and 12th-magnitude components, the secondary 5″ F the primary). Amazingly, as many times as I’ve looked at the Veil, I’ve never noticed that 52 Cyg is double, despite having read about it being so. The brighter section of the nebula extends NF from 52 Cyg, hooks P slightly, then curves back N-ward, extending 27′ N from 52 and terminating close to a 12th-magnitude star. The P side of this northern section has numerous bright striations in it, while the F side is somewhat more tenuous. The nebula runs 40′ S of 52 Cyg but is more indistinct and ragged, especially at the S end. Adding the O-III filter completely changes the character of the Veil, turning it into one of the most-detailed objects in the sky! With the filter, the N portion of the nebula is twisted and braided, almost too much to describe. 4.5′ S slightly F 52 Cyg is an 8.5-magnitude star embedded in the nebula. 10′ S of 52 Cyg is an 11th-magnitude star that sits 2′ N of where the nebula splits into P and F arcs, with open space between them; around this star is a very bright segment of the nebula’s “bowshock” that runs N and S of that star. Close to the ragged S end of the nebula, in the middle of the gap between the P and F arcs, is an equal-magnitude pair of stars separated by 1.25′.

12:51
NGC 6992-5 (Cyg): In the O-III, the eastern Veil Nebula is even more spectacular than the western half! It too has a star embedded in its northern tip, one of 10thmagnitude; 39′ S from that star is a 9th-magnitude star, the next one along the arc of nebulosity; 11′ N of that star and forming a triangle with a 9.5/10.5-magnitude pair on the P edge of the nebula is a very bright spot of nebulosity in the middle of the arc’s width; this runs S along the F edge of the arc in a bright streak that culminates 5′ NF that 9th-magnitude star. S of that star by another 11′ and running NP-SF across the width of the nebula is another bright filament that’s halfway between the first star and another bright star on the F edge of the nebula; this second star is due P a pair of bright stars off the F edge of the nebula, and from that star SP is the more ragged end of the nebula, which bends to the P side and has several tines that branch off to the NP. The N-most of these tines stretches 8′ along a quartet of stars, and then there’s a gap to the NP, and then the tine continues to the NP. S of that tine by 6′ is another tine parallel to the first; this one has a bright knot 19′ P very slightly N of the point where the tine meets the main arc of the nebula, and there’s also a gap in the middle of this tine before it continues NP. This second tine is connected to the main arc of the nebula at a small triangle of stars, the P-most of which is 11th-magnitude (the other two stars are 12th/12.5 magnitude). Even further S along the main arc of the nebula is yet another knot that’s detached from the end of the nebula and is about 3′ long. Overall, this eastern section of the Veil encompasses more than two 42′ fields; the amount of textural detail in it is impossible to describe; it’s like someone pulling apart cotton or Halloween spider webs, and so overwhelming to describe that I didn’t even bother with Pickering’s Triangular Wisp or the other wisps between the two main arcs of the Veil. Those will apparently have to wait for another occasion.

My notes for the next two objects were pretty chaotic, and making sense of them required consulting the POSS plates.

1:30
NGC 7062 (Cyg): A bit of a letdown after the Veil, but still a nice open cluster. This one is very obvious/detached and roughly diamond-shaped, with a 5.5′ major axis running P-F and a 4.5′ minor axis N-S. There are thirty or so stars, mostly in the 12th/13thmagnitude range, in the confines of these two axes. The star on the N end of the minor axis is almost exactly halfway and N from the two on the ends of the major axis (so 4.5′ NF the star on the P edge); the star on the S end of the minor axis is just S of the major axis and slightly closer to the star on the F end, which is at the end of an arc of three forming the SF edge of the cluster (the other two are a 12.5-magnitude star due P by 2′ and a 12th-magnitude star 1.5′ SP the second star). The stars on the ends of the major axis are both 10.5 magnitude; the star on the P end is the SP vertex of a small parallelogram on the P/NP edge of the cluster; this parallelogram is 1.5′ x 0.75′, and the other three stars in it are quite faint, in the 13th-magnitude range; the vertex F the brighter vertex is actually a faint, very close double separated by a couple of arcseconds. There’s a pattern of four 8th– and 9th-magnitude stars P and extending due N of the cluster. 15′ NF the star on the F end of the major axis is a 6th-magnitude star; a 4th-magnitude star is just outside the field, 23′ to the NF.

1:45
NGC 7067 (Cyg): This one is right next door to NGC 7062, but I had to confirm it with SkySafari to be sure that it was the correct object. It’s not obvious or well detached and pretty poor in population, with a wide range of magnitudes. There are seven primary stars here, in three distinct sections. The P-most section consists of a very thin isosceles triangle with the base to the N end; the two stars on this edge are both 13thmagnitude and separated by 0.3′; the triangle’s brightest star is 11thmagnitude and lies 1.67′ S of the base. Around and N of the triangle’s base is a 1.5′ x 0.5′ scattering of 14th-magnitude and fainter stars, and this comprises the richest portion of the cluster. The second portion of the cluster consists of just two stars, the brighter of which is to the N and is 10.5 magnitude, the fainter of which is 13thmagnitude. The brighter of this pair is 3.5′ NF the star at the tip of the isosceles triangle in the previous section, and is also 2.25′ NP the brightest cluster member, a 9th-magnitude star. This 9th-magnitude star is the P-most vertex of a tiny triangle; F very slightly S of that star by 0.5′ is an 11th-magnitude star, and 0.67′ NF the 9th-magnitude star is a 13.5-magnitude star. This triangle is the third primary section of the cluster. N very slightly P the cluster by 23′ (so outside the field) is an 8th-magnitude star; there’s another 8th-magnitude star S very slightly P the cluster by 20′, and an 8.5-magnitude star N of the cluster, 16′ from the cluster’s brightest star.

2:04
NGC 7128 (Cyg): This is a well-detached, fairly-rich cluster that’s unmistakable as a unified object, and very attractive to boot. It’s pretty compact at 5′ x 3′, oriented NP-SF. Six of the brighter stars are arranged in a small rectangle along the major axis; the brightest, at 8.5 magnitude, is on the SF end. N of this star by 0.75′ is a 13th-magnitude star; N of this second star by 0.75′ is another of 13thmagnitude. Due P the 8.5-magnitude star is a 12th-magnitude star which has a double star N slightly P by 1′; the double consists of an 11.5-magnitude star with a 12.5-magnitude star due P by 8″. N very slightly F the primary of the double by 0.75′ is the S of a pair of 13th-magnitude stars, with one N very very slightly P the other by 0.25′.  A number of fainter stars fill in the spaces between the brighter ones, particularly to the N end of the cluster. 10′ S of the 8.5-magnitude star is the more northern of a pair of 10th-magnitude stars, of which the more southern star is S very slightly P the other by 1.25′. P very slightly N of the cluster by 10′ is a 7.5-magnitude star, the field’s brightest.

Somewhere before this point, Jerry and Dan left for home. Frank had already gone back to his van to sleep for a bit; he was hoping to catch the Orion Nebula after it rose. I stuck it out, despite the increasingly-heavy dew. The rise of Cetus and Sculptor and the other specifically-autumn constellations had me eager to finish the open clusters of the Cygnus Milky Way and jump back into the galaxy fields of the fall.

2:25
NGC 24 (Scl): We’re way down in Sculptor now, working galaxies again. This is a very fine example of the type, a highly-inclined spiral. It’s elongated SP-NF, about 3.25′ x 0.75′. Its low altitude and declination may contribute to the somewhat indistinct halo; the core is bright and much more distinct, and is slightly offset to the NF end. No nucleus is visible. Just off the NF tip of the halo is a 12th-magnitude star; 6′ F very slightly S of this star is another 12th-magnitude star. Due S of the galaxy by 11′ is a 10th-magnitude star. P and somewhat S of the galaxy by 19′ is a pair of which the brighter component is the brightest in the field at 9.5 magnitude; this has an 11.5-magnitude companion F by 0.5′.

2:39
NGCs 7507, 7513 (Scl): Even farther S than NGC 24, this pair of galaxies is even more likely to be suffering from the low altitude. Neither is particularly impressive or distinguished. NGC 7507 is the Herschel object; it’s probably an elliptical galaxy, based on its profile, with a diffuse, poorly-defined halo but a bright core that’s about half the galaxy’s 0.75′ diameter. A very faint substellar nucleus can be seen. P very slightly N of the galaxy by 3′ is a 12th-magnitude star. SF the galaxy by 6′ is a 10.5-magnitude star with a 12.5-magnitude star 4.5′ to the S. The brightest in the field is the brighter of a pair (8thand 10.5 magnitudes) that has the fainter star NF by 1′; the brighter star is 17′ NF NGC 7507 and 3.5′ N very slightly P NGC 7513. NGC 7513 is NF NGC 7507 by 18′; it’s much fainter but larger than 7507, about 1.25′ x 0.67′ and elongated P-F. The halo is very diffuse and poorly defined, although the core is moderately bright. No nucleus is visible. 8′ NP is a 10th-magnitude star; this star is 16′ NF NGC 7507.

2:55
NGC 253 (Scl): One of the best galaxies in the whole sky, and it reminds me of this every time I seek it out. The mottling for which the galaxy is famous is apparent at first glance, especially in the brighter central region. The whole of the galaxy is no less than 28′ x 4.5′ and elongated SP-NF; the diffuse central region is about 10′ and very irregularly illuminated, and it’s offset slightly to the SP (or the NF end of the halo is much more difficult than the SP end). The ends of the halo disappear into the beckground sky, which admittedly is fairly greyish down at this altitude. A number of stars are embedded in the galaxy, of which three form a triangle around the core/central region: two are at the F end, a 12th-magnitude star just on the S edge of the halo and an 11.5-magnitude star 4.5′ NP the first star. From the first star P slightly S by 5′ is a 12.5-magnitude star. The field isn’t particularly noteworthy; its brightest star is 8.5 magnitude, and is 11′ NF the embedded 11.5-magnitude star. NP the P-most embedded star (the 12.5-magnitude star) by 3.75′ is an 11th-magnitude star. A 9th-magnitude star lies 6.5′ S of the center of the galaxy; there’s a 9.5-magnitude star 3.5′ NP that star and an 11th-magnitude star 4.5′ S of the 9th-magnitude star.

3:06
NGC 288 (Scl): The last of the non-Messier NGC globulars I need to take notes on—only M79 and M68 remain among NGC-numbered globular clusters. NGC 288 is SF NGC 253, and sits right near the South Galactic Pole. It’s fairly faint down so low in the sky. The cluster lacks a cohesive core; the majority of its stars are within 6′, with a number of outliers out to 10′. This is one of the loosest globulars, with a CC of 11. It’s highly resolved, with dozens of individual cluster members visible (if not more than a hundred) and a background glow of sub-threshold stars. A prominent 13th-magnitude outlier sits on the N very slightly P edge just outside the halo. Two more, 5′ to the SF, are the farthest from cluster center. There are a few 14th-magnitude outliers 3.5′ S and S slightly P center, and these (and the previously-mentioned ones) give the shell of outliers a triangular aspect atop the roundness of the cluster itself. NP the cluster is a trapezoid of stars; the closest to the cluster is 11th magnitude and may be double; this star is 7.5′ NP the center of the cluster. NP this star by 10′ is a 12th-magnitude star. N very slightly F the double by 7′ is the field’s brightest star at 8.5 magnitude. From the double NP by 6.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star. NF the cluster is a not-quite-right triangle: 8′ F slightly N of the cluster is a 10.5-magnitude star that has an 11th-magnitude star N very slightly P by 5.5′ and a 9th-magnitude star NF by 7.5′.

Breaking away from the eyepiece for a moment to consult my charts, I noticed that the sky to the south was becoming slightly overcast with cirrus—a sign that it was time to call it a night.

3:17
NGC 613 (Scl): Another impressive Sculptor galaxy, although it’s about to be eaten by a wave of cirrus. This galaxy is elongated NP-SF, about 3.25′ x 1.0′, with a diffuse halo, a large bright core, and a bright stellar nucleus; the diffuseness of the halo may be amplified by the incoming clouds. The galaxy seems better defined on the N edge. I have to give the galaxy a bit short shrift, as I’m now losing it to the clouds. N very slightly S by 2.25′ is a 10th-magnitude star. N very slightly P by 8′ is the brighter of a pair (10thand 12thmagnitudes), with the fainter P the brighter by 0.3′. I’ll have to come back to this one, as I’m sure the present view doesn’t do it justice.

3:32
NGC 908 (Cet): An excellent galaxy, and my last target for the night. This is a huge galaxy 4.5′ x 1.25′, oriented P-F. It’s very mottled and diffuse, irregularly-bright along its length. There are distinct traces of spiral structure here: an apparent arm that begins N of the core and sweeps around to the P and one that begins on the S of the core and sweeps F; there’s a void in the F end as if a space between the spiral arm and the subtly-bright core. The ends of the halo are quite ragged, and there may (?) be a very faint stellar nucleus visible fleetingly in averted vision. Superb!  8.5′ due P the core is an 11th-magnitude star that has an 11.5-magnitude star 3′ N very slightly P it. The brightest star in the field is 9thmagnitude and is 20′ SF the galaxy; the second-brightest in the field is a 9.5-magnitude star NP the galaxy by 11′. N of the galaxy is a small trapezoid with a very narrow S edge; the brightest star in the trapezoid, at 10.5 magnitude, is 5′ N of the galaxy’s core; the S edge of the trapezoid is marked by two 12.5-magnitude stars separated by 0.67′, and these are 3.25′ and 3.2′ N very slightly P the galaxy. The fourth in the trapezoid is N slightly P the galaxy by 5′ and is 13thmagnitude.

Orion was well risen by now, his glittering belt straight above (and pointing down to) the road to home. Frank’s van was still parked there. I packed up as quietly as I could, impressed by the amount of dew that rolled off my charts and eyepiece case, but still under the spell of the autumn stars. (Evidently I wasn’t quiet enough; Frank would tell me later that I had woken him up as I left, but that there was so much dew that he didn’t get his look at M42.)

It had been one of the best observing nights I’d had at Eureka Ridge, and I already couldn’t wait to come back.

 

V. I passed on the next night, needing to rest my Australopithicene bones a little more after such a long session, and with Saturday’s forecast promising a spectacular night. Jerry and Kathy were in Portland for the week, Dan was in Tucson, Frank was working, and even the promise of a stunning September night wasn’t enough to goad anyone else out to the Ridge. I went it alone, perhaps for the last time (due to reasons to be explained in my writeup of October’s observing).

This night was one of the last I’d need to clear out Sky Atlas 2000.0 Chart 9, covering Cygnus, northern Pegasus, and western Andromeda. Only a few objects remain there, most of them better found on Chart 3. Several of these objects are challenging not because they’re difficult to find or to see, but because their identities have been so historically muddled that knowing which is the correct object requires a fair amount of Internet sleuthing.

09/08-09/09/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: New
SEEING: 8.5, 4
TRANSPARENCY: 7, 4
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.5
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to upper 40s; no dew until after midnight, heavy by 3 AM; air mostly still

Others present: none

9:08
NGCs 6885, 6882 (Vul): There’s a lot of confusion about identities with these clusters, so there’s a bit of CYA at work here. SkySafari pulls up both of these objects when searching for NGC 6882 and NGC 6885. Uranometria only charts 6885; the TriAtlas lists the cluster around 20 Vul as 6885 and that around 19 Vul as 6882. Archinal & Hynes (probably the definitive authority) consider the 20 Vul cluster to be 6885 and 6882 to be non-existent. I’m going with the cluster around 20 Vul as 6885 and that around 19 Vul as 6882 for the sake of CMA.

NGC 6885 is large (16′), roundish, and reasonably-well detached but not super-obvious as a cluster. There are maybe 40 stars here, so it has a fairly-low density, but it also has a pretty wide range of magnitudes. It’s pretty devoid of stars in the middle aside from a small triangle of 12th/12.5-magnitude stars; this triangle is 3′-4′ per side. The majority of the cluster’s stars are along the N edge, but these are mostly fainter members; the brighter stars are along the S on the P and F sides. 4.5′ S of the brightest star in the cluster (20 Vul, 6thmagnitude) is a small triangle whose closest vertex, a 9.5-magnitude star, is the P-most vertex; another 9.5-magnitude star is 2.5′ S very slightly F that fist 9.5-magnitude star; 2′ N very slightly F of the second star is an 11th-magnitude star (which has a 12.5-magnitide star S slightly P of it by 0.75′). These are the stars in the triangle. Back to 20 Vul: N of 20 Vul by 2.5′ is a pair of stars, of which the P-most of the pair is 10th-magnitude and the F-most is 11th-magnitude, 0.75′ F very slightly S of the 10th-magnitude star. NP 20 Vul by 6′ is a clump on the N edge of the cluster, which is the most obvious feature of the cluster after 20 Vul itself; there are nine stars of various magnitudes in the clump. Due P this clump is a ‘C’-shaped arc of stars, along the N edge of the cluster, and the brightest stars in it are in the F side of the ‘C’. The ‘C’ is open to the N. P slightly S of 20 Vul by 12′ is the faintest and N-most vertex of another triangle that defines the majority of the P side of the cluster; this vertex is 11th-magnitude, and has SF by 2.5′ a 9th-magnitude star; the third vertex of this triangle is P very slightly S of the first by 1.25′ and is  9th-magnitude; it has an 11th-magnitude star F very slightly N by 0.3′. On the F edge of the cluster is a 6th-magnitude star that may or may not be part of the cluster.

NGC 6882—if it exists at all—is centered around 5th-magnitude 19 Vul; this star is flanked on the N very slightly F (by 5.25′) and S slightly F (by 4.5′) by 7th-magnitude stars. This is a fairly poor excuse for a cluster, with hard-to-determine boundaries, few stars, and a wide range of magnitudes. The star to the S slightly F of 19 Vul is the central point of a group of eight stars which is 3.5′ P-F; the P end is marked by a pair of 11.5-magnitude stars (one P very slightly N of the other by 0.75′); directly around and F the 7th-magnitude star in that group are five 13th/13.5-magnitude stars. P very slightly S of 19 Vul by 5′ is a pair of 10th-magnitude stars, separated by 1′, of which the S-most is slightly brighter (10.2 and 10.4). With 19 Vul centered, P slightly N of it by 18′ is the brightest star in the field (magnitude 5.5); this star has a squiggle of faint (12th-magnitude and fainter) stars trailing away from it to the NF; this trail is 2.5′ long.

9:36
NGC 6991, IC 5076 (Cyg): from one (two) case of confused identity to another. The interstellarum Deep Sky Atlas plots NGC 6991 as four discrete objects, and it’s understandable upon looking at it; there are four separate clumps of stars here. Archinal & Hynes note that only one of these should be considered NGC 6991, while Steve Gottlieb notes that the original object (John Herschel’s catalogue entry h2091) could either be the group involving the 5.7-magnitude star HD 199478 and the reflection nebula IC 5076, or a group 10′ F very slightly S, which I note below as the third group of four from NP-SF. All are described here.

The entirety of what iSDA may consider NGC 6991 is P and S of a 6th-magnitude star [HD 199478], which has a patch of reflection nebulosity [IC 5076] P it. The cluster is made up of four subgroups of stars, each oriented S very slightly P-N very slightly F, with the four groups together running from N very slightly P-S very slightly F within the overall “cluster.” The whole of the four groups is about 20′ N-S. The group at the N end consists of six stars, of which four are on the P end, including the brightest in this group (9.5 magnitude); this star is in the middle of the line of six. P that star are three stars, of which the closest is 1′ P very slightly S, and the farthest from the 9.5-magnitude star is 1.25′ P very slightly N the second star; these two stars are both 11th-magnitude. Between and slightly S of them is a 12th-magnitude star. F the 9.5-magnitude star by 1.75′ and 2.25′ are two more 11th-magnitude stars.

S of the 9.5-magnitude star is the brightest (and P-most) in the second subgroup, a 10.5-magnitude star. (There is actually a threshold star slightly P the 10.5-magnitude star, but I’m not including it here as the P-most.) There are eight stars in this subgroup. From the 10.5-magnitude star NF by 0.75′ is a pair of 11.5/12th-magnitude stars of which the fainter is P the brighter by 12″. This whole second subgroup arches NF from the 10.5-magnitude star and then back S, ending F very slightly N of the 10.5-magnitude star.

SP the 10.5-magnitude star by 7′ is the brightest star in the whole “cluster” of NGC 6991, and the P-most in the third group. This third group is the one John Herschel apparently referred to as h2091 (after his father called the group around HD 199478 the cluster VIII-76 and John misidentified his father’s cluster). This brightest star in the thrid group is 8thmagnitude, and sits in the middle of the P edge of a football-shaped pattern of stars oriented N slightly P-S slightly F. This “football” has ten stars and spans 4.5′ x 2.5′; the 8.5-magnitude star is on the P end of the minor axis. F the football pattern is a small trapezoid of eight stars, the brightest of which is 10thmagnitude and is the P-most in the trapezoid. This 10th-magnitude star is 4.5′ NF the 8th-magnitude star in the football; the trapezoid and the football make up this third subgroup of NGC 6991 and span 6.5′ across.

8′ S of the 8th-magnitude star in the football is the brightest star in the fourth subgroup, which contains ten stars and is oriented P very slightly S-F very slightly N; this brightest in this subgroup (at 10th-magnitude) is the second star in from P on the S side of the subgroup. This subgroup is roughly Pleiades-shaped and spans 3′ x 1′.

These four subgroups may or may not make up NGC 6991. As for William Herschel’s VIII-76, this includes both HD 199478 and IC 5076, which is P the star by 2′. It’s hard to determine a size for the reflection nebula, as it’s pretty faint; it’s actually easiest to tell that it’s there by noticing the lack of glow around the other nearby stars. I estimate the nebula to be no more than 2′ across. From HD 199478 SF to SP is an arc of three 9.5/10th-magnitude stars, each about 2.5′ apart; the star of the SF end of the arc has a threshold-level companion S by 0.25′. The P-most star in the arc is 10thmagnitude and is a triple, with a 13.5-magnitude companion 6″ P very slightly N and a 13th-magnitude star SF by 12″. IC 5076 forms a small triangle with the triple star and the 10th-magnitude star in the middle of the arc, the nebula being N of the two stars. The nebula is an ill-defined but easily-noticeable presence in the field, even though I didn’t previously know it was going to be there. A 7th-magnitude star is 18′ S of HD 199478.

10:11
NGC 7000 (Cyg): Out of the frying pan, into the fire. The North America Nebula is such a huge, sweeping object that I don’t know where to begin with it, and my descriptive ability palls at the prospect of taking notes on it; as a result, my notes are inadequate as a detailed description. (This is why I prefer to avoid the large, showpiece objects in the sky with regard to note-taking.) But we must plow on….

The size of the nebula is staggering; from the end of “Panama” to “Maine” is nearly four 42′ fields of view, and from the “Labrador coast” to “British Columbia” is 2.5 fields. (I’ll stop with the quotation marks now.) There’s a 6th-magnitude star near Hudson Bay; SF this star, arcing to the SF and then back NF, is an arc of four bright stars. A 10′ x 3.5′ (narrower on the S end) strip of dark nebulosity near Hudson Bay runs roughly N-S and terminates near a small triangle of stars on its SP edge; this triangle is roughly equilateral, with its two brighter stars on the N edge and its faintest star as the S-most vertex. The Atlantic coast region is the brightest part of the nebula, and it runs down past the cluster NGC 6997 to a line of three 9th/10th-magnitude stars which run along the S edge of the Panama region; the nebula extends slightly SP those stars. The Gulf of Mexico region isn’t as bright as the Atlantic coast but is better-defined, in part due to contrast with the dark nebula that makes up the actual Gulf; the dark nebula also runs up the Atlantic Coast, but it’s most obvious in the Gulf. The Gulf region is 20′ across and is bounded by an 8.5-magnitude star on the N edge, a 9th-magnitude star on the S Florida Gulf coast, and a 7th-magnitude star on the P edge of the Mexico side. The dark nebula in the Gulf defineitely looks like an obscuring mass, rather than just an absence of stars and nebulosity.  Up the Isthmus, along the Pacific coast of Mexico and into California—on the NF up into Canada are a pair of bright stars N-S to each other and separated by 12′ (a 6th-magnitude star at Vancouver and a 7th-magnitude star at Portland), with another 7th-magnitude star in SoCal, 35′ S of the Vancouver star. The entirety of this object is filled with gauzy nebulosity (which is greatly enhanced by the UHC filter), bounded and shaped by dark dust clouds into a paragon of pareidolia. (It should be added that the Pelican Nebula, due P NGC 7000 was also quite striking on this evening, but I didn’t have the descriptive prowess to continue further.)

10:27
NGC 6997 (Cyg): This cluster is inside the North America Nebula, roughly in the Pennsylvania area; as such, it’s awash in nebulosity. The cluster is elliptical, elongated NP-SF, and pretty obviously a cluster. It’s well-detached from the background stars and moderately rich, with some 40 stars of a pretty wide range of magnitudes. The ellipse is 9′ x 6.5′, with most of the stars around the perimeter of the ellipse; only eight stars are actually inside the ellipse. The brightest star, at magnitude 10.5, is on the middle of the SP side of the ellipse, and there’s a line of faint stars that runs 1.75′ N from that star. The S end of the ellipse has more stars (perhaps 25) than the N end, the area around that line of faint stars being particularly populous. The most-obvious feature of the cluster is a 2.75′ long extension of stars that runs NF from the NF end of the ellipse; this extension contains ten stars, of which three are 11th-magnitude and the others much fainter.  The cluster is framed by three 6th-magnitude stars: one 16′ due N (at Hudson Bay); one 18′ SP (at Charleston) and one 22′ SF (Kansas City); with the cluster centered, these three frame the field along with a 7th-magnitude star 17′ NF at Chicago.

10:48
NGC 7031 (Cyg): This tough little cluster is located in the midst of Le Gentil 3, the huge dark cloud that hangs between Deneb and Cepheus like a northern version of the Coalsack. There aren’t many leaping-off stars here for starhopping. The cluster is pretty obvious but star-poor, with only 10-12 stars and a moderate range of magnitudes among them. The cluster is a tight little triangular knot, with its brightest star (magnitude 10.2) as the N vertex; this star has a 12.5-magnitude companion F very slightly S by 15″. SF the bright star by 1.25′ is the N-most vertex of a tiny triangle of 12th-magnitude stars; SF that vertex by 0.3′ is another 12th-magnitude star; SP the first vertex by 0.5′ is the third vertex. SP the 10.2-magnitude star by 0.75′ is a SP-NF line of three stars, of which the one in the middle and the one on the SP are the brightest at 12.5 magnitude; the third (the closest to the 10.2-magnitude star) is 14thmagnitude; this line is no more than 0.67′. The 10.2-magnitude star and its companion, the little triangle, and the little line of stars make up the whole of the cluster. SF the 10.2-magnitude star by 14′ is the brightest in the field, a 9.5-magnitude star; it’s also the SF-most vertex of another triangle, with 11th-magnitude stars 2′ N very slightly P and 2.5′ NP.

11:19
NGC 7243 (Lac): A large, bright, loose cluster, this is an ideal target for binoculars or finderscopes. It’s not well detached, and could be a mere condensation of the Milky Way. It’s still fairly rich, with seventy or so stars in a triangular area that’s about 20′ on a side. Most of the stars are in small, loose clumps, and most are in the 9th/11th-magnitude range (although there are a number of fainter stars, down to 13thmagnitude). The N/NP side of the cluster is the most populous. On the middle of the P side is a small right triangle, the P vertex of which is an 8.5-magnitude star with one of equal magnitude F slightly S by 2.5′; due NF the first vertex by 1.5′ is an 11th-magnitude star which is the right-angle vertex of the triangle. From the first vertex of the right triangle F somewhat N by 7′ is  double star whose components are both 9.5 magnitude and are separated by 11″ N-S; this double is the F vertex of an almost-equilateral triangle that’s on eof the most obvious features of the cluster; P the double star by 1.25′ is another 9.5-magnitude star; from the double 1.5′ N very slightly P is a 10.5-magnitude star; these make up the second triangle, which is near the overall center of the cluster. There’s a clump of bright stars at the cluster’s NF corner; the SF corner of the cluster is a 9th-magnitude star that has a 10th-magnitude star S of it by 2′. Along the S central region of the cluster due S of the nearly-equilateral triangle is a “Hercules keystone” asterism that’s prominent; its NP-most is its brightest star at 9thmagnitude.

11:39
NGC 7245 (Lac): This cluster was definitely worth the hunt! I was a bit tricked by the fact that the asterism I used to starhop to the cluster had a lookalike very nearby that was leading me the wrong way. The cluster itself is tiny, about 2.5′ across, but very detached and extremely rich for its size. Most of the stars in the cluster are 13th-magnitude and fainter, giving the cluster a powdery appearance; it’s not a cluster for easy resolution. It’s bounded by a triangle of brighter stars of which the star to the NF is the brightest. In averted vision, the F side of the cluster is slightly better resolved; a line of 14th-magnitude stars runs SP-NF along that F edge. NF the cluster by 4′ is a 9th-magnitude star. 1.5′ SP the cluster is an 11th-magnitude star. SF the cluster by 2.5′ is a 10.5-magnitude star that is closely-surrounded by a small knot of four 13.5/14th-magnitude stars, three of which are P the 10.5-magnitude star and one of which is N slightly F. The asterism I used to find the cluster is N slightly P the cluster; it’s a small trapezoid with its brightest star (9thmagnitude) on the SP corner and a 9.5-magnitude star S very slightly F by 0.67′; N of the brighter star by 1.5′ is another 9.5-magnitude star; SF that last star by 2′ is a 10th-magnitude star. [I completely missed King 9, a similar cluster 4.75′ NF NGC 7245.]

 

11:52
NGC 7296 (7295)(Lac): An interesting and fairly obvious little cluster, although not particularly well detached. It’s reasonably rich, with 25 stars in a 5′ x 3.5′ area that’s oriented P-F. Twelve of these stars are fairly obvious and in the 10th/12th-magnitude range; most of the cluster stars are between 10thand 12thmagnitude, with a fair number fainter than this. The brighter stars in the cluster form two lines, starting at a 10th-magnitude star at the P tip of the cluster (this is the cluster’s brightest member); these lines run along the S edge of the cluster, starting S slightly F from that star, with a more prominent line that runs SF from that star then veers NF. Both lines have five prominent stars in them. The cluster as a whole has an insect-like appearance.  A majority of the fainter members are in two clumps, one NF the 10th-magnitude star by 0.75′ and one in the central part of the S edge/line. The P side of the cluster is more populous than the F side. S of the cluster, 7′ S very slightly F the 10th-magnitude star on the P edge of the cluster, is a 9th-magnitude star; this star has a line of three equally-spaced (1.5′-2′) 11th/12th-magnitude stars leading up to the 10th-magnitude star—starting from the 9th-magnitude star, there are three stars, then a gap of 3.5′, then the 10th-magnitude star. Due P the cluster by 14′ is an 8th-magnitude star. NF the 10th-magnitude star by 20′ is the brightest star in the field (6th-magnitude), which has 15″ N slightly P a 12th-magnitude star. [This is an actual double, HD 213388.]

12:26
NGC 7686 (And): A fairly obvious and detached cluster N of Frederick’s Glory, this is a bright cluster where one wouldn’t really expect it. It’s not super rich—just 20 stars—but it’s eye-catching. The cluster is centered around a 6th-magnitude star and is obviously triangular, with the 6th-magnitude star in the P-F running S edge of the triangle. 5′ P very slightly S of the 6th-magnitude star is an 8th-magnitude star, and 5′ F very slightly N of the 6th-magnitude star is a 10.5-magnitude star; these form the S edge of the triangle. The third vertex of the triangle is NP the 6th-magnitude star by 9′ and is 9thmagnitude. (The 6th-magnitude star isn’t one of the vertices; the 8th-, 9th– and 10.5-magnitude stars are the vertices.) The N edge of the triangle—from the 10.5-magnitude star on the F side of the cluster to the 9th-magnitude star on the NP corner of the cluster—is 13′, and the P side of the triangle (from the 9th-magnitude star to the 8th-magnitude star) is 9′. The S edge of the triangle is the best-defined edge, with twelve stars along the edge; the 6th-magnitude star is also the NF corner of a small (2.5′ x 1.67′) rectangle that’s oriented SP-NF and otherwise consist of 12th/13th-magnitude stars. The N edge of the triangle also includes eight stars of 10thor 11thmagnitude, but the P edge has no stars along it save for the two vertices; the 8th-magnitude star has an arc of seven 12th/13th-magnitude stars running NP and then due P, the final three stars in the arc spaced 1.5′-2′ apart, but these stars are largely outside the frame of the triangle. A 10.5-magnitude star, 5′ S of the 6th-magnitude star, forms an equilateral triangle with the 6th– and 8th-magnitude stars.

A glance at the sky to find the next target revealed a bank of cirrocumulus moving across the sky, despite several large clear patches. (This is what accounts for the variable seeing and transparency ratings listed in the evening’s conditions.) Any remaining objects would have to be picked out from the clearest regions of the sky.

12:41
NGC 7662 (And): The Blue Snowball is indeed very much bluish, but not quite snowball-ish. It’s 0.5′ in diameter and mostly core, without much outer fringe, although at this magnification detail is hard to come by even with the O-III filter. With the filter the edges of the nebula’s core region seem a bit sharper and there might be a very thin halo around the outside, but that’s about all the improvement the filter brings. The central star isn’t visible with or without the filter. 17′ S of the nebula is the N-most star in a sailboat-like asterism of 8th-11th-magnitude stars. 0.5′ F slightly N of the nebula’s edge is a 14th-magnitude star; F the nebula by 8′ is an 8th-magnitude star. 11′ NF the nebula is a 9th-magnitude star; this star is at the end of an arc that bends NF and then drops SF to end 6′ N slightly P the nebula; there are five stars in this arc including the 9th-magnitude star; the middle star in the arc is a double of 12th– and12.5-magnitude components separated by 0.3′, with the secondary SF the primary.

12:59
NGC 7640 (And): I’ve seen this galaxy before, and it’s surprisingly tricky tonight (the clouds drifting across the southeast part of the sky may well be more widespread than they appear). Averted vision is helpful with this faint spectre of a galaxy. It’s a huge diffuse glow, 6.0′ x 0.75′ in averted vision, oriented N-S, and the definition of “ill-defined.” The 2.5′ x 0.5′ core region is just slightly brighter than the halo but can be held easily in direct vision. There’s either a very faint stellar nucleus or a faint threshold star halfway along the F edge of the galaxy; I suspect it’s the latter, although every so often in averted vision there’s a glimpse of what may be a very very faint substellar nucleus just NP from that threshold star. The galaxy is bracketed by a triangle of 11th-magnitude stars, one each on the NP and SP and one to the F side; the two on the P edge are about 5.25′ apart, while the one to the F side is 3.5′ SF the star to the NP. 3.5′ due S from the galaxy’s center is a 12.5-magnitude star. P the galaxy by 24′ (outside the field) is another 9th-magnitude star. The brightest in the field is a 9th-magnitude star that’s 20′ F very slightly N of the galaxy; this star is followed by a tiny ‘Y’-shaped asterism of 10th/11th-magnitude stars with the faintest star in the middle of the ‘Y’.

I looked up to check on the cloud cover and to orient for the next series of objects. As I did so, yet another incredible fireball split the sky—a bright blue Roman-candle-esque meteor that burst past Capella and Menkalinen before shattering into a spray of glittery sparks. No meteor shower was accounting for these, but it was intriguing how three of these fireballs had happened during the week, and all in the same area of the sky.

1:21
NGC 217 (Cet): The clouds in Cetus have cleared for the moment, so I’m scooting over there to catch this one while I still can. It may not be quite clear, as the galaxy is considerably fainter than I expected. It’s an obvious edge-on spiral, a difficult 1.5′ x 0.3′ streak oriented P slightly N-F slightly S. The core region is small and slightly brighter than the fairly-well defined halo, and there’s a trace of a very faint stellar nucleus. 11′ along the axis of the galaxy P very slightly N is a 9th-magnitude star. F very slightly S. 4′ from the galaxy’s nucleus, is a 12.5-magnitude star. The brightest in the field is a 7th-magnitude star 20′ NF the galaxy; there’s a 10th-magnitude star 0.5′ F the 7th-magnitude star and a 13th-magnitude star 1.5′ P the 7th-magnitude star. SF the galaxy by 21′ is an interesting double/pair of 11thand 12thmagnitudes, with the brighter 0.5′ SP the fainter.

1:42
NGC 357 (Cet): There may be more cirrus moving through, or the sky in the low south might just be crappy in general. This galaxy isn’t easy to find—the area around it is pretty much devoid of naked-eye stars—but it’s reasonably obvious when I sweep over it. The galaxy is 1.5′ x 0.67′, elongated P slightly S-F slightly N but is quite poorly defined and hard to hold a good fix on size-wise. The core is small and brightish, and it hosts a pretty-obvious substellar nucleus. A threshold star perches just on the F edge of the halo. 2′ F slightly S is a 14th-magnitude star. NF the galaxy by 5′ is a 12.5-magnitude star. 12′ S of the galaxy is a 9.5-magnitude star, the brightest in the field. Just on the P somewhat S edge of the field (21′ from the galaxy) is a pair of 10th-magnitude stars separated by 3.5′. F the galaxy, starting 16′ due F, is a 10th-magnitude star which is the N end of a roughly-straight line of five that extends N-S and is 7′ long; the others in this line are two 12thand two 13th-magnitude stars.

Time for one final target; the clouds were now covering 1/2-2/3 of the sky, and the dew had become a problem even with dew heaters hard at work.

The Skull Nebula was one of the first objects I ever sketched; I did so from the Cheney Road flying field of the remote-controlled airplane club in Marion and Paulson, IL. Jim Storm, my predecessor as AASI president, had made a deal with the airplane flyers to use their field, which was one of the best observing sites AASI had ever had. I later made the mistake of hosting a public astronomy event there, and shortly thereafter, AASI was told we could no longer use the site. Before that, though, I made numerous solo trips to observe there, and on one particularly cold November night, I got my first good look at this fine planetary.

1:51
NGC 246 (Cet): The Skull Nebula will be the last for the night; my filters have somehow fogged up, the clouds are still making things difficult, and I’m losing focus. As the filters are pretty seriously dewed over, I’m going to have to revisit the Skull on another night to compare the views. This is a large planetary, 4′ across, its interior filled with loops of nebulosity and dark voids and its perimeter well-defined except on the F side. The central star is bright at 11.5 magnitude, and two other stars are in the nebula’s interior: an 11th-magnitude star 1′ P slightly S of the central star, and another 11th-magnitude star 2′ NP the central star, right on the edge of the nebula. 3.5′ SP the central star is a 12th-magnitude star [and a 12th-magnitude satellite is creeping through the field, from P-F!]. Due S of the central star by 4′ is another 12th-magnitude star, while a 13th-magnitude star lies 1.5′ SF the central star, in the “open” F end of the nebula. Two 10.5-magnitude stars are the brightest in the field, one 18′ NF the central star, and one 16′ due S of the central star. An 11th-magnitude star lies 18′ NP the nebula. [I would indeed return to the Skull with dry filters in early October.]

 

VI. The Clear Sky Chart was eventually going to get one wrong, and the last night of our September run turned out to be the one. The forecast called for improving conditions as the night went on; the opposite happened instead. Nonetheless, we had 90 minutes of fine skies before our luck ran out.

I’d hoped to get through SA2K Chart 3 and managed only a dent in it. Given how excellent the month had been, though, I wasn’t going to complain; most of the objects on Chart 3 are far enough north as to be visible through December. I didn’t know it then, but we’d also have some good nights in early October.

09/13/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 4 days (28% illuminated; set at 10:03 PM)
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.2
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to upper 50s; clouds moved in by 10:30 and forced abandonment of the session (couldn’t even get 6939)

Others present: JO, DB, RA

9:00
NGC 7086 (Cyg): This is a moderately-detached and fairly-obvious cluster of about fifty stars, mostly of 11th-13thmagnitudes. It’s 9′ (P-F) x 4.5′ (N very slightly P-S very slightly F). Two lines of stars define the main cluster: on the F side of the major axis is a line of five stars, while the minor axis consists of three stars, including the brightest in the cluster (at 10.5 magnitude), which is at the intersection of the axes. The second-brightest in the cluster is at the P end of the major axis—3′ P the 10.5-magnitude star—and is 11thmagnitude. The N end of the minor axis is an 11th-magnitude star 1′ N of the 10.5-magnitude star; the star at the S end of the minor axis is also 11thmagnitude and is 2.25′ S of the 10.5-magnitude star. SF the 10.5-magnitude star by 2.25′ is a clump of eight stars, the brightest of which are 12thmagnitude; there may be some unresolved stars there. The region around the clump is also the densest part of the cluster. N very slightly P the 10.5-magnitude star by 15′ is the S-most of a pair of 9th-magnitude stars that are separated by 1.5′; the N-most of the pair is very slightly fainter. 11′ F the 10.5-magnitude star is a 9.5-magnitude star; 24′ NF the 10.5-magnitude star is a 7th-magnitude star; 23′ S very slightly F the 10.5-magnitude star is a 9th-magnitude star.

9:35
NGC 7082 (Cyg): This is another CYA observation, as it seems everyone has a different idea of what constitutes this cluster. The (sadly defunct) NGC/IC Project considers this cluster to be a tiny grouping of four stars, almost like a backward ‘7’. The brightest star of the four is on the NF end and is 10thmagnitude; P the brightest star by 0.5′ is a 12th-magnitude star; S of the 10th-magnitude star by 0.67′ is an 11th-magnitude star, and 0.5′ SF the previous star is an 11.5-magnitude star. Due P the 10th-magnitude star by 5′ is an 8.5-magnitude star which has a 10.5-magnitude star S very slightly F by 0.5′; from the 10.5-magnitude star S very slightly F is another pair of stars, 11.5 and 12thmagnitudes, separated by 15″ with the brighter component to the S; this pair is separated from the previous pair by 1.5′. P very slightly S of the 8.5-magnitude star by 3′ is an 8th-magnitude star which is in the middle of an upside-down ‘Y’-shaped asterism; to the N very slightly P by 0.75′ is a 10.5-magnitude star; SF by 1′ is another 10.5-magnitude star; 1.5′ S of the 8th-magnitude star is an 11.5-magnitude star; these make up the ‘Y’, although there’s an additional 11.5-magnitude star 0.5′ S very slightly P from the 8th-magnitude star. From the ‘Y’ to the two pairs F to the four stars in the backward ‘7’ is about 8′, with the whole thing oriented roughly P-F. Overall, this is a star-poor, inobvious object, and it’s easy to see why its identity could be confusing.

My tone of voice and word choice must’ve struck a chord with my fellow observers—Dan invented a new character for me, The Least-Enthusiastic Astronomer (based in part on the Most-Interesting Man in the World) due to my disappointment with NGC 7082. I went along with it for the next cluster, although it was somewhat-more interesting:

9:56
NGC 7209 (Lac): Better than 7082, certainly. This cluster has about 70 stars in a 15′ circle; it’s only somewhat detached from the background, and is identifiable largely because of so many 10th/12th-magnitude stars in the area. It’s quite loose and moderately rich, and there are a number of smaller groups within it. On the N slightly P corner of the cluster is a group of six reminiscent of a Christmas stocking, with the “heel” pointing F; this group is 1.25′ on the F and S sides, with the brightest star in it (at 10th-magnitude) in the middle of the NF side of the stocking. F this group is a rough ellipse oriented N slightly P-S slightly F. This ellipse has twelve stars in it, with the brightest in the whole cluster (9.5 magnitude) on the SP end of the ellipse; most of the brighter stars are on the S end of the ellipse, which spans 4.5′ x 2.25′. The F side of the ellipse is better delineated than the P side, almost as if a subtle backwards ‘3’. Due S of the ellipse is another pattern of eight stars, of which three are very tightly packed on the N end of the group and similar in magnitude (11th/12thmagnitudes); these form a triangle elongated N-S, with a long side of 0.75′ and the brightest star (12thmagnitude) on the S end, with the third vertex slightly P the other two. 16′ N of the cluster lucida is a 6th-magnitude star; 28′ S very slightly F the 6th-magnitude star is a 9th-magnitude star; 26′ S slightly P the 6th-magnitude star is an 8.5-magnitude star, and these three stars form a triangle that frames the cluster. 19′ S slightly F the 6thmagnitude star—and 8′ F very slightly S the cluster lucida—is a 9th-magnitude star.

The clouds had now taken over the southern and western skies, and were creeping toward Cepheus and Cygnus. They were dense enough that I knew we’d be done for the night within a half hour. Time for one more object, one that I’d observed more than a few times:

10:18
NGC 6946 (Cyg): The last time I looked at NGC 6946 was to check on SN 2017eaw. It’s always been a grand sight in the 12.5-inch scope: a huge face-on galaxy, 9.0′ x 4.0′, elongated SP-NF. The NF edge is a bit brighter than the rest of the perimeter, looking like a separate spiral arm due to the gap between it and the rest of the halo, like a rim. There’s a faint double star near the end of that arm, of 12.5 and 14thmagnitudes, separated by 10″. Just on the SF edge is a faint pair of stars 1.5′ from the center of the core, with the brighter the N-most of the two; these are 12thand 12.5 magnitude, separated by 0.5′. The core itself is aligned not quite perpendicular to the orientation of the halo; the brightest part of the core is 1′ diameter, extending NP-SF to about 2.5′ x 1.0′ and offset to the SP slightly. The extensions of the core are quite tenuous. Just outside the NP edge of the halo is a small isosceles triangle of 13th-magnitude stars that roughly follows the axis of the halo; the triangle’s base is 0.67′ and the two other edges 1.5′. The F-most star in the triangle (on the N end) is the brightest of the three. Due S of the galaxy is a small right triangle of brighter stars; the closest of these to the core is 3.25′ S of the core and is 11.5 magnitude; there’s a 10th-magnitude star 2′ S of the core that is the right-angle vertex of the triangle, while the third vertex (also 10thmagnitude) is 2.25′ F the right-angle vertex. The 11.5-magnitude star and the right-angle vertex form a line with the faint pair on the SF edge of the halo; the 11.5-magnitude star has a 12.5-magnitude star NP it by 1.3′ (along the axis of the hypotenuse). This 12.5-magnitude star is also embedded in the halo, S very slightly P the galaxy’s core. With the galaxy centered, the brightest star in the field (9.5 magnitude) is NF the core by 20′. 7.5′ NP the core of the galaxy is the brighter of an unequal pair (10.5 and 12thmagnitudes), with the fainter 0.75′ NF the brighter.

The clouds ended September, observing-wise; I didn’t even get to take notes on NGC 6939, the rich open cluster so near to NGC 6946.

It had been a remarkable two-week stretch of usable nights, the best September run I’ve had in Oregon since moving here. I logged a significant number of objects, but more importantly, I’d rekindled a connection with the autumn sky that traced all the way back to my first year with a telescope, the end of my original Messier hunting, and my first forays into the NGC. More than simply a cataloguing of objects or a nostalgia trip, these weeks reaffirmed the personal bond I’ve built with the universe around us.