Holding

I’m running behind with my notes for October (almost 30 observations) and November (almost 20 observations), and we’re also having an unexpectedly-clear New Moon week in December at the moment. New posts as soon as I can get to them!

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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.

 

Smoke and Mirrors

I’ll skip ahead to the end:

August’s observing run should’ve been a good one—skies were clear for more than three weeks straight—but the smoke from endless Western forest fires wiped out nearly the entire month, rendering the clear skies impenetrable for all but the naked-eye planets, the Moon, and a few of the brightest stars. As a result, one of the year’s last useful months for observing (based on past years) was a washout, excepting the first pre-Third Quarter Moon night.

[Small potatoes, of course, compared to what the people actually living through the fires were dealing with.]

I’d intended, during the August run, to make further headway in the planetary nebulae and open clusters of the summer Herschel objects. With a short night that first time out—given the early Moonrise—I’d also planned to take notes on many of the globular clusters in the Messier catalogue that I hadn’t yet taken notes on (fourteen of them!) so that I could say that I’d “gotten” every globular cluster visible from the northern hemisphere barring those in the Palomar and Terzan catalogues (and I’d also observed several of those). Not knowing it was to be my only real observing of the month, I set this first night aside for the Messiers.

Given that it wasn’t Herschel hunting, I also had an additional component to the evening’s plan: to give my newly-refurbished 13.1″ Coulter Dobsonian—my second telescope, bought back in 1990 and christened by Mrs. Caveman as “The Angel of Death”—its second first light, and its first at a “real” dark site. My 8″ Celestron SCT, my very first telescope, had been out to Eureka Ridge already, so it was only appropriate that its bigger brother had a chance to revel in the Bortle 3 skies of the Ridge.

To go along with the use of the old Coulter (and Paracorr Type 0, a necessity at f/4.5), I stuck with my old TeleVue Plössl eyepieces as well. These were a point of lighthearted derision among my fellow observers, in contrast to the higher-tech wide-fields we all usually used. They were also somewhat difficult to get used to after having used 68-82˚ eyepieces as my mainstays for the last fifteen years or so. Nonetheless, the Plössls were (as always) commendably sharp, and their narrower fields of view still quite comfortable to observe with in the old light bucket. In addition to the 17mm with which I took my notes, I also used 26mm and 40mm Plössls to help compensate for the less-accurate pointing offered by the red-dot finder on the Coulter.

08/02-08/03/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 21 days (71% illuminated); rose at 11:42 PM
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 7; MW well-defined; Dark Horse much less so than on previous nights
SQM: 21.4
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to low 60s; considerable dew, clammy

Others present: JO, OG, Leticia, JH (Justin)

All observations with a 13.1″ f/4.5 Coulter Dobsonian, 1.15x original Televue Paracorr, and 17mm Televue Plössl (with Paracorr, 101x, 0.6˚ TFOV).

10:14
M53 (Com): The sky isn’t 100% dark yet (it seems to be a habit of mine to start so early). This is a pretty “tight” cluster, perhaps CC 5; a satellite crosses it as I take notes on it. The cluster is 4.5′ in diameter, with a granular 3.0′ core and outliers stretching out to 9′. The well-resolved halo comes to the core pretty quickly. There’s a row of stars running along the N side of the cluster’s periphery, and on the SF edge of the halo is an area devoid of resolved stars. The core extends slightly into the halo on the NP and SF sides. About 25 stars are resolved in the cluster, with a prominent star just on the NF edge of the core. SF the cluster by 10′ is a brightish pair, 9th– and 9.5-magnitudes, separated by 1.5′, with the fainter the more N-ward; these form an isosceles triangle with an 11.5-magnitude star that’s 3.25′ due F and between them. SP the cluster by 15′ is a 9.5-magnitude star. The much-fainter NGC 5053 is about a degree SF, and is plainly visible despite the not-yet-dark skies.

10:33
M3 (CVn): One of the finest globulars in the sky, and this might be the best view I’ve ever had of it. It’s a glorious hive of stars, much more impressive than M53 (which is an underappreciated object nonetheless). The core, which has many stars resolved across its face, is about 4.5′ in diameter. The cluster’s halo is similarly well resolved and extends to 12′, with outliers to about 15′. The core looks a bit offset toward the SF. Many stars are resolved in M3, with notable outliers to the NP and SF; the halo is “not in a hurry to get to the core” (according to my notes), giving a CC of about 6. The cluster sits inside a right triangle whose right-angle corner is a 9.5-magnitude star NP the cluster by 7′; an arc of faint stars runs P, then N-ward, from the cluster’s center over to that star; 12′ F slightly N that 9.5-magnitude star is a 10.5-magnitude star; the third vertex of the triangle is an 8th-magnitude star S very slightly F the cluster by 14′. The triangle’s hypotenuse is 21′ long.

10:48
M5 (SerCap): An awesome sight! The old Coulter is reveling in these dark skies, and M5 is a fantastic object for it to dwell on. The core is almost uniformly-bright, 3.25′ in diameter (smaller than M3’s); the halo extends to 10′ but outliers stretch to about 18′. M5’s outliers stretch in chains, one of the most prominent of which stretches to the SP (with an extension to the SF) and another that loops from the core to the NF; a third extends from the NP of the halo toward the N. These give the cluster an almost spiral shape (alert Lord Rosse!). The P side of the cluster seems flatted against the arcs to the SP and NP, like a swarm of gnats hitting a windshield. There are too many stars resolved in the cluster to count. To the S very slightly P (where that SP arc begins) is an 11.5-magnitude star that is 5′ from the cluster’s center; the arc stretches S and then SF and is 7′ long. Another brightish (12th-magnitude) star is due SF of the core by 7′.  A grouping of seven stars runs in a zigzag along the P side of the field, halfway from the cluster to the edge, toward the SP of the cluster. F the cluster and extending to the SF is an arc of four stars that begins at an 11th-magnitude star 18′ F the cluster and runs SP, S slightly P, and then S, ending SF the cluster; the others in the arc are 12thmagnitude. Just outside the field, 24′ SF the cluster, is 5 Serpentis: a 5th-magnitude primary and an 11th-magnitude secondary, with the primary N very slightly F the secondary by 10″.

11:35
M14 (Oph): A gorgeous cluster that’s often overlooked in favor of M10 and M12 to the west, M14 is the personification of a “powdery” cluster, covered in a dusting of uniformly-faint star-points. The cluster is 6′ in diameter, with a core that’s 2/3′ of that diameter and a scattering of about 20 tiny halo stars on a smooth background gradient. Just outside the F very slightly S edge of the halo is a pair of 14th-magnitude stars separated by 20″. NF the cluster by 12.5′ is the right-angle vertex of a triangle; this is the closest vertex to the cluster and is 10.5 magnitude; the other two in the triangle are 10thmagnitude; one is N of the right-angle vertex by 2.5′ and the other due F by 4.5′. NP the cluster by 15′ (on the edge of the field) is a 9.5-magnitude star; N of that star by 9′ is a 7.5-magnitude star. SP the cluster by 13′ is the brighter of a pair: the brighter is 9.5 magnitude and the secondary 11thmagnitude; the secondary is F slightly S the primary by 1′. 15′ S of the cluster is an 11th-magnitude star.

11:55
M70 (Sgr): The last one for tonight, as the Moon is already up (albeit blocked from view by the ridge). This is a small, less-resolved cluster sunk in the bottom of the Teapot. It’s only 2′ across at the halo, with a 20″ core region that’s almost stellar at first glance. A few threshold stars skirt the periphery. CC is perhaps a 6. NF the cluster by 1.67′ is a 12th-magnitude star that has a 13th-magnitude star N of it by 30″. S slightly F and running due SF is a line of four 9th-magnitude stars that’s 6′ long; the P-most star in the line is 15′ S slightly F the cluster and has a 12.5-magnitude companion 12″ N very very slightly P. P slightly S of the cluster by 14′ is an 8th-magnitude star that has a 10.5-magnitude star S very slightly F by 0.67′. N of the cluster is a line of stars extending 15′ to a 9.5-magnitude star NF the cluster; the other stars in this arc are 10th/10.5-magnitudes; one of the 10th-magnitude stars is due N of the cluster by 3.5′.

I filled in the spaces between globulars with casual browsing of some of the usual summer targets. The refurb job on the Coulter—replacing the broken mirror cell (which got damaged upon being shipped from Anchorage, Alaska to Carbondale, Illinois) with a sleeker, more-adjustable version and replacing the original plumbing-parts focuser with a JMI Crayford—had resulted in the scope being extremely top-heavy, so I had Velcro-d a number of counterweights to the bottom end. The scope still needed help staying balanced close to the horizon, so looking toward the center of the galaxy was a little more awkward than I’d hoped. (The next phase of the plan is to move the altitude bearings on the scope to help rebalance it, and installing the 11 x 80 finder that I’d bought for it 25 years ago.) Still and all, the “old red beater” performed superbly at lower powers and none too badly at the higher end.

Had I known that the smoke from the burning West was going to wipe out the rest of the Moon-dark phase, I might’ve felt more urgency to go out the next night, which was also reasonably clear. Or I might’ve brought Bob the Dob out for adventures in Herscheling instead of giving the Coulter some glory. In any event, aside from a few casual moments of stargazing—including catching first light on Robert A’s 3D-printed 8″ binocular telescope at the College Hill Reservoir here in Eugene—that single evening at Eureka was the total of dark-sky observing for August: more than in 2017, when I went back to Carbondale for the eclipse, but nothing like our usual homestretch run. With September always being a crapshoot weather-wise and October usually seeing the beginnings of “monsoon season” here in the valley, August’s smoke out may have brought a close to our large-scale observing for 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Van or Astro-Van?

Among all of the telescopes, eyepieces, star charts, chairs, portable power tanks, dew-prevention heaters, and other paraphernalia associated with an observing session, one item stands apart and is often taken for granted: a useful vehicle that can carry all of one’s stuff (and junk) to and from an observing site, often over rugged terrain and rough, unmaintained roads. No astronomy gear gets as much use outside of the hobby; nothing is as important to the overall American way of life as the independence brought by having reliable transportation.

And so it was that the news that the Caveman-Mobile was going to be totaled out after a minor fender-bender came as a huge disappointment. It wasn’t just that I could haul multiple scopes and other folderol to places that once would’ve been labelled “Here be tygers”; it was that I’ve come to be used to having the ability to travel at a moment’s notice. (Did you think we hunted mammoths on foot?)

The Moon-dark phase of July coincided with this unfortunate development. Mrs. Caveman and I had put more than a thousand miles on the CM during our geology trip around the state’s interior during the first week of the month; the CM went into the shop and was declared a loss on July 9th. Until that point, however, I put the poor vehicle through our usual round of dark-sky offroading.

I. When last I wrote, I noted that the summer provided me with a choice: continue working on spring Herschel galaxies despite their being in a highly-diminished state (due to being so far past the meridian); work on Herschel objects in the Milky Way (open and globular clusters, planetary and emission nebulae); or skip working on the Herschels for a while and trot out the 18″ EAS scope to explore more off-the-beaten-path objects. I spent the Moon-dark phase doing the latter two, and this first night of what would be a very long run was spent with the 18″ and a list I’d compiled from various Astronomical League lists, the Deep Sky Forum Object of the Week threads, and Alvin Huey’s wonderful observing guides (available here).

And yet I spent the night extremely frustrated. The 18″ is a fine scope, but it’s far less user-friendly than Bob the Dob, and it suffers from a poor mirror coating which leaves the mirror reflecting considerably less light than it should. While it’s nice to have the extra aperture and (supposedly) extra light grasp, I often found myself disappointed with the experience of using the scope. (In fairness, much of this wasn’t the scope’s fault but was mine.) It didn’t help that conditions were much softer than expected, or that there was considerable dew present.

7/6/18-7/7/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 24 days (36% illumination); rose at 1:40 AM
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6
SQM: 21.4
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; air still, considerable dew

Others present: RA, JA (John, RA’s father), SF, JO

Nonetheless, I stuck it out. From my list, I observed the NGC 5419 group, Hickson 72, the loose, faint globular cluster NGC 5466, and the super-thin flat galaxy UGC 9000; all of these targets were located in the rapidly-setting constellation of Boötes the Herdsman. Disappointed as I was, I took no notes during the session—of these targets, only NGC 5466  afforded a good-enough view to warrant committing to audio, and I had already recorded it in the 12.5″ way back at the Giant City State Park wildlife reclamation meadow in 2014. (That’s certainly no reason not to take notes again, of course.)

So I spent time wandering among many of the showpiece objects of the sky, sharing the views with the other observers (Jerry, Steve F [from my OSP tribe], Robert A and his father John) and reminding myself that the ten days ahead looked to be quite promising for observing. We went through the usual suspects: M80, M4, M9, M10, M12, M14, M51, M101, M13, M5, M15, The Veil/Lagoon/Trifid nebulae, the fine double star Alpha Herculis (which refused to focus sharply, despite collimation being pretty-well on target), and three visible planets—Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. (Mars looked surprisingly fine, given the scope’s optics, the planet’s low declination, and the dust storm engulfing the planet’s surface). And with the Moon about to rise, I remembered to swing over and pick up Comet Giacobini-Zinner, which presented a fine apparition.

It was an inauspicious beginning to what would prove an exceptional week-plus stretch of observing.

II. We reconvened the next night at Eagle’s Ridge, as the transparency and seeing forecasts were better than at Eureka. As it was a decent-sized group of observers, we parked and observed from the road junction rather than our usual spot on the spur road.  I chose to bring Bob the Dob this time, and my observing list included some actual Herschel objects (labeled below with an [H]) mixed with a number of non-Herschel targets, including several globular clusters I hadn’t yet observed (I’ve gotten almost all of those visible in a 12.5″ scope from mid-northern latitudes, and would gather several others during the course of this run.)

I took fewer notes during this run—certainly fewer than my epic swing through the Virgo Cluster the year before—and spent more time looking at the showpieces in between hunts for those objects I hadn’t seen. I felt less duty-bound to stick to my Herschel plan than usual, although I also spent several nights putting off wading into the ranks of the Herschel open clusters that spattered the arms of the galaxy with young stars. For many reasons, the open clusters held less appeal than the remainder of the objects. (How wrong I would of course be.)

7/7/18-7/8/18

EAGLE’S RIDGE
MOON: 25 days (26% illumination); rose at 2:10 AM
SEEING: 8
TRANSPARENCY: 8
SQM: 21.5
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; air still, minimal dew

Others present: JO, Bill M, Bob M, FS, AG

10:53
(H) NGC 6058 (Her): It’s still a bit twilighty or not totally dark, but I’m going to proceed anyway. This is a small round planetary nebula that presents an almost galaxy-like aspect; it’s about 0.3′ in diameter, with a small outer halo and a “core” region that encompasses the inner 2/3 of its diameter. This inner region is quite bright and makes it difficult to ascertain if there’s a central star visible. I suspect that the central star is visible and quite bright amid the brightness of the nebula’s interior. [For whatever reason, I appear to have not tried a UHC or O-III filter on the nebula.] The nebula lies in the middle of a ‘Y’ asterism whose stem stretches S and whose branches lead NF and NP the nebula; 5′ to the NP is a 9.5-magnitude star, 6′ to the NF is a 9th-magnitude star, and 3.5′ S of the nebula is an 11th-magnitude star. Other stars in the field include a 13th-magnitude star 2.5′ F very slightly S of the nebula, another 13th-magnitude star S very slightly F the nebula by 4′, an 11.5-magnitude star S very slightly P that previous star by 3′, and a 9.5-magnitude star 3.5′ S very slightly P the 11.5-magnitude star by 3.5′.

I also spent some time ferreting out Abell 39, the large, perfectly-round planetary in Hercules that I first observed at the Brothers Star Party a year before. I’d taken notes on it then (“Band of Brothers”), so I didn’t do it again this time; I should take notes on every object I observe regardless of whether or not I’ve seen them before, but I haven’t yet developed that discipline.

I also had Mrs. Caveman pick me up some black fabric to use as an observing hood, having used one at Jerry’s house to do some solar observing. It’s long been recommended to use the hood when observing extremely faint objects; it cuts out stray light and reflection from the ground enough to provide extra contrast in the eyepiece. For a number of objects during this run, it may have made the difference between seeing them and missing them entirely.

11:55
IC 1257 (Oph): This is one of the toughest globular clusters I’ve observed (and there would certainly be a few more before this dark run ended); it’s as or more difficult than some of the Palomars. This one is no more than 13th magnitude, and barely visible with direct vision even though I’m using an observing hood here. The cluster is no more than 0.75′ in diameter and nothing more than a small fuzzy glow; no resolution is possible and it’s too difficult to get an estimate of its concentration class. Yet it’s most definitely in the eyepiece! The cluster is 14′ N of an 8.5-magnitude star, and about halfway between (and a tiny bit N) of two 11.5-magnitude stars, one P and one F the cluster. It’s slightly closer to the star to the F side; it’s 6.5′ from the star to the P side and 6′ from the star to the F. The 11.5-magnitude star to the P side is at the center of a very tiny ‘y’ (lowercase) pattern; NF that star by 2.25′ is a 14th-magnitude star; there’s a 15th-magnitude star S slightly P the 11.5-magnitude star by 1′, and a 14th-mg star F the 11.5-magnitude star by 1.75′. S of the globular by 4′, and SF by 4.75′, are two 14th-magnitude stars; there are also 14th-magnitude stars NF and F slightly N of the cluster. The 8.5-magnitude star S of the cluster has an 11.5-magnitude star NP it by 3′ and an 11.5-magnitude star SF it by 6′.

12:48
Haute Provence 1 (Oph): not nearly as tough as IC 1257, but not at all easy; I can’t believe this one has been rated for 8-inch scopes in the iDSA. This globular shows as a weak, misty patch of light in both the 14mm ES and the 10mm Delos, even under the hood. It’s very slightly over 1.0′ in diameter, but too faint to try to get a Shapley-Sawyer class—I suspect this one to be on the low end of the scale, given its very even illumination. A 6′ long arc of three stars to the N of the cluster extends NP-SF; the brightest of these is 9.5-magnitude and is on the SF end of the arc, while the other two in the arc are of 11th-magnitude. A much smaller arc of three bends around the N end of the cluster; these are all 12th-magnitude. There’s also a line of three stars S of the cluster by 7′. F the cluster by 7′ is a 10th-magnitude star. An 8.5-magnitude star lies 17′ S slightly P the cluster, and a 9th-magnitude star is 3′ S of the 8.5-magnitude star.

1:12
Abell 43 (Oph): Staying under the observing hood here, given that it’s helped quite a bit with the past couple of objects. This planetary isn’t super easy, but I did manage to spot it without a filter when I swept the area. It’s only about 1.25′ diameter—not “huge” like Abell 39 was earlier. My O-III filter darkens the field and throws it out of focus so much as to be barely usable, but with the filter in the 14mm ES, I can hold the nebula steadily in direct vision. The filter makes the central star nearly invisible, although the star is roughly 11th-magnitude. Switching to 10mm Delos+filter, hints of annularity can be seen amid the roughly-circular halo. On the F edge of the nebula there appears to be a very very faint, threshold-level star that’s impossible to hold steadily (this was found without the filter and disappeared with the filter in; SkySafari lists the star as magnitude 13.3, but it seems much fainter than that). The nebula is between a 9th-magnitude star 3.75′ to the NP and an 11.5-magnitude star 3′ to the SF; there’s another 11.5-magnitude star SF that second star by 1.5′. These three stars form a triangle with a third vertex 11′ SP the 9th-magnitude star (the two stars to the SF of the nebula serve as one vertex). The edges of this triangle run NP the nebula to SP, NP to SF, and SP-SF the nebula; the nebula is along the NP-SF edge. N of the nebula by 2.5′ is a 12th-magnitude star. On the F edge of the field, 18′ from the nebula, is a pair/double of 10th-magnitude stars separated by 0.3′. N of the nebula by 20′ is the brightest star (8th-magnitude) in the field, which has a 10th-magnitude star 1.75′ S of it.

1:43
(H) NGC 6629 (Sgr): Quite a bit smaller than the other planetaries I’ve observed this evening; the O-III filter makes little difference other than to increase the contrast and annihilate the rest of the field. This nebula is only about 15″ across, with a brighter 9″ inner region. The central star is extremely faint with the filter and not much brighter without it; I have a very hard time holding it steady. S slightly F the nebula by 2′ is a 10th-magnitude star; due N of the nebula by 7′ is an 8th-magnitude star. There’s another 8th-magnitude star 20′ SF the nebula. 14′ SF the nebula is a 9th-magnitude star. 2.25′ N slightly P the nebula is an 11.5-magnitude star; there’s a 12.5-magnitude star 2′ NP the nebula that might be a close double.

III. The next night, we were out on the spur road, which branches northeast from the Eagle’s Ridge road junction. The Moon had yet to hit New, but we were already on our third night of observing for the cycle. I’d bought a couple of cans of fluorescent chartreuse spray paint with which to mark the potholes on Eagle’s Rest Road; some of these would be axle-breakers if they an unsuspecting driver hit them on the road, and I had made up my mind that none of us would be the victim. However, despite the promise of day-glo yellow, the paint showed up on the black road surface as a medium (and uselessly-dark) green. Best-laid plans and all that. I ended up using up one can of the paint (and a week’s supply of curse words) and taking the other back to Lowe’s, where I picked up a couple of cans of white spray paint designed for road surfaces and athletic fields; I have yet to have the opportunity to use them.

I’d left early to make sure I got the pothole-painting done with time to get to the top of the Ridge, and I ended up being the first one up by about fifteen minutes. There was a slight haze of forest-fire smoke visible low in the sky; we’d been lucky fire-wise so far this summer, and this was still only a minor issue compared to past years. Still, the SQM reading on the night was somewhat less impressive than usual for the spur.

There was also the matter of a traditional summer problem, one we hadn’t often had issue with observing here in Oregon: mosquitoes. This might have been the first time I felt compelled to go for the DEET at Eagle’s Ridge, but it didn’t take long to do so. The worst aspect of DEET is that it’s so destructive to plastic and optical coatings; it’s necessary to make sure one’s hands are free of the stuff when picking up gear, and even more necessary to avoid bumping DEET-covered skin into eyepiece lenses. I’ve read numerous reports about picaridin-based repellents and their being free of DEET’s many disadvantages, and I plan to invest in the stuff before our next outing. (The mosquitoes would be even worse at Champion Saddle a few nights later.)

A bigger problem reared its head as I was setting up. My Powertank, a 12-volt battery replete with charging and power outputs of various sorts, refused to turn on when I set up my dew-prevention rig. No amount of finagling would get it going. Without it, I’d be at the mercy of eyepiece-fogging and the threat of my secondary dewing over. Fortunately, Jerry happened to have a spare 12-volt that he was willing to let me use for the session. Even more fortunately, he’d worked on Powertanks before and knew how to fix them (if it was indeed fixable). He suggested checking it to make sure it had actually charged (and that the charger wasn’t dead), and then he would take it apart to see what the issue was.

We had with us both John (Robert’s dad), who was at Eureka Ridge the first night of the run, and Janet W, on her first observing session with us. Janet drove an electric Fiat 500 with a 90-mile range, but was worried about the last half-mile up to the Ridge and its effect on her battery (understandably so). So she parked at the beginning of the gravel stretch and got a ride from Jerry the rest of the way up the mountain.

One of my primary targets this night—missed the night before—was the globular cluster pair NGC 6558 and NGC 6569. I’d observed them numerous times before, often in the same eyepiece field, but I had somehow never taken notes on them. This was a mystery to me, because I (mistakenly) believed they were both Herschel objects. (As it turned out, only 6569 was a Herschel; in any case, they were globulars within range of my scope that I’d never done notes for.) I would again fail to get these two; they’re in the middle of Sagittarius’ “teapot spout,” and this part of the constellation only spends a short amount of time above the mountain ridge to the south of Eagle’s Ridge. By the time they cleared both the ridge and the couple of trees that just happened to be in my way this particular night, I was too preoccupied to swing back to pick them up.

My first target of the night was another that I was sure was a Herschel and turned out not to be. This too would be a continuing theme during the run.

7/8/18-7/9/18

EAGLE’S RIDGE SPUR ROAD (43° 48′ 17.9496” N, 122° 42′ 45.6912” W)
MOON: 26 days (16% illumination); rose at 2:45 AM
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.4
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: some smoke from forest fires; occasional hazy clouds low in E/SE; temps falling to mid 40s; air still, considerable dew (secondary dewed over completely)

Others present: JO, RA, JA (John, RA’s father), JW (Janet)

10:50
NGC 6210 (Her): I’ve observed this PN several times over the years, starting with my C-8 from my Cincinnati backyard, but only on that occasion did I take notes on it—I’m mystified why I haven’t seriously gotten to it before. It’s a decent-sized, very bright planetary, with a 20″ inner region and a few arcsec of “fringe” around it (for a total of about 26″). Without a filter, the nebula has a very pale bluish cast to it. The brightness of the inner region makes it difficult to pick out the central star, and I can’t say with certainty that I’m seeing it. 9′ SF the nebula is one of three 7th-magnitude stars in the vicinity; the other two are S very slightly P the nebula by 18′ and P slightly S of the nebula by 23′ (so just outside the P edge of the field with the nebula centered). NF to F very slightly N of the nebula is a small triangle consisting of a 9.5-magnitude star and two 12th-magnitude stars; the S-most 12th-magnitude star is the closest of the three to the nebula, at 2.5′ distance NF the nebula, while the 9.5-magnitude star is 4.75′ F somewhat N and the other 12th-magnitude star is about 6′ NF. The longest side of the triangle (with both 12th-magnitude stars) faces NP.

11:26
NGC 6240 (Oph): This odd little galaxy is also known as VV 617; it’s actually a merger of two galaxies, appearing as one object. A super-bright infrared source, this galaxy was featured on the Astronomy Picture of the Day site in June 2009 (https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap090618.html) and was the Object of the Week on the Deep Sky Forum for May 11, 2014. I first observed it and took notes on it in late June 2016. It’s a difficult but fairly obvious streak not really well-served by this aperture and magnification, but still well within the grasp of the 12.5″ scope. The galaxy is 1.0′ x 0.67′ (at its widest, e.g. the S end) and oriented S very slightly P-N very slightly F. Greg Crinklaw nicknamed this galaxy “The Rumpled Starfish,” but it doesn’t really give any but a vaguely-triangular shape. The halo is moderately-well defined, and there’s a slight bit of central brightening along its length. There’s no visible nucleus (not surprising, given the disruption occurring within the galaxy). Faint stars imeediately surround the galaxy: there’s a 14th-magnitude star to the N and a 14.5-magnitude star to the south, each 1.75′ from the galaxy; a 14th-magnitude star is also just outside the halo to the F side. 7′ due S of the galaxy is a 9.5-magnitude star, while a 10.5-magnitude star lies 10′ F the galaxy. SP that 10.5-magnitude star is a pair of stars, 11.5- and 12th-magnitude; the brighter of the two is S of the fainter by 1′. P and somewhat S of the galaxy by 6.5′ is the brightest (11.5-magnitude) vertex of a very small triangle; this is the closest of the vertices to the galaxy, with the other two (both 14th-magnitude) P and SP the 11.5-magnitude star.

12:21
Abell 55 (Aql): This quite-difficult planetary is completely invisible without a filter, and very faint even with my old Lumicon O-III. Jerry’s NPB filter does a much better job, revealing a 45″ x 30″ glow, elongated P-F. No central star is visible, and the nebula appears to have no real annularity to it, just a largely-even glow; the P side of the nebula seems slightly brighter than the F side [this is perhaps due to the two stars embedded in the P side of the nebula, which were not otherwise seen ]. A 10th-magnitude star lies 6′ S of the nebula. 9′ N v slightly F the nebula is a 10.5-magnitude star that has a 12th-magnitude star F slightly S of it by 3.25′. On the SF edge of the field is an 8th-magnitude star. Outide the field, 25′ P very slightly N of the nebula, is a 6th-magnitude star.

It was about this point that Jerry tracked down the asteroid 4/Vesta, which had just given a terrific apparition during its June opposition. Still slightly visible to the naked eye, the asteroid lurked near the globular cluster M9 in Ophiuchus, and presented an impressively-bright image in Jerry’s trackball scope. Not having seen many asteroids (of which I was aware, anyway), I made sure to get a good look at this one. Then it was back to the deep sky:

1:17
Palomar 10 (Sge): After years of talking about hunting this globular, and a few half-hearted attempts, my first serious attempt at Palomar 10 is a success. (I have to admit I was a bit surprised to see it; Jerry confirmed that it was there, however.) The cluster is difficult but definite, just on the line between direct vision and needing averted to catch it. Averted vision does considerably improve the view. It’s a very diffuse, misty 2′ glow, much too faint to derive any value for concentration class and otherwise devoid of any real detail in a crowded Milky Way field. On the cluster’s F edge is a 13.5-magnitude star. S of the cluster and running roughly P-F is a long train of stars: SF the cluster by 8.5′ is a 10.5-magnitude star; an 11th-magnitude star is 7.5′ S very slightly F the cluster; this 11th-mag star has a 13th-magnitude star SP it by 0.5′. Also in this train is a very small isosceles triangle, SP the cluster by 12′; the N-most vertex of the triangle is 10th-magnitude; P very slightly S of this 10th-magnitude is another of the same brightness, and from this second star 0.75′ S very slightly F is a 13th-magnitude star. Still in this train: SP the cluster by 5′ is the brightest (at 12th-magnitude) and S-most vertex of another long, thin triangle; the other two stars are 13.5-magnitude. The brightest star in the field is an 8th-magnitude star 17′ N of the cluster. There’s also a 9th-magnitude star 18′ N somewhat F the cluster.

I don’t recall why I stepped away from my scope; it might have been to check a chart, to put something on my observing table, or simply to stretch. In any event, I looked over toward the Scorpius/Ophiuchus/Sagittarius boundary region just in time to catch a spectacular meteor fireball streaking through that part of the sky, perfectly parallel with the mountain ridge to the south. Even though it lasted for several seconds, I didn’t have the brainpower to process what it was and shout an alert to my fellow observers before it disappeared. Having seen the great Leonid storm of 1998, I can still rank this as one of the best meteors I’ve ever seen.

But onward:

2:02
(H) NGC 6818 (Sgr): From a difficult object to a really easy one. The Little Gem Nebula was also a DSF Object of the Week (just this July 1st), and is another object I’d seen numerous times (usually in conjunction with observing Barnard’s Galaxy, NGC 6822, just to the S). Having returned Jerry’s NPB filter and still grumbling about my O-III, I’ve decided to use my UHC on this nebula instead. It doesn’t need much of a filter; it’s very bright and obvious, with a distinctive pale blue color. The nebula is 0.3′ and roundish; other, better observers have noted it to be slightly elongated, although the DSF thread notes that this might be more obvious in an O-III (which I’m not using). With the UHC, there’s not much change from the unfiltered view aside form an increase in contrast; there’s perhaps a bit of outer halo better visible in the filter than without, maybe a bit of irregularity in the overall surface brightness, and the F side might be a tiny bit brighter than the rest of the nebula with the filter. No annularity is visible in either view. The nebula is bounded to the NP, F, and SP sides by faint stars: 0.3′ NP is a 13.5-magnitude stars, and the other two stars are of 14th magnitude. SF the nebula is the brightest (9.5 magnitude) of a faint diamond of stars whose major axis is 2.5′ and whose minor axis is 1.75′; this 9.5-magnitude star is 9′ SF the nebula, and is the farthest of the four stars from the nebula. P the nebula by 15′ is the brightest star in the field, a 7.5-magnitude beacon. S of the nebula by 22′ is a 9th-magnitude star; also S of the nebula, by 16′, is a faint line of stars stretching roughly P-F; the star at the F end is the brightest of this group at 13th-magnitude; the other two are 13.5-magnitude, and all are spaced about 0.5′ apart.

2:45
Abell 65 (Sgr): Another DSF Object of the Week, this one from June 3rd. This one is quite low in the sky and pretty difficult; it’s not visible without the UHC filter. It’s a diffuse, almost featureless 3.0′ x 1.5′ glow, elongated NP-SF, with no central star visible. At each end of the major axis is a 13th-magnitude star. Two asterisms dominate the field: a miniature Big Dipper P the nebula and a capital ‘Y’ pattern F the nebula. The mini-Dipper consists of five stars (mostly 10th-magnitude), with the bowl of the Dipper closest to the nebula and pointing S; the Dipper’s handle arcs away N slightly P. A long trail of much fainter stars runs N-ward from the end of the Dipper’s handle, and this extends the length of the Dipper out to about 20′. P the star at the end of the handle by 6′ is a 9th-magnitude star. The ‘Y’ asterism is also made mostly of 10th/10.5-magnitude stars, although the star in the middle of the ‘Y’ is 11.5 magnitude. The ‘Y’ runs roughly parallel to the Dipper, with the stem pointing NP and the two forks facing S and SF. The brightest star in the field lies 17′ S slightly F the nebula, and is 9th magnitude; there’s an 8.5-magnitude star just outside the NF edge of the field (23′ from the nebula).

3:15
(H) NGC 6804 (Aql): This is quite an impressive planetary nebula, especially after several really faint objects. It actually looks a bit like a small spiral galaxy, in terms of brightness profile. It’s 1.0′ x 0.75′, elongated SP-NF, with well-defined edges. With the UHC filter, there looks to be a slightly-brighter inner rim inside the edge of the nebula’s smooth disk. There are several stars across the nebula’s face—at least three—and one of them is likely the central star, but it’s hard to tell and none looks perfectly centered. [A bright satellite cuts through the field here.] The brightest star amid the nebula is a 13-magnitude star on the NF edge of the disk. The nebula sits at the intersection of a ‘T’-shaped pattern (or the P-most edge of a triangle, if you prefer); 6′ SF is an 8.5-magnitude star, and this has another 8.5-mag star due N by 5′; this second star has a 10th-magnitude star to the NP side. 5′ NP the nebula is a 9th-magnitude star, while there’s a 9.5-magnitude star SP the nebula by 13′. The brightest star in the field is 7th magnitude and sits 11′ NF the nebula.

The mountainside gave us a short reprieve from the Moonrise, during which I caught my last two objects. Even with moonglow taking over the eastern sky, I’d managed an Abell planetary down low in the sky. Eventually, though, the Moon cleared the mountainside and the Milky Way began to lose its sharpness. With clear skies scheduled for the rest of the week, there was no regret in leaving after six hours, no worry that objects missed would have to wait until next year.

IV. The fourth night of the run found the Caveman-Mobile in the shop, and we’d already been given the bad news. Mrs. Caveman was rather despondent, as she had been looking forward to having the van paid off and being free of a car payment after November. It would all work to our benefit, of course, but at this point we didn’t yet know that; as it turned out, we were able to buy the van back with the understanding that it was considered salvage. This would give us an opportunity to get a new, smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicle for town driving while retaining the Caveman-Mobile for telescope hauling.

Without available wheels for the 9th, however, I hitched a ride with Dan B up to Eureka Ridge. Although Dan had plenty of room for another telescope in his truck, I took only my trusty old 11 x 80 Celestron binoculars, which I hadn’t used in years. The opportunity to work up and down the Milky Way with binos was one I’d been neglecting for a while; I’d planned to use them at Brothers in 2017, and got hooked instead on using the scopes I took with me. (I had used them at the Oregon Star Party in 2016, but only as a warm-up to a night with the 18″ scope.) Tonight, Dan had his 11″ SCT and Jerry (with Kathy and Dan R on board) would be bringing the 20″ TriDob, so I felt comfortable not bringing along a scope—a telescope also necessitates bringing along an eyepiece case, charts, a chair, a table, etc. etc. etc. Going light once in a while was a very good thing.

Tonight, it was a Very Good Thing. Although the Milky Way seemed to be “softer” and less-glittery than at Eagle’s Ridge (or even on other occasions at Eureka), the Milky Way’s dark dust clouds seemed to be a tangible entity of their own, one with more detail than I’d ever seen, even on superior nights. The Great Galactic Dark Horse in southern Ophiuchus wasn’t just something in pictures; it was actually something there in the sky in its entirety. Barnard’s ‘E’ in Aquila could be easily picked out as a small black spot near Tarazed (Gamma Aquilae), and Le Gentil 3 (near Deneb) was an inky, starless blot amid the dazzling Cygnus star-clouds. The Great Rift itself, stretching from Cygnus down into Ophiuchus, looked like the galaxy had been ripped asunder to reveal the blackest of voids beyond. Even the veins of darkness that led toward Antares from Ophiuchus, so striking in photographs, were faintly traceable on the sky and obvious in the binoculars. With the binoculars, too, dozens (if not more than a hundred) of other, smaller dark nebulae burst into view like hatching Cthulhu-spawn: The Snake Nebula, the Coalminer’s Lungs (in the Small Sagittarius Starcloud), those dark squiggles that wrap around the Scutum Starcloud… I lost track of them all, but swept back and forth throughout the Milky Way, oblivious to what the other observers were looking at. (I did eventually use the TriDob to explore the NGC 6723/Corona Australis region of light and dark nebulae, and for a peek at Minkowski’s Butterfly, a target on my own list.) It was as fulfilling a night as any with a full-fledged telescope, and one much-needed after spending the year tracking down smaller quarry.

7/9/18-7/10/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 27 days (8% illumination); rose at 1:40 AM
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.4
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; air still, considerable dew

Others present: JO, KO, Dan B, Dan R

V.  I had to have a break from observing at some point during the run, and others evidently felt the same way; we all stayed home the night of the 10th/11th. When we reconvened, it was at the Eagle’s Ridge spur road. I had both the Caveman-Mobile and considerable energy back, and Jerry would also have my Powertank back (having fixed the broken switch that had caused all of the problems).

I opened the night with Minkowski’s Butterfly, which we’d looked at during the last Eureka trip, but I also had an alarm set for the NGC 6558/6569 pair, to catch them at transit. I wasn’t going to miss them again. Many of my other targets ended up being open clusters, a class of object of which I’d only scratched the surface.

7/11/18-7/12/18

EAGLE’S RIDGE SPUR ROAD (43° 48′ 17.9496” N, 122° 42′ 45.6912” W)
MOON: New
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.6
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 40s; air still, moderate dew

Others present: JO

12:18
Minkowski 2-9 (Oph): This is Minkowski’s Butterfly, a tiny but obviously bilobed planetary; in the 14mm ES, it’s a very thin streak with a brighter middle (but no visible central star). The nebula is elongated N-S and is no larger than 0.3′ x 0.125′. Even using the 6mm Radian (262x, 0.2˚ TFOV) and the UHC doesn’t do much more than make the middle of the nebula (where the central star would be) seem a little bit wider and enhance the overall contrast. As with Palomar 10, I’m actually a little bit surprised the nebula is this… easy in the 12.5″ scope; we’d observed it the night before in the 20″ TriDob and it didn’t look that much more impressive than it does here. To the S slightly P the nebula is a 10.5-magnitude star that’s the N-most vertex of a small, thin parallelogram: S very slightly F that vertex by 0.67′ is a 13.5-magnitude star; SP the first star by 1.75′ is a 12th-magnitude star; S very slightly P this last star by 0.25′ is a 14th-magnitude star. NP the nebula by 8′ is an 11th-magnitude star. N of the nebula by 3.5′ is a 13.5-magnitude star, and there’s another 13.5-magnitude star SP the nebula by 2′. 2.75′ NP the nebula is a 15th-magnitude star, and N very very slightly P the nebula by 15′ is a 10th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is 10th magnitude and is P the nebula by 15′.

12:25
(-, H) NGCs 6558, 6569 (Sgr): These two globulars have somehow eluded my taking notes on them (and thus counting them as “seen,” despite my having observed them multiple times before) since I began the two AL Herschel lists four years ago. NGC 6558 is pretty unconcentrated, its central region not that much brighter than its halo; the overall brightness contour of the cluster is pretty smooth, and it doesn’t quite reach granularity. The cluster is about 1.5′, although it might be slightly elongated N-S (or there may be some cluster stars on the verge of resolution on those ends that make the cluster appear elongated). There are certainly several faint field stars (or cluster members) to the S, just on or slightly beyond the edge of the halo. The cluster itself is inside a small trapezoid of 13th-magnitude stars: one due P, one NF, one N, and one S slightly P the cluster. Due N of the cluster by 14′ is an 8th-magnitude star; with that star on the edge of the field, another 8th-magnitude star can be seen 23′ due S of the cluster (this star is beyond the edge of the field when the cluster is centered). 4′ NP the cluster is a pair of 11th-magnitude stars separated by 1′ and oriented NF-SP each other. NGC 6569 is just outside the edge of the 42˚ field with 6558 on the opposite (F) edge (so about 43′ from 6558). It’s considerably brighter, slightly larger, but only slightly more concentrated than 6558. As with its neighbor to the P side, it’s stubbornly unresolved, although it seems closer to being resolved than does 6558. The halo seems more “ragged” on the NF and slightly more extended toward the SF. One cluster star (could be a field star) lies F slightly S of center on the periphery. S and SF the cluster is a small triangle of brighter stars, including the brightest in the field (7.5 magnitude, S of the cluster by 8.5′); N slightly F that star by 4′ is a 10.5-magnitude star, and 5.25′ F very slightly N of the 7.5-magnitude star is an 11th-magnitude star. SF the cluster by 2.5′ is a 12th-magnitude star. SP the cluster by 1.5′ is a 12th-magnitude star, and further SP is an 8.5-magnitude star 17′ from the cluster.

12:45
(H) NGC 6568 (Sgr): This open cluster requires sitting on the ground to observe. It’s a pretty large cluster of about 60 stars, fairly detached from the Milky Way; there’s not much doubt that it’s a cohesive entity. The majority of the stars are in the 11th/12th-magnitude range, with some stars fainter but almost none brighter than that. The whole spans about 12′ x 8′, but the dominant feature of the cluster is an 8′ x 4′ ‘S’-shaped pattern at the N end of the cluster and oriented P-F. This ‘S’ is unmistakable once seen. The majority of the cluster’s faintest stars seem gathered along the middle of the ‘S’. There’s also a N-S running line of 12th/14th-magnitude stars on the P side of the cluster; this line is about 15′ long, and is separated from the cluster by an 18′ x 5′ strip of dark nebulosity that runs parallel to the line of stars. With the ‘S’ centered in the field, the brightest star in the field (6th-magnitude 14 Sgr) lies 21′ to the F slightly S edge of the field; this star is slightly yellowish and has a 12th-magnitude star P very very slightly N by 1.25′. N slightly F the ‘S’ by 20′ is an 8.5-magnitude star [at the moment, there’s also a very slowly moving satellite crossing the cluster from P to F]. Between the ‘S’ and 14 Sgr, 8.5′ from the center of the ‘S’ is a small knot of stars just on the edge of visibility with an unresolved appearance; this knot is 0.67′ in diameter and has several faint stars resolved in it.

1:13
(H) NGC 6604 (SerCau): Asterism? Cluster? It looks like the former, although it’s been proven to be the latter. This cluster is a grouping of 5 or 6 main stars no more than about 2.75′ across. The Milky Way is quite thick in this area, and the cluster isn’t that well detached from it. Also detracting from the cluster’s identity is the fact that the member stars are of quite mixed magnitudes: the brightest of the cluster’s stars is 8th magnitude; this star is flanked to the N very slightly F (by 0.67′) and the P very slightly N (by 1′) by two 9.5-magnitude stars; the star to the P very slightly N of the lucida has an 11th-magnitude star to the NP, and this 11th-magnitude star itself has a 12th-magnitude star to the NP by 0.25′. These five make up the main body of the cluster, although there is some unresolved starglow among the five that might be part of the cluster or could be general Milky Way glow. The cluster is bounded by two 8.5-magnitude stars: one to the NF by 12′ and one to the S v slightly P by 17′. 5′ S of the cluster and stretching 5′ to the SP is an arc of dark nebulosity that is quite opaque but best observed in averted vision. NP the cluster by 12′ is an interesting double star; the 9.5-magnitude primary is 9″ NP the 12th-magnitude secondary.

1:41
(H) NGC 6633 (Oph): Certainly one of the brighter open clusters I’m liable to run across doing the Herschel lists. This one counts perhaps a hundred stars in a 35′ circle; most of these are 7th/8th magnitude, although a number of scattered fainter stars in the field may also belong to the cluster. The main body of the cluster forms an Eiffel Tower-shape that stretches from the SP to the NF of the field. This Eiffel pattern has an “arm” of ten stars that arcs off from near the middle of the F side to the NF and then to the SF of the main pattern. A third portion of the cluster lies P very slightly S of the Eiffel pattern, containing 13 stars of which the brightest is 8th magnitude and lies in the NF of that separate clump; a line of five fainter stars trails from this clump toward the SP, giving this part of the cluster the appearance of a lacrosse stick (with the fainter stars being the handle and the brighter clump being the netting). In the central and northern parts of the cluster, along the Eiffel Tower, are two blobs of dark nebulosity: an 8′ x 4.5′ chunk toward the cluster’s middle, elongated SP-NF, and a larger, bowling pin shaped one (15′ x 5.75′ at widest, e.g. on the NF end) that runs parallel to the first. The larger of these dust blobs is not quite as opaque as the smaller. There’s also a separate chunk of dark nebulosity between the P edge of the Eiffel Tower and the “lacrosse stick”, most visible near the handle of the stick. There’s a 6th-magnitude star on the SF edge of the field that’s the brightest in the field, and there’s a double star on the F edge whose primary is NP the secondary by 20″ [magnitudes??].

1:58
(H) NGC 6645 (Sgr): This is a fantastic and underappreciated cluster! It’s immediately identifiable as a cluster, being pretty well detached from the surrounding Milky Way. The cluster is a large spray of stars, perhaps more than a hundred, most of them in the 11th/13th-magnitude range. The most obvious feature of the cluster is a circular void at its center, 3.5′ across, and ringed with a good number of 11th– and 12th-magnitude stars; the void itself is inside a “Hercules keystone”-type trapezoid of which all four corners are multiple stars: the star to the S is a triple; to the SF is a double; to the NF is a very unequal double (of a 13th-magnitude star and a threshold star); and to the NP is a dim double. There are also doubles on the P and F edges of the central void. The cluster branches N, SP, and NF from the void. The NF branch is dominated by a trio of brighter stars, but otherwise this branch is the weakest of the three; it terminates near an 8.5-magnitude star. The SP branch contains most of the stars and much of the unresolved background glow; it’s also the longest arm at 10′. The N branch is 5.5′ long. The whole cluster looks like a Greek letter lambda (λ), with the top of the letter being the SP arm, or perhaps a distorted mantel clock. Off to the NF end there is a large trapezoid of 7th/8th/10th-magnitude stars. N very slightly F the cluster by 19′ from the central void is the brightest star in the field, which is 7th magnitude and yellowish-white. Just on the F edge of the field (21′ from the cluster) is a 9th-magnitude star.

2:15
NGC 6649 (Sct): temps have definitely gotten cooler within the last half hour. This is a small compact cluster which I mistakenly thought to be a Herschel and had apparently thrown into my observing list under that mistaken assumption. Not a problem, though, as this is a very interesting little cluster. It’s a small (6′ x 5.5′) pentagon with 5′ extensions that stretch to the SF and SP; it looks for all the world like a starry, miniature state of Alaska. The cluster contains perhaps fifty stars and much unresolved starglow within the pentagon, and appears to be encircled by dark nebulosity given that there’s very little of note in the field beyond the cluster’s periphery (and we’re in Scutum, so the field should be very rich). The brightest star in the cluster is an 11th-magnitude star on the SP corner of the pentagon; the second-brightest is 12th magnitude and on the SF corner. Beyond the cluster, there’s an interesting double 17′ SP the cluster lucida; the 12th-magnitude secondary is 20″ P the 9th-magnitude primary. 20′ SF the cluster lucida is an 8.5-magnitude star.

VI. We were back at Eureka again the next night. Although the skies there are rarely as crisp as they are at Eagle’s Ridge (in part due to the latter’s higher elevation), the dew forecast at Eureka and the shorter drive had greater appeal than the more-difficult drive to Eagle’s Ridge. Having done the latter drive several times recently, it was no loss to avoid it this time.

And yet the skies were a bit murkier than the predicted forecast. It was hard not to second-guess the decision, although of the four of us present I think we all were leaning toward Eureka anyway. Amid the sky-haze, we did get a fine display of anti-crepuscular rays to start the evening off, and the conditions eventually ended up being pretty decent.

IMG_2984

IMG_2985

Anti-crepuscular rays, July 12th 2018. These rays are largely parallel but appear (due to linear perspective) to converge at the anti-solar point (the point opposite the Sun in the sky). These are rarer than crepuscular rays.

 

 

And so we “went to work.”

7/12/18-7/13/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: New
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6
SQM: 21.3
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; air still, considerable dew

Others present: JO, Dan B, Jeff P

11:02
NGC 6256 (Sco): It’s probably a bit too early in the evening for this one, as the sky isn’t 100% dark yet, but here we are. Another one of those unaccountably-missed NGC globulars I’ve been trying to catch up on. This one definitely doesn’t fit into JO’s “Big, Bold, Bright, & Beautiful” category—it’s quite difficult for an NGC globular, maybe among the top ten most difficult NGC globulars. It’s quite an odd one, too, elongated P-F, 1.75′ x 1.5′. There’s not even a hint of granularity possible, nor any particular central concentration to note (forget about getting a Shapley-Sawyer class!); it’s just an evenly-illuminated glow, somewhat akin to a Palomar cluster. The cluster is in the middle of the long side of a triangle of 12th-magnitude stars: one each 3.75′ from the N and S of the cluster, and one 4′ F very slightly N. P the cluster is a group of 12th/13th-magnitude stars, consisting of a small right triangle and a 7′-long N-S line of four stars. The hypotenuse of the right triangle is 3′ long and the triangle precedes the line of stars by 2.5-3′; triangle and line together look a bit like a miniature Coathanger. The right-angle vertex of the triangle is the farthest of the group from the cluster (10′ P slightly N). The brightest star in the field is 9th magnitude and is 19′ S of the cluster.

11:20
(H) NGC 6451 (Sco): The oddly-named Tom Thumb Cluster is pretty impressive, actually. Its basic pattern is diamond-shaped, with a 6′ major axis extending NP-SF and a 5′ minor axis running S very slightly P-N very slightly F. The majority of the stars and unresolved cluster glow run along the minor axis, especially from the star at the end of the minor axis S very slightly F to an 11th-magnitude star; the fainter stars and cluster glow run in a zig-zag between those two stars. The star at the SF end of the major axis is a very close double [details??]. NF the main body of the cluster is a group of four in a very tight triangle with an extra star SF the star at the S vertex. This is a very attractive cluster, quite well detached from the Milky Way, quite rich, with a magnitude range from 11th magnitude and fainter, down past the limit of resolution. The region around the cluster is somewhat barren of faint stars or Milky Way glow, with a few 11th-magnitude stars around but little else (certainly not much that’s fainter). 11′ S slightly P the cluster is either another cluster or a detached clump of Milky Way; it’s 2.5′ diameter and has a scatter of 13th/14th-magnitude stars over some unresolved background glow. A couple of more-obvious stars are on the P side of this clump and a few on the NF edge. SP this clump is a 7′-long line of seven stars ranging from 11th-14th magnitude and running NP-SF. A prominent double star lies just on the S edge of the field; this has a 7th-magnitude primary and a slightly-ornage 8.5-magnitude secondary S of the primary by 12″. This double star is the brightest star in the field.

11:43
(H) NGC 6624 (Sgr): Another globular that I missed during my survey, and a Herschel to boot. This cluster, unlike NGC 6256, is quite bright, reasonably large, and fairly concentrated—it’s not unlike a smaller, fainter M80. The cluster is 2.25′ diameter and perhaps a CC of 4. It has a small but bright core region, 0.5′ across, that isn’t resolved; and the halo is nicely granular. NGC 6624 is in the middle of a triangle of 11th/11.5-magnitude stars, the closest of which is due P the center of the cluster by 1.75′ (this star may actually be double). Another 11th-magnitude star is SP the cluster by 3.25′, and there’s an 11.5-magnitude star 2′ F very slightly S of the cluster. There are also two chains of stars that lead NF from the cluster: the first includes the cluster itself and has two 10th-magnitude stars in it (one 4.5′ NF the cluster and the other 3.25′ NF that star); 1.25′ N very slightly P the first of the 10th-magnitude stars is a 12.5-magnitude star. The other chain begins 7′ N slightly P the cluster, with a 10th-magnitude star; 2′ N very slightly F that star is an 11th-magnitude star, and N very slightly F that star by 5′ is another 11th-magnitude star which is 13′ N of the globular; this second 11th-magnitude star is also the brightest in a triple (or small group), with a 12.5-magnitude companion 0.3′ P very slightly N and a 13.5-magnitude star 0.67′ SF the 11th-magnitude star.

1:20
(H) NGC 6894 (Cyg): Having frittered away a long stretch unsuccessfully looking for the Sharpless nebulae in Sagitta (the TriAtlas has them in the wrong positions!), I’ve found this lovely and underappreciated planetary nebula quite easily. It’s very obvious even without a filter, a smoothish glow with hints of annularity but no central star visible. The N edge seems a bit brighter than the rest. The nebula is 0.75′ in diameter with the O-III filter in, and the filter really makes it pop, heightening the sense of annularity and making the edge of the nebula seem distinctly brighter than the interior. The nebula sits in the middle of a ‘Y’-shaped pattern of brightish stars with one due N, one to the SF, and a small triangle to the P somewhat S: the star to the N is 9th magnitude and 7.5′ from the nebula, the star to the SF is 10th magnitude and 6′ from the nebula. The small triangle that makes up the other point in the ‘Y’ consists of a 9.5-magnitude star 7.5′ SP the nebula, which is the closest to the nebula and the F-most vertex of the triangle); the other two vertices are a 9.5-magnitude star 2′ N slightly P the first 9.5-mag star and a 12th-magnitude star 3′ due P the first 9.5-magnitude star. There’s also a wedge- or ‘V’-pattern of five stars N slightly P the nebula; the brightest star in this smaller pattern is at the joint of the ‘V’ and is 14′ N slightly P the nebula. The ‘V’ points toward the P edge of the field, and its sides (angled SP-NF and N-S) are both 2.5′ long. Two 8th-magnitude stars are tied for brightest in field: one SF the nebula by 21′ and the other P very slightly N of the nebula by 17′.

VII. Friday night (the 13th, naturally) found us doing an outreach gig just outside Springfield, Eugene’s “twin city.” This took place at the Dorris Ranch, a historical site and nature park that’s on the National Register of Historic Places. We had done public star parties there the last several years; even Mrs. Caveman had been involved with these in the past, but she was too worn out from work to be goaded into it this year.

The star party went well—there were perhaps forty attendees and a half-dozen or so telescopes. Being just outside of the city, the skies weren’t very good, but they were enough to show the planets and a few of the showpiece summer objects (M13, M11, M57, M27, etc.). Driving home, though, I ended up on the wrong end of a police car’s flashers.

“Evening, sir. Have you been drinking?”

“No, officer–just doing astronomy.”

“Astronomy. That’s a new one.”

I thought I was toast. As it turned out, astronomy must’ve been a decent-enough excuse, as he handed me back my license and insurance card and drove off without waiting for me to go (I assume “late Friday night” + “not knowing where I was going” must’ve seemed a bit suspicious to start, but not very serious.)

I’d been waiting for Saturday night for a while—we had been planning an excursion to Champion Saddle, the club’s third, darkest, and most-distant observing site, for a few weeks. Mrs. Caveman and I had stumbled across the site early in our tenure in Oregon, but that was by day; I’d never been there at night. I planned and packed for this excursion as if it was the Oregon Star Party itself, despite it being a one-night session.

The first mistake I made was being too amped up for it. As with OSP and Brothers, I was building up an expectation that would somehow have to be a letdown; without enough sleep (mistake number two), the adrenaline crash of driving to such a dark site would mean getting tired really fast. And this is, of course, what happened.

Mistake number three was bringing the 18″ scope and not the workhorse Bob the Dob. The clunkier scope, much harder to wheel around and view through, proved to be too much for a tired caveman to work with, especially given the ridiculously-faint targets that I’d filled my evening’s observing list with (mistake number four). Many of the objects were flat galaxies, Arp peculiar galaxies, Palomar and Terzan globulars, and the like—a list designed for large apertures and dark skies.

We arrived just at sunset, having stopped in the nearest small town (Dorena) to visit a friend of Jerry’s who was offering his yard up as a potential observing site. The mosquitoes were a problem from the moment we got out of our vehicles; the sound of buzzing—sometimes in harmonic fifths—is pervasive throughout the one recording I made. So DEET it was.

 

IMG_2989

Panorama from Champion Saddle, complete with astronomers taking panoramas of Champion Saddle.

The horizons at Champion Saddle were better than at Eagle’s Ridge, although the east and north/northwest were compromised by mountains. Yet as the sky began to darken, it was clear that this was an epic observing site, and should have been an epic observing session. The Milky Way became not just visible quickly, but detailed; stars almost seemed to turn on rather than gradually appear.

But I was tired already. Coming at the end of a long stretch of observing nights, and requiring a lot more concentration on the long, twisty drive out, the experience of preparing and getting here was already a bit too much. By midnight, I had struck out on almost all of the targets on my list that were post-meridian, and I was starting to lose parts of the Milky Way to the horizon as well. (I think the exception was UGC 9780, a flat galaxy in Boötes, although I didn’t take notes on it.) It was probably a good thing I was set up at the far end of the group, as I was grumbling and swearing enough to harsh the entire group’s mellow. (Shades of the run’s first night, at Eureka, with the 18″ scope.)

7/14/18-7/15/18

CHAMPION SADDLE (N43° 34.714, W 122° 38.026)
MOON: 2 days (4% illumination); set at 10:23 PM
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.7
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 60s; air still, no dew; vicious mosquitoes

Others present: JO, RA, AG

Observation : 18″ f/5.5 Dobsonian, 14mm ES 82˚ and 10mm Delos eyepieces (178x, 0.5˚ TFOV; 250x, 0.3˚ TFOV)

I stopped what I was doing, settling onto my chair and taking a few minutes to stare at the Milky Way. Although the dark nebulae weren’t as spectacular as on that night at Eureka—the Dark Horse was still visible, but not quite as clearly here—the glimmer of countless stars along the Milky Way itself was simply breathtaking. It didn’t look real. Star clouds could’ve been real clouds, as tangible and close as they looked. I felt a shiver of awe. Not even OSP or Brothers had skies like this. With the exception of a light dome to the north-northwest, the sky looked the way it might’ve looked when my Australopithicene brethren stalked the East African Rift Valley. The visible planets shone with a cold, unflinching light, clearly foreground objects set against the stage tapestry of the galaxy’s spiral arms.

This momentary reset helped me to settle down, and I searched through my list for an object near the meridian on which to focus my energies. The one I chose had been a bête noire for years, and it took several checks against the entry in Alvin Huey’s superb globular-cluster guide to verify the field. And there it was:

12:31
Arp 2 (Sgr): Having failed to find any of the other difficult targets I’ve set myself for this occasion, I’ve managed to eke out a win here, in my four-millionth attempt at this nasty little globular. It’s way down to the limit of the 18″ scope’s altitude motion and exceedingly faint, but most definitely there (if mostly an averted-vision object). Not much more than a brutal 2′ haze that’s hard to hold steady. In the 10mm Delos, the cluster is harder to pick out but easier to hold once found. No concentration is discernable. There are several faint field stars near the cluster’s periphery and the field itself is crowded with stars of a wide range of magnitudes. On the S side of the field, stretching from the P side of the field to S of the cluster to the SF side of the field is a large arc of stars; the arc begins at a 10th-magnitude star 13′ P the cluster and sweeps S-ward, through many 11th/12th-magnitude stars, including a small “sub-arc” of five stars 12′ S very slightly F the cluster, the middle star of which has another of equal magnitude to the N slightly P by 0.75′. Another arc lies NP and N of the cluster; this one only has three stars, but it frames the cluster, and at its NF end is a small isosceles triangle of four 13th-magnitude stars (the extra star is in the middle of the long edge of the triangle, which is the N edge. [size of triangle?]

Although buoyed by conquering this particular demon, I stayed away from most of the rest of the fool’s list I’d made; instead, I turned the 18″ scope toward as many of the eye-candy objects of summer that I could. Each was stunning, no matter how many times I’d seen them. M8, M20, M13, M15, M16, M17, the Veil Nebula, M10/12/14/9 in Ophiuchus, even NGC 7479 in Pegasus… the dark skies and larger aperture made them each seem like new objects I’d never seen. M20 (the Trifid Nebula) in particular took on an added measure of brilliance beyond any of my previous observations, the dark lanes three-dimensional in front of the rose-flower shape of the hydrogen emission nebulosity, the multiple star at the nebula’s center shining brightly through and the reflection nebulosity to the north a cloud of easy cirrus.

Jerry packed up first, as he had a (highly-publicized!) solar star party to conduct at Alton Baker Park early Sunday afternoon—and just that quickly, the night at Champion Saddle was over. Robert (and Alan, who had hitched a ride with Robert) followed shortly after Jerry. Despite the cosmic splendor, I had no hesitation in packing up as well; Robert helped me wrangle the big scope’s heavy mirror/rocker box combo into the back of the Caveman-Mobile before leaving, and I stowed the rest of the gear around it with a semblance of order.

The drive home was the most uncomfortable 100 minutes I’ve ever spent at the wheel. I went through a can of Dr. Pepper in about ten minutes, trying to get enough caffeine in my system to not fall asleep on the treacherous and winding highway around Dorena Lake, with the sky brightening quickly and traffic increasing with the daylight. Much of the drive occurred somewhere on the knife-edge between sleep and primal survival instinct, threatening the former with every passing mile. But when I needed stroke of good luck, I got one—Isolda, my GPS, led me into an out-of-the-way neighborhood somewhere beyond Lowell, necessitating a lot of backtracking to get back to the highway; we had set the GPS preferences to “include backroads” during our geology expedition weeks earlier, and I hadn’t changed it back. The upshot was that I spent quite a lot of time cursing at the GPS, the roads, and traffic in general, and the adrenaline from this self-inflicted burst of road rage kept me just alert enough to finish the drive and swear I’d never do it again without sleeping for several hours beforehand.

VIII. I didn’t want to end the July run on a down note. Sunday was out; I was asleep Sunday night before 10:00, and had refused to entertain the notion of observing that night no matter what the forecast (or the cajoling of fellow observers) held. I promised Mrs. Caveman that I would be done with the July run Tuesday night, regardless, and the Moon would be an intrusive presence by that point anyway. So when Dan B suggested a trip to Eureka Monday night, I planned for it to be July’s last hurrah.

Moonset was scheduled for 11:35; I arrived at Eureka at about 8:30. Dan followed shortly, his daughter and her friend in tow. Although I still had my summer Herschel list to work from, I spent time with a number of other objects as well—including a couple of open clusters that I mistakenly had marked as Herschels on the laminated pages of Sky Atlas 2000.0. With a trip to Hawaii scheduled for two days later, Dan wasn’t planning to stay as long as usual, and having spent nine nights out of eleven doing astronomy, I understood perfectly well.

7/16/18-7/17/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 4 days (18% illuminated); set at 11:35 PM
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6 (predicted 8); MW bulges into M9/Dark Horse region and toward Beta Lyrae
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 60s; quite breezy, some dew

Others present: Dan B, Ruby, Jasmine

11:41
NGC 6337 (Sco): The Cheerio Nebula. Quite difficult at the moment, as it’s down really low in the sky—I’m sitting on the ground—and the transparency down here sucks. I found the nebula without a filter, catching it with averted vision as it swept into the field. Even with a UHC filter, the annulus is still difficult, as the center isn’t dark enough, although averted-plus-filter does reveal traces of annularity (especially along the N edge). The nebula is about 45″ across. I know that there are multiple stars across the center but they’re unresolved without the filter and invisible with it. There is a 12th-mag star visible 0.5′ from the outside S edge of the nebula’s halo; the nebula is inside a small diamond of stars that includes this star, a 10th-magnitude star SF the nebula by 3.5′, a 12th-magnitude star F slightly N of the nebula by 2′, and another 12th-magnitude star NP the nebula by 2.5′. P slightly N of the nebula by 9′ is the S-most of a pair of 10th-magnitude stars, with the second NP the first by 1.5′. S and P the nebula is an arc of three 10th-magnitude stars: one to the P slightly S of the nebula by 5′, one due SP the nebula by 6.5′, and one due S of the nebula by 9′. The field’s brightest star is the primary of a double/pair that is N of the nebula by 18′; it has a 10th-magnitude companion due S by 30″.

12:17
(H) NGC 6755 (Aql): This is quite a fascinating open cluster, full of smaller clumps of stars. It’s reasonably-well detached from the Aquila Milky Way, and quite rich; there are perhaps eighty stars here, plus a fair amount of unresolved starglow present. The brighter cluster stars are in the 10.5-magnitude range and range down past the edge of resolution. The cluster proper is bounded inside a triangle of 10th- and 10.5-mgnitude stars with a 10th-mag star to the P, a 10.5-magnitude star to the N and a 10.5-magnitude star F; the long side of the triangle runs P-F. Along the F side of the triangle is a line of brighter stars that connet the F and N vertices, but the other two sides of the triangle are less defined. The cluster consists of three individual clumps, each of which could have its own catalogue number. The N-most clump (#1) stretches 6.5′ x 2.5′ SP-NF and has an 11th-magnitude star on its N edge; this clump contains two smaller clumps: a 1′ diameter “sub-clump” (1A) on the SP end and a larger sub-clump (1B) on the NF end of the main clump, with a gap of about 1.25′ between the two sub-clumps. The smaller (SP) sub-clump has a 12th-magnitude star on the N slightly F end that is the N vertex of a very small triangle around which this sub-clump is visible; this sub-clump contains six stars and some unresolved glow. The larger (1B) sub-clump is pentagonal, with its major axis running SP-NF. South of clump #1 is another two-part clump, with one sub-clump to the P (2A) and one to the F (2B… or not). 2A is the brighter portion here and is trapezoidal in shape, with a 10.5-magnitude star at the P tip of the trapezoid; this sub-clump is 2.25′ in diameter and has seven visible and a host of unresolved stars. There’s a gap between 2A and 2B to the F very slightly N. 2B is also trapezoidal, about 2.25′ x 1.75′. The SP vertex of the trapezoid is actually a very small group in itself, while the NF vertex is a double star. Most of the other stars in 2B are in the 13th/14th-magnitude range. 4′ due S of the space between 2A and 2B is main clump 3, the smallest of the three clumps in NGC 6755 at 0.67′ diameter. This clump has a small square of 14th-magnitude stars superimposed over the top of it, and not much of this clump is resolvable. This clump is just outside of the cluster’s “bordering triangle,” to the S, while both parts of clump #2 are just on the S side of the triangle.

12:33
(H) NGC 6756 (Aql): This cluster is only 32′ NF NGC 6755, and is also a small unresolved clump of stars. My first thought was that I’d actually swept over NGC 6760, the brightest of Aquila’s three globular clusters, as NGC 6756 presents a globular-like face, with a brighter knot of stars on the NF side seeming rather like a core, and it’s highly detached from the Milky Way background. Averted vision brings out many background stars amid the starry haze. There are perhaps 30 stars tightly packed into this 3.5′ diameter cluster, representing a fairly-broad range of magnitudes. Aside from the knot on the NF side, the cluster’s most-prominent feature is an arc that runs S of the knot from SP-SF; the brightest star in this arc is 13th magnitude and is SF the knot by 1.75′. SF the cluster by 11′ is a 9th-magnitude star. NP the cluster by 14′ is the brighter of a pair, the brighter being 11th magnitude and the fainter (P the brighter by 0.5′) being 12th-magnitude; this pair forms the joint of a ‘V’-shaped asterism that branches N slightly F and NF from the brighter of the pair. 4′ N of the cluster is another double/pair, the primary of which is 12.5 magnitude and the secondary (due P by 0.3′)of which is 14th magnitude. NF the cluster is a large lowercase ‘y’ pattern of twelve stars, the majority of which are 10th/11th magnitude; the ‘y’ stretches from SF-NP in the field and also to due N, and with the SF-NP branch 15′ long and the N branch 6′ long. An 8.5-magnitude star—the brightest in the field—lies SP the cluster by 15′.

1:00
NGC 6738 (Aql): This is a large cluster amid what looks to be a tangle of dark nebulae, the most prominent of which runs parallel to the F side of the triangle. The cluster is pretty obviously an entity unto itself, with some sixty stars ranging from 7.5 magnitude down to magnitude 13. A 7.5-magnitude star on the SF end of the cluster is the lucida. The F side of the triangle is defined by eight stars in a 30′ line up to an 8th-magnitude star that is the N vertex of the triangle; P slightly S of that star by 17′ is a pair that forms the third vertex, with the pair consisting of a 10th-magnitude star and a 12.5-magnitude star that’s 0.67′ SF the brighter. Along the NP edge of the triangle is a pattern that consist of a small isosceles triangle with fainter stars bounding it to the P and SF. A jagged line of nine stars runs across the cluster’s middle from P to F; the P-most trio are outside the edge of the triangle, the remaining six inside (patterned 3-2-3-1, with the ‘1’ being a 9th-magnitude star on the F edge of the cluster).

1:16
NGC 6709 (Aql): Another triangular cluster; another one I mistakenly thought was a Herschel object. This one is smaller than 6738: 11′ on the S and P sides and 13′ on the F side (which runs NP-SF). It’s also quite obviously a singular entity, with 75 stars ranging from 9th magnitude to 14th. One 9th-magnitude star is the SP vertex of the triangle; another is paired with a 9.5-magnitude star (the brighter star 0.67′ SP the fainter. This pair is part of the SF vertex of the triangle, which is a triangle unto itself: the star on the SF tip of this tiny triangle is also a double/pair of 10th– and 12th-magnitude stars, with the fainter SP the brighter by 0.25′; the 9th/9.5-magnitude pair is due P this double by 1.25′. (This smaller triangle is the cluster’s most-obvious feature.) The NP vertex of the “main” triangle is 10.5 magnitude. Along the F edge of the triangle, 4′ from the 9th/9.5 magnitude pair, is a knot of stars running SP-NF; this is 5.5′ x 2.75′ and contains the largest concentration of unresolved stars in NGC 6709. On the SP and due P of the cluster are small knots of dark nebulosity that are pretty obvious. The cluster also has several chains of stars, including one that runs parallel with the P side of the triangle, on the inside of the triangle. There’s also a small knot of stars 16′ SF the cluster; this contains 8 stars.

1:40
(H) NGC 6824 (Cyg): Not the brightest of galaxies, but there aren’t that many in Cygnus anyway. This one is small but pretty obvious, 1.0′ x 0.67′ and elongated SP-NF. It has a diffuse halo with a slightly-brighter small core and a stellar nucleus that requires averted vision for a decent view. A 14th-magnitude star lies just outide the halo to the S, about 0.67′ S of the galaxy’s nucleus. There’s a bright double/pair 4′ due N, 9th– and 12th-magnitude companions separated by 15″. NF the galaxy by 2′ is a 14.5-magnitude star with a 12.5-magnitude star to the NP; these form an obvious triangle with the star just S of the galaxy’s halo. SP the galaxy by 13′ is a 9th-magnitude star, with another 9th-magnitude star S very slightly P by 3.5′. S slightly F the galaxy by 19′ is the brighter of a pair consisting of 7.5- and 10th-magnitude stars, with the fainter 0.67′ S very slightly P the brighter. F very very slightly N of the galaxy by 18′ is an 8th-magnitude star which is the NP vertex of a triangle; SF that star by 7.5′ is a 9th-magnitude star, and S of the 8th-magnitude star by 12′ is a 9th-magnitude star.

2:03
(H) NGC 6802 (Vul): A superb cluster that lies off the F end of the famous Coathanger. The bluish 6th-magnitude star at the F end of the Coathanger is in fact visible just on the P end of the field, 20′ P the cluster. NGC 6802 is one of the nicer NGC clusters, a well-detached and –defined 6′ x 2.5′ spray of no less than a hundred stars elongated N-S. The stars in NGC 6802 are mostly faint or just beyond resolution; the visible stars are mostly 13th-15th magnitude and the brighter ones seem to have congregated toward the N end of the cluster. The cluster is bounded to the NP and NF by double stars/pairs; 7′ NP the cluster’s NP corner is a 9.5-magnitude star with a 10th-magnitude star 1′ P very slightly S of it, and 6′ NF the NF corner of the cluster is a 10.5- and 11.5-magnitude duo with the fainter P very slightly S of the brighter by 0.67′. Due N of the cluster by 5′ is a 12th-magnitude star. S very very slightly F by 10′ from the cluster is a 10th-magnitude star. SF the cluster by 14′ is the brighter of a 9.5/12.5-magnitude pair with the fainter NF the brighter by 0.67′; there’s a 14th-magnitude star N very slightly P the 9.5-magnitude star by the same distance.

With NGC 6802, I closed the book on observing in July (at least as of this writing; with the Moon Full on the 27th, it’s unlikely I’d be coaxed back out until August). I did do two more nights of outreach during the month, both with my newly-refurbished 13.1″ Coulter Odyssey. My adjustable observing chair is in dire need of repair, and the Coulter still needs some work to make it as functional as it once was, so these projects will likely take up the rest of my astronomy time for the month (along with logging all of the July observations).

It had been an epic month of observing, easily the equivalent of a week at one of the major star parties where nothing but astronomy seemed possible. All but one or two nights this month had been clear (at least so far; the forecast shows nothing but sun and heat through early August). I hadn’t observed the huge numbers of objects that I’d done some past months, but the variety and quality of the observations made up for it, and some of the objects I’d seen had been on my list for years. And if August is as good as July, I’ll be out observing wherever the Caveman-Mobile takes me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farther From Earth, More of Heaven

I. Despite having one observation each in January, February, and March—better winter observing than I’d had in any year since we left southern Illinois—I was still well behind my usual observing schedule by New Moon week in June. The two sessions in May helped, but were still nowhere near enough for me to ensure that I’d finish the Herschel 400 and the Herschel II this year… or even next.

It was with a bit of both desperation and resignation that I approached the Clear Sky Chart forecast for the week before New Moon: the skies looked good, but I wasn’t as eager to go out as I usually was. Although there shouldn’t have been any time-crunch regarding the finishing of the two programs, I had still been hoping to have them finished sooner than they were going to be. April had indeed been the cruelest month, in a way; by not being able to work through Leo, Leo Minor, and the rest of the early-spring galaxies due to extended clouds and rain, I was SOL as far as getting the Herschel lists finished within the next twelve months. My plan had been for galaxies in April, May, and June, then Milky Way objects July-September, finishing the few fall galaxies I’d missed and then ending the year with the Winter Milky Way (even if that meant doing the fall and winter stuff in September as well due to the usually-lousy November-February weather here in the valley).

Still, I was feeling stubborn and persistent as I made the drive up to Eagle’s Ridge for the first of the clear Moonless June nights. Temperatures were still cool—cool enough that dew was a problem almost immediately for Jerry, Wade, and I. My secondary dew heater gave up the battle about a third of the way through the evening, and my PowerTank ran out of steam to power either the Kendrick heater I use to keep my eyepieces clear or the portable hair dryer I’ve borrowed from Randy to clear those optics that couldn’t be kept clear of dew. My hour-long hiatus between NGC 4414 and NGC 4449 was spent using Jerry’s dryer to clear my secondary and eyepiece; after NGC 4414, I could tell that something was amiss in secondary-land, and had to mooch power from Jerry’s spare battery in order to close out the night’s observing.

 

6/11/18-6/12/18

EAGLE’S RIDGE SPUR ROAD (43° 48′ 17.9496” N, 122° 42′ 45.6912” W)
MOON: 27 days; 6% illuminated, rose at 4:53 AM
SEEING: 8
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.6
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid 40s, no breeze, excessive dew that hampered observations

Others present: JO, WR

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

11:11
NGC 4336 (Com): This is not among the easiest of Herschels, although it’s been made more difficult by the amount of eyepiece fogging I’ve gotten and the Coma region being well past the meridian and heading slowly toward the Eugene light dome. The galaxy is pretty diffuse and fairly small; it’s not particularly bright, either, but it is pretty obvious in the field. It’s elongated NP-SF, about 1.25′ x 1.0′. The halo is reasonably-well defined and cuts off pretty cleanly, rather than fading into the background. There’s no visible nucleus, and the core is only somewhat brighter than the halo itself. The brightest star in the field is 8th-magnitude, and is NP the galaxy by 15′. To the P and N (P by 2.25′ and N by 1.5′) of the galaxy are threshold stars. S slightly F by 3.75′ is a 10th-magnitude star; also S slightly F by 15′ is a 12.5-mag star, and there’s another 10th-mag star SF by 14′. SP by 8.5′ is an 11th-mag star, and S slightly P by 18′ is a 9.5-mag star.

11:39
NGC 4245 (Com): I could easily get lost among all the galaxies in this part of Coma; but the TriAtlas gave me a solid identification here. This is a decent-sized and pretty prominent galaxy (like many up here), although I’ve passed up some that were even more so. This one is elongated NP-SF (it seems that this is by far the most-common orientation among the Herschel galaxies I’ve looked at so far!), and 1.75′ x 1.25′. The halo is diffuse, poorly-defined, maybe even mottled a bit (??); the core is a bit brighter and smallish, and a stellar nucleus is visible. The galaxy is at the N end of a long arc ,with five stars P and one F the galaxy; the stars P the galaxy stretch from SP to P slightly N of galaxy. The closest to the galaxy is a 12th-magnitude star P very slightly N, 3′ from the galaxy; P slightly S that star by 2′ is a 14th-mag star; 2.5′ SP the 14th-mag star is an 11th-mag star; SP the 11th-mag star by 4.5′ is a 10th-mag star; an 11th-mag star is SP that 10th-mag star by 2.5′. F the galaxy by 8′ is a 12th-mag star. N of the galaxy by 14′ is the long edge of a small triangle of 11.5/12.5/14-mag stars.

11:50
NGC 4314 (Com): This is an interesting, long and thin (obviously) spiral galaxy that’s quite bright and has a number of very faint stars in its immediate vicinity. It’s elongated NP-SF, 2.75′ x 1.0′. The oval-shaped halo is very tenuous and dwindles into nothingness in the background. The core is pretty bright, and there’s a long streak of interior brightness—perhaps a bar? The nucleus is bright, obvious, and not-quite-stellar. Just outside the halo on the NP end is a 14th-magnitude star. A 15th-mag star is NP galaxy by 4′. NF the core of galaxy on the edge of the halo is a 15th-mag star. Just SF the core is a threshold star embedded in the halo, along the central lengthening/bar. 9′ NF galaxy is a 12th-mag star, and 15′ NF galaxy is an 11th-mag star, which is the S end of an arc of four that leads slightly P and then N toward the edge of field; the 14th-mag star at the N end of the arc is 24′ N of the galaxy. P very slightly N of the galaxy by 11′ is a 12th-mag star, and a 12.5-mag star lies 11′ F the galaxy. 13′ S is NGC 4308 (cf.).

12:02
NGC 4308 (Com): This is a very faint, small, round glow NP NGC 4314 by 13′, and 8′ almost due N of the 12th-magnitude star that’s 11′ P very slightly N of 4314. At first, it looked like a mere out-of-focus star. It’s only about 0.3′ in diameter, with a tiny halo and either a substellar nucleus or a very small core—it was hard to discern which.

12:18
NGC 4414 (Com): I found this a somewhat tricky star-hop from NGC 4314. This is a fine galaxy—pretty big and bright—although not as spectacular as some in the region. It’s elongated N very slightly P—S very slightly F, and about 2.25′ x 1.25′. The largish halo contains a small, bright oval core and a bright stellar nucleus. The galaxy is bracketed on the SP and NF sides by 12.5-magnitude stars; the star to the SP is 6′ from the galaxy; the star to the NF is 7′ from the galaxy. NP the galaxy by 11′ is the brightest star in the field at 10th-mag; it forms the N vertex of a triangle; the S-more stars are both 11th-mag and are S very slightly P the 10th-mag star by 6.5′ and SF the previous star by 5′. S very slightly F the galaxy by 12′ is an 11th-mag star.

1:26
NGC 4449 (CVn): Having dealt with the crudded-over secondary mirror, I can observe this huge, bright Magellanic-type galaxy. I’ve seen this one a number of times (when it didn’t live up to prior observations, I knew something was amiss with the dew and the secondary), and it’s one of the real showpieces of this region of sky. Boxy (rather than roundish or elliptical) and very mottled, it’s easy to tell that there’s something unusual going on here. The galaxy is pretty-well defined, especially on the S end, with a very mottled halo that may be wider at the N end; the NF part of the halo is particularly ragged-looking, mottled, and diffuse. There’s a brighter interior region (if not a “core” per se) that’s about 3.0′ x 1.25′ and more offset to the S end of the galaxy and may be analogous to a bar. There are “stellarings” on the NF and SP edges of this core. The galaxy is 4.5′ x 2.5′ overall and elongated SP-NF. There are occasional glimpses of either a stellar nucleus or a random stellaring close to where a nucleus should be. F and very very slightly N of the galaxy, 3′ from the middle of the galaxy, is a 15th-magnitude star. F slightly S of the galaxy by 6′ is a 14.5-mag star. There’s a 12th-mag star 7′ F the galaxy. NF the galaxy by 9.5′ is a 10th-mag star, while there’s another 10th-mag star NP the galaxy by 14′. F the galaxy by 19′ is a 12th-mag star; SF by 21′ is an 11th-mag star.

And that was then that. Although it had been an enormously-frustrating session dew-wise, it was still good for rekindling enthusiasm in the whole Herschel project, and in observing in general. Sometimes, all you really need is some starlight.

As we reached the junction where the various BLM roads met, Jerry stopped to pick up the weeding tools he’d used to make the drive up to the ridge a little bit easier on all of us. As he did so, we noticed a thick glow to the north: not an aurora (as we thought at first), but a dense layer of blue, teal, and rusty noctilucent clouds that shimmered, stationary, in the pre-dawn sky above the still-sleeping city.

II. With a four-hour work shift planned for Wednesday the 13th, I was grateful that Jerry agreed to go to Eureka on Tuesday night, rather than making the hourlong trek to Eagle’s Ridge—among other things, Eureka was expected to have lower humidity (which is a rarity). As it turned out, it was an excellent choice: the sky conditions were the best we’d ever seen them at Eureka, and some of the best I’d seen since my days in Arizona; the seeing, in particular, was outstanding. Jerry repeatedly hit 21.6 on his SQM, which was unheard-of at Eureka Ridge, and there wasn’t a trace of dew to be found.

Nor had there been a trace of potholes on the road to the ridge. The BLM road, largely gravel and usually strewn with axle-busting potholes at the best of times, had been graded and widened since our March excursion there. I normally made my assault on the road expecting it to assault me back, and it wasn’t until I had reached the fork in the road that led off to the ridge that I was willing to entertain the notion that someone had actually fixed the road to one of our observing sites. (That someone was, no doubt, a someone with lumber-company interests at heart, and our good fortune may well be temporary. For now, though, the repaired road was a blessing.)

I remained on Herschels, having gotten into a good observing habit and wanting to follow through with it. By doing as much as possible in the Canes/Coma/Virgo region, that would leave less mopping-up this time next year, and observing galaxies—ENTIRE FRIGGIN’ ISLAND UNIVERSES, FOR DOG’S SAKE—was never not fascinating and wondrous.

 

6/12/18-6/13/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 28 days (2% illumination); rose at 5:39 AM
SEEING: 8.5
TRANSPARENCY: 8
SQM: 21.6
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; some breeze below ridge level, no dew

Others present: JO

11:13
NGC 5054 (Vir): Even though it’s not 100% dark yet, this is an impressive galaxy S of Spica—big and very “present” compared to most of the Herschel galaxies I’ve observed so far. It has an interesting and irregularly-bright halo that’s pretty-well defined and almost triangular, with the N end being the wider. It’s mostly elongated N-S (maybe slightly NP-SF) and 2.75′ long, with the N end about 1.75′ wide. The core is fairly small and quite a bit brighter than the average brightness of the halo, but it’s hard to tell if there’s a nucleus visible. There is a 14.5-magnitude star involved in the halo on the NF end. There’s also a threshold star 2.5′ NP of the galaxy. Due N of the galaxy by 4′ and 7′ are a pair of 13th-mag stars. NF the galaxy by 4.75′ is a 14th-mag star. NP the galaxy by 11′ is a 10.5-mag star; P slightly S of the galaxy by 10.5′ is another 10.5-mag star. There is a 9.5-mag star SP the galaxy by 9′; it has a 12th-mag star 1.5′ due P it. N of the galaxy by 17′ is the more-northern of a pair of 11th-mag stars, the second of which is P slightly S the first by 2.75′.

11:42
NGCs 5047, 5044, 5049, 5037, 5035 (Vir): This is a quite varied and intriguing group P NGC 5054, well worth a return visit with a bigger scope, and at a better time of year. NGC 5047 is P slightly N 5054 by 19′. It’s a thin, small galaxy, about 1.5′ x 0.3′, elongated P very slightly S-F very slightly N. The halo is well defined, and there’s both a somewhat brighter core and an elongated bright region in the interior. No nucleus is visible, though. Due P by 5.5′ is an 11th-magnitude star (which will serve as a leaping-off a reference for other two galaxies); 8′ N of that star is NGC 5044; SP that star by 9′ is NGC 5037. NGC 5044 is the brightest of the group, and is quite bright. It’s about 1.5′ in diameter and round, with a halo that very gradually brightens to center; there’s not much cutoff between core and halo. The halo is pretty well defined, and a stellar nucleus can be seen with difficulty. NF the galaxy by 5′ is a 13th-mag star; N of that star by 5′ is an 8th-mag star; SF the 13th-mag star by 4.5′ is another galaxy (NGC 5049). NGC 5049 is reasonably-bright but small, about 0.5′ x 0.3′, elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S. Its core is very very small but bright and contains a bright stellar nucleus. Returning to the 11th-mag reference star brings NGC 5037 back to center. This galaxy is the biggest and second-brightest of the group; it’s 14′ from NGC 5044 and 13′ from NGC 5047, and elongated SP-NF. It seems almost like a flat galaxy at 2.0′ x 0.3′. The halo is quite well-defined, and there’s a streak of brightening along the length of it in addition to an obvious small core. No nucleus is visible at this aperture, but there’s an obvious 14th-magnitude star just off the NF end of the halo. NF 5037 by 8′ is an 11th-mag star. 5.5′ due N is the brighter of a faint pair/double; the fainter is SP the brighter by 0.3′; these are 13th– and 13.5-mags. NP the galaxy by 5′ is a 10th-mag star; there’s another 10th-mag star N very slightly F that star by 4′; between the two (2′ from the more southerly of the two) is another galaxy (NGC 5035). NGC 5035 is very diffuse and not particularly bright, but it’s fairly-obvious and doesn’t need to be hunted for. It’s pretty small (0.75′ diameter) and round, with a poorly-defined halo and very little central brightening or core present. In averted vision, there’s an occasional trace of a stellar nucleus that isn’t seen with direct vision. 10′ SP the galaxy is an 8th-magnitude star.

After the excellent 5054 group, there was an equally-good follow-up target. I’ve long avoided taking notes on many of the sky’s showpieces, both because they’re often played-out by astronomy standards and because there are so many fine details to catch. But I need to take notes on them, so showpiece object it was:

11:55
NGC 4565 (Com): This is, of course, a big one and one that I’ve been avoiding for a while—the undisputed classic edge-on galaxy. It’s huge—14.5′ x 1.5’—and elongated NP-SF. The F end of the galaxy is more “tangible” and well-defined, the P end a little bit more diffuse or weaker, but overall this is a sharply-defined galaxy. The core is smallish and bright and the famous dust lane is very obvious, running a bit closer to the N edge of the galaxy, the core and halo more obvious on the S side of the dust lane and the nucleus also on that side of the lane. (Unsurprisingly, there was no trace of the 2MASSX galaxy cluster off the SF end [naturally], nor of NGC 4565A to the SP of 4565.) There is a 13.5-magnitude star NF the galaxy’s nucleus by 1.5′, and a 13.5-mag star S very very slightly P the nucleus by 4′. Running on the exact P edge of the field from NP the galaxy to S is an arc of five stars; the brightest (11th-mag) is in the middle, 9′ P the nucleus; the arc is 11′ long. S of the galaxy is a random pattern of stars of which the two brightest are S of the galaxy’s nucleus by 15′ (at 10th-mag) and a 9th-mag star (the brightest in the field) SF the galaxy by 13′.

12:33
NGC 4494 (Com): This impressively-bright, elliptical-looking galaxy is between NGC 4565 and the wide double 17 Comae. It’s elongated N-S and very large at 3.75′ x 1.75′. The very well defined halo contains a bright core that’s about a quarter of the galaxy’s diameter, which itself contains a very bright non-stellar nucleus. N very slightly F the galaxy by 6′ is an 8th-magnitude star; NF the galaxy by 3.25′ is a 13th-mag star, and NF the galaxy by 17′ is a 9th-mag star. P the galaxy by 6.5′ is a 12th-mag star; another 12th-mag star lies F very very slightly N of the galaxy by 10′.

One of the key areas in the Herschel lists is the area around Messier 106, itself a Herschel object—a region that contains galaxies from both the Canes I and Canes II physically-bound groups. Five of these are in the Herschel lists, all residing within an area the size of the Full Moon. That made this area a high-value target for Herschel hunting, and I’d made a note beforehand that I was going to get these five before the season was out.

1:01
M 106, NGC 4248 (CVn): M106 is a massive galaxy and quite breathtaking when sweeping onto it. Really one of the unsung jewels of the Messier catalogue. It’s fully 13′ x 4.5′, elongated N slightly P-S slightly F. The halo is better defined along the NP edge to the NP end of the galaxy, while the more-diffuse S end extends quite a long way but is less defined; the large bright extended core seems offset toward the NP end of the galaxy and contains a very bright substellar nucleus. A 14th-magnitude star sits inside the halo on the NP end. 4.25′ P and slightly N from the nucleus is a 12.5-mag star; the nucleus and this P star and the star on the NP end of the galaxy form an equilateral triangle. A 12.5-mag star sits at the SF tip of the halo. F the galaxy by 9′ is a 14th-mag star; F and slightly S of the galaxy by 12.5′ is a 13th-mag star. S slightly P the nucleus by 15′ is an 11th-mag star, while P and somewhat N of M106 by 14′ (nucleus to nucleus) is NGC 4248, a very nice galaxy that’s very apparent in the field even with M106 present. 4248 is elongated NP-SF and about 1.5′ x 0.5′ (although it may be a bit wider—perhaps 0.6’—at the SF end of the halo). The halo is fairly diffuse and not overly well defined, and there isn’t much in the way of a core or central concentration. A very faint stellar nucleus may be visible in averted vision, and an 11.5-magnitude star resides just inside the NP end of the halo. (I’m annoyed that I missed the interacting pair NGC 4231/4232 P and very slightly N of 4248.)

1:15
NGCs 4220, 4218 (CVn): These two galaxies are also part of the M106 group, with that more-dominant galaxy to the SF of this pair. NGC 4220 is a bright, obviously edge-on or highly-inclined spiral, oriented NP-SF and subtending 2.5′ x 0.5′. Its halo is very well defined and evenly-illuminated, but the core itself is somewhat hard to define; there’s brightening along the arms that makes up much of the galaxy’s dimensions. A tiny stellar nucleus is visible with direct vision. SP this nucleus by 1.25′ is a 15th-magnitude star, and a threshold star is P slightly N the nucleus by 4′. NF the galaxy, starting at 7.5′ NF, is an upside-down lowercase ‘y’ pattern; its four stars are all 12th/12.5-mag; the stem of the ‘y’ points toward the NF (away from the galaxy; the arms of the ‘y’ point toward the galaxy); the ‘y’ is 6′ end-to-end. Due N of the galaxy by 15′ is the brightest star in the field at 9th-mag; this 9th-mag star has another galaxy (NGC 4218) P and very slightly N of it by 2.5′. NGC 4218 is small, faint, and diffuse, and benefits greatly from averted vision. The galaxy is 0.75′ x 0.3′, elongated NP-SF. Its halo is fairly well defined and contains a very small core that’s much more visible in averted vision, although no nucleus is visible in either averted or direct vision.

1:27
NGCs 4217, 4226 (CVn): Another pair in the M106 group. NGC 4217 is quite an interesting galaxy but not an easy one, diffuse and “unconcentrated” as it is… a ghost of a galaxy. A wedge-shaped pattern of 7th– and 8th-magnitude stars dominates the field and lies mostly to the S of the galaxy (although there’s one N slightly F the galaxy and one due P the galaxy). NGC 4217 breaks with the trend of the M106 group and is elongated perpendicular to them, SP-NF, and is pretty large at 4.75′ x 0.75′. Its halo is poorly-defined and there’s very little central brightening to the galaxy at all, with nary a core or nucleus identifiable. Just on the SP edge of the halo is a threshold star that requires averted to see at all. 0.5′ N very slightly F the galaxy’s center is a 13th-magnitude star; 1.5′ N very slightly F that star is an 8.5-mag star. S very slightly F the galaxy by 2′ is a 14th-mag star. Due P galaxy by 6.5′ is a 7th-mag star (as noted above). F very slightly N of the galaxy by 8′ is a 12th-mag star; halfway between that star and the galaxy is a 15th-mag star. F slightly S of the galaxy by 7.5′ is an extremely faint galaxy glow, that of NGC 4226—this galaxy is even more diffuse and difficult than 4217, and much smaller, at a mere 0.5′ x 0.25′. It has very little concentration at all, with only the possibility of a faint stellar nucleus visible in averted vision only.

1:44
NGC 4346 (CVn): This is the last Herschel galaxy in the M106 group, and considerably brighter than the previous pair. It’s elongated P-F, 1.75′ x 0.5′, with a well-defined halo and a small round very prominent core, but although it’s apparently an inclined spiral there’s little brightness along the length of the arms. 20′ NP the galaxy is a bright yellow 6.5-magnitude star. P very very slightly N of the galaxy by 14′ is an 11th-mag star. S very slightly F of galaxy is a ‘Y’-shaped pattern with the star at the middle and star at the end of the stalk separated by 1.5′; the star at the end of the P tine is 4.5′ from the center star, the star at the end of the F tine is 4.75′ from center; the stalk points S very slightly F; the star at the end of the stalk is 10′ SF the galaxy, and is the brightest in the Y at 11.5-magnitude. 19′ F very slightly S of the galaxy is a 10th-mag star. N of the galaxy by 13′ is the middle and brightest star in a bent arc of three; this middle star is 12th-mag, flanked to S very slightly P and N very slightly P by 12th-mag stars, each 2′ from the middle star.

The worst aspect of observing in June is the solstice-shortened nights, and after finishing the M106 group, only an hour remained before the break of dawn. I looked at some of the showpiece globulars–M13 was near the zenith by this point, and M15 (my favorite) was surprisingly-high in the east–before deciding that I’d reached a good stopping point, and we agreed that the observing night was essentially over.

There were no noctilucent clouds on this morning, but we did have another aurora imposter: a bright arc of contrail-like cloud curving low in the sky above town. Intent on our observing, we hadn’t even noticed this band of cloud rolling in until it was time to leave; conditions elsewhere in the sky hadn’t degraded much, if any, at all.

And then it was a lazy half-hour drive home without the potholes to keep me extra-alert.

III. With a few extra work shifts behind me, and clear skies ahead, I joined a small group at Eureka two nights later. Suddenly, with the road fixed, Eureka had taken over the top spot in my ranking of local observing sites; that and the dew problems our last night at Eagle’s Ridge made the slightly-less-dark skies at Eureka seem of far less concern. I could now drive to a dark site without having to search for my collimation wing nuts in the van after they’d been rattled loose by rough road. And my van might actually forgive me for the punishment clear skies have forced it to endure.

I remembered my tracking platform this night as well—the platform Jerry and I had put time, effort, and money into. Jerry had to remind me how to use it (including which way it should face), and we never got it working as well as it could; among other things, it had developed a tendency to skip a tooth every thirty seconds or so. Jerry wasn’t thrilled with how the platform had turned out, but I was grateful just to not have to constantly be nudging galaxies back into the field after only a few seconds.

One of the benefits of the short June nights is that there’s also less time for the Moon to be an issue. With sunset near 9 PM, we never even noticed that the Moon was up, let alone having it interfere with any observing.

Dan’s ladyfriend and daughter were there. And Doge was there again. Never underestimate the power of a living Internet meme to make an observing evening complete.

 

6/14/18-6/15/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 1 day (1% illumination); set at 10:02 PM
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.4
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; some breeze below ridge level, some dew on plastic surfaces but optics clear throughout

Others present: JO, FS, DB, Elise, Ruby, Doge

11:40
NGC 4699 (Vir): This first galaxy of the night is very bright and obvious, and probably an elliptical. It covers 2.75′ x 2.3′ and is oriented S slightly P-N slightly F. The well-defined halo comes suddenly to a much brighter 0.5′ core, and a bright stellar nucleus is readily apparent. Due F the galaxy by 5.5′ is a 10.5-magnitude star; halfway between the galaxy and that star is a 13th-mag star; due N of the 10.5-mag star by 4′ is the brighter component of a double star; the fainter component is just SP the brighter by 15″, and the components are 12.5- and 14.5-mags. S slightly P the galaxy by 2′ is a threshold star. SF the galaxy by 12′ is another double, this one separated N-S; the primary is 10.5-mag and the secondary 10.7′; these are separated by 10″. S somewhat F the galaxy by 8′ is a 12.5-mag star, and NP the galaxy by 11′ is an 11th-mag star.

11:57
NGCs 4742, 4760, 4781 (Vir): NGC 4742 is fairly smallish (0.75′ x 0.5′) and very slightly elongated P-F. It has a pretty well defined halo that suddenly brightens to a small, moderately-bright core that contains a very bright stellar nucleus. SF the galaxy by 1.5′ is a 12th-magnitude star. 9′ NP the galaxy is the primary of a double (S1682, brightest in field) whose primary is 7th-mag and whose secondary is 11th-mag; these are separated by 30″, with the secondary P very slightly N of the primary. N slightly F (by 4.5′) and S slightly P (by 2.25′) the primary of the double star are 12th-mag stars. SP the galaxy by 6.75′ is an 11th-mag star, while S somewhat P the galaxy by 20′ is a 9th-mag star. F somewhat S of the galaxy by 18′ is a 9th-mag star; NF that star by 5′ is another galaxy (NGC 4760). 4760 is larger but more diffuse than NGC 4742, with a 2.0′ x 1.5′ halo that brightens gradually to a moderately-brighter core; the core contains a very faint substellar nucleus. The galaxy is oriented S very slightly P-N very slightly F. NF NGC 4760 by 4′ is a 10th-magnitude star. F the galaxy by 10′ is a 10.5-mag star; F very slightly S that star by 8.75′ is another galaxy, NGC 4781. This galaxy is very large (2.75′ x 1.25′), elongated P-F, and brighter than NGC 4760. It has a reasonably well defined halo but not much of a visible core and no visible nucleus. Just on the P edge of the halo is a 12.5-magnitude star, however. There’s also a 13th-mag star 1.5′ P slightly S the star on the edge of the halo; SP this star by 1.5′ is another 13th-mag star. NF the galaxy by 9.5′ is a 9th-mag star (the brightest in this galaxy’s field). SP the galaxy and trailing toward the S edge of the field is a scattering of 10th-mag and fainter stars.

12:25
NGC 4487 (Vir): This galaxy is a tough one, just preceding Chi Virginis—it’s pretty much the definition of diffuse. The poorly-defined 3.0′ x 2.25′ halo is elongated mostly P-F and has very little central concentration, with a small core that’s only slightly brighter than the halo and no nucleus apparent. A 14th-magnitude star lies just on the N edge of the galaxy; just outside the halo on the F side is a 13th-mag star. N very very slightly F the galaxy by 5′ is a 12th-mag star. P very slightly N of the galaxy by 5.5′ is a 10th-mag star. SF the galaxy by 9′ is a 9th-mag star. There is a 10th-mag star SP the galaxy by 15′; this star has an 11th-mag star S slightly P by 1.5′.

12:35
NGC 4546 (Vir): This galaxy is framed by an interesting field, with pairs or trios of stars bracketing the field to the SP, NP, and N slightly F. The galaxy is decent-sized (2.5′ x 1.0′) and considerably bright, elongated P-F, with a pretty well defined halo that brightens to a small, moderately-bright core with a very obvious stellar nucleus. To the SF of the galaxy by 2′ is a 12th-magnitude star, and there’s another 12th-mag star P slightly N of the galaxy by 5.5′. NP the galaxy by 2′ is a 14.5-mag star. NF the galaxy by 3′ is a 14th-mag star. To the P somewhat N edge of the field (20′ from the galaxy) are two stars separated by 2′; the more southerly is slightly brighter; these are 9th and 10th-mags. S of the galaxy by 17′ is a 9.5-mag star that has an 11.5-mag star F slightly N of it by 5′. N of the galaxy is an arc stretching SF-NP; the brightest star in this arc (of five) is an 8th-magnitude star second from S, 15′ N of the galaxy.

12:57
NGCs 4725, 4712, 4747 (Com): NGC 4725 is an excellent galaxy! This one vies with NGC 4559 as the best in Coma after the Messiers and NGC 4565. It’s very large and very bright, and it’s hard to begrudge it having a popular name (the Tie Fighter Galaxy) as it does indeed resemble its namesake. The galaxy is elongated SP-NF and spans 6.5′ x 3.75′; the SP end of the very well defined halo seems sharper than the NF edge in averted vision, as if there’s a more-definite spiral arm just outside the threshold of vision on that side of the galaxy. Averted vision also adds about an arcminute to the galaxy’s length. The core of the galaxy is small and highly concentrated, with the halo becoming suddenly brighter toward it, and the core seems of-center to the SP just slightly. A possible substellar nucleus shows intermittently, and there’s a threshold star inside the NF end of the halo. N of the galaxy by 2.5′ is a 13.5-magnitude star. NP the galaxy by 6.5′ is a 12th-mag star, and P slightly N of the galaxy by 13′ is a 12th-mag star; due S of that star by 4′ is another galaxy (NGC 4712). To the F and NF of 4725 by 13′ and beyond is a grouping of brighter stars (of 7.5- to 11th-mags); these make an arrowhead shape that points S from the F edge of the field; N very very slightly P the brightest in that group (7.5-mag) by 6.25 is another galaxy (NGC 4747); the 7.5-mag star also has a 12th-mag companion P it by 0.6′. NGC 4712 is hard to “lock down” precisely, with a very diffuse and poorly defined 2.25′ x 1.0′ halo elongated N-S. There is no real central brightening or nucleus visible here. 6′ S slightly F the galaxy is a 12th-magnitude star; F very slightly N that star by 3.5′ is a 13th-mag star; 3.5′ F very slightly N of the 13th-mag star is a 12th-mag star which is 5′ S very slightly P the center of 4725. NGC 4747 is also weakly concentrated and diffuse, a poorly defined 2.5′ x 0.75′ halo elongated SP-NF with no central brightening or nucleus. NGC 4747 is P NGC 4725 by 25′.

1:32
NGCs 4914, 4868 (CVn): both of these galaxies are fairly non-descript. NGC 4914 is elongated 1.5′ x 0.75′ and N very slightly P-S very slightly F, with a very small brighter core and a tiny stellar nucleus. N very slightly P the galaxy by 6′ is a 12th-magnitude star. NF the galaxy by 6.5′ is a 9th-mag star. P very slightly N the galaxy by 6.75′ is an 11th-mag star. 5.5′ SP the galaxy is a 13th-mag star. The brightest star in the field is an 8th-magnitude star 19′ due F the galaxy. NGC 4868 lies 19′ P very very slightly N of 4914, and is the more diffuse of the two galaxies. It’s elongated N-S, with a 1.3′ x 1.0′ that comes very gradually brighter to a middle/central region that seems to be irregularly bright; a stellar nucleus may be fleetingly visible. A threshold star is inside the SP end of the halo, and 1′ N of the galaxy is a 12th-magnitude star. 1.75′ F the galaxy is a 13.5-mag star. S very slightly F the galaxy by 4.5′ is a 13th-mag star; there’s a 12.5-mag star 4.5′ S slightly P the galaxy. Due S of 4868 by 12′ is another possible galaxy, an averted-vision object only [there’s nothing nearby on the POSS plate except NGC 4870, 16′ to S—due to the disparity in distances I can’t consider this a sighting].

1:46
NGCs 4618, 4625 (CVn): NGC 4618 is a very interesting galaxy with an unusual shape. It’s large (2.75′ x 2.0′) and elongated N-S. The halo is moderately well defined and quite diffuse; it’s also unevenly-illuminated, with an apparent void between the core and the S end of the halo on the F side. The core itself is elongated slightly—but not in the same direction as the halo, rather P slightly S-F slightly N—and offset toward the N end of the galaxy. The core is fully 1.5′ x 0.75′, with a stellar nucleus. There may be a threshold star embedded just on the core’s N edge. S of the core by 4.75′ is an 11th-magnitude star. NGC 4625 lies 8.5′ N very slightly F NGC 4618; it’s smaller and rounder than the previous, about 1.25′ in diameter, with a slightly-brighter core and a hint of a stellar nucleus. 1.75′ P slightly S of the galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star. Due F the galaxy by 4.5′ is a 12th-mag star; there’s a 12th-mag star N very very slightly F that star by 5′. With 4625 centered, there’s an 8.5-mag star 19′ F the galaxy that is the brightest in the field. F slightly S of the galaxy by 15′ is a 10th-mag star. N slightly P the galaxy by 12.5′ is an 11th-mag star, and due N of that star by 2.5′ is a 10.5-mag star.

2:01
NGC 4369 (CVn): The last galaxy of this particular night is a small, slightly-generic probably-elliptical target. It’s about 1.5′ round, with a well-defined halo that gets suddenly brighter to a brightish core. A faint stellar nucleus can be seen. Due S of the galaxy by 5.25′ is the brighter of a pair; the brighter (13th-magnitude) is NF the fainter (13.5-magnitude) by 20″; this pair forms the SP tip of a triangle with the galaxy at the N and a 12.5-mag star 7.5′ SF the galaxy as the other vertices; in the middle of the southern edge is a 13th-mag star; in the middle of the P edge of the triangle is a 13th-mag star. SF the galaxy by 13′ is a 10th-mag star. N somewhat P the galaxy by 15′ is a 10th-mag star, and due N of the galaxy by 21′ is a 10.5-mag star. Just out of the edge of the field, SF the galaxy, is a 5th-mag star (6 Canum), which is slightly yellowish.

In all, it turned out to be an uneventful night; the most unusual aspect of it was the sheer number of bright satellites passing through fields in which I was observing. Numerous times during my audio-note transcription I had to elide “there goes another bright satellite through the field” so as not to constantly have to keep making reference to it. It was a trend that would continue the next time out, as well.

IV. The next night out would in fact happen two nights later, under slightly less-optimal skies. It was a bigger group this time; Kathy had come along with Jerry, Alan had brought his astrophotography gear, and Dan’s daughter had brought a friend along. Jerry, Alan, and I took turns using Jerry’s grass whip to “mow” the small clearing that we used for telescopes, so that more of us could fit into the clearing. We ended up with five telescopes and two camera platforms in the clearing, and the banter included Monty Python and Blues Brothers references for much of the evening (as Matt “Guitar” Murphy had died earlier in the day). It turned out to be my most-productive night of the run, despite having the lowest SQM readings of the week.

I started with another showpiece object while waiting for the three-day Moon to vacate the western sky.

6/16/18-6/17/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 3 days (13% illumination); set at 11:48 PM
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 6
SQM: 21.3
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to low 50s; some breeze below ridge level, occasional small clouds drifting through, some dew on plastic surfaces but optics clear

Others present: JO, KO, FS, AG, DB, Ruby, Ruby’s friend

11:12
M104 (Vir): The Moon is still about 35 minutes from setting, but I didn’t want to put off my notes until midnight, so here we are. Even so, I’m always surprised by how relatively small M104 is—I always expect it to be the size of M51 or M81, but I know better. It’s still a superb galaxy. It’s elongated P-F, and after about ten more minutes, the galaxy grows to 5.75′ x 2.0′. At first, the dust lane seemed as much a sharp cutoff of the galaxy’s S edge as it did an actual dust lane, but as the sky darkens, the region of the galaxy S of the dust lane becomes more obvious and it can be seen for what it is. The dust lane runs about ¾ of the way from N to S, with most of the core and nucleus visible N of the lane. The halo of the galaxy is very smooth and well defined, and it has a very bright core and substellar nucleus. N of the galaxy by 1.75′ from the nucleus is a 14.5-magnitude star. N very very slightly F by 10′ is a 10.5-mag star; F very very slightly N of the galaxy by 16′ is a 9th-mag star; N very slightly P that star is a pair of 11th-mag stars separated NP-SF from each other by 1′. Due P the 9th-mag star by 3′ is a 12th-mag star. SF the galaxy by 7′ is a 10th-mag star that is the N-most vertex of a triangle; S very slightly P that star by 7′ is the brightest in the triangle at 9th-mag; there’s also a 10.5-mag star F slightly N the second star by 3′. P very slightly S of the galaxy by 5′ is a 10th-mag star; due P that star by 1.5′ is a 13th-mag star; 3′ P very slightly S of the 13th-mag star is an 10.5-mag star; a 12th-mag star lies 5′ P somewhat S the 10.5-mag star; this is an arc of four P and arcing S-ward from the galaxy. 21′ P slightly N of the galaxy is the “Jaws” asterism, which doesn’t really remind me much of a shark; Jaws looks like he has a harpoon of five stars extending N slightly F from his back; Jaws is composed of a small triangle and a small trapezoid of stars; these stars range from 8th-mag to 12th-mag, while the “harpoon” is made up of 10th– and 10.5-mag stars.

11:31
NGC 4030 (Vir): This galaxy is remarkably bright given that the sky is still not 100% dark. It’s a large and impressive galaxy, although it’s somewhat difficult to determine a morphological type from its appearance. Its diffuse halo is elongated 2.25′ x 1.25′ N v slightly F-S v slightly P and fades into the background without much definition. The core region accounts for perhaps 2/3 of the galaxy’s dimensions and brightens toward the center but doesn’t come to a point; there’s no visible nucleus. The galaxy is bracketed on the N very slightly P and the S very slightly P by 11th-magnitude stars; the star to the N slightly P is 1.5′ from the galaxy, while the star to the S slightly P is 2.25′ from the galaxy; the star to the S slightly P has a 13th-mag star SF by 1′. There’s a pair of brightish stars 9.5′ SF the galaxy; the brighter is NF the fainter; these are 10.5- and 11.5-mags and separated by 2.5′.. Oddly, almost all stars in the field are on the F side of the field except for two 13th-mag stars, which are 14′ P slightly N and NP the galaxy (almost equidistant). 24′ N of the galaxy (out of the field) is a 9.5-mag star. P very slightly N of the galaxy by 25′ (also out of the field) is a 10th-mag star. The brightest star in the field is a 10th-magnitude star 16′ NF the galaxy.

11:45
NGCs 4856, 4877 (Vir): The seeing has temporarily gone crappy in the Virgo region for a few moments as some small black clouds have drifted through. Once they clear, it reveals NGC 4856 to be a long, thin galaxy, elongated 3.25′ x 0.67′ and oriented SP-NF. The galaxy still seems reasonably well defined despite the variable seeing, and has a very very bright core, although a stellar nucleus is very tenuous; there’s also a 13th-magnitude star just off the F edge of the halo. 19′ P the galaxy, just on the edge of the field, is the brightest star in the field (7th-mag). SP the galaxy by 10′ is a double star or close pair of unrelated stars; the primary is 11.5-mag and is 20″ P the secondary, which is 13.5-mag. SF the galaxy is a pentagon of stars, the closest of which is a 10th-mag star 7.5′ SF the galaxy; S very slightly P that star by 5.5′ is a 12.5-mag star; SF this star by 8′ is a 10th-mag star; NF this star by 6.75′ is a 9th-mag star; N very slightly F this star by 12′ is an 11th-mag star. But back to the 9th-mag star (4th in the pentagon): F slightly S that star by 3′ is another galaxy, NGC 4877. This galaxy is extremely difficult, faint, and diffuse. It’s elongated perhaps 1.75′ x 0.5′ and oriented N very slightly F-S very slightly P; the halo may be very slightly brighter at the S end. There’s no real central brightening or core evident, and the very faint stellar nucleus visible in averted vision may or may not be real. SF the galaxy by 5.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star.

12:00
NGC 4902 (Vir): This one is a round diffuse glow, to the N of NGC 4856. It’s 1.75′ diameter, with an irregularly-bright and reasonably well defined halo that hints at further detail just on the edge of resolution. The core is quite small and only subtly-brighter than the halo, but no nucleus is visible. The galaxy is in the middle of a ‘w’-shaped asterism, at the “narrow” end of the ‘w’. The brightest stars in the ‘w’ are the closest to the galaxy, NP and P slightly S of the galaxy; the star to the SP is 10th-magnitude; the star to the N slightly P is 10.5-mag; the star to the N slightly P has a 14th-mag star , to the N very slightly P of it by 0.67′; the star N slightly P the galaxy is 2′ from the galaxy; the star to the SP is 2.25′ from the galaxy; from the 10.5-mag star NP by 3′ is a 12th-mag star; from that star S very slightly P by 1.25′ is a 13th-mag star; from the 12th-mag star NF by 3.75′ is an 11.5-mag star. Back to the star SP the galaxy: the last star in the ‘w’ is SF that star by 4.5′ and is 13th-mag. SF the galaxy by 18′ is the center star of a bent ‘Y’ pattern which is composed of 10th– and 11th-mag stars.

12:17
NGC 4179 (Vir): This is an obvious edge-on spiral, and a very fine one at that. It’s elongated NP-SF, 2.5′ x 0.5′, with a pretty well defined halo and a bright core that seems slightly offset to the NP end; this impression is heightened in averted vision, which also brings out a substellar nucleus. A long string of stars stretches from NF the galaxy toward the NF edge of the field; there are seven primary stars in this train; these trail away from the galaxy and are between 10th– and 11th-mags, although there are a couple of fainter ones among these. The closest of these seven stars is NF the galaxy by 2′. 12′ SF the galaxy, along the plane of the galaxy, is a 10.5-mag star. There’s a 9.5-mag star SP the galaxy by 14′. S very slightly P the galaxy by 12′ is a 12th-mag star.

12:35
NGC 4697 (Vir): A good-sized, bright galaxy, it’s obvious that this one is a Herschel 400 object. It has a very well defined, football-shaped halo, 2.25′ x 1.25′, elongated P very slightly S-F very slightly N. The core—perhaps 0.5′ x 0.4’—is significantly brighter than the halo, and contains a bright stellar nucleus. Off the NF end of the galaxy by 3′ is a 12th-magnitude star, and a 14th-mag star is 1.5′ off NP end. A row of five brightish stars stretches S of the galaxy from F to SP the galaxy; the star F the galaxy is 10′ F the galaxy and is 10th-mag; a 12th-mag star is due P that star by 2′; 6′ S of the galaxy is a 10th-mag star; SP the galaxy by 11′ is a 9.5-mag star; P slightly S of the galaxy by 17′ is a 9th-mag star. 23′ N very slightly F the galaxy by is a solitary 9th-mag star.

12:54
NGC 5020 (Vir): This is not an easy galaxy at all, after a couple really fine ones. It has a very diffuse, not particularly well defined, and it’s hard to tell its size and orientation as a result—perhaps 1.67′ x 1.0′, oriented S very slightly P-N very slightly F. There is some vaguely-defined central brightening that might not merit being called a core, but a faint stellar nucleus is fairly obvious. There’s a 14.5-magnitude star due N of the galaxy by 3.5′ and a 13th-mag star S of the galaxy by 7.25′. F slightly S of the galaxy by 10.5′ is an 11th-mag star. 15′ P very slightly N is an 8.5-mag star. SP the galaxy by 21′ is a 9th-mag star; NF that star by 3.75′ is a double star; components separated NP-SF by 12″; the 13th-mag SF component is the primary, while the secondary is 13.5-mag.

1:14
NGCs 5129, 5132 (Vir): This is a pair of small galaxies, neither of which is a standout. NGC 5129 is somewhat difficult, with a faint 0.75′ x 0.5′ halo that’s elongated mostly N-S. There’s almost no central brightening beyond a very faint, barely-visible nucleus. 1.75′ F the galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star, and S slightly F the galaxy by 3.25′ is a 9.5-mag star. NP by 8′ is a 10th-mag star which has a 12.5-mag star N of it by 1.75′; NF the galaxy by 8.5′ is another galaxy, NGC 5132. This one is smaller and even more diffuse than NGC 5129. It’s no more than 0.5′ in diameter and round, with a poorly-defined halo, no central brightening, no core, and no nucleus. N slightly F the galaxy by 2.25′ is a 12th-magnitude star. F the galaxy by 2.25′ is a 14th-mag star, and NP the galaxy by 10′ is a 9.5-mag star.

By about this point, Dan and I were the only ones left in the clearing; his daughter and her friend had gone off to his van to sleep until the sunrise (they wanted to watch the sun come up), and the other observers had called it a night. Alan had taken some fine shots of the central Milky Way to document the evening, although an occasional jet-black cloud had made its way through the region and into a couple of his photos.

2:00
NGCs 5444, 5445, 5440 (CVn): A very interesting trio of contrasting galaxies in eastern Canes Venatici. NGC 5444 is a fairly small and round (1.25′) galaxy, not overly well defined. The halo becomes suddenly bright to the core, which is bright enough that it makes determining whether or not there’s a nucleus quite difficult. P the galaxy by 1.5′ is a 15th-magnitude star, and there’s another 15th-mag star N of the galaxy by 6′. 7′ S of the galaxy is another galaxy, NGC 5445. 5445 is fainter but larger than 5444, and is a 1.25′ x 0.3′ edge-on streak that’s elongated SP-NF. It has a very tiny moderately-bright core and a fleeting stellar nucleus. Just off the SP end is a 13.5-magnitude star. NF the galaxy (along the plane of the galaxy) by 3.5′ is a 14th-mag star. Due F the galaxy by 2.5′ is a 12th-mag star. S very slightly F the galaxy by 6.5′ is a 10th-mag star. A 9th-mag star lies P very slightly S by 13′; from this last star, another galaxy (NGC 5440) lies 13′ S slightly F. (5440 also sits 16′ SP NGC 5445.) It’s also edge-on, and the largest and brightest of the three in this group. Its irregularly-bright halo is elongated SP-NF and subtends 1.5′ x 0.3′; it has little central brightening, but the galaxy does have either an off-centered (to the NF end) nucleus or a threshold star on the NF end. There is also an 11th-magnitude star embedded in the SP end of the halo.

2:24
NGCs 5273, 5276 (CVn): NGC 5273 is a brightish, large, but diffuse and undefined galaxy. It has only a slight bit of N-S elongation (1.75′ x 1.67′), with a broadly concentrated but not overly-bright core; there’s a definite stellar nucleus that really benefits from averted vision. Due P the galaxy by 5.5′ is a 13.5-magnitude star, and 3′ P very slightly S is a threshold star. A 14.5-mag star lies 5.75′ due N. F very slightly N of the galaxy by 19′ is an 8th-mag star; 8.5′ N of that star is a 9.5-mag star. SF the galaxy by 3.25′ is another galaxy, merely a fuzzy spot. This is NGC 5276, which is hard to hold steadily even in averted vision; it’s even hard to tell the galaxy’s orientation because it’s so difficult. It appears to be elongated NP-SF, and about 0.67′ x 0.3′, with a very faintly brighter core and no detectable nucleus.

While over in this section of Canes, I stopped in on a favorite object: the Hickson 68 galaxy group and nearby spiral NGC 5371, inviting Dan over for a look. For my observing money, this is the best of the Hickson groups, framed nicely around a 6th-magnitude star and with the big, bold NGC 5371 looming close by for perspective. A stunning field.

And then it was back to Herschel hunting, with just enough time for a few more targets before dawn.

3:01
NGC 5383, UGC 8877 (CVn): Not much time left for Herschel hunting; dawn isn’t far off. NGC 5383 is certainly a decent galaxy to end with—it’s pretty bright and pretty large (2.25′ x 1.5′), elongated NP-SF, with a diffuse halo that fades into the background. The core isn’t well-defined; it’s brighter than the halo but not particularly bright, and is elongated slightly NP-SF, especially in averted vision. There’s a faint substellar nucleus within, and on the NF end inside the edge of the halo is a 14th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is 11.5-magnitude and lies SP the galaxy by 8.5′. NP the galaxy by 3′ is a 13th-mag star; there’s another 13th-mag star NF the galaxy by 4.25′. SF the galaxy by 3′ is a 12th-mag star that has an 11th-mag star due S by just under 1′; this last star has a 12th-mag star SF it by 3.75′. Every so often, S of the galaxy by 3.5′ and mostly in averted vision, a fuzzy indeterminate spot (UGC 8877) can be seen. This galaxy is very small and extremely faint, hard to hold steadily even in averted vision. It’s impossible to determine its size or orientation, and appears to have little if any central brightening at this aperture.

3:25
NGC 6217 (UMi): This really fine galaxy will be the last for the night, as dawn is definitely beginning to break. It’s an obvious, highly-inclined spiral in the middle of a surprisingly-busy field. The irregularly-bright halo is nonetheless well-defined, oriented N very slightly P-S very slightly F, and measures 2.25′ x 1.25′. There’s not much of a core here, just a slight streak of brightening down the middle, and a very obvious stellar nucleus. The field is quite crowded with stars: NP the galaxy by 9′ and 6.5′ are 11th-magnitude stars; P the galaxy by 21′ and 18′ are 10th– and 10.5-mag stars, respectively. S very slightly F the galaxy by 19′ is an 8.5-mag star. SP the galaxy by 15′ is a 9.5-mag star, and there’s an interesting diamond pattern of 10th– and 11th-mag stars F the galaxy just on the SP edge of the field.

Before tearing down for the month, I went back to M13, M92, M5, M22, M55, and M15, the bright globulars of summer, whose locations I’d long ago memorized. This closed out the June dark-sky run—it wasn’t as productive as that in 2017, but it was a much-needed stretch of clear skies and galaxy light to make up for a mediocre spring.

 

Oregonian Khatru

I was obviously in error in my previous entry, in that I said the rain was over in the Willamette Valley—it was two months almost to the day before I could find a clear moonless night to delve back into Herschel hunting.

The weekend of May 12th lived up to its forecast: two almost-perfect and inviting nights in which to try to catch up on the vast number of early-spring galaxies that I still needed to observe in Lynx, Leo, Leo Minor, Crater, Corvus, and Hydra (the Ursa Major galaxies were also numerous, but given that Ursa Major is circumpolar, there was less of a rush there). I had been following the constellations’ nightly traverse of the meridian on Sky Safari during the cloudy stretch, and knew that my quest to complete the Herschels in 2018 was going to be for naught; I would need a whole week of clear skies to even come close to getting through all these galaxies, particularly in the Leos, where I had 40 Herschel galaxies to go. This was also to say nothing of Virgo (35 remaining galaxies), which would be past the meridian after midnight in May, and the Coma/Canes regions (33 galaxies still remaining), which would be visible a bit longer due to their higher declinations.

Despite having concluded that the Herschel lists would require at least one more round of the seasons, I still intended to make as much headway as possible on the galaxies of the spring. On my last trip out, I had swept up most of the targets in Hydra and Crater that still remained, but I also had a number of objects left in Corvus in addition to a couple each in the low-south constellations I’d ostensibly finished. My plan was to finish Crater, Corvus, and Hydra, and to dig into the more-southerly Virgo galaxies (having wiped out most of the Virgo cluster last May when I mopped up all 150+ targets on Sky Atlas 2000.0‘s Chart B). And despite having my sights set on the many galaxies in eastern Leo, I would probably have to give up on most of those for the season; Leo would already be well past the meridian by the time I finished the southerly stuff that I also needed to get.

Dan B, Oggie, and Oggie’s ladyfriend had also ventured out to Eagle’s Ridge to take advantage of the clear sky and the weekend; Jerry had been fighting a nasty cold and wasn’t feeling up to the trip. And it was not long after I got set up that I was fighting my own (rather insistent) health issue.

I don’t know quite what menu item from the previous few days set me off, but given that Australopithicenes have always been lactose intolerant, it was something of a miracle that I’d made this many trips up the local mountains with nary an issue before. That luck ran out on this particular night, and the churning in my guts was audible on my voice memos as I was dictating notes on the various galaxies.

These notes are the more-narrative style I’ve used a couple of times here; I don’t intend to do them this way all the time, but they’re more readable than my standard style.

5/12-5/13/18

EAGLE’S RIDGE SPUR ROAD (43° 48′ 17.9496” N, 122° 42′ 45.6912” W)
MOON: 28 days; 4% illuminated, rose at 4:24 AM
SEEING: 8
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 50s, no breeze, some dew on exposed plastic elements but none on optical surfaces or telescopes

Others present: Dan B, Oggie G, Leticia

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

10:12
NGCs 3636, 3637 (Crt): These two fairly-obvious (but not super-bright) galaxies are flanking and somewhat N of a 7th-magnitude star. NGC 3636 is NP the 7th-mag star by 1.5′. It’s pretty small—0.67′ round—and has a bright core and possibly a substellar nucleus. Its halo is quite diffuse and faint; the core is the galaxy’s most notable feature. NGC 3637 is NF the 7th-mag star by 3′. It’s much bigger than 3636—1.25′ round—with a somewhat brighter core and a definite substellar nucleus. 3.25′ SF 3637 is a 13th-mag star. NP the 7th-mag star is a kite-shaped asterism; the kite’s tip is NP the 7th-mag star by 9′; the four stars in the kite shape are all 9th-mag and fainter; it’s 11′ from the southern tip of the kite to the star at the kite’s northern tip (which is N slightly F); stars are SP and SF the top star by 7′ and 6′ respectively; the dimmest star in the diamond (11th-mag) is the F-most star; the others are all 10th-magnitude. Back to the galaxies now that it’s a bit darker—the galaxies are more impressive now. N of 3637 by 7′ is a 13.5-mag star. F-most star in kite is N slightly P 3637 by 12.5′.

10:28
NGC 4024 (Crv): This is another pretty small, subtle little galaxy. It’s probably elliptical [actually a barred spiral], judging from its brightness profile. It has a small bright core and stellar nucleus; the core seems to be almost elongated slightly SP-NF. The halo is pretty diffuse, not well-defined, but small and vaguely roundish. Dimensions 1.0′ x 0.75′. There’s a Y-shaped pattern of stars P and very slightly S of the galaxy; the star on the SP of the Y is the brightest; the star on the N fork is second-brightest. The star in the middle of the ‘Y’ is faintest. The ‘Y’ star closest to the galaxy is 3.25′ from galaxy to the SP; the star at the center of the ‘Y’ is 2.5′ P the previous star and is 12th-magnitude; 2.5′ N very slightly P that last star is an 11.5-magnitude star. Back to the middle of the ‘Y’: the brightest star is S slightly P the middle star by 2′. A star between the galaxy and the closest star in the ‘Y’ is 13.5-mag and 1.5′ S very slightly P the galaxy. N of the galaxy by 3.5′ is a 12th-mag star that has a 14.5-mag companion N very slightly P by 0.67′. N very slightly P the galaxy by 18′ is the brightest star of a very small triangle (which at 9th magnitude is also the brightest in the field); to the P and SP of that star by 1.5′ are 13th-mag stars. SF the galaxy by 5′ is a double star of 13th and 14th magnitudes; the brighter component is N of the fainter by 0.25′.

10:45
NGCs 4038, 4039 (Crv): This one’s a classic—so much detail! As a whole, this object is very large. Both components are equally long (3.5′) but the N-most galaxy (4038) is almost twice as thick, 2.0′ thick across the middle. 4038 has not so much a core as a vaguely-defined “inner region”, which is much brighter and more mottled than that of 4039. This inner region makes up most of galaxy’s dimensions; 4038 much more detailed overall, with a better-defined halo, although the halo is not at all extensive. A 14th-magnitude star is 0.25′ off 4038’s NP edge and a faint star is embedded toward the galaxy’s NP end. The S galaxy (4039) is more diffuse, and about 1.25′ thick. 4039 is elongated P slightly S-F slightly N; 4038 is angled P slightly N-F slightly S; the two connect at their F ends. The notch between the two at the P end looks to be 0.5′ at widest. There’s a threshold star 1′ following point where two galaxies intersect. The whole thing reminds of a cocktail shrimp (Oggie says a fortune cookie). 5.5′ N very slightly P the N edge of 4038 is the S-most and brightest (9th magnitude) vertex of a triangle; N slightly P that star by 6.5′ is the second vertex (magnitude 11.3); the third vertex is NP by 7′ and is 11th magnitude. Just on the N slightly P edge of field (21′ from galaxies) is a 9th magnitude star. 16′ F the galaxies and very slightly N is an 11th-magnitude star; another 11th-mag star is P somewhat N that star by 6′. 5.75′ SF the point where the galaxies intersect is a double star of 13th and 14th magnitudes; components are separated SP-NF by 0.25′; the brighter component is slightly closer to the galaxies. 4.25′ due S of the S edge of 4039 is a 12th magnitude star; 5′ S very slightly P that star is a 10th magnitude star; 5′ SF that star is a 12th magnitude star with a 13.5 magnitude companion S of it by 0.75′.

11:07
NGCs 4027, 4027A (Crv): 4027: This is a very interesting galaxy. It’s elongated N-S, and quite large (2.5′ x 1.5′). Its core is irregular-shaped and offset toward the S end. The core/spiral arm is almost ‘C’ shaped starting at the S end, looping along the P edge and curling back toward the NF edge. The brightest part of the core is off to the SP quadrant. There seems to be a 14.5-magnitude star embedded in the halo in the “open area” inside the spiral arm/darker area in the halo where the arm doesn’t reach. The halo is more diffuse on the F side. There’s an occasional glimpse of another galaxy [4027A] 4′ S slightly P 4027—it comes and goes, even in averted vision. It’s impossible to determine its dimensions; it’s just a tiny faint diffuse glow. 4027 is bracketed inside a triangle of 12.5 and 13th magnitude stars; two of the stars are to the N; one is due N, one is NF and one is SF; the star to the N (which is also slightly P) is the brightest at 12.5 magnitude and is 3.5′ from the center of the galaxy; the two stars F the galaxy are equidistant from the galaxy at 3.25′ from the center of the galaxy and are both 13th magnitude. F and very slightly N of the galaxy is a mish-mash of stars; a small right triangle is closest to galaxy, followed by a pair; S slightly F that pair is a pair of brighter stars; the stars in this whole asterism range from 11th to 13th magnitude; the brightest in the group is the right-angle (NF) vertex of the triangle. P the galaxy by 7.5′ is an 11th magnitude star.

In my gastric distress, I had forgotten that I’d taken notes on NGCs 4105 and 4106 on my last excursion, and I duplicated the observation. A waste of valuable time, but there are worse ways to do so.

11:25
NGCs 4105, 4106 (Hya): [I had previously taken notes on this pair on 3/11/18] These two are almost onto the mountainside here, they’re so low. 4105 is P and very slightly N 4106. The two are separated by about 1′ core-to-core. Due S of 4105 is an 11th magnitude star that’s 2.5′ S of galaxy. The galaxy is very slightly elongated N-S, and is 1.25′ x 1.0′. It has a much more diffuse larger halo and brighter core with a substellar nucleus. 4106 is roundish, and 1.0′ round. It has a very small vaguely-defined core. A 9.5-magnitude star is NF 4106 by 14′, and is the second-brightest in the field. SP 4105 by 21′ is a 10.5-magnitude star, brightest in the field, right on the field’s edge. An arc of three stars precedes the galaxies; the middle star is brightest of the three at 12th-mag and is 7′ P very slightly N 4105; this bright star has fainter stars S (13th magnitude) and NF (12th magnitude).

Q: Does an astronomer shit in the woods?
A: He does if it’s too far to drive home and it’s an absolute biological imperative.

It was at this point that the monstrous Lovecraftian mass in my guts decided that it was sick of being put off. Fortunately, I had prepared for this eventuality (with toilet paper and plenty of hand sanitizer in the van), but the concept was still awkward and the execution even more so. Apologizing to the other observers for the need to use headlights, I drove quickly and desperately to the end of the spur road and purged the offending toxic material from my system.

I certainly felt better when I returned to my scope, despite having shot my night vision all to hell. Without having to worry about that particular problem anymore, I was able to more fully concentrate on my observing for the rest of the night, even if that night was shortened by the whole mess. (It took just over an hour between sets of notes to deal with the issue.) But I was able to finish out Hydra regardless.

12:27
NGC 5078, IC 879, IC 874, NGC 5101 (Hya)—We’re pushing the horizon now. 5078 is definitely an inclined spiral, elongated NP-SF. It’s about 2.0′ x 0.75′, and quite bright, with a substellar nucleus and a small core that’s not that much brighter than the halo. This is an interesting galaxy with “something going on” that is hard to discern; it has an odd appearance somehow, as if the brightening one would expect along it’s length isn’t there—a dust lane? SP 5078 by 2.5′ is an indeterminate glow [IC 879] that’s hard to see in direct vision, sometimes fleeting in direct and better in averted vision. In the starfield due F 5078 by 9′ is an 8th-magnitude star; a 9th-magnitude star is 10′ N of the 8th-magnitude star; there’s a pair F slightly S the 8th-magnitude star by 7′; the southern of the pair is the brighter (9.5 and 11th magnitudes), and they’re separated N-S by 1.5′. NF 5078 by 4′ is a 12th-magnitude star. Due N of the galaxy by 8.5′ is a 13th-magnitude star. 17′ S very slightly F the galaxy is a 10.5-magnitude star. P slightly S of the galaxy by 7.5′ is a 10.5-magnitude star. 17′ SP are a pair of equally-spaced, equally-bright double stars; the dimmer component of each is separated by 3.5′; each pair is separated by 0.75′; S of the S-most of the pair by 2.5′ is another galaxy [IC 874]. This is quite faint and smallish (0.75′ round). It has a somewhat brighter core and a tiny faint stellar nucleus. This galaxy is very diffuse and difficult to see. 18′ F very slightly S of the 8th-magnitude star that’s due F 5078 is another galaxy [5101]. This one is 23′ from 5078. It’s longish—1.75′ x 1.25’—and elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S. It’s slightly brighter than 5078, with a bright core and a faint stellar nucleus. It has a diffuse but well-defined halo. Due P 5101 by 0.75′ from the galaxy’s nucleus is a 13th-magnitude star; due N of that star by 3.75′ (3.5′ from the nucleus) is a 10.5-magnitude star, and 4′ SP the galaxy is a 13.5-magnitude star.

12:34
NGC 5061 (Hya): Still scraping the low reaches here. This one is even brighter than the previous few, with an obvious, well-defined halo, a much brighter small core, and a bright stellar nucleus. It’s slightly elongated P-F, 2.0′ x 1.75′. Quite a nice galaxy! 2.5′ almost due F (slightly S) is an 8.5-magnitude star; a small triangle of faint stars is off to the F side; the brightest in the triangle (at 12th magnitude) is 1.5′ due F that 8.5-magnitude star. 3′ N very slightly P the galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star. Another 13th-mag star is NF the galaxy by 4′; also NF galaxy by 18′ is a double star, which has almost equal components (the N-most may be slightly fainter); these are separated by 0.25′, and oriented N very slightly F-S very slightly P to each other.

With Hydra finished, I had a choice: move over to the setting Leo, head up to the still-prominent Canes Venatici and Coma Berenices, or continue on into Virgo. I chose the latter, as to not fall further behind my schedule.

1:00
NGCs 5084, 5068, 5087 (Vir): These three (they’re too far apart to qualify as an actual trio) are N of Gamma Hya, and very different to each other. 5084 is a very long, skinny galaxy, obviously an edge-on spiral. It’s elongated P slightly S-F slightly N, 3.0′ x 0.5′. It has a bright core and a stellar nucleus that are offset toward the F end of the galaxy. The halo is pretty well-defined and extended on the P end. The galaxy is in the middle of a trapezoid of six faint stars; on the NF end of the trapezoid is the closest vertex to the galaxy, a 14th-magnitude star 2.25′ F the galaxy’s nucleus; S very slightly F the galaxy by 4.25′ is a 13th-magnitude star; SP galaxy by 5.5′ is a 12.5-mag star that’s the brightest in the trapezoid; 5.5′ P and very very slightly S of the galaxy is a 13.5-magnitude star; just N of that star by 1.75′ is a 14.5-magnitude star. NP the galaxy by 8.5′ is a 13.5-magnitude star. Due F the galaxy by 12′ is a 9th-magnitude star. There’s another 9th-magnitude star 21′ due S of the galaxy. NGC 5068 is more than a 42′ field N slightly P 5084. This one is a huge diffuse round glow, with very little central concentration, just a (very) slightly brighter core that makes up half the size of the halo. The galaxy is about 4.25′ round, a poorly-defined galaxy that is nonetheless quite obvious. There’s a 14.5-magnitude star just on the N very slightly F edge of the halo. 0.5′ due P the edge of the halo is another 14.5-magnitude star, and a 14th-magnitude star is just off the SP edge of the halo. A 9.5-magnitude star is SF the galaxy by 15′, and a 10.5-magnitude star is NP the galaxy by 11.5′. NF the galaxy by 22′ is an 11th-magnitude star, and 13′ N of that star is NGC 5087. This galaxy is quite bright and slightly elongated N-S [a slow-moving satellite just crossed the galaxy]. It has an obvious but not overly-bright core and a stellar nucleus. It’s about 1.25′ x 0.875′ and very well-defined, with no “searching for edges.” 4′ N very slightly P 5087 is an 11th-magnitude star with a threshold star 1′ due P it. Due N of the galaxy by 15′ is a 9th-magnitude star. On the P side of the galaxy is a group of six stars: a triangle SP the galaxy (the brightest star in the triangle, the F-most vertex, is 10th magnitude, 7.5′ from galaxy; the P-most in the triangle is only slightly dimmer [10.5-magnitude] and 9′ from the galaxy, while the vertex to the S is threshold-level), a close pair due P the galaxy by 9′ (the N-most is much brighter; these are 10th and 12thmagnitudes and separated by 0.5′) and a single star of 9th magnitude 8′ P slightly N the galaxy. There’s also an 8th-magnitude star 17′ S of the galaxy.

1:16
NGC 5134, IC 4237 (Vir)—Seeing is decreasing now, but NGC 5134 is kind of impressive, brightish and obvious. It doesn’t have a bright core but has a prominent stellar nucleus, and is fairly evenly illuminated. It’s elongated NP-SF, 2.0′ x 0.75′, and pretty well-defined, but has a smoother brightness profile than most edge-ons (?). There are several faint stars around it; the brightest, at 10th magnitude, is F very slightly N of the galaxy by 9.5′; it may have a fainter companion NF; these stars are the NP end of a squiggle that stretches to the SF edge of the field. SF the galaxy by 8.5′ is a 11.5-magnitude star. Just off the NP edge of field, 23′ from 5134, is a 7th-mag star. Another galaxy [IC 4237] is due P NGC 5134 by 11′; it’s much more diffuse and fainter, with much less central concentration. Dimensions are difficult to tell, but it’s elongated NP-SF, and may have a threshold star just off F end. Between the two galaxies is a 13th-magnitude star, and NF that star by 4′ is a 13.5-magnitude star.

1:31
NGCs 5018, 5022 (Vir)—5018 is much the more obvious of these two, and looks like an elliptical. It’s 1.67′ x 1.25′, elongated P-F. The galaxy is pretty bright and well-defined, with an obvious brighter core and stellar nucleus. 6.25′ P and slightly N of galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star. A threshold star is 1′ off the edge of the galaxy’s halo on the F side, with another threshold star 2′ N of the galaxy. A 14th-magnitude star is 4.5′ S very slightly P galaxy. A 12th-magnitude star is 4′ F and very slightly S of the galaxy; a 13.5-magnitude star is due F that star by 1.5′. NF the galaxy by 7′ is an 11th-magnitude star; S slightly F that star by 2.5′ is NGC 5022: this galaxy is visible only sporadically. It’s a thin, undefined streak, 2.0′ x 0.3′?, and elongated S slightly P-N slightly F. I’m barely capable of holding 5022 in direct vision, as seeing has gotten poor and it may be quite faint at the best of times. It has a faint trace of a core but a definite nucleus. I was fortunate to see it, as it could have been passed over in current conditions.

 Oggie and his girlfriend had left by this point, and now Dan was packing up. With even Virgo past the meridian, I was quickly running out of time there as well, and I decided to call it a night. The next night was forecast to be as good or better than this one had been, so I only slightly reluctantly made the decision to tear down and head for home.

***

Thoroughly lactose-free, I headed up to Eagle’s Ridge the next night a bit earlier than the previous. I knew I would be alone tonight: Dan and Oggie were planning to check out a couple of possible new sites near Triangle Lake, Jerry was still sick, and no-one else had been interested in making the trip (based on the club’s e-mail list). Alone wasn’t that bad–at least I wouldn’t feel anti-social if I stuck to my own devices.

I had of course intended to work my way through the Leos (“Major” and Minor), but a look at my laminated Sky Atlas 2000.0 (Chart 6 tonight) showed that I still had a number of galaxies nearby in Lynx to ferret out. I should’ve let them go until next spring, but for whatever reason, I decided to catch them tonight. As I waited for the night to completely fall, I zeroed in on an object that was easy to find and bright enough to be visible in the twilight, watching it as more details became visible, until I felt the sky was dark enough to start taking adequate notes.

5/13-5/14/18

EAGLE’S RIDGE SPUR ROAD (43° 48′ 17.9496” N, 122° 42′ 45.6912” W)
MOON: 29 days; 1% illuminated, rose at 4:57 AM
SEEING: 8
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 50s, no breeze, some dew on exposed plastic elements but none on optical surfaces or telescopes

Others present: none

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

 

10:19
NGC 2903 (Leo): It’s not quite fully dark yet. This stunning galaxy has always been a favorite, though—a huge, Messier-quality galaxy. It has a prominent core and a substellar nucleus (the core is not particularly large [0.75′?]), and shows a hint of a bar running almost N-S (maybe this is known from photos more than actually seen?). The galaxy spans 9′ x 3.75′. It’s hard to see if there is a visible wind direction to the arms. The galaxy has a very well-defined halo. There’s N-S brightening about 2/3 of the length of galaxy, and the occasional hint on the N slightly F edge of the halo as if a separate arm, like a dark obscuration between that and the core or a detached arm. There’s a slight notch on the NP side of the galaxy, about halfway between this “detached part” and the nucleus—is this a spiral arm wrapping from the F side of the nucleus around to the N where the detached portion is? To the F slightly S of the galaxy is a 14.5-magnitude star 3.5′ from the galaxy’s nucleus. 4.5′ N very slightly P the galaxy is a 14th-magnitude star.—7′ NP the nucleus is at least a 14th-mag star; it may be a double, with a secondary of threshold level SP primary by less than 1′. S of the galaxy from P to F is a chain of stars of which the SF star is brightest (at 12th magnitude), 6′ from the nucleus of the galaxy; P very slightly S by 2′ is a fainter (13th magnitude) star; from the 13th-magnitude star 3.75′ P very slightly S is a 12th-magnitude star; from that star, 4.5′ P and slightly N is a 12.5-magnitude star; F and slightly N of that star by 1.5′ is a 14th-magnitude star. N of the galaxy is a flat trapezoid of stars; 8.5′ N very slightly F the galaxy’s nucleus is the brightest star (10th magnitude) in the trapezoid; NP that star by 3.5′ is a 13th-magnitude star; due P that star by 3.5′ is a pair, the brightest of which is SP the fainter by 0.25′ and these are 11.5 and 14th magnitude; SP the 11.5-mgnitude star by 4.5′ is another 11.5-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field (8th magnitude) is 21′ N of the galaxy.

Still with time to catch the Lynx galaxies before they dipped too low into the Eugene light-dome, I headed over toward that region of Lynx by the feet of Ursa Major.

10:51
NGC 2493 (Lyn): This one’s a bummer, one of the most difficult Herschels so far (although, to be fair, Lynx is starting to dip into the light dome of Eugene in the northwest). It took a lot of searching to find—I struck out on 2415. The galaxy is a tiny, roundish spot, very very faint, perhaps 0.3′ round. It has a tiny halo and a miniscule core (almost a nucleus). The galaxy is part of a very elongated diamond of stars, the brightest star (8th-mag) of which is NF the galaxy by 7.5′; to the P slightly N and NP of the galaxy, each by 4.5′, are a 10th-magnitude star and a 10.5-magnitude star respectively. NP the galaxy by 1.5′ is a 14th-magnitude star. A pair of 13.5-mag stars are S very slightly F the galaxy by 3′, with the second 0.75′ P slightly S of the first; a 14th-magnitude star is S very slightly F the galaxy by 3.5′. The galaxy has enough presence to stop on rather than passing over, but not any more than that.

11:19
NGC 2541 (Lyn): Amazingly, this one is even worse than the previous. Is this really a Herschel II object? It’s as substantial as a gnat fart in a hurricane, almost an averted-only object. It’s a very diffuse tenuous glow, difficult to determine the size of and poorly-defined, with only the slightest bit of central concentration. Elongation is N-S, 2.5′ x 1.5′. The galaxy sits just S of a pair of three-star arcs; one arc starts NP of the galaxy and dips S-ward, while the other starts NF and dips SP-ward. The galaxy is halfway between the S-most star (10th magnitude) in the first arc and an 11.5-magnitude star SP the galaxy. These stars are 8′ apart. F the galaxy by 6′ is a grouping of five 14th-mag and fainter stars in a zig-zag that starts NF the galaxy, moves toward the SP, back to the SF and then back to the SP; this zig-zag is 5′ from tip to tail. There’s also a 10.5-magnitude star 8′ S slightly F the galaxy. The brightest star in the field is a 9th-magnitude star 17′ SF the galaxy.

11:31
NGC 2500 (Lyn): This one is another relative disappointment, down toward the light dome of Eugene. It’s round, 2.25′ diameter, and very diffuse, with no central brightening and a poorly-defined halo. The galaxy is in the middle of a scattering of 12.5-magnitude and fainter stars with no real shape. There’s an 11.5-magnitude star just on the SP edge of the halo, and a threshold star just on the F side of halo. 2′ to the N is a 12.5-magnitude star. 2′ SF the star on the SP edge of halo is a 12.5-mag star. The brightest star in the field (9th-magnitude) is SP the galaxy by 14′.

11:43
NGC 2782 (Lyn): Not particularly impressive, but better than the last few. This one is smaller and brighter than previous two and roundish, 1.25′ diameter. It has a diffuse, poorly-defined halo, a brighter core, and a hint of a stellar nucleus. NF the galaxy by 8.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star. 4.5′ NP the galaxy is a very difficult double, hard to hold separate; separation is about 10″ but the faintness of the secondary is the main factor in its difficulty; the primary is P the secondary; components are 13th– and threshold magnitudes. A threshold star is 2.5′ due P the galaxy. Due S of the galaxy is the first of a pair of roughly equal (12.5-mag) stars; one star is 2.75′ due S of the galaxy and the other 1.5′ SF the first. 17′ SP the galaxy is a 9.5-magnitude star.

By this point, Lynx was becoming untenable to work in due to the light pollution. I sort-of let Sky Safari choose my next group of targets based on setting time, heading onward to my originally-intended hunting ground, Leo and Leo Minor.

It’s important to note, too, that even a dim and seemingly-featureless galaxy is an object worthy of contemplation and observation. I might call one “unimpressive” or “disappointing,” but it’s still an entire galaxy, and I still feel a touch of awe when I see it, out of respect for its true nature and the inconceivable distance between the observer and the observed.

11:57
NGC 3162 (Leo): Diffuse and difficult. Located near Adhafera [Zeta Leo]. This galaxy is irregularly bright in its inner regions. It’s roundish, 1.25′ in diameter. It has a faint core that’s poorly defined against the halo, which is pretty well defined despite its diffuseness. There’s a just-above-threshold magnitude star on the F slightly S edge of the halo. The galaxy forms one of the bottom corners of a Japanese torii pattern, the top of which arcs from NP to slightly S to NF the galaxy; one column of the torii runs NP and SP of the galaxy; N of the galaxy is the top of other “column”; the two stars at the edges of the arc are the brightest in the pattern; 10′ NP the galaxy is an 8.5-magnitude star; there’s a 10th-magnitude star 9.5′ NF the galaxy; the stars in the column P the galaxy are NP the galaxy by 5′ and 3.5′ P slightly S of the galaxy; N slightly F the galaxy by 3.5′ is the top of the other “column.” Due F the galaxy by 4.5′ is a 14th-magnitude star.

12:10
NGCs 3226, 3227 (Leo): An excellent pair! These are obviously interacting spirals [3226 is actually an elliptical]. 3226 is N very slightly P 3227, and much the smaller of the pair. There maybe a bit of N-S elongation, perhaps 1.25′ x 1.0′. 3226 has a diffuse but well-defined halo (is a halo ever not diffuse?) and a largish core. Every few moments is a flicker of a substellar nucleus, which is 2.5′ from the nucleus of 3227. 3227 is SF 3226, and is much the larger of the two at 2.25′ x 1.25′, elongated NP-SF. It’s not sure if there’s dark space between the two galaxies’ haloes. The galaxy has an obvious stellar nucleus and a brighter core that’s not as distinctive as 3226’s. Due P the nucleus by 4.5′ is a 13.5-magnitude star. 6′ NP the center of 3226 is a 13th-magnitude star; N of that star by 1.5′ is a 14th-magnitude star. An interesting small triangle of stars is SP the galaxies; the closest vertex to the galaxies is an 11th-magnitude star 7′ SP the nucleus of 3227; P very slightly N of that star by 1′ is a 12th-magnitude star. Back to the 13th-magnitude star: S and very slightly F that star by 3.5′ is the brightest star (10th magnitude) in that triangle. The brightest star in the field is 18′ SF the nucleus of 3227 and is 9th magnitude.

12:28
NGCs 3185, 3187, 3190, 3193 (Hickson 44; Leo): Perhaps the best of all the Hickson groups, although 3187 more difficult tonight than I’ve seen it in the past—the light glow in the northwest is getting harder to avoid. 3185 is a diffuse glow, slightly elongated P-F (1.5′ x 0.75′). It has a little central brightening, a hint of a stellar nucleus, and a poorly-defined halo. It’s surprisingly quite difficult tonight. 10.5 N slightly F is 3190, the brightest/most obvious of the four. It’s elongated P-F (2.0′ x 1.0′), with a bright core and bright substellar nucleus, and a better defined halo than 3185. A threshold star is SP galaxy by 1.5′; N very slightly F by 3.25′ is a 12th-magnitude star. Due P 3190 by 5′ is 3187: really tough tonight, a threshold-level, P-F elongated glow, but its extent is hard to determine (it’s obviously smaller than 3190). 3187 appears to have a threshold-level star just SF it. 8.5′ N of 3190 is the second-brightest star in field at 8th magnitude. P and slightly N of 3190 by 17′ is a 7th-magnitude star, the brightest in the field. NF 3190 by 5.5′ is 3193, which is smaller than 3190 but almost as bright. It’s about 1.5′ across and roundish, with a large substantially-bright core and substellar nucleus; the core makes up about 75% of the galaxy’s diameter. The halo is small and well defined. 1′ due N is a 10th-magnitude star. F slightly N of the galaxy by 4′ is an 11th-magnitude star. NF galaxy by 7′ is a very faint pair of stars, separated NP-SF by 0.5′; these are of 14.5- and 15th-magnitudes.

12:43
NGC 3301 (Leo): This is an elongated spiral, but not the easiest edge-on I’ve seen. It does have a well-defined brightish core and a stellar nucleus. The galaxy is elongated SP-NF at 2.5′ x 0.75′. The ends of the halo are not well-defined; they kind-of evaporate into the background. Due N of the galaxy is a smallish right triangle of stars, with the short edge almost parallel to the galaxy; the short edge is 1.75′, the long edge 3.25′; the right-angle vertex is 3′ N of the galaxy and is the closest of the triangle’s stars to the galaxy; the opposite vertex on the long edge is the brightest in the triangle at 11th magnitude; the right angle vertex is 11.5 magnitude; the third vertex is 12.5 magnitude. 6′ SF galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star. On opposite sides of the field (S slightly P and NF the galaxy) each by 18′ are 10th-magnitude stars. An interesting double star is 20′ N slightly P the galaxy, with the 13th-magnitude primary component 0.5′ NP the 13.5-magnitude secondary.

1:02
NGC 3294 (LMi): Big and diffuse, with very little central brightening. The galaxy is quite obvious despite having almost no definition at all. It’s 3.0′ x 1.25′, elongated NP-SF. The galaxy seems wider on the NP end than on the SF end (?). There are 10th-magnitude stars NP and NF the galaxy; the star to the NP is 8′ from the center of the galaxy; the star to the NF is 5.5′ from the center of the galaxy. 12′ SF the center of the galaxy is an 8th-magnitude star . There may be a threshold star P the galaxy by 2.5′. 5′ from the SP edge of the galaxy is a 12.5-magnitude star.

I had to abandon the Lions at this point; Hickson 44 had been something of an indicator that Leo itself was already too close to the light-dome of Eugene. For all my intentions of doing a massive and thorough sweep through the Greater Lion, I’d gotten only a few of the dozens of Leo Herschels I needed. I ended up heading east and north for my last few galaxies of the night.

1:18
NGC 4203 (Com): had to move into Coma as Leo is in poor position. This is a very interesting field. The galaxy itself is 1.5′ round, with a small bright core, a brightish stellar nucleus, and a well-defined halo—probably an elliptical? 3.75′ N slightly P the galaxy is an 8th-magnitude star. 2′ N of the galaxy is a 12.5-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is on the SF edge of the field (20′ SF the galaxy) and is 5th magnitude. NP the galaxy is an arc of three stars 21′ from the galaxy. From S-NF: 8th magnitude, 10th magnitude, 11th magnitude; these are spaced about 4.25′ apart; the S-most is 17′ NP the galaxy. S of the galaxy by 21′ is an 8.5-magnitude star. SP the galaxy by 28′ is a beautiful double star [ADS 8470]: yellow primary and blue secondary, separated by 0.5′, with the primary P the secondary.

1:37
NGC 4395 (CVn): Another one of the most difficult in the Herschel catalogue (again). Huge!. This one is barely visible, tougher than (but similar to) NGC 4236 in Draco, and averted vision gives only slight benefit. Just a big round glow, 7′ across minimum [satellite through field]. It has the slightest hint of central brightening that runs NP-SF (rocking the scope helps reveal this elongation); the central region is 5′ x 7′ and looks “lumpy”, with a few threshold stars sprinkled across it?. One threshold star is on the F side 2/3 of the way from center to edge; there may be another threshold star SF in halo and one more threshold star on the NP side. There seems to be something small and nebulous on SF side? Distinctly non-stellar [NGC 4401?]. The galaxy is bracketed on the P and F sides by brightish stars: on P side, 12′ from the middle of the galaxy, is a 9th-magnitude star; there’s an 11th-magnitude star on the F slightly N side by 12′. 7′ S of the center of the galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star. I need to reexamine this one with the 18″ scope!

1:59
NGC 4051 (UMa): A really interesting one! This galaxy seems to show spiral structure. The halo is very large and is elongated P-F, while the brighter inner structure seems elongated NP-SF. The galaxy has a distinctive stellar nucleus and a small not very bright core region; this core region looks more a bar that runs NP-SF. The galaxy spans 4.0′ x 2.5′. This coulda been a Messier! A faint spiral arm appears to be reaching toward an 11th-mag star just off the P edge of the halo; the NF edge of the halo is less distinct than the rest, and there appears to be a notch in SP edge of halo. 4.25′ NF the galaxy’s nucleus is a 15th-magnitude star, and there is a 14.5-mag star 7′ F the galaxy’s nucleus. F slightly S of the galaxy by 12′ is an 8.5-magnitude star. 19′ P slightly N of the galaxy is an 8.5-magnitude star, and a 10th-mag star is NF the galaxy by 20′. This is a great galaxy, and I need to return to it!

2:11
NGC 4143 (CVn): A brightish, elongated galaxy, elongated 2.25′ x 0.75′ NP-SF. [There’s a very slow-moving satellite in the field]. The galaxy has an obvious bright core, although there’s something embedded in the NP end, or what looks like a double core. There’s also a visible substellar nucleus. The halo is well defined. 3.5′ N of the galaxy is a 14.5-magnitude star. A 9th-magnitude star lies SP the galaxy by 5′. P the galaxy by 6.5′ is a 13th-magnitude star; SF the galaxy by 4.5′ is a 13.5-magnitude star. Even further SF the galaxy is a small diamond-gemstone asterism; the SF-most star is the bottom of the diamond, and is 9th-magnitude, 14′ from the galaxy; the three stars in the top of the diamond are all 11th-/11.5-magnitude.

2:20
NGC 4138 (CVn): , An interesting inclined spiral, not far from 4143. This has a diffuse, not particularly well-defined halo and a bright core, but no visible nucleus. The galaxy is elongated 1.75′ x 1.0′ NP-SF. N slightly P the galaxy by 2′ is a 12th-magnitude star; NP that star by 4.5′ is another 12th-magnitude star; 5′ NF that second star is another 12th-magnitude star; these three form a triangle. 13′ F and slightly N of the galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star, while NP the galaxy by 18′ is a very impressive double: separated P-F by 0.25′ (secondary P the primary); the white 8th-magnitude primary is much brighter than the slightly blue 11th-magnitude secondary.

So that was that. With dawn soon to encroach and an hour’s drive ahead, I effectively conceded my attempt to finish the Herschel 400 and Herschel II this calendar year. I might be able to work through the earlier spring galaxies in the mornings of late fall and winter, but those seasons bring far fewer clear nights in which to “work.” I could also take much less detailed notes on the remaining objects and do more of them per night, but that’s far less satisfying and would feel like cheating.

So I packed up and headed home. When next I would get out to observe, Virgo too would be well past the meridian. Having previously cleared out the Herschels from the region in the best viewing position (Boötes/Serpens/Hercules/Draco), I could either choose to work on the galaxies of Ursa Major (which would still be in good position to observe) or I could begin making headway on the nebulae and clusters of the summer Milky Way—as I write this, I’m leaning toward the idea of the latter. Whichever happens, though, it’ll still be a worthwhile endeavor and a way to learn more about the universe.

 

Grounded

The majority of the winter rains seem to be behind us here in the Willamette Valley; this winter was quite an improvement over the last several as far as astronomy goes,  and hopefully the spring and summer are as good as usual clear-night-wise. Although my work shifts have been getting canceled at an alarming rate, I couldn’t complain about a good forecast on the Clear Sky Chart for a Sunday in March. A good number of my fellow EAS members felt the same way, so plans were made to convene at Eureka Ridge—-due to its better southern horizon—-for a potentially long session with the stars.

Throughout the day, the constant stream of cirrus clouds overhead seemed intent on making a liar out of the CSC. I ducked off for a nap at 3 PM, expecting the cirrus to disappear before load-up time, and was relieved to find that this was mostly the case when I awoke. The transparency was still not ideal, but it would suffice. I could simply observe objects higher in the sky, where the transparency would be at its best—-about a 5 on the 10 scale, in my estimation, based entirely on the color of the daylight sky.

Someone rearranged the potholes on the BLM road to Eureka Ridge since we’d last been there, as the gravel road was a minefield. I’d expected some potholes and a lot of tree debris, but there was no debris of note on the road, and the potholes were more numerous than ever. I passed a large vehicle that was stopped off the roadside about halfway up, and it ended up following me the rest of the way as I picked my driving spots between the potholes at 5 MPH.

Only two types of people would be on the BLM road in the evening: sovcit types with full arsenals, and astronomers. I passed a pair of the former as I pulled onto Eureka Ridge proper; they stood beside their truck with impressive rifles out, aiming down into the bowl of which Eureka is the north ridge. Astronomers outnumbered them, however, as there were eight of us there by sunset. (Of the eight, I knew only Jerry, Kathy, and Frank, although I recognized most of the others from EAS meetings.) Every thirty seconds or so, a shot would ring out, and we would either hear a metallic clank (if they hit their target) or silence. I joked that the clank was just a sound effect intended to impress us with the shooters’ accuracy, and that they were really just shooting into the air.

The skies at Eureka aren’t as dark as those at Eagle’s Ridge; there’s about a half-magnitude difference between the sites. Eureka has the advantage of a flat southern horizon (although the light dome of Roseburg, 60 miles south, is quite prominent) and better east and west horizons that at Eagle’s Ridge. The disadvantages to Eureka, aside from the not-as-dark skies, are that it’s often windier than the “Eagle’s sites” and that dew is often a major issue. On this night, the wind wasn’t a problem, which may have made the dew even worse. By the time Bob the Dob was collimated and ready for action, it was already damp with condensation.

I intended to pick up where I left off last time, digging out the remaining Herschels in Lepus and continuing north and east. The transparency was pretty poor that close to the horizon, but the lack of mountains made it much easier to “get low” declination-wise, and I ended up sitting on the ground a lot to observe. This had been a never-ending source of amusement when I was with AASI, the members of which thought it strange that with the whole sky to work in, I would insist on observing as low in the south as I could manage. Here in EAS, though, no one gave it a second thought. In any case, the seven degrees of latitude difference between Carbondale and the Eugene area meant that several of my Herschel targets were low enough to require observing from the ground—-even some of the Messier objects were horizon-huggers from 44˚ North.

The observations that follow are compromised by the low altitude and declination of the objects I ended up observing. I noticed as I was transcribing these that the star magnitudes and galaxy sizes I had indicated are considerably off; the poor transparency of the southern sky dimmed field stars and washed out faint galactic haloes to the point of invisibility. I was working on objects as near to the meridian as possible, which is good operating procedure in any case, but many of these objects simply weren’t going to be able to successfully fight the gunk in the sky’s lower third. Should I have stuck to objects at higher altitude/declination? Possibly. But many of these targets would be more difficult at Eagle’s Ridge and impossible at Eagle’s Rest due to obstruction along the horizon, so they’d need to be observed at Eureka anyway. So I plowed ahead, knowing as I did so that these notes would be less accurate than they would be in better conditions.

 

3/11/18

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 25 days (21% illumination); rose at 4:57 AM
SEEING: 7
TRANSPARENCY: 5; 4 below 30˚ altitude
SQM: 21.3
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 40s; some breeze below ridge level, high humidity/ground fog

Others present: JO, KO, FS, JL, JP, Bob M, MD

8:34
NGC 1964 (Lep): still not totally dark—galaxy dimmer than when I saw it in Illinois—elongated S slightly P-N slightly F—1.5′ x 0.67’—has a bright core and bright stellar nucleus—halo fairly diffuse—may be a threshold star just on P edge of halo—ends of halo very difficult, not defined—P very slightly N of galaxy by 2′ is a 10.5-mag star; N very slightly P that star by 2.5′ is a 10th-mag star; P slightly S of that star by 0.5′ is a 12th-mag star—SP the galaxy by 5′ is an 11th-mag star

At this point (or thereabouts), one of the observers made note of the zodiacal light in the northwest. Caused by sunlight scattering off of dust in the ecliptic plane of the solar system—-and therefore along the Zodiac—-the zodiacal light requires very dark skies to be seen. It’s a faint triangular glow that stretches from the horizon southeast along the constellations of the Zodiac. (It actually covers the whole sky, but is usually too dim, even from a dark site, to be seen aside from its brightest portion.) On this night, the Zodiacal light reached beyond the Pleiades, a faint triangular mist that served as an extra reminder of how fortunate I was to have skies so free from the artificial glow of humanity.

8:53
NGC 2139 (Lep): already missed 1162—galaxy is kind-of impressive—face-on spiral based on brightness profile—quite diffuse—slightly brighter core—threshold stars around galaxy? Hard to tell if nucleus present—somewhat elongated mostly P-F—1.25′ x 0.87’—brighter central region is 2/3 of length of galaxy—bracketed on S by a 10th-mag star 4′ from galaxy and by a 12th-mag star N very slightly P galaxy by 5’—3.5′ N very slightly P galaxy (in a line between galaxy and 12th-mag star) is a 13.5-mag star—N of galaxy by 5.25′ is a 13th-mag star (three stars make a small triangle)—N of galaxy by 1.5′ is a 14.5-mag star—back to 11th-mag star S of galaxy: a 14th-mag star S of that star by 1.25’—S of galaxy by 15′ is a 9th-mag star; another 9th-mag star P slightly S previous star by 6′, two brightest stars in field

9:12
NGC 2196 (Lep): on Lep-CMa border, way low in sky—pretty round—diffuse halo, brighter core (redundant tonight)—substellar nucleus is pretty obvious—1.0′ round—another face-on?–in middle of diamond of 10.5-11th-mag stars; closest star is 10.5-mag, NF galaxy by 9′; clockwise in eyepiece: faintest star of four (11.5-mag) NP galaxy by 11′; NP that star by 3.5′ and 4.5′ are 12.5- and 13th-mag stars; back to galaxy: 11th-mag star P very slightly S by 9.5′; brightest in diamond is S very slightly F galaxy by 13’—14th-mag star S very slightly F galaxy by 2.5’—another 14th-mag star P very slightly N of galaxy by 2.25′; another group of stars extends N and arcs S from that previous star and ends at star on P corner of diamond—N slightly P galaxy by 21′ is an 8th-mag star—NF galaxy by 19′ is a 9th-mag star

9:53
NGC 2781 (Hya): not at all impressive—reasonably bright—small, well-defined—0.67′ x 0.25’—conditions pretty poor down here—small brighter core, stellar nucleus—elongated P-F? hard to tell—S very slightly P by 8′ is a 9th-mag star—SF by 3.5′ is the dimmer of a N-S pair separated by 0.5′; stars are 13th– and 13.5-mags—N of galaxy by 2.25′ is a 13.5-mag star—P and slightly S of galaxy by 16′ is a 9.2-mag star

10:07
NGCs 2889, 2884 (Hya): diffuse but pretty obvious glow—reasonably large—roundish—1.5’—somewhat brighter core, but no visible nucleus—halo pretty well defined—S by 1.5′ from center is a 12.5-mag star—SP by 3′ is an 11th-mag star—F very slightly N by 12′ is a 10th-mag star—P and somewhat N by 16′ is an 11th-mag star; NF that star by 8′ (NP 2889 by 13′) is another galaxy (2884): smaller than 2889—edge-on—1.0′ x 0.25’—elongated N-S—hint of brighter central region but not well-defined in core or halo—NF by 5′ is a pair separated by 0.3′; the more S (and very slightly F) of pair is brighter; 13.5- and 14th-mags

10:28
NGC 2765 (Hya): continuing streak of unimpressive Hydra galaxies—small, reasonably well-defined galaxy—0.67′ x 0.25’—small brighter core—in averted there may be a flicker of a nucleus—not particularly bright but fairly obvious—elongated mostly P-F—F and somewhat S by 8′ is a 11th-mag star—S very slightly F galaxy by 8′ is a 12th-mag star; just N of that star by 0.75′ is a 14.5-mag star—S very slightly P galaxy by 5.5′ is a 14th-mag star—N very slightly F galaxy by 5′ is a 13.5-mag star

11:01
NGC 3078 (Hya): down as low as chair can go—galaxy is barely elongated N-S—0.67′ x 0.5’—brightish core but no nucleus seen—pretty well-defined halo—in middle of N-S elongated cross pattern—SF by 11′ is the brightest star in pattern (11.5-mag) that also serves as F-most vertex of tiny triangle; P that star by 1.5′ is a 13.5-mag star; from 13.5-mag star SF by 1′ is a 14.5-mag star—NP galaxy by 4.25′ is a 14.5-mag star—another 13.5-mag star N very slightly F of galaxy by 3.5’—SP galaxy by 5.5′ is a 12th-mag star which has a 13.5-mag star 0.75′ N

NGC 3109 is not a Herschel object, but is noteworthy for another reason: it’s the “fourth spiral” in the Local Group, that small association of nearby galaxies that makes up our cosmic neighborhood. There have been decades of arguments over 3109’s membership in the Local Group, but more-recent data appear to support its inclusion. So it joins the Milky Way, M31, and M33 as a major member galaxy on our block.

My notes on it give evidence of the difficulties of observing on this particular night. I considerably overestimated the size of NGC 3109, due to its diffuseness; it was hard to tell where the galaxy ended and the hazy, grey background sky began. Transparency, eyepiece fogging, low declination, and the light pollution of the southern horizon combined to make this extremely-dim galaxy a very difficult catch, more so than it would be if it was ten degrees higher.

11:12
NGC 3109 (Hya): poor conditions for this galaxy—huge, extremely-diffuse glow—18′ x 3.5’—elongated P-F—couple of brighter patches along length—several embedded stars including a 12th-mag star on F end—just on edge of one of brighter patches on P end of galaxy is a 13th-mag star—along S edge of galaxy, running SP-NF is an arc of 12th– and 13th-mag stars that terminates on P end with an 11.5-mag star—fainter than 4236 in Draco—not much definition—need to revisit under much better conditions

11:24
NGC 2986, PGC 27873 (Hya)–2986: better than many of the previous—probably an elliptical—0.75′ round—much more obvious core [airplane through field!]—maybe a flicker of a stellar nucleus—2′ from P edge of galaxy is either a threshold star or another galaxy, probably a galaxy (PGC 27873)—looks a bit extended or diffuse—very tiny, hard to tell orientation—to F and SF of 2986 is a zig-zag of four stars, brightest of which is second from N end and dimmest at S end; stars all between 10.5- and 12.5-mags—P and slightly S of galaxy by 10′ is a 12th-mag star—NP galaxy by 10.5′ is a double star; brighter component NF the dimmer by 0.75′; very unequal; brighter component (9.5-mag) is brightest star in field; dimmer component is 13th-mag; P and somewhat N that double by 18′ is another double of very unequal (10th– and 13th-mags) components; 10″ separation; brighter SF the dimmer

11:43
NGC 2784 (Hya): on Hydra-Antlia border—better galaxy than most tonight—bright, fairly small—elongated P very slightly S-F very slightly N—well-defined—unmistakable substellar nucleus and bright core—1.25′ x 0.5’—very obvious in field—in long triangle of 10th/11th-mag stars; brightest (10.25-mag) is NP galaxy by 6.5′; closest vertex is F slightly S galaxy by 3.5′, 10.5-mag; third vertex due S of galaxy by 5.5′, 11th-mag—N of galaxy is a small Cepheus-shaped asterism comprised mostly of 12th/13th-mag stars—rich field of stars

12:06
NGCs 3511, 3513 (Crt): 3511: very large thin galaxy—quite diffuse—elongated P very slightly S-F very slightly N—4.0′ x 0.67’—mottled along length—a bit of central brightening but more generally mottled—on F end of halo is a 13th-mag star—no visible nucleus—threshold star on P end—like 2613?—almost halfway between the two galaxies and a little bit P that point is an 11.5-mag star flanked on NF and due P by 12.5-mag stars; star to due P is 2′ and star NF is 3.5′ from 11.5-mag star—P slightly N of galaxy by 11′ is a 10th-mag star—bright zig-zag of 10th– to 13th-mag stars N and NF galaxy by 13-15’—NF galaxy by 24′ is a 9th-mag star—S slightly F 3511 by 11′ is 3513: very large, equally diffuse, roundish glow—maybe a slight bit of NP-SF elongation—2′ x 1.75’—some slight central brightening that’s not much brighter than halo—central region about half galaxy’s diameter—just off F edge of halo is a 14th-mag star—from SP side of galaxy by 4.5′ from nucleus is a 12th-mag star—from S very slightly P side of galaxy by 4.5′ is another 12th-mag star—S slightly F galaxy by 3′ is a 13.5-mag star; 13.5-mag star 4′ S that star

12:20
NGC 3585 (Hya): another bright, smallish galaxy—well-defined—elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S—1.25′ x 0.5’—forms a nearly-equilateral triangle with two 9th-mag stars to F and SF by 8.5’—[very slow satellite across middle of galaxy]—S by 8′ is a 12th-mag star—due N of galaxy by 12.5′ is an 11.5-mag star; due N of that star by 5′ is an 8th-mag star—P and slightly N of the galaxy by 9′ is a 12th-mag star; P and slightly S that star by 10.5′ is an 8th-mag star

Somewhere during the course of the night, I had to start using the hair dryer I’d borrowed (last year!) from Randy B–a portable 12-volt dryer made for camping, and perfect for defogging a dewy eyepiece.  I ended up kicking myself while using it; I have a dew-prevention system with a heater band for eyepieces, and never thought to bring it. I managed to repeatedly remind myself to bring the dryer, but bringing the Kendrick heater never occurred to me. Ugh.

The number of astronomers on the Eureka road was dwindling quickly; Frank and Bob had left earlier, shortly followed by Mike and Jeff P, and now Jerry and Kathy were heading home (having had a busy week). So Jeff L and I were left to work on our own projects: Jeff was working through as many Messiers as he could get to, given the fog-slash-humidity causing so many issues. Given the poor conditions so low in the sky, I should’ve made my way up into Leo and Leo Minor as I had long been planning. But the southern horizon at Eureka made it tempting to stay farther down in declination, and I ended up doing several more observations sitting on the gravel of the ridge road.

12:40
NGC 3621 (Hya): huge, mottled, and impressive!—elongated N very slightly P-S very slightly F—inside a diamond of stars whose major axis is oriented NP-SF—galaxy very irregularly bright and mottled—a little brighter on N end in interior—fairly diffuse halo but better-defined large core—edges of halo poorly defined—7.5′ x 3.5’—Messier-sized!—seeing really poor now, and eyepiece fogging up again—interior region/core about 60% of diameter—NP end of diamond is a small triangle, star on SF end is second-brightest in diamond at 11.5-mag; star on S slightly P end of diamond just a shade brighter than star on SF end; star on NF end is 13.5-mag; star on NP end is 13th-mag and has two 15th-mag stars SF and F slightly S from it, 0.5′ from 13th-mag star—S of galaxy by 9′ from galaxy’s center is an 11.5-mag star—NF galaxy by 16′ is an 11th-mag star—another 11th-mag star NP galaxy by 15’—very rewarding galaxy!

12:58
NGCs 4105, 4106 (Hya): obviously interacting—nice pair!—4105: elongated slightly NP-SF—4105 larger and slightly brighter of pair—obvious core—substellar nucleus—0.75′ x 0.5′ –S by 2.75′ is a 13th-mag star—an 11.5-mag star P very slightly N by 7’—21′ SP is a 10.5-mag star—4106: elongated SP-NF—0.67′ x 0.5’—halo more diffuse—smaller, less-defined core—1.0′ between centers of two galaxies—4105 is P very slightly N of 4106—NF 4106 by 14′ is an 11th-mag star—just off S end of field (26′) is a 10th-mag star

My usual method of finding an object involves locating it on a paper chart (either Sky Atlas 2000.0, the Interstellarum Deep-Sky Atlas, or the Pocket Sky Atlas, but usually the first), determining my guide stars, and then using the TriAtlas app on my phone once I’d gotten close. Unlike most of my fellow astronomy nuts, I find planetarium apps like Sky Safari to be unwieldy for selecting guide stars, even with its adjustable scale. But using a paper atlas usually involves getting up and going over to my gear table, which most often is next to my van. This isn’t actually a problem, as it forces me to get up and move every few minutes, keeping circulation going.

Getting up this time, though, I noticed that the fog —-formerly creeping up the floor of Eureka’s bowl—-was now glowing white along the road a hundred feet ahead of my van, like the vampire cloud from the original Star Trek. It was more than a little bit eerie to watch the fog encroach, gleaming white amid the darkness of the night.

1:24
NGC 3145 (Hya): near Lambda Hya, which makes observing the galaxy difficult—elongated S very slightly P-N very slightly F—1.5′ x 0.5’—if Lambda wasn’t here this would be a fine galaxy—brightish core and substellar nucleus—Lambda Hya is NF galaxy by 8’—a 12th-mag star SP galaxy by 3.5’—NP galaxy by 4′ is a 14.5-mag star—with galaxy centered, just outside edge of field due S of galaxy is a 7th-mag star—N of galaxy by 21′ is another 7th-mag star

1:39
NGC 3732 (Crt): small and less-impressive than last few—0.5′ round—small brighter core—no visible nucleus—pretty well-defined halo—SP galaxy by 1′ is a 13.5-mag star—galaxy has line of stars P and N of it; lines meet at a 14th-mag star 6′ S very slightly F galaxy—a 13.5-mag star N of galaxy by 3’—also N of galaxy by 8.5′ is a faint pair oriented N-S with brighter to N, mags 13 and 14.5, separated by 12″—NP the galaxy by 6′ is a 12th-mag star

1:57
NGC 3892 (Crt): fairly small—pretty well-defined—has a slightly-brighter core but no real visible nucleus—elongated P-F—0.75′ x 0.3’—P galaxy by 15′ is a 10th-mag star; a southward-curving arc of five 13th-mag stars loops S from the 10th-mag star back N to the galaxy—NP galaxy by 15′ is an 11th-mag star—P very slightly N of galaxy by 2′ is a 14th-mag star—SP the galaxy by 0.75′ is a 15th-mag star—NF galaxy by 5.5′ is a 12th-mag star—N slightly F by 16′ is another 12th-mag star

2:07
NGC 3962 (Crt): elliptical?—roundish—0.67′ round—bright core and well-defined halo, trace of a substellar nucleus—N of a pair of 12th-mag stars, one to S very slightly P by 2.5′ and the other S slightly F by 3.25’—NF galaxy by 16′ is an 11th-mag star—N slightly F by 8′ is a 13th-mag star—P slightly S of the galaxy by 7′ is a 12th-mag star

By now, I was hitting the hair dryer between every object, and had caught a few stray hairs in the motor more than once. I knew that my observations weren’t as good as they should’ve been, considering the crud in the sky and—as I discovered—the fact that the secondary mirror’s dew-heater had surrendered to the overwhelming presence of the dew. As I was tearing the scope down, I noticed that the secondary had a ring of condensation around its edge, contributing to the more-feeble appearance of many of the observed galaxies (which I knew should’ve been brighter than they were).

Jeff and I talked for a bit; I hated to leave a clear sky even if my scope was already packed up. He planned to stay as long as possible (although he would later tell me that his secondary had completely fogged-over within an hour of my leaving). I wan’t as keen to leave a lone observer at Eureka after having seen a bear there last year, but Jeff wasn’t put off by bears; he lived down near Eagle’s Rest, and was accustomed to wildlife wandering through.

So I left while there were still stars visible and Herschel objects waiting to be plundered. It was a better evening quantity-wise than quality-wise, but that was the way things went sometimes.