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!

Advertisements

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.

 

Echoes of December

Tuesday, December 5th, found Mrs. Caveman and I on a bit of a mini-vacation to Seattle. The reason was simple: the fourth-to-last ever concert date in America by the great John “Mahavishnu” McLaughlin, British guitarist without peer and one of my own most-important musical influences. As a discovery of the great Miles Davis, McLaughlin helped in the creation of fusion jazz; as founder of the incandescent Mahavishnu Orchestra, McLaughlin took fusion to its most groundbreaking and eclectic extreme. As he was to perform a whole set of Mahavishnu music, there was no chance I was going to miss this show—I’d already missed out on King Crimson’s Seattle dates, and Midnight Oil’s Portland shows had sold out within an hour—so I snapped up a pair of tickets for the 5th, McLaughlin’s Portland show having already sold out before I could even get the date squared away with the Mrs. (The fact that the original Mahavishnu violinist, Jerry Goodman, is the brother of my next-door neighbor and was likely to be a special guest at the Portland show led to no small amount of head-meeting-desk on my part.)

The concert was spectacular. McLaughlin was ably supported by his protege, Jimmy Herring, and Herring’s band The Invisible Whip; their music was like a more fusoid version of Phish. McLaughlin’s own band, the 4th Dimension, was ridiculously good (especially bassist Étienne M’Bappé, who should make bass-worshippers forget about Victor Wooten). I actually got misty-eyed during the final bows—that this colossus of the jazz scene was hanging up his fretboards at age 75, playing as well as ever, was a jarring reminder of the inexorable creep of age.

We took the train home the next day, and it was during the train trip that I saw an e-mail through the EAS vine—skies were clear, and telescopes were being dusted off for a rare December session. A quick check of the Clear Sky Chart quelled my disappointment at being in transit home, rather than in transit to observe; the next night looked even better, and the forecast for the next whole week was optimistic.

So I spent Thursday prepping for a cold few hours at Eagle’s Rest, the gravel-pit site 4.4 miles down the road from Eagle’s Ridge. The Ridge was likely to be under a fair amount of snow, and Jerry had reported that high winds had prevented him from setting up on Wednesday night; he had ducked back down to the Rest, which was ringed with trees and thus avoided much of the wind. (This was also the drawback to using the Rest–anything below about 20˚ altitude was pretty much blocked out.) I wasn’t willing to test the Caveman-Mobile’s tires on a snow-covered gravel road, so I’d asked if we could observe from the Rest, which was below the snow line.

I was first there on Thursday, and started setting up as soon as I got there. It looked like a fine night, if a short one (Moonrise was at 9:33). The great advantage to winter observing is that the sky darkens so early; it’s possible to get six hours’ observing in and be home around midnight. Jerry and Kathy pulled up as I was unloading the scope, and after a brief bit of chatting, we finished putting scopes and gear together and settled in for the sky to darken. (Jerry tested Bob the Dob’s mirror with his new Ronchi eyepiece, and the grid of perfectly-straight lines it generated indicated a superb mirror. We all knew that already—Jerry had already complimented the 12.5″ primary—but it was nice to see it confirmed.)  Oggie arrived somewhat afterward, rounding out our dedicated quartet.

My plan, as it so often did, involved the Herschel 400 and Herschel II lists. Tonight {and the next time out, if it happened soon) was to be spent in Pisces and in snagging NGC 821, my last object in Aries.  Given the early Moonrise, I got straight to work once it was dark enough.

12/7/17

EAGLE’S REST (gravel pit)
MOON: 19 days; 77% illuminated, rose at 9:33 PM
SEEING: 8
TRANSPARENCY: 7
SQM: 21.4 (at 9 PM)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 40s, air still

Others present: JO, KO, OG

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

6:02
NGCs 7541, 7537 (Psc): pair of very elongated glows—7541: much the brighter and larger of the two—elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S—off F end of galaxy just beyond edge of halo is a 13th-mag star—galaxy 2.25′ x 0.5’—pretty well defined—irregularly bright—has brighter central region but not a visible nucleus—7537: more ghostly, fainter—has a brighter core and substellar nucleus—elongated P slightly S-F slightly N—1.25′ x 0.3′, but hard to tell ends of halo—definitely noticeable in field but not easy at all—galaxies separated by 3.5′; 7537 is S and slightly P 7541—P the pair and slightly S of 7541 (in middle of two) by 7.5′ is an 11th-mag star—S slightly P 7537 by 9′ is a pair that are the N edge of very small scalene triangle; pair consists of 12.5- and 13.5-mag stars; brighter closer to galaxies and NF the dimmer star by 0.3’— almost due F 7541 by 24′ is a 10.5-mag star—N very slightly P 7541 by 30′ is a 7th-mag star

6:15
NGCs 7562, 7557 (Psc): above Circlet—7562: quite small—roundish at first glance—maybe has a little bit of P-F extension on very ends of halo—1.25′ x 0.75’—quite bright—brighter core that makes up majority (80%) of diameter—substellar nucleus—in middle of a line of three 10th-mag stars; one to NP by 9′, one SF by 8′, one SF by 11′; closer one SF is slightly fainter than other two—to N, NF, and F slightly S of galaxy are 13.5-14-mag stars, each about 3.5′ from galaxy (not quite a square)—P galaxy and very slightly N by 4.5′ is another extremely faint and extremely diffuse galaxy (7557)—very small—slightly smaller than 7562—very difficult, better in averted—threshold-level star a couple of arcminutes S of galaxy—seems to have very very faint nucleus but not much core—galaxy round? hard to tell—noticeable in direct vision, but not much more visible than that

6:31
NGC 7785 (Psc): up near Omega Psc—bright but fairly small—elongated very slightly NP-SF—1.0′ x 0.75’—fairly well-defined—regularly illuminated—bright core—stellar nucleus—threshold star 0.5′ N slightly F—another threshold star 3′ due NF—galaxy in middle of triangle, brightest star (8.5-mag) 5.5′ to P very slightly N; S very slightly F galaxy by 3.5′ is 10.5-mag star, other 10.5-mag F and slightly S by 3.3’—NP galaxy by 13′ is an 8th-mag star—P slightly N galaxy by 13′ is an 11th-mag star

6:48
NGC 7832 (Psc): down by parallelogram inc. 27 and 29 Psc—very small, roundish, nondescript galaxy—very slight NP-SF elongation—0.67 x 0.5’—slightly brighter core and fairly-obvious substellar nucleus—NF galaxy by 8′ is a 9th-mag star—SP by 18′ is an 8th-mag star—SF by 3.5′ is an 11th-mag star; F and slightly S of that star by 2′ is a 10.5-mag star

Although not on my list, I had noticed that Hickson 98 was nearby on the TriAtlas chart. I’m always on the lookout for Hickson Compact [Galaxy] Groups, as there’s not much more interesting than small clumps of galaxies. That the members of this one had NGC numbers made it impossible to pass up, as I was very likely to be able to see it in a “mere” 12.5-inch scope.

7:08
NGCs 7783A, 7783B, 7783C (Hickson 98) (Psc): tough! Using Delos to split—galaxies are 15′ S of an 8th-mag star and 2′ S of a 10th-mag star—very difficult to separate—piled on top of each other—almost due F the group by 5.5′ is a 12th-mag star—main “mass” of galaxies (7783A/B) is elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S—main mass is 1.25′ x 0.3’—appear to be a couple of distinct nuclei involved, although one may be very faint star, possibly outside main mass (so faint it’s hard to tell!)—SF main mass is a detached section that may be another galaxy (7783C)—very difficult to separate!

7:33
NGCs 488, 490 (Psc): 488: large and impressive—elliptical profile although I know it’s an Sa spiral—large halo—3′ x 2.25’—elongated mostly N-S, maybe S very very slightly P-N very very slightly F—small bright core and a substellar nucleus—just off S slightly F edge of halo is a 12th-mag star—SP galaxy by 3.5′ is a 10.5-mag star—due F galaxy by 9′ is an 8th-mag star; SF that star by 14′ is a 10th-mag star—N very slightly P galaxy by 6′ from halo is an 11th-mag star—N of galaxy by 12′ is a 13th-mag star; not quite halfway between that star and 8th-mag star F 488 is a threshold-mag glow (490)—very small and faint—NF 488 by 8′ —mostly an averted-vision object—star just off S edge of 488’s halo and the star SP 488 are two middle and two brightest stars in a line of four evenly-spaced stars, each about 3.5′ apart that run along edge of field due F to P slightly S of 488

My next target, NGC 524, was at the center of a very busy group, according to the TriAtlas. I spent extra time here ferreting out as many of the other members of the 524 Group as I could manage without being absolutely painstaking about it; there were only about 90 minutes before Moonrise, and I had a number of other galaxies I wanted to get to.  But I spent about a half-hour here in this rich degree of sky, and was well rewarded for it.

8:07
NGCs 524, 518, 516, 525, 522, 532 (Psc): 524: in complicated field—bright, round galaxy—1.75′ round—bright core and bright stellar nucleus—well-defined galaxy—surrounded by a group of faint stars; to N slightly F by 2′ is a 13th-mag star; S very slightly P by 2′ is a 12.5-mag star; 2.5′ SF galaxy is a 13th-mag star; 1.5′ F slightly S of galaxy is 14.5-mag star—SP 524 by 6′ is a 10th-mag star; 6′ that star is another 10th-mag star; P and slightly S of that second star is a faint glow (518): elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S—very small, 0.5′ x 0.25’—has threshold stars to SP and P slightly S—in averted a flash that there’s a stellar nucleus but no other real brightening—not well-defined—back to 524: P and slightly N of 524 by 10′ is another faint galaxy (516): larger and brighter than 518—0.75′ x 0.3′ but not well defined—elongated SP-NF—has some central concentration but hard to define—very faint averted-level substellar nucleus—NP 524 by 8′ is a 10.5-mag star—due F that star by 2.5′ is a 11.5-mag star—10.5-mag star forms an isosceles triangle with 524 and 516—N of 524 by 9′ is a thin N-S streak (525): very difficult—0.67′ x 0.5’—has a 12.5-mag star NP by 2′ that makes observation difficult—very faint central concentration, maybe very faint stellar nucleus—N of 525, 30′ N of 524 is 522: larger and brighter than others except 524—elongated SP-NF—1.25′ x 0.5’—not much central brightening—in steady moments a faint core is visible but no nucleus—in fairly-barren field—10th-mag star 17′ due N of galaxy—SF 524 by 19′ is a largish glow (532), brighter than others in group aside from 524—elongated SP-NF—1.5′ x 0.5’—irregularly bright—not much core, but occasional flash of stellar nucleus?—better defined than other small ones in group, second-most impressive of group after 524

8:13
NGC 514 (Psc): very round, very very diffuse galaxy—almost no central brightening at all—core is only very slightly brighter than halo and largish—face-on spiral?—2.25′ round—threshold star on F edge of halo—due F galaxy by 2.75′ is a 9.5-mag star that obstructs view—not much detail in galaxy—P and slightly S of galaxy by 3.5′ is a 13th-mag star—SF galaxy by 7′ and 9′ are 12th– and 11.5-mag stars (respectively)—these make up southern edge of equilateral triangle whose N vertex is 13.5 mag

8:29
NGC 718 (Psc): near Al-Rischa—1.25′ round—gradually brightening to substellar nucleus—well defined—nice obvious galaxy—not a lot of detail—23′ due P (just out of edge of field) is northernmost of a long zig-zag line of seven 9th-12.5-mag stars that starts at N and moves S, bends F, and continues S; northernmost star is 9.5 mag, 24′ due P 718; 3.5′ S slightly P that star is brightest in pattern at 9th-mag—S slightly P galaxy by 5′ is a 12th-mag star—10th-mag star N of galaxy by 9.5′

8:43
NGCs 741, 742 (Psc): in non-descript field—741: galaxy fairly interesting—round, with large brighter core—substellar nucleus—1.25′ round—pretty well defined—on F side of halo looks as if a bit of detached halo or contacting galaxy (742)—P and very slightly N of 741 by 2.25′ is an 11.5-mag star—N and very slightly P 741 by 5.5′ is brighter and more-southern of a very faint pair (13.5 and 14.5-mags) separated by 0.5′ with fainter due N brighter—on N, P and F edges of field are 11th-mag stars forming a triangle—galaxies just inside southern edge of triangle, in middle of edge

9:02
NGC 821 (Ari): very bright—small—round—obvious core—maybe a difficult substellar nucleus?—brightish (9.5-mag) star just on NP edge of halo—S very very slightly P by 2′ from galaxy is a 13.5-mag star—galaxy well defined—12′ N very slightly P galaxy is an 8th-mag star—on SF edge of field is an arc of four 11th-mag stars, from due S of galaxy to F galaxy

By the time I was done with NGC 821—which cleared out the constellation Aries as far as Herschel objects went—the sky was starting to brighten slightly, with the Milky Way fading in richness. The Moon hadn’t yet risen, but it was making its presence known already.  The Orion Nebula was just above the treetops from my position in the clearing, and I spent a few minutes crunched down awkwardly, peering into a very low eyepiece at this most stunning of celestial objects.  I also swept up the Crab Nebula before deciding  that it was time to call it a night. (Earlier, I’d seen NGC 188, the most-northern and possibly the oldest open cluster in our sky, in Jerry’s Trackball.)

Leaving an observing session is always difficult when the sky is still clear, but I had no regrets this night. It had been a fine, rewarding session, neither too brief nor too exhausting, and not even cold enough to require using gloves (although chemical hand warmers had been a great boon). I’d captured 10 more Herschels, a number of other galaxies in the vicinity of my intended targets, and an intriguing Hickson group that I would need to return to if the weather forecast stayed true. As I write this, a few days later, the sky is still clear and inviting, and my gear is awaiting being loaded into the van for another trip down to the mountain.

 

Serendipity

May 9th–a Monday–was both a productive day/night of observing and an incredibly frustrating one.  The morning treated us to a transit of Mercury through occasional clouds; Randy B and I had scopes set up at the nearby high school (the one my daughter attends), and saw about 100-120 kids take looks through our scopes (I used my wife’s 4.5″ Orion Starblast, the only scope for which I have a solar filter).  Some good questions from some interested kids, and one of the classes–a music class, of all things–provided some entertainment (a contralto clarinet and a Hohner Melodica; the contralto clarinet was using a 3D-printed reed).

As the forecast was fairly promising, I made my way before sunset down to Eagle’s Ridge to take advantage of the end of the Moon-dark phase.  Yet although the Moon was only three days old (13% illumination), it was a nuisance until almost midnight. Its position in Gemini stymied my attempts to catch many of the early spring objects left on my list… as did the dew, which was again an unwelcome presence on the usually-dry Ridge.

Jerry Oltion and Dan R were there as well; Jerry had the 20″ TriDob with him, and the two of them were working through some of the large springtime planetary nebulae.  My own list included more of the Herschel objects in Leo, Leo Minor, Hydra, and Sextans. But by the time the Moon had vacated, the dew began making eyepieces fog up and the cold (it was only 44˚, but felt much colder) made the observing uncomfortable.  I spent time shuttling between my scope and Jerry’s as the conditions turned to shit.

I began, as usual, with a long look at Jupiter as the sky continued to darken. Collimation was a bit of a chore, and required a bit more tweaking than usual–the seeing wasn’t particularly great, though, so Jupiter never really steadied down.  As it turned out, I only made three good observations the whole night, one of which ended up being a stupid (but nonetheless rewarding) mistake.

5/9-10/16

EAGLE’S RIDGE (SPUR ROAD)

MOON: 3 days (13%), set at 11:46 PM

SEEING: 6

TRANSPARENCY: 7

SQM: 21.4 (midnight)

NELM: about 6.8

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid 40s, moderate-heavy dew

Others present: JO, DR

10:30

NGC 2964/68 (Leo): 2964: much the larger and brighter, possibly twice as large—not round—looks like nearly face-on spiral—halfway between two stars—to preceding side is 11th/12th mag star, to F side 9th mag star, -64 is 8’ between each of them—fogging eyepiece—extended mostly P-F—2.5’ x 1.75’—irregularly bright—definitely presence of spiral arms—almost has Cat’s-Eye nebula look to it—maybe stellar nucleus—nucleus comes and goes w/averted—large core inside halo—2968: NF -64 by 8’—about 1.5’ in both axes, although not really round—F by 4’ is 10th mag star—large core, 75% of galaxy’s dimensions—has stellar nucleus in averted, sometimes popping in direct—on other side of 10th mag star next to -68 is supposed to be 2970—not sure I can see it—7th mag star on NP edge of field when 10th mag star is centered

After this one, I went to Jerry’s scope to observe Jones-Emberson 1 (the Headphones Nebula in Lynx, which I had first observed back in February) and Longmore-Tritton 5 in Coma Berenices; I’m not sure I definitively saw LoTr5. I’d been tracking down the Sextans Trio (NGCs 3165, 3166, and 3169) and had it in the eyepiece when Jerry said he’d gotten LoTr5, and when I was done looking at the planetary, I couldn’t recapture the Sextans Trio; it had sunk lower in the sky and my eyepiece had fogged up to where it needed a blast from Jerry’s hair dryer.  Not wanting a recurrence, I took the only two working chemical hand warmers I had, pulled out the hair tie I used to make myself look at least a bit evolved, and hair-banded the hand warmers to the sides of my eyepiece. I didn’t get to take notes on the Sextans Trio, missing out on three Herschel objects I needed.

I did manage to track down NGC 2623 in Cancer, the merging triple system I’d been after for years.  It was a marginal observation at best, very low in the sky and very dim in the eyepiece. It was so marginal, in fact, that I didn’t bother taking notes on it.  All the times I’d searched for it and I finally glimpsed it–and no notes to show for it. I was impatient and frustrated by the conditions, and had a crappy attitude as a result. That’s one other thing that’s changed over the years–as I’ve become a better observer, I’ve expected so much of myself and my equipment that the annoyance I feel when things don’t go perfectly is more tangible and more lasting.  Usually, observing is fun and contemplative; here, I feel a bit more pressure to take advantage of the super-dark skies, even if the conditions aren’t otherwise as good as they could be. It probably didn’t help that it had been a long day–I’d been up since 7 and hadn’t caught a nap before setting out to observe, which usually helps things.  That can’t be an excuse, though.  When things start going poorly, I need to recall the real reasons I do this.

I spent some further time poking around in Leo, giving up on the Frosty Leo Nebula (too low by that point) and, as always, catching the Leo Trio.  I also gave up on Mayall’s Object (Arp 148) in Ursa Major, which was extremely marginal the last time I looked for it and wouldn’t be visible with the moonlight. Jerry and Dan were looking at M81 and M82, and I suggested looking for Holmberg IX, a dwarf satellite of M81. Jerry picked it up in Sky Safari and then moments later in the eyepiece of the 20″.  It was a faint-but-pretty-obvious spot to M81’s following side.  Jerry also pulled up NGC 3077, another member of the M81 group, an easy target with a large, bright core.

Back to my scope.  We had been wanting to observe the famous Draco Trio (NGCs 5981, 5982, and 5985), a particularly photogenic trio of galaxies of very different visual types (edge-on spiral, elliptical, and face-on spiral).  So using the dimmest light possible to read my charts, I zeroed in on these three:

5981/5982/5985 (Dra; Draco Trio)—long edge-on is about 3, 4’ long—can’t tell if it has dust lane at this power, might have—has definite nuclear bulge and stellar nucleus—maybe 3.5’ x 1.0—to F (slightly N) side by 5’ is 9th mag star—2nd galaxy is 9’ from edge on—smallish, brightish, maybe 1.5’ round glow—star just touching it on NF side—large core—compact halo—almost looks like NGC 4361 in Corvus—third galaxy mostly averted object, very difficult—not sure I’m seeing

Jerry took a look at this group as well, having had it on his own list of targets for a while. He verified my observations of the three, also noting the difficulty of the third galaxy. In the meantime, he’d tracked down Hoag’s Object, a very difficult but rare ring galaxy in Serpens, a perfectly-circular object appearing in the 20″ as a dim substellar core perfectly centered in a ghostly, round, averted-vision disk. Not a stunning object in the eyepiece, but remarkable to see such a remarkable object. My mood brightened quite a bit.

IDL TIFF file

Hoag’s Object, a.k.a. PGC 54559, in Serpens Caput. A rare ring galaxy, formed by the collision of a smaller, denser galaxy straight through the core of a larger spiral (probably on a perpendicular trajectory). Amazingly, another such ring galaxy can be seen inside the ring of Hoag’s Object. The view through the 20″ TriDob was nowhere near this detailed, but just seeing this object was a treat. Photo courtesy NASA/STScI.

 

I spent some time wandering among some of the bright globular clusters of late spring/early summer, including M13, M5, and M3.  Only Saturn compares to the bright globulars among objects visible in the northern hemisphere in terms of knock-your-socks-off impact; even the Orion Nebula takes a back seat to M13. I thought of chasing down Seyfert’s Sextet in Serpens again, but Jerry beat me to it. We decided that we could pick out five of the six objects (but not the tidal tail) in the 20″ with the mediocre seeing. Another excellent sight.

My next target was Hickson 58, on the Leo/Virgo border. By now, the dew had taken control of the observing session, at least on my scope. Hickson 58 was a poor group, belying its reputation, and I attributed this to the dew and the seeing. Instead, I took notes on nearby NGC 3810:

1:05

NGC 3810 (Leo)—quite large—v. diffuse—must be close-to-face-on spiral—about 3.5’ x 3.0’—elongation N-S-ish—galaxy framed within large triangle (40’ on long side) of 8th/9th mag stars—other bright star (?) is SF—galaxy has large core (2.0’) which also seems to be elongated N-S—not sure if stellar nucleus—core seems brighter on S end

I decided that this was enough for my scope tonight; my secondary had fogged over again, and I didn’t feel like pestering Jerry for more of the hair dryer. I joined him and Dan for the next hour at the 20″, checking out the Veil Nebula, the Cat’s Eye Nebula and its “adjunct” brighter halo portion IC 4677, and M51.  All stunning objects. The truly revelatory object we looked at, however, was the North America Nebula complex (including the Pelican Nebula)–HOLY CRAP! The North America Nebula was jaw-dropping, a gossamer haze remarkably North-America shaped, the Mexico portion the most-easily visible, and the whole area looking quite a lot like a photograph of the region.  I’m pretty sure I blurted out something profane as I looked in the eyepiece, a reaction to so easily seeing an object I’d never seen before.

As a final target–Jerry and Dan also deciding that they’d had enough–we wandered among the galaxies of Abell 1656, the Coma Galaxy Cluster, hopping from galaxy to galaxy as easily as hopping among the Pleiades. Galaxies littered the field… and the next field, and the next. Panning around the central galaxies (NGCs 4889 and 4874) revealed tiny glows–our earthbound views of vast, multi-trillion star island universes 1/3-billion light-years away–all the way down to the threshold of vision.

And with that ego-crushing bit of cosmic perspective, we broke scopes down and headed off on the hour-long drive home.

Postscript: in typing up my notes, I usually check out Steve Gottlieb’s notes on the NGC objects at The NGC/IC Project (ngcicproject.org), to see both how good my note taking was and to gather more information about the objects I’d observed. In looking through his notes on the Draco Trio the next day, and comparing them to mine, I was puzzled by discrepancies: Gottlieb (one of the great amateur astronomers) noted that the “third” galaxy in the Trio–which neither Jerry nor I saw well–was supposedly the brightest of the three. Digging back through my notes and memories of that night, I realized that I’d been looking in the wrong spot, and hadn’t seen the Draco Trio at all; I had stumbled across NGCs 5963 and 5965, a couple of degrees to the north, having misread the Sky Atlas 2000.0 chart in the dim red light and mistaken 5965 for 5985 (the third member of the Trio isn’t plotted on SA2K, leaving 5963/5965 and 5982/5985 both rendered as pairs on the chart). So I had made a dumb mistake but, as it turned out, had instead found an interesting pair of objects I might otherwise not have thought to look for. And the actual Draco Trio will still be there the next time out.

And that’s the way this goes sometimes.

Interactions

A brief observation note from a couple of weeks ago.

At the end of a long stretch of work, and with several clear nights passed by in favor of getting enough sleep to function at work, I managed a brief escape to Eagle’s Ridge with a number of other EAS fellows.  It was not the best night in terms of conditions, but any reasonably clear night with no Moon is better than the best night of television or wasting time constantly refreshing the same half-dozen websites to see if anything new has cropped up.

Jerry was already there when I got there, getting the 20″ TriDob set up and collimated; Bill B was putting together his imaging rig.  (Bill would camp at Eagle’s Ridge that night.)  As I started unloading gear, Frank, Bruce, and Randy arrived, followed shortly by Joe (who had never been to the Ridge before).  Quite a contingent for a cirrusy evening with increasing winds.

And the wind certainly made a mess of things, as it became a more-omnipresent force in the hours between twilight and midnight.  As night advanced, the gusts blew away the majority of the annoying, transparency-killing cirrus, and nearly blew my star atlases away with it. Sky Atlas 2000.0 got weighed down by an eyepiece case on one side and the first edition-first volume of Uranometria 2000.0 on the other.  My copy of the new Jumbo Pocket Sky Atlas (a.k.a. the “Jumbo Shrimp”) sufficed for much of the evening; where it didn’t, I had some printouts from the TriAtlas.

My plans for observing this evening went by the wayside a bit. I had hoped to work on my “Night of 100 Galaxies” program (a play on the Night of 100 Stars network TV extravaganzas of the 70s… get it?), which featured several of the Abell galaxy clusters and a number of other groups visible in the early Spring sky (and included the galaxies in Leo’s hindquarters and several noteworthy isolated galaxies to boot). But the wind kept blowing my scope upward toward the zenith, making it necessary to hold onto it while observing, and this made looking for faint–if not threshold-level–galaxies a chore.  I did see several galaxies in Abell 779 (in the southeast corner of Lynx) and in the NGC 3158 Group (in Leo Minor) from my list of groups.

But discrete objects were the order of the evening, for the most part. I observed Wild’s Triplet and Copeland’s Septet again (the latter also through Jerry’s 20″), NGCs 3718 and 3729 and Hickson 56 in Ursa Major, The Antennae (NGCs 4038/9, an interacting galaxy pair in Corvus) and nearby planetary nebula NGC 4361, NGC 3115 (the Spindle Galaxy) in Sextans, and NGCs 5346 and 5746 in Virgo, almost all from memory.

I took notes on only one object, partly due to the wind; it was tough to hold the scope steady and track into the wind while dictating notes… but that’s partly an excuse. The real reason was that I was racing through objects again, impatient to take the time I needed to get real detailed observations.  This was unproductive, but had become a habit. A bad one.

4/06/16

EAGLE’S RIDGE

MOON: 29 days, did not rise

SEEING: 6

TRANSPARENCY: 5

SQM: not taken

NELM: about 6.8

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in 50s, occasional cirrus blowing through, winds high (tapering off after midnight)

Others present: JO, FS (Frank Szczepanski), BB, RB, BH, Joe

10:40

NGC 2997 (Ant)—down so low in sky I am seeing trees in the FOV—pretty blurry—galaxy 6’ x4’—slightly mottled, even in poor view so low—bright star maybe 10th/11th mag in galaxy’s halo, about 3’ from core on P side—core is about 3/4’ across—maybe stellar nucleus visible in averted, very elusive—galaxy framed in dipper-shaped group of stars of equal mags, bright line/zigzag of 7th/8th/9th mag stars to F side

Several other observations stood out.  I spent some time looking in southern Ursa Major for two objects of great astrophysical interest.  Markarian 421 is a blazar, a supermassive and super-energetic black hole/quasar at the core of a galaxy some 400,000,000 light-years away; I found it without much trouble at the corner of a diamond-shaped asterism of bright stars near Ursa Major’s back foot.  Not much to look at, but a lot to ponder on, and probably the farthest object I had ever observed (until an hour later, anyway).

I then turned to a very nearby patch of sky in Ursa Major for a trickier object: Arp 148, or Mayall’s Object.  This pair of galaxies consists of an edge-on spiral galaxy impacting a larger, more diffuse spiral galaxy through the larger galaxy’s core; the result is a ring galaxy, as if someone chucked a rock (the edge-on) into a pond and watched the ripples flow outward (forming the ring galaxy). In photographs, the object looks like the famous Doc Egerton photo of a bullet bursting through an apple–or, more prosaically, Pac-Man engulfing a pizza.  (The eagle-eyed California observer Alvin Huey refers to the edge-on galaxy as “The Penetrator,” so make of that what you will.)

Hubble_Interacting_Galaxy_Arp_148_(2008-04-24)

Mayall’s Object, Arp 148.  What happens when galaxies go flying through each other. Picture courtesy NASA/Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute.

In the eyepiece, though, this interacting pair was eye-bleedingly faint.  I spent a good ten minutes staring at the spot, sweeping the field with averted vision and nudging the scope along to track it (as well as holding on so it didn’t blow over in the wind).  On several occasions, a threshold-magnitude blur, perhaps 1′ total, flickered out from the spot indicated on Huey’s chart… enough to make me suspect that I’d seen it, but not enough to actually count it as “seen.”  Must return to this one and take notes….

Much easier was NGC 3242, the Ghost of Jupiter Nebula (or the CBS Eye Nebula, depending on your source). Randy and I had talked about atlases a bit, as he inquired about my copy of “the Jumbo Shrimp” after seeing it on my table.  He noted NGC 3242 on the chart that was open, and I pointed out the guide star (Mu Hydrae) used to find it.  Randy found it in his Trackball scope in only a minute or so.  I swung my scope over to the spot and spent a few minutes on the nebula myself; it had been one of the first NGC objects I had found in my 8″ scope back in Cincinnati a geological epoch ago.

Jerry had looked at Markarian 421 in my scope back when I was observing it, and had gone looking for 3C 273, the “nearest” (at more than 2.4 billion [!] light-years away) and brightest quasar.  Although appearing as a star-like point in the wilds of Virgo, it was still awe-inspiring to know that that tiny point of light was an object with more than 4 trillion times the energy output of our Sun, just over a quarter of the way to the edge of the observable universe.  A humbling thought, if any was needed.

It had been a good session, but time to go home.  Jerry started packing up; Randy and Bruce had driven up together and had already left, while Frank had left an hour before them. Had conditions been a bit better, we might have stayed most of the night, but with an hour’s drive ahead, and a kid to get to school in the morning, best to not stay out too long. In looking back at this session, it had been much more productive than I’d recalled, with interacting galaxies a prominent part of the night.

***

This one’s for you, Kylie.