Oregonian Khatru

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/12-5/13/18

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

Others present: Dan B, Oggie G, Leticia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

5/13-5/14/18

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

Others present: none

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Eternity’s Breath

Sunday, June 5th, boasted a pretty promising forecast. We’d spent much of the afternoon at Jerry Oltion’s house, drawing up plans for the equatorial platform for Randy B’s 14″ and 10″ Dobs, getting as far as drawing the dimensions out on a sheet of ½” Baltic Birch plywood before making the actual cuts. (Many of us in my tribe are planning to make such platforms, giving our telescopes a solid hour of motorized star-tracking.) Among other things, several members of the group planned to make use of the fine Clear Sky Chart forecast and needed a bit of extra sleep before heading out.

We vacillated over which site to use—Eagle’s Ridge or Eureka Ridge—until Bill Basham (“Dr. Lapser”—check out his YouTube channel) made the decision for us, by announcing that he was already on his way to Eagle’s Ridge. Randy still wanted to go to Eureka; torn between the darker skies at Eagle’s Ridge and the closer proximity of Eureka Ridge, I opted for the extra quarter of a magnitude at Eagle’s Ridge.

The drive out seemed determined to prove that I made the wrong choice. Bill had e-mailed from Eagle’s Ridge to say that the sky “looked promising,” so I headed out with a bit of trepidation—I hadn’t observed for a while, and was suffering from photon deficiency, so I wanted to be sure to get some serious observing in. Yet the sky the entire way to the site was mucky with a haze of altocirrus and what seemed like a pall of smoke. Even as I was on my way up the mountain, I was grumbling to myself that I’d made the wrong choice. Had that been the case, I would certainly have turned around and gone out to Eureka. I needed starlight.

After pulling up the spur road from Eagle’s Ridge, though, I noted that the sky was better than it first appeared. The haze was to the south and southeast, and retreating; the rest of the sky seemed to be fairly clear and getting clearer. Jerry was there, setting up; Bill was already snapping away, getting a time-lapse of the sunset. Frank S was there as well, binoculars on a tripod he’d just bought. I set to work getting Bob the Dob put together—one of the worst things about the bumpy last miles up the mountain is that they’re hell on collimation springs and shock absorbers alike, and my primary was abysmally out of collimation when I started. My next scope tune-up is going to involve all-new collimation springs, if not Belleville washers.

I also had with me my newly-built observing chair, a throne worthy of a caveman. Finally, I was able to sit comfortably to observe, and it made a huge difference. I had given my previous chair back to AASI when I left southern Illinois, theorizing that I’d soon be able to build a new one and little knowing that it would take nine months before I had the space, the equipment, the wood, and the time to build one. It’s quite a bit taller than my AASI chair, which gives me the opportunity to observe near the zenith while still sitting. (Of course, I’ll need to build a footrest for it when it’s in that position, as it’s too tall to get into the seat.)

By the time the sun set and the sky began to darken, it was apparent that this was going to be a good session. The haze was still visible over the ridge to the southeast, but the rest of the sky was transparent, even to the problematic south. Jerry commented that Jupiter was as sharp in his 12″ Trackball as he’d ever seen it, and he kept an eye on its moons’ occultations and shadow passes throughout the night.

I had a shorter list of potential targets than usual, and it paid off. Usually, I had a lengthy list to work from, and it resulted in being overwhelmed with too many choices and my saying “screw it, I’m looking at the big stuff.” I limited myself to two targets per constellation this time, to make sure that I had a plan that was manageable. With constellations from Leo Minor to Aquila, I was sure not to run out, and the majority were from one of the two Herschel programs I’m working on. As a result, I finally had a solid night making headway on the Herschels.

I took a few glances at objects not on the list anyway, but figured that I’d earned it. I swept up the mighty M13 before it was fully dark, and the Leo Trio as well. I also made sure to visit the actual Draco Trio this time, rather than its doppelganger (NGCs 5963/5965) as I misidentified my last time out, and also checked out NGC 4125 and its supernova (AT2016coj). I estimated the supernova at about magnitude 12.5, which made it the brightest (by far) of the half-dozen extragalactic supernovae I’ve observed.

My notes here are in a different style; I’ve converted them into a more-narrative form than in previous entries.

6/5-6/6/16

EAGLE’S RIDGE (SPUR ROAD)
MOON: 1 day (1%), set at 10:26 PM
SEEING: 8
TRANSPARENCY: 5-6 before 11 PM; 6-7 after
SQM: 21.3 (2 AM)
NELM: about 7; Milky Way detailed even into Ophiuchus
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 60s, moderate dew
 Others present: JO, BB, FSz

 10:40
NGC 2859 (LMi): NGC 2859 is about 40 arcminutes following Alpha Lyncis, and bracketed by two 8th-magnitude stars; the star to the north-preceding side is about 7′ from the galaxy, while the star to the south-preceding side is 13-14′ from the galaxy. NGC 2859 is about 1.25′ in diameter and pretty much round. It has a very, very tiny core region, but if there’s a visible nucleus, it’s been subsumed into the core. The galaxy is about 12th magnitude. It’s hard to tell the galaxy’s morphological type from its visual appearance.

 10:50
NGC 3158/3159 (LMi): NGC 3158 is supposedly the “anchor” of a largish group of about a dozen galaxies, but I’m only seeing 4 for certain; I need a fair amount more magnification for this group. NGC 3158 is following an 8th/9th-magnitude star by about 15’. The galaxy is very small, under 1.0’, maybe 0.75’ across, and pretty round. The core makes up a big chunk of its diameter, and it has a small halo. A stellar nucleus might be glimpsed with averted vision. To the SP and SF sides are 12th-13th mag stars, each about 4′ away from the galaxy; to the NF side by 5’ is a 10th/11th-magnitude star. Almost due S is another galaxy (NGC 3159?), visible with direct vision but not easy. This one is maybe 0.75’ x 0.5’, and oblong. It has a tiny core/nucleus region to it, but it’s hard to tell even in averted if the nucleus is visible. Other galaxies are coming and going in the variable sky conditions—I’m not even sure I’m seeing them at the moment. I suspect that some of field stars are galaxies that need lots more magnification, as these are the only two I’m absolutely certain I’m seeing.

 11:06
NGC 5012 (Com): This galaxy is a big bright one! It’s located in kind of a starry field, with lots of 8th/9th/10th-magnitude stars throughout. South of the galaxy is a small Cepheus-shaped asterism of 8th/9th-magnitude stars; the top of the asterism’s “hat” lies off the SP edge of the field. The galaxy is elongated not quite due P-F. It’s very large (4.0′ x 2.0/2.5′) and diffuse, with a large diffuse halo and large core region that’s not well-defined; it’s hard to tell where core ends/halo begins. To the F edge of the galaxy, there might be a threshold star embedded, or perhaps a really tiny companion galaxy just “inside” the halo. Averted vision just brings out a stellar nucleus in NGC 5012. The nucleus seems to be off-center to the P side a bit, not centered. 3-4’ to the F, slightly N side of the galaxy is a 12th-magnitude star.

 11:15
NGC 4125, supernova AT2016coj (Dra): NGC 4125 is 2.5′ or 3.0’ x 1.75 or 2.0’. Following the galaxy by 4’ is a 9th-magnitude star; north of the galaxy by 12-13’ is a 7th-magnitude star. Just N of galaxy by 2.5’ is a 13th-magnitude star; S by 6’ is another 13th-magnitude star. NGC 4125 has a bright core, maybe 0.75’ across, and a sub-stellar nucleus. Supernova AT2016coj is N, just F, of the nucleus of the galaxy. The supernova is maybe magnitude 12.5. There’s just a hair of separation (20”, if that) between the supernova and the galaxy’s core—they’re pretty tight.

 11:31
NGCs 5981/5982/5985; Draco Trio (Dra): It’s the real thing this time! All three galaxies are very apparent, and within a beautiful field. To the P side of the three is the edge-on, NGC 5981. To the SP side of 5891 is an 8th-magnitude star. The galaxy is angled SP-NF. It’s a sliver of light, maybe 3.0’ x 0.6’. The middle 2/3 of the galaxy’s length is brighter than the rest. Following 5981 by 8’ is NGC 5982, which looks like an elliptical or a face-on spiral. It’s 2.0’ across and round, with a bright, bright core/nuclear region and a possible non-stellar nucleus. There’s a fairly sharp brightness dropoff from the nuclear region to the edge of halo. NGC 5985 is following 5982 by about 9’. It’s elongated N (very slightly P)- S (very slightly F), large (4.0′ x 2.5′) and very diffuse. The galaxy has a tiny stellar nucleus, but not much core, and there seems to be maybe a bit of mottling in its halo. Inside a triangle to the P side by 4’ is a 12th-magnitude star. To the S and F of the galaxy, by 4’ each, are 10th-magnitude stars; to the S (slightly F) by 8-9’ is an 8.5-magnitude star; to the F very slightly S of NGC 5985 by 16’ is a 7th/8th-magnitude star. NP 5981 by 9’ is another 8th-magnitude star. This is a really cool field, with the three galaxies nicely framed at 112x!

 11:55
NGC 4109/4111/4117 (CVn): 4111 is the brightest of a group of three, and obviously an edge-on spiral. An excellent galaxy! It’s 3.0 x 0.75’, elongated N-ish-S-ish. The galaxy has a bright nucleus, and there may be a tiny hint of a dust lane on the F side of the nucleus, just an impression of one. Following 4111 by 6’ is the brighter (8th magnitude) component of a double star; the dimmer (13th magnitude) component is about 1.5’ or 2.0’ due P the brighter, dim but obvious. On the F side of that (and a bit S) by 7’ is NGC 4117, much dimmer than 4111. 4117 is about 2.0’ long and oriented NP-SF. It’s much more tenuous than 4111, and has a core that’s very indistinct edge-wise; with averted vision, a sub-stellar (not quite stellar) nucleus is visible. 7’ NP and SP from 4111 are 13th-magnitude stars; to the S of that SP star, by 1.5-2.0’, is a very tenuous diffuse circular glow visible mostly in averted vision: NGC 4109. [A satellite races through the field] 4109 is quite difficult, visible with direct vision, but only just. Averted vision brings out a lot more of the galaxy. NGC 4109 is SP NGC 4111 by about 8’.

 12:08
NGC 5023 (CVn) : This is an extremely cool edge-on galaxy! Very long, thin, and diffuse, 4.5’ x 0.5 or 0.75’. It’s very ghostly, with no central brightening at all; just a thin vaporous streak, elongated N-ish-S-ish. To the P side by 10’, almost due P, is a group of 10th/11th-magnitude stars separated by 2.5’; to the due F side by 7-8’ is another 10th-magnitude star. NP the galaxy by 8’ is a triple star/tight triangle of 12th/13th-magnitude stars, maybe 0.75’ on a side. S of the galaxy by 18’ is a 9th-magnitude star; when the galaxy is centered in the eyepiece, that 9th-magnitude star is the brightest star in the field.

 12:29
NGC 5005/5033 (CVn): 5005: Such a great galaxy! How did Messier miss it? NGC 5005 is probably 5.0’ x 2.0’; it’s very bright (8th or 9th magnitude), with a long, very bright core that runs half the length of galaxy. With averted vision, a stellar nucleus pops in and out of view. It’s hard to pick out the nucleus because the core is so bright. The galaxy is oriented P-F, not quite halfway between 8th– and 9th-magnitude stars, and a 6th-magnitude star is just off the edge of the field to the N (slightly P) side. The galaxy is in a diamond-shaped asterism with the NP and SF stars being the brightest of the four. S and slightly F of NGC 5005 by 40’ is NGC 5033 [misidentified in the field as 5013] This is another big bright galaxy, and is much more oval than 5005–maybe an inclined spiral? It’s oriented NF-SP, and about 3.5-4.0’ x 2.0’. 5033 has a brighter core, which has indistinct edges and trickles away into halo; there’s a visible stellar nucleus. A 13th-magnitude star sits just off the N end of the galaxy, just off the edge of the halo. There’s a very long scalene triangle of two 9th-magnitude and one 11th-magnitude star, about 8’ P the galaxy; NF the galaxy by 20’ is a 7th-magnitude star—with the galaxy centered, that star is down by the NF edge of the field.

 My notes on my next target[s] are a bit confused, as I ended up getting 24 Boo and CH Boo backward, which threw off my directions. I need to redo the observation here, and why not—it’s a great group of galaxies.

 12:54
NGCs 5660/5676/5673/IC 1029 (Boö): This is an excellent group, following 24 Boötis. NGC 5660 precedes 24 Boo by about 20’. It’s large (4.0 x 2.5/3.0’) and diffuse, probably a face-on or inclined spiral, oriented NF-SP. P and slightly N of that by 12’ is an 8th/9th-magnitude star; P and slightly S of that star by 22’ is NGC 5676, which is somewhat more round than 5660 and equally diffuse. 5676 has no core, and only a suggestion of a stellar nucleus. It’s about 3.0’ x 2.5’. To F and S sides are 11th-magnitude stars; P and slightly N by 18-20’ is another 6th/7th-magnitude star. There’s not much core to the galaxy. [It’s here I realize I may have the galaxy IDs reversed.] Very coolly, NP “5676” by 30’ and next to (preceding) an 11th-magnitude star is an edge-on galaxy (IC 1029). This one is about 2.0-2.5’ long, oriented NP-SF. It has a central core bulge visible, and the inner region is much brighter; the distinction between inner/outer regions is much stronger in averted vision. Almost due P IC 1029 by 13’ is another edge-on galaxy (NGC 5673), also oriented NP-SF, but even more so (NPP-SFF?). NGC 5673 is fainter than IC 1029, and has less central concentration; a 12th-magnitude star sits off the NP end of the galaxy’s halo.

 1:10
NGC 5529/5557 (Boö): NGC 5557 is a nice round, brightish, probably elliptical galaxy, 2.0’ across, with a bright core that makes up the inner 40% of the galaxy. A stellar nucleus may have presented itself with averted vision, although the galaxy’s core is bright enough to be confused as a nucleus. A 9th-magnitude star lies about 8’ P the galaxy, and a 7th-magnitude star lies F the galaxy by 30’. Preceding the 9th-magnitude star and just N is NGC 5529: a long skinny thing, more marginal than 5557. NGC 5529 sits amid a group of 13th-magnitude stars. This galaxy is about 2.0’ long, elongated SP-NF, and wider at the S end, maybe 1.0’; at the N end, it’s about 0.75’ wide. In averted vision, the halo looks almost “lumpy”. There’s not much central concentration—there is a distinction between the core and the halo, but it’s very gradual. NP the galaxy by 10-12’ is a 9th-magnitude star.

By this point, Bill and Frank had both left. I had mentioned to Jerry that I was skeptical of the Oregon Star Party’s 2016 Advanced Observing List—specifically the comment that the center of the Corona Borealis Galaxy Cluster might be visible in a scope as small as 10″ from the OSP site. Considering that the Corona Cluster required the redoubtable Steve Gottlieb to use a 17.5″ scope to track down any of it, I had grave doubts about seeing any of the tiny, magnitude-15+ glows in the Cluster, which lay over a billion light-years away. None of the galaxies was even bright enough to be plotted in the TriAtlas, which plotted galaxies down to magnitude 15!

Jerry was less skeptical, but he had two advantages: he had better high-power eyepieces than I do, and he had a telescope which would track the stars, allowing a long, uninterrupted look at the area of the cluster without the need to manually track the eyepiece field. With Corona Borealis near the meridian, we both set out to see if the writers of the OSP list were being realistic or sadistic.

I spent a couple of minutes identifying the field. I had forgotten my photograph of the cluster, and had to go on the TriAtlas chart and my memory of where the galaxies were in relation to the field stars. This actually turned out to be less difficult than I thought, as I’d looked at the chart and the photograph dozens of times in the preceding weeks. Within less than three minutes I’d found the spot where the galaxies should have been.

Staring at the field for long minutes at 112x yielded nothing, except for watering eyes. I’d expected nothing more. So I switched the 14mm 82-degree ES for a 6mm Radian, bringing the magnification up to 262x. Still more minutes passed, as I nudged the scope more often to compensate for the smaller field. Zip, zero, nada. I grumbled a bit about the unrealistic expectations of the authors of the OSP list as I swapped eyepieces one more time, to my little-used 4.8mm Nagler.

At 328x, there was an impression—nothing more—that the sky background was slightly mottled in a 2′ area between the two stars in the field. Averted vision didn’t yield any actual spots that could conceivably be called galaxies, as such; I could only discern some incredibly faint, fleeting, on-the-threshold-of-perception texturing to this tiny patch of otherwise-featureless sky. I focused on the spot for another couple of minutes. If this was the heart of the Corona Cluster, I would certainly never be able to claim that I’d seen it. And had I not known something was supposed to be there, I would’ve swept past this field without a second thought or glance.

“I think I’ve got it,” Jerry said from beside the Trackball.

I trudged over to Jerry’s scope, careful not to trip on the uneven, rocky ground. Jerry pointed out the correct location using Sky Safari on his iPad; I had indeed been looking in the right place.

In Jerry’s scope, the mottling in the field was somewhat more apparent. This was helped, no doubt, by the Trackball’s ability to counter the effects of the Earth’s rotation—the field stayed centered in the eyepiece, even at such high power, enabling me to keep my eye locked on the spot where the galaxies should’ve been. I’ve forgotten what eyepiece was in the scope, although it seemed to give a slightly sharper view than I got with the 4.8 Nagler in my own scope (I suspect that Jerry’s scope was better collimated than mine, as well—I’m still getting accustomed to the 4-axis adjustment of my new secondary holder, and I hadn’t checked the collimation on my scope since the initial adjustments.) I still wouldn’t be willing to claim this as a sighting, but it was clearly more of a sighting than I had with the Discovery. In any event, it was enough to make me think that a convincing sighting might be achieved under the even-darker skies of the OSP. (Our SQM reading on this night was a “mere” 21.3, while OSP often reaches 21.6 or 21.7.)

abell2065s

The core region of the Corona Borealis Galaxy Cluster, Abell 2065. With its brightest members at greater than magnitude 15.4, and with a distance of over a billion light years, this cluster of galaxies is among the most-challenging objects visible to amateur telescopes. Image courtesy Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona.

That mottled glow, so tenuous and feeble, represented a gargantuan knot of star-matter whose light had taken a quarter of our Sun’s lifetime to reach us—hundreds, if not thousands, of island universes floating through space a billion light years away. Prosaically, the Corona Borealis Galaxy Cluster lies a minimum of 5,878,625,373,183,607,730,852 miles away… 5.878 septillion miles. When the light we see left those galaxies, the Earth’s continents were bunched together into a single supercontinent called Rodinia, and the Earth’s day was only 18 hours long. Life was still single-celled, and cyanobacteria were still creating the atmosphere’s oxygen (then at a concentration of 2%). Those yet-to-be-resolved galaxies were made up of hundreds of trillions of stars each, and yet were so distant that their collective light was no more tangible than the misty exhalations of some ever-distant God of the Cosmos into the cold vacuum of space.

I observed a number of other objects after that, revisiting some of the globular clusters I had first seen while doing the Astronomical League’s Globular Cluster observing program. Jerry and I also tracked down the obscure (and obscured) globular Haute Provence 1 in southern Ophiuchus. I took some time to trace out the Veil Nebula, now well-placed in the sky (it was after 2:30 AM by this point), amazed at how easy it was to see the extent of the nebula without resorting to a nebula filter. But though we stayed there on the spur road until after 3 AM, everything after the Corona Cluster seemed a bit anticlimactic. That barely-perceptible glow from those staggeringly-distant galaxies—the absolute definition of the astronomer’s term “lumpy darkness”—filled my Australopithecine brain with notions of time and distance that lingered throughout the drive home and well into the next evening.

We reconvened the next night at Eureka Ridge. I had to work in the morning and couldn’t stay long, so the shorter drive to and from Eureka was a welcome change. The CSC forecast indicated that it would turn variably cloudy at about 1 AM, giving me a good excuse to head home (if I needed one).

Tim L from EAS and Mike C (from Salem) joined Jerry and I at Eureka; Randy B, who often observed at Eureka even by himself, also had to work Tuesday morning. (He sensibly chose not to observe the night before work, unlike me.)

As it turned out, the clouds jumped the gun. By the time it got dark (about 11 PM), two waves of altocirrus loomed out of the western sky and began to spread out across the sky. I had revised my “Next Time Out” list after Sunday night’s successful work, replacing those objects I had observed with new targets, but there would be little opportunity to work on them tonight.

Twilight took forever to fade as the cloud bank loomed. I went after targets in Corvus and Crater, although it was still too bright to see the constellations well; I checked out NGC 4024, NGC 4027, and the Antennae galaxies (NGCs 4038/9) in Corvus, although they were past the meridian and still awash in twilight. I didn’t take notes on them as a result—notes wouldn’t be representative of these objects, wouldn’t do them justice.

With the sky crudding up quickly, I set to work on one of the few parts of the sky that was clear: the south in the direction of Libra. I had two objects on my list for Libra: NGC 5812 and NGC 5898.

6/6/16

EUREKA RIDGE
MOON: 2 days (4%), set at 11:15 PM
SEEING: 6
TRANSPARENCY: 4 (variable; as high as 6)
SQM: not taken
NELM: about 6.7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 60s, little to no dew; slight breeze; clouds rolling in throughout
Others present: JO, TL, MC

10:52
NGC 5812 (Lib): This galaxy looks elliptical. It’s about 1.5-1.75’ round, with a 30” round core—no nucleus, just core. The galaxy is about 22’ P the 7th-magnitude star HD132953 [which I misidentified as 19 Lib], and is perhaps 11th magnitude. To the SP and SF sides are two stars that bracket the galaxy and make a triangle with it. The one SP is dimmer, at 9th magnitude and about 7′ from the galaxy; the SF star is about 8th magnitude and is about 8-9’ from the galaxy.

10:58
NGCs 5898/5903 (Lib): I did not expect to see two galaxies here, just one. Both are small. The pair of galaxies are NP a line of equally-spaced 7th/8th-magnitude stars, the middle one of which is double. These stars angle up slightly NP, and are separated by about 10’ each. NGC 5898 is due N of the NP star in that line. NGC 5898 is not quite 2.0’ across. [The sky is cruddying up, making it hard to measure the extent of the galaxies.] There’s a small, brighter core (maybe 20″ across) to NGC 5898, but no stellar nucleus is visible. Is this maybe a face-on spiral? To the P side is a small group of 12th and 13th-magnitude stars. NGC 5903 is due N of the double star in that line of 7th-magnitude stars, and is a bit larger and a bit dimmer than NGC 5898; it’s much more diffuse, with less central concentration than the other galaxy. It’s maybe just over 2.0’. [A satellite goes slowly between the galaxies at 11:02 PM.] NGC 5903 has no real nucleus, but to the NP side by 1.5’ is an 11th-magnitude star. [The field is suddenly overflowing with satellites, as another brighter one crosses at 11:03 PM]

I went back to my list, but most of the sky was buried in the altocirrusy gunk. We waited for a while; in breaks in the crud, I managed to observe Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, M80, and M5. I also made sure to revisit the NGC 5676 group in Boötes, which had made quite an impression the previous night. (I still need to take notes on it again, getting my directions right.) Tackling the Corona Borealis Galaxy Cluster would have been out of the question, even if it had stayed clear, as the sky at Eureka Ridge was never as dark as it could get at Eagle’s Ridge.

Reluctantly, we packed up at about midnight, defeated by the sky conditions. I felt bad for Mike, who had driven down to observe (although he did get to star test the non-aluminized 6″ mirror that he had just finished grinding after a 40-year gap) and ended up getting clouded out—and for Tim as well, as he hadn’t been able to get away from home duties in months for a night’s observing. As it happened, even the short session made work the next day a chore, as I was still exhausted from the previous night’s much longer session. In any case, even a cloud-infested look at the stars was vastly superior to the best television or the Internet had to offer, so a few galaxies’ worth of photons was time well spent.

Rites of Spring

April has so far turned out to be far less a cruel month than was March.  Two nights after my attempt at the Herschel Sprint, I was back out observing, having taken the previous night off to catch up on the rest I was sorely lacking.  This time, I went to the EAS’ closer-by observing site, Eureka Ridge, in the Coastal Range.

I was rather late to arrive, having spent part of the evening at my daughter’s school art gala.  I hadn’t been to Eureka Ridge before, and didn’t relish the idea of driving there at night.  The road to the site was a bit rough, full of potholes and washboard stretches, but I made it there in one piece–if a bit low on gas. Four others had set up already: Jerry, Randy B, Bill “Dr. Lapser” B, and Cory W.  A good group to observe with: three other Dobs (two of the Porta-Ball type) and an imager (Bill).

The site is on a high ridge overlooking a logging site; it slopes downhill to where the loggers have been tearing things up. The effect of this is that the site has excellent horizons to the east, south, and west.  The “road,” such as it is, is typical of construction-site roads, but was fine for setting up on.  Sunset was already fading as I chose a spot and began to set up.

The skies were average in quality but dark.  Smoke had filtered in from some nearby fires and the transparency was already only average. Nonetheless, we made the most of it until the dew began to settle (it wasn’t as bad as in Illinois; I could’ve observed longer but for the clouds that began rolling in).

The most notable feature early on was the impossible-to-miss zodiacal light, a triangular glowing wedge stretching from the area the Sun had gone down in to just above the Pleiades.  I had never seen it before (at least that I noticed), and was a bit dazzled by how obvious it was here. Consisting of sunlight reflecting off of dust in the plane of the solar system, the visibility of the zodiacal light can be a good indicator of sky darkness.

My goals this evening were to observe a number of the planetary nebulae on the Astronomical League’s Planetary Nebula program before moving into a list of my own making (The Night of 100 Galaxies,” a survey of Hickson and Abell clusters with a few other interesting objects mixed in for variety).  As it turned out, after observing the first few planetaries (and only taking notes on the first of these), I lost some interest in tracking down tiny pinpoint planetaries and decided (in another occurrence of Rare Night Syndrome) to work instead on a mix of objects from the 100 Galaxies list and “Forgotten Gems of the Spring Sky,” a presentation I’m giving to the Eugene Astronomical Society later in April.

 

EUREKA RIDGE (43 52′ 38.88″ N, 123 18′ 33.32″ W)

MOON: 25 days (Last Quarter), rose 3:55 AM

SEEING: 6

TRANSPARENCY: 6

SQM: 21.4 (midnight)

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in 40s, moderate dew after midnight, haze/smoke in air, slight breeze—zodiacal light bright and obvious, reaching past the Pleiades by 9:15

Others present: JO, RB, BB, CW 

9:47

IC 2165 (CMa)—tiny planetary—maybe 8”?—responds well in  O-III—no central star—with UHC, better view—slightly blue w/o filter (found without)—almost looks as if there’s an outer shell around bright center—if true, maybe 1.0’ diameter—possibly elongated E-W—“central part” really sharply defined—squashed little triangle of stars to F side—“center star” of triangle fairly bright (?)

After IC 2165, I also observed Jonckheere 900 in Gemini and NGC 2346 in Monoceros before turning to galaxies.

I’d bought an extra charging battery for my iPhone, which I use to record my notes and which usually runs out of power in about twenty minutes. Yet for all of the galaxies I observed, I took notes on only two groups–both of which were very deserving.

I ended up observing the NGC 4485/90 pair, NGC 4424, NGCs 4327 and 4361 (The Whale and Cub), NGC 4656/7 (The Hockey Stick), NGC 4565, NGC 5746 in Virgo, the Leo Trio, M53/NGC 5053 (Coma globulars), NGC 5634 (globular in Virgo), NGC 3344 in Leo Minor, M95, M96, and M105 (with its two attendant galaxies–the Trio within a Trio), NGC 3115 in Sextans, and Copeland’s Septet in Leo in addition to these others–most of these will factor into my presentation, as they’re almost all impressive objects.  I regret not taking notes on Copeland’s Septet, but will observe it again at next opportunity. Jerry and I spent a fair amount of time trying to discern individual galaxies amid the two glowing patches we observed in the eyepiece.

I also tracked down Wild’s Triplet, a nastily-faint trio in Virgo, also known as Arp 248.  I’m quite proud of finding this one in average conditions with “only” a 12.5″ scope.  Jerry and I compared notes as we observed it, using his copy of Sky Safari to discern the orientation of the three interacting spirals in the group.

1:17

Arp 248 (PGCs 36733/36723/36742; Wild’s Triplet; Vir)—a bright (8th mag) field star—brightest of 3 galaxies 60% of the way between that star and an 11th-mag star off to F edge, bright star on P edge—two stars separated by 15’—another star to S of dim star by 8’, same mag—galaxy in middle and one just S of that are two brightest—middle one [PGC 36733] has tiny bit of central condesation—about 0.5’ or a bit more—no PA possible—S of that is second brightest [PGC 36723], separated by 3’ or so—more diffuse, no concentration—all really small, need 10mm—third galaxy [PGC 36742] exceedingly difficult, not convinced I’m seeing, certainly can’t hold even averted

The sky was degrading in quality a bit; I spent some time casting about for a new target.  Jerry tracked down the Ursa Minor Dwarf Galaxy, a largish threshold-level glow seen mostly by sweeping his scope back and forth over the field.  It was most definitely there–a satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way, so dim that it had eluded detection until its discovery on a photographic plate in 1955. An A+ find in a 12″ scope!

My own next find was Hickson 68, a stunning small cluster of galaxies in a corner of Canes Venatici:

1:40

NGC 5350/5354/5353/5355/5371 (Hickson 68; CVn)—at center of field is bright star, 7th mag—above by 4’ is 2’ round, very diffuse galaxy (NGC 5350)—slight central condensation—averted brings out possible stellar nucleus—to SF side are two brighter, smaller galaxies—more northern (NGC 5354) is more diffuse—both about 1.5’—almost touching—more northern slightly more diffuse, slightly larger—one farthest south (NGC 5353) smaller but has brighter core—star-like nucleus—forming triangle with these three, farher from star on F side is smaller, almost “edge-on” (NGC 5355)—0.5’—oriented SP-NF—fairly obvious but would need to know where to look—between this last and previous pair is 14th star—when group drifts toward P edge of field, at top of field is much larger diffuse galaxy (NGC 5371)—3.5’—just off to F edge of galaxy is 8th star— maybe 0.5’ core—stellar nucleus visible in averted but not direct—subsumed into core

This one immediately vaulted to the top of my galaxy-group list, and to my computer desktop–an absolutely beautiful little group, wrapped around a bright golden star and followed by a larger, obviously-spiral galaxy.

Not long after, the dew had reached a point where Randy and Jerry decided they’d had enough; they’d been out the night before (Jerry had observed four consecutive nights), and  the dew was a sign to them to call it a night.  With my gas tank low and not being too familiar with the roads back to civilization, I decided they were right.  Bill had already started tearing down his imaging gear, having taken at least a half-dozen sets of shots.  Jerry and Randy headed out first; I waited with Bill until he was ready to go (a habit from my AASI days–the President of the club should be the last man out of the observing field).  Bill stayed for a few extra minutes; he said he’d follow in case I ran out of gas.  I agreed to this for pragmatic reasons.

Although not as productive as my attempt at the Herschel Sprint, Wild’s Triplet, Copeland’s Septet, and especially Hickson 68 had made this session a success.  The sketchbook is going to be getting several new entries the next time out.