One never knows what weather forecasts will bring, and, indeed, it was nearly a month since our last excursion before I was able to return to observing. This time, the forecast called for more than a week of nearly-perfect weather for astronomy and—as circumstances (read: $$$) had insisted that I skip a planned trip to Goldendale, WA for the annual Pixieland Star Party that occurred during the second weekend of the upcoming dark-sky run—I planned to be at Eagle’s Ridge at every opportunity, despite the fifty+ minute drive each way to the site. I had two days of work early in that timeframe, but I had worked before after a night’s observing; it wasn’t easy, as my job is sedentary and mentally taxing, but allowed for no physical movement and little contact with others to help me stay awake, but I could manage. Besides, I would have to take at least one night off during the week to recuperate. And given that I’d had a whole three dark-sky observing sessions since September—this was the single-worst season for astronomy I can ever recall—having a week to observe was the height of luxury.
Back in March, with the spring galaxy field still on the rise, I had hatched a plan to work on one of the areas of sky I had long avoided, save for some brief trips during my annually-futile attempts at a Messier Marathon: the Virgo Cluster. I wasn’t overly intimidated by the difficulty of star-hopping there (“galaxy-hopping” is a more appropriate term, given that the density of galaxies there made it possible to avoid using stars as signposts), I was simply more-intrigued by other parts of the sky and more-obscure targets. But with working on the two Herschel lists (there were sixty or so galaxies on the the Herschel lists in the Virgo Cluster), as well as the Arp, Flat Galaxy, and Galaxy Groups lists for the Astronomical League, there was no better region of sky to plunder, no real reason not to dig through the masses of relatively-nearby galaxies–Virgo is our Local Supercluster, after all, the one to which our Milky Way and its closest neighbors belong—and, even by April, no real time to waste.
My plan had been to plunder the Interstellarum atlas’ two charts of the Virgo cluster, observing every galaxy in the region and noting especially those objects on the Herschel 400 and Herschel II lists. But by the time I was able to undertake the project, Virgo was already past the meridian and–from our best observing spot—it was already low in the sky and heading for a bank of trees as twilight would be ending. So I cut back on the numbers of galaxies and changed charts; instead of Interstellarum, I used the now-infamous Chart B from Tirion’s Sky Atlas 2000.0, which I usually used for my thwarted attempts at Messier Marathoning. There were 150 or so DSOs on Chart B, including the globular cluster NGC 4147. I ended up with 176 galaxies total, including several obvious ones that weren’t on the Tirion chart. Ignored were the hundreds of threshold-level galaxies that filled in the spaces between the brighter ones; I simply didn’t have time to search for the more-difficult objects if I wanted to get those that were labeled on the chart.
A few wispy clouds seemed a bit ominous as I pulled up to the crossroads on Eagle’s Rest Mountain; the spur road that branched to the northwest, which had flatter terrain, had room only for four vehicles, and we may have been expecting a few more than that. I preferred the spur road a bit, having started to find my balance in the dark to be a bit suspect, and the slope of the crossroad was also problematic for finding a good level spot for my scope that wasn’t interfered with by the trees facing southwest. Had the Virgo region been ten or fifteen degrees more northern in declination, the trees wouldn’t have been a problem; they usually weren’t. Now, though, they might cut my Virgo explorations short.
I had scanned the Tirion chart into two sections, and had circled the individual galaxies and small groups with circles that represented a single eyepiece view. Doing so revealed several large clumps and arcs of galaxies that I could use to keep my star-hopping to a minimum. I would start tonight in the western side of the cluster, using the star 6 Comae and the two nearby Messier galaxies (M 98 and M 99) as my leaping-off points. The idea was to work a different large chunk each night, following the arcs south and then back north, using the Messier galaxies in each section as starting points when possible (in part because they would theoretically be visible earlier in the twilight than would the smaller, fainter non-Messier objects).
All observations were conducted with a 12.5 f/5 Discovery Dob (a.k.a. Bob the Dob) and a 14mm Explore Scientific Nagler clone (yielding 113x and a 42′ field). Many of the objects cried out for higher magnification, but I just didn’t have time; with twilight ending around 11 PM, I had 3 hours each night before the Virgo Cluster was lost in trees and southern-sky haze. And due in part to the long layoff from observing (and the fact that I’m still working on it), my estimates of that various galaxies’ dimensions are somewhere on the order of 25% too large. Embarrassing.
MOON: 24 days (rise at 2:58 AM), 33% illumination
TRANSPARENCY: 8 (variable, especially early on)
SQM: not taken
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid-40s, air still, very dewy
Others present: JO, BM, BB
M98 [notes said M100] (Com): very long galaxy—9.0 x 2.0’—very long—elongated NP-SF—small brighter core maybe 1.0 x 0.25’—mottled along length of arms, has a “lumpiness” that’s indistinct—arms fade away into background—little better defined on P edge—NF galaxy by 5.5’ from galaxy center is 10.5 mag star—on opposite edges of field, SF and NP are 9th-mag stars—NP galaxy and still in line with galaxy by 16’ is 10th-mag star—10’ NP of galaxy is 11th-mag star—SF galaxy is a group of stars; three 11th-12th stars are clumped together in SP-NF line—line is 4’ long and stars unevenly spaced
NGC 4237 (Com): pretty bright—galaxy elongated not quite due P-F; PNP-FSF—smallish, 2.0 x 1.5’ —doesn’t have stellar nucleus, but does have brighter core that makes up 3/4 of galaxy’s interior—halo seems to have well-defined edges—is in field of a few very bright stars to SF, one of which is 7th-mag about 16’ SF galaxy—next star is 8th mag 20’ SF galaxy—almost due F galaxy by 18’ is a 10th-mag star—due NF by 18’ is an 11th-mag star—NP galaxy by 12’ is a 12.5-mag star—sky not perfectly dark yet
M99, NGC 4262 (Com): M99: large, roundish galaxy—very bright—6’ x 5.5’—slightly elongated almost due P-F—has a 2.0’ round core and a difficult nucleus—appears to be a spiral arm stretching to NP side of galaxy—dark “jut” in halo makes it look like spiral arm sticking off—halo pretty diffuse, fades away—spiral arm sometimes “pops”—to NF and SF of galaxy are 13th/14th-mag stars—one to SF is 3.5’ from galaxy’s core—one to NF is 5’ from core—galaxy set in large scalene triangle of 7th and 8th-mag stars that dominate field—20’ P and slightly N is a 7th-mag star—NF by 10’ is brightest field star, 6th mag—F and slightly S of galaxy by 15’ is a 7.5-mag star—just just on N edge of field is a 9th-mag star—P galaxy is small triangle of 12th-mag stars, long side 7’ long, points to P side of field—N and F M99 by 30’ is NGC 4262: v. small and v. bright—maybe 0.75’ round—very bright stellar nucleus and core that dominate view of galaxy—indistinct halo due to brightness of core—to PSP of galaxy by 10’ is a 10th-mag star—an 11th-mag star NF galaxy , which is SP end of long zigzag-like mini-Cassiopeia that stretches to NF edge of field—to P and slightly N of galaxy by 8’ is a 12th-mag star—with 4262 centered, 7th-mag star (one that is brightest in field of M99) is about 20’ S of 4262
NGCs 4298, 4302 (Com): excellent pair!—not easiest ever—face-on and edge-on very close together—4298: roundish—if seeing wobbles, galaxies blur together slightly—galaxy very diffuse—builds v. gradually to brighter core—halo almost textured—elongated NP-SF, 3.0 x 3.25’—11th-mag star just on F edge, between two galaxies, makes it hard to tell if there’s a nucleus to galaxy—halo fades into background—more indistinct is 4302: due F 4298—long and skinny, not quite “flat”—4.0’ x 0.75’ —elongated N-S—no discernable nucleus or core, just an even glow—on N tip of galaxy is a 14th-mag star; F on N edge about 2.5’ from previous star is a 12th-mag star—to NP of 4298 by 11’ is an 10th-mag star—almost due P galaxies by 8’ from 4298’s core is an 11th-mag star—pair of stars on NF edge of field—about 3.5’ apart, 11th/12th mags—SF galaxies by 18’ are pair of 11th-mag stars
NGC 4212 (Com): large and bright—fairly diffuse—comes to brighter core that takes up much of galaxy’s dimensions—no stellar nucleus—[really bright satellite through field]—galaxy elongated SPP-NFF—3.0 x 2.0’—averted may reveal stellar nucleus but very uncertain—galaxy is just N of a 12th-mag star that is the end of a bent line of 12th-mag stars trailing to F edge of field—next star in line is 7’ SF galaxy—final star in line 10’ due F galaxy—brightest star in field is 9th-mag star on NF edge of field—interesting faint pair of stars NP galaxy by 16’—very faint (13th & 14th-mags)
NGCs 4206, 4216 (Vir): great pair of close edge-on galaxies—4206: smaller and reasonably faint—3.0 x 0.5’—no central brightening or nucleus even in averted—elongated almost due N-S—in middle of line of four 10th and 11th stars—two stars to due N slightly P and two more S and slightly F—brightest of stars is 10th-mag 8’ N of galaxy—11.5-mag star 6’ N of previous star—two to SF of galaxy are both 11th-mag, closer one (slightly dimmer) 4’ SF galaxy, other 9’ SF galaxy—NF 4206 by 12’ is NGC 4216: much larger and brighter, easy core and stellar nucleus—elongated NNF-SSP—in averted, about 7.5’ x 1.0’—both could be flat—core very small and bright with stellar nucleus—core and nucleus slightly off-center to N, spiral arms extended a little to S—v. v. bright!—4216 about halfway between 4206 and an 8th-mag star (star about 13’ NF 4216)—between galaxies, about 7’ FNF 4206 is a 13th-mag star—excellent galaxies!
NGCs 4193, 4189, 4168 (Com ; Vir): 4193: smallest and faintest of trio—pretty diffuse—elongated (slightly N)P-(slightly S)F—2.0’ x 0.75’?—slightly-brighter core—pretty non-descript—edges fade pretty sharply, well-defined—3’ to NP galaxy’s center is 14th-mag star—to NF by 5’ is another 14th-mag star—4189: to N and slightly P 4193 by 17’—much larger, pretty round—3.25’—fairly diffuse—evenly illuminated; not much core, no nucleus—very flat triangle of 13th-14th mag stars surrounding galaxy—brightest is 13th-mag star F and slightly N galaxy’s core by 4’—others in triangle are 14th-mag stars 5’ N and 6’ S of galaxy—4168: almost due P 4193 by 24’—brightest of three galaxies—most concentrated of three—round, 2.25’—very well-defined core—stellar nucleus in averted—core is about half diameter of galaxy—elliptical?—pretty well defined, halo drops off pretty cleanly—to NP of galaxy by 7’ is a 10th-mag star—SP by 16’ is brightest star in field, 9th-mag—between 4193 and 4168 is mini-Perseus asterism of seven stars, with “open end” to SP and “tip of wishbone” pointing almost due N—S of that is group of widely-spaced brighter (9th/10th-mags) stars sprinkled across S edge of field—[another bright satellite through field]
NGC 4267 (Vir): bright but small—very bright core, not-quite stellar nucleus—galaxy 1.0’ round—almost looks like star with diffuseness around it, like a planetary nebula with a bright central star—diffuseness fades away, core pops—to P side of field, starting 12’ from galaxy and stretching due S-due N is a line of five stars of 10th and 11th mags—those stars stretch along P side of field and N-S—galaxy is in distorted pentagon of 12th-14th mag stars—from long side of pentagon to other is about 12’—N (slightly F) galaxy by 19’ is a pair of 11th/12th-mag stars about 2.5’ apart
It was at this point in the evening that I first looked up—really looked up—at the naked-eye sky. With twilight fully faded, and the Milky Way beginning to rise in the east and northeast, the sky was dense with stars. It’s always a spine-tingling sight to see the Milky Way rise, but here, where the skies are so dark, it’s downright breathtaking. As a kid stranded in a big-city suburb, the Milky Way was never more than a threshold-level streak in a perpetually-grey sky. I couldn’t then imagine how I would see it as an adult, right now, billowing across the sky like a stream of glowing cumulus clouds, textured and brilliant and humbling. It was almost a pity to have to return to the eyepiece, to put off (for a few hours, anyway) rummaging through the glorious sights of the summer sky, Saturn gleaming just on the edge of the mountain, the globular clusters and shimmering nebulae near Galactic Center possessed of their own celestial siren song.
But back to task….
M 100, NGC 4312 (Com): M100: big, splashy, mottled face-on galaxy—about 9.0’ x 7.0’—big, bright very diffuse halo—very bright small core—edges fairly well defined—on SP and SF edges are 13th/13.5-mag stars—core about 1.0’ diameter—galaxy is the vertex of the hypotenuse and short side of right triangle with two 8th-mag stars—hypotenuse is 20’ long, short side 9’—to NF galaxy is pair of 9th-mag stars separated by 8’, almost parallel to short side of right triangle—taking M100 and other vertex on short side of triangle, about 9’ S slightly P from that vertex is 4312: an edge-on streak about 4.0 x 1.5’—elongated NP-SF—some slight central brightening in inner half of galaxy—no stellar nucleus—irregularity to brightness along length of galaxy—F galaxy by 4’ and very slightly S is a pair of 13th-mag stars separated by 45”—putting short side vertex star in middle of field frames both galaxies well in field
NGCs 4379, 4396, 4421, 4419 (Com): 4379: taking hypotenuse/long side vertex of triangle that includes M 100 and moving 20’ almost due F that star brings 4379—bright, small, possibly elliptical galaxy—pretty round—stellar nucleus and small very bright core—nucleus better in averted—1.5 x 1.25’—elongated slightly P-F—fairly non-descript galaxy—with galaxy centered, and star from triangle on P edge, to NF edge of field by 20’ from galaxy is 6th-mag star that has orangish tinge—to NF of galaxy by 4’ is a 14th-mag star that’s on threshold—FNF galaxy by 12’ is an edge-on galaxy [4396, not on SA chart], very difficult, much better in averted—elongated NP-SF—quite diffuse—2.5’ x 0.75’—not much brightening at all, just a streak—seems to have a 14.5-mag star just visible in averted on NP tip of galaxy—due N of galaxy about 2’ from galaxy’s center is a 12th-mag star that makes observation of galaxy difficult—4421: 30’ SF from 4379—very diffuse round blot—1.5’—very obvious stellar nucleus—slightly elongated N-S—to P edge of galaxy by 4’ is a 10th-mag star that makes observations tougher—with averted perhaps 2.0’—to NP edge and NF edges of field are 9th-mag stars, make an almost equalateral triangle with star close to galaxy—S slightly F 4421 by 27’ is obvious elongated galaxy : NP-SF elongation—almost miniature M104—2.5’ x 1.0’—brightness cuts off on N edge more abruptly, more diffuse on S side—brightish core, stellar nucleus in averted—due S of galaxy by 3.5’ from nucleus is a 13th-mag star—NP by 10’ is a 10th-mag star—an 11th-mag star to NF of galaxy by 10’—interesting edge-on
NGC 4377 (Com): small elliptical (?) galaxy—1.25’ round—bright stellar nucleus—another non-descript one—bracketed N (slightly F) by 6’ by an 11th-mag star and S (slightly F) by 10’ by a 10th-mag star—due P galaxy by 15’ is the short side of a tiny right triangle of 11th and 13th-mag stars—galaxy reasonably bright
NGCs 4383, 4405 (Com): 4383: small, maybe elongated—1.0 x 0.75—N-S elongation—bright stellar nucleus, another “haze around star” type galaxy—stars due P and F—13th-mag star due P by 6’, 12th-mag star due F by 9’—SP galaxy by 2.5’ is another 13th-mag star—zig-zag S of galaxy composed of a 6th, two 7th, and a 9th mag stars on S edge of field—like Gun asterism in Scutum—dominant structure in field—4405: off F edge of “Gun”—larger than 4383—more diffuse—1.5’ x 1.0’—elongated N (very slightly F)-S (very slightly P)—star on SF corner of Gun lies 11’ P and very slightly S of galaxy—N (very slightly F) of galaxy is an 8th-mag star—due F that star by 3’ is a 12th-mag star—S slightly F galaxy by 22’ is a 6th-mag star that is slightly bluish
NGCs 4340, 4350 (Com): very close together, separated by 8’—4340: rounder, fainter than 4350—2.5’ round—small bright core and sub-stellar nucleus—halo diffuse, fades away gradually—4350 is more elongated—very bright stellar nucleus—elongated NP-SF—2.0 x 0.75—good amount of central concentration that runs 3/4 of the inner dimensions of galaxy—NP 4340 by 12’ is an 11th-mag star—SF 4350 by 14’ is a pair separated NF-SP, NF star closer to galaxy and is 11th-mag, SP star is 12th mag—SF from the more-southern of those two stars by 7.5’ is a 10th-mag star
NGC 4450 (Com): a treat after last few—largish and bright, unmissable in field—galaxy is elongated not quite due N (slightly P)-S (slightly F)—3.5’ x 2.75’—bright core offset toward N side of galaxy—nucleus not quite stellar—inclined spiral (?)—hard to define edges of halo, falls off diffusely—to SP by 7’ is a 9th-mag star—7’ due S of that star is a 12th-mag star—NF galaxy by 20’ is a 7th-mag star
NGC 4489, 4498 (Com): form a not-quite isosceles triangle with an 8th-mag star to SF of 4498—4489: core is bottom of capital-Y asterism that opens to N and consists of three 12th/13th-mag stars (star at center of ‘Y’ is 12th-mag, other two are 13th-mags)—galaxy is tiny, no more than 0.75’—v. slightly elongated P-F—slightly brighter tiny core, maybe a stellar nucleus in averted—star in center of ‘Y’ is 5’ N of galaxy—brightest star (8th-mag) in field is 10’ SF galaxy—NF 4489 is 4498: three times the size —elongated NP-SF—quite diffuse—3.5’ x 1.0’—faint stellar nucleus—hard to define edges of halo—full extent hard to tell and bright star is distracting—F galaxy and slightly S by 9’ is a 12th-mag star
NGC 4293 (Com): a beauty!—long, diffuse, but bright galaxy—elongated almost due P-F, slightly SP-NF—4.5’ x 1.5’—irregular concentration—not a definable core, maybe middle third is diffuse core—edges of halo fade off a bit—no visible nucleus—long line of stars cascading away from the N edge of the galaxy off to the F edge of the field, getting brighter as they head away from galaxy—to SP of galaxy by 16’ is an 11th-mag star—to NP by 12’ is another 11th-mag star—due P galaxy by 6’ is a 12th-mag star
M 85, NGC 4394 (Com): transparency a little less than earlier—M 85: not as large as many Messiers but very bright—5.0’ x 4.5’—elongated N (slightly P)-S (slightly F)—very bright core and stellar nucleus—core is about 0.75’ round—galaxy diffuse but core is v. suddenly brighter—on N end of galaxy is a star embedded in halo, about 12.5-mag, about 2’ P core—to SF of core by 6’ is 11th-mag star—S very slightly P galaxy by 13’ is a 12th-mag star—4394: FNF M85—pretty bright—elongated NP-SF—2.5’ x 2.0’—bright core and stellar nucleus—halo fairly indistinct, fades away gradually—S slightly F galaxy by 6’ is a 12th-mag star—due N of M85 by 16’ is another 12th-mag star—with M85 centered, just on S slightly P edge of field is an 8th-mag star
NGC 4539 (Com): in field of 24 Comae, which lies NF galaxy by 17’—elongated P-F—difficult to see with 24 Comae, which needs to be out of field—galaxy diffuse, definitely edge-on—2.25’ x 0.75’—faint, even with 24 Comae out of field, but not terribly hard—very little bit of central concentration, no nucleus—off SF tip of galaxy by 1’ is a very difficult threshold star, maybe 15th-mag—between galaxy and 24 Comae is a string of three evenly-spaced 12th-mag stars in an arc—SP galaxy by 12’ is another 12th-mag star
NGC 4561 (Com): not one of best of night—small, non-descript—elongated slightly P-F—1.5’ x 1.0’—[tumbling satellite in field]—not much core but does have stellar nucleus that flickers in direct vision—an elliptical (?)—NF galaxy by 12’ is a 9th-mag star—10th-mag star SF galaxy by 8’—12th-mag star F that star by 8’—brightest star in field is 9th-mag 20’ due N of galaxy
With tonight’s work, I had observed a large clump of the northwest quadrant of the Virgo Cluster; at current pace, it would take at least five nights to complete the chart. I spent another hour or so exploring some of the spectacular sights of the late spring and early summer skies, as I would do each night before leaving. And then it was time to go—I didn’t want to be so exhausted after the first few nights that I couldn’t get through it all.
(Another superb time lapse by Bill “DrLapser” Basham, from that first night—including a couple of brilliant Iridium flares. Thanks to Bill for his wonderful work, and not minding my usage of it.)
We reconvened the next night at the same spot; this time, there were even more of us. Pam, Steve F (tribe member from last August’s Oregon Star Party), and Cory joined us there—“us” being regular attendees Jerry, Frank, Alan, and my Australopithecene self.
The skies were not quite as sharp and clear as the previous night—this was obvious both from a naked-eye glance at the fully-dark sky, and from observing the image “boil” around Jupiter just before I started into the galaxies—although that was a difficult standard to measure up to. They were certainly good enough for plowing onward through Virgo.
MOON: 25 days (rise at 3:30 AM), 23% illumination
NELM: about 7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in 40s, air still, dewy
Others present: JO, PH, SF, FS, AG, CW
M84, M86, NGCs 4387, 4388, 4402 (Vir): Downtown Markarian—M84: bright galaxy to P corner of smiley, brighter internally than M86—5’ and quite round—has a bright core but doesn’t seem to have a stellar nucleus—due P M84 by 10’ is a 9th-mag star—SP by 6’ is an 11th-mag star—due F M84 by 21’ is M86: larger than M84—6.5’ x 5.5’—slightly elongated NP-SF—slightly dimmer core than M84’s—hint of substellar nucleus in averted, quite bright core that’s 0.5’ across—due N by 7’ and SF by 7’ are 12th-mag stars—in between M84/86 and S is NGC 4387: nose of face—quite small, 1.25’ x 1.0’—slightly elongated almost N (slightly P)-S (slightly F)—reasonably faint but obvious—has a stellar nucleus but not much core—nucleus obvious—to N of nucleus by “a hair“ is a faint star embedded in halo—halo poorly-defined—2.5’ N of the nucleus is a 12th-mag star—NGC 4388: mouth of face—15’ S of 4387—long spiral elongated (slightly N)P-(slightly S)F—has a slightly brighter elongated central region that’s only a bit brighter than halo—halo falls away into background—nucleus flickers into visibility very briefly—3.5’ x 1.0’—N (slightly F) by 1.5’ is a 14th-mag star—due S by 5’ is a 12th-mag star—due N of M 86 by 12’ is NGC 4402: long spiral elongated almost due P-F—diffuse—4.0 x 1.5’—not much central brightening—S edge seems better defined than N edge—fades away slowly into space—no obvious core or nucleus, just a long diffuse smear—in moments of good seeing, N of galaxy’s center by 1’ is a difficult 14.5-mag star
NGCs 4413, 4425, 4435, 4438, 4458, 4461 (Vir), 4473, 4477, 4479, 4459, 4474, 4468, M88, NGC 4516, M91, NGC 4571 (Com): 4413: about 16’ FSF 4388—diffuse, roundish—not much central brightening, almost like a faint unresolved globular—2.0’ round—nestled in a line of stars—no core or nucleus visible—due N by 1’ from galaxy is a 12th-mag star; N of that star by 3’ is a 10th-mag star—another pair of stars (13th/14th-mag) S of galaxy, first (13th-mag) slightly P by 3’, second due S of galaxy by 4.5’—second galaxy is FNF 4413–4425: much brighter—elongated SP-NF—[bright satellite through field]—bright inner region—stellar nucleus—halo well defined—edge-on spiral?—due P that galaxy by 1.5’ is a 13th-mag star—almost due N by 4’ is a 14th-mag star—F galaxy by 7’ is a 12th-mag star—due S of that star by 3.5’ is a 13th-mag star—going N from there, bring us to The Eyes: NGC 4435 and 4438: 4435 is considerably smaller of two—4438 is NF 4424 by 20’—4435 is about NP 7’ from 4438—4435: elongated N-S—bright, with bright core and sub-stellar nucleus—2.0 x 1.5—nucleus really pops when seeing good—well-defined halo—4438: twice as large—4.0 x 2.25—elongated N (v. slightly F)-S (v. slightly P)—has a more-diffuse core region that’s brighter and substellar nucleus that’s easily visible—P both galaxies and slightly S of 4435 by 12’ is a 12th-mag star—F two galaxies by 20’ is a 9th-mag star—NGC 4458 and 4461 N and slightly F that star—4461 is N slightly F that star by 10’—4458: NP 4461 by 6’—smaller and dimmer than 4461—1.5’ round—brighter core region—halo not well-defined—has a stellar nucleus (as does -61)—4461: elongated N (very slightly P) S (very slightly F)—2.25’ x 1.5’—very obvious small core—F and very slightly N of 4458 by 4’ is a 12th-mag star—NF 4461 by 19’ is NGC 4473—NGC 4477 is NF 4473 by 14’—4473: smallish—1.5’ x 1.25’—slightly elongated P-F—bright core, indistinct halo that doesn’t show well—possible stellar nucleus—SF galaxy by 8’ is an 11th-mag star—SP galaxy by 6.5’ is a 12th-mag star—12’ N slightly F is NGC 4477: larger, 2.25 x 2.0’—more diffuse than 4473—smaller core that’s not as bright, with a substellar nucleus—elongated N-S—P and slightly N of galaxy by 9’ is an 11th-mag star, another almost due N by 12’—SF 4477 is another that’s not on the chart (4479): 1.5’ x 1.0’—elongated N-ish-S-ish—halo not easy to gauge shape or size of, very diffuse—has very faint nucleus, not much of a core at all, nucleus is apparent—SF 4479 by 10’ is a 10th-mag star (maybe same star as when talking about 4473)—NP from there are 4459 and 4474—NGC 4459: 28’ NP 4477—bright—bright core, small halo—1.25’ round—core region fairly obvious—no stellar nucleus—SF galaxy by 4.5’ is a 10th-mag star—another 10th-mag star 10’ almost due P galaxy—NF 4459 by 15’ is 4474: quite diffuse—small, 1.25’ x 1.0’—slightly elongated P-F—not a bright core but brighter than halo—tiny sub-stellar nucleus that’s reasonably obvious—N of galaxy by 4’ is a double star, brighter component 12th-mag, fainter 14th, separated by 0.5’—NP galaxy by 8’ is an 11th-mag star—between galaxies is another galaxy : P and slightly N of 4474 by 7’—quite diffuse—not much central brightening at all—has a stellar nucleus—1.0’ roundish—obvious but faint—M88: 39’ NF 4474—very impressive!—not as bright as some Messiers—elongated NP-SF—7.5’ x 3.5’—very bright core region that’s 2.5’ x 0.75’ and hint of stellar nucleus—on SF tip of halo is a 13th-mag star—just off NP tip of halo by about 6.5’ N of core is a 12th-mag star—almost due S of galaxy is a pair of stars 11th and 13th mags; 11th-mag star is 7’ due S of galaxy and 13th mag star is 1’ SP the 11th-mag star—galaxy’s halo irregularly bright and “shimmery”—NP galaxy by 14’ is a 9th-mag star—NF M88 by 20’ is a faint galaxy [NGC 4516]: elongated N-S—very diffuse, faint—1.5’ x 1.0’—dim flash of a nucleus, not much central brightening—NP by 5’ is a 12th-mag star—due S of galaxy by 7’ is another 12th-mag star—F that galaxy and S by 38’ is M91: elongated just slightly NP-SF—4.0’ x 3.75’—bright core—no stellar nucleus visible—maybe a nucleus but not centered—may be a faint star near core to NP side of galaxy—halo dissipates into background quickly—big diffuse set of arms—almost due P by 8’ is a 10th-mag star—P and very slightly S by 14’ is an 11th-mag star—28’ SF M91 is NGC 4571: very diffuse largish glow—4.5’ roundish, but so diffuse it’s hard to tell shape—to NF of galaxy just off halo by 1’ is a 10th-mag star that makes seeing details in galaxy more difficult
NGC 4595 (Com): diffuse glow—not much central concentration—slightly elongated NP-SF—1.5’ x 1.0’—not much detail at all—well-defined halo—F and slightly S of galaxy are a pair of 12th-mag stars about 3’ apart—N-most of these is 4’ F galaxy—smattering of brighter stars on all sides of field—N very slightly F by 1.5’ is threshold star
NGC 4540, IC 3528 (Com):—difficult jaunt from 4595—4540: forms bottom of slightly irregular diamond/wide kite-shaped asterism, or SP corner of a triangle formed by two 9th-mag stars—galaxy is large, 3.0’ round —elongated slightly NF-SP—very diffuse—in averted not only a stellar nucleus but also a star embedded in NP edge of halo—one of 9th-mag stars NF galaxy by 13’, the other N slightly F by 19’—[third star in diamond , 10th-mag, 18’ NF of galaxy]—due N of galaxy by 8’ is an 11th-mag star—good galaxy—starhopped from 25 Comae—1’ from P (slightly N) edge of galaxy is a 14th-mag star—something on F side of halo; star? or something tiny and fuzzy, companion galaxy? on NF side of halo [IC 3528]
NGC 4651 (Com): bright, distinct glow—2.5’ x 2.0’—very blank field—nice brightish distinct halo—bright core region but no nucleus—elongated P-F—13th-mag star SF galaxy by 6’—galaxy forms end of a flat-topped kite asterism that is about 14’ from galaxy to top of kite—kite stars all 10th/11th-mags—star to N slightly P side of three stars (which are all SP galaxy) is double; 10th and 12th mags separated by 1’—with galaxy centered, that kite makes up the majority of the stars in the field—11th-mag star SF galaxy by 17’
NGCs 4440, 4436, 4431 (Vir): 4440: brightish—very small—1.0’ round—non-stellar nucleus or tiny brighter core—in middle of a zigzag pattern made up of 11th-mag stars with a 10th-mag star at S end—SP and NF galaxy by 8’ SP and 9’ NF are two of the 11th-mag stars—7’ P the 11th-mag star SP galaxy is another 11th-mag star—SF that star by 9’ is the 10th-mag star—curious: two other galaxies nearby?—to NP of 4440 by 6’ is a 13th-mag star—just to the SF that star is an elongated glow : elongated NP-SF—1.25’ x 0.75’—quite faint, hard to gauge dimensions—no central concentration—star nearby is distracting—P that galaxy by 4’ is another glow : quite indistinct—seems elongated SP-NF—1.0’ x 0.5’—slightly brighter than previous but equally diffuse—to F edge of this last galaxy by 1’ is a 14th-mag star—due N of galaxy by 3’ is a 13th-mag star
NGC 4452 (Vir): S of 4440 group—long thin streak—2.0’ x 0.5’—impressively flat—elongated SP-NF—interesting splinter of a galaxy—brighter streak along length (core)—no nucleus—to SP and NP of galaxy is right triangle of bright stars, with hypotenuse of 12’ and sides of 10’ and 8’—non-hypotenuse long side elongated due SP-NF—brightest triangle star 9th mag (to NP) and other two are 10th
NGC 4429 (Vir): big, bright galaxy with non-stellar nucleus and bright core—elongated P slightly N-F slightly S—4.0’ x 2.5’—bright core region—core seems slightly offset to P side—seems to be flashes of a stellar nucleus with averted, maybe illusory—galaxy bracketed by pair of 10th-mag stars, one NF, one S—star to N 3.5’ from galaxy, star to S about 8’ from galaxy; 11th-mag star 9’ S of the star S of galaxy; another 12th-mag star S of the previous two stars, 9’ from second star—to F and slightly S edge of galaxy by 6’ from galaxy’s core is a 13th-mag star
NGCs 4313, 4371 (Vir): 4313:—seeing has gone to hell—definitely edge-on—elongated NP-SF—thin unconcentrated streak—4.0’ x 1.0’—ghostly—maybe stellar nucleus but not much core—well-defined edges, pretty much stops on all sides—NF galaxy by 18’ is a 11th-mag star—S by 16’ is an 11th-mag star—P that star and slightly N by 16’ is another 11th-mag star—galaxy forms isosceles triangle with those 11th-mag stars—NP is another 11th-mag star 10’ from galaxy—4371: round, maybe elliptical, 2.25’ round—faint halo and brighter core region—don’t think I’m seeing a nucleus, rather a very small core—pretty non-descript—S and slightly P by 14’ is an 11th-mag star—PSP is a 12th-mag star about 9’ from galaxy—brightish but without much detail—NF galaxy is diamond pattern of 10th-12th-mag stars whose major axis is SP-NF—major axis 12’, minor axis 7’—two stars on minor axis are brighter; star on F side of minor axis is brightest at 10th-mag and has companion of 14th-mag to NF side by 1.5’
NGC 4351 (Vir):—overlooked it a couple of times—difficult, pretty non-descript—very diffuse—faint—2.0’ round—no central concentration at all—F galaxy by 6’ is a 13th-mag star—a 14th-mag star 7’ NF galaxy—really tough galaxy compared to others here—bright star NF edge-on 4313 is SP 4351 by 20’—N edge of field has interesting line of eight 11th and 12th-mag stars evenly spaced across field
NGC 4299, 4294 (Vir): also not an easy pair, sky deteriorating this low now—both diffuse—4294: edge-on—elongated NP-SF—4294 is brighter of two—little bit of central brightening, maybe bit of core in averted—no nucleus—2.5’ x 1.0’—SP galaxy by 15’ is an 11th-mag star—4299: F and a little S by 7’—round, extremely diffuse—no brightening at all, ghostly—1.75’ round—in averted, maybe a hint of extension slightly P-slightly F, but not enough to say it isn’t round—to SF following 4299 is grouping of 12th-mag stars, six in a flyswatter pattern with handle to N and blade SF—end of “handle” is about 3’ SF 4299—occasional flicker of possible threshold star between galaxies, hard to tell—F and a bit N of 4299 by 9’ is an 11th-mag star
Having now conquered Markarian’s Chain—simultaneously the most-daunting and easiest portion of the Virgo Cluster—and its immediate surroundings, the next session would be time to charge into the hinterlands of the local galaxy stream. As it would turn out, that next session would have to wait until Monday night (skipping Sunday night due to both exhaustion and some predicted cloud cover). And should the rest of the week not totally cooperate, I had already completed the densest part of Virgo; stopping there would probably be the best place if I wasn’t able to continue for the week.
Night Three of my Virgo Run (Kessel Run, my caveman ass) took place up the spur road, a slightly-better spot for observing than the crossroad area—flatter ground, less-intrusive trees, but slightly more light-pollution from Eugene due to the lack of a treeline to the northwest. The light dome from the city was fairly localized, though, and once away from it, the sky was equally dark as at the junction.
As I had to work the next two days, it would be necessary for me to leave upon finishing my Virgo rounds for the night—no real time to spend on the showpiece objects. Kathy was there with Jerry, and Wade pulled up just after me in his own Dodge Caravan; I was glad I wasn’t the only one crazy enough to use a Caravan as an ORV on these gravel roads. (To be fair, the road to Eagle’s Ridge is paved for all but the last half-mile, and was better than the road to Eureka Ridge; it’s just that the last unpaved half-mile is a doozy.)
As always on these nights of the run, I set up using Jupiter as a Telrad alignment tool and an indicator of both the seeing and my scope’s level of thermal equilibrium; a warm mirror is going to create turbulent air as it cools, and such turbulence creates havoc on the steadiness of an eyepiece image until the mirror has reached the temperature of the ambient air. Tonight the seeing was pretty good; I could see the disk of Jupiter’s moon Io as it crossed onto the planet’s own large disk, the tiny bright moon just a shade brighter than the planet, and this was followed very shortly by the appearance of a moon shadow (that of Europa) on the disk of Jupiter as well, the shadow a tiny black pinprick against the looming sphere of the King of Planets. And then we waited, the four of us, for twilight to give way to darkness.
Tonight started with the massive elliptical galaxy M87. I didn’t pause to look for its very difficult-to-spot emission jet.
EAGLE’S RIDGE (spur road)
MOON: 27 days (rise at 3:30 AM), 7% illumination
SQM: not taken
NELM: about 6.5
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in upper 50s, air still, no dew; cirrus early in evening
Others present: JO, KO, WR
M87, NGCs 4478, 4476 (Vir): M 87: big bright Messier galaxy—large very bright core, 2.0’ across—don’t quite get nucleus—6’, pretty round—edges of galaxy not well defined, fade away into background—in moments when seeing is solid, there may be a glimmer of stellar nucleus in averted—9’ N is an 8th-mag star—12’ SF of galaxy is a 12th-mag star—SF that star by 7’ is a double star of 12th and 13th mags separated by 0.75’; brighter component is NP fainter component—brightest star in field is just on SF side of field (22’ from galaxy)—P and a little S of M87 by 12’ is another galaxy, NGC 4478: much smaller but very obvious—1.5’, roundish—bright core and substellar nucleus—still a bit twilighty—edges a bit undefined—to SP by 6’ is a 14th-mag star—NP 4478 by 8’ is another galaxy (4476): half again as small (0.75’ x 0.5’)—not a particularly bright core but a substellar nucleus visible—slightly elongated NF-SP
NGC 4531 (Vir): really diffuse—still fairly brightish and obvious—no stellar nucleus, very faint bit of central brightening that’s amorphous—elongation NP-SF—4.0’ x 2.5’—almost ghostly—NP galaxy by 8’ is an 11th-mag star—SF by 16’ is a 10th-mag star, brightest in field—on NP edge and running N-SP on edge of field is a row of evenly-spaced 11th and 12th-mag stars—four evenly spaced in a row and one on NF end of that row
M90, NGC 4584 (Vir): M 90: very large, very elongated galaxy—pretty bright spiral—stellar nucleus but not much of a core—9.0’ x 3.0’—elongated N slightly F-S slightly P—to SF by 16’ is a 10th-mag star—NP galaxy is a tiny right triangle, the right angle vertex 9’ from galaxy’s core, short side of triangle is 2.5’, long side 5.0’; right angle vertex 13th mag and other two are 12th mag—to NF by 8’ is another 13th-mag star, and almost due N of that one by 7’ is another 13th-mag star—SP galaxy by 13’ is an 11th-mag star—S of galaxy, running NP-SF, is a line of 11th-mag and fainter stars—F and somewhat N of galaxy by 22’ is a very faint glow (4584): diffuse—maybe 1.25’ x 1.0’—extended NP-SF—no real concentration—ghostly glow—15’ N of this galaxy is a long string of 10th-11th stars running P-F in the field—10th-mag star SF M90 is 18’ SP
M89, NGCs 4551, 4550 (Vir): interesting field—lots of stars of various brightnesses in it—M89: not one of the brighter Messiers—4.5’ across, pretty round—has a diffuse halo—brighter core region and very bright sub-stellar nucleus—core not super bright—galaxy comes suddenly bright to the core—halo gradient, core gradient, nucleus—NF core by 4’ is a 13th-mag star—N slightly F by 10’ is a 10th-mag star—SP galaxy by 15’ is a 9th-mag star—S of the galaxy by 19’ is NGC 4551: smallish, 1.25’—bright substellar nucleus, not much core—fairly diffuse—to NP by 4’ is a 14th-mag star—halfway between M89 and 4551 is a 12th-mag star—S slightly P 4551 is 4550: brighter, larger, more obvious than 4551—1.75’ x 1.0’—elongated N-S—separated from 4551 by 5.5’—has a long brighter central streak—stellar nucleus visible in averted—SF by 5’ is a 13th-mag star—S slightly P by 7.5’ is another 13th-mag star
M58 (Vir): another fairly smallish Messier—not as bright as M89—5.0’ x 4.0’—elongated SP-NF—has a diffuse halo, not well-defined—has a bright core region—substellar nucleus—core looks elongated, as if a central bar—due P galaxy by 9’ is a 9th-mag star—N and slightly F by 7’ is a 12th-mag star—SP galaxy core by 13’ is a pair of 12th-mag stars separated by 4’; distance measured from core to SF of stars, rather than NP star
NGCs 4564, 4567, 4568 (Vir): 4564: a skinny, small streak—elongated NF-SP—2.0’ x 0.75’—has either a very small bright core or a bright substellar nucleus, probably the latter—P and very slightly S of galaxy by 9’ is a 9th-mag star—N of that star by 6’ is a 12th-mag star; two stars form a right triangle with galaxy—interesting galaxy—S slightly F that galaxy by 12’ are the Siamese Twins—obviously interacting—P-most of those two (4567) is largish and round—3.25’ and pretty round—very diffuse but fairly obvious—separating the two not easy—some central concentration—not sure there’s a nucleus visible—every now and then something flickers?—4568: F and a slight bit S of 4567—longer, thinner—elongated NF-SP—3.5’ x 2.0’—stellar nucleus visible but not much of a core—F and slightly N by 6’ from nucleus of 4568 is a 12.5-mag star; F and slightly S that star by 3.5’ is a 13th-mag star
NGCs 4528, 4503 (Vir): 4528: tiny, 1.0’ x 0.75’ round—bright but almost planetary-nebula-ish—maybe a bit of N-S elongation—F and slightly S by 10’ is a 10th-mag star—galaxy has a bright substellar nucleus—forms a diamond pattern with three 12th-13th-mag stars off to F side—to NF by 19’ is an 8th-mag star—P and slightly N of galaxy by 15’ is an 11th-mag star—non-descript galaxy—P 4528 and S by 34’ is 4503: considerably more impressive—elongated N very slightly F-S very slightly P—2.5’ x 1.25’—brighter core of 0.5’ and a subsetallar nucleus in averted—S of galaxy by 5’ is a 12th-mag star; another S of that and slightly P by 7’—13th-mag star SF galaxy by 5’—brightest in field is a 10th-mag star NF galaxy by 16’—[misidentified 4503 as 4501 in notes]
NGC 4710 (Com): way cool edge-on—off in forbidden reaches of Virgo Cluster—textbook edge-on—bright—core region looks wider than disk of galaxy—occasional flicker of a substellar nucleus—elongated SP-NF—4.0’ x 1.5’—along the length of galaxy the central brightening is irregular—core looks like it bulges out the side of the galaxy—F galaxy by 3’ from center of galaxy is 12th-mag star—S of galaxy by 8’ is a 13th-mag star—N and slightly F galaxy by 15’ is an 11th-mag star—P galaxy by 13’ is a 10th-mag star; P that star by 8’ is an11th-mag star—brightest in field is 9th-mag star 20’ NP the galaxy—NP that star by 2.5’ is a 12th-mag star
NGC 4689 (Com): also in Nowheresville—south of 28 Comae—big and very diffuse—4.0’, almost round—fades completely away into background without much definition—has a substellar nucleus in averted—vague but large core/central region about 3’— field bracketed by diamond of 6th-7th-8th-mag stars to NP-NF-SP-SF on edges of field—7th-mag star to SP 19’ from galaxy, 6th-mag star 18’ SF from galaxy, others on NP and NF edges of field—to N and NF of galaxy are two 13th-mag stars; N star 6’ from galaxy, NF star 5.5’
NGCs 4654, 4639 (Vir): two long galaxies—both angled to NP-SF—4654: 4.5’ x 3.0’—irregularly bright—brighter central region but not a core?—looks as if there’s a segment on NP tip of galaxy that extends S then to F side; detached arm?—star on SF edge of halo right on threshold, only visible 10% of time—hint o’nucleus—NP galaxy by 5’ from middle of galaxy is a 10th-mag star—NF galaxy’s center by 7’ is an 11th-mag star—due N of galaxy is a pair of 12th-mag stars, one of which is 3’ from center of galaxy and the other 3’ N from that star—N and slightly F of galaxy by 16’ is brightest in field, 9th-mag—NP by 17’ from 4654 is 4639: also elongated NP-SF—has a 13th-mag star embedded in SF end—2.75’ x 1.75’—more of an obvious central brightening than 4654—in averted is a sub-stellar nucleus—N and slightly F by 10’ is a 12th-mag star—another NP galaxy by 16’—small zigzag of stars SP and due S by 14’; star at NP end of zigzag is brightest at 11th-mag
M59, NGC 4606, M60, NGCs 4647, 4638 , 4660 (Vir): M59: bright but small for a Messier—elongated N-S—4.0’ x 3.5’—very bright small core—maybe a substellar nucleus; core may be too bright to see—due N of galaxy by 4’ from core is a 13th-mag star—P and slightly N is a 12th-mag star 6’ from core—N and slightly F by 8’ from core is an 11th-mag star—NF by 20’ is a 9th-mag star—NP galaxy is a pair of stars; brighter is 14’ from core and is 10th-mag; other is 2’ closer to galaxy and is 13th-mag—due P those stars is a double star of 13th and 14th-mag components separated by 0.75’—N of M59 and P by 22’ is NGC 4606: edge-on—elongated SP-NF—quite diffuse—4.0’ x 0.75’—central brightening not much brighter than halo—obvious stellar nucleus—14th-mag star just on S tip of halo—NF nucleus by 7’ is a 12th-mag star—13th-mag star SP about 4’ from nucleus—NP galaxy by 9’ is an 11th-mag star—SP galaxy by 13’ is a pair of 12th and 13th-mag stars—M60: halo in contact with 4647—roundish, about 4.0 x 3.75—elongated P-F—very bright core, substellar nucleus—well-defined halo—12th-mag star NF by 8’ from core—SF by 9’ is the northernmost vertex of a small triangle of 13th-mag stars—4647: almost in contact with NP edge of M60’s halo—some central brightening in averted, glimmer of nucleus—3.0’ x 2.75’—elongated slightly NP-SF—SP M60/4647, making a long isosceles triangle with M59 and M60 is 4638 [a.k.a. 4667]: SP M60 by 18’—2.0 x 1.5’—elongated NP-SF—bright nucleus—not much core—another well-defined galaxy, probably elliptical—NP galaxy by 7’ is an 11th-mag star—another 11th-mag star S of galaxy by 7’—with those two galaxies on N and NP edges of field, NGC 4660: SF M60 by 26’—very lonely field—not much in field—1.25’ x 1.0’—elongated P-F—brighter core—tiny sub-stellar nucleus—S and slightly P by 20’ is a 10th-mag star—SP galaxy by 9’ is a 12th-mag star—sprinkling of 14th-mag stars and maybe a couple 13th-mag stars in field
NGCs 4754, 4762 (Vir): 4762: interesting edge-on—elongated SP-NF—5.0’ x 1.5’—bright core, stellar nucleus—bracketed on P and F sides by 11th-mag stars; P star 6’ from nucleus, F star 5’ from nucleus—3.5’ S of galaxy core by a 13th-mag star—definition better on F edge of galaxy, maybe a dust lane?—arms toward SP end of galaxy a bit “longer” than on NF end, as if core off-center—NP of galaxy by 12’ is 4754: smaller, roundish—2.0’ round—quite bright—has a diffuse but brighter core that takes up middle 1.0’—bright substellar nucleus—pretty well defined—has a 13th-mag star 5’ P and slightly S; 12th-mag star 5’ P and S of that star—N by 9’ is a 10th-mag star—interesting pair of galaxies
NGC 4880 (Vir) : a tough one—very very diffuse—roundish—not much shape at all—very little central concentration—some core in averted but no nucleus—maybe 2.0’ across—needed TriAtlas—would have swept over—P and S by 4’ and 5’ are a “set” of 14th and 15th-mag stars—S and SF is an arc of 10th and 11th-mag stars about 14’ from galaxy making an arc from SP to due F—two stars on SF side are brighter, 10th-mag—not a lot here
NGC 4866 (Vir): 25’ NP an 8th-mag star—elongated P-F—edge-on—4.0’ x 0.75’ —diffuse—has obvious small core and brightish nucleus—on P side, slightly N, halfway between nucleus and tip of galaxy is a 14th-mag star (still in halo)—S edge of galaxy better defined than N—almost a double nucleus with that star embedded—NF galaxy by 10’ is an 11th-mag star—NF that star by 12’ is a double star/wide pair of stars angled N-S—star to N is 11th-mag and S star is 12th-mag, separated by 0.5’’
NGC 4158 (Com): S of 5 Comae (just out of field)—faint and diffuse—only a little central brightening—has a smallish core visible better in averted but no nucleus—1.0’ x 0.75’ and roundish, maybe slight P-F elongation—F and slightly S of galaxy by 3’ is a 12th-mag star—not much of a galaxy here—NF galaxy by 17’ is a double star/pair; brighter star is 10th-mag, fainter star (0.75’ NF brighter) is 13th-mag—SP galaxy by 14’ is a 10th-mag star
NGC 4147 (Com): globular—3.0’ diameter—not a lot of concentration—tight, brighter center, but not high concentration—CC 8?—real granularity, very near resolution—one brighter star just S of center, maybe 15th-mag—cluster makes a small right triangle with a pair of 13th-mag stars, one 9’ P cluster and the other 4’ N of cluster—NF cluster by 15’ is a 9th-mag star—NP cluster by 10’ is an 11th-mag star
NGC 4064 (Com): edge-on or highly inclined—2.5’ x 1.0’—elongated NP-SF—some central brightening, skewed toward NP end of galaxy—no visible nucleus—galaxy set in long side of an isosceles triangle whose shorter sides are 11’ and 12’ and long side 16’—galaxy in middle and just N of long side—long side faces NP edge of field, opposite vertex to SF side—vertex to NF on long side is 11th-mag, closest in a line of evenly-spaced 10th/11th-mag stars trailing toward NF edge of field
NGC 4152 (Com):—really non-descript galaxy—1.0’ roundish—maybe a bit of elongation NP-SF—has a brighter small core—no nucleus visible—F galaxy by 15’ is a 10th-mag star; SF that star by 7’ is a 12th-mag star—on very NP edge of field is a 9th-mag star that’s part of a triangle of 8th/9th-mag stars, but others just out of field
NGC 4037 (Com): exceedingly difficult without TriAtlas—transparency poor this low—1.0’ round—no central concentration at all—very very faint—10th-mag star 6’ F galaxy; 7’ F 10th-mag star is a 12th-mag star—SP galaxy by 12’ is an 11th-mag star
I had to tear myself away after the M87 “string” and the few objects I’d missed on the northern fringe of the chart: work beckoned in the morning, and I didn’t want to have to rely on a gallon of Dr. Pepper to keep me awake. It would be three nights before I could get back out, choosing not to go the next night with work looming for a second day, and the following night ruined by poor transparency. But the Virgo Cluster remained, vast and nearly eternal and waiting for me to return.
As it would turn out, the second of my consecutive work shifts was canceled due to lack of tests to score (this wasn’t a rare occurrence; mid-week shifts seemed especially susceptible, as we had finished the batch more quickly than expected). I skipped Tuesday and Wednesday nights anyway, rather than keep a laser-focus on the amount of lactose in my diet for such a sustained length of time—early hominids being unadapted to digesting that particular sugar, it was necessary for me to watch my diet like a hawk when planning an excursion to the wilderness. In any event, the forecast for the next several days was excellent, and by that point I needed the sleep.
Night Four (of seven) seemed to have the poorest sky of the run, and yet it was evidently better than it appeared; Jerry averaged 21.68 on his Sky Quality Meter throughout the night, although we’d have bet it to be far inferior than that. Not that it was bad at all, but it didn’t seem up to the sky-standard set at the beginning of the run.
Bill was there too; he would create another superb time-lapse record of the night.
The last object on tonight’s list was the obscure III Zw 66, plotted on the Tirion chart due to a foreground star superimposed over the galaxy’s nucleus; this resulted in the galaxy being listed as bright enough to warrant entry in Sky Atlas 2000.0. (This also happened with a Zwicky galaxy in the fluke of Cetus, II Zw 5.) Although I knew the galaxy itself was probably out of reach, I felt it necessary to do due diligence and look for it.
EAGLE’S RIDGE (spur road)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid 40s, air still, dew heavy until midnight
Others present: JO, KP, BB
NGCs 4596, 4608 (Vir): Sky not totally dark yet—loctaed following Rho Vir—with Rho in field both galaxies in field—NGC 4596: kind of a “typical” small NGC galaxy—fairly obvious in field—has a stellar nucleus—elongated P slightly N-F and slightly S—1.5’ x 1.25’—small core—S of the core by 2’ is a 13th-mag star—SF that star by 4’ is a 14th-mag star—due S of that star by 1.5’ is another 13th-mag star—galaxy not quite halfway between a 10th-mag star to the N slightly P by 13’ and a 12th-mag star S very slightly F galaxy—NP the galaxy by 12’ is an 11th-mag star—4608: 20’ F and a little bit S of 4596—P and a little S of Rho by 12’—smaller than 4596—1.0’, round—in averted may stretch 1.25 x 1.0’; elongated SP-NF—has a substellar nucleus and small, slightly brighter core—due P the galaxy is a line of stars, all faint—closest to galaxy is a 13th-mag star 2.5’ from core, next is 14th-mag star 7’ from core, last is a 13th-mag star 12’ from core—S and slightly P the galaxy by 5’ is another 13th-mag star—Rho is at center of ‘Y’ shape of bright stars with 4608 in center, star NP Rho is near N edge of field; star S Rho is 20’ SF galaxy; star N of Rho is about 20’ N
NGCs 4694, 4733 (Vir): 4694: smallish, 1.5’ x 1.0’—elongated NP-SF—brighter core, occasional flash of a stellar nucleus, can’t hold—outer edges of halo fade away—in moments of better seeing, a threshold star 2’ due P galaxy—NP galaxy by 9’ is 12th-mag star—SF is a pair of stars oriented NP-SF, separated by 2.5’; NP of these (13th-mag) 10’ from galaxy; other is 12th-mag—N of galaxy by 15’ is a 12th-mag star—due P galaxy by 8’ is what at first glance looks to be a double star with 14th-mag components, separated by 0.75’, oriented (slightly S) P-(slightly N) F—this double may have a bit of “fuzz” like a faint galaxy in/among the two stars [there is actually a threshold star (15th-mag?) between them]—still not totally dark—F galaxy by 20’ is an 11th-mag star; following that by 9’ is a 10th-mag star; F and S of the 10th-mag star by 21’ is 4733: much larger—more diffuse—roundish, 2.25’ across—small but not bright core—occasional flash of a stellar nucleus—on P edge of galaxy, just on edge of halo, is a 14th-mag star which makes it difficult to observe core/nucleus of galaxy—S of galaxy by 18’ is an 11th-mag star—P and NF that star each by 5.5’ are 11th-mag stars—F and S of galaxy by 12’ and 14’ (respectively) are 13th-mag stars—NF galaxy by 35’ are NGCs 4762 and 4754 observed previously
NGC 4698 (Vir): S of 33 Vir—interesting galaxy—quite bright—elongated N (very slightly P)-S (very slightly F)—3.0’ x 1.5’—bright core—pretty well-defined halo—[distracted by ISS pass]—P and slightly N of galaxy by 7’ is an 8th-mag star—N (very slightly P) and S of galaxy, each 3’ from galaxy nucleus, is a 12th-mag star, one to S maybe 11.5—across NF edge of field is a long arc of stars of mixed mags—interesting field
NGC 4578 (Vir): in a field full of stars ranging from 10th-mag to threshold—very rich field—galaxy is small, pretty round, 1.25’—has brighter inner region and an obvious substellar nucleus—pretty bright—P galaxy by 7’ is a 12th-mag star—from that star is a 13th-mag star 6.5’ S and slightly P—P and somewhat N of the galaxy by 12’ is a 10th-mag star—F and N of galaxy by 12’ is another 10th-mag star—N and slightly F galaxy by 20’ is another 10th-mag star—N of galaxy by 17’ is a 12th-mag star
NGC 4522 (Vir): a battle to star-hop to, needed TriAtlas—ghostly-faint thin streak, probably technically “flat”—very little central concentration at all, no visible nucleus—elongated SP-NF—3.5’ x 0.75’—forms an equilateral triangle with a 10th-mag star SP galaxy and a 10.5-mag star S of galaxy—both stars are 15’ from galaxy—N of galaxy by 10’ is an 11.5-mag star
NGCs 4519, 4535, 4526 (Vir): with 4522 at N edge of field and the 10.5-mag star S of it toward center of field, 4519 is S and slightly P of 4522—10.5-mag star is N of 4519 by 17’—very diffuse galaxy, but pretty obvious—seeing deteriorating—galaxy roundish, maybe slightly elongated NP-SF—3.5’ across, maybe 3.5’ x 3.25’—SF galaxy by 10’ is a 10th-mag star—very little central brightening at all—to NP and N by a couple of arcminutes each are some threshold stars that distract from seeing galaxy details—P galaxy, stretching N-S, is a kite-shaped asterism with a couple of extra stars off the top of the “kite”—whole asterism composed of 11th and 12-mag stars and stretches about 20’ from end of “string” to tail of “kite”—with 4519 at the N edge of the field, about 32’ SF is 4535: huge galaxy!—oriented N-S—6.0’ x 5.0’—galaxy has a tiny core and substellar nucleus—core is not very bright—on the N end of galaxy, about 2’ from the core is a 13th-mag star—a 14th-mag star directly on S edge of halo—P and slightly S of galaxy by about 5’ from core is a 13th-mag star—NP galaxy by 10’ is an 11th-mag star—two 12th-mag stars P galaxy and a bit S, one 9’ and the other 13’ from the core—SP galaxy by 21’ is a 9th-mag star—S of galaxy by 12’ is a 12th-mag star which has a threshold companion F and slightly S by 0.25’—NP from that 12th-mag star by 3.5’ is a 13th-mag star—S and very slightly P 4535 is NGC 4526: interesting spiral—elongated NP-SF—large, 4.5’ x 2.0’—bright core, substellar nucleus—S edge of galaxy seems better defined than N; N more diffuse—bracketed to P slightly S and F slightly N by two 9th-mag stars, each of which is 8’ from galaxy—N of galaxy by 7’ is a 12th-mag star—13th-mag star due S of core by 2’—NP galaxy by 19’ is a 10th-mag star
NGC 4570 (Vir): edge-on?—bright impressive galaxy—elongated NP-SF—3’0 x 0.75’—very bright substellar nucleus, brighter core region; about inner half of galaxy is brighter—well-defined halo—may have a couple of faint condensations along inner region—NP galaxy by 7’, in line with galaxy’s length, is a 12th-mag star—F galaxy by 11’ is a 12th-mag star—NF galaxy by 17’ is an 10.5-mag star; NF that star by 4’ is a 13th-mag star—due F galaxy by 19’ is a 12th-mag star which is the SP vertex of a small isosceles triangle; other two stars are 13th-mags; long side of triangle is 5’ long and runs SP-NF in field
NGC 4532 (Vir): highly elongated N (very slightly P)-S (very slightly F)—3.25’ x 1.0’—larger, somewhat brighter interior region—halo pretty small—in averted, looks to be some difficult condensations along interior region—no nucleus visible—just F galaxy, just on F edge in middle of galaxy’s length is a threshold star, looking like false “nucleus”—N of galaxy by 5’ is a 14.5-mag star—S slightly P of galaxy by 4’ is a 13th-mag star—S of galaxy by 6.5’ is 10th-mag star
NGCs 4612, 4623 (Vir): 4612: very small, fairly bright galaxy just off SP tip of interesting line of 10th and 11th-mag stars—1.0’ across, round—has a stellar nucleus that’s difficult, brighter core—halo fairly well defined—1.5’ from nucleus, almost due F, is a 12th-mag star; NF that star by 6’ is an 10th-mag star; NF that 10th-mag star by 3.5’ is a 10th-mag star; N slightly F 10th-mag star by 6’ is a 11.5-mag star with a 14th-mag companion 0.5’ F and slightly N—N of galaxy by 23’ is another galaxy, 4623: pretty faint—elongated N-S—2.0’ x 0.75’—has a brighter core region—substellar nucleus, but also a sub-threshold star embedded in N end of galaxy—N of galaxy by 5’ is a 13.5-mag star—P and N by 6’ is a 14th-mag star—N slightly P by 7’ is a 14th-mag star—P and slightly S by 11’ is an 11th-mag star [satellites through field twice]; due N of that 11th-mag star by 9’ is a 10.5-mag star
NGC 4580 (Vir): fairly large, very diffuse—no nucleus visible—some slight central brightening—maybe a bit of elongation N (very slightly P)-S (very slightly F)—3.0’ x 2.75’—ghostly—in moments of good seeing, maybe a substellar nucleus visible, difficult to tell—F and slightly S of galaxy by 4.5’ from halo is an 11.5-mag star—NF galaxy by 6.5’ is a 12.5-mag star—13th-mag star almost due N by 8’—brightest star in field (10th-mag) is SF the galaxy by 16’—10th-mag star due S of galaxy, but just outside field at 24’ distant—N slightly F galaxy by 16’ is an 11th-mag star
NGCs 4586, 4576 (Vir): 4586: longish—3.5’ x 1.25’—elongated P (very slightly N)-F (very slightly S)—definite central brightening, faint core, stellar nucleus that comes and goes with seeing—not well-defined, but getting lower in sky—P and slightly S of galaxy by 10’ is a 7th-mag star—P galaxy by 6’ is a 14th-mag star; two stars are in line with galaxy—SP galaxy by 11’ is an 11th-mag star—F galaxy and slightly S by 14’ is a 12th-mag star—15’ P and slightly N of 4586 is another galaxy, 4576: very difficult, mostly averted object—elongated NP-SF—galaxy is NP the 7th-mag star by 7’—roundish?—1.25’—maybe elongated NP-SF, but too hard to tell—has two 13th-mag stars near; one due N by 3’; other due P that star by 3’—not much concentration at all—completely disappears sometimes
NGC 4178 (Vir): faint, long streak—5.0’ x 1.25’—elongated SP-NF—another ghostly galaxy—not much central brightening—substellar nucleus?—to SP by 4.5’ from galaxy is an 11th-mag star—F galaxy by 9’ is an 8th-mag star—due F from S tip of galaxy by 5’ is a 13th-mag star—N of galaxy by 14’ is a 10th-mag star
III Zw 66 (Com): not seen—used 4.8mm Nagler and 6mm Radian as well—field is occupied by a 10th-mag star and an 11th-mag star aligned SP-NF respectively—between them is a 12th-mag star which is the location for the galaxy—no trace of anything fuzzy in vicinity of 12th-mag star—10th-mag star has a 14th-mag companion 1.5’ to NF—11th-mag star has 13th-mag companion 3.25’ to NF—NP 12th-mag star by 10’ is a 13.5-mag star—N of 12th-mag star by 19’ is another 11th-mag star—almost due P 12th-mag star by 9’ is another 13th-mag star—with that 12th-mag star just P center of field, NGC 4459 is visible in field
At some point after finishing Virgo for the night, the ground was lit up by two transient sky events. The first I caught out of the corner of my eye—the brilliant flash of a tumbling satellite, the brightest I’d ever seen, like an Iridium flare that flickered for only a split-second for every ten degrees of sky it traveled. I’d seen tumbling satellites before (and plenty of satellites bright and dim had traversed the Virgo Cluster while I was staring into the eyepiece). We marveled at how bright this particular satellite was; I made a note to check out which one it was, and then never remembered to do so when I returned home.
The second “event” was even more spectacular. While I was looking at Chart 15 of SA 2000.0, I heard Jerry shout “Fireball!” and looked up to see an incredible meteor that disintegrated into a shower of brilliant sparks, like a Roman candle shot, crossing through the Big Dipper. It’s a rare meteor that lasts long enough to catch after someone thinks to call it out; this one was among the best I’ve ever seen, including the great Leonid storm I’d witnessed at the late lamented Star Hill Inn in New Mexico back at the end of the century. (According to another EAS member who witnessed it from town, the fireball took place at 4:03 AM. Alas, the fireball was the opposite direction from Bill’s camera in his wonderful time lapse below.)
And then it was back home, to recover for the homestretch and the final 35 or so targets that remained before the Moon made its presence felt and the Virgo Cluster slipped toward the horizon for another year.
Night Eight of the dark-sky run—Night Five by my own schedule—yielded the most spectacular observing conditions I’ve ever had in 30+ years of observing. The air was clear and steady (a combination that, in my experience, seems to be two mutually-exclusive variables) and the Veil Nebula in Wade’s 17.5″ scope looked absolutely like a high-quality photograph, with more filamentary detail than I’d ever thought possible to see visually. Saturn, too, was stunning, even low in the sky as it was, with five moons easily visible. I’ve never seen the Milky Way so vast, spilling into neighboring constellations that aren’t traditionally considered “Milky Way constellations”; even Hercules was overflowing with galaxy-glow.
We were back on the main road this time, a noisy family having asserted camping rights on the spur road. I’d learned over the years that nothing is more intrusive or potentially dangerous in the woods as humans, and though the campers were most-certainly harmless, I preferred not to take any chances in the dark.
But that was no matter. For the three of us at the junction, the Earth temporarily ceased to exist.
MOON: 1 day (set at 8:41 PM), 1% illumination
TRANSPARENCY: 8; Milky Way well into Ophiuchus; star clouds brilliant; Hercules keystone awash in faint background stars
SQM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in upper 40s, air still, light dew after midnight
Others present: BB, WR
M 61, NGCs 4292, 4301 (Vir): M 61: sky still not totally dark, but no time to waste—starhopped from 16 Vir—really bright satellite through field—galaxy is roundish—nice bright halo that’s unevenly illuminated or mottled—6’ round—galaxy has a weak small core with a bright substellar nucleus—a dark notch on NP side that makes it look like a spiral arm unwinding to NP side toward due N—beautiful galaxy!—to SP by 5’ from nucleus is a 14th-mag star—just on P edge of halo is a threshold star—14’ P and slightly N of galaxy is a 9th-mag star—P galaxy by 8’ is a 12th-mag star; S and slightly P that star by 5’ is another 12th-mag star—N of galaxy by 23’ is a 9th-mag star—13’ NP is an 11th-mag star—just S and F that star is another galaxy : almost in contact with star—center of galaxy is 1.5’ SF that star—galaxy is faint—has a core about half size of galaxy—no stellar nucleus—elongated N-S—1.5’ x 1.0’—not super obvious because of star—a 13th-mag star is NF M61 by 10’ from core—due F that star by 3.5’ is a very dim faint roundish glow : maybe a bit of P-F elongation—1.5’ x 1.25’—very diffuse—just a little bit of central brightening—no nucleus—difficult due to evening twilight—diffuse enough that it fades into background—S slightly F the galaxy by 6’ is a 12.5-mag star—NF galaxy by 14’ is a 10th-mag star
NGC 4324 (Vir): N of M 61—galaxy 10’ F and slightly S of a really pretty double star, 17 Vir [another bright satellite]—17 has a whitish primary and a bluish secondary; primary is 8th-mag and secondary 11th-mag; separated by 1’; secondary P and a little N of primary—elongated SP-NF—has a brighter core region and a substellar nucleus—1.5’ x 1.0’—well-defined halo—S of galaxy by 12’ is a 10th-mag star—SF galaxy by 19’ is an 11th-mag star—P and slightly S of galaxy by 3.5’ from core is a threshold star—S and slightly P galaxy by 5’ is a 13.5-mag star—N slightly F galaxy by 8’ is a 10th-mag star—12th-mag star 6’ NF galaxy—busy field—star that’s 6’ NF and star due N make up short side of right triangle, about 7’ long; third vertex is 17’ F and slightly N
NGC 4378 (Vir): 28’ SF 4324 is a 9th-mag star; galaxy is 12’ SF that star—elongated P slightly N-F slightly S—small, 1.0’ x 0.75’—has a substellar nucleus—not much core—compact halo—NP and SF the galaxy each by 5’ is a 10th-mag star—NP galaxy by 2.5’ is a 12.5-mag star—S and slightly P by 6’ is a 12th-mag star—galaxy sits in middle of upside-down capital ‘Y’ with fork opening to S slightly F and “stalk” reaching to NP side
NGCs 4270, 4273, 4281, 4268, 4259 (Vir): 4270 N-most—four galaxies in a ‘Y’ shape—one other faint one P the other four—Y opens to NF side, stalk to SP—galaxy in middle is 4273: largest of group—elongated N-S—2.5’ x 1.75’—brighter core region—substellar nucleus that’s difficult—halo is diffuse—F and slightly S by 3.5’ from core is a 14th-mag star—N and slightly P is 4270: third-brightest of main three—elongated P and very slightly N-F and very slightly S—1.0’ x 0.5’—NP by 6’ is a 10th-mag star; NF that star by 10’ is a 8th-mag star; NF that star by 8’ is a 10th-mag star—NF 4273 is 4281: brightest of group—little smaller than 4273—elongated P-F—has a very small bright core—stellar nucleus—pretty well-defined halo—2.75’ x 1.25’—almost looks to have double nucleus—on P side of galaxy may be a stellaring in halo—S and slightly F galaxy by 7’ is a close double star of 14th-mag components; separated by 0.3’; because they’re close they look brighter at first—NP double star by 2.25’ is a 14th-mag star—NF galaxy by 16’ is a 10th-mag star—back to middle galaxy of group (4273); S and slightly P 4273 is smallest and second-faintest of group : not on chart—round—0.75’—has a substellar nucleus and brighter core—nucleus is 4.5’ S of 4273—obvious in field but not well-defined—SF galaxy core by 5’ is an 11th-mag star—another galaxy in field : P and slightly N of 4273 by 8.5’—faintest of group—visible with direct, but much better in averted—0.5’ round—may have threshold star on N edge—not much central brightening—visible substellar nucleus that needs averted to hold
NGCs 4261, 4264, 4260 (Vir): 4261: more southerly, larger, and brighter by a good margin—has a companion galaxy to FNF—quite bright—round—2.5’ across—diffuse halo and bright core—maybe substellar nucleus—to F side is a line of bright stars and by centering middle star in field, can see 4270 and 4283 in field—brightest star (7th-mag) is in middle of line—10th-mag star is one closest to 4270—back to 7th-mag star; 11th-mag stars P and NF that star by 7’ and 8’ respectively from star—10th-mag star is 15’ SF galaxy—moving N to 4260: elongated SP-NF—has an 8th-mag star SF by 8’—11th-mag star NF by 8’—2.0’ x 1.0’—has a pretty distinct halo—faint not obvious core that’s about 30” across—bright stellar nucleus—NF by 4’ is a 15th-mag star that disappears under direct vision—another 15th-mag star N of galaxy by 2’—companion to 4261 : 5’ NF 4261—0.75’ round—diffuse halo and a substellar nucleus; not much core—pretty non-descript
NGCs 4215, 4241 (Vir): 4215: small sliver—elongated N-S—1.0’ x 0.5’—fairly obvious—small diffuse halo, brighter central region, definite substellar nucleus—NP by 4’ from core and SF by 10’ from the core are 12th-mag stars—S and a little F the star SF galaxy by 7.5’ is a 9th-mag star—NF galaxy by 7’ is a 12th-mag star—P and slightly S of galaxy by 9’ is an 11th-mag star—4241: also elongated NP-SF—1.0’ x 0.75’—has a faint but obvious core and stellar nucleus—nucleus surprisingly obvious—S of galaxy by 3.5’ is a 14th-mag star—farther S by 10’ from nucleus is a 12.5-mag star—SF galaxy by 7’ is a 10th-mag star
NGCs 4235, 4246, 4224, 4233 (Vir): S-N: 4235, 4224, 4233, and another dimmer one in field—4235: obvious edge-on—elongated SP-NF—3.5’ x 0.75—has a bright core but no nucleus—there are stars surrounding galaxy to N, P, and F sides—galaxy reasonably well-defined—to N by 2.5’ from core is a 14th-mag star—6’ N slightly F the galaxy core is a 12th-mag star—NP galaxy by 4’ is a 13th-mag star—F and slightly N by 4.5’ is a 14.5-mag star—F galaxy and a bit S by 12’ is a very faint round glow about 3’ across : very ghostly, no concentration to it—almost wouldn’t notice it—NF that galaxy by 2.5’ is a threshold star (galaxy itself slightly threshold)—S is a 12th-mag star 8’ from galaxy’s edge; SP that star by 3.5’ is a 13th-mag star—4224: another edge-on—also NF-SP—2.75’ x 1.0’—8’ N of a 10th-mag star; 4.5’ SF that star is a tiny triangle of 13th-mag stars—galaxy is 7.5’ NP a 12th-mag star—galaxy pretty diffuse—small brighter core—hard to tell if there’s a nucleus—N of galaxy by 2.5’ is a 14th-mag star—4233: 13’ NF 4224—1.25’ x 0.75—elongated N-S—makes up P-most vertex of an equilateral triangle with 10th- and 12th-mag stars NF and SF respectively—sides of triangle are 10’—substellar nucleus but not much core
NGC 4339 (Vir): forgot to hit ‘record’ the first time—tiny, round galaxy—either a small bright core or substellar nucleus—0.75’ round—S of galaxy by 3’ from core is a 13th-mag star—another 13th-mag star P and very slightly S by 8’—P and slightly N by 8’ is an 11th-mag star—16’ SP galaxy is a 9th-mag star; a 10th-mag star due F that star by 4.5’—SF galaxy by 12’ is a 9th-mag star—S and slightly P the galaxy by 13’ is the brighter of a pair of 11.5- and 12.5-mag stars separated by 1.75’; the 11.5-mag star is P and very slightly N the companion
NGC 4430 (Vir): round, ghostly glow—2.75’ across—very dim—reasonably obvious in field but still difficult—seeing exceptional tonight—with averted, there is a minor bit of central brightening—could almost pass as a Palomar globular—inner 15” is brighter—galaxy fades away; hard to tell edges—SF galaxy by 9’ is a 10th-mag star; N and very slightly F the 10th-mag star by 5’ is a 12th-mag star—SP galaxy by 5.5’ is an 11th-mag star—N of the galaxy by 10’ is a 12th-mag star
NGCs 4343, 4341, 4365, 4370 (Vir): 4343: tiny and compact—elongated NP-SF—0.75 x 0.5’—faint but fairly obvious—brighter (but still faint) tiny core—seems well-defined—SP by 10’ is a 10th-mag star—P and very slightly N by 8’ is a 12th-mag star—13th-mag star N of galaxy by 8’ [star is NGC 4342]; very faint galaxy NF that star (NGC 4341): elongated SP-NF?—0.75’ x 0.5’—faint faint core, no nucleus—would be easy to miss this galaxy—28’ NF 4343 is 4365: almost Messier bright!—4.0’ and round—bright core and bright substellar nucleus—pretty well-defined galaxy—NP galaxy by 5’ is a 13th-mag star—SF by 7’ from galaxy’s core is an 11th-mag star—NF galaxy by 11’ is another galaxy (NGC 4370): elongated SP-NF—2.0’ x 1.5’—much fainter (not on chart)—has a large faint core but no visible nucleus—N and F galaxy is a small triangle of 13th- and 14th-mag stars; 13th-mag star NF galaxy by 4’; 13th-mag star FNF galaxy by 8’; 14th-mag star 3.5’ F and slightly N of galaxy; galaxy forms a diamond with those three stars
NGC 4434, M49, NGCs 4470, 4464, 4492, 4488 (Vir): 4434: small, dim, and round—brighter stellar nucleus in a compact not-overly bright core—0.75’ round—in a field of several bright stars—almost due S of galaxy by 11’ is a 10th-mag star—an 11th-mag star 15’ SF galaxy—a 9th-mag star 22’ S and slightly P galaxy; NF that star by 4’ is a round faint glow—fairly evenly illuminated—2.25’ across—not on chart—between the 9th and 10th-mag stars noted earlier—M49: very bright—somewhat small for a Messier—4.5’ round—bright large core—substellar nucleus—F and slightly N on edge of halo is a 13th-mag star—N slightly F galaxy by 7.5’ is a 13.5-mag star—not a lot of brighter stars in field, but several galaxies—S and slightly P M49’s core by 12’ is 4470: elongated N-S—1.25’ x 1.0’—fairly evenly illuminated—no visible nucleus—6’ N (toward M49) is a pair of threshold stars—F galaxy by 10’ is a 12th-mag star—SF galaxy by 8’ is a 13th-mag star—galaxy forms an isosceles triangle with those two stars—NP M 49 by 13’ is a very small round galaxy (NGC 4464): bright substellar nucleus but not much core—0.75’ round—3.5’ from core to P slightly N is a 14th-mag star—S slightly F galaxy by 8’ is a13th-mag star; SF that star by 9’ is another 13th-mag star—NF M 49 by 20’ is a larger galaxy, NGC 4492: bracketed by two 13th-mag stars, one on N and one on SF edges of halo—galaxy is 2.5’ round—irregular brightness to interior—maybe some slight NP-SF elongation—core looks off-centered to NP edge of galaxy [due to threshold star?]—diffuse core—no nucleus—N slightly P that galaxy by 19’ is 4488: edge-on or highly-inclined galaxy—elongated N slightly P-S slightly F—1.5’ x 0.75’—not well-defined—irregularly bright—no real definable core or nucleus—SP by 1.5’ is a 14th-mag star—N and very slightly P by 7’ is a 10th-mag star; NP that star by 8’ is an 10.5-mag star—S and very slightly P that star by 5.5’ is a 12th-mag star
NGCs 4469, 4483, 4411B (Vir): 4469: quite a long thin galaxy!—4.5’ x 1.25’—elongated almost due P-F—has a large, somewhat-brighter core region—no real nucleus, thought there was at first glance; maybe a flicker?—the P end of the galaxy seems narrower than F end, as if a sharper “point”—F galaxy and slightly S by 10’ is the brighter component of a double star of 14th- and 15th-mags; fainter star NP the brighter by 0.5’— F galaxy by 5.5’ from core is a 15th-mag star—NF galaxy by 21’ is an 11th-mag star; due F that star by 8’ is another galaxy (NGC 4483): elongated P slightly S F-slightly N—1.0’ x 0.5’—substellar nucleus but not much core—F galaxy and slightly N by 10’ is a 12.5-mag star—7.5-mag star P slightly S 4469 by 32’—P and slightly N of galaxy by 28’ is a 9th-mag star—those form triangle with 4469—on other side of triangle, 25’ P the 9th-mag star is 4411B: round, dim, ghostly—no real central brightening—2.0’ across—F and slightly N of 4411B by 12’ is a 12th-mag star
NGCs 4424, 4417, 4442, 4445, 4451 (Vir): big field of galaxies—4424: long thin galaxy— elongated P-F—not overly bright—3.5’ x 0.75’—has some central brightening but not a “core”—flickers of a faint stellar nucleus—S and F galaxy is an arc of three 10th and 11th-mag stars; closest to galaxy is 11th-mag and 10’ SF galaxy—N slightly P galaxy by 4’ is a 13.5-mag star—NP 4424 is 4417: NP by 10’—elongated SP-NF—3.25’ x 0.5—much brighter than 4424—very bright substellar nucleus—just to P side by 2.5’ is a threshold star—interesting galaxy—ends of arms taper off dimly—inner 2’ is the brighter portion—NF by 23’ is 4442: is brightest of three—elongated P slightly S-F slightly N—very bright core and bright substellar nucleus—3.25’ x 1.25’—in triangle of 14.5-mag and 15th-mag stars—one to P slightly N, one to F, one to SF—P galaxy by 9’ is a 12th-mag star; S of that star by 7’ is an 11th-mag star—galaxy forms right triangle with those stars—back to 4424 and arc of stars—F 4424 and very slightly N by 15’ is another galaxy (NGC 4445): P-F edge-on—much more ghostly—10th-mag star at F end of arc lies 9’ S and very slightly P—galaxy has very little central concentration—2.5’ x 0.75’—not well-defined—P and very slightly N by 3’ is a 15th-mag star—not terribly difficult in averted—SF that galaxy by 13’ is a round dim glow (NGC 4451): some central brightening—no nucleus—brighter core that makes up 3/4 of galaxy’s area—1.0’ x 0.75’—slight NP-SF elongation—to SF by 1’ from galaxy’s halo is a 14th-mag star—NP galaxy by 7’ is another 14th-mag star
NGC 4380 (Vir): back to 4417 and the bright star NP it—18’ N slightly F that star is 4380: large—4.25’ x 3.0’—elongated N slightly P S slightly F—large brighter inner region that’s still pretty faint—no nucleus visible—1’ from the S edge of the halo is a 15th-mag star—probably an inclined spiral—very dim, ghostly—N and very slightly F by 8’ from the edge of the halo is a 14.5-mag star—NP by 17’ is an 11th-mag star
NGC 4307 (Vir): really getting low in the sky now—galaxy is a long thin uniformly-dim streak—elongated S very slightly P-N very slightly F—3.75’ x 0.75’—central brightening difficult to detect, if any—reasonably well-defined—NF galaxy by 6’ from the N tip of galaxy is a 13.5-mag star—N of galaxy by 9’ is a 14th-mag star—NP galaxy by 11’ is a 13th-mag star—SP by 17’ from galaxy’s edge is a 13th-mag star
I hated to leave such magnificent skies, so I didn’t, staying on to whirl through a number of the sky’s highlights. And though each evening had left me tired of taking notes (and dreading the hours of transcribing them!), I did take notes on three further objects: a favorite galaxy, an easy target near M13 that I’d observed dozens of times without taking notes on, and the last NGC globular in Ophiuchus that I hadn’t yet made notes on:
NGC 5248 (Boo): lost Virgo Cluster into trees—a favorite galaxy—bright, Messier-bright—elongated NP-SF—very tiny brighter core and substellar nucleus—5.25’ x 3.5’—S very slightly P the nucleus by 3.5’ is a 14th-mag star—N by 6.5’ from core is a 13th-mag star—14th-mag star NF by 8.5’—11th-mag star SP by 8’—spiral arm seems to wrap from P edge around to N, other arm from F edge of core to SP direction—in averted, can see arms much more clearly
NGC 6207 (Her): galaxy 20’ almost due N of 7th-mag star F M13—elongated S very slightly P-N very slightly F—2.75’ x 1.5’—very bright—8th-mag star N of galaxy by 13’—galaxy has a very obvious stellar nucleus—well-defined—brighter region along inner third of galaxy—F by 9’ is a 12.5-mag star; SF that star by 3.5’ is an 11th-mag star—8th-mag star to N has two faint companions; to NF by 1.75’ is a 14th-mag star; F the 8th-mag star by 2’ is a 13.5 star—M13 is as good on this night as I’ve ever seen it
NGC 6287 (Oph): one of the last globulars I need—hard to find but not hard to see—4.0’ across—interior irregular-shaped?—central region flattened on S and F sides—granular, just on edge of resolution—several stars on periphery of 15th and lower mags—8 CC?—to F and S are lines of stars that bracket the cluster—to NP and SP by 20’ are 10th-mag stars; form a long isosceles triangle with cluster; separated by 14’—arc of six stars on F side of cluster, arc runs due P to SP; along F side, stars are mostly 12th-mag; stars on S end are brighter, with three stars S very slightly P running to F corner where it meets N-S line F cluster—to P very slightly S side of cluster is a group of 14th- and 15th-mag stars, closest of which is 3.5’ from cluster—NF cluster is a shovel-shaped asterism with its handle closer to cluster and bending away to SF; spade-end pointing toward N; composed of 13th- and 14th-mag stars; star at end of shovel’s handle (four stars in handle) is a 15th-mag star 14’ NF the cluster
Dawn was beginning its inexorable advance now, even at 3:30 AM. Wade had left shortly before, as he had more sense than I did. I thanked Bill for the hot tea he always provided (as well as the Ritz crackers and Fig Newtons he had offered) and tore down my gear for the night.
One problem remained. The gas gauge on the Caveman-Mobile had read just under 1/2 when I left for the evening—a little lower than I cared to have when heading out, but surely enough for a 27-mile (as the pterodactyl flies) trip home. But as I got about halfway down the gravel BLM road toward Eagle’s Rest Road proper, the gauge hit empty, the van pinged, and the red ‘gas’ light came on. Surely just a function of the rather steep angle of the BLM road… but no. Upon reaching the flatter paved road, the light remained on and the needle stayed below 1/8.
This was bad. Running out of gas at 4 AM on the long, twisting Eagle’s Rest Road wasn’t a good thing; while Bill would be leaving somewhat after me (once he’d finished with his time lapse, perhaps 8 AM) and I could flag him down, that wasn’t optimal. And getting an AAA driver out with gas wasn’t going to be easy either (or timely). So I turned the van completely off, remembering a long-ago series of electrical glitches the vehicle had suffered through (most recently on my drive home from the Mill Creek Retreat after another terrific stargazing trip). Sure enough, the gauge popped back to 1/4. But the gas-indicator light was still on, and it became a question of which was more trustworthy.
I pulled in to Fred Meyer just after 5 AM, just after they opened for gas. The clerk was amusedly skeptical of my reason for being out at such an ungodly hour, but I was grateful enough to have made it to refill that I didn’t care to prove that I had indeed been out in the woods with a telescope.
One more night to finish what I’d started.
The next night—Night Six of my Virgo Run, and the ninth night in a row that offered at least somewhat-clear skies—had left most of the other EAS contingent either too tired to venture out or busy with other obligations. Although I preferred the camaraderie of a small group of fellow observers, I had no problems observing alone if need be. Seeing that the Moon was beginning its trajectory toward First Quarter and would be in Virgo within a few days—and the forecast was starting to resemble a Eugene autumn–tonight had to be the end of my Virgo work, one way or the other, and so time was rather of the essence. Fortunately, I had fewer than 20 galaxies left to observe (many of them outliers that I had missed on the fringes of the chart) in order to finish.
The campers still had claim to the spur road, as I discovered upon driving down to our usual spot there. So it was back to the junction and the more-sloping terrain. and as I was setting up shop, Alan pulled up, having decided to make the drive from town to do some experiments with his astrophotography gear.
Although nowhere near as exceptional as the previous night, the sky was still fantastic. The Milky Way was a little less expansive, a little less glittery. But I had promised Cheryl that I wouldn’t be out as long tonight, as I was still a bit sleep-deprived from the all-nighter the night before, so it was perhaps a good thing that there was a little less celestial splendor to keep me there.
The first few galaxies of the evening were frustrating; I felt a bit of pressure to get the chart finished, and it made me impatient to get to 2 Comae and Omicron and 16 Virginis, my starting points (easy naked-eye stars, all). At least a couple of times, I misidentified the three guide stars and ended up needing the TriAtlas to bail me out.
MOON: 2 days (set at 8:41 PM), 1% illumination
SQM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in lower 50s, air still, light dew; auroral streaks and glow visible from 1:00 onward
Others present: AG
NGC 4032 (Com): difficult hop from 2 Comae—unimpressive (!) galaxy—still early in evening—roundish—brighter but diffuse core—1.25’ across—halo roundish, core may be elongated slightly NP-SF—NF galaxy by 16’ is a 10th-mag star—SF galaxy by 14’ is an 11th-mag star—N very slightly F galaxy’s center by 5’ is a 12th-mag star—7’ NP galaxy is a 12th-mag star—two 12th-mag stars part of a line of 12th-mag stars that extends to the NF side of the field, fairly evenly spaced—P galaxy is a pair of 12.5- and 13th-mag stars, the closer, brighter of which is 9’ and the other (fainter) P and very slightly S the brighter by 1’
NGC 4124 (4119) (Vir): pretty far north in Virgo Cluster—longish, 3.5’ x 2.0’—elongated NP-SF—has an irregular brightening, especially to NP tip of arms—something embedded there?—brighter central region—substellar nucleus—16’ NP is a 9th-mag star—a 10th-mag star 18’ N of galaxy— off NP tip of galaxy by 5’ from nucleus is a 13th-mag star—S of galaxy is a line of three stars, two 13th and a 12th-mag; 12th-mag is on F end; line runs P-F in field—star in middle is double with a 14th-mag companion to F side of it; 12th-mag star at F end is 9’ SF the galaxy
NGCs 4067, 4078 (Vir): 4067: elongated SP-NF—1.25’ x 0.75’—fairly easy hop from 4124—has a definite stellar nucleus and slightly-brighter core—halo not overly well-defined—F galaxy by 4’ is a 13th-mag star; F and slightly S that star by 4’ is another 13th-mag star—F galaxy by 12’ is an 11th-mag star—NF galaxy by 20’ is a 9th-mag star—SF galaxy by 10’ is a very diffuse galaxy just on threshold [actually appears to be a threshold double star]— very small and diffuse—elongated SP-NF—SF that galaxy by 10’ is another larger galaxy (NGC 4078): also elongated SP-NF—bright core—1.25’ x 0.75’—both pretty faint, second (4078) much the brighter—4078 forms a diamond with two 11th-mag stars, one SP by 8’ and the other F by 11’ and a 12th-mag star SF by 9’
NGCs 4116, 4123 (Vir): both diffuse—both largish—4116: elongated N slightly P-S slightly F—3.0’ x 1.5’ but hard to tell edges of galaxy—extremely diffuse—some slight central brightening but not really a visible core or nucleus—11’ N and slightly P a 10th-mag star—S of that star by 10’ is the NP of a pair of NP-SF-oriented stars; NP star is 11th-mag, SF star 10.5-mag, separated by 3.25’—4116 has to P side a line that runs NP-SF of 14th-mag stars, each 8’ apart—star in middle is P and slightly S of galaxy by 8’; another P middle star by 4’—16’ NF 4116 is 4123: much bigger and brighter than 4116—elongated NP-SF—3.5’ x 2.75’—has a substellar nucleus that’s quite faint—irregularly bright halo—no core per se—halo fades into background—SF by 8.5’ is a 12th-mag star—S slightly F galaxy by 14’ is a 13th-mag star—NF galaxy by 15’ is an 8th-mag star that’s part of a line of 8th-, 9th- and 10th-mag stars that runs from NF edge to NP edge of field
NGC 4457 (Vir): small but very bright galaxy—1.5’ round—very bright substellar nucleus—some SP-NF elongation?—pretty well-defined—galaxy framed within a triangle of 8th-mag stars; star 25’ to SF is a double with a companion NF the primary by 0.25’; companion is bluish and 14th-mag; other two stars in the triangle are NP galaxy by 13’ and SP galaxy by 22’—SF the galaxy’s nucleus by 10’ is a 12.5-mag star—NF the nucleus by 10’ is a 12th-mag star—due P the nucleus by 5’ is a 13th-mag star—another 13th-mag star S slightly P by 6.5’
NGCs 4496A, 4496B, 4480 (Vir): 4496 A/B: makes a large tenuous glow 32’ NF double star by 4457—two galaxies are difficult to separate at this magnification—almost looks like one irregular-shaped mass—total diameter 4.5’ x 4.0’—wouldn’t recognize as two discrete objects—almost N-S of each other—S component (B) has 14th-mag star on S edge of halo—very little central brightening to either galaxy—very diffuse; not only hard to separate but hard to tell where edges of whole are—F and very slightly S by 9’ is an 11th-mag star—12th-mag star 9.5’ P galaxies—SF by 6’ is a 13th-mag star—NF by 9’ is a 13th-mag star—just on NF edge of field is an 11th-mag star—NP 4496 pair by 26’ is NGC 4480: elongated N very slightly P-S very slightly F—quite diffuse—dim, very difficult stellar nucleus—slight bit of interior brightening—as difficult as galaxy seems at first, it’s fairly well defined—NP galaxy by 3’ is a 13.5-mag star—SF by 9’ is an 11th-mag star—due S by 14’ is an 11th-mag star—due N by 11’ is an 8th-mag star
NGCs 4527, 4536 (Vir): 4527: an interesting edge-on—elongated P very slightly S-F very slightly N—5.0’ x 1.5’—pretty well-defined outer halo—[satellite through field]—pretty obvious substellar nucleus—brightish core—brightening along length of galaxy—N edge appears a little more sharply-defined—undeserved hint of a dark lane along N edge?—[very bright satellite N-S through field]—F galaxy by 9’ from nucleus is a 11.5-mag star—S and very slightly P galaxy is a pair of 10th and 11th-stars; 11th-mag star is closer to galaxy at 15’ S of galaxy; 10th-mag is 5.5’ S slightly P 11th-mag star—very large galaxy  to SF, but no time to examine it?—NP 4527 by 16’ is a 10.5-mag star which is the P-most star in a line of three; others are 11th-mags; one on F end is double with 14th-mag companion P by 8”—4536: 30’ SF of 4527—dimmer than 4527 but still very obvious—elongated P slightly N-F slightly N—huge!—6.0’ x 2.5’—obvious stellar nucleus inside a brighter core—F and slightly N by 14’ is a 9th-mag star—pretty well-defined halo—on F side of galaxy from N edge to F edge may be a spiral arm visible
NGC 4636 (Vir): quite bright—in a field full of brightish stars—lots of 8th-11th-mag stars—elongated slightly NP-SF—3.25’ x 2.75’—has a very bright core—fairly-diffuse halo—substellar nucleus—not well-defined—N slightly P galaxy by 5’ from core is a 12th-mag star—S slightly F galaxy by 5’ is a 13th-mag star—NP core by 4.5’ is a 14th-mag star—SP by 11’ is an 8th-mag star; SP that star by 6’ is an 11th-mag star—F and slightly S of core by 13’ is a 10th-mag star—N slightly F core by 15’ is a 10.5-mag star
NGC 4665 (Vir): interesting field framed by more of the group of 8th- to 11th-mag stars in this region—galaxy is bright—bright core and substellar nucleus—elongated N-S—2.75’ x 1.75’—fairly-diffuse halo that’s not particularly well-defined—halo seems brighter on N end of galaxy—galaxy framed between two 8th-mag stars; one due P by 20’ and one F and slightly N by 22’—SP galaxy by 3’ from core is a 12.5-mag star—13th-mag star 5’ NF core—on very NP edge of field is an 8th-mag star—N and very slightly P galaxy is S vertex of a small right triangle; vertex is 11.5 mag and is 10’ N and slightly P galaxy’s core; N of that star by 4’ is a 13th-mag star; third vertex is almost due P other 13th-mag star by 4.5’—F core and slightly N by 11’ is a 10th-mag star
NGC 4701 (Vir): faint and small—1.5’ x 1.25’—very slight SP-NF elongation—at first glance has even illumination, but has a large core that makes up 3/4 of galaxy’s area—halo is small and faint—no nucleus, although thought so at first—galaxy set in SP-NF elongated trapezoid, almost rectangle; P side of which is twice as wide as F side; P and very slightly N of galaxy by 4’ is a 13th-mag star; another 13th-mag star S very slightly P galaxy by 5.5’; F and very slightly N of galaxy is a 13.5-mag star that’s 8’ from galaxy; NP that star by 3.5’ is a 13th-mag star—N of galaxy and slightly F is a very tiny triangle of 14th-mag stars—20’ P the galaxy and very slightly N is an 8th-mag star which has a 7th-mag star NP it by 12’; with galaxy centered, the 7.5-mag star is just outside the field—SF galaxy by 16’ is a 10th-mag star
NGC 4713 (Vir): big and round—3.5’ across—[another bright satellite through field N-S]—diffuse halo—not much central brightening at all—no visible nucleus—SF the galaxy by 3’ from halo is a 14th-mag star—another 13th-mag star S slightly F galaxy by 4’—a 13.5-mag star SF galaxy by 8’—SP galaxy by 12’ is a 9th-mag star that is the F vertex of a small triangle; due P that star by 7’ is a 12.5-mag star; 5.75’ NP 9th-mag star is a 13.5-mag star—N of galaxy by 15’ is a 12.5-mag star; that is S vertex of small isosceles triangle which has a 13.5-mag star N slightly F previous star by 4.5’ and N slightly P the S vertex by 3.5’ is a 14th-mag star—11th-mag star SF the galaxy by 18’
NGC 4808 (Vir): 2.75’ x 1.25’—elongated P slightly N-F slightly S—well-defined halo—brighter inner region that’s quite large compared to halo; not much extended halo—occasionally a flicker of a stellar nucleus, but not convinced; 15th-mag star just P and slightly N of galaxy by 2’ which interferes with observation—N and very slightly P galaxy by 8.5’ is a 12th-mag star—S very slightly F galaxy by 15’ is a 13th-mag star—SF galaxy by 13’ is middle star in a line of three that proceeds SP-NF in field; that star is 13th-mag; another 13th-mag star 3’ NF previous star; third star is 14th-mag and SP middle star by 4.5’—to N edge of field by 20’ N and slightly F galaxy is a 9th-mag star; F and very slightly N that star by 5.5’ is a 12th-mag star—NP galaxy by 17’ is a 12.5-mag star—line of stars SP the galaxy, running P-F; star at P end of line is 12’ P and slightly S of galaxy, and is 12.5-mag; followed by 5’ by a 13th-mag star; F and very slightly N of 13th-mag star is a 14th-mag star 3’ from 13th-mag star
I went back to my observing table and my chart and notes to be sure that I’d observed every galaxy on my list—yes, even the ones on the periphery of the chart were done!
Turning back toward north, though, I noticed a strangeness to the northern sky: it was brighter than usual, even with the Eugene/Springfield light miasma, and there were definite bright streaks running vertically in the sky amid the glow. I watched for a minute before confirming to myself and Alan–it was the aurora borealis!
Alan finished his Milky Way shots—he’d waited all night for Sagittarius to rise, and now was given a rarer subject to photograph. So he repositioned his camera and managed to get some impromptu shots of the aurora from the middle of the junction. We watched the aurora for at least half an hour, noting no color, just shifting streaks of brighter glow. I wondered frequently as I watched if I was just seeing things regarding the aurora… trying to talk myself out of seeing the aurora even when I knew it was real (I texted Cheryl, but she didn’t catch the text, and the aurora was too tenuous to see from in town anyway). Alan’s camera confirmed the sighting, though, capturing sheets and streaks of purple and green silently floating among the low northern reaches. (What we saw was nowhere near as vivid as in the photos in the Pixieland Star Party thread at CloudyNights—https://www.cloudynights.com/topic/567576-pixieland-sp-goldendale-wa-may-26-29-2017/?p=7908242—but was convincing even before the reports from Pixieland rolled in.)
And that was that. Six out of nine clear nights spent to make half an attempt at the Virgo Cluster, which I had long avoided simply due to the profusion of targets there. Numerous other splendid sights were had as well–I didn’t even yet mention the bright supernova in NGC 6946, which we observed several nights during the run (the galaxy itself was spectacular). With better skies than I’ve ever had access to—at least in spring and summer—it had been possible to do this. When I first decided to sweep Chart B, it didn’t seem that extensive or difficult, especially as I’d found numerous targets far more difficult than anything found in Sky Atlas 2000.0. But given the position of Virgo viz our observing environment, it was more challenging than it might normally have been (if, say, I’d started this in March—if we’d had a single clear night in March). As it was, it was close to eighteen hours’ observing to dig as deep as I managed–eighteen hours very well spent, and the rare completion of a project that I’d started.