Smoke and Mirrors

I’ll skip ahead to the end:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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









Oregonian Khatru

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Others present: Dan B, Oggie G, Leticia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Others present: none

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Past, As Prologue

With a bit of spare time this week, I’ve been sifting through my observing notes from past years, making sure that everything’s up-to-date and in order. And having recently given a talk on the Astronomical League’s observing programs, I’ve also been a bit nostalgic for the earlier days of my observing, when I started on the Herschel lists and plowed on through the globular cluster program in a single season. (In retrospect, I should’ve done that one more slowly and enjoyed it more—although I would’ve missed out on a lot of the more-southerly globulars after moving to Oregon.)

One thing that I realized was that many of my notes on those early objects, primitive as those notes were, never made it here to the site. So here they are, providing a glimpse into the early stages of my “notetaking proper.”

I do miss observing at Giant City and at Crab Orchard, the two spots we used in AASI. The parking lot at Giant City State Park—soon to be inundated with eclipse-chasers—was ringed with trees, but these functioned as much to limit the extensive light pollution from Carbondale and the surrounding towns as they did to block our access to the horizons (because, really, that low to the horizon the sky was always mucky anyway). But it was twenty minutes from home, and easy to drive from after an all-night session… of which I did several in the shadow of the visitors’ center. We had used Giant City before, pre-Blagojevich, when the park had someone willing to work evenings so that AASI could host public events in the lot; I had also done my first real set of observing notes in the meadow on the park’s southern end (a.k.a. Tickville). And although Crab Orchard’s wildlife-viewing loop was right in the middle of the Carbondale-Marion conurbation (if a bit south), it was nearly-perfect from an ergonomic standpoint: flat, clear terrain on which to set up, and views right down to the horizon from the northeast to southwest. I found Omega Centauri there in those yellow-zone skies, and the Milky Way was occasionally a striking sight, despite being only half as bright as at Giant City. (Which is itself just a fraction as stunning as here at Eagle’s Ridge.) My best shot at the Messier Marathon took place at the loop, with Fred Isberner and I catching 87 of the 110 Messiers between hours of clouds and one horrific battle between two large, loud predators just beyond the treeline from our observing spot.

A few side notes on these notes: in my first session there, I snapped up NGC 6118, often considered the most difficult of the Herschel 400; given that the sky was impressive that night, I made a concerted effort to go for this spiral galaxy in Serpens Caput, for fear of not getting a better shot (hah!).

The week of June 30-July 5 was one of my most productive, as I did much of my work on the AL globular-cluster program that week, scouring the southern horizon for clusters in and below the coils of Scorpius and the northern reaches of Corona Australis… neither region of which I could reach here around Eugene. It was also the week that I began carrying a spare van key in my wallet, as I locked myself out of the van (with my phone in the van), and only the timely arrival of the awesome Len Wenzel enabled me (and Bob Morefield) to rush home and get the spare (with my house key also in the van!). That was not an easy one to live down. The last two weeks of the month continued the great fortune astronomy-wise. By the time July was over, I had caught 40 of the 50 globulars I needed for the AL’s globular-observing program. It was a good thing, too—August was completely clouded and rained out, and it wasn’t until September that I was able to finish the program; I didn’t formally complete it until November.

Those were good days; that July was one of the best months of observing I’ve ever had, due to the cooler, less-humid weather and the lack of clouds. I observed around the Moon, utilizing three of the four weeks of the month to observe and avoiding the ten days around Full. And my notes had greater focus then on the object I was observing, less on the star field around said object. Less verbiage. More rock, less talk.

But enough….



MOON: absent (3 days, already set)
NELM: 5.7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: windy, lightning to south, not humid

with RM

NGC 6144 (Sco)— 14mm— 3-4’— touching 11th mag star— fairly diffuse like 5466—CC 10?—mag 10— star touching is part of a line with 10th and 8th mags— slightly granular on bground haze— a little more granular w averted, a couple of stars in crescent shape around edge

NGC 5053 (Com)—as faint as on 6/3, slightly more obvious, w averted, 6’ diam—sprinkling of quite faint stars w averted moving scope makes 2 or 3 vis with direct—not much concentration–CC 12?–almost too tenuous to estimatemag.11, probably less

NGC 5694 (Hya)—little, no more than 2’ diam— at end of line with two stars— almost stellar core, small halo, almost has nucleus—no indiv stars visible in cluster— small triangle of brighter stars to S— w/averted still 2’, not much improvement—tightly concentrated, CC 5?—mag 10?

NGC 5466 (Boo)— 8-9’, like 5897—lot of faint stars, low concentration—CC 11?—noticed immediately with direct—30 stars with direct—not quite round, caved in on preceding–mag 10/11?

NGC 6118 (Ser)—not impossible—vF, diffuse glow—3’ x 1.5’—v Bright star off to F side, small isoc triangle of 11-12 mag stars to S of galaxy—quite elongated, faint, suprisingly large—not a lot of sweeping needed—Alvin + Tri—averted:slightly brighter core, ever-so, nothing of outer edge—trickles into background space



MOON: 6 days, still present at beginning
NELM: 5.4
WEATHER CONDITIONS: v. damp (humid); ground fog as departing

with RM and HT

NGC 5824 (Lupus)—M80-ish—bright (mag. 9)—almost stellar “core”—v small, 2’ diam, high concentration (CC 3?)—not much in way of halo—w/averted, maybe 1-2 uncertain stars across face—to N a pair of 10th/11th and 13th mag stars, if cluster on S edge of field, bright star to N

NGC 5986 (Lupus)—much larger, more diffuse, brighter than 5824—mag 8?—low concentration (CC 8?)—5’ diam—1 quite bright star to F side—averted brings out several stars across face—bright field star off edge at 2:00 and another at 7:00 on edge—quite mottled with averted—only a few cluster stars with direct vision

Iridium 12 in Cygnus  mag -2.3



MOON: 7 days, still present at beginning
NELM: 5.3 faint MW, not much detail in Rift, not much definition over by M7
WEATHER CONDITIONS: v. damp (humid); ground fog as departing

with LW and his friends (Jeff & Tammy??)

NGC 6139 (Sco)—about 3’ diam—sky v. poor this low—mag 11?–looks almost like elliptical galaxy or core of spiral — no stars visible—only a couple of field stars—CC hard to tell, maybe 4?—only a few degrees above horizon at this point

NGC 6325 (Oph )—not one of easier/more impressive globs—about 3’ diam—no brightening at all w/direct, slight bit of central brightening with averted—CC v. difficult, maybe 6?—no stars visible at all—faint, tenuous haze—in field with some indistinct dark neb?, but background fairly sparse—easy to pass over—maybe 11 mag?

NGC 6369 (Oph) Little Ghost—v bright planetary, no filter, swept up super easily—about half an arcminute maj axis—seems to be annular (traces of)— no cent star—bright ring with tiny bit of fringe halo—slightly oblong in P-F direction—forms tip of almost equal triangle with 10th/11th stars—seeing not good enough for higher power

NGC 6401 (Oph)—2’ diam—bright star in middle/stellar nucleus—w/averted, hints of granularity—reasonably bright (mag 9), easily seen—w/averted almost like double nucleus/two bright stars in middle—not much resolution—CC 8?

NGC 5986 (Lup, redux)—even better, very granular—few visible in averted, one bright—cluster lower in sky—5’—slightly squashed on P side, bright star on F, NF side

NGC 6380 (Sco)—spot easy to find, cluster not—cluster is 2’??—very diffuse, CC impossible to tell—barely visible above background—only slightly more visible w/averted— bright (8th mag) star to P side of field—globular just on edge of perception around 11th mag star—star is just off S edge of globular—globular is just a haze, very difficult, perhaps 13th mag

NGC 6441 (Sco) right off by 10’ from g Sco—really bright, mag 8—like M80 brightness (seems)—4-3’—large core—small sprinkling of halo stars—remarkably smooth gradientwise—not much gran—light falls away smooth like elliptical galaxy; guessing at CC 4—bright star off P edge by 4’—“bright, impressive tableau”—no real resolution even w/averted

NGC 6453 (Sco)—off M7—3’—11th mag—stars vis with direct—granular—8-9 stars w averted—brighter section of core forms cresecent—not round—core slightly like Ringtail Gal—moderately concentrated (CC 6-7?)—very interesting

NGC 6541 (CrA)—nice bright glob (8th mag), v low—4’—set in bright scalene triangle—has outliers to 6-7’—well resolved—numerous stars (15 at least with averted, bunch with direct)—presents triangular aspect—reasonably bright field star to F side—wedge shape of field stars pointing to NF side—v loose concentration (CC 8)

NGC 6496 (Sco)—can’t say I saw—p. negligible—found correct field—don’t know that I saw globular

NGC 6388 (Sco)—just above horizon—2.5-3’—faint halo surround brighter core—hard to focus on so low in sky—smooth gradient; high concentration, CC 3?—little bit granular—10th mag star to N side—almost off-center nucleus star toward P side, pretty faint—fairly bright glob; mag 8?

NGC 6118 (Oph, redux)—just after security—glow 4 x 3’—using junky pattern on Tri to bright star, just S of bright star—small triangle off to S,F side—galaxy fairly uniform, v. faint tonight (well past meridian—def there with direct—pA?—slight (ever so-) bit of central brightening

NGCs 6928, 6930; Delphinus trio (Del)—two glows visible, both v. tough—each about 1’, two in contact—thrid not visible clearly?—6928/30—never have found wo Tri—v. fleeting, but brightens w seeing 1 x 2’ total, two tiny cores—no real central brightening—stellar nucleus in P galaxy only fleeting—hard to separate—“that’s a bitch”

NGC 6907 (Cap)—24mm (stupid)—one of those “not sure at first”—about 2 x 1’?—funky spade-shaped asterism off to F side—brighter w/averted—not much central brightening—sketchworthy—w averted 2.5 x 1.5’?—fades gradually into background–no stellar nucleus—10th mag star to following by 2-3’



MOON: Last Quarter, absent until 12:21
TRANSPARENCY: 6-7 (horizons 5)
NELM: 5.6
WEATHER CONDITIONS: v. damp (humid); ground fog as departing

With RM and LW

Locked keys in van

NGC 6535 (Ser)—faint glow about 4-3’—11th mag—averted shows 7 stars visible, two-three quite bright on P side even w direct—loose cluster, maybe CC 10—rich field—several 7th/8th stars in field



MOON: 22 days, absent
TRANSPARENCY: 5-6, variable
NELM: 5.3, MW not well visible through Sagitta/Vulp. Star clouds still obvious
WEATHER CONDITIONS: v. damp (humid); ground fog as departing

With HT

NGC 6355 (Oph)—on edge of tadpole-shaped asterism (P side)—4-3’ diam—resembles a comet—halo stretches to about 4’—inner 3’ is considerably brighter—averted doesnt help much for size—stellar point toward center—no indiv stars at all—CC 5-6?—not quite round—with averted, double “core”?—core elongated to N-S—halo not particularly round but rounder than core

NGC 6304 (Oph)—considerably smaller than M62 (starhopped from; why no notes?)—3-4’—has definite graininess—4’ with averted—mag 9—core seems almost triangular—averted makes this more apparent—doesnt have stellar “nucleus”—nested in triangle of 9th/10th stars—bright pair (wide double?) toward S F of field—on better night, resolution?— CC 4-5? —more power would resolve some stars?—Seeing v. soft

NGC 6316 (Oph)—2’—to SF side is a 10th/11th field star 1-2’ from cluster—smaller considerably than 6304—with averted halo stretches anothe arcminute 3-3.5’ (more like 3’)—double gradient—core makes up 50% of face—not much grain, pretty smooth glo even w/ averted—rounder than 6304—pair of faint field stars (10, 11) to P side; 11th (12th?) 1’ from halo of cluster, 10th is 3’ from cluster)—smooth, not much granularity even averted—like M80 in small refractor—CC 5?—maybe 8th mag?

NGC 6293 (Oph)—starhopped to from previous—brightest, best resolved of recent group (mag 8)—to P side of zigzag of 10th/11th stars—about 5‘ with halo—inner 2’ much more concentrated/brighter—loose cluster—with averted 10 stars in cluster, inc. one 5’ from center, right on N F edge of halo—field star to S F 7’ from cluster center—“M15 style”—CC 5?—bright core, halo falls away pretty rapidly

M19 (Oph)—far and away brightest this evening, mag 7—extends to 7’—elongated N-S v. apparently—inner 4’ make up brighter core, no nuclear “point” like M15—8 x 7’—to N side are two brightest stars in cluster—bright field star S P by 10’—to S F side 8/9 mag field star—fairly evenly distributed across face, pretty well resolved—CC 7-8



MOON: 24 days, absent 
SEEING: 5 (improved considerably, to 6/7)
TRANSPARENCY: 5 (horizons 4) MW very indistinct, Great Rift difficult
NELM: 5.4
WEATHER CONDITIONS: v. damp (humid); ground fog caused early end to session

with RM and HT

M107 (Oph)—nicely resolved—in trapezoid shape of stars—8’-7’—not completely dark yet—14mm—three distinct layers of brightness—interior 5’—couple of brighter stars (13th) across face—cluster 8th mag—fairly loose—CC 8—sitting insquashed trapezoid of 9th-10th stars—averted gets 20+ stars—wedge shape of brighter stars poiunting N across face—not sharp central concentration like M15

Me 2-1 (Lib)—one of smallest PN looked at—just off short side of rt. triangle of 8-10th mag stars—almost stellar (15”) but slightly fuzzy—easy to hop to w TriA—found w/o filter—OIII brightens neb a fair bit—reasonably sharply defined edges—no detectable color—visile w/direct—no central star—about 10th mag?—quite bright—in 6mm Radian, w/OIII, completely lost target—w/6mm and no filter, slightly diffuse edges—UHC w/14mm better than OIII—maybe 10”?—may have seen core/nucleus of IC 4538 as a “star” in the field; tried to confirm but seeing wasn’t good enough

NGC 6572 (Oph) Harry says blue—greener to me in 14mm—10” (?) and bright w/o filter—at tip of “smashed Ursa Major” asterism—nebula off “nose” of asterism—bowl of “dipper” to F side of neb.—w/OIII looks fuzzy around edges, like condensation on optics—w/o filter, fairly sharp on edges—filter blows this out, as if edges are “cottony”—not as green as Saturn Neb—OOTW on DSF—other two stars are 8’ to F side—neb too small in 14mm to show as anything but not-quite-stellar

NGC 6426 (Oph)—brutally nasty glob—v.v. weak, indistinct glow—sky at zenith a bit better—one of toughest NGC globulars—2-3’ diam, maybe 4’ w/averted—difficult even w/averted—no stars at all, no graininess—halfway and a bit preceding long edge of rt.triangle made of 9-10th stars—jiggling scope makes it more visible—as bad as 5053—12th mag—doesn’t look quite round, but too faint to judge exact shape—CC impossible to tell; cluster barely visible

NGC 6717 (Palomar 9) (Sgr) —4’ S P from Nu Sgt—cluster is about 1.5’ diam—mag 9—almost looks like a trio of stars with haze/neb around them—doesn’t look much like glob—definitely three bright “condensations”, one to NP, one to NF, one S on face of cluster, rather than indiv stars—averted doesn’t change this—averted gives extra fringe of halo—odd looking glob—CC 9



MOON: 27 days, absent 
SEEING: 7 (4 at horizon)
TRANSPARENCY: 7 (horizons 6) MW very brilliant and detailed; temporary cirrus influx
NELM: 6.1
WEATHER CONDITIONS: good; temps in 70s, somewhat humid
many sporadic meteors

With RM

NGC 6791 (Lyr)—proverbial patch of unresolved haze with couple of stars sprinkled on top—14mm—caught between bands of thick cirrus—cluster is 10’—a number of brights stars atop—cluster haze visible with direct on/off (cirrus)—hard to tell concentration—reasonably well detached, V rich—wouldn’t have noticed right away—crowded field

NGC 6760 (Aql)—just grainy, near resolution—about 4-5’ with direct, 5’ with averted—averted hints at resolution—core 80% of diameter—looks moderate concentration—8 CC?—11th star to NF side just out of edge of halo by 2’?—fainter star (13th) to NP edge—mag 9-10—satellite through field—field has ring of brighter stars to N edge of FOV, grouped in pairs

NGC 6749 (Aql)—just on threshold of direct—just barely there, 13-14th mag?—better seeing than before—V tough—3’ diam?—has rhombus shape of faint (10-11th) stars overlaid across it—globular CC??? too faint to say—just coming and going—2 on averted scale—sometimes visible w/direct—“definitely there”—more than suspected—2 parallel arcs of 3 stars each on each side making up rhombus—moving scope makes glob definite—no definition, just a glow

NGC 6642 (Sgr)—S of M22—small (2.5-3’) glob—nicely resolved—pretty well resolved—grainy all around—core not quite centered— 5’ N is 10th star—core small compared to halo—two gradients—averted shows many stars across field—center has bright condensation—CC 4-5—8th mag—nice glob—slightly triangular—almost has nucleus—F side flatter—opposite vertex in middle of P side—field littered with stars—to S is asterism (triangle inside line)

NGC 6638 (Sgr)—more diffuse than previous, but not by much—well grainy—good resolution into tiny stars—bright core, no stellar nucleus—mag 8—core 75% of face—quite concentrated (CC 4)—SP side has one star brighter than other in cluster—with 6mm Radian, cluster is very much more resolved (poor seeing that low)—easily overlooked by prox to M22—4’ in 6mm—brightest part of cluster to NF side—slight elongation of core in NP-SF direction

NGC 6723 (Sgr)—V large, V well resolved—8-9 CC—lots of little stars visible even low to horizon—10th mag on edge of halo just to NF side—cluster 7-8’—well resolved across face—words fail with globs like this—7th mag—too many stars to count, at least 100—inner 80% makes up core which has a couple of “dark or “star-poor” spots in it—averted really brightens, but does not increase size

rest of Eps Cor Aus region—wow—whole area covered with visible nebulosity—lots of backgrd glow—cometary nebula (6729) visible through treetop—to S of one of bright star pairs in nebulosity—equal brightness double to S, also one to N [wrapped in 6726/7]—nebula has dim starry tip [R CrA]—losing into tree—nebula 4-5’ long trails away from star at tip to star at SF side [T CrA]—almost looks like galaxy???—giving short shrift to region in description due to loss in treetops

NGC 6907 (Cap) redux—much more obvious than at CO (14mm this time)—still finding w/trowel asterism—elongated NP-SF slightly, PA 30˚???—fairly bright—definitely wouldve noticed in passing—to FS side is 10th star—galaxy has brighter core that’s 66% of size—halo extends slightly NF [this is spiral arm NGC 6908], not perfectly uniform, core not perfectly centered—looks like spiral—every now and then a flicker of a stellar core—V obvious in averted—to SP is faint double star about 6’ from P edge of galaxy—to SP (1:00 from double by 3-4’) is another 11-12th star

NGCs 6928, 6930; Delphinus trio—6mm Radian—larger (6928) galaxy elongated N-S—2’—fainter (6930) in contact to F side, has stellar nucleus [seeing sloppy]—definitely 2 objects—longer G doesn’t have stellar nucleus—3rd galaxy (27) not visible

NGC 6934 (Del)—bright (8th mag), well-resolved—lots of stars with averted—CC 7—has bright star (9th) to P side—core only 50%—lots of little stars across face—small line of stars on N side of core—5’, inc. halo

NGC 7006 (Del)—long search—tiny, V concentrated—CC 2-3—not much halo—core 90% of cluster—fairly bright, esp for distance from us (9th mag?)—little more halo with focus—core becomes 80% with averted—2-2.5’—to P side, by 3’, faint double—to F and N sides by 4’, faint individual stars (12-13th), so inside a triangle—several 7-8 field stars, esp. around edges of FOV

IC 5148/50 (Gru)—w/UHC (better than OIII?)—found with 24mm SWA—14mm best view—5’ diam—to S edge a bright field star touching edge—averted extends to 6’—V round—suspected annularity; ring thick—V low in sky—to F side is a bit of brightening of ring—w/OIII, biggest brightening is on P side [?!]—no central star with or w/o filter—definitely annular w/averted—ring 2-3’ thick, opening V small—with OIII, star at S edge is within nebula [not really]

M30 (Cap)—beautiful!!—M15 style (stellar nucleus)—7th mag—8-9’ across, halo spread out, comes to blazing center—CC 5—two distinct chains of stars leading from center to N —chain from center due N has four stars—other chain off to edge of core also has four stars—two outliers on NF side—cluster squashed along S side, halo compressed on S side, core not at center—10’ to P side is 7th-8th star—cluster V well resolved around edges—halo spectacular—jellyfish-like with chains

WLM (Cet)—really coming and going—visible mostly as slight brightening of background—V large (15’ long)—oval running almost N-S—on S end is 11th-12th field star touching glow—most visible by rocking scope [V low in sky!!]—tough to hold in direct—12’-15’, 15’ in averted?—to P side by 9-10’ of star at S end is another brighter star—another star off N end, one 7-8’ to P side of N end star—shape hard to determine—rectangular??—not quite to middle of P side is slight starlike brightening, P a line between N-S stars—can’t tell what brightening is (too faint)—v slow satellite going through N side of field—evenly distributed glow—VVV faint—12-15’ x 4’ wide at widest—hard to tell dimensions

NGC 7026 (Cyg)—fuzzy star in 14mm with no filter—in 6mm w OIII, v bright—3/4’—10th star directly F by 1’—nebula core has two equally bright segments in halo to NP-SF—whole envelope extends well beyond core—no color—fuzzy edges—no central star visible—found w/o filter

Also observed M4, 6144, M80, Veil, 6118, M22, M28, 7479, Stephan’s Quintet



MOON: 1 day, absent 
SEEING: 7 (5 at horizon)—improved to 8 around midnight
TRANSPARENCY: 8 (horizons 6) MW very brilliant and detailed; bulge into Ophiuchus obvious; M13 visible w/averted, N.A. Nebula visible
NELM: 6.3
WEATHER CONDITIONS: excellent; temps in 70s-60s, very low humidity (no dew), much lightning (heat lightning or distant to S?); wind gusting for two hrs prior to midnight
many sporadic meteors—some Delta Aquariids?

With JR and FI

M10 [actually M12] (Oph)—7-8’—V loosely concent—has streak of stars spilling out toward N—averted expands halo to 8-9’—glob inside triangle of 8-9th mag stars—CC 9-10—on N edge of triangle—chain of stars from center to N—glob is squarish w/averted—core more concentrated toward S edge—core about 60% of diam—halo extends more to N—many small stars arranged in pairs in broad flattened ’S’ shape N-S—N end of ’S’ to P side, S end to F side—glob 8th mag?

M12 [actually M10] (Oph)—little more concentrated than M10—looks like fainter M13 with chains and arcs—7th mag—one bright star to SF side (maybe cluster member?)—chains stretch directly P-F—w/averted, rest of halo fills in—10’ diam, 11’ w averted—to P side of edge of halo, faint double star, also same to N and F sides—region around periphery littered w very close pairs—two arcs (like parentheses) lead from S side of cluster—core 80%, but lots of stragglers—14’ with stragglers—too many stars to count—CC 7-8?—several bright field stars toward edge of field— a wide triangle of 7-9th mags halfway between cluster and edge to F side

[Accidentally got M10 and M12 reversed; descriptions should be switched]

NGCs 6522, 6528 (Sgr)—22 larger of two, almost double size—3’—two clusters separated by 23’?—btween them is wedge-shape pointing due S—22 brighter, granular—9th mag—one cluster star to F side of core by 1’—core is 50%—quite small cluster—averted makes 4’?—7th mag field star 15’ to N—CC 8—doesn’t have stellar nucleus—granular on edges—averted brings a couple stars around periphery?

-28—smaller, more diffuse—2’—10th mag—to S by 5-6’ faint pair (12-13th)—to SP, 13th mag, maybe cluster member about 1/2’ from core of cluster—hints at resolution—almost looks like refection neb with granular edges—CC 6?

Terzan 7 (Sgr)—brutally faint (14th mag???)—small kite-shaped asterism of 7-9th stars, two brightest to NF—off S side of kite is pair of 12-13 mags spaced about 5’—something between those and just to N—barely detectable—2-3 [3] on averted v scale—about 2-3’??—not visible w/direct, but definite—position hard to hold—N of two stars—no CC possible—windy—lightning to SE—80% positive it’s there—easier than I thought?????—w/6mm, better look at field—wind playing havoc holding scope steady—“three and then two”

Palomar 8 (Sgr) —starhopped to, found w/direct vision—in crowded field—diffuse glow; 12th mag?—fairly loose concentration—to S edge, embedded just in halo (not that there’s a real halo)—very faint (13th) star—off to F edge is another of similar brightness—easy visible cluster—holdable w direct—brighter than some NGCs—many faint field stars around cluster—3.5’-4’?—impossible to tell CC—w/averted almost wants to seem on edge of being granular, esp. on P side—quite large glob—looks like F-side star may be v. close pair—brightest star in field to SF by 12’, 8-9 mag—had JR confirm—in 6mm Radian star to F side is double/pair—star on P side may be double

NGC 6822 (Sgr)—dim amorphuous glow—number of stellar points across face—12’ x 6’ elongated N-S—found in 24mm, where it was easier—to P side there is dim pair (12-13th?) on edge—to F side, a little pentagon of which brighter stars are on F side of galaxy, just on halo—in 14mm, became tougher, of course—in 24mm, considerably brighter—to S edge, unusual angled ‘E’-shaped asterism, used for finding—seeing haze that extends way to F side that shouldn’t exist, toward bright pair (8th) of stars—w/UHC, brightening of a couple of spots on P side—also on N P—3-4 little “areas”—also a couple well off F side—galaxy still visible in UHC

M72 (Aqr)—bright little glow, 8th mag—4-5’—lots of little stellar points—core 60% of cluster—pretty loose—CC 7-8—to NF side, there is 12-13 mag field star about 1’ from halo—to N is pair of stars separated by 3-4’, 11th mag, one 3’ from cluster’s edge, other 3’ from that—pair of bright (10th and 11th) field stars to F side—slow-moving satellite in field—meteor through field—about 7’ away on P side, a pair of stars sep. by 7’, the one to S is double/pair—lots of tiny star points

NGC 7492 (Aqr)—after long search—about 4-5’—about halfway between pair of 11-12 stars, one to NP, other to SF—another v faint star to F side—no resolution, no central brightening—CC… 10?—fainter than Pal 8?—v. faint, even averted doesn’t help much—12th mag?—maybe 5’ in averted

Jones 1 (Peg)—enormous—at least 5’ on major axis, not quite round—nebula is definitely bi-lobed, pair of broken arcs—extending long-wise 5 x 4’—rocking field helps— arcs on N-S sides—looks like stoma on plant—w/averted, annularity is stronger—10th mag star to N side—really tough to tell—

Hickson 92 (Peg)—4 glows—using 6 Radian—largest of glows is one to farthest preceding—seems to have star involved—stellar nucleus or star?—1 x 3/4’—one to farthest P does have stellar nucleus—about 3/4 x 1/2’—two v. involved with each other, 3’ from brightest, to NF—definitely double nucleus—whole envelope is 3’ x 2’, double nucleus (directly S?)—to S, almost touching field star, is fifth glow

NGC 7015 (Equ)—elongated 3:2, about 2’ x 1.3’—to NF side, faint pair—to N, field star 11-12 mag?—uniform halo—core lumpy—core is 80%—pretty obvious, moderately bright—about 8’ to SP, 8th mag star



Six Nights at Virgo’s


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
NELM: 7+
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 [4189]; 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 [4419]: 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
SQM: 21.6
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 [4468]: 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 [4436]: 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 [4431]: 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 [4667], 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)
MOON: new
SQM: 21.68
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
NELM: 7+
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in upper 40s, air still, light dew after midnight

Others present: BB, WR

10:22, 10:36
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 [4292]: 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 [4301]: 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 [4268]: 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 [4259]: 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 [4264]: 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 [4246]: 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
NELM: 6.9
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 [4536] 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——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.

Eternity’s Breath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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