In That Quiet Earth

I. With a successful October observing run in the books, I immediately began to resign us to striking out the rest of the fall and through the winter—there was no way we could be lucky enough to get another stretch of clear, Moonless nights until April. Could we? It seemed to be a fundamental truth of living in the Pacific Northwest that we were damned to miss the wonders of the winter skies entirely, save for possible fleeting glances through rapidly-closing sucker holes in the clouds: the astronomy equivalent of Whack-A-Mole.

And yet the forecast for New Moon week in November held promise, at least in its second half. So when the night of New Moon rolled around, and the Clear Sky Chart promised a decent evening of observing, there was no hesitation in making the drive up Eagle’s Rest and braving the chilly temperatures to proceed in my quest to observe more of the Herschel 800.

Only three of us made the trip: Jerry, Dan B, and my Australopithicene self. We’d obviously expected more, as we set up in the road junction, rather than the flatter, smaller spur road site. Conditions weren’t all that great—it was hazy, and even a strong, consistent breeze wasn’t enough to keep a heavy layer of dew from settling in from the get-go—but even mediocre skies would do when the next clear night could be months away. By the time the sky darkened enough to observe, even a muted Milky Way was a welcome sight. I picked up in Cygnus, with the two objects I had remaining there.


SQM: 21.18
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 40s, cold and clammy, windy, dewy

Others present: JO, DB

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

NGC 6826 (Cyg): A fine object to start November’s run with—The Blinking Planetary. This one is way up high in Cygnus now. It’s a very bright, fairly small planetary, roughly the same size as the Saturn Nebula at 20″ round. The famous blinking effect is easily apparent on this night, the 10.5-magnitude central star swallowed up by the nebulosity in averted vision. At this aperture and magnitude, there’s little structure seen, although there’s a fuzziness to the nebula’s edge that’s not visible directly, especially on the N edge; the nebula may be elongated very slightly P-F. With the O-III filter in, the nebula dominates the entire field and overwhelms its own central star. The blinking effect disappears with the filter in. The nebula’s fringe is more apparent, and it swells the size of the nebula to over 20″. Any hint of internal detail there may have been is washed out in the overall brightness of the planetary with the filter in place.  The field is fairly dense with brighter stars: due S of the nebula by 1.67′ is an 11.5-magnitude star; 16′ due N of the nebula is an 8.5-magnitude star, the brightest in the field. 16′ N very slightly P the nebula is a 9th-magnitude star that is the F-most and brightest vertex in a small triangle that’s oriented roughly N-S; from that star -.5′ N very very slightly P is a 10.5-magnitude star, and a also a an 11th-magnitude star 0.75′ SP the 9th-magnitude star.  S very slightly P the nebula by 10′ is a 10th-magnitude star that’s the brightest and S-most star in a smallish trapezoid of six stars: some of these are within the trapezoid, and all six range to about 13thmagnitude. The trapezoid is 2′ x 1.75′ with the major axis running SP-NF and the brightest star as the SP vertex. 28′ due P the nebula—and thus outside the field—is a bright double star [16 Cygni] which is in a lijne of three doubles/pairs; 16 Cyg consists of two 6th-magnitude stars separated NP-SF by 0.67′.

With both of my remaining Cygnus objects being planetary nebulae—the ghostly death-shrouds of Sun-like stars—I opted to stay with that object class for the rest of the evening (not realizing that the evening would be fairly short). Observing planetary nebulae practically demands the use of an oxygen-III filter, which suppresses all wavelengths of light beyond the oxygen-III band (in which planetary nebulae happen to radiate their strongest) so that the nebulae appear brighter and more contrasty. My O-III filter is particularly suppressive, so that it’s somewhat difficult to use, and its threads don’t mate up with those in my workhorse eyepiece, the ES 14mm 82˚ Nagler clone. This being the case, I kept the filter handy and minimized the amount of threading in/unthreading it as much as possible.

Worse than the filter issues, the dew had become a considerable nuisance. I had to constantly check my secondary mirror  to ensure that it was clear, and it took several uses of Jerry’s hair dryer to keep the secondary from being useless; it was during my observations of the next object—of which I took three separate sets of notes, reflective of the dew status of the secondary—that I first noticed how far gone the secondary had become. Despite having a permanently-mounted secondary heater, the dew at some of our sites often simply overwhelmed the technology. (I need to crank up the sensitivity of the heater so that it works more consistently, but this requires taking the secondary out, and uses more 9-volt battery power.)

NGC 7008 (Cyg): The Night of the Planetary Nebulae continues with the Fetus Nebula, perhaps my favorite object in the whole class. It’s a quite large object with irregular brightness and a wealth of detail. The appearance of the nebula as a whole is not entirely unlike that of the Crescent Nebula. The central star isn’t visible but the nebula’s interior is mottled and teeming with structure. The nebula isn’t quite elliptical; it’s more a rounded-cornered diamond or an ellipse laid over a rhombus. It’s elongated mostly N-S with a P-F minor axis, 1.5′ x 1.0′. The N half of the nebula has more detail than the S half, and the F side is dominated by a dark void, almost like an “opening” there, as if the nebula had been bent around it. There may be a very faint star embedded in the NP quadrant, or it may be a small knot of brighter nebulosity. A bright double star sits on the S slightly F tip of the nebula, with the brighter component at 9.5 magnitude and a 10.5-magnitude secondary 20″ due S of the primary. With the O-III in, there are several knots on the N end, which is much more morphologically complicated than the S half. The dark void on the SF quadrant is even more apparent, and the brighter portion of the nebula resembles a question mark with a very short stem, with the brighter member of the double star being right on the stem to the S and the dark void as the opening of the “hook.” There’s a much brighter region on the N slightly F edge, about 0.3′ from the due N tip, and another brighter region on the due P side at the end of the nebula’s minor axis, along the arc of the question mark. [It was at this point that I noticed that my secondary mirror had completely dewed over, despite the secondary dew heater; after a good drying, I returned to the nebula.] After the drying, the N end of the nebula is even more impressive; the brightest part of the whole begins at the bright knot in the N end and sweeps SP. There’s another distinct knot on the P edge, and the nebula dips back S and SF from there. Now that the secondary mirror is clear and the filter is out, I can see some of the extra stars that Jerry pointed out from his scope, scattered across the nebula’s face: there’s a threshold star just outside the P edge of the nebula, another just above threshold N very very slightly F the brighter component of the prominent double by 0.5′, and another NF the previous one by 8″. Two other stars are nearby the primary of the double star: 2′ F the primary is a 12th-magnitude star, and SP that primary by 3.5′ is the brighter of another double or pair; these are 11.5 and 12.5 magnitude, separated by 20″, with the brighter P slightly N the fainter. The brightest star in the field is SF the nebula by 15′ and is 10thmagnitude, and a slightly fainter (10.2?) star is NF the nebula by 21′, right on the edge of the field.

NGC 7354 (Cep): This underappreciated planetary nebula was a bummer to find for some reason, even though I swept for it with the O-III filter still in the eyepiece. With filter in place, its edges are fuzzy and not as well defined as NGC 6826, although the nebula is in size and appearance otherwise quite like 6826 (only a fair amount fainter and somewhat more diffuse). It’s about 22″ diameter, though possibly very slightly elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S; this impression of elongation is fleeting and hard to sustain. No central star is visible, with or without the filter. With the O-III removed, there’s a 14th-magnitude star S very slightly P the nebula, just outside the edge of the halo by 15″, and a threshold star lies SF the nebula by 1.25′. The nebula is still pretty obvious in the unfiltered view. N very slightly P by 3.5′ is the brighter of a pair/double (11.5 and 11.7 magnitudes), with the fainter 0.5′ F the brighter. The fainter of another pair lies 8′ N slightly P the nebula; these are separated by 0.67′ N-S and are 10thand 10.5 magnitude. The brightest star in the field is NF the nebula by 16′ and is 9.5 magnitude. A 10th-magnitude star lies 13′ S very slightly F the nebula. 

It wasn’t enough that the dew was nearly impenetrable and the transparency and seeing were wildly inconsistent; now, clouds were actively starting to seep their way across the northern sky, toward the south. Our New Moon night was about to be curtailed by the same forces of nature that had made it possible in the first place. Time, perhaps, for one more object. 

NGC 40 (Cep): Way up near the North Celestial Pole, this is a really impressive object. The central star is considerably bright as such go (11thmagnitude) and is surrounded by a small bright internal knot, around which is a dark “ring” or circular void. The nebula is elongated slightly N-S, about 0.75′ x 0.67′. The outer perimeter is quite indistinct and fuzzy. The P edge of the nebula is a bit brighter than the rest, and the F edge is brighter than either the N or S. With the O-III filter, not much changes; it’s actually a surprise how little the filter does. It mostly “blows out” the middle of the nebula and makes it appear more evenly-illuminated, reducing the nebula to two brightness gradients and making the central star vanish. The nebula is bracketed on the NF and S by brightish stars: to the NF is a 9th-magnitude star (the brightest in the field) and to the S is a 9.5-magnitude star. These are both 3.67′ or 3.75′ from the nebula. The star to the NF has a fainter companion (12.5 magnitude) N slightly P of it by 0.5′, and the star to the S has a 10.5-magnitude star 2.75′ P very slightly S of it. SP the nebula’s central star by 1′ is a 12.5-magnitude star, and 13′ N of the nebula is a 9.5-magnitude star.

It had been less than two hours since I began taking notes toward the Herschel lists, but the sky and the dew were conspiring to put an end to the proceedings. I was, surprisingly, not too disappointed—the next few nights had better forecasts, and even a couple of hours under the night sky had been satisfying. After a few looks at some of the fall showpieces, we packed up for the trip down the mountain, knowing that we’d probably be back the next night.

II. We did indeed head back out the next night, spurred on by a CSC forecast that started off good and improved as the day went on. I prepared for a long evening, plugging in my power tank to charge all day, and loading up on extra warm clothing. I was chomping at the bit until the hour before sunset—the time I usually leave, as it gives me a full hour to make the fifty-minute drive and enough remaining daylight to set up without the need for a flashlight.

Only Jerry and Robert A were able to join me on the mountain, so we set up on the spur road, where the ground was flatter. Jerry had his larger trackball scope there, and Robert his terrific 8″ binoscope, most of which was 3D-printed. We chatted while setting up and then settled in while darkness fell.

Rather than proceed into the deep winter skies, which were rising in the east, I continued among the circumpolar constellations—primarily Cepheus and Cassiopeia. My first target for the evening was the Cepheus open cluster NGC 7160, which I had also taken notes on during the second night of our October run (and which I had forgotten to strike from my Sky Safari observing list). A comparison with my impressions from October is enlightening, and demonstrates how differently an abstract object can be viewed from session to session.


EAGLE’S RIDGE  (spur road)
MOON: 1 day; 2% illuminated, set at 6:02 PM
SEEING: 5-8, got better as evening went on
TRANSPARENCY: 7 (variable, some cirrus coming through)
SQM: 21.2
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 40s, no dew, slightly breezy (JO called one of best nights at Eagle’s)

Others present: JO, RA

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

NGC 7160 (Cep): This is a bright, compact cluster, but not a very rich one. Depending on how one defines its boundaries, there are between ten and fifteen stars here. The cluster is composed of two main small groups: on the F end, and including the two brightest stars in the cluster, is a small keystone pattern, and on the P side of the cluster is a small triangle. The keystone consists of a 7th-magnitude star with an 8th-magnitude star 1′ SF; NF the 8th-magnitude star by 1.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star, and 0.5′ N very slightly P of the 10th-magnitude star is a 12th-magnitude star. SP the 7th-magnitude star by 1.75′ is the F-most of the triangle, a 9.5-magnitude star; due P by 0.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star, and 0.75′ SP the 10th-magnitude star is a 9th-magnitude star. From the 12th-magnitude star in the keystone to the 9th-magnitude star in the triangle is 4.25′; the minor axis of the cluster runs from the 7th-magnitude star in the keystone to an 11.5-magnitude star 1.75′ NP it. 4′ SF the end of the keystone (and due S of the 8th-magnitude star) is an 11th-magnitude star with an 11.5-magnitude star NF it by 0.5′; if these are part of the cluster, they’re fairly removed from the rest of the cluster. From the brighter of that pair due S by 4.5′ is the dimmer of another pair, which is 11.5 magnitude and has an 11th-magnitude star F very slightly S by 0.5′. From the 7th-magnitude star NP by 10′ is the brightest star in the field, which is 6.5 magnitude.

NGC 7023 (Cep): A difficult object to observe and describe, the Iris Nebula is an extremely diffuse blotch of reflection nebulosity amid a much darker envelope of dust. The reflection nebulosity is centered on an 8th-magnitude star and runs 2′ N very slightly F of the star and 3.5′ S very slightly P; the brightest bits are N and just S very slightly P of the star. The minor axis is 1.5′ long. In averted vision, there’s a dark notch that approaches the star from the P but doesn’t quite touch the star. The bright nebulosity here has a wispy appearance to it, rather like the Pleiades nebulosity as it appears on photographs. NF the 8th-magnitude star appears to be another faint extension of the nebula. S very slightly F the 8th-magnitude star by 3.25′ is a 12.5-magnitude star, one of the few within 20′ of the “central” star. Much of the field is covered by a “dead zone” of dark nebulosity that rather suddenly yields to a brighter starfield, especially on the F side (it’s a more-gradual yielding on the P side); this dead zone extends a long way (perhaps 20′) S of the 8th-magnitude star, and within it, the only stars of note are a pair of 10.5-magniude stars on the P edge, the closer of which is 7.5′ P very slightly S of the 8th-magnitude star. 4.75′ P very slightly S of this pair is another, fainter pair. This object gives the distinct impression that it has a lot more to reveal in a larger aperture—that the 12.5″ is only scratching at the surface of what can be visible here.

NGC 7142 (Cep): This is a fine, exceedingly rich cluster of fifty stars with a lot of indefinable starglow strewn within it. At first glance, the cluster isn’t particularly well-detached, but it becomes more “clusterlike” as one observes it and the faint glow of the unresolved stars is drawn out. There’s a fairly-wide range of magnitudes here, although the majority of the resolved stars are within the 13th/14th-magnitude range. The cluster is roughly triangular, pointing toward the N; the F side is 9′ long, the P side is 8′ long, and the S side (the least-defined of the three) is 8.5′ long. The F side is defined by three 10.5-magnitude stars (including the N and SF vertices of the triangle) and bows outward in the middle, with 4.5′-5.0′ between the three stars on that side; the two more northern stars on that side are slightly closer together. The N-most vertex is the S-most and brightest star in a group of five that extends N-ward. The SP vertex of this triangle is 12.5 magnitude. The middle region of the triangle is the richest in terms of resolved stars, while much of the unresolved glow extends from the middle through the P side of the triangle and somewhat beyond. Much of this background glow is almost nebulous in averted vision. There’s a clump near the triangle’s center that’s composed of five 13th-magnitudish stars in a 2′ x 0.75′ area; there’s also another obvious clump in the middle of the P side, containing five 12.5- to 14th-magnitude stars.  The brightest star in the field is 8′ NF the N-most vertex of the triangle, and is 8.5 magnitude.

NGC 7129 (Cep): A small, poor cluster of six stars with bonus nebulosity. The stars are arranged in a pattern resembling the constellation Delphinus, with the small diamond to the NF side of the cluster and the body/tail stretching to the SP. The star on the P end of the diamond is the cluster’s brightest. The major axis of the diamond runs 1.5′ P-F, the minor axis 1.0′ N-S; the vertex to the N (0.5′ NP the star on the F end of the diamond) is much fainter than the others at threshold level, and is not always held steadily. The P vertex is 10.5 magnitude, the F vertex 12.5 magnitude, and the S vertex 11thmagnitude. SP the star on the P end of the diamond by 2.25′ is the SP end of the “tail,” which is a 10.5-magnitude star; NF that star by 0.67′ is an 11th-magnitude star, the other in the tail. There are stars SF and NP the main pattern of the cluster that are probably not cluster members. The diamond is filled with reflection nebulosity, which is brightest around the two brightest stars and stretches toward the stars in the tail without enveloping them. The brightest star in NGC 7129 is N slightly P the star at the N end of 7142 by 23′.

NGC 7380 (Cep): This is another nebulous cluster, but far more impressive than the previous. The Wizard Nebula—that this one has a proper name and NGC 7129 doesn’t may say something about their visual interestingness—comprises a fairly-rich cluster of perhaps forty stars in a triangular pattern. The stars span a wide range of magnitudes, and the cluster is pretty well detached and quite obvious in the starfield. The P vertex of the triangle is the cluster’s brightest star at 8.5 magnitude. F that star by 8′ is an 11th-magnitude star and N very very slightly P the 11th-magnitude star is a 10.5-magnitude star; these are the three vertices of the triangle. The cluster itself expands a bit beyond the boundaries of the triangle, to about 12′ overall. S very slightly P the F-most vertex (the 11th-magnitude star) is a 2.5′ string of five or six 12th/13th-magnitude stars. The F edge of the triangle is the best-defined and has many of the cluster’s fainter stars along it; there may be some unresolved stars among the nebular glow. Eight stars (counting the N and P vertices) define the triangle’s N edge, with six along the S edge. The brightest portion of the nebula runs along the F edge of the triangle. Without a filter, it’s hard to tell if there are any other brighter patches, but a dark obscuration runs along the S edge of the triangle, beginning near a bright pair of stars P the cluster (cf.) and running roughly F and somewhat S for 18′; this obscuration is 3.5′-4′ wide. With the UHC filter, the nebulosity is generally much brighter but evenly-illuminated, and mostly spans the confines of the triangle, without many knots or brighter patches. It stretches somewhat NP of the N-most vertex of the triangle. In averted vision, a brighter spot can be seen just N of a 12th-magnitude star that’s 1.67′ N of the SF vertex of the triangle. The view through the O-III filter is only slightly better than the unfiltered view and not a good as with the UHC; in the O-III the little patch on the F side disappears. With both filters, the small chain of stars running S of the SF vertex of the triangle may appear to contain some nebulosity. The pair of stars P the cluster (the pair from which the dark obscuration extends) is P the P-most vertex of the triangle by 6′; these are 9thand 7.5 magnitude, with the brighter NP the fainter by 0.5′. NP the brighter of the two by 9′ is the brightest star in the field, which is 6thmagnitude. From the P vertex N very slightly F by 13′ is another 9th-magnitude star; N slightly F that star by 13′ is another 6th-magnitude star, which has a 10th-magnitude star 0.75′ to the NP.

By this time the previous night, dew and clouds had conspired to drive us off the mountain; tonight, there was no trace of either (although we suspected a few belts of high-level cirrus had been creeping through from time to time). Even my eyepiece case—usually the first thing to get covered with dew—was completely dry. The sky was quickly steadying down as well, and the seeing had already exceeded the predicted level.

NGC 7419 (Cep): Another among a run of fine, interesting clusters here in Cepheus. This one looks nebulous at first glance but soon resolves into about twenty stars over a haze of beyond-threshold starglow. The cluster is obviously elongated NP-SF, and the 8.5-magnitude star at the NP corner—if an actual cluster member—is far brighter than the rest of the cluster stars (most of which are in the 13.5-and-fainter range). Many of these fainter stars are gathered on the cluster’s S end. The cluster is 4.0′ x 1.5′ with about sixty stars overall. There’s an obvious double or very close pair on the SF end, a pair of 13.5-magnitude stars separated N-S by 4″; halfway between this pair and the bright star on the NP end is a 10.5-magnitude star, and between this star and the double is a granular cloud of faint unresolved stars that resolves into a spray of stars in averted vision. Due F the 10.5-magnitude star is another patch of unresolved stars, 0.25′ across, near the F end of the cluster’s minor axis. Due S of the 10.5-magnitude star by 8′ is a 10th-magnitude star, and from that star F very slightly S by 3′ is a 9.8-magnitude star. 1.25′ NF the 8.5-magnitude star at the NP corner of the cluster is the brighter of a pair (11th– and 13.5-magnitude stars), the fainter N of the brighter by 0.3′. From the 8.5-magnitude star NP by 10′ is the brighter of yet another pair; the brighter of the two is the brightest star in the field at 7.5 magnitude, with a 10th-magnitude companion 10″ S very slightly F the brighter.

NGC 7510 (Cep): This cluster is a knockout, and a showpiece cluster for this aperture—the best cluster in Cepheus! It’s very rich and well detached, an arrowhead of more than fifty stars set within a triangle of 8thand 8.5-magnitude suns. The member magnitudes range from 9.5 (a single star on the F corner of the cluster) down to threshold level; many of the brighter (10.5-12thmagnitude) stars are in chains across the cluster, the two most-notable of which converge at the 9.5-magnitude star. One of these chains runs along the S edge of the cluster, from the lucida P very slightly S for 2.75′, and contains five stars including the two on the ends; the star on the P end of that chain is 10.5 magnitude. The other prominent chain runs due P from the 9.5-magnitude star and contains four stars (most of which are multiples) plus the lucida. These chains actually don’t stretch all the way to the 9.5-magnitude star; there’s a gap of 1.25′ between that star and the F-most star in each chain, but the illusion is that they both meet at the lucida. The star that marks the cluster’s N-most point is 2.25′ NP the 9.5-magnitude star and is 12.5 magnitude. The majority of the threshold/unresolved stars in the cluster are in the N half between the 12.5-magnitude star and the more northern of the two prominent chains. The sides of the cluster proper are about 2.75′ each, although a couple of much fainter (13.5-magnitude) stars are F the cluster lucida slightly, extending the S edge of the cluster. NF the lucida by 9′ is a bright double/pair, components of which are 8.5 and 12.5 magnitude, with the primary N of the secondary by 10″. F slightly N of this double by 4.5′ is another 8.5-magnitude star, and 19′ SP the double is an 8th-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field; these three stars (the double, the 8th-mag and the 8.5-mag) form the triangle in which the cluster is bounded. This is a superb object that deserves to be much better known!

Seeing had sharpened considerably by this point, and my primary mirror seemed to have long since reached equilibrium. Stars were steady tack-points in the eyepiece. Conditions tonight were proving to be even better than the CSC had predicted, and the seeing was on its way to being the sharpest I’ve experienced here in Oregon.

NGC 7635 (Cas): The Bubble Nebula seems, on photographs, to be a showpiece object; the reality, however, is quite more underwhelming at this aperture. The majority of the visible nebulosity surrounds a 9th-magnitude “central” star, but without a filter only a 1′ segment, mostly P and N of this star, is plainly seen in direct vision. In averted, the F side of the star, and arcing S-ward, is a hint of the F arc of the bubble itself. With the UHC filter, the nebula is considerably enhanced: the F-side arc of the bubble is much more apparent and defined but still quite faint in averted vision, and the remainder of the bubble is still not seen. The central 1′ glow is also much brighter with the filter, and another detached chunk of nebulosity is apparent some 2′ N of the 9th-magnitude star; this separate section is about 0.5′ across and really improves in averted vision. In the filter, the whole arc of the nebula—from the S end of the F-side arc to the secondary chunk N of the 9th-magnitude star—is about 3.5′ x 2.0′. Overall, this is another object that really would benefit from a substantial increase in aperture. From the 9th-magnitude star SP by 6′ is a the brightest star in the field, at 7th-magnitude, and from the 9th-magnitude star SF by 7.5′ is another of 9thmagnitude. 11′ NP the “central” 9th-magnitude star is a 9.5-magnitude star that’s the N-most vertex of a very flat triangle 1′ long; NF the central star by 13′ is the brightest (at 10th-magnitude) in another small triangle. The impressive M52 is outside the field, 39′ to the NF.

NGC 7789 (Cas): The autumn sky’s best open cluster! Caroline’s Rose is almost indescribably rich, with 150 or more stars packed into a 14′ round area (a nice change from triangular-ish clusters). It’s very obviously a single entity, and well detached in that it’s considerably denser than any standard Milky Way field. The majority of the stars are of 13thmagnitude or fainter. On the P side, running mostly N-S, is a run of sixteen brighter stars (11th/12thmagnitude), which hooks P a bit on the S end and then back NP for one more star; that last star is the brightest in the run at 10.5 magnitude and the P-most star that’s obviously a cluster member, and then P very very slightly S of that star by 1.67′ is a very small clump (maybe 0.3′ around) with perhaps seven 13th/14th-magnitude stars; even further P slightly N from the 10.5-magnitude star by 4.5′ is an 8.5-magnitude star, and a 9th-magnitude star lies 5.5′ NP from the 8.5-magnitude star. There’s a detached group outside the NF edge of the cluster some 12′ from cluster center; this group is an NP-SF running line with seven stars (and some unresolved) that spans 4′ in length. The famous dark lanes that give the cluster its flower-like appearance are quite obvious tonight. On the N edge of the cluster is a 4.5′ x 1.0′ dark arc whose ends point to the SP and SF; this lane has a few cluster members N of it. The second lane is on the NP corner of the cluster, running NF the aforementioned 10.5-magnitude star, and spans 5′ x 1′; this dark spot has no cluster members N of it. On the S edge of the cluster, forming a “pair of parentheses” with the lane on the N edge, is one of similar size and shape to the N-most lane; this one starts near the cluster’s SP corner, arcs S, and then back to the NF, almost like a smile. Just N of the cluster’s center is a lane that runs P-F 7′ x 0.5′; below this lane, halfway between this lane and the one on the S edge, is a smaller spot that’s 1.5′ long and is wider at the F end (0.67′) but narrows as it runs to the P. So in total there are four lanes running across the cluster and the one that runs NF from the NP edge of the cluster. This is a stunning, intricate object that yields new details with every passing moment spent observing it!

Jerry took a series of SQM measurements to get an indicator of the sky darkness and transparency. The 21.2 he got was surprisingly poor, but there was little doubt the seeing was far superior to the transparency. We all remarked on the sharpness of the star-points, even at higher magnifications; Jerry said that it was probably the best night seeing-wise that he’d ever had on Eagle’s Ridge.

NGCs 7790, 7788 (Cas): NGC 7790 is an impressive little cluster, a bit like a more-distant NGC 7510: it’s also an arrowhead-shaped spray of stars, pretty obvious and rich, with a decently-wide range of magnitudes. There are about forty stars here, with some granular, unresolved glow among them. On the P end is a diamond of stars with axes of 2.0′ x 1.5′; the major axis runs SP-NF, the minor NP-SF, with the minor axis offset toward the S slightly. The stars on the SP, P, and NF of the diamond are the three brightest in the cluster, with the one due P at 10.5 magnitude, the SP and NF stars 11thmagnitude, and the fourth in the diamond (the SF star) at 12thmagnitude. The cluster is 4′ x 1.5′, with its major axis running P-F and a 13.5-magnitude star at the extreme F end. The majority of the fainter stars are gathered halfway between the 13.5-magnitude star and the 10.5-magnitude star on the P end of the diamond. SF the 10.5-magnitude star by 5.25′ is a 10th-magnitude star; SP the cluster by 13′ is a 6th-magnitude star, while the brightest in the area, a 5.5-magnitude star, is due F the cluster by 23′. S of the 10.5-magnitude star by 11′ is a very close, almost-equal double (10thand 10.2 magnitudes) whose components are separated by 5″ NP-SF each other, with the SF of the double the fainter by a slight amount. F that double by 0.3′ is a 12th-magnitude star. NP the cluster by 18′ is NGC 7788: a much smaller cluster at 1.5′ diameter, it’s also quite rich. Its 9.5-magnitude lucida is perched on its P edge, and the cluster contains perhaps eighteen stars plus a bit of unresolved glow.

My notes for NGC 7762 are a mess, perhaps befitting an object that was tough to track down.

NGC 7762 (Cep): Sky Safari has this one plotted wrong, which contributed to the considerable delay I had in finding it. It’s roughly halfway between Caph (Beta Cas) and Errai (Gamma Cep), and is pretty good-sized; it’s not super-obvious or very well detached, but it’s plainly a cluster. There are about 30 stars here, many of which fall into the 12th/13th-magnitude range. The cluster’s most obvious feature is a stripe of seven closely-packed 12th-magnitude stars, 1.5′ long, that runs N very slightly P-S very slightly F. This line is near the middle of the cluster proper. A 10.5-magnitude star 7.5′ NP of the line marks the NP (and right-angle) vertex of the triangular shape of the cluster. SP this vertex by 9′ is the P-most vertex of the triangle, which is 11th-magnitude. An 11.5-magnitude star 15′ SF the right-angle vertex serves as the third vertex. N of the “stripe” of stars by 1.5′ is a small knot of stars, no more than 0.3′ across, which contains six stars of 14thmagnitude and fainter. 12′ F very slightly S from the right angle vertex is an 8th-magnitude star with a 13.5-magnitude star P very slightly N of it by 0.5′; 1.5′ N slightly F the 8th-magnitude star is a 10.5-magnitude star with a 13th– magnitude star 0.25′ due P it; 6.5′ F the 10.5- magnitude is an 8.5- magnitude star. SP the cluster, 17′ SP the star in the middle of the “stripe” is the brightest star in the field, which is 5thmagnitude and bluish.

Although it was still before midnight, we’d been observing for close to five hours already (thank you early sunsets!), and despite the rush from observing in such excellent conditions, we were all beginning to feel a bit fatigued; Robert also had work the next morning. With an hour’s drive home and having reached a good stopping point, I chose one more Herschel object from my list, one that I had somehow missed during my previous forays into Cetus and Eridanus.

NGC 1162 (Eri): Finally gotten to this… unspectacular little galaxy in Eridanus, after having accidentally skipped over it last winter. It’s not really worth the wait, with the caveat that all galaxies are worthy of awe in their own right. This one is round and 0.75′ across, with a somewhat brighter, compact core and a substellar nucleus. (Admittedly, the sky down this low isn’t as dark or transparent as it is higher in altitude/declination.) It’s in a pretty interesting field with a lot of brightish background stars. NF the galaxy by 5.75′ is the P-most vertex in a right triangle, at 11thmagnitude; the 12th-magnitude right angle vertex lies 3.75′ due F the 11th-magnitude star, and there’s a 12.5-magnitude star 3.25′ S of the right-angle vertex. Beyond the triangle, there is another 12th-magnitude star 4′ S of the galaxy, and an 11th-magnitude star 6.75′ NP the galaxy. The brightest in the field is a 9.5-magnitude star S very slightly F the galaxy by 12′; and, 26′ N very slightly P the galaxy (and outside the field) is a slightly reddish 6th-magnitude star.

So our evening of superior seeing reached an end, with a needed but pretty mediocre galaxy. Along the way, I had also observed Comet 46/P (Wirtanen), the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1300, NGC 1360 (the Comet Nebula) in Fornax, M15 (as always), the glorious Local Group spiral galaxy M33, which was overflowing with detail, the Orion Nebula (a stunning object as always, particularly in Robert’s binoscope), and the planet Neptune, always a target when it’s in the sky. By the time I got my gear disassembled and stowed, it was well after midnight, and I arrived home through foggy streets somewhere around 1:30 AM.

III. The forecast for the next two nights was mediocre, and I had other obligations regardless. Our next clear night would likely be the last one for November, given the advance of the Moon, and so I made sure to take one last stab at the whale for the month when conditions finally proved amenable.

Although Jerry couldn’t make it, we set up in the road junction with the expectation that we’d have a fair number of observers. Jeff L was there setting up when I arrived, and Dan B pulled up in short order; he had his daughter and her friend Jazlyn in tow. Surprisingly, no-one else from EAS showed.

The Moon made its presence felt early on, but was already behind the trees by the time the sky grew dark. The sky wasn’t nearly as good as our previous night out, but it was still mostly clear; the occasional wave of cirrus rolled through, and the sky near the horizons (where we could actually see the horizons from the junction) was pretty cruddy. Overhead, though, conditions were good enough.

I’d prepared to wade through the extensive list of Herschel objects in Cassiopeia; these were mostly open clusters, and most of them in and around the ‘W’ pattern of the constellation’s brighter stars. Aside from the Virgo Cluster, there may not be a comparable area of sky so densely-packed with Herschel objects. After taking a view of the lovely triple star Iota Cassiopeiae—ostensibly to check the seeing overhead—I got down to my long-delayed survey of Cassiopeia’s riches.


MOON: 4 days; 17% illuminated, set at 8:11 PM
SEEING: 5 (Variable)
TRANSPARENCY: 5+ (variable, some cirrus coming through; gunky at horizons although MW still fine)
SQM: 21.2
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid 40s, some high clouds rolling through, very breezy, no dew to speak of

Others present: JL, DB, Ruby, Jazlyn

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

NGC 129 (Cas): The first of a whole night in Cassiopeia, and an obvious cluster, well detached and moderately rich with 50 stars. The cluster overall spans about 12′ P-F x 8.0′ N-S. Its most-prominent feature is a right triangle of brighter stars (9th/9.5 magnitude) spanning across the middle of the cluster: the right-angle vertex is the F-most of the three, and is 9.5 magnitude; 3.25′ NP is the second vertex, which is 9thmagnitude; the third vertex is SP the right-angle vertex by 3′ and is also 9thmagnitude. The hypotenuse runs N very slightly P-S very slightly F and is 3.75′ long. This triangle is overlaid upon an irregular ellipse of fainter stars, mostly in the 11th/12th-magnitude range; this ellipse is elongated NP-SF, and the three stars in the triangle form part of the ellipse. A mostly-straight line of seven (mostly 11th/11.5-magnitude) stars, F the right-angle vertex of the triangle by 4.5′, runs 3.75′ N very slightly P-S very slightly F and forms the F edge of the cluster. There are a couple of stars P the NP vertex of the triangle, and these form the cluster’s NP bound. From the SP vertex of the triangle S by 2.5′ are a couple of cluster members that mark the S end of a line that runs S-NF along the F edge of the ellipse. S of the right-angle vertex by 13′ is the brightest star in the field, which is 5.5 magnitude. SF the right-angle vertex by 11′ is a 9th-magnitude star. F slightly N of the right-angle vertex by 9′ is the P-most of a pair of 8.5-magnitude stars; the second is due F the first by 1.5′; NF the second of these by 0.75′ is a 10th-magnitude star. NP the NP vertex of the triangle by 2.75′ is a small clump of seven 12th-magnitude stars (and maybe a couple of 13thmagnitude); this clump is 0.75′ across.

NGC 136 (Cas): The epitome of ‘compact,’ NGC 136 is no more than 1.25′ across but very rich and dense with stars. These stars are primarily fainter than magnitude 13; there are two that bright on the N edge of the cluster. It’s not much more than a nebulous spot, almost like a loose, small and distant globular, and very much a singular object despite not being overly well detached from the rich background. The field surrounding the cluster is pretty evenly-populated with stars, but there are no real patterns or asterisms that stick out.  SP the cluster by 5.5′ is the brightest star in the field at 7.5 magnitude; 0.67′ S very slightly P that star is a 12th-magnitude star. N slightly P the cluster by 12′ is a 10th-magnitude star, and due N of the cluster by 3.5′ is an 11th-magnitude star. SP the cluster by 17′ is a 16′ long straight line running S-NP, containing fifteen stars of 9thto 11.5 magnitudes; the brightest in this line is 9thmagnitude and on the S end of the line; P that star by 6.5′ is another of the same magnitude.

NGC 225 (Cas): This cluster is very bright, but not one of the richer or more detached open clusters I’ve done so far. There are only about twenty stars here, and of a fairly narrow range of magnitude; most are of 8thor 9thmagnitude. The cluster is roughly triangular (as so many seem to be!); it’s 15′ on the F side, 13′ on the N side, and 8′ on the P side. The most distinctive feature of the cluster is a line of stars on the F side that runs due N-S and has a couple of “kinks” in it; it’s 9.5′ long and has five stars in the 8th/9th-magnitude range and a few that are fainter; the bottom three in the line form a flat isosceles triangle whose long side is 3.5′ and the other two sides 2′; the N-most in this triangle is brighter than the other two by 0.5 magnitude (at 9thmagnitude); then there’s a gap between this star and a 12.5-magnitude star N of it by 2′ and two 10th-magnitude stars and three much fainter ones. The main body of the cluster itself is also triangular, and it shares S and NP vertices with the larger triangle as well as P and N edges (although the N edge of the larger triangle extends out to the N end of the line on the F side. The line on the F side of the larger triangle runs parallel to the F side of the smaller; there’s an average gap of about 4.5′ between the two sides). The shared S-most vertex of the two triangles is 11thmagnitude. 2.25′ F very slightly N of the shared NP vertex of the triangles is a double star of 11thand 12.5 magnitudes, with the secondary F the primary by 13″.

By this point then sky was already deteriorating somewhat, and the seeing and transparency had proven to be extremely variable from moment to moment. The wind had also picked up, becoming a sussurus of noise in the background of my recorded notes. Jeff measured an average of 21.2 on his SQM–as good as the fine night previous on the spur, but still below the average we got at the junction. Not knowing if we would get completely crude out or not, I pressed on.

NGC 381 (Cas): A fine, fairly-rich cluster of perhaps forty stars in a 5′ diameter. It’s moderately-well detached, in a field containing a couple of very bright stars and a couple of interesting asterisms. The stars in the cluster range from an 11th-magnitude beacon just on the N edge down to below 13th magnitude, perhaps to 14th. The majority of the stars are on the fainter end of this range. There’s a prominent group of very faint stars on the SP edge of the cluster and a clump of brighter stars on the SF edge. There’s also an obvious string of 11th-magnitude stars, perhaps five, that stretch 8′ N from the cluster lucida. 10′ F slightly S of the 11th-magnitude star is a 7.5-magnitude star, and an 8th-magnitude star is 18′ NF the 11th-magnitude star. S very slightly P the cluster is an interesting asterism of seven stars running S-NP for about 4′; around the middle of this asterism are a few threshold stars that give a fleeting impression of nebulosity; the brightest in this asterism is one the NP end and is 16′ S very slightly P the lucida. NP the cluster are two other clumps of stars: one is 11′ NP the 11th-magnitude star and is a small line of four in the 11.5/12.5-magnitude range; this line runs 1.25′ N-S. The second clump is 17′ NP the previous clump and smaller, perhaps 0.75′ round, with eight stars of 12th-13.5 magnitude, with its brightest star on its SP corner.

NGC 436 (Cas): Another compact but very distinct cluster. The central “body” of NGC 436 spans 1.5′ and has on its N edge a close double: 11.5-mag components separated by 8″ N very slightly P-S very slightly F. S of the N component of this double by 1.25′ is an 11th-magnitude star, and this and the double from the major axis of the cluster’s rich central region. Twenty of the cluster’s thirty stars are in this region, which is also bounded by an 11.5-magnitude star 0.5′ S very slightly F the S component of the double, and another 11.5-magnitude star SP the N component of the double by 1.5′. The area between these is filled with faint stars, especially to the S; between the two brighter ones on that end is an averted-vision clump of unresolved stars, and the cluster has a centralized clump which is “smeared” toward the P side. The cluster’s overall dimensions are 4.5′ x 1.67′. There’s a conspicuous line of three stars S of the cluster, running P-F, that ends SF the cluster; the faintest of these is the P-most and 11.5 magnitude, and it’s 3′ S very very slightly F the double star by 3′; F this star by 1.75′ is a 9.5-magnitude star, and F that star by 2′ is a 10th-magnitude star. Due S of the first of these three by 2.75′ is an 11th-magnitude star, which forms a right triangle with the previous group of three. P the double star by 14′ is the brightest in the field, a 7th-magnitude star, which is on the P edge of an asterism that ‘s vaguely Capricornus-like and consists mainly of 9.5-11th-magnitude stars.

NGC 457 (Cas): The famous ET/Owl/Dragonfly/WALL-E Cluster is one of the showpieces of the autumn sky, and one of the best objects for public outreach event for any season. It’s also the nicest cluster in Cassiopeia regardless of which aperture one uses. It’s a large, quite rich (eighty stars) and very well detached cluster with a wide range of magnitudes, from 5th-magnitude PhiCassiopeiae down to 13thmagnitude. (Phi1may not actually be a member of the cluster.) Phi1 and 7th-magnitude Phi(2.25′ P slightly S of Phi1) form the SF end of the cluster, which extends 15′ to the NP and contains more than eighty stars in its borders; from the ends of the figure’s arms is 22′. On the NF corner of the cluster (the more-F foot of the figure) is a 9th-magnitude star, and the NP foot is a star of magnitude 9.5. The figure’s F arm/wing runs mostly P-F, while the P arm/wing runs SP-NF. The P arm is slightly less-defined than the F arm, and is composed primarily of two 9.5-magnitude stars which each have SF them by 1′ an 11th-magnitude star; these four make up most of the P arm. The F arm also has four stars: the P-most of these is the cluster’s third-brightest star at 8.5-magnitude and is the “joint” where the arm meets the figure’s body. The star at the F end of the arm is 10th-magnitude and lies 9′ NF Phi1. There are three primary subgroups around the center of the cluster: a bright double star of 10th-magnitude components (N slightly P-S slightly F each other, separation 0.25′) lies halfway between Phiand the NP foot of the figure, and a pair of small triangles lie SF the double; the closest to the double has as its brightest star its P-most vertex, 1.25′ S slightly F the southern component of the double; NF that star by 0.75′ is a 12th-magnitude star; F very slightly N of the P-most/brightest in this triangle by 0.67′ is the brighter of a double (11th and 12th magnitudes, the brighter 6″ N of the fainter). The second triangle lies just less than halfway from the bright (10th/10th) double to Phi2; NP Phiby 3.75′ is the S-most and brightest (9.5 magnitude) of this second triangle; NP that star by 0.67′ is the 10th-magnitude right-angle vertex of this second triangle, and the third vertex is 10.5 magnitude and 0.3′ NF the right-angle vertex. NP Phiby 1′ is a small rhombus of 12th– and 13th-magnitude stars that is about 0.5′ on each axis. A superb object.

By now, the wind was fairly howling in the background; in listening to my voice recordings from the evening, there are times when my voice is hard to hear over the rumble of the wind. It only moderately-affected our gear, rippling the shroud on my telescope and occasionally blowing my charts open to a different page. But the sky was still clear, and the transparency had improved a bit as the wind blew the sky clean.

NGC 559 (Cas): A very rich, obvious and well-detached cluster, with sixty stars compressed into a 3.5′ area. These don’t have a particularly wide range of magnitudes. Most prominent are three brighter stars that form a small isosceles triangle, with its base to the SF and its tip to the NP; the stars along the base are 0.3′ apart, with the more southern of the two being the brightest in the cluster at 11thmagnitude and the other 11.5; the star at the triangle’s tip is NP the brighter star by 1′ and is just a shade dimmer (11.2 magnitude?). This triangle bounds the brightest, densest part of the cluster, with the cluster spreading out SP and NF from that and the brightest portion toward the NF end of the cluster. The cluster overall is roughly rectangular, although the brightest stars mark out a circle. The rectangle is elongated SP-NF. The F side of the cluster has a long string of stars along it with the two at the base of the isosceles triangle as part of it; the line runs 1.75′ NF from those stars and also contains six or seven 13th/14th-magnitude stars; this line defines the F edge of the rectangle. 1.5′ SF the two stars at the triangle’s base is an 11.5-magnitude star; SF that star by 1′ is a clump of discrete 13th-magnitude and fainter stars. NP the cluster, about 3′ NP the star at the triangle’s tip, is a 10.5-magnitude star; P very slightly N of that star is another 10.5-magnitude star; 2.5′ due P that star is an 11th-magnitude star. The cluster is halfway between the two brightest stars in the field: F the cluster by 12′ is a 7.5-magnitude star; P the cluster by 11′ is an 8.5-magnitude star. S of the 7.5-magnitude star is another small isosceles triangle, the tip of which is 10.5 magnitude and is S of the 7.5-magnitude star by 1.67′ and the two stars on the base are F and F very slightly S of that 10.5-magnitude star and are both 12thmagnitude; these are separated by 12″ and oriented SP-NF to each other.

NGC 637 (Cas): Another smallish, pretty rich cluster, one of many gems here in Cassiopeia. This one contains 25 stars in a 2.5′ diameter, with a wide range of magnitudes among them. A delta pattern of brighter stars is superimposed upon the fainter (13.5 magnitude and below) majority; many of those in the delta are in the 10th/11th-magnitude range. The P-most of these, which is the “bend” of the delta, is actually a double, with the 10th-magnitude primary S of the fainter by 7″; the secondary is 11thmagnitude. The primary of this double is the brightest star in the cluster. S of the primary by 1′ is a 10.5-magnitude star, while another 11th-magnitude star is 0.67 NF the primary; NF this second star by another 0.67′ is the dimmest of the delta stars at 12thmagnitude. Due N of the primary by 2′ is another 10th-magnitude star. Due F the lucida by 3′ is the brighter of a pair (10.5 and 11thmagnitudes), with the brighter P very very slightly N of the secondary by 20″. Several bright stars are in the field as well: there are three 8th-magnitude stars, one S very very slightly P the lucida by 9′, with another 7.5′ SF that star, and the third 17′ NP the lucida; this last star is also the F end of a string of four stars that runs SP from that star, with a gap between the 8th-magnitude star and the next one SP.

NGC 654 (Cas): NGC 654 is one of a trio of impressive clusters on the eastern side of Cassiopeia’s ‘W’ pattern, and probably second among the three in visual impact. It’s a showy splash of forty stars, roughly triangular, and with a wide range of brightnesses, well detached from the surrounding starfields. It’s fairly rich, especially across the middle of its 5.75′ x 5.0′ span. The SF vertex of this triangular cluster is both the brightest star in the cluster and in the field at 7thmagnitude, and even to my colorblind eyes has a slightly reddish hue. The SP vertex of the triangle is P the previous star by 3.5′ and is 9.5 magnitude; the N vertex is N of the lucida by 4.5′, but is formed from a tiny triangle of two 12th– and one 14th-magnitude stars, with the two brighter forming the little triangle’s S edge. The three vertices are the cluster’s most obvious feature. The secondary axis of the cluster runs roughly P-F and consists of five 11.5-magnitude stars, of which the two on the F end form the N edge of a diamond which includes the cluster’s 7th-magnitude lucida as its SP vertex, with a 12th-magnitude star F the lucida by 1′. The lucida is on the S end of the diamond’s minor axis (1.3′ long; the major axis is 2.25′ and oriented NP-SF. Just N of the middle of that P-F line, right in the middle of the cluster, is its most-concentrated clump of stars, which is roughly 2′ P-F and 1.25′ N-S. Although the field is fairly populous, little stands out around the cluster.

NGC 659 (Cas): The second of the eastern Cassiopeia trio, and probably the least of the three. It’s smallish and moderately-rich, with forty stars, and pretty obviously a cluster, although it’s less detached than many of the previous clusters I’ve done. The cluster is round, but the predominant bright stars form a pentagon, out of the bottom of which some of the cluster spills out. The pentagon’s major axis runs NP-SF and is 1.75′. The minor axis is 1′ and runs SP-NF. The NP vertex of the pentagon is 11.5 magnitude and lies at the NP end of the major axis; S of it and very slightly F is a trio or triple star, of which the brightest is in the middle at 11.5 magnitude; this has a 12.5-magnitude star to the P by 15″ and a 13th-magnitude star F by 6″. From the middle star in the trio SF by 0.67′ is a 10.5-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the pentagon; 0.67′ due F that 10.5-magnitude star is an 11.5-magnitude star that lies on the SF end of the major axis; N of that star by 1.3′ is a 12.5-magnitude star that’s the NF-most vertex of the pentagon. SP the cluster is a trio of very bright stars of which the star in the middle is the brightest in the field at 6th magnitude; this star is SP the triple star by 11′; P that star by 5.5′ is a 7th-magnitude star; SF the 6th-magnitude star by 8′ is a 7.5-magnitude star (these three form their own triangle). Due F the cluster by 19′ from the triple star is another 7.5-magnitude star. From the triple star N slightly F by 40′ is the N-most star in NGC 663 (cf.).

NGC 663 (Cas): The third, most-impressive, and largest of the trio of clusters on the eastern side of Cassiopeia’s W, NGC 663 is somewhat reminiscent of NGC 457.  The cluster’s four most-prominent stars are on the N end; there are no very bright stars here, and so the range of magnitudes here is less extreme than that of 457. The cluster is very rich, with eighty stars, possibly as many as a hundred in its 9′ x 9′ area. The brightest star, at magnitude 8.5, is on the due N edge of the cluster; there are two 9th-magnitude stars on the NP corner. The richest concentration of stars lies due S of the 8.5-magnitude star. There are at least two fine doubles (or pairs): one due F the lucida by 1.25′, with the brighter P the fainter by 5″, at 9th and 10.5 magnitudes; this and the cluster lucida form the upper end of a roughly-elliptical section of the cluster and serve as the “eyes of a Santa Claus-like figure, with the remainder of the ellipse forming his beard, running N-S 3.5′ and 2.5′ P-F and containing the majority of the fainter cluster members. The other notable double/pair consists of a 9.5-magnitude star with an 11.5-magnitude secondary F the primary by 8”; this double is SP the 8.5-magnitude lucida by 3′, and with another 9.5-magnitude star 1.25′ P slightly N of the double, these form the P arm of the Santa figure. SP this 9.5/11.5-mags double by 1′ is yet another double, 10.5 and 11thmagnitudes, separated by 6″, with the fainter NF the brighter. The other arm of the Santa figure is SF the lucida and consists of two unequal magnitude stars: an 11th-magnitude star 5.75′ SF the lucida, with a 9.5-magnitude star 1′ F and very slightly S. The stars marking Santa’s feet are a 10.5-magnitude star S of the lucida by 8′ (the P foot) and an 11.5-magnitude star SF the previous by 1′. These two also form the S edge of a parallelogram with two 10.5-magnitude stars to the N: one due N of the P foot by 2.5′ and one NF the P foot by 1.67′.

NGC 1027 (Cas): Of all the clusters I’ve observed tonight, this one is probably the least. It’s well out in the Cassiopeia hinterlands, and not particularly easy to find. The cluster is roughly round and 14′ in diameter, but fairly weak in terms of population, with thirty stars. The cluster is not overly-well detached, just somewhat denser than the typical Cassiopeiac star field. The magnitude range is pretty extreme, with a 7th-magnitude star near the center of the cluster and a number of stars of 13thmagnitude. (The 7th-magnitude star is also the brightest in the field.) NF the 7th-magnitude star is a very thin right triangle with three equally-spaced stars on the S edge; the star in the middle of this edge is 2.75′ F slightly N of the lucida, and is the brightest in the triangle and the second-brightest in the cluster at magnitude 9.5; NP that star by 1.67′ is a 10th-magnitude star, and 1.67′ F very slightly S of the 9.5-magnitude star is an 11th-magnitude star which has an 11.5-magnitude star 0.75′ N of it; the 11th-magnitude star is the right-angle vertex of the triangle. The richest section of the cluster is NP the 7th-magnitude star and begins in an arc just N of the P-most star in the right triangle, running S roughly toward the lucida and the P slightly N; the ned of this arc is a pair of 12.5-magnitude stars and a 13th-magnitude str that the closest of these to the 7th-magnitude star, at 1.75′ P. Defining the S edge of the cluster is a pair, 10th and 10.5 magnitudes, with the fainter 4.5′ S of the 7th-magnitude star and the brighter F the fainter by 1.67′.

NGC 1027 was the last of the Cassiopeia clusters on my list. I still had NGC 896 (a small patch of nebulosity) remaining on my list for Cassiopeia, but I wasn’t able to track it down even after twenty minutes or so of searching. (It didn’t help that Cassiopeia was in an awkward position at that point, very near the zenith.) Jeff had gone home some time earlier, and Dan was considering calling it a night as well. I could hardly argue; I was at a good stopping-point, and it was just chilly enough that I wouldn’t mind leaving for the warmer environment of home. I’d accomplished quite a lot this evening, and during this run—there’d be no disappointment now.

After a few stops by some showpiece objects—M31, the Double Cluster, etc.—I tore down my gear for the long drive home, satisfied with the spectacular sights I’d looked upon and by the details I’d wrung out of them.



Permanence and Change

For only the second time in our tenure here in Oregon (the first being last year), we had a stretch of clear Moonless nights in October. With autumn being my favorite observing season, this was an opportunity not to be wasted.

I was also giving the presentation at the October EAS meeting, as a last-minute replacement for the scheduled speaker. Having already given a talk on “Forgotten Gems of the Spring Sky,” I decided to give an autumn counterpart, while planning winter and summer versions for down the road. (I also somehow got myself elected president of EAS at the same meeting.) I put together a list of forty objects for the program, based on past observations and recommendations for those classes of objects (carbon and double stars, etc.) I had fewer observations for; after settling on a few open clusters I hadn’t actually seen, I decided to use the first night of this October run verifying that the objects I had chosen for the program were, in fact, gems of the autumn sky.

I’d hoped to get a long session in, checking out the program objects and then moving on to more Herschel objects–particularly those remaining in Cygnus and Cepheus. I hadn’t been able to convince anyone else from EAS to join me at Eureka Ridge, and while this wouldn’t normally have been a problem, on this night it made for an uncomfortable session that was cut far short.

Shortly after I arrived at the tiny Eureka clearing, I heard approaching tires on the gravel. Rather than an unannounced fellow from EAS, though, this was a white pickup truck with nearly-opaque window tinting; it drove past me very slowly, clearly checking me out as I was starting to set up my gear. Having already had a bad experience with a white pickup truck at Eureka earlier in the year—back in May, one had blocked the road in front of me and nearly forced me into the trees—I was immediately wary of this one. And with an observation interrupted by apparent deer poachers a couple of years ago, I knew that the clearing at the end of the Eureka road was occasionally used for less-than-wholesome purposes. I watched the truck drive to the end of the road, keeping an eye on it even as I continued setting up.

At length (probably fifteen minutes), the truck turned and drove slowly back toward me. I made sure not to make eye contact with the unseen driver as it passed, and was startled as they gunned the truck around the corner up the road and disappeared.

Ten minutes later, I heard yet another vehicle, hoping again that it was someone from EAS. No, this was a small car that had obviously survived a fair number of accidents, with a driver about whom the same looked like it could be said. He and his passenger grinned as they drove past, and I could hear echoes of Duelling Banjoes somewhere in the back of my Australopithicene brain. That car, too, drove down the road and parked in the clearing, waiting until the sky had darkened appreciably before turning and driving back… without headlights.

I was now the most uncomfortable I’d ever been observing alone. I was used to passing traffic at Giant City, and it wasn’t even unheard of for cars to pass (and turn around) at the Crab Orchard wildlife loop during the night. But out here, so far away from civilization (on obscure backroads, rather than as the pteranodon flies), I was pretty unnerved.

Four- and six-legged wildlife didn’t usually bother me. The two-legged kind does bother me, when it’s hanging out with unknown purpose in the places where I’m observing; even the sovcits are OK when they’re shooting things up, because I know why they’re there and they generally pack up after sunset. Having vehicles driving back and forth when I’m observing alone is not a comforting feeling, and I tend to be uneasy when they’re present. I resolved, after this night and my previous encounter, that I wouldn’t observe at Eureka alone anymore.

I went through my program list, making sure each of the objects on it qualified as a “forgotten gem of autumn,” and packed up for the night.


I. A couple of nights later, there was interest in going up to Eagle’s Ridge, so a few of us made the trek up the mountain.

The winding mountain road, so pitted with gigantic potholes and sliding down the mountain in some spots, had been thoroughly repaired. (Just as the road to Eureka had been early in the year.) I had even brought the two cans of road paint I’d bought earlier in the summer for marking the potholes, but it wasn’t even necessary—although the road was still a bit rough, there were no major catastrophes awaiting.

But things weren’t all good. I noticed, as I drove, that there was more debris on the road than usual; as I passed the gravel pit (our tertiary Eagle’s site), I could see that the lumber companies had been hard at work. Huge hundred-plus-year-old trees were down along the roadsides, with bark and branches everywhere strewn across the road. Heavy logging vehicles parked along the shoulder where the road actually had a shoulder. It was an ominous sight, and I was grateful to still have daylight for picking my way between the wreckage of fallen trees and their abandoned automotive conquerors.

By the time I made it to the top of the ridge, the junction was already busy with astronomers. Dan B was there, setting up a largish refractor; Robert A was there, too, with his superb 3D-printed binocular-scope. And there was another fellow new to the group; his name was Mark, and he’d come in from Florence on his way to visit family in Springfield (at least I think it was Springfield; I apologize, Mark, if I got it wrong). Mark had an SCT with him, and was putting it through its setup paces as I began to set up.

Rather than jumping into the remaining objects in Cygnus—mostly planetary nebulae—I went to work on Herschels in Cepheus and Cassiopeia, starting with NGC 6939; I’d gotten the neighboring face-on spiral NGC 6946 my last time out, but had been clouded out before I could grab the nearby open cluster. Then it was on to objects on Sky Atlas 2000.0 Chart 4, so that I kept ahead of the meridian as much as possible. It turned into a night of (primarily) galaxies… all the more enjoyable after a season of open clusters and planetaries.

Conditions deteriorated quickly, with dew falling early and heavily. Several thin waves of cirrus drifted through, disrupting the transparency and seeing throughout the early part of the evening.


MOON: 2 days; 3% illuminated, set at 7:58 PM
SEEING: 7 (Variable)
TRANSPARENCY: 7 (variable, some cirrus coming through)
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.8
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 40s, cold and clammy, breezy, very dewy until 11:00 (then ceased dewing up)

Others present: FS, DB, RA, Mark from Florence

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

NGC 6939 (Cep): I’m starting with this one because I couldn’t get to it the last time out (when I got NGC 6946). This is a very, very rich, well-detached open cluster of the NGC 7789 type, with no fewer than ninety stars packed into a 9′ area. This one is also much more like a flight of wild ducks than M11, with the brightest stars in the cluster forming a very obvious ‘V’ shape pointing due P. The star at the “point” of the ‘V’ is pretty close to the P edge of the cluster, and, at 11thmagnitude, is the brightest star that’s obviously a cluster member. One of the bars of the ‘V’ starts at that star and runs SF along the S edge of the cluster proper; this bar has five of the brighter cluster stars along it. The other bar starts on the NF edge of the cluster and runs SP to the “point star”; this bar has more stars (almost too many to count) but these are fainter than those in the other bar. Both of these bars are about 3.5′ long. The bar on the N extends beyond that; after the 3.5′ length, there’s a wide gap and then a small triangular clump of four or five 13th-magnitude stars. A couple of other clumps of stars lie N of this bar, in what is the densest part of the cluster. The cluster itself lies within a diamond of brighter stars: 5′ P very slightly N of the “point star” is a 10th-magnitude star; nearly due N of the point star by 7.5′ is a 10.5-magnitude star that is itself the S central star in a small rhombus; NF the point star by 9′ is a 10th-magnitude star that has a 12th-magnitude companion due F by 0.3′; there’s another clump of four or five 13.5/14th-magnitde stars between this pair and the clump to the NF.  9′ S slightly F the point star is another 10th-magnitude star; 5.25′ S somewhat F this last star is a 7th-magnitude star, the brightest in the field. An isolated brightish (12thmagnitude) star lies 4′ F very slightly S of the point star, in between the bars of the ‘V’ toward the S. 2.5′ P very very slightly S of the point star is a faint trio of stars in a N-S running line that’s 0.67′ long and is probably outside the boundary of the cluster; the brightest in this trio is in the middle and is 12.5 magnitude.

NGCs 185, 147 (Cas): Back to galaxies!  NGC 185 is a large (4.0′ x 3.5′, elongated SP-NF), weakly-concentrated and very diffuse glow. There’s little core visible here and no nucleus. The edges of the galaxy are poorly-defined and fade away into the background sky. Curiously, it has a graininess to it, as if it’s just beyond the verge of possible resolution; it’s not mottled, but has a texture to it almost like a faint, unresolved globular. It’s in the middle of a triangle of bright stars: 11′ P very slightly S is an 8.5-magnitude star; 10′ NF is another 8.5-magnitude star; due S of the galaxy by 12′ is a 10th-magnitude star. Also NF (by 3.75′) is the brightest (11.5 magnitude) vertex in a small triangle; the other two vertices of the triangle are 12.5 magnitude. 19′ S of the galaxy is a 9th-magnitude star. Also S of the galaxy is a very flat trapezoid of stars of which the two brightest are on the SP end: there’s an 11th-magnitude star on the SP corner, a 12th-magnitude star 1′ SF that first star, another 12th-magnitude star 2.25′ F very slightly N of the previous, and a 13th-magnitude star 1.25′ NF the second 12th-magnitude star. The longest side of the trapezoid is the N side, and the 13th-magnitude star is the closest to the galaxy at 5′.

NGC 147 lies 55′ P very slightly N of 185. This is quite a difficult galaxy, and one that was a real challenge from southern Illinois. It’s larger but even more diffuse and considerably fainter than 185, although it’s still surprising that William Herschel missed it. 147 is, like NGC 185, elongated SP-NF, but larger at about 5.0′ x 4.0′. The galaxy has only very weak central brightening, and a faint star near the middle rather than a visible nucleus. A very faint star (14thmagnitude?) is embedded in the NF end of the halo, and another on the SP edge. S of the galaxy is a random pattern of 10th/12th-magnitude stars that’s 7′ long. SP the galaxy by 10′ is a 10.5-magnitude star. The brightest in the field is 8thmagnitude and lies 16′ NP the galaxy. 7′ N slightly P the galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star that’s the SF end of an ‘X’ pattern that extends NP from that star, while the crossbar extends from P to N of that star; the faintest star in the ‘X’ is in the middle, where the bars cross. Due NP the galaxy is a very thin isosceles triangle whose base is the S end, with the 9.5-magnitude star on the P end of the base the brightest in the triangle; the star on the N tip is 10th-magnitude, while the F end of the base is 12th-magnitude; the triangle is 1′ x 4′. F the galaxy by 8′ is a 10.5-magnitude star.

NGC 278 (Cas): A bright (but much smaller) one to follow two much tougher galaxies. This one’s only 1.25′ in diameter, with a very small bright core and a possible faint stellar nucleus. The halo here is well defined, and seems to have some brightness variation in the SP quadrant, like a dark spot in the halo. The overall appearance of the galaxy is similar to that of a planetary nebula as much as a galaxy. A number of 8th-magnitude and dimmer stars surround the galaxy: 3′ N is a 9th-magnitude star, and there’s an 11th-magnitude star NF the previous by 2.5′. SP the galaxy by 4.5′ is the brightest star in a long chain that extends from that star to the NP; the chain is 3.5′ long with its brightest two stars at the ends—the star at the S end (the one SP the galaxy) is 10thmagnitude and the one at the NP end (P very slightly S of the galaxy) is12.5 magnitude; between these two are a number of 13th/14th/14.5-magnitude stars. Due S of the galaxy by 4.75′ is the brightest (12.5 magnitude) in another small line extending from that star ; this line runs F very slightly S for 0.75′ and includes two more fainter stars. The brightest star in the field is 9thmagnitude and lies 3′ N of the galaxy. An interesting double/pair lies 9′ NP, with equal-magnitude (12th– magnitude) components separated SP-NF by 0.3′.

By this point, I was already having to monitor my secondary mirror for dew coverage—my built-in dew heater simply couldn’t match the conditions at the factory preset setting, and I’d have to remove the secondary to change the setting. It tried to keep up with the dampness of the air and gave up the ghost several times, forcing me to resort to a portable hair dryer to get the offending humidity off the secondary mirror. I was determined to plow onward, though, having yielded my first observing night of the month to my unease at the passing vehicles at Eureka.

NGC 214 (And): The first one tonight I’ve never seen before, this galaxy is pretty underwhelming. It’s small at 1.125′ x 0.67′, elongated P somewhat P-F somewhat N, with a small brighter core, a trace of a very faint stellar nucleus, and a poorly-defined halo that seems as if there should be more to it; the halo fades away and the ends can’t be held steadily in either direct or averted vision. This is certainly not one of the more impressive or obvious Herschel galaxies! The field is quite interesting, however, with a number of small patterns of stars. Due N of the galaxy by 6′ is an 11th-magnitude star. NF the galaxy is a small right triangle; the 11th-magnitude right-angle vertex is 9′ NF the galaxy, with a 10th-magnitude star P by 1.75′ and a 13.5-magnitude star S by 1.5′. An almost-right triangle is SP the galaxy, its brightest star (and N-most vertex) at 10.5 magnitude and 5.75′ SP the galaxy; the 13.5-magnitude not-quite-right-angle vertex of this triangle is due S of the first star by 1.67′, with a 13th-magnitude star due P the second star by 1.25′. P the galaxy by 8′ is a 10th-magnitude star that’s the NF vertex of a small trapezoid. (I didn’t note the others.) The brightest star in the field, at 9.5 magnitude, is S very slightly P the galaxy by 15.5′.

NGCs 315, 311 (Psc): NGC 315 is small but quite bright and obvious, certainly a “better” target than NGC 214. 315 is elongated SP-NF, 0.75′ x 0.5′, with a small bright core and obvious stellar nucleus. The brightest in the field is an 8.5-magnitude star 3.5′ SF the galaxy. 6′ due F is the P-most and faintest (at magnitude 12.5) of a bent line or arc of three stars; F slightly S this star by 1.25′ is an 11th-magnitude star, with another 1th-magnitude star 2.25′ F the second star. 19′ P very slightly S of the galaxy is a 9th-magnitude star. 5.5′ SP NGC 315 is another galaxy, NGC 311, which is much fainter and smaller than 315. 311 is very slightly elongated NP-SF, 0.3′ x 0.25′, with a weak core and tiny, faint stellar nucleus. 2.25′ F slightly S of NGC 311 is an 11th-magnitude star that’s 7′ S of NGC 315. NGC 311 itself appeared like a star at first glance but became more obvious while I was examining NGC 315.

NGCs 410, 407 (Psc): Another brighter galaxy with a faint companion. NGC 410 is an elliptical-looking galaxy, with a well-defined halo, a bright core, and a brightish substellar nucleus. It’s elongated 0.75′ x 0.67′, SP-NF. There’s not much detail here otherwise. N by 7′ is the brighter of an interesting double or pair; the brighter is 10.5 magnitude, with a 12.5-magnitude companion P by 0.3′. S very slightly F by 4.5′ is a line of three 13th-magnitude stars, equally spaced over 1.25′, with the brightest in the middle. 19′ S of the galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star; with 10th-magnitude stars SP by 18′ and another SF the galaxy by 20′; these are the brightest in the field. F the galaxy by 16′ is another double/pair, an 11.5-magnitude star S very very slightly F 1 12th-magnitude star by 7″.  P slightly S of 410 by 5′ is a very very thin N-S streak, NGC 407, which is 0.5′ x 0.125′ and has a somewhat-brighter core and (surprisingly) a very faint nucleus visible. By the time I finished taking notes on the starfield, NGC 407 had improved a bit, apparently with some improvement in the sky transparency.

NGC 404 (And): The Ghost of Mirach is the brightest galaxy of the night so far, even with 3rd-magnitude Mirach (Beta And) just 6.75′ S slightly F. Galaxy and bright star form a nearly-equilateral triangle with an 8.5-magnitude star Sf the galaxy by 6.67′. It’s necessary, of course, to get Mirach out of the field before observing the galaxy. NGC 404 is 1.67′ in diameter, with a small bright core and a stellar nucleus. Its core is quite well defined and not as diffuse as those of many of the galaxies I’ve observed recently. 4.5′ N slightly F the galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star that turns the equilateral triangle into a diamond. Due N of the galaxy by 1.25′ is a 13.5-magnitude star. N of the galaxy is a very thin triangle, the brightest star in which is 10.5-magnitude and 7.5′ NP the galaxy; there’s an 11th-magnitude star 2.5′ N of that star and a 13th-magnitude star due P it by 0.5′. S of the 10.5-magnitude star by 0.75′ is another 13th-magnitude star.

NGC 499, 496, 495, 494, 507, 508, 504 (Psc): This is a superb field, part of the Perseus-Pisces filament.  At the center of the field is an 8th-magnitude star, which has F very slightly N of it by 0.75′ an 11th-magnitude star, and 10.5′ N of it NGC 499. This is a small P-F glow, 1.0′ x 0.3′, with an obvious core and bright stellar nucleus, in a well-defined halo. F the galaxy by 3.5′ is an 11.5-magnitude star. Due N of the galaxy by 4.25′ is another, much more diffuse galaxy (NGC 496) with no central concentration; it’s just a small faint spot of indeterminate size and orientation. 3.25′ due P NGC 499 is yet another small glow (NGC 495), 0.67′ x 0.3′, elongated N-S, with a small, slightly-brighter center.

SP the 8th-magnitude star by 8′ is another brightish galaxy (NGC 494), which is bracketed to the S by a trio of 13.5-magnitude stars, each about 1′ from the galaxy’s very faint, intermittently-visible nucleus. This galaxy is elongated P-F, 0.75′ x 0.25′, with a small obvious core but a weak halo. 6′ SF the bright star is the field’s brightest galaxy, NGC 507. This galaxy has a 0.75′ round halo, a small, fairly-obvious core, and a substellar nucleus; like 494, this one is fairly poorly defined. N of 507 by 1.5′ is another small, poorly-defined galaxy, NGC 508, which has a 0.3′ halo but no central brightening at all. SP 507 by 4′ is the final galaxy in the field, NGC 504; this one has a vague 0.3′ x 0.25′ halo, elongated P-F, with a visible stellar nucleus but no other central brightening.

Also in the field is a 9th-magnitude star, P slightly S of the 8th-magnitude star by 14′; this has a 9.5-magnitude star P very slightly N of it by 3.5′.

I love these fields of small galaxies, even when none of them is particularly noteworthy on its own. The mind boggles at the vastness of these island universes and their interactions in the emptiness of space, and even a faint, featureless galaxy is still an object deserving of awe and reverence. Even more so that these feeble unimaginably-distant glows are individual cells in the Perseus-Pisces Filament, one of the largest structures in the entire known Universe.

We are the Universe contemplating itself. — Carl Sagan



The Perseus-Pisces Filament (mostly) in isolation.  Image courtesy R. Brent Tully/University of Hawai’i.




Three 3D views of the Perseus-Pisces Filament. Top shows the NGC 410 and NGC 507 Groups (upper left) in relation to the filament; middle looks along the filament, with the NGC 410 and 507 groups at lower right. Bottom shows our own Local Group of galaxies (right) with the onrushing Virgo Cluster (lower left) as they speed toward the Perseus-Pisces Filament (center, just above the void). Images courtesy Institut de Recherche our les Lois Fondamentales de l’Univers (IRFU); larger versions can be found at

NGC 513 (And): While (at least visually) part of the NGC 499 group, this one isn’t particularly impressive or inspiring. While obviously not a star (as Herschel had listed it), it’s small and not particularly bright; once you know where to look, though, it’s fairly apparent. The galaxy is very slightly elongated 0.3′ x 0.25′, P slightly S-F slightly N, and fairly evenly illuminated, without an obvious core or visible nucleus. Due S by 3.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star with a 12th-magnitude star 3.5′ S of it.

It was around this point that we realized that the dew had largely vanished, leaving our gear once again dry. This was due in part to the increase in the wind; at the road junction, there was somewhat less protection from the elements than the spur-road site provided, and the breeze was more of a nuisance. (I would personally trade dew for wind any night—my scope was far less affected by the wind.)

But back to observing….

NGC 1023 (Per): This is a very impressive edge-on spiral! It’s quite large, elongated 3.5′ x 0.75′ P-F, with a very bright core and bright stellar nucleus. The halo is fairly well defined, with the P side more so than the F, and the F side more extensive than the P. In averted, the halo expands to 4.5′ x 1.0′. The galaxy is bounded on the S and F sides by a line of seven stars, the ends of which are both 9thmagnitude. The P end of the line is SP the galaxy and the NF end is due F the galaxy. Starting at the SP: there’s an 8.5-magnitude star that’s 3.5′ SP the galaxy’s nucleus; F very slightly N of that star by 1.75′ is a 10.5-magnitude star; F that star by 1′ is a 13th-magnitude star that’s due S of the galaxy by 1.5′; then there’s a gap of 3′ in the line. The next star F the gap is 14.5 magnitude; F very slightly N of that star by 1.5′ is an 11.5-magnitude star; 1.5′ F very slightly N of that star is another 11.5-magnitude star, and F very slightly N the second 11.5-magnitude star is the 9th-magnitude star at the end of the line. Elsewhere: due N of the galaxy by 2′ is a 13th-magnitude star; 4′ more N is the more S of a pair of 12.5-magnitude stars separated N very slightly P-S very slightly F by 0.5′. The brightest star in the field is 8th magnitude and is 19′ P slightly N of the galaxy.

NGC 706 (Psc): not an easy one, even compared to some of the earlier galaxies. (The wind is still a factor, and it’s getting colder.) It’s still somewhat obvious. The galaxy is 1.3′ x 1.0′, elongated N slightly P-S slightly F, with a 12.5-magnitude star just outside the N edge of the halo. The galaxy’s core is pretty weak, but there’s an almost-mottled quality to the halo that I wouldn’t have expected in a galaxy this obscure; I noted that “there’s stuff going on in this galaxy.” No nucleus is visible. The halo is generally pretty well defined, especially along the P edge, as if a spiral arm is present. (I clearly need to come back to this one with more aperture and/or magnification.) SF the galaxy is an arc of four evenly-spaced bright stars, each about 3.25′ apart. From S-most: a 10th-magnitude star, a 10.5, an 11.5, and another 10th-magnitude star. The arc proceeds N and then NF. A 9.5-magnitude star is 17′ N very slightly F the galaxy. 10′ NP the galaxy is an 8.5-magnitude star. The brightest in the field, an 8th-magnitude star, is 22′ SP the galaxy.

Somehow I missed NGC 693, SP 706.

On my audio recordings, the wind is a persistent and impressive presence; by this point, it was as loud on the recordings as I was. That may have contributed to the fact that my next field of objects was my last, and the others must have concurred with the decision.

NGC 665, ICs 156, 154 (Psc): The field here is very interesting, with more than first met the eye. NGC 665 is very slightly elongated NP-SF, 0.67′ x 0.5′; it has a brighter core and a possible stellar nucleus that’s very faint and hard to hold steady, even in averted vision. This is a nicely-compact and well-defined galaxy, not very detailed but still a nice catch. S of the galaxy by 1.5′ is a 14th-magnitude star. There are 13.5-magnitude stars due F by 2.75′ and due N of the galaxy by 4′. NP the galaxy by 4′ is the brighter of a pair, the 12.5-magnitude “primary” due F the 13th-magnitude “secondary” by 0.5′. P the galaxy by 6.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star. 14′ NF the galaxy is a 9.5-magnitude star; 2.5′ P that star is another galaxy (IC 156). This is a small, round (0.3′) galaxy, with a poorly-defined and difficult halo and no central concentration. Another galaxy, IC 154, lies NP IC 156 by 7′: this one is a very faint, thin SP-NF streak, 0.75′ x 0.25′. On the SP tip of the galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star that interferes with observing a bit. This galaxy has a classic edge-on profile, without much central concentration and no visible nucleus; it lies S slightly F NGC 665 by 15′.

So we packed up for the night. It was a fine session despite the dew and the wind, and the next night promised to be even better.


II. The next night saw Frank S and I the only ones to return to the junction. We must’ve expected more of the group to return, or we would have set up on the spur road instead.

The lumber vehicles had been conspicuously absent on the road this night, and they had cleared out much of the debris left behind on the road. I did pass a couple of vehicles coming down the mountain, but the drive was faster overall than it had been perhaps ever, with no potholes to evade and no large branches strewn here and there to swerve between.

Frank was working with his new 10-inch binocular scope when I got to the top, fine-tuning some of the difficult quirks that binoscopes tend to suffer from. (They’re far too technical for my Australopithicene brain.) I was extra-grateful for the company, as the Caveman-Mobile started hissing beneath the hood just after I shut it down. It had been fighting a leak somewhere in the coolant system, and after a quick examination of the vehicle’s innards, Frank pointed out that the coolant was totally empty. I had a gallon of drinking water with me in case such a thing happened, but Frank had a gallon of distilled water in his van and insisted that I take it. We refilled the radiator and reservoir, and I left the van’s hood up for it to cool down faster. (Knowing so little about vehicles, I’m not even sure that would help.) With nothing more to be done to the van, I let the water settle and got to work setting up telescope and table.

Weather and sky conditions were considerably superior than the night before, so after setup we wasted little time getting to observing.

MOON: 3 days; 8% illuminated, set at 8:31 PM
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.8
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in mid-low 40s, no breeze, some dew

Others present: FS

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

M76 (Per): The Little Dumbbell is always listed as one of the hardest Messier objects, but I’ve never quite been sure why—it’s quite an impressive object, even in smaller scopes than the 12.5″. It’s long reminded me of a circus peanut, more than anything else. The bilobed nature of the nebula is quite apparent at this aperture and magnification; it’s about 0.3′ thinner near the middle than at the ends, with a total extent of 2.0′ x 0.75′ (the latter measurement at the ends). The SP end is brighter and slightly wider than the NF end. Even without a filter, there’s a fair amount of extended, diffuse halo on the F edge, particularly to the SF side. The P side of the nebula is more defined. Seeing the nebula from a dark sky, I get an impression of a bar magnet with iron filings strung along the magnetic lines. With the O-III filter in, the extended halo pops right out of the background, while the “dumbbell” part is nearly opaque. The SF part of the halo was already so visible even sans filter, but the NP side is now much more impressive; on the P-most edge of the nebulosity on the halo’s NP side is a fairly-obvious dark void that makes it look “broken” without averted vision—like an arc that sweeps down the edge from the NF corner and sweeps P, then S. This rim is much better defined than any of the S and F sides, which are more diffuse. The dumbbell shape gets lost a bit with the filter, amid all the outflowing diffuse nebulosity.

The central star is not visible, with or without the O-III. Several stars are close by the nebula, however: due P the nebula’s middle by 2′ is a 12th-magnitude star, and there’s an 11.5-magnitude star 2.5′ N slightly P the nebula; these two form a nearly-equilateral triangle with the center of the nebula. (The 11.5-mag star to the N slightly P has a 13.5-magnitude companion 12″ due S of it.) Further N is a pair of which the brighter (10.5 magnitude) is the NF component and is 6.5′ from the center of the nebula; the fainter (12thmagnitude) star is 0.67′ SP the brighter. 10′ P the center of the nebula is a 9.5-magnitude star that’s the N-most vertex of a pentagon that looks a lot like the Circlet of Pisces and consists of the 9.5-magnitude stars, along with two 11th– and two 12th-magnitude stars; the pentagon runs 6′ N-S and 5.5′ P-F. S very slightly F the nebula by 9.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star. F very slightly S by 12′ is a 6.5-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field. 26′ NF the cluster is a jumble of 15 stars in a 5′ circle; the brightest is on the S tip of this “cluster” and is 9th-magnitude.

NGC 7139 (Cep): This planetary is considerably more difficult, especially compared to M76. (I’d left the O-III filter in after observing M76, but took it out after finding the nebula, to examine the nebula unfiltered first.) It’s not one of easier H planetaries so far, although it’s still pretty obvious. The edges of the nebula are quite diffuse; it’s a relatively-featureless grey glow, 1′ diameter with no real visible detail, no central star, and no annularity.  The nebula sits at the P end of the N branch of a distorted ‘V’ that points due F; one line of the ‘V’ runs from the nebula due F and the other runs S slightly P from the F tip of the first line and then curls NP very slightly; most of the stars in the ‘V’ are in the 12/12.5-mag range; the star at the point is F the nebula by 4′ and is 11.5 magnitude; the line that extends S slightly P from that star has six stars in it and is 5′ long; it then hooks PvsN for 0.75′. One of the V stars is on the SF edge of the nebula, just outside the edge of the glow. Also SF the nebula by 8′ is the fainter of a pair, which is 11.5 magnitude and has a 10.5- magnitude star P it by 1′; from the fainter of the pair, running 12′ S and SP, is a long arc of 12th-/13th– magnitude stars. With the OIII, the nebula doesn’t change much; it’s still roughly the same in appearance, only with more contrast. The halo is a little more obvious, with a bit more fringe. The brightness across the halo is slightly more irregular; there’s some inner texture hinted at that would benefit from greater magnification.

NGC 7160 (Cep): This is a very bright, obvious, well-detached cluster near NGC 7139. It’s fairly small—5.5′ SP-NF x 2.75’—with twenty-five stars of a wide range of magnitudes. The cluster’s most obvious feature is a bright pair of stars on the P edge of the cluster’s F half (it’s easy to divide this cluster into P and F halves). The cluster lucida is the NP member of this pair, at 7thmagnitude; SF by 1′ is an 8th-magnitude star. These two form the wide end of a ‘V’, with the “point” star to the NF, and a wider pair between the bright ends and the point star: NF the brighter star by 1.25′ is a 12th-magnitude star; SF that star by 0.67′ is an 11.5-magnitude star; the point star is 0.75′ NF the 11.5-magnitude star and is 13thmagnitude.  The P half of the cluster is dominated by an arc of three (or a very small flat triangle): SP the lucida by 2.25′ is a 9.5-magnitude star, with another of equal magnitude 0.5′ P; from this second star SP by 0.75′ is a 9th-magnitude star which has a 13th-magnitude companion F by 8″. These last three make up the majority of the P half of the cluster. There are a number of interesting pairs or doubles S very slightly F or SF the lucida, one of which is SF the lucida by 5′ and oriented P-F, although this pair may be outside the boundary of the cluster. N slightly P the lucida by 11′ is the brightest star in the field, at 6.5 magnitude.

NGC 890 (Tri): An obvious, quite-bright elliptical galaxy in a busy field. This one is elongated 1.3′ x 0.75′ SP-NF, with a smallish but obvious core and a bright substellar nucleus in a pretty-well defined halo whose brightness falls away quickly past the core. The nucleus and core may be offset very slightly toward the SP end. There’s a pattern of 11.5/12th-magnitude stars toward the P: P very slightly N by 1.5′ is a 13th-magnitude star; due P that star by another 1.5′ is the brighter of a pair at 12thmagnitude, with a 13.5-magnitude secondary P slightly S the brighter by 0.5′. N very slightly P the brighter of the pair by 2.25′ is a 12.5-magnitude star that’s also 5′ NP the galaxy. Due N of the galaxy by 8′ is a 10th-magnitude star. N very slightly P the galaxy by 14′ is a 9.5-magnitude star that is the middle of a curly ‘y’ pattern, with the tines of the ‘y’ to the NP and NF and the stem to the S slightly P; 0.67′ N of the 9.5-magnitude star is a 10th-magnitude star from which the tines extend—NF this star by 1.25′ is a 12th-magnitude star and 1.25′ NP the 10th-magnitude star is a 12.5-magnitude star that’s actually a very faint double’ from the 9.5-magnitude star in the ‘y’ S slightly P by 1′ is an 11.5-magnitude star. (Whew!) There’s an 8.5-magnitude star 23′ NP the galaxy and a 9th-magnitude star 20′ SF the galaxy, on the edge of the field.

NGCs 1060, 1061, 1066, PGC 10325 (Tri): A pretty complicated field with multiple galaxies, of which the Herschel object and brightest is NGC 1060. This is a small, brightish, roundish (0.75′) galaxy with a quite small, bright core and a substellar nucleus; the outer halo is poorly defined and diffuse. 2.5′ N is another galaxy, NGC 1061, which is small (0.4′) and round and very diffuse, with no central concentration to speak of; I didn’t see it at first, but caught it in a moment of excellent clarity. 8′ F very slightly N of NGC 1060 is NGC 1066, which is round and about the same size as 1060 but much fainter and more diffuse; this one does have some weak central brightening, but no visible nucleus. S very slightly F of 1066 by 7′ is the brightest star in the field, at 7.5 magnitude. S of this star by 7′ is an 8.5-magnitude star; 5′ due P this star is yet another tiny, faint galaxy (PGC 10325); it’s 0.3′ diameter, with some slight central concentration and an extremely faint and intermittent stellar nucleus. This galaxy is S very slightly F 1060 by 11′.

Examining the field later, I discovered that I’d missed NGC 1067 and UGC 2201 somehow, while catching the fainter PGC 10325. I’m not sure how I managed that, but it probably won’t be the last time I did something like it.

NGC 1058 (Per): This is the most-interesting galaxy of the night so far—a moderately-large face-on spiral whose identity can be discerned visually, down in the foot of Perseus near NGC 1023. The galaxy is 1.75′ diameter, without much central brightening of any sort; a very faint spot on the NP edge may be a threshold star. The halo of the galaxy is pretty-poorly defined. There are two nearly-symmetrical arcs of stars N and F the galaxy. The first arc runs N to F the galaxy, with an 11.5-magnitude star 4′ N of the galaxy serving as the F end of this arc; P very slightly N that star by 2.5′ is a 12th-magnitude star; due P
that star by 3.75′ is a 10th-magnitude star. The F end of the second arc is marked by a 12th-magnitude star 7.25′ due F the center of the galaxy; NP that star by 3′ is another 12th-magnitude star, and P that star by 2.5′ is an 11.5-magnitude star with a 14th-magnitude star NF it by 0.75′. Aside from these two arcs are several other noteworthy stars in the field: SP the galaxy by 2.25′ is a 12th-magnitude star, and there’s an interesting double/pair P the galaxy by 7′, consisting of a 12th-magnitude star NP a 13th-magnitude star by 0.25′. SP the galaxy by 13′ is the brightest in the field, an 8th-magnitude star.

NGC 1207 (Per): This may be the weakest H galaxy I’ve examined since last May, when I caught NGC 2500 and a few of the others in Lynx after they’d dipped into the worst of the Eagle’s Ridge light pollution. It’s little more than a small diffuse spot, 0.5′ x 0.3′, elongated N very slightly P-S very slightly F. It has a thin streak of central brightening… possibly a central bar? There appears to be a threshold star on the NP edge, and an extremely-faint nucleus seems to be sometimes visible. Overall, though, it’s very poorly-defined, a barely-there wisp. F somewhat N of the galaxy by 2′ is a 13th-magnitude star with a 14th-magnitude star 0.5′ NP. N of the galaxy is a smallish triangle of four stars (the long side has three in it); the closest to the galaxy is the 12th-magnitude SP-most vertex, which is due N of the galaxy by 4.75′ and 12th-magnitude; N of that star by 1.5′ is an 11th-magnitude star; SF
that star by 0.75′ is a 13.5-magnitude star which is in the middle of the long side of the triangle; the final vertex is F very slightly N of the 11th-magnitude star by 2.25′ and also 11th-magnitude. The field’s brightest star is 7.5 magnitude and 22′ due F the galaxy. F very slightly S of the galaxy is an 8.5-magnitude star; a 10th-magnitude star is S of that star by 7.5′.

NGC 1003 (Per): A very intriguing, bright galaxy, the second-best in Perseus after NGC 1023. It’s elongated mostly P-F and quite large (2.75′ x 1.0′). It has poor central concentration and no visible nucleus, but the halo is irregularly-bright (if not outright mottled) and has indistinct ends and poorly-defined edges. This gives the galaxy a distinctive “shimmery” appearance. This one really needs more magnification!  The galaxy is bracketed to the S, SP, and NF by field stars: 2′ SP the galaxy is a 10th-magnitude star; a 13th-magnitude star is just off the NF edge of the halo; and due S of the galaxy by 2.5′ is a 12.5-magnitude star. To the NF is a group of five star-pairs that seem to radiate outward from an invisible radaint point, 8′ NF the galaxy. The brightest in the field is a 9th-magnitude star 18′ SP the galaxy, and there’s a 9.5-magnitude star 18′ NP the galaxy.

With Cetus in good position above the mountain ridge and between two stands of trees, I took the opportunity to follow up on my September observation of NGC 246, the Skull Nebula, which I’d not gotten to observe with the O-III filter due to the heavy dew that evening.

NGC 246 (Cet): This is an addendum to my previous observation of NGC 246 from September, when everything had dewed up before I could observe the nebula with the O-III.  The filter really brings out the nebula’s inner texture, giving a “spongy” appearance to the nebula’s interior. The outer rim is clearly “broken” or incomplete at a few points, most notably along the SP. The NP part of the rim is the best-defined and brightest.

NGCs 1161, 1160 (Per): NGC 1161 is a Herschel object, but its companion isn’t. 1161 is small, slightly elongated but reasonably bright. It’s no more than 0.75′ x 0.67′ and elongated N-S. The halo is diffuse and weakly defined, but the interior 33% of the galaxy is a much brighter core; no nucleus can be seen. A pair of nearby stars make the observation a little bit difficult: there’s a 10th-magnitude star 0.67′ P the galaxy and a 9th-magnitude star 0.67′ SP the previous star. Two more 9th-magnitude stars are in the field, one N of the galaxy by 14′ and one NP the galaxy by 18′. 1.5′ F the galaxy is an 11th-magnitude star; F very slightly N of that star by 1.25′ is a 12th-magnitude star; these four stars form a small checkmark or swoosh across the galaxy’s face. 3.5′ N of 1161 is NGC 1160, which is slightly smaller but much fainter and more diffuse than 1160. It’s 0.75′ x 0.3′ and elongated SP-NF, with no central brightening at all. 1′ N of 1160 is a tiny (0.5′ x 0.25′) triangle of 12th– and 14th-magnitude stars.

NGC 1193 (Per): It took a fair amount of time searching, relatively (Perseus was in an awkward position at the time), to find this really striking and intriguing cluster. It’s barely-resolvable and powdery, with several “layers” of star-powder atop each other. The cluster is also fairly small, 3′ P-F and 2.5′ N-S. It’s very rich, with a narrow magnitude range after the two more-prominent stars, and could be mistaken for a distant globular at first glance. There’s a prominent 11th-magnitude star on the very P edge of the cluster, and a 13th-magnitude star 1.75′ due F that star which is on the F edge of the cluster. Few other cluster members are easily resolved. The brightest star in the field is 7.5 magnitude and is 3′ P very slightly N of the 11th-magnitude star; NP the 7.5-magnitude star by 1′ is a 9.5-magnitude star. F the cluster is a messy wedge-shaped pattern of 10.5-/11th-magnitude stars that points away from the cluster, and a pair of 9th-magnitude stars are 9′ from the cluster (one to the N and one to the S of the cluster).

NGC 1169 (Per): A very diffuse, not-particularly-easy galaxy. Its 1.5′ x 0.75′ halo is weak, poorly defined, and elongated SP-NF. It has a very small, bright core and a substellar nucleus. The galaxy gives an elliptical profile, but is in actuality a spiral. 1.5′ due F the nucleus of the galaxy is a 13.5-magnitude star; NF that star by 2.25′ is the fainter and more S of a pair separated by 0.5′ SP-NF; these are 13thand 13.5 magnitude. S of the galaxy is a line of five stars extending 8′ N-S; the S-most two are both very close pairs; the N-most is 7′ S of the galaxy, although there’s another P slightly N of this star that turns the line into a hook; these stars are mostly 12.5/13th magnitudes. 8th-magnitude stars lie F very slightly S of the galaxy by 18′ and NF the galaxy by 19′; these are the brightest in the field.

NGC 1175 (Per): As a Herschel 400/II object, this one kinda sucks. (OK, it’s still a galaxy and therefore cool, but this one isn’t exactly crying out for another look.) It’s apparently an edge-on spiral, elongated 0.75′ x 0.125′ N-S. Its core is very faint and there’s no trace of a nucleus present. Despite its faintness, it’s still fairly-well defined. In averted, the core is reasonably obvious, and there’s an occasional threshold glimmer of a stellar nucleus. A 7.5-magnitude star (the brightest in the field) is NP the galaxy by 11′; it’s also the S-most vertex of a triangle, with an 8.5-magnitude star 8.5′ NP and the 9th-magnitude “primary” of a double/pair N by 8′. F the galaxy by 6′ and arcing 11′ to the SP is a quartet of evenly-spaced pairs/trios of stars, all of which are in the 10.5-12.5 magnitude range; these pairs are all oriented NP-SF, and their arrangement is actually more interesting than the galaxy itself.

NGC 1342 (Per): This cluster is unmistakably a single, unified object, well detached from the Milky Way and considerably bright. It’s elongated P slightly S-F slightly N, and about 15′ x 7′ in extent. Although it’s roughly rectangular, it doesn’t have a very ordered appearance to it, and has a wide range of magnitudes represented among the fifty or so stars here. The NP corner of the rectangle is a very interesting double/pair of 10thand 11thmagnitudes, the fainter star SP the brighter by 15″. This double lies along a curved arc that marks the P end of the cluster. The S edge is the most populous part of the cluster. Along that S edge, 7′ SF the aforementioned double/pair, is an 8.5-magnitude star, with a 9.5-magnitude star F very slightly N of that star by 6.5′. F slightly N of the double by 11′ is the cluster’s brightest star, at 8.3 magnitude; NF this star by 2.5′ is a 9.5-magnitude star; this pair sticks off the NF corner of the cluster and extend further to the NF. Overall, there are eleven stars brighter than 10th magnitude and about 40 of 11th magnitude and fainter.

The next object was dazzling, and immediately found a place in my “Forgotten Gems of the Autumn Sky” program.

NGC 1245 (Per): OK, this one has to go in the program! This is a beautiful blast of star-powder, unmistakable as a cluster and well detached from the Milky Way. Unlike 1342, this one doesn’t have much of a magnitude range, but it’s exceedingly rich, with probably more than 100 stars in a 7′ area. The vast majority of these are in the 13th magnitude range or fainter. Aside from a quintet of brighter stars that runs P very slightly N from the extreme F corner of the cluster, there’s an arc of five 11th-magnitude stars that make up the N edge of the cluster, and these ten are about the only ones here brighter than 13th magnitude. NP the cluster, about 9′ from center, is a backward “cocktail shrimp” pattern consisting of four stars at the head and four along the body; at the far SP end of the body is a close, faint double, while the shrimp’s head is composed of a small triangle and a single discrete “outlier” of 9.5 magnitude. An 8th-magnitude star just outside the extreme S end of the cluster is the brightest in the field, and it has SF it by 1.5′ a 10.5-magnitude star. The 11.5-magnitude star just on the F end of the cluster’s N arc has a 9th-magnitude star 2′ N of it. [I missed the remarkable N-S string of 14th-magnitude stars on the F edge of the cluster, which is apparent in photographs.]

While searching for the small reflection nebula van den Bergh 16, in Aries, I swept across a superb double star, a mini-Mesarthim; it had equal-magnitude components, and another, fainter double just next to it. Checking my atlases later, it seems I stumbled across Σ401 and ΣΙ7, although I’d need to observe them again to take clearer notes and better positions.

I didn’t actually even find vdB 16, but it was late enough that I was more tired than disappointed. Frank had left earlier, so I was on my own if the Caveman-Mobile couldn’t make it down the mountain. (We did exchange phone numbers in case I needed help with vehicle issues.) I kept my eye on the temperature gauge all the way home, but the drive went without incident.


III. The final night of the run was with company—an old friend from my Alaska days, Dale P, had flown into Portland with his family, and had driven down for the week; his wife was Mrs. Caveman’s cousin, and it had been several years since we’d all seen each other. Dale is also an amateur astronomer, and had a rotating-tube 10″ Dobsonian; we’d been two of the only three Dob users in the Eagle River astronomy group in Alaska.

Dale and his family had left North Dakota that morning, and had spent time in Portland before driving down to Eugene, so he was understandably pretty wiped out by the time we got to the spur road. He spent some time sleeping in the van while Dan B and I were wandering through some obscure objects (Dan had grown up in Anchorage, so there was common ground for the three of us even beyond astronomy). We spent most of the time looking at more “showpiece-style” objects, but I did take notes on one object while Dale was grabbing some extra rest in the van.


MOON: 4 days; 15% illuminated, set at 9:08 PM
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.4
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 40s, some breeze, mild dew

Others present: DB, Dale P

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

M110 (And): I’m observing this one independently of M31/NGC 206 and M32, given that I have company and don’t want to spend the whole evening taking notes and boring my guest. M110/ NGC 205 is, of course, very bright and obvious (as befits a Messier object). It’s very diffuse, in contrast with the compact and well-defined M32. It’s extended 9.0′ x 3.5′ N-S and pretty poorly defined, with a weakish 2.5′ x 0.75′ core but no visible nucleus. 2.75′ due S of the core, between the edges of the core and halo, is an embedded 13.5-magnitude star; there’s another 13.5-magnitude star 2.75′ F the point where the galaxy’s nucleus would be. Due F the galaxy by 7.5′ is a 9.5-magnitude star which has a 10th-magnitude star 4′ NF. A 9th-magnitude star 19′ NP the galaxy is the brightest in the field. There’s a pair of 11th-magnitude stars SP the galaxy; the N-most of these is about a quarter-magnitude dimmer and is 4′ SP the galaxy, with the brighter 2.25′ due S the fainter, and a 13th-magnitude star due S the brighter of the pair by 2′. The center of M31 is 35′ SF.

It was a relaxed observing session, and a good ending to the October run. I fully expected this to be the end of any observing for 2018; after all, clear skies and New Moon rarely coincided in the autumn and winter of the Willamette Valley. That November and December would be equally fruitful was a huge bonus. But by the next time I would get out to observe, Jupiter and Venus would be gone from the evening sky, along with many of the iconic summer constellations. Already, Taurus, Auriga, and Orion were becoming more prominent in the evening skies as the seasons cycled through their changes—the endless repetition of those starry changes a cycle of permanence.


Summer’s Wreckage, Summer’s Ghosts

The month of September may be a crapshoot observing-wise here in the Willamette Valley, but historically, September and October have been my favorite months to observe: the harsh heat and humidity of summer are on the wane, nights are growing long again, the glories of the summer Milky Way are still well-placed for observing, and the icicle-delicate constellations of the autumn are in the ascendant. Messier 15—for my money the most beautiful globular cluster in the sky—transits the meridian just before midnight in early September. Staying up until dawn allows for observing the winter constellations (Orion, Canis Major, Gemini, etc.) in the relatively warm temperatures of an early-fall morning, while one can still wander among the rich star-clouds of the summer as twilight fades; perhaps my favorite stretch of sky (Andromeda/Pisces/Perseus, covered by Sky Atlas 2000.0 Chart 4) wends into view early enough for lengthy sweeping.

A sense of nostalgia pervades every pass through Pisces and Pegasus that I make, every view of the rising Pleiades, every apparition of Fomalhaut low in the south. The recollections of sitting out on my front sidewalk amid the glow of the neighbors’ porch lights, searching for M74 with my C8 as Led Zeppelin played in the background from the brand-new box set are as vivid now as they were thirty years ago, and they’ll live on in my astronomical DNA as long as my brain still functions. Those autumn nights were as formative as my years in high school, and I remember my “discovery” of the Blue Flash Nebula as clearly as I recall marching victoriously off the field in the freezing rain at LaSalle High School my senior year. The fall constellations were the last that I learned, but are some of the first I think of when I think about doing astronomy. (I eventually found M74 from that front sidewalk, too.)

And so the forecast of a clear New Moon week in the early autumn was as energizing as hitting the lottery—and nearly as unlikely. As smoky, disappointing August drew to a close, I had expected the year’s observing to be ending on a down note; looking back, though, September provided one of the most remarkable observing runs I’d ever had, especially given our previous Septembers in the Willamette Valley, which were almost-uniformly rainy, grey, and waterlogged.

Having only started delving deep into the Cygnus/Vulpecula/Sagitta region in order to plunder their Herschelian riches, I was keen to start taking notes on the objects in this area. I also had only a handful or so of Messier globulars left (and an NGC globular I’d forgotten about, NGC 288, down very low in Sculptor; this was also a Herschel object). I managed to make great strides in both tasks during the two weeks around New Moon in September, despite the occasional smoke-out from late-season forest fires and the deep-down tiredness that comes from repeated long nights examining the cosmos from sites forgotten by the “civilized” world.

I. The first night of the run and the month was pleasantly routine: some of the usual cast of characters observing the night sky in weather conditions as fine as could be hoped for.


MOON: 21 days (64% illuminated); rose at 11:42 PM
SQM: 21.3
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to low 60s; no appreciable dew

Others present: JO, FS, BA, RA

M80 (Sco): It’s still not totally dark yet, but there are only 2-1/2 hours before Moonrise and there’s no time to waste. M80 is a favorite of mine, as it’s bright and easy to find; it’s often the first DSO I go for in the summer as I’m waiting for darkness to fall. Seeing and transparency down this low in the sky aren’t particularly great tonight. M80 has a small, intense core, perhaps 1′ diameter, with the halo extending to 4′ and stragglers out to 7′, with two prominent outliers P the core by 3.5′. The cluster has three primary brightness gradients. The halo is pretty-well resolved, with many tiny stars. This globular has a high degree of concentration, perhaps a CC of 3 [actually a 2]. An 8.5-magnitude star lies 4.5′ N slightly P the cluster, and halfway between this star and the cluster is a 12th-magnitude star. S slightly P the cluster by 9′ is a 9th-magnitude star that serves as the NF vertex of a diamond whose major axis is 13′ and whose minor axis is 5′; the minor axis has three stars, including an equal-magnitude (10.5) pair; the S-most vertex of this triangle is its brightest at 9th-magnitude; the P-most star in the diamond is also 10.5-magnitude. 9′ SF the cluster is another 10.5-magnitude star.

NGC 6507 (Sgr): This is one of the most-nondescript open clusters I’ve done among the Herschels so far. It’s not well-detached or easily-identifiable as a cluster, and not particularly rich, with about 25 stars in a 12′ area. There’s not a huge range of magnitudes once the brightest star [9.5-magnitude WX Sgr] is excluded, with most of the stars in the 11th-13thmagnitude range. The 9.5-magnitude star is on the cluster’s NP corner, somewhat separate from the main body of the cluster. A faint pair is obvious at the cluster’s center, and a faint unequal pair (10.5 and 12thmagnitudes) is on the SP edge of the cluster’s main body; this latter has the brighter star 0.5′ N of the fainter. The main body of the cluster is a headless stick figure, with the 9.5-magnitude star on the P end of a line representing the cluster’s arms. This line, almost an integral sign, runs 11′ P-F across the N edge of the cluster, with the two legs branching off from it toward the S. Where the figure’s head would be is a single 13th-magnitude star about 1.5′ N of the P-F line. The figure’s P leg ends with the unequal double to the SP, while the F leg begins with the more-equal pair at cluster’s center.

I’ve always hesitated to take notes on the sky’s showpiece objects—the amount of detail that needs to be recorded is daunting, and I’m not good at focusing on a single object for  an extended length of time (this is one of my biggest flaws as an observer). But there was no escaping it anymore; I had some of the major globular clusters yet to get to, and many of the major summer nebulae were (even if only in part) among the targets on my current lists. So despite having observed these showpieces dozens of times, it was time to be disciplined about observing them.

M20 (Sgr): The famous Trifid Nebula is a glorious object even without a filter; with the UHC filter, it’s a show-stopper. Even the northern reflection component seems more impressive with the filter in (contrary to the prescribed use of the filter). I’ve always seen the nebula’s 14′ diameter HII component as a rose, its dark lanes dividing petals. The most-prominent of these dark lanes begins on the P side of the nebula’s central ionizing triple star and is pitch-black with the old (1987-vintage) Lumicon UHC. This dark lane runs N slightly P and S very slightly F of the triple star, with its widest (but faintest) point in the middle just P the triple. The other dark lane starts just SP the triple star and runs to the NF; there are two stars along this lane (a 10.5-magnitude star on the NF end of the lane and an 11th-magnitude star about halfway along the lane). These two are among the seven stars—not counting the triple—visible across the face of the nebula with the filter in, and the triple star itself appears only double until the filter is removed. The southern half of the nebula’s HII component is the brightest portion; the triple star is offset slightly toward the S rather than being directly in the nebula’s center. The N edge of the HII nebula is bounded by two 10th-magnitude stars—one 4.5′ N slightly F the triple star and the other 4′ NP the triple—and the 10.5-magnitude star on the end of the NF dark lane. A 7.5-magnitude star lies 8′ N of the triple star, and this star sits on the S central portion of M20’s reflection component. This reflection nebula extends 7′ P-F and 4′ N-S and is brightest along its SP edge; a dark lane cuts off the light on the P-most edge of the reflection nebula. A shaggy, dark strip runs P-F, separating the HII and reflection portions of the nebula, curling SP at its P end. 12′ P somewhat N of the 7.5-magnitude star is a 6th-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field; 14′ N slightly F the 7.5-magnitude star is a 7th-magnitude star, and there’s another 7.5-magnitude star 20′ F the first.

Without the UHC filter, the whole of the nebula is considerably diminished—even the reflection component (which may show slightly more detail but less extent without the filter). The dark strip dividing the reflection nebula from the HII portion is much less obvious. The number of visible stars within the nebula rises to ten, and the third component of the triple becomes visible. The  triple consists of a 7.5-magnitude primary, an 11th-magnitude tertiary due N of the primary by 5″, and a 9th-magnitude secondary 12″ S very slightly P the primary. 

M8, NGC 6528 (Sgr): WOW! I still haven’t gotten used to seeing these bright summer nebulae so well after so much time in the Midwest. I’ve put off doing these major objects simply due to not knowing where to start, which is borne out by looking at the Lagoon here; it’s almost overwhelmingly detailed. Starting without the UHC filter: the P side of the nebulosity is centered around and running S of a trapezoid that includes three stars and the 0.5′ diameter Hourglass Nebula, M8’s brightest ionized region; the Hourglass is the SP vertex of this trapezoid. A 6th-magnitude star [9 Sgr] is NF the Hourglass by 3′; this is the brightest star in the nebula. A pair of threshold stars are NP that star by 0.5′, and the second-brightest star in the nebula, a 7th-magnitude star, is 3′ N of the 6th-magnitude. The fourth star in the trapezoid (not counting the threshold pair) is an 11th-magnitude star 4.5′ NP the 6th-magnitude star. Just off the P edge of the Hourglass is an 11.5-magnitude star, and the brightest star in the field (magnitude 5.5 7 Sgr) is also P (and very slightly N) the Hourglass by 10′. NF the Hourglass by 1.5′ is another 11.5-magnitude star, which has a 13th-magnitude star 20″ N very slightly F it. The NP edge of this first chunk of nebulosity is a brighter, well-defined 7′ x 0.75′ streak that extends P slightly S of the trapezoid’s faintest star, while the SP edge of this whole “Hourglass chunk” is much more diffuse and poorly defined. N of this chunk is a dark lane that’s 5′ thick and then another bright streak of nebulosity that runs 14′ P-F and terminates at its F end at a pair of bright stars (a 9th-magnitude star P a 10th-magnitude star by 4′).  These two stars form the S edge of an isosceles triangle whose third vertex is a 10th-magnitude star 5.5′ N very slightly P the 9th-magnitude star.

F the Hourglass chunk of the nebula is the famous dark lane, the Lagoon itself. This lane runs SP-NF and is narrower and darker at the SP end, where it’s 2.25′ wide; the NF end is 4.5′ wide and extends almost into the P edge of the embedded star cluster, NGC 6530. The cluster’s 10′ major axis is oriented SP-NF, and contains some 28 stars, while the minor axis is 8′ and runs NP-SF; its shape is roughly pentagonal, with the minor axis pointing roughly to the P side. The brightest star is the cluster is 7.5 magnitude and sits on the middle of its F side, on the S tip of a diamond of 8th– and 9th-magnitude stars whose major axis is 2.25′ and whose minor axis is 2′, with the minor axis offset slightly to the N. Just NP the cluster lucida is a compact, bent ‘y’-shape of fainter stars with the open end to the S slightly P and the stem trailing NF. S of the cluster and F the dark Lagoon is the second bright portion of the whole of M8; this is NGC 6526, the Herschel object within the Lagoon Nebula complex. The P side of 6526 is most prominent, with contrast against the dark Lagoon. On the S of 6526 is another dark zone that runs P slightly N-F slightly S, with yet another dark lane on the F side (particularly prominent on the NF). NGC 6526 therefore has a triangular aspect: its P side is 8′ long, running SP-NF; the S edge is 12′ long, running P-F, and the third edge runs N-SF for 10′. The N end of 6526 runs into the S edge of the cluster, ending roughly at the cluster’s lucida. Following NGC 6530 is another band of darkness, 6.5-7′ wide, that runs SP-NF along the F edge of the cluster. On the F side of this dark lane is a 7th-magnitude star, which is at the NF end of a much fainter band of nebulosity that also runs SP-NF—this is the fourth major section of nebulosity within M8 (after the Hourglass, the P-F , and the faintest.

With the UHC, the WOW! factor increases. All four of the bright regions stand out much more, even the faint streak on the F side. The Hourglass chunk  stretches to 14′ round and connects to NGC 6526 around the bottom of the dark Lagoon. NGC 6526 extends further N and S as well, all the way through NGC 6530, and is considerably brighter than without the filter. The section to the N of the Hourglass chunk benefits the most from the filter, extending 18′ P-F and 6′ thick. Even the F-most section of the nebula is larger as seen through the UHC, connecting to NGC 6526 on the S end. With the filter, the unity of this entire object is much more obvious, with the four main sections of nebulosity and the cluster clearly parts of a much larger object—one which extends beyond the 42′ field of the 14mm ES eyepiece to no less than 48′ x 30′.  A truly stunning sight! 

I could’ve spent an hour or more on the Lagoon; as it was, this was already the longest I’d ever spent on it in one go. Appropriate, given that it was the best view I’d ever gotten of this vast nebulous cloud in a telescope that I owned. I’d always considered the Lagoon somewhat overrated as a showpiece object. No longer.

NGC 6583 (Sgr): This smallish open cluster is quite an impressive object, even after M8. It’s a little blast of star-powder, 3.5′ N-S and 2.75′ P-F. It’s very well detached from the background and very rich, but doesn’t have a great magnitude, with most stars in the 13th/14th-magnitude range. The brighter (12th-magnitude) stars form a line along the N-S axis. S of the cluster and running SF is a trio of brighter stars: an 11th-magnitude star 3.5′ from the cluster center, a 12th-magnitude star SF the previous, and an 11.5-magnitude star 1.5′ SF the first star. (The 12th-magnitude star is closer to the 11.5-magnitude star.) N, P, and F the cluster are pairs of stars that are all oriented S slightly P-N slightly F: the pair to the N is 5.25′ N of the cluster, and consists of a 12th-magnitude star 1′ N of a 13th-magnitude star; the pair to the F is 2.5′ from the cluster, and consists of two 12th-magnitude stars separated by 0.67′; the third pair, 5.5′ P the cluster, consists an 11.5-magnitude star 1′ S very slightly P a 12.5-magnitude star—the 12.5-magnitude star may itself be a very close double. There’s also a bright pair 16′ P slightly N, with an 8th-magnitude star NF a 9th-magnitude star by 1.5′; the former is the brightest star in the field.

NGC 6596 (Sgr): This is a loose, not very rich, not-particularly impressive cluster, although still an interesting one. Most of the 25-30 stars here are in the 11th/12th-magnitude range. The brighter stars form an upside-down ‘I C’ (perhaps a plea for reassignment?), with an obvious but tiny diamond of stars inside the open (F) end of the ‘C’. The ‘I’ precedes the ‘C’ and runs N slightly P-S slightly F and is 6′ long; it consists of six stars, with three bunched together at the N end, then a gap, and the three evenly spaced on the S end. The ‘C’ is blocky and has four stars on its S edge (which is 3′ long); the N edge has three stars, including the 10th-magnitude cluster lucida on the F end of the N edge. The star in the middle of the N edge is an equal-magnitude double (both 12th-magnitude) separated by 12″ and aligned NP-SF, while the third star in the N end is a tighter unequal double (11.5 and 13th-magnitude stars separated by 10″, the brighter N very slightly P the fainter). Between the two ends of the ‘C’, on its P side, are three more stars in a rough line that runs NP-SF. SF the lucida by 2′ is the N-most star in the little diamond, which is 11th-magnitude and on the end of the major axis; another 11th-magnitude star is 1′ S of the first, on the other end of the major axis; the minor axis consists of two 12th-magnitude stars 0.5′ apart, oriented NP-SF. Preceding the ‘I’ is a stylized numeral ‘7’, with its top bar to the S. The ‘7’ is the same length as the ‘I’ but with a curved stem, with a group of four stars in the middle of the stem. The top of the ‘7’ is parallel with the S edge of the ‘C’ and consists of seven stars; this top edge curls NF-ward. The star at the P end of the ‘7’ and the star at the end of the stem (the most northern in the ‘7’) are both of 10thmagnitude, while the brightest in the ‘7’ is a 9th-magnitude star in the middle of the stem. (I believe the ‘7’ to be outside the cluster, hence why the 9th-magnitude star isn’t considered the lucida.) An 8th-magnitude star sits just on the F edge of the field.

NGC 6664 (Sct): NGC 6664 is badly misplotted in both Sky Safari and the TriAtlas, leading me on a wild goose chase. (I actually swept over the cluster in searching, and suspected it was misplotted even before tracking down a POSS image.) The cluster lies 20′ F 4th-magnitude Alpha Scuti. It’s roughly arrowhead-shaped, with the point to the S, with a curved N side and a well-delineated F edge; the P side is much less-defined. There are some 60 stars here, and the cluster is very well detached from the background. The major axis is N-S and 18′, while the 12′ N edge is the minor axis. Twelve of the brighter stars cluster along the N edge, and these are in the 10.5/12th-magnitude range. A scattering of fainter stars also inhabit this N end. Just off the N end, 5′ N of the cluster, is a 1′ round grouping of 14th-magnitude stars. The F side of the cluster curves F-ward and back down to the S tip of the cluster. Not quite halfway down this side is a conspicuous ‘V’ of fainter stars that branch NP and N slightly P and arc S, joining at an 11th-mag star; there are four stars on the first branch (which is 3.5′ long) and five on the latter (which is 3.75′ long and has the fainter stars).

NGC 7009 (Aqr): The Saturn Nebula will be my last target for the night due to impending Moonrise. It is of course very very bright, too bright even to see its central star. It’s not as greenish as in photographs but shows a strong aquamarine color. The nebula is 30″ x 20″, but the famous ansae (which give the nebula its name) can’t be seen at this magnification. Even the UHC and OIII aren’t of much help. The filters do reveal a faint fringe of halo around the brighter core region. The brightest star in the field lies 20′ NF the nebula. N very slightly P are two stars: a 9.5-magnitude star 13′ from the nebula and a 14th-magnitude star 2′ distant from the nebula. NF the nebula by 8′ is the 10th-magnitude right-angle vertex of a small triangle; the second vertex lies 3.5′ N of the first, and is 11th-magnitude, while the third vertex is 12th-magnitude and 2.5′ F the first. A 13th-magnitude star lies 0.75′ N very slightly F the right-angle vertex.


II. We had plans, the next night, to head over to Mel B’s house in Cottage Grove; he was going to unveil his new 25″ scope and several of us were going to join him with our own scopes. But Mrs. Caveman and I left early the next morning to take my Caveman-in-laws’ Japanese student (they were hosting, and the university dorms weren’t open yet) out to Crater Lake, and we ended up getting home after dark; with little sleep from the night before, I had to bail on the trip to Mel’s.

Jerry was unable to make it out the next night, and most of the other bailed after a second night in a row. So Jeff L and I were the only participants at Eureka Monday night, which also turned into a fine observing session.


MOON: 23 days (43% illuminated); rose at 12:46 AM
SQM: 21.2 (into Milky Way)
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to low 60s; no dew; considerable breeze by session’s end

Others present: Jeff L

M9 (Oph): Once again, it’s not totally dark when I’m starting, but I’m again starting with a Messier object. M9 isn’t super-bright, but it’s still very easy. The cluster is pretty loose and unconcentrated (CC 8), with a large core (3.5′) and a total diameter of 4.5′, with outliers to 7.25′.  The cluster is granular across its entire face with several discrete stars visible over the core and fairly-well resolved in the halo, with more outliers to the N than the S. A few prominent outliers can be found on the NP edge of the halo and one particular on the SF edge. Another lies SF between core and halo; this one is 12.5 magnitude and is P-most of a line that extends from that star to the SF; with the previous star on the SF and another 3.5′ from the cluster center as the three in that line. P slightly S on core’s edge is a small group just on the threshold of resolution, and this group makes the core of the cluster seem elongated in that direction. A final outlier lies 1.75′ N of halo’s edge. S of the cluster by 4.75′ is the N-most vertex of a very skinny isosceles triangle; that star is 12th-magnitude, with an 11.5-magnitude star SP it and an 11th-magnitude star 4′ SF from the second star. 1.75′ N very slightly P the first vertex is a 12th-magnitude star. SP the cluster, 3.5′ from center is a very faint line of three stars that runs P-F; this line is 1′ long, with the brightest star in it (a 12th-magnitude star) on its F end. P slightly S the cluster by 5′ from the edge of the halo is an 11.5-magnitude star that has an 11th-magnitude star 2’P very slightly S of it.  A 9.5-magnitude star is F somewhat S of the cluster by 13′, and the brightest star in the field—an 8th-magnitude star—lies just on the SF edge of the field.

M28 (Sgr): Messier 28 is one of the most underrated globulars. It’s quite a bit more concentrated than M9—CC 4—and is actually quite a bit more like M15 in terms of brightness profile. The core is small (1.5′) with a halo extending to 3.5′ and outliers in a triangular pattern to 6′. There are many resolved stars over the face of the cluster, and a number of 13th-magnitude outliers over an evenly-illuminated background of powder. There are outliers to the N, SP, and SF that give the cluster its illusion of triangularity; to the N is a tiny triangle of faint stars; to the SP is a prominent pair on the outliers’ edge; those on the SF are less-obvious.  Along the S edge/F very slightly S is a line/arc of 12.5/13th-magnitude stars. Averted vision also reveals a fuzzy blot of unresolved or threshold stars just to the NF of the body of the cluster, a 0.75′ line that runs NP [a satellite crosses the cluster].  SP the cluster by 9′ is a 9.5-magnitude star which is the P-most in an almost-right triangle; F slightly S of this star is an 11th-magnitude star that is the right-angle vertex of the triangle; 1.67′ S of the right-angle vertex is a 10.5-magnitude star. 10′ NP the cluster is another 9.5-magnitude star that has an 11.5-magnitude star NP it by 0.75′; 0.5′ SF that star is a 12th-magnitude star.

M22 (Sgr): GLORIOUS! M22 is one of the five best globulars in the entire sky. It’s rather loosely concentrated (CC 7), with a 6′ core region; the core is fairly weakly defined and blends into the halo fairly imperceptably. The halo extends to at least 9′, and outliers spread out to no less than 13′, but more P-F than N-S, giving the cluster a somewhat-elongated appearance. An uncountable number of stars is resolved all the way across the cluster and in the halo. A line of starry clumps runs along the SF edge of the core from the N edge. There’s a large group of outliers to the NF side and two short chains on the P and NP, both running toward the P side of the field; the NP arc is 1.5′ long and has eight stars, and is the more prominent of the two. SP the cluster, just outside the edge of the halo, is a 1.5′ clump of uniformly-faint stars 4.5′ from the cluster’s center, forming almost a separate cluster in itself; this is helped greatly by averted vision, which reveals a number of 13th/14th-magnitude stars packed into it. A prominent 10th-magnitude star lies 13′ S of the cluster, while the brightest in the field, an 8.5-magnitude star, sits 11′ NF the cluster’s center.

NGC 6793 (Vul): This is a pretty… uninspiring cluster. It’s really the only cluster-like object in the vicinity, so it’s almost detached by default. The cluster consists primarily of two tiny right triangles, set N-S. The triangle to the N has three 10th/11th-magnitude stars; it’s about 0.5′ on the P side, 0.75′ on the S side, and 1′ on the hypotenuse. The N-most star is a tight double with a 10.5-magnitude primary, with a 12th-magnitude secondary 8″ N very slightly F. The N edge of the second triangle is 1.75′ from the S edge of the N triangle. The S-most star in the second triangle is 11.5-magnitude, the other two stars being of 12th-magnitude. The right-angle vertex of the S triangle is the star to the NP. This triangle is 0.5′ on the P side, 0.67′ on the N side, and 0.75′ on the hypotenuse. A much fainter fourth star lies to the SF; it’s 13.5-magnitude, and makes the S triangle into a slightly-squashed square. Between and P the two triangles, on the P-most side of the cluster, is a pair aligned P-F with the F star 13.5-magnitude and the P star 13th; these are separated by 0.3′. The N triangle also has a 13th/14th-magnitude pair SF it.  There are two 8th-magnitude stars in the field: one P the cluster by 10′, and one 20′ F very slightly N of the cluster. In total, there are about fifteen stars here, with a fairly narrow brightness range.

NGC 6800 (Vul): Not particularly impressive, but more so than NGC 6793, this is a scattered, shapeless cluster of perhaps 40 stars in a 10′ area. It’s moderately detached from the Vulpecula Milky Way. The greatest concentration of stars in the cluster is on the F end of the S side; there’s a 1.5′ patch of six stars (plus some unresolved background stars) that’s anchored by a small diamond of slightly-brighter stars, of which the brightest is on the NF corner. P very slightly S of that clump is another small group anchored by a 12th-magnitude star. Due F the first clump is a line of unresolved stars with a 13th-magnitude star on its P edge; this group is 1.5′ x 0.3′. The majority of the cluster’s stars are in the 10th/12th-magnitude range. The brightest in the field is an 8th-magnitude star 16′ P slightly S of the cluster. P the cluster by 18′ is a 9th-magnitude star. The most-striking object in the field is a superb double 21′ N of the cluster’s center; this has 9.2- and 9.4-magnitude compnents separated by 5″, the brighter star P the secondary.

NGC 6823, Sh 2-86 (Vul): This is a really complicated object, a cluster enshrouded with nebulosity. The nebula is visible without a filter, lurking on the F and NF periphery of the cluster. The cluster itself (NGC 6823 proper) is a small knot of stars whose central feature is a tiny diamond (major axis running 0.67′ NP-SF, minor axis 7″ SP-NF), the brightest star of which is on the SF corner and is 9thmagnitude. The star on the opposite end of the major axis is 10thmagnitude. The stars on the minor axis are both 12th-magnitude, and the minor axis is offset to the N slightly. Other prominent stars in the cluster include a 9.5-magnitude star 3.5′ NP the diamond and a 10th-magnitude star 7′ S slightly P the diamond (the latter is probably outside the boundary of the cluster). There are perhaps 25 total stars here, mostly ranging from 10.5- to 15thmagnitude. The cluster is pretty detached from the Milky Way background. The nebulosity (Sh 2-86) is most visible to the F and NF of the cluster, with a prominent arc on the NF outside the cluster boundaries, 4.5′ from the diamond and sweeping F to NF. With the UHC filter, there’s not a lot of improvement in the nebula’s appearance; there are hints of a dark lane beginning 5′ NF the diamond and running NF in the field. I’m not sure the UHC is much help, and the O-III provides little increase in contrast from the unfiltered view at all. Maybe this nebula would benefit from an H-Beta.

NGC 6830 (Vul): It took a fair amount of starhopping to get here from NGC 6823, despite the shortness of the hop; the Milky Way through here is quite rich, making the hop more difficult. NGC 6830 isn’t as obvious or as well-detached from the background as NGC 6823. It’s not overly rich, either, with about 25 stars in a 7.5′ x 5.5′ area (major axis oriented P slightly S-F slightly N, minor axis N-S). The majority of stars are of 12.5-13thmagnitude, although a few are brighter. The fainter stars are gathered more toward the P side of the cluster. There are two arcs on this side: one arcing NP and one arcing NF, both from a point on the cluster’s S side; the latter ends at a point roughly N of the cluster’s center and is 4′ long, while the former is 2.5′ long. These arcs contain the majority of the faint stars in the cluster, while the brighter stars are concentrated along the N-S axis and F that axis. SP the cluster by 20′ is an 8.5-magnitude star, the brightest in the field. 11′ P somewhat S of the cluster’s center is a 9th-magnitude star; there’s another 9th-magnitude star 7′ F the cluster; SF this star by 2′ is a 10th-magnitude star.

NGC 6834 (Cyg): The wind has picked up quite a lot in the last twenty minutes, becoming a more noticeable presence here in the little Eureka clearing. I managed to drop the scope right on target with this cluster after aiming with the Telrad; it’s an obvious cluster and very rich, maybe the best of the night so far. A wide range of magnitudes is represented here. The cluster is 9′ P-F and 8′ N slightly F-S slightly P, with the minor axis shifted slightly toward the P end.  Along the major axis are the five brightest stars in the cluster; the one in the middle is 10thmagnitude and the other four are of 11thmagnitude. Around the middle star is a 1.5′ clump of fainter stars, perhaps ten in all, ranging from 12.5 to 14thmagnitude. This clump is more-easily seen/resolved in averted vision.  At the ends of the minor axis are also star-clumps, which have very few stars between them; the clump to the N end is a 1.3′ long Delphinus-shaped pattern of six 13th-magnitude and fainter stars, with the head to the S and the tail extending slightly NF, while the S clump is a 1.25′ long ‘v’-shaped pattern pointing to the NF, composed of six 13th-magnitude stars. A few extra 13th-magnitude and fainter stars are sprinkled along the minor axis around the intersection of the axes. Just N of the ‘v’-shaped clump may be a small knot of dark nebulosity, but its presence is mostly implied. There may be another, larger knot S very slightly P—there’s a triangle of stars there, and the larger, comma-shaped knot lies mostly inside that triangle, with the comma’s curve arcing N and then NP toward the cluster. The P-most vertex of the triangle is an 8th-magnitude star; a 10th-magnitude star is 6′ F very slightly S of that first vertex, and an 11th-magnitude star lies 5′ SP that second vertex.

NGC 6857 (Cyg): This little nebula isn’t unlike a small galaxy, as viewed through the UHC. It’s vaguely square, about 1′ on a side, oriented slightly SP-NF. There’s a faint (13thmagnitude) star just to the SP of the nebula, and (possibly) one off the NF corner that’s even fainter (14thmagnitude). There’s also a hint of a faint star (or possibly a bright knot) within the main nebula, near center. 4.5′ NP the main mass of the nebula is a tiny piece of nebulosity that’s mostly an averted-vision object; this is less than 10″ across. With the O-III filter in place, this smaller bit of nebula disappears, although the “main” nebula expands a bit to 1.25′ x 1.0′, with the edges slightly more diffuse. There’s just too little magnification at work here to discern meaningful detail in this object; I could go with higher power, but that would violate the terms I set for myself in working through the Herschels. I’ll just have to return to this little nebula on a later occasion with some heavier artillery. As for field stars, there’s a fairly-prominent arc of three stars S of the nebula: 4.5′ S of NGC 6857 is a 10th-magnitude star that’s the middle star of the arc, with a 12.5-magnitude star to the NP and a 13th-magnitude star to the NF. Also NF the nebula, by 8′, is an 8.5-magnitude star, with a 9.5-magnitude star 10′ further NF. N slightly P the nebula by 1′ is a 13th-magnitude star.

NGC 6866 (Cyg): Another intriguing object, this cluster could be dubbed “the Cygnus Cluster,” given its resemblance to its host constellation. It’s 18′ P-F and 10′ N very slightly P-S very slightly F, and quite rich with about 80 stars (these are mostly within the 11th/12th-magnitude range). The cluster is obvious and well detached from the Cygnus Milky Way, although it helps that the field is pretty much devoid of bright stars. Its two brightest members—an 11th-magnitude star, with an 11.5-magnitude star S very slightly F by 1.3’—are at the S end of the cluster. The majority of the cluster’s stars inhabit the two axes, with more of them along the N-S axis. The two axes merge in a ‘T’, but the N end sticks up a bit N from the P-F axis, terminating at the cluster’s brightest member (a 10.5-magnitude star that serves as the cluster’s “Deneb”). At the F end of the major axis is a small diamond of 12th– and 13th-magnitude stars; at the P end of the major axis is a line of seven stars that runs further P-F and then dips toward the SF. Off the F end, 3.5′ to the S of the major axis, is a 2.5′ clump of eight stars that’s detached from the rest of the cluster (maybe not a part of NGC 6866?). Another clump of eight stars lies 3′ NF the major axis.

Jeff was beginning to pack up at this point, so we chatted for several minutes. As I was aiming my scope at the next target, the landscape around us lit up—a bright meteor had streaked through the sky behind me. I missed it, naturally, because I was busy with my scope; Jeff managed to spot the meteor, and noted that it passed through the space between Polaris and Auriga before bursting into a shower of sparks. Although I missed this one, there would be several others of similar spectacle in the nights to follow.

Jeff drove off; once his headlights disappeared around the corner of the ridge road, I went back to what would be the last object of the night, given the imminent Moonrise.

NGC 6910 (Cyg): Last object of the night, and another interesting cluster. This one is shaped like the astrological sign for Aries, with the bottom of the stem to the N and the curved “horns” to SP and SF. This one is quite small (4.5′) and very well detached from the Milky Way here near Sadr, and it contains about twenty stars, most of which are in the 10th-magnitude range. The N end and SF corner are tipped with 7th-magnitude stars (a 6th-magnitude star 16′ N very slightly P the cluster is the brightest star in the field). 3.5′ P very slightly S of the star at the N end is a 13th.13.5-magnitude pair separated by 12″; the brighter is F very slightly N of the fainter. 4′ almost due F the star at the N end is a small group of five stars; F slightly N of this group is another group of four; I didn’t count these among the cluster stars, as they seem too far removed from the main body of the cluster.


III. There was a fair amount of confusion about observing the following night; most of the group went up to Eagle’s Ridge, while I went out to Eureka. It was fortunate that I had, as Donn M (who had worked at the visitors’ center at the Mauna Kea observatories in Hawai’i) drove down from Salem to join us at Eureka. I took fewer notes, rather than bore Donn with my narration, and we spent the evening looking at all manner of objects. The two objects I did get notes on helped complete my list of Messier globulars.



MOON: 24 days (32% illuminated); rose at 1:42 AM
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.0
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to low 60s; no dew; considerable breeze by session’s end

Others present: Donn M

M4 (Sco): M4 is already quite low and well past the meridian, so I’m not going to wait until twilight is completely over before taking notes. This is a very loose, very poorly-concentrated globular, probably with a CC of 10. It’s very well resolved, all the way across, with a 4.5′ core and outliers all the way to 14′. The cluster is so loosely-concentrated it’s hard to separate the halo from the outliers (the core was defined in part by the length of the N-S line of prominent cluster members that gives M4 its distinctive character). On the S side of the cluster is a line of five stars that forms a cutoff for most of the outliers (although a few are still S of this line). This line is roughly perpendicular to the N-S line, and there are three brighter stars on the F side of this line and two on the P side. Halfway between the S tip of the N-S line and the P-most star of the three on the F side of the P-F line is a double star or faint pair, both 11thmagnitude and oriented SP-NF to each other, separated by 20″. The stars on the P-F line are 10.5/11thmagnitude, while the stars in the N-S line are 11.5/12thmagnitude. Well over a hundred indivisual stars are visible in the cluster. On the P edge of the halo is another pair, both 12thmagnitude, that’s N-S aligned; this pair is 2.75′ from the central N-S line. F the N-S line by 1′ is a small clump in the middle of the F side (right on the core’s edge) that consists of five 12th/13th-magnitude stars. N very slightly P the cluster’s center by 5′ is another pair, separated by 0.5′, of which the SP star is slightly brighter (10.5 vs. 11thmagnitude). N of the cluster by 16′ is the S-most of a pair that are among the brightest in the field (the 8.5-magnitude primary is the brightest in the field; the 10th-magnitude secondary is N slightly P the primary by 2.5′.

M62 (Oph): Much more concentrated (CC 5) but much smaller than M4, M62 more-closely resembles M14 in the powdery quality of its stars. The cluster is already starting to sink into the smoke pall circling the horizon. Its core spans 2.25′, with a 5.25′ halo and outliers to 7′. The cluster doesn’t quite reach granularity, being just on the verge of resolution over the body of the cluster and faint pinpoint stars just outside the edge of the halo. S very very slightly F the cluster by 3′ (from cluster center) is an 11th-magnitude star that’s individually prominent. A 10.5-magnitude star is NP the cluster by 9′. SP the cluster by 7′ is a 10th-magnitude star; 13′ SP of the cluster is an 8.5-magnitude star, the brightest in the field, and this and the previous star are in a perfect line with the cluster.

At 10:49, another brilliant fireball meteor erupted in the northeast, very near the spot where Jeff had caught the meteor from the previous night.


IV. We were thoroughly smoked out the following night; the smoke was dense enough in Eugene to be irritating to eyes and noses alike. No sense, then, in hauling out to Eagle’s or Eureka to try to peer through a thick layer of particulates.

The night after that (Thursday), more than made up for it.



MOON: 26 days (12% illuminated); rose at 3:59 AM
SQM: 21.4
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to upper 40s; no dew until after midnight, heavy by 3 AM; considerable breeze throughout; a bit cloudy in south toward end of session

Others present: JO, DB, FS

M13 (Her): No sense putting it off further!  M13 is one of the sky’s most spectacular objects. I would rank it fourth among globulars visible from the northern US, after M15, M22, and M5, although in some ways it’s the finest of them all. The cluster has a well-defined 4.5′ core in a 9′ halo, with outliers out to 14′; CC seems about a 5. From the outliers in, the brightness curve is quite smooth, although the core has a fairly-distinct edge. The cluster is well-resolved all the way across, with countless visible stars. Many of these cluster stars are spun out into tendrils, giving the cluster an insect-like appearance; there are four primary tendrils in all: two off the S edge and two off the N, with all but the one to the NF curling P-ward. On the P side, to the S, is a 4′ tendril; on the NP of the cluster is a 5′-long tendril. The two tendrils on the F side actually seem to be one long chain stretching N-S—6′ S and 3.5′ N (extending N very slightly F) from the edge of the halo. There are quite a few more visible cluster stars on the SP quadrant of the cluster than on the rest of the cluster, including a number of very close pairs (chief among these being one on the P side of the core and one on the S side of the core). This heavier population in the SP quadrant may be due to the presence of the dark “propeller” on the SF side; this wasn’t seen directly, but is possibly inferred by the lower star density on the SF and F side of the cluster. Many of the visible cluster stars are in the 11th/12th-magnitude range. A pair of 10.5-magnitude stars lie 9′ and 11′ to the P side of the cluster. M13 itself is bracketed by a pair of 7th-magnitude stars, one 17′ SP the cluster and the other 17′ F the cluster; 20′ NF the latter star is the galaxy NGC 6207 (cf.). Between the two 10.5-magnitude stars and the 7th-magnitude star SP the cluster is a pattern of 11th– and 12th-magnitude stars shaped like a mirror-reversed constellation Crater, with the “cup” open to the P side.

M92 (Her): Once again taking second place after M13, M92 is a considerably underrated globular in the Messier catalogue (with M2 and M 28), and would of course be a much better appreciated object if M13 wasn’t so near. It’s concentrated roughly to the same level of its better-known neighbor (CC 5), with a 2.25′ core, a 4′ halo, and outliers perhaps to 9′, especially on the NF side (and a lesser extent to the SP). The core of the cluster is on the SP end of a rectangle of resolved cluster members, with the three stars on the NF end of the rectangle about 4.5′ from the core; the sides of this rectangle run SP-NF, just P and just F the cluster’s core. The cluster is well resolved, especially on the N side of the core, with a prominent duo of stars on the NF edge of the core. Due F the cluster by 6′ is a 9.5-magnitude star; NF that star by 7′ is a 10.5-magnitude star; NF that star by 7′ is an 8.5-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field. SF the cluster by 20′ is the brightest (at 9.5 magnitude) of an extended diamond; this star is both the SF-most in the diamond and one end of the major axis of the diamond, which is 5.5′ x 1.75′; the stars on the minor axis and the 9.5-magnitude star on the SF end of the major axis also form a nearly-equilateral triangle (as the minor axis of the diamond is offset to the SF by a fair amount). P the cluster by 6′ is another 10.5-magnitude star. An 11th-magnitude star lies P somewhat N of the cluster by 8′.

NGC 6888 (Cyg): The Crescent Nebula, aka the Dividing Cell Nebula as listed in Sky Safari. I can no longer observe this fine object without thinking of mitosis. With the UHC filter in, the nebula spans 20′ x 10′ SP-NF and is not perfectly elliptical—call it the Anti-Dumbbell Nebula. The nebula’s brightest portion is on the NP edge, running around to the NF through a pair of bright stars that form the N edge of a trapezoid of bright stars on the N edge of the nebula; the three brightest in the trapezoid (the two on nebula’s edge and one in the nebula’s interior) also form a right triangle. These three stars are of 7th/7.5 magnitude, while the fourth star in the trapezoid (the SF vertex) is 10thmagnitude. The N-most of the stars in the triangle/trapezoid is the triangle’s right-angle vertex; the second vertex is 7′ SF; the third vertex is 5.5′ S very slightly P the first; the fourth trapezoid vertex is SF the first vertex by 7.5′. The hypotenuse of the right triangle is 8′ long. The brightest portion of nebulosity starts SP the right-angle vertex and runs NF, then loops F and very slightly S to end very closely by the second vertex. Drawing a line between the first and third vertices of the right triangle (i.e. along the short side of the right triangle) and continuing 6′ along that line finds a small knot of nebulosity, about 0.5′ diameter, which really pops out in averted vision. Continuing along that line about 4.5′ further (just outside the S edge of the nebula) brings us to a small arc of four stars, of which the 10th-magnitude star on the F end is the brightest; this arc is just SF another bright portion of the nebula (the S-most edge), which extends 5.5′ NP from that arc. The interior of the nebula, especially on the S end, is vaguely brighter than the Milky Way background; between the S-most star in the right triangle and the S edge of the nebula is a general milky or wispy glow that’s much more evident than the interior in the N half of the nebula. 7′ SP the right-angle vertex of the triangle, on the P edge of the nebula, is another bright knot of nebulosity that marks the point where the edge turns due S.  Just F the nebula (right across the middle of the nebula and F from there) is a tiny diamond of stars whose brightest star is 9thmagnitude; this star has a 10.5-magnitude star N of it by 0.5′, and these two stars make up the P side of the diamond.

In the O-III filter, the whole extent of the nebula is much brighter, with the two knots and the NP rim considerably more contrasty; the S edge is also more well defined. This is definitely an object for the O-III! With no filter at all, the number of visible stars inside the nebula increases dramatically. The right-angle vertex has a 12th-magnitude companion 0.5′ to its NF. A tiny equilateral triangle of 13th-magnitude stars lies in the NF end of the trapezoid. The nebula itself is much poorer without a filter: the two bright knots are visible but not overly obvious at first glance; the arc of the S end is difficult; the arc on the N end and the bit extending S very slightly P from the right-angle vertex of the triangle are the most obvious parts of the nebula when no filter is used.

NGC 7044 (Cyg): This is a new favorite among open clusters! The cluster presents as a faint, uniformly-lit 4′ x 2.5′ glow, extended mostly P-F, with only a few visible stars and much background granularity. It’s well-detached and obvious and very rich, with maybe 70 stars (although most are just beyond resolution). A couple of stars are visible on the P end, especially to the N. Right on the F edge of the unresolved glow, kind of marking the corners, are two prominent stars of which the star to the N is actually a very close double or pair. This star is the brighter of the two on the F edge at 12thmagnitude; 0.5′ N very slightly F it is a 13th-magnitude star. The star on the SF corner of the glow is 2′ S of the 12th-magnitude star and is 13.5 magnitude. 4.5′ F the double on the NF edge is a 9.5-magnitude star that has a 12th-magnitude star NP by 1′. The field’s brightest star is 8.5 magnitude and lies 20′ N slightly F the cluster, while a 9th-magnitude star is 12′ SP the cluster.

NGC 6940 (Vul): This is a huge cluster, but one that’s still fairly obvious and moderately detached—just a big (40′) spray of mostly 11th/12th-magnitude stars, perhaps a hundred overall. Several brighter stars are also among the cluster members. A 9th-magnitude star sits near the cluster’s center; this one is at the NF corner of the most concentrated region of stars in the cluster, a 6′ x 3.5′ clump. SP the 9th-magnitude star by 6.5′ and 7.5′ P it are two of the more-prominent fainter stars in the cluster.  13′ NF this 9th-magnitude star is another 9th-magnitude star. Due S of the first 9th-magnitude star by 11′ is an 8.5-magnitude star that forms a rhombus with two 9.5-magnitude stars and a close double/pair (8.5 and 9.5 magnitudes, separated by 5″), the latter of which is the P-most vertex of the rhombus; the double and the 8.5-magnitude star are separated by 11′ and on opposite ends of the rhombus’ major axis.

Next on the list was one of the first non-Messier objects I ever observed, hearkening back to that Cincinnati sidewalk in 1988, with my C-8 pushing its urban limits and Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” on the portable CD player. Thirty years later, I was finally recording an observation of this fine planetary nebula.

NGC 6905 (Del): The Blue Flash is one of the best planetary nebulae in the entire sky. It’s very bright and fairly large (0.75′) as planetaries go. Unfiltered, there’s a bit of P-F brightening on the S part of the interior, like a rim on an inner core region. Any outer halo that there might be is very faint and tenuous, not easy to discern against the bright core. No central star is visible. With the O-III filter, a bit more internal structure is visible, but’s hard to make out at this magnification; there’s also several arcseconds’ more outer halo, especially to the S. The nebula nestles inside a tiny triangle of stars (adding a fourth much fainter star makes this a trapezoid). The brightest star in the triangle is 11th-magnitude and lies 0.75′ N of the nebula; S of the nebula by 0.75′ is a 12.5-magnitude star; there’s an 11.5-magnitude star 1.25′ SF the nebula; the fourth, faintest star—which makes the triangle a trapezoid—is 13th-magnitude and lies 0.75′ F the 11th-magnitude star to the nebula’s N. 7′ P very slightly N of the nebula is the middle star of a ‘v’-shaped asterism that branches NP and NF from that star, which is 10.5 magnitude; the star 1.25′ F very slightly N of this star is the brightest in the group at 9.5 magnitude; P slightly N of that star by 1.5′ is another 10.5-magnitude star. On the NP side of the ‘v’, 1.75′ from the middle star, is another 10.5-magnitude star, and 1.75′ NP that star is a 12th-magnitude star. S very slightly F the nebula by 16′ is a 7th-magnitude star, the brightest in the field. MF the nebula by 16′ is an 8th-magnitude star; N very slightly P the nebula by that same distance is an 8.5-magnitude star.

The next object also had a nostalgic aura to it. In 1994, I was doing my (much-delayed) freshman year at Northern Arizona University, where I had ingratiated myself into the campus astronomy club; the club ran the public nights at the campus observatory. The telescope at the observatory was a 24″ classical Cassegrain with a steel frame and a mirror that was suffering from years of neglect. As a result, the finderscopes (3″ and 6″ refractors) usually gave better images than the main scope. But on one superb and frigid fall night, with a sizable crowd at hand and a medium-power 3″ eyepiece in the diagonal, the battered old scope gave a view of Messier 2 that left everyone in the freezing dome (myself included) nearly speechless—another indelible, frozen-in-time moment.

M2 (Aqr): Another very underappreciated Messier globular. This one is pretty tightly concentrated [I called it as a CC of 3; it’s actually a 2.] It’s a particularly pretty cluster, with a 3′ core and outliers to 7′; the halo is difficult to separate from the core. Many 13th/14th-magnitude stars are resolved across the cluster—far too many to count. The most prominent outliers include a very close pair on the P very slightly N side, 4′ from cluster center. N very slightly F the cluster by 4.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star, perhaps the brightest outlier or a superimposed field star. SF the cluster by 4′ is the more S of a pair of 11.5-magnitude stars, with the second in the pair 1′ F very slightly N of the first. The brightest star in the field is 9.5 magnitude and sits 21′ P the cluster. A 10th-magnitude star lies 10′ SP the cluster.

It’s amusing, sometimes, to read old astronomy books, to remark on the objects considered challenging in days past. The Veil Nebula in Cygnus is one of those; the one-time bible of deep-sky observing, Burnham’s Celestial Handbook, had described it thusly: “A very dark clear night and a wide-field eyepiece of low power are absolutely essential for the detection of this difficult object.” If only Burnham had access to today’s large Dobsonians, nebula filters, and high-contrast eyepieces!

Growing up, I also had at my disposal the LIFE Nature Library, a series of thin but oversized volumes that covered the gamut of natural and anthropological topics. The volume titled “The Universe” was one of my earliest influences in the subject of astronomy, and it contained a color photograph of the Veil with the description “… a diaphanous filagree of star-spangled red, white, and blue.” This description stuck with me even beyond my exposure to Carl Sagan’s writing, which I discovered much later, and I made frequent use of the words diaphanous and filigree whenever the situation allowed for it.  The nebula itself had to wait for the purchase of a UHC filter before I could assess the accuracy of the LIFE book’s description. (The colors, of course, are well beyond visual capability.)

NGC 6960 (Cyg): The western half of the Veil Nebula is a huge, contrail-like arc sweeping across the brilliant double star 52 Cygni (4th- and 12th-magnitude components, the secondary 5″ F the primary). Amazingly, as many times as I’ve looked at the Veil, I’ve never noticed that 52 Cyg is double, despite having read about it being so. The brighter section of the nebula extends NF from 52 Cyg, hooks P slightly, then curves back N-ward, extending 27′ N from 52 and terminating close to a 12th-magnitude star. The P side of this northern section has numerous bright striations in it, while the F side is somewhat more tenuous. The nebula runs 40′ S of 52 Cyg but is more indistinct and ragged, especially at the S end. Adding the O-III filter completely changes the character of the Veil, turning it into one of the most-detailed objects in the sky! With the filter, the N portion of the nebula is twisted and braided, almost too much to describe. 4.5′ S slightly F 52 Cyg is an 8.5-magnitude star embedded in the nebula. 10′ S of 52 Cyg is an 11th-magnitude star that sits 2′ N of where the nebula splits into P and F arcs, with open space between them; around this star is a very bright segment of the nebula’s “bowshock” that runs N and S of that star. Close to the ragged S end of the nebula, in the middle of the gap between the P and F arcs, is an equal-magnitude pair of stars separated by 1.25′.

NGC 6992-5 (Cyg): In the O-III, the eastern Veil Nebula is even more spectacular than the western half! It too has a star embedded in its northern tip, one of 10thmagnitude; 39′ S from that star is a 9th-magnitude star, the next one along the arc of nebulosity; 11′ N of that star and forming a triangle with a 9.5/10.5-magnitude pair on the P edge of the nebula is a very bright spot of nebulosity in the middle of the arc’s width; this runs S along the F edge of the arc in a bright streak that culminates 5′ NF that 9th-magnitude star. S of that star by another 11′ and running NP-SF across the width of the nebula is another bright filament that’s halfway between the first star and another bright star on the F edge of the nebula; this second star is due P a pair of bright stars off the F edge of the nebula, and from that star SP is the more ragged end of the nebula, which bends to the P side and has several tines that branch off to the NP. The N-most of these tines stretches 8′ along a quartet of stars, and then there’s a gap to the NP, and then the tine continues to the NP. S of that tine by 6′ is another tine parallel to the first; this one has a bright knot 19′ P very slightly N of the point where the tine meets the main arc of the nebula, and there’s also a gap in the middle of this tine before it continues NP. This second tine is connected to the main arc of the nebula at a small triangle of stars, the P-most of which is 11th-magnitude (the other two stars are 12th/12.5 magnitude). Even further S along the main arc of the nebula is yet another knot that’s detached from the end of the nebula and is about 3′ long. Overall, this eastern section of the Veil encompasses more than two 42′ fields; the amount of textural detail in it is impossible to describe; it’s like someone pulling apart cotton or Halloween spider webs, and so overwhelming to describe that I didn’t even bother with Pickering’s Triangular Wisp or the other wisps between the two main arcs of the Veil. Those will apparently have to wait for another occasion.

My notes for the next two objects were pretty chaotic, and making sense of them required consulting the POSS plates.

NGC 7062 (Cyg): A bit of a letdown after the Veil, but still a nice open cluster. This one is very obvious/detached and roughly diamond-shaped, with a 5.5′ major axis running P-F and a 4.5′ minor axis N-S. There are thirty or so stars, mostly in the 12th/13thmagnitude range, in the confines of these two axes. The star on the N end of the minor axis is almost exactly halfway and N from the two on the ends of the major axis (so 4.5′ NF the star on the P edge); the star on the S end of the minor axis is just S of the major axis and slightly closer to the star on the F end, which is at the end of an arc of three forming the SF edge of the cluster (the other two are a 12.5-magnitude star due P by 2′ and a 12th-magnitude star 1.5′ SP the second star). The stars on the ends of the major axis are both 10.5 magnitude; the star on the P end is the SP vertex of a small parallelogram on the P/NP edge of the cluster; this parallelogram is 1.5′ x 0.75′, and the other three stars in it are quite faint, in the 13th-magnitude range; the vertex F the brighter vertex is actually a faint, very close double separated by a couple of arcseconds. There’s a pattern of four 8th– and 9th-magnitude stars P and extending due N of the cluster. 15′ NF the star on the F end of the major axis is a 6th-magnitude star; a 4th-magnitude star is just outside the field, 23′ to the NF.

NGC 7067 (Cyg): This one is right next door to NGC 7062, but I had to confirm it with SkySafari to be sure that it was the correct object. It’s not obvious or well detached and pretty poor in population, with a wide range of magnitudes. There are seven primary stars here, in three distinct sections. The P-most section consists of a very thin isosceles triangle with the base to the N end; the two stars on this edge are both 13thmagnitude and separated by 0.3′; the triangle’s brightest star is 11thmagnitude and lies 1.67′ S of the base. Around and N of the triangle’s base is a 1.5′ x 0.5′ scattering of 14th-magnitude and fainter stars, and this comprises the richest portion of the cluster. The second portion of the cluster consists of just two stars, the brighter of which is to the N and is 10.5 magnitude, the fainter of which is 13thmagnitude. The brighter of this pair is 3.5′ NF the star at the tip of the isosceles triangle in the previous section, and is also 2.25′ NP the brightest cluster member, a 9th-magnitude star. This 9th-magnitude star is the P-most vertex of a tiny triangle; F very slightly S of that star by 0.5′ is an 11th-magnitude star, and 0.67′ NF the 9th-magnitude star is a 13.5-magnitude star. This triangle is the third primary section of the cluster. N very slightly P the cluster by 23′ (so outside the field) is an 8th-magnitude star; there’s another 8th-magnitude star S very slightly P the cluster by 20′, and an 8.5-magnitude star N of the cluster, 16′ from the cluster’s brightest star.

NGC 7128 (Cyg): This is a well-detached, fairly-rich cluster that’s unmistakable as a unified object, and very attractive to boot. It’s pretty compact at 5′ x 3′, oriented NP-SF. Six of the brighter stars are arranged in a small rectangle along the major axis; the brightest, at 8.5 magnitude, is on the SF end. N of this star by 0.75′ is a 13th-magnitude star; N of this second star by 0.75′ is another of 13thmagnitude. Due P the 8.5-magnitude star is a 12th-magnitude star which has a double star N slightly P by 1′; the double consists of an 11.5-magnitude star with a 12.5-magnitude star due P by 8″. N very slightly F the primary of the double by 0.75′ is the S of a pair of 13th-magnitude stars, with one N very very slightly P the other by 0.25′.  A number of fainter stars fill in the spaces between the brighter ones, particularly to the N end of the cluster. 10′ S of the 8.5-magnitude star is the more northern of a pair of 10th-magnitude stars, of which the more southern star is S very slightly P the other by 1.25′. P very slightly N of the cluster by 10′ is a 7.5-magnitude star, the field’s brightest.

Somewhere before this point, Jerry and Dan left for home. Frank had already gone back to his van to sleep for a bit; he was hoping to catch the Orion Nebula after it rose. I stuck it out, despite the increasingly-heavy dew. The rise of Cetus and Sculptor and the other specifically-autumn constellations had me eager to finish the open clusters of the Cygnus Milky Way and jump back into the galaxy fields of the fall.

NGC 24 (Scl): We’re way down in Sculptor now, working galaxies again. This is a very fine example of the type, a highly-inclined spiral. It’s elongated SP-NF, about 3.25′ x 0.75′. Its low altitude and declination may contribute to the somewhat indistinct halo; the core is bright and much more distinct, and is slightly offset to the NF end. No nucleus is visible. Just off the NF tip of the halo is a 12th-magnitude star; 6′ F very slightly S of this star is another 12th-magnitude star. Due S of the galaxy by 11′ is a 10th-magnitude star. P and somewhat S of the galaxy by 19′ is a pair of which the brighter component is the brightest in the field at 9.5 magnitude; this has an 11.5-magnitude companion F by 0.5′.

NGCs 7507, 7513 (Scl): Even farther S than NGC 24, this pair of galaxies is even more likely to be suffering from the low altitude. Neither is particularly impressive or distinguished. NGC 7507 is the Herschel object; it’s probably an elliptical galaxy, based on its profile, with a diffuse, poorly-defined halo but a bright core that’s about half the galaxy’s 0.75′ diameter. A very faint substellar nucleus can be seen. P very slightly N of the galaxy by 3′ is a 12th-magnitude star. SF the galaxy by 6′ is a 10.5-magnitude star with a 12.5-magnitude star 4.5′ to the S. The brightest in the field is the brighter of a pair (8thand 10.5 magnitudes) that has the fainter star NF by 1′; the brighter star is 17′ NF NGC 7507 and 3.5′ N very slightly P NGC 7513. NGC 7513 is NF NGC 7507 by 18′; it’s much fainter but larger than 7507, about 1.25′ x 0.67′ and elongated P-F. The halo is very diffuse and poorly defined, although the core is moderately bright. No nucleus is visible. 8′ NP is a 10th-magnitude star; this star is 16′ NF NGC 7507.

NGC 253 (Scl): One of the best galaxies in the whole sky, and it reminds me of this every time I seek it out. The mottling for which the galaxy is famous is apparent at first glance, especially in the brighter central region. The whole of the galaxy is no less than 28′ x 4.5′ and elongated SP-NF; the diffuse central region is about 10′ and very irregularly illuminated, and it’s offset slightly to the SP (or the NF end of the halo is much more difficult than the SP end). The ends of the halo disappear into the beckground sky, which admittedly is fairly greyish down at this altitude. A number of stars are embedded in the galaxy, of which three form a triangle around the core/central region: two are at the F end, a 12th-magnitude star just on the S edge of the halo and an 11.5-magnitude star 4.5′ NP the first star. From the first star P slightly S by 5′ is a 12.5-magnitude star. The field isn’t particularly noteworthy; its brightest star is 8.5 magnitude, and is 11′ NF the embedded 11.5-magnitude star. NP the P-most embedded star (the 12.5-magnitude star) by 3.75′ is an 11th-magnitude star. A 9th-magnitude star lies 6.5′ S of the center of the galaxy; there’s a 9.5-magnitude star 3.5′ NP that star and an 11th-magnitude star 4.5′ S of the 9th-magnitude star.

NGC 288 (Scl): The last of the non-Messier NGC globulars I need to take notes on—only M79 and M68 remain among NGC-numbered globular clusters. NGC 288 is SF NGC 253, and sits right near the South Galactic Pole. It’s fairly faint down so low in the sky. The cluster lacks a cohesive core; the majority of its stars are within 6′, with a number of outliers out to 10′. This is one of the loosest globulars, with a CC of 11. It’s highly resolved, with dozens of individual cluster members visible (if not more than a hundred) and a background glow of sub-threshold stars. A prominent 13th-magnitude outlier sits on the N very slightly P edge just outside the halo. Two more, 5′ to the SF, are the farthest from cluster center. There are a few 14th-magnitude outliers 3.5′ S and S slightly P center, and these (and the previously-mentioned ones) give the shell of outliers a triangular aspect atop the roundness of the cluster itself. NP the cluster is a trapezoid of stars; the closest to the cluster is 11th magnitude and may be double; this star is 7.5′ NP the center of the cluster. NP this star by 10′ is a 12th-magnitude star. N very slightly F the double by 7′ is the field’s brightest star at 8.5 magnitude. From the double NP by 6.5′ is a 10th-magnitude star. NF the cluster is a not-quite-right triangle: 8′ F slightly N of the cluster is a 10.5-magnitude star that has an 11th-magnitude star N very slightly P by 5.5′ and a 9th-magnitude star NF by 7.5′.

Breaking away from the eyepiece for a moment to consult my charts, I noticed that the sky to the south was becoming slightly overcast with cirrus—a sign that it was time to call it a night.

NGC 613 (Scl): Another impressive Sculptor galaxy, although it’s about to be eaten by a wave of cirrus. This galaxy is elongated NP-SF, about 3.25′ x 1.0′, with a diffuse halo, a large bright core, and a bright stellar nucleus; the diffuseness of the halo may be amplified by the incoming clouds. The galaxy seems better defined on the N edge. I have to give the galaxy a bit short shrift, as I’m now losing it to the clouds. N very slightly S by 2.25′ is a 10th-magnitude star. N very slightly P by 8′ is the brighter of a pair (10thand 12thmagnitudes), with the fainter P the brighter by 0.3′. I’ll have to come back to this one, as I’m sure the present view doesn’t do it justice.

NGC 908 (Cet): An excellent galaxy, and my last target for the night. This is a huge galaxy 4.5′ x 1.25′, oriented P-F. It’s very mottled and diffuse, irregularly-bright along its length. There are distinct traces of spiral structure here: an apparent arm that begins N of the core and sweeps around to the P and one that begins on the S of the core and sweeps F; there’s a void in the F end as if a space between the spiral arm and the subtly-bright core. The ends of the halo are quite ragged, and there may (?) be a very faint stellar nucleus visible fleetingly in averted vision. Superb!  8.5′ due P the core is an 11th-magnitude star that has an 11.5-magnitude star 3′ N very slightly P it. The brightest star in the field is 9thmagnitude and is 20′ SF the galaxy; the second-brightest in the field is a 9.5-magnitude star NP the galaxy by 11′. N of the galaxy is a small trapezoid with a very narrow S edge; the brightest star in the trapezoid, at 10.5 magnitude, is 5′ N of the galaxy’s core; the S edge of the trapezoid is marked by two 12.5-magnitude stars separated by 0.67′, and these are 3.25′ and 3.2′ N very slightly P the galaxy. The fourth in the trapezoid is N slightly P the galaxy by 5′ and is 13thmagnitude.

Orion was well risen by now, his glittering belt straight above (and pointing down to) the road to home. Frank’s van was still parked there. I packed up as quietly as I could, impressed by the amount of dew that rolled off my charts and eyepiece case, but still under the spell of the autumn stars. (Evidently I wasn’t quiet enough; Frank would tell me later that I had woken him up as I left, but that there was so much dew that he didn’t get his look at M42.)

It had been one of the best observing nights I’d had at Eureka Ridge, and I already couldn’t wait to come back.


V. I passed on the next night, needing to rest my Australopithicene bones a little more after such a long session, and with Saturday’s forecast promising a spectacular night. Jerry and Kathy were in Portland for the week, Dan was in Tucson, Frank was working, and even the promise of a stunning September night wasn’t enough to goad anyone else out to the Ridge. I went it alone, perhaps for the last time (due to reasons to be explained in my writeup of October’s observing).

This night was one of the last I’d need to clear out Sky Atlas 2000.0 Chart 9, covering Cygnus, northern Pegasus, and western Andromeda. Only a few objects remain there, most of them better found on Chart 3. Several of these objects are challenging not because they’re difficult to find or to see, but because their identities have been so historically muddled that knowing which is the correct object requires a fair amount of Internet sleuthing.


SEEING: 8.5, 4
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.5
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to upper 40s; no dew until after midnight, heavy by 3 AM; air mostly still

Others present: none

NGCs 6885, 6882 (Vul): There’s a lot of confusion about identities with these clusters, so there’s a bit of CYA at work here. SkySafari pulls up both of these objects when searching for NGC 6882 and NGC 6885. Uranometria only charts 6885; the TriAtlas lists the cluster around 20 Vul as 6885 and that around 19 Vul as 6882. Archinal & Hynes (probably the definitive authority) consider the 20 Vul cluster to be 6885 and 6882 to be non-existent. I’m going with the cluster around 20 Vul as 6885 and that around 19 Vul as 6882 for the sake of CMA.

NGC 6885 is large (16′), roundish, and reasonably-well detached but not super-obvious as a cluster. There are maybe 40 stars here, so it has a fairly-low density, but it also has a pretty wide range of magnitudes. It’s pretty devoid of stars in the middle aside from a small triangle of 12th/12.5-magnitude stars; this triangle is 3′-4′ per side. The majority of the cluster’s stars are along the N edge, but these are mostly fainter members; the brighter stars are along the S on the P and F sides. 4.5′ S of the brightest star in the cluster (20 Vul, 6thmagnitude) is a small triangle whose closest vertex, a 9.5-magnitude star, is the P-most vertex; another 9.5-magnitude star is 2.5′ S very slightly F that fist 9.5-magnitude star; 2′ N very slightly F of the second star is an 11th-magnitude star (which has a 12.5-magnitide star S slightly P of it by 0.75′). These are the stars in the triangle. Back to 20 Vul: N of 20 Vul by 2.5′ is a pair of stars, of which the P-most of the pair is 10th-magnitude and the F-most is 11th-magnitude, 0.75′ F very slightly S of the 10th-magnitude star. NP 20 Vul by 6′ is a clump on the N edge of the cluster, which is the most obvious feature of the cluster after 20 Vul itself; there are nine stars of various magnitudes in the clump. Due P this clump is a ‘C’-shaped arc of stars, along the N edge of the cluster, and the brightest stars in it are in the F side of the ‘C’. The ‘C’ is open to the N. P slightly S of 20 Vul by 12′ is the faintest and N-most vertex of another triangle that defines the majority of the P side of the cluster; this vertex is 11th-magnitude, and has SF by 2.5′ a 9th-magnitude star; the third vertex of this triangle is P very slightly S of the first by 1.25′ and is  9th-magnitude; it has an 11th-magnitude star F very slightly N by 0.3′. On the F edge of the cluster is a 6th-magnitude star that may or may not be part of the cluster.

NGC 6882—if it exists at all—is centered around 5th-magnitude 19 Vul; this star is flanked on the N very slightly F (by 5.25′) and S slightly F (by 4.5′) by 7th-magnitude stars. This is a fairly poor excuse for a cluster, with hard-to-determine boundaries, few stars, and a wide range of magnitudes. The star to the S slightly F of 19 Vul is the central point of a group of eight stars which is 3.5′ P-F; the P end is marked by a pair of 11.5-magnitude stars (one P very slightly N of the other by 0.75′); directly around and F the 7th-magnitude star in that group are five 13th/13.5-magnitude stars. P very slightly S of 19 Vul by 5′ is a pair of 10th-magnitude stars, separated by 1′, of which the S-most is slightly brighter (10.2 and 10.4). With 19 Vul centered, P slightly N of it by 18′ is the brightest star in the field (magnitude 5.5); this star has a squiggle of faint (12th-magnitude and fainter) stars trailing away from it to the NF; this trail is 2.5′ long.

NGC 6991, IC 5076 (Cyg): from one (two) case of confused identity to another. The interstellarum Deep Sky Atlas plots NGC 6991 as four discrete objects, and it’s understandable upon looking at it; there are four separate clumps of stars here. Archinal & Hynes note that only one of these should be considered NGC 6991, while Steve Gottlieb notes that the original object (John Herschel’s catalogue entry h2091) could either be the group involving the 5.7-magnitude star HD 199478 and the reflection nebula IC 5076, or a group 10′ F very slightly S, which I note below as the third group of four from NP-SF. All are described here.

The entirety of what iSDA may consider NGC 6991 is P and S of a 6th-magnitude star [HD 199478], which has a patch of reflection nebulosity [IC 5076] P it. The cluster is made up of four subgroups of stars, each oriented S very slightly P-N very slightly F, with the four groups together running from N very slightly P-S very slightly F within the overall “cluster.” The whole of the four groups is about 20′ N-S. The group at the N end consists of six stars, of which four are on the P end, including the brightest in this group (9.5 magnitude); this star is in the middle of the line of six. P that star are three stars, of which the closest is 1′ P very slightly S, and the farthest from the 9.5-magnitude star is 1.25′ P very slightly N the second star; these two stars are both 11th-magnitude. Between and slightly S of them is a 12th-magnitude star. F the 9.5-magnitude star by 1.75′ and 2.25′ are two more 11th-magnitude stars.

S of the 9.5-magnitude star is the brightest (and P-most) in the second subgroup, a 10.5-magnitude star. (There is actually a threshold star slightly P the 10.5-magnitude star, but I’m not including it here as the P-most.) There are eight stars in this subgroup. From the 10.5-magnitude star NF by 0.75′ is a pair of 11.5/12th-magnitude stars of which the fainter is P the brighter by 12″. This whole second subgroup arches NF from the 10.5-magnitude star and then back S, ending F very slightly N of the 10.5-magnitude star.

SP the 10.5-magnitude star by 7′ is the brightest star in the whole “cluster” of NGC 6991, and the P-most in the third group. This third group is the one John Herschel apparently referred to as h2091 (after his father called the group around HD 199478 the cluster VIII-76 and John misidentified his father’s cluster). This brightest star in the thrid group is 8thmagnitude, and sits in the middle of the P edge of a football-shaped pattern of stars oriented N slightly P-S slightly F. This “football” has ten stars and spans 4.5′ x 2.5′; the 8.5-magnitude star is on the P end of the minor axis. F the football pattern is a small trapezoid of eight stars, the brightest of which is 10thmagnitude and is the P-most in the trapezoid. This 10th-magnitude star is 4.5′ NF the 8th-magnitude star in the football; the trapezoid and the football make up this third subgroup of NGC 6991 and span 6.5′ across.

8′ S of the 8th-magnitude star in the football is the brightest star in the fourth subgroup, which contains ten stars and is oriented P very slightly S-F very slightly N; this brightest in this subgroup (at 10th-magnitude) is the second star in from P on the S side of the subgroup. This subgroup is roughly Pleiades-shaped and spans 3′ x 1′.

These four subgroups may or may not make up NGC 6991. As for William Herschel’s VIII-76, this includes both HD 199478 and IC 5076, which is P the star by 2′. It’s hard to determine a size for the reflection nebula, as it’s pretty faint; it’s actually easiest to tell that it’s there by noticing the lack of glow around the other nearby stars. I estimate the nebula to be no more than 2′ across. From HD 199478 SF to SP is an arc of three 9.5/10th-magnitude stars, each about 2.5′ apart; the star of the SF end of the arc has a threshold-level companion S by 0.25′. The P-most star in the arc is 10thmagnitude and is a triple, with a 13.5-magnitude companion 6″ P very slightly N and a 13th-magnitude star SF by 12″. IC 5076 forms a small triangle with the triple star and the 10th-magnitude star in the middle of the arc, the nebula being N of the two stars. The nebula is an ill-defined but easily-noticeable presence in the field, even though I didn’t previously know it was going to be there. A 7th-magnitude star is 18′ S of HD 199478.

NGC 7000 (Cyg): Out of the frying pan, into the fire. The North America Nebula is such a huge, sweeping object that I don’t know where to begin with it, and my descriptive ability palls at the prospect of taking notes on it; as a result, my notes are inadequate as a detailed description. (This is why I prefer to avoid the large, showpiece objects in the sky with regard to note-taking.) But we must plow on….

The size of the nebula is staggering; from the end of “Panama” to “Maine” is nearly four 42′ fields of view, and from the “Labrador coast” to “British Columbia” is 2.5 fields. (I’ll stop with the quotation marks now.) There’s a 6th-magnitude star near Hudson Bay; SF this star, arcing to the SF and then back NF, is an arc of four bright stars. A 10′ x 3.5′ (narrower on the S end) strip of dark nebulosity near Hudson Bay runs roughly N-S and terminates near a small triangle of stars on its SP edge; this triangle is roughly equilateral, with its two brighter stars on the N edge and its faintest star as the S-most vertex. The Atlantic coast region is the brightest part of the nebula, and it runs down past the cluster NGC 6997 to a line of three 9th/10th-magnitude stars which run along the S edge of the Panama region; the nebula extends slightly SP those stars. The Gulf of Mexico region isn’t as bright as the Atlantic coast but is better-defined, in part due to contrast with the dark nebula that makes up the actual Gulf; the dark nebula also runs up the Atlantic Coast, but it’s most obvious in the Gulf. The Gulf region is 20′ across and is bounded by an 8.5-magnitude star on the N edge, a 9th-magnitude star on the S Florida Gulf coast, and a 7th-magnitude star on the P edge of the Mexico side. The dark nebula in the Gulf defineitely looks like an obscuring mass, rather than just an absence of stars and nebulosity.  Up the Isthmus, along the Pacific coast of Mexico and into California—on the NF up into Canada are a pair of bright stars N-S to each other and separated by 12′ (a 6th-magnitude star at Vancouver and a 7th-magnitude star at Portland), with another 7th-magnitude star in SoCal, 35′ S of the Vancouver star. The entirety of this object is filled with gauzy nebulosity (which is greatly enhanced by the UHC filter), bounded and shaped by dark dust clouds into a paragon of pareidolia. (It should be added that the Pelican Nebula, due P NGC 7000 was also quite striking on this evening, but I didn’t have the descriptive prowess to continue further.)

NGC 6997 (Cyg): This cluster is inside the North America Nebula, roughly in the Pennsylvania area; as such, it’s awash in nebulosity. The cluster is elliptical, elongated NP-SF, and pretty obviously a cluster. It’s well-detached from the background stars and moderately rich, with some 40 stars of a pretty wide range of magnitudes. The ellipse is 9′ x 6.5′, with most of the stars around the perimeter of the ellipse; only eight stars are actually inside the ellipse. The brightest star, at magnitude 10.5, is on the middle of the SP side of the ellipse, and there’s a line of faint stars that runs 1.75′ N from that star. The S end of the ellipse has more stars (perhaps 25) than the N end, the area around that line of faint stars being particularly populous. The most-obvious feature of the cluster is a 2.75′ long extension of stars that runs NF from the NF end of the ellipse; this extension contains ten stars, of which three are 11th-magnitude and the others much fainter.  The cluster is framed by three 6th-magnitude stars: one 16′ due N (at Hudson Bay); one 18′ SP (at Charleston) and one 22′ SF (Kansas City); with the cluster centered, these three frame the field along with a 7th-magnitude star 17′ NF at Chicago.

NGC 7031 (Cyg): This tough little cluster is located in the midst of Le Gentil 3, the huge dark cloud that hangs between Deneb and Cepheus like a northern version of the Coalsack. There aren’t many leaping-off stars here for starhopping. The cluster is pretty obvious but star-poor, with only 10-12 stars and a moderate range of magnitudes among them. The cluster is a tight little triangular knot, with its brightest star (magnitude 10.2) as the N vertex; this star has a 12.5-magnitude companion F very slightly S by 15″. SF the bright star by 1.25′ is the N-most vertex of a tiny triangle of 12th-magnitude stars; SF that vertex by 0.3′ is another 12th-magnitude star; SP the first vertex by 0.5′ is the third vertex. SP the 10.2-magnitude star by 0.75′ is a SP-NF line of three stars, of which the one in the middle and the one on the SP are the brightest at 12.5 magnitude; the third (the closest to the 10.2-magnitude star) is 14thmagnitude; this line is no more than 0.67′. The 10.2-magnitude star and its companion, the little triangle, and the little line of stars make up the whole of the cluster. SF the 10.2-magnitude star by 14′ is the brightest in the field, a 9.5-magnitude star; it’s also the SF-most vertex of another triangle, with 11th-magnitude stars 2′ N very slightly P and 2.5′ NP.

NGC 7243 (Lac): A large, bright, loose cluster, this is an ideal target for binoculars or finderscopes. It’s not well detached, and could be a mere condensation of the Milky Way. It’s still fairly rich, with seventy or so stars in a triangular area that’s about 20′ on a side. Most of the stars are in small, loose clumps, and most are in the 9th/11th-magnitude range (although there are a number of fainter stars, down to 13thmagnitude). The N/NP side of the cluster is the most populous. On the middle of the P side is a small right triangle, the P vertex of which is an 8.5-magnitude star with one of equal magnitude F slightly S by 2.5′; due NF the first vertex by 1.5′ is an 11th-magnitude star which is the right-angle vertex of the triangle. From the first vertex of the right triangle F somewhat N by 7′ is  double star whose components are both 9.5 magnitude and are separated by 11″ N-S; this double is the F vertex of an almost-equilateral triangle that’s on eof the most obvious features of the cluster; P the double star by 1.25′ is another 9.5-magnitude star; from the double 1.5′ N very slightly P is a 10.5-magnitude star; these make up the second triangle, which is near the overall center of the cluster. There’s a clump of bright stars at the cluster’s NF corner; the SF corner of the cluster is a 9th-magnitude star that has a 10th-magnitude star S of it by 2′. Along the S central region of the cluster due S of the nearly-equilateral triangle is a “Hercules keystone” asterism that’s prominent; its NP-most is its brightest star at 9thmagnitude.

NGC 7245 (Lac): This cluster was definitely worth the hunt! I was a bit tricked by the fact that the asterism I used to starhop to the cluster had a lookalike very nearby that was leading me the wrong way. The cluster itself is tiny, about 2.5′ across, but very detached and extremely rich for its size. Most of the stars in the cluster are 13th-magnitude and fainter, giving the cluster a powdery appearance; it’s not a cluster for easy resolution. It’s bounded by a triangle of brighter stars of which the star to the NF is the brightest. In averted vision, the F side of the cluster is slightly better resolved; a line of 14th-magnitude stars runs SP-NF along that F edge. NF the cluster by 4′ is a 9th-magnitude star. 1.5′ SP the cluster is an 11th-magnitude star. SF the cluster by 2.5′ is a 10.5-magnitude star that is closely-surrounded by a small knot of four 13.5/14th-magnitude stars, three of which are P the 10.5-magnitude star and one of which is N slightly F. The asterism I used to find the cluster is N slightly P the cluster; it’s a small trapezoid with its brightest star (9thmagnitude) on the SP corner and a 9.5-magnitude star S very slightly F by 0.67′; N of the brighter star by 1.5′ is another 9.5-magnitude star; SF that last star by 2′ is a 10th-magnitude star. [I completely missed King 9, a similar cluster 4.75′ NF NGC 7245.]


NGC 7296 (7295)(Lac): An interesting and fairly obvious little cluster, although not particularly well detached. It’s reasonably rich, with 25 stars in a 5′ x 3.5′ area that’s oriented P-F. Twelve of these stars are fairly obvious and in the 10th/12th-magnitude range; most of the cluster stars are between 10thand 12thmagnitude, with a fair number fainter than this. The brighter stars in the cluster form two lines, starting at a 10th-magnitude star at the P tip of the cluster (this is the cluster’s brightest member); these lines run along the S edge of the cluster, starting S slightly F from that star, with a more prominent line that runs SF from that star then veers NF. Both lines have five prominent stars in them. The cluster as a whole has an insect-like appearance.  A majority of the fainter members are in two clumps, one NF the 10th-magnitude star by 0.75′ and one in the central part of the S edge/line. The P side of the cluster is more populous than the F side. S of the cluster, 7′ S very slightly F the 10th-magnitude star on the P edge of the cluster, is a 9th-magnitude star; this star has a line of three equally-spaced (1.5′-2′) 11th/12th-magnitude stars leading up to the 10th-magnitude star—starting from the 9th-magnitude star, there are three stars, then a gap of 3.5′, then the 10th-magnitude star. Due P the cluster by 14′ is an 8th-magnitude star. NF the 10th-magnitude star by 20′ is the brightest star in the field (6th-magnitude), which has 15″ N slightly P a 12th-magnitude star. [This is an actual double, HD 213388.]

NGC 7686 (And): A fairly obvious and detached cluster N of Frederick’s Glory, this is a bright cluster where one wouldn’t really expect it. It’s not super rich—just 20 stars—but it’s eye-catching. The cluster is centered around a 6th-magnitude star and is obviously triangular, with the 6th-magnitude star in the P-F running S edge of the triangle. 5′ P very slightly S of the 6th-magnitude star is an 8th-magnitude star, and 5′ F very slightly N of the 6th-magnitude star is a 10.5-magnitude star; these form the S edge of the triangle. The third vertex of the triangle is NP the 6th-magnitude star by 9′ and is 9thmagnitude. (The 6th-magnitude star isn’t one of the vertices; the 8th-, 9th– and 10.5-magnitude stars are the vertices.) The N edge of the triangle—from the 10.5-magnitude star on the F side of the cluster to the 9th-magnitude star on the NP corner of the cluster—is 13′, and the P side of the triangle (from the 9th-magnitude star to the 8th-magnitude star) is 9′. The S edge of the triangle is the best-defined edge, with twelve stars along the edge; the 6th-magnitude star is also the NF corner of a small (2.5′ x 1.67′) rectangle that’s oriented SP-NF and otherwise consist of 12th/13th-magnitude stars. The N edge of the triangle also includes eight stars of 10thor 11thmagnitude, but the P edge has no stars along it save for the two vertices; the 8th-magnitude star has an arc of seven 12th/13th-magnitude stars running NP and then due P, the final three stars in the arc spaced 1.5′-2′ apart, but these stars are largely outside the frame of the triangle. A 10.5-magnitude star, 5′ S of the 6th-magnitude star, forms an equilateral triangle with the 6th– and 8th-magnitude stars.

A glance at the sky to find the next target revealed a bank of cirrocumulus moving across the sky, despite several large clear patches. (This is what accounts for the variable seeing and transparency ratings listed in the evening’s conditions.) Any remaining objects would have to be picked out from the clearest regions of the sky.

NGC 7662 (And): The Blue Snowball is indeed very much bluish, but not quite snowball-ish. It’s 0.5′ in diameter and mostly core, without much outer fringe, although at this magnification detail is hard to come by even with the O-III filter. With the filter the edges of the nebula’s core region seem a bit sharper and there might be a very thin halo around the outside, but that’s about all the improvement the filter brings. The central star isn’t visible with or without the filter. 17′ S of the nebula is the N-most star in a sailboat-like asterism of 8th-11th-magnitude stars. 0.5′ F slightly N of the nebula’s edge is a 14th-magnitude star; F the nebula by 8′ is an 8th-magnitude star. 11′ NF the nebula is a 9th-magnitude star; this star is at the end of an arc that bends NF and then drops SF to end 6′ N slightly P the nebula; there are five stars in this arc including the 9th-magnitude star; the middle star in the arc is a double of 12th– and12.5-magnitude components separated by 0.3′, with the secondary SF the primary.

NGC 7640 (And): I’ve seen this galaxy before, and it’s surprisingly tricky tonight (the clouds drifting across the southeast part of the sky may well be more widespread than they appear). Averted vision is helpful with this faint spectre of a galaxy. It’s a huge diffuse glow, 6.0′ x 0.75′ in averted vision, oriented N-S, and the definition of “ill-defined.” The 2.5′ x 0.5′ core region is just slightly brighter than the halo but can be held easily in direct vision. There’s either a very faint stellar nucleus or a faint threshold star halfway along the F edge of the galaxy; I suspect it’s the latter, although every so often in averted vision there’s a glimpse of what may be a very very faint substellar nucleus just NP from that threshold star. The galaxy is bracketed by a triangle of 11th-magnitude stars, one each on the NP and SP and one to the F side; the two on the P edge are about 5.25′ apart, while the one to the F side is 3.5′ SF the star to the NP. 3.5′ due S from the galaxy’s center is a 12.5-magnitude star. P the galaxy by 24′ (outside the field) is another 9th-magnitude star. The brightest in the field is a 9th-magnitude star that’s 20′ F very slightly N of the galaxy; this star is followed by a tiny ‘Y’-shaped asterism of 10th/11th-magnitude stars with the faintest star in the middle of the ‘Y’.

I looked up to check on the cloud cover and to orient for the next series of objects. As I did so, yet another incredible fireball split the sky—a bright blue Roman-candle-esque meteor that burst past Capella and Menkalinen before shattering into a spray of glittery sparks. No meteor shower was accounting for these, but it was intriguing how three of these fireballs had happened during the week, and all in the same area of the sky.

NGC 217 (Cet): The clouds in Cetus have cleared for the moment, so I’m scooting over there to catch this one while I still can. It may not be quite clear, as the galaxy is considerably fainter than I expected. It’s an obvious edge-on spiral, a difficult 1.5′ x 0.3′ streak oriented P slightly N-F slightly S. The core region is small and slightly brighter than the fairly-well defined halo, and there’s a trace of a very faint stellar nucleus. 11′ along the axis of the galaxy P very slightly N is a 9th-magnitude star. F very slightly S. 4′ from the galaxy’s nucleus, is a 12.5-magnitude star. The brightest in the field is a 7th-magnitude star 20′ NF the galaxy; there’s a 10th-magnitude star 0.5′ F the 7th-magnitude star and a 13th-magnitude star 1.5′ P the 7th-magnitude star. SF the galaxy by 21′ is an interesting double/pair of 11thand 12thmagnitudes, with the brighter 0.5′ SP the fainter.

NGC 357 (Cet): There may be more cirrus moving through, or the sky in the low south might just be crappy in general. This galaxy isn’t easy to find—the area around it is pretty much devoid of naked-eye stars—but it’s reasonably obvious when I sweep over it. The galaxy is 1.5′ x 0.67′, elongated P slightly S-F slightly N but is quite poorly defined and hard to hold a good fix on size-wise. The core is small and brightish, and it hosts a pretty-obvious substellar nucleus. A threshold star perches just on the F edge of the halo. 2′ F slightly S is a 14th-magnitude star. NF the galaxy by 5′ is a 12.5-magnitude star. 12′ S of the galaxy is a 9.5-magnitude star, the brightest in the field. Just on the P somewhat S edge of the field (21′ from the galaxy) is a pair of 10th-magnitude stars separated by 3.5′. F the galaxy, starting 16′ due F, is a 10th-magnitude star which is the N end of a roughly-straight line of five that extends N-S and is 7′ long; the others in this line are two 12thand two 13th-magnitude stars.

Time for one final target; the clouds were now covering 1/2-2/3 of the sky, and the dew had become a problem even with dew heaters hard at work.

The Skull Nebula was one of the first objects I ever sketched; I did so from the Cheney Road flying field of the remote-controlled airplane club in Marion and Paulson, IL. Jim Storm, my predecessor as AASI president, had made a deal with the airplane flyers to use their field, which was one of the best observing sites AASI had ever had. I later made the mistake of hosting a public astronomy event there, and shortly thereafter, AASI was told we could no longer use the site. Before that, though, I made numerous solo trips to observe there, and on one particularly cold November night, I got my first good look at this fine planetary.

NGC 246 (Cet): The Skull Nebula will be the last for the night; my filters have somehow fogged up, the clouds are still making things difficult, and I’m losing focus. As the filters are pretty seriously dewed over, I’m going to have to revisit the Skull on another night to compare the views. This is a large planetary, 4′ across, its interior filled with loops of nebulosity and dark voids and its perimeter well-defined except on the F side. The central star is bright at 11.5 magnitude, and two other stars are in the nebula’s interior: an 11th-magnitude star 1′ P slightly S of the central star, and another 11th-magnitude star 2′ NP the central star, right on the edge of the nebula. 3.5′ SP the central star is a 12th-magnitude star [and a 12th-magnitude satellite is creeping through the field, from P-F!]. Due S of the central star by 4′ is another 12th-magnitude star, while a 13th-magnitude star lies 1.5′ SF the central star, in the “open” F end of the nebula. Two 10.5-magnitude stars are the brightest in the field, one 18′ NF the central star, and one 16′ due S of the central star. An 11th-magnitude star lies 18′ NP the nebula. [I would indeed return to the Skull with dry filters in early October.]


VI. The Clear Sky Chart was eventually going to get one wrong, and the last night of our September run turned out to be the one. The forecast called for improving conditions as the night went on; the opposite happened instead. Nonetheless, we had 90 minutes of fine skies before our luck ran out.

I’d hoped to get through SA2K Chart 3 and managed only a dent in it. Given how excellent the month had been, though, I wasn’t going to complain; most of the objects on Chart 3 are far enough north as to be visible through December. I didn’t know it then, but we’d also have some good nights in early October.


MOON: 4 days (28% illuminated; set at 10:03 PM)
SQM: not checked
NELM: 6.2
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to upper 50s; clouds moved in by 10:30 and forced abandonment of the session (couldn’t even get 6939)

Others present: JO, DB, RA

NGC 7086 (Cyg): This is a moderately-detached and fairly-obvious cluster of about fifty stars, mostly of 11th-13thmagnitudes. It’s 9′ (P-F) x 4.5′ (N very slightly P-S very slightly F). Two lines of stars define the main cluster: on the F side of the major axis is a line of five stars, while the minor axis consists of three stars, including the brightest in the cluster (at 10.5 magnitude), which is at the intersection of the axes. The second-brightest in the cluster is at the P end of the major axis—3′ P the 10.5-magnitude star—and is 11thmagnitude. The N end of the minor axis is an 11th-magnitude star 1′ N of the 10.5-magnitude star; the star at the S end of the minor axis is also 11thmagnitude and is 2.25′ S of the 10.5-magnitude star. SF the 10.5-magnitude star by 2.25′ is a clump of eight stars, the brightest of which are 12thmagnitude; there may be some unresolved stars there. The region around the clump is also the densest part of the cluster. N very slightly P the 10.5-magnitude star by 15′ is the S-most of a pair of 9th-magnitude stars that are separated by 1.5′; the N-most of the pair is very slightly fainter. 11′ F the 10.5-magnitude star is a 9.5-magnitude star; 24′ NF the 10.5-magnitude star is a 7th-magnitude star; 23′ S very slightly F the 10.5-magnitude star is a 9th-magnitude star.

NGC 7082 (Cyg): This is another CYA observation, as it seems everyone has a different idea of what constitutes this cluster. The (sadly defunct) NGC/IC Project considers this cluster to be a tiny grouping of four stars, almost like a backward ‘7’. The brightest star of the four is on the NF end and is 10thmagnitude; P the brightest star by 0.5′ is a 12th-magnitude star; S of the 10th-magnitude star by 0.67′ is an 11th-magnitude star, and 0.5′ SF the previous star is an 11.5-magnitude star. Due P the 10th-magnitude star by 5′ is an 8.5-magnitude star which has a 10.5-magnitude star S very slightly F by 0.5′; from the 10.5-magnitude star S very slightly F is another pair of stars, 11.5 and 12thmagnitudes, separated by 15″ with the brighter component to the S; this pair is separated from the previous pair by 1.5′. P very slightly S of the 8.5-magnitude star by 3′ is an 8th-magnitude star which is in the middle of an upside-down ‘Y’-shaped asterism; to the N very slightly P by 0.75′ is a 10.5-magnitude star; SF by 1′ is another 10.5-magnitude star; 1.5′ S of the 8th-magnitude star is an 11.5-magnitude star; these make up the ‘Y’, although there’s an additional 11.5-magnitude star 0.5′ S very slightly P from the 8th-magnitude star. From the ‘Y’ to the two pairs F to the four stars in the backward ‘7’ is about 8′, with the whole thing oriented roughly P-F. Overall, this is a star-poor, inobvious object, and it’s easy to see why its identity could be confusing.

My tone of voice and word choice must’ve struck a chord with my fellow observers—Dan invented a new character for me, The Least-Enthusiastic Astronomer (based in part on the Most-Interesting Man in the World) due to my disappointment with NGC 7082. I went along with it for the next cluster, although it was somewhat-more interesting:

NGC 7209 (Lac): Better than 7082, certainly. This cluster has about 70 stars in a 15′ circle; it’s only somewhat detached from the background, and is identifiable largely because of so many 10th/12th-magnitude stars in the area. It’s quite loose and moderately rich, and there are a number of smaller groups within it. On the N slightly P corner of the cluster is a group of six reminiscent of a Christmas stocking, with the “heel” pointing F; this group is 1.25′ on the F and S sides, with the brightest star in it (at 10th-magnitude) in the middle of the NF side of the stocking. F this group is a rough ellipse oriented N slightly P-S slightly F. This ellipse has twelve stars in it, with the brightest in the whole cluster (9.5 magnitude) on the SP end of the ellipse; most of the brighter stars are on the S end of the ellipse, which spans 4.5′ x 2.25′. The F side of the ellipse is better delineated than the P side, almost as if a subtle backwards ‘3’. Due S of the ellipse is another pattern of eight stars, of which three are very tightly packed on the N end of the group and similar in magnitude (11th/12thmagnitudes); these form a triangle elongated N-S, with a long side of 0.75′ and the brightest star (12thmagnitude) on the S end, with the third vertex slightly P the other two. 16′ N of the cluster lucida is a 6th-magnitude star; 28′ S very slightly F the 6th-magnitude star is a 9th-magnitude star; 26′ S slightly P the 6th-magnitude star is an 8.5-magnitude star, and these three stars form a triangle that frames the cluster. 19′ S slightly F the 6thmagnitude star—and 8′ F very slightly S the cluster lucida—is a 9th-magnitude star.

The clouds had now taken over the southern and western skies, and were creeping toward Cepheus and Cygnus. They were dense enough that I knew we’d be done for the night within a half hour. Time for one more object, one that I’d observed more than a few times:

NGC 6946 (Cyg): The last time I looked at NGC 6946 was to check on SN 2017eaw. It’s always been a grand sight in the 12.5-inch scope: a huge face-on galaxy, 9.0′ x 4.0′, elongated SP-NF. The NF edge is a bit brighter than the rest of the perimeter, looking like a separate spiral arm due to the gap between it and the rest of the halo, like a rim. There’s a faint double star near the end of that arm, of 12.5 and 14thmagnitudes, separated by 10″. Just on the SF edge is a faint pair of stars 1.5′ from the center of the core, with the brighter the N-most of the two; these are 12thand 12.5 magnitude, separated by 0.5′. The core itself is aligned not quite perpendicular to the orientation of the halo; the brightest part of the core is 1′ diameter, extending NP-SF to about 2.5′ x 1.0′ and offset to the SP slightly. The extensions of the core are quite tenuous. Just outside the NP edge of the halo is a small isosceles triangle of 13th-magnitude stars that roughly follows the axis of the halo; the triangle’s base is 0.67′ and the two other edges 1.5′. The F-most star in the triangle (on the N end) is the brightest of the three. Due S of the galaxy is a small right triangle of brighter stars; the closest of these to the core is 3.25′ S of the core and is 11.5 magnitude; there’s a 10th-magnitude star 2′ S of the core that is the right-angle vertex of the triangle, while the third vertex (also 10thmagnitude) is 2.25′ F the right-angle vertex. The 11.5-magnitude star and the right-angle vertex form a line with the faint pair on the SF edge of the halo; the 11.5-magnitude star has a 12.5-magnitude star NP it by 1.3′ (along the axis of the hypotenuse). This 12.5-magnitude star is also embedded in the halo, S very slightly P the galaxy’s core. With the galaxy centered, the brightest star in the field (9.5 magnitude) is NF the core by 20′. 7.5′ NP the core of the galaxy is the brighter of an unequal pair (10.5 and 12thmagnitudes), with the fainter 0.75′ NF the brighter.

The clouds ended September, observing-wise; I didn’t even get to take notes on NGC 6939, the rich open cluster so near to NGC 6946.

It had been a remarkable two-week stretch of usable nights, the best September run I’ve had in Oregon since moving here. I logged a significant number of objects, but more importantly, I’d rekindled a connection with the autumn sky that traced all the way back to my first year with a telescope, the end of my original Messier hunting, and my first forays into the NGC. More than simply a cataloguing of objects or a nostalgia trip, these weeks reaffirmed the personal bond I’ve built with the universe around us.


Van or Astro-Van?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But onward:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Others present: JO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



And so we “went to work.”


SQM: 21.3
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps falling to mid 50s; air still, considerable dew

Others present: JO, Dan B, Jeff P

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Evening, sir. Have you been drinking?”

“No, officer–just doing astronomy.”

“Astronomy. That’s a new one.”

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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

Others present: JO, RA, AG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Others present: Dan B, Ruby, Jasmine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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








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



Headlong Toward Autumn

The end of August was supposed to bring the Brothers Star Party with it, but things didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, the weather forecast seemed to be telling us to find alternative vacation plans, and we did: two nights in Portland (for Mrs. Caveman and Cave-Offspring to see Malala Yusufzai, and to attend the superb production of The Lion King as it swung through the Pacific Northwest), then two in Seattle spending time with two of our best friends from our Illinois days.  Even as the forecast for Brothers improved, I ended up not having any regrets about skipping it.

The previous week saw a number of us in EAS heading out to Eureka Ridge for a few clear nights, dodging the Moonrise as best as we could.  These nights gave me a chance to make some more headway catching the few NGC globulars I hadn’t taken notes on, as well as digging further into the Astronomical League’s Planetary Nebula observing program. The skies both nights I went out weren’t perfect, but they were certainly good enough. I had knocked together a list of objects (five per constellation) for Brothers, but that would mostly have to wait, minus the objects I scavenged off of it.

I still haven’t gotten the EAS 18″ scope fixed, but Bob the (12.5″) Dob works pretty damned well by itself.


MOON: 22 days (Last Quarter), rose at 12:07 AM
SQM: not checked
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 60s, little dew; strong winds above, occasional gusts at ground level

Others present: JO, OG, FS

NGC 6342 (Oph): small, about 2.0′ across—slightly granular—middle 1.5′ is brighter core—comes to fairly abrupt edge—two main brightness gradients—just S is a 12th mag star just off edge of halo—with cluster centered, to NP and SP sides there are bright stars—one to NP is brightest, 6th mag—bright SP star is a pair, brighter of which is 8th mag, dimmer is 10th—due following cluster is another brighter star,  8th mag star which has a 12.5-mag companion star preceding it by 1.5’—closer in are two more stars preceding cluster by 10′ NP and SP—star to SP is 11th mag, star to NP is 11.5 mag—really bright star is on edge of field, much closer is the other pair NP and SP—NF cluster is a squiggle-pattern of stars—[satellite through field]—cluster is about 6 CC [actually 4]—medium concentration—doesn’t resolve—in averted there are a couple of brighter stars on edge of core, but they don’t “pop”—cluster could be mistaken for elliptical galaxy aside from granulation—in averted, on NF side, between edge of core and edge of halo is one distinct threshold star

NGC 6356 (Oph): hop skip and jump N of 6342—much larger—3′ core, halo extends to about 3.5’—to P side and slightly N by 18′ is an 8th mag star—due S by 10′ is a 10th mag star—these are brightest stars in field—attractive field in Milky Way—cluster not quite granular, more powdery around edges—to P side, especially in averted, looks like a few stars on edge of halo outside resolution—pretty tight globular, maybe CC 4 [actually 2]—considerably brighter than 6342, maybe 9th mag—easy-to-look-at object—in middle of smattering of stars on N side running almost all the way across field from brightest star, a string of mostly 10th/11th stars that run most of way across field, not quite straight—overlooked object!

IC 4593 (Her): White-Eyed Pea—found w/14mm, walked over it—in field of very interesting double star which caught my attention—very very small planetary, a couple of ” across—in 10mm a little fuzzier, easier to see—looks like central star is visible, with a fringe of nebulosity around it—to NP side by 7′ is a 9th mag star—double star is SF nebula by 12’—double has 11th and 13th mag components, separated by 15″, about size of nebula—couple of other brightish stars (11th/12th mag) in field, about 12′ and 15′ SF nebula—w/UHC: definitely brightens nebula, which becomes considerably larger, outer fringe much more visible—about 18″ across with 10mm—no real discernable shape beyond roundish—nebula now brightest object in field with UHC—definitely non-stellar, fuzzy—w/OIII: very similar to UHC view, hard to tell difference other than sky darker in OIII—seeing too poor for 6mm Radian view

NGC 6814 (Aql): face-on spiral, and looks like one (14mm)—galaxy is 2.25′ diameter—no stellar nucleus even in averted—dim core that’s quite small—on NP edge of halo is a 13th mag star—to SF edge of halo, off by about 1′ from halo is 14th mag star—to NF edge is threshold star that comes and goes with seeing—galaxy in middle of diamond pattern of 13th mag and dimmer stars that’s 5.5′ on its major axis, which is extended NP-SF—galaxy in rich field—NP galaxy by 9′ is a 9th mag star—galaxy has “face-on” brightness profile—halo slightly extended to N, but not S, so doesn’t look symmetrical—core seems off-center to S because of extension—may be star involved in halo just N of core, probably not nucleus—in averted, star on F side of halo makes galaxy look “stretched” in that direction

NGC 6772 (Aql): found in 14mm with no filter—not a hint of central star—due F nebula by 18′ is 8th mag star—P and slightly N by 9′ is 10th mag star—planetary dim but obvious w/no filter—1.5-2′ across—averted hints at some annularity—in averted, P side slightly brighter than F side—w/OIII: nebula definitely brighter on P edge—not quite round, extended to N—a little flatter on F edge—definitely a darker void in middle, a bit toward S side—not circular, but hard to define shape—has brighter structure that doesn’t go all the way to edge, and faint edge that drops away into background—inner region is brighter but not well defined—w/UHC: nebula not as bright as in OIII, and structure is more subtle—dark region in nebula still visible, but inner structure not as detailed—still getting idea that nebula extended to N—less-detailed view, but better than unfiltered view—nebula better defined on edge of inner region, but not as much as in OIII—(11:36) in 10mm, not much more detail than in 14mm—w/UHC: a bit more pronounced annularity, ring itself may be thick—still seeing extension to N slightly P edge of nebula—in averted annularity a little bit more prominent, but irregular—darkness in interior irregular-shaped—w/OIII: brighter but view is otherwise quite similar—definitely some sort of irregular annularity

NGC 7013 (Cyg): galaxy near Veil Nebula—fairly bright—small, just over 1.0′ x 0.75’—to N edge is 10th mag star, 2′ from edge of galaxy—to P edge of galaxy by 1.5′ is 13th mag star—to SF edge of galaxy by 2′ is 13th mag star—w/averted has almost stellar nucleus—bright core—elongated N-S—fairly rich Cygnus field—lots of 10th/11th mag stars—galaxy in little triangle—not an overly impressive galaxy, but brightest in Cygnus Milky Way

The next night was a continuation, with the Moon rising slightly later in the morning:



MOON: 23 days (43%), rose at 12:54 AM
SQM: not checked
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 60s, little dew; strong winds above, occasional gusts at ground level

Others present: JO, OG, BH

NGC 6366 (Oph): very large, very diffuse globular—in field with 5th-mag star—globular is 5-6′ diameter—very loose—CC 10, maybe 11—on P side, a pair of bright stars separated by 4’—N-most of pair is 10th mag, S-most 11th mag—on S edge of cluster’s halo, separated by 1′, is pair of 12th mag stars—to NF side by 2′ outside of halo is another 12th mag star—cluster has just a slight bit of central brightening, need to get naked-eye star out of field to see—in averted, cluster is granular—couple of cluster stars just on threshold of vision—line of brighter cluster stars is elongated NF-SP—huge cluster, very difficult and faint—almost like NGC 5897 but dimmer—impressive in size—due F on edge of outer periphery is a 14th mag star

NGC 6235 (Oph): result of long search w/o finder—3.5′ diameter, not round—elongated PNP-FSF—almost triangular shape—inside isosceles triangle of 12th mag stars—long side of triangle is 8′, two other sides 6’—long side oriented almost due P-F—other star is almost due N of cluster—cluster is diffuse—core makes up about 90%, so halo is just fringe—inner 1.0′ has scattering of threshold stars across it—CC 8 [actually 10]?—just on P and F edges of field are two brightest stars—star on P edge is 9th mag, star on F edge is 8th mag—core is irregular shaped, stretched N-S a bit inside halo—in averted, one brighter star in middle of core

NGC 6544 (Sgr): moderately-bright, loose globular—oblong—satellite tumbling through it—elongated NP-SF across core—about 3′ across in m.a.—core about 2.5′ x 2.0’—in loop of 11th-14th mag stars—to SF by 9′ is 10th mag star—granular, especially in averted—has a smattering of stars across middle, maybe 10 stars in averted—just on verge of resolution—CC 8 [actually 5; all over the map with these]?—pretty loose, pretty diffuse—overall catchy globular—SF by 20′ is big double star of 11th mag components separated by about 1’—very faint satellite moving very slowly N-S through field

NGC 6553 (Sgr): super-diffuse globular—powdery looking—4.5′ across—on SF side of field is 9th mag star—globular very powdery, very fine—on NP edge of cluster is a 12th mag star just on edge, maybe just inside halo—fairly loose concentration, CC 8 [actually 11]—in averted, looks like trying to break up into resolution—more spacious “feel” to concentration, like space between stars almost visible—pretty round cluster, maybe slightly elongated NP-SF a tiny bit

NGC 6781 (Aql): large planetary—2.0′ across—no central star—looks somewhat annular, S edge is brighter—central “hole” seems to be to N slightly F edge, off center—pretty round, one of rounder planetaries—almost due S by 18′ is 9th mag star—almost due F by 20′ is 10th mag star, these are two brightest in field—a number of other fainter stars in field—w/UHC: impression of annularity still valid—S edge is brighter, N edge more diffuse—annularity more concentrated toward N side—w/OIII: aside from having more contrast, not doing much better than UHC—annularity harder to detect in OIII than in UHC (11:48): in 10mm: nebula has threshold star just on N edge that wasn’t visible in 14mm—star really comes and goes—circular shape has well-defined edge, but has a few-arcsec thick halo around outside that’s diffuse/fuzzy–w/UHC: threshold star dissapeared—annularity more obvious than in 14mm—nebula seems more circular, although annularity still off-center

As with the previous night, the rise of the Moon cut our observing short.

This ended August’s observing–I had begun the month at OSP and ended it back where I really belonged.  It also ended the summer’s observing; with New Moon week already over as I write this, and a busy work schedule for September, it will be until near the month’s end before I can do any serious deep-sky work again. By that point, Scorpius, Ophiuchus, and the early-summer constellations will be well on their way out, and the rich galaxy fields of the autumn will be working their west toward the meridian.  This was always my favorite time to observe in the Midwest.  It remains to be seen how autumn’s stargazing will turn out here in the Pacific Northwest.