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.
TRANSPARENCY: 6, 5
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 40s, cold and clammy, windy, dewy
Others present: JO, DB
All observations: 12.5″f/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)
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: 12.5″f/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)
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: 12.5″f/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 Phi1 Cassiopeiae down to 13thmagnitude. (Phi1may not actually be a member of the cluster.) Phi1 and 7th-magnitude Phi2 (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 Phi1 and 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 Phi2 by 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 Phi1 by 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.