Setting Sages Questioning

Wild’s Triplet, Arp 248. Image is 30′ x 30′. Courtesy POSS-II.

[Note: this entry has been edited to include the second observation, which was inexplicably left out in the previous version.]

Two more observations before surgery; two more before unusually-relentless rains wiped out May and part of June.

April had already proven difficult, weather-wise. Where we usually had several days of clear Moonless skies during the month, we’d only had one day early in the month, and now only two toward the end. With a week before I had my foot cut open and three months of rehab afterward, I had no hesitation getting out when a halfway-decent forecast finally presented itself. Nor did most of the others, really—having been cooped up by the rain, the Irregulars were champing at the bit. And so we made the 45-minute pilgrimage out west toward the sandstone Linslaw crag, in pursuit of individual agendas but a singular goal: the capture of ancient starlight.

With the 20-inch Obsession and new ladder in tow, and galaxy season well underway, it was time for another round of chasing down flat galaxies. By the time I was healed up, it would be time for the flat galaxies of autumn, of which I had barely scratched the surface.

As darkness overtook daylight, our first actual target for the night was SN2022hrs, the brilliant supernova in NGC 4647 (the companion galaxy to Messier 60). This was one of the brightest extragalactic supernovae I’d ever observed, reaching better than 12th magnitude in our estimation [although officially only 12.3 at its peak]. EAS members would end up tracking this supernova all the way into July. Five scopes lingered on the supernova; Robert even viewed it in his 50mm binocular scope (“Magic”).

Two hours after sunset, it was time for note-taking and more-structured observing. I started with an object that I had previously seen from Eureka Ridge in the 12.5-inch scope, but which really deserved notes made through the Obsession.

MOON: 23 days (rose at 3:15 AM; 46% illuminated)

SQM: 21.60
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to low 40s; humid with slight dew; air still; chilly
All observations: 20″ f/5 Obsession Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (181x, 0.45˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (363x, 0.21˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

NGC 3044 (Sex): First for the night—probably the last night until September—is NGC 3044 in Sextans. I’ve seen this one before; I first got it in the 12.5-inch scope and made a note to come back to it because I was so impressed with it then. This is a huge, very underrated edge-on/flat galaxy, elongated 100° PA. It’s an irregularly-bright galaxy with no central brightening (or widening, for that matter), and there’s no real hint of a nucleus here. The galaxy is not razor thin; it’s 4.25’ x 0.4’. It seems as if the SF end is the brighter end; both of the ends fade out gradually, but the NP end is stretched out a little longer and more diffusely than the SF. 1’ N of the NP end of the galaxy is a 14.5-magnitude star. 6’ NP the galaxy is a 12th-magnitude star with a 13.5-magnitude star S of it by 0.5’. P somewhat N of the galaxy by 8’ is an 11.5-magnitude star; 3’ SF the galaxy is a 13th-magnitude star that has another 13th-magnitude star S of it by 2’. The brightest star in the field is 15’ N very slightly F the galaxy and is 10th magnitude; it has a 14th-magnitude star P very very slightly N of it by 0.5’. In the 7mm Nagler: the galaxy is huge at this magnification; there’s still no real nucleus or core visible. But it seems like on the NP end there’s a detached segment that’s very slightly brighter than the rest of it—I mentioned that it was irregularly bright, and that’s really coming out here. It’s hard to get a good read on that detached bit beyond its presence there. This is certainly one of the better objects in the Flat Galaxy Catalogue.

Loren had built a riser for his 18-inch Obsession, the better to track down horizon-scraping planetary nebulae like NGC 3132 and NGC 2818. He was unsatisfied with it on the evening, though, and while observing NGC 3044, I stopped to help him and the others lift his scope down from the riser. (It was quite a team effort, judging by the conversation in my audio notes.) Apparently, Dan had been observing the Draco Trio at the time, as I warned him about the “false trio” that I’d stumbled across several years before.

But back to the task at hand, with a galaxy significantly more difficult than the previous. (And speaking of hands, I’d already gone to my electric gloves for warmth; the evening was already well into the “hibernation” range of temperatures.)

UGCA 221 (MCG-3-28-15; Hya): A really difficult one here, UGCA 221 in Hydra, down near Alkes (Alpha Crateris). This galaxy is very wraithlike and difficult but pretty immediately noticeable when swept into the field; the eye definitely says there’s something there, even though it’s very difficult to detect and hold. It’s 2.0’ by 0.25’, with almost no real identifiable characteristics to it at all. Averted vision doesn’t really help it that much— actually, it’s almost as difficult in averted vision as it is in direct. I’m gonna say it’s 160˚ PA, but I’m certainly not gonna hold to it; it’s so faint you could probably convince me it was 90˚ if you wanted to. At moments, it seems like the S end is more diffuse than the N, although everything about this is diffuse and poorly defined. (You’d think a flat galaxy would be fairly well defined, but not this one.) It really is just kind of a glow. There are some vaguely noteworthy stars in the field, but the galaxy is so faint it’s even hard to get distances from it: 5’ due P the galaxy is the N-most of a pair, angled NP-SF to each other and separated by 0.67’; those are both 12th magnitude, with the one to the NP somewhat brighter than the other… maybe 12 and 12.5 magnitude. Due N of the galaxy by 2.75’ is the SP star in an arc of three; that star is 12.5 magnitude and has a 13.5-magnitude star 2’ F very very slightly N of it, and that star has an 11.5-magnitude star NF it by 2.5’. The brightest star in the field is 13’ SP the galaxy and is 8.5 magnitude. So let’s throw the 7mm on this one and see if anything improves; as we saw from NGC 3044, just adding the magnification doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
 At this magnification, there still isn’t much to the galaxy: no core, no nucleus, no strip of central brightening… just a really weak wraith of a galaxy. I wish I had more to say about it, but there’s just not that much there. 

I’d been planning for several Springs to return to Wild’s Triplet with heavier artillery, having first (and unexpectedly) seen this trio at Eureka with the 12.5-inch several years before. Since then, I’d forgotten about it, or put it on the back burner, or only thought of it when I had the 12-5-inch out. But the topic had reappeared on CloudyNights, and so I made sure to add it as a break from the flat galaxies in my agenda. And here it was:

PGCs 36733, 36723,36742 (Wild’s Triplet; Arp 248 [Vir]): After several years of forgetting about it and not going back to it, this is Wild’s Triplet. Once again, I’m impressed with how bright the “main two” of these galaxies are; the third one is very difficult. But I could see all of them in my 12.5-inch scope, one of the most-difficult things I’ve ever seen in that scope, and from Eureka Ridge no less. But here, the two more S galaxies are unmistakable; I’m really surprised at how easy they are (the third one is just a real bugger tonight), but it’s the second one from P [OK, that was a good momentary look at the third one], the largest one of the group, [PGC 36733], that’s the most obvious of the three. In the 14mm, it’s 0.5’ in diameter, with a distinctly obvious core and every now and then what looks like just the faintest flash of a nucleus. Even in averted, though, it doesn’t steady up. The galaxy’s not smoothly round; it’s kind of irregular-shaped overall, even if the overall effect is roughly round. (This magnification probably isn’t the best to use; this might be one for the Delos.) The P-most of the three galaxies [PGC 36723] is second in brightness, and it’s not particularly bright; the first one I noted is really bright relatively for what it is; this second one is much more diffuse, 0.5′ x 0.3′, and elongated somewhat P-F; it’s P very slightly S of the brightest one by 2.5’. It’s much more diffuse, much less defined, but does have a smallish brighter core to it; I know these three are all interacting, but I wonder if it’s being pulled in the direction of the other one and that’s the cause of the visual distortion. For a second, [36733] seemed to have a tiny sliver extending from the S edge of the core toward the F; this was more than illusory, it was almost certainly there. The third galaxy [PGC 36742] is very much an occasional averted vision flash about 1.75’ N slightly F [36733]. But I can’t do anything to get a good visual fix on it; it’s just a tiny faint spot. It may have a nucleus, though, which is what I’m picking up every so often. From [36733] N very very slightly P by 6.5’ is a 7.5-magnitude star that is a huge unavoidable distraction from the galaxies, and that star is the P-most vertex of a little isosceles triangle; the other two stars are F slightly S of it by 2.25’; the third one is 1’ S very slightly P that one (the second vertex that I mentioned is 14th magnitude, and the third vertex is 13.5 magnitude). 5.25’ S very very slightly P [36733] is an 11.5-magnitude star. So I’m going to go ahead and change eyepieces and see if I can pick that third one out a little bit better. There’s definitely a stellar nucleus to [36733].  The third [36742] is very slightly N-S elongated, but very small, and that was a nucleus that I was seeing in that one too; I know I saw that in the 12.5-inch, but I’m surprised as hell as to how. This is too much power for it. [36742] is super diffuse other than that nucleus, and might be 0.25’ x 0.125’. There’s another glimpse of a possible spiral arm or whatever off [36733]; it definitely seems to extend from the N to the P, which is the opposite direction from the earlier sighting I had of such an extension. That galaxy also seems to be extended P from the nucleus; or, rather, the nucleus is not centered in it. It’s good to revisit this group after several years with both more experience and larger aperture.

I suspect it won’t be long before I return to Wild’s Triplet yet again—a fascinating group.

One of my heated gloves had died; I had to switch it out for an unheated one with a chemical handwarmer in it. But to hell with inconvenience; this was SCIENCE.

NGC 4703; PGC 43343 (Vir): One that’s not as impressive in the eyepiece as it is in photographs: NGC 4703 in Virgo, P and N of Spica, and it is not as easy as one might expect from an NGC. (I know that generalizations like that aren’t scientific.) This one is surprisingly long in averted vision; in averted, it’s about 2.75’ x 0.3’ at the middle, and is elongated in PA 160˚. There is definitely a core there, a central bulge; it has obvious central brightening and central enlargement to it, and the overall appearance is clearly irregularly bright. The spiral arms just peter out completely—that’s why averted vision is so important on galaxies like this; without averted, this is only about 1.5’ long. S somewhat P the galaxy by 8’ is a 7.5-magnitude star; S of the galaxy by 6.5’ is a 12.5-magnitude star, and then further S of the galaxy, 10’ S, is an 11.5-magnitude star that has S very very slightly F it a diffuse little galaxy [PGC 43343] with a small, slightly brighter core to it and a very, very diffuse halo; that galaxy is no more than 0.75’ around. There may be a substellar nucleus, but it’s intermittent at best. In the 7mm, 4703 also seems to have a nucleus, a very faint stellar one. The arms definitely need less in the way of averted vision to see at this magnification, and that central region, the brighter central region, is much more obvious. That’s a really fine galaxy; I don’t have much more to say about it at 7mm, but the extra magnification really helped on this one, and it’s definitely got a good presence to it.

I noticed, while taking notes on NGC 4703, that Scorpius had risen; Antares flickered in multi-colored splendor through the haze circling low around the horizon. (The changing colors of a star low to the horizon meant that there was considerable turbulence to the atmosphere—not uncommon along the horizons at Linslaw, due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean.) Would I even get to observe Scorpius again this summer? Several bright Lyrid meteors added to the evening spectacle throughout; I even saw a few of them.

Meanwhile, Robert was packing up to leave. I suspected most of us would be following fairly soon; four-plus hours after sunset, the chill in the air was substantial. For me, I’d been awake since 5 AM, having put in a full day at the factory. My caveman brain was going a million miles per minute, but I had to admit that the shambling corpse it was housed in was pretty run down already.

Robert left while I was taking notes on my last object for the night. This was more noteworthy than it seemed—the crag had space for six vehicles at most, and then only if parking and telescope setup allowed for that many vehicles to pass. I usually parked at the far end, setting up my scope on the eastern-most flat space in the observing area; this time, I was closer to the western edge, near the road up/down the crag. This meant that Robert had to negotiate his car between my scope and Dan’s, as well as Loren’s truck. The resultant maneuvering required headlights, which required covering our heads to preserve dark adaptation (for those of us still observing; Loren guided Robert through). It took several minutes, but he eventually made it, with Loren soon after him. During the course of Robert’s departure, I added a friendly “drive careful,” which drew snickers from the others; I warned them not to taunt the group linguist on his grammar (the words that I used were, quote, “I will roast somebody’s ass.”).

Meanwhile, my final galaxy for several months continually called me back to the eyepiece.

NGC 5073 (Vir): Another from the 160-170˚ PA club tonight, this is NGC 5073 in Virgo, and it’s a long, fairly-bright-as-such-things-go streak, maybe 3.0’ x 0.3’. It’s actually a really well-defined galaxy; there’s no real sense that there’s more to it that’s visible in averted vision or anything like that. This is a good example of how the visible profile of a flat galaxy creates a different expectation than that of a face-on spiral—even though it’s an NGC, you think it should be brighter than it is; it’s still certainly readily apparent, but not as it would be if it was more inclined, with the core visible. I’m gonna just average it and say it’s about 165˚ PA, with even illumination all the way along the major axis. This is one of the few that I’ve done where you can actually see the taper in the spiral arms to its full extent.  N very slightly P the galaxy by 6.5’ is a 9th-magnitude star that has a 14th-magnitude star SF it by 1’, and then 0.5’ P slightly S of the 9th-magnitude star is a 15th-magnitude star. Then from the galaxy N slightly P by 3.75’ is a 15th-magnitude star, and from the galaxy P somewhat S by 5’ is a 12th-magnitude star with a 14.5-magnitude star 10” N slightly F it. 9’ S very very slightly P the galaxy is the N-most of a pair, which has S very very slightly F it by 0.75’ the second and brighter star; those are 13th and 12th magnitude. The brightest star in the field is P somewhat S of this one by 14’, just on the edge of the field, and is 8.5 magnitude.
With the 7mm Nagler, I’m seeing a fair amount of irregularity to the surface brightness here, but again, it’s just a really well-defined object—there’s still no sense that there’s anything beyond the directly visible extent of it. There may be, in the galaxy’s N end, a very, very faint embedded star, just above threshold level. I’m actually suspecting a quasi-stellar nucleus in averted vision (despite talking about how everything with this one is apparent in direct). This is a really beautiful and classic, though not overly bright, flat galaxy.

Dan and I joked about my not using my 10mm Delos, which he refers to as “the Precious.” I was back to fearing for the eyepiece’s safety, and made it a Spinal Tap reference, in which Nigel tells Marty not to touch or even look at one of his guitars.

I drove home after a final, lingering look around the site. A lot could happen in the three months I was going to be laid up—what if, for some reason, I never made it to Linslaw again? We had fair warning that Eureka Ridge was going to be gated off, but what if someone gated off the road to Linslaw? What if the gun worshippers or the forest squatters made it unsafe or unusable? This was the best observing site I’d ever had. It felt like sacred ground.

Despite my self-assurances, the drive home seemed like a finality.

II. We had one more observation before the month closed and my foot got opened up and the unseasonal rains came.

The lot of us convened at the Oxbow that next night, as it was the site of best forecast—and a fairly middling one, at that. We could tell the transparency was mediocre, even in daylight; a literal purple haze colored the southern reaches of the sky, and there was a “softness” to the sky behind the rocky hills in every direction. Still, this was a final swing at celestial glory for a considerable while, and none of us was willing to pass it up. (Prescient for the others, given the amount of rain that was to come.)

There were three 20-inch scopes, an 18-inch scope, and Robert’s binoscopes arrayed in the observing area, all of them making use of the better conditions early; things were predicted to get worse sky-wise as the night progressed.

MOON: 22 days (rose at 3:15 AM; 48% illuminated)
SQM: 21.2
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to upper 40s; slight dew; slight breeze, hazy; chilly
All observations: 20″ f/5 Obsession Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (181x, 0.45˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (363x, 0.21˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

While waiting for it to get fully dark, and hoping the transparency would be good enough for me to examine a few more flat galaxies, I stopped in on some of the familiar spring showpieces. Hickson 44, in Leo’s mane, was the most impressive I’d ever seen it; even the fourth galaxy, faint NGC 3187, stood out clearly from the background, and nearby NGC 3190 showed the barest hint of a dust lane. This was astounding—in such mediocre transparency, fine details and dim objects were still well within our grasp.

I continued on: NGC 2903, the Leo Trio, the Antennae Galaxies (accidentally sweeping up NGC 4027, a distorted one-armed spiral, along the way; I’d already taken notes on this one with the 12.5-inch), and the Sombrero (M104). But as I observed these galaxies, I could tell that we were already losing the already-tenuous transparency.

I started on my list for the night, but it was already too late. Each of the flat galaxies I’d made note to explore was fainter than the one before it. These were already difficult objects to observe; decaying sky conditions made them—if not impossible to take notes on—then certainly so diminished that it wouldn’t be “fair” to take notes on them now. I’m sure I dropped a few epithets off the ladder as my chances of taking notes came to an end for the season.

What to do when the big scope is set up and the faint stuff just can’t cut through the haze? Look at brighter stuff. The seeing was still decent, at least, so I simply went back to the first object class to have captured my attention: globular clusters. Spring isn’t prime time for globulars, but enough of them were visible to make the rest of the evening worthwhile: the M53/NGC 5053 pairing, NGC 5466 in Boötes, M3, NGC 5634 in Virgo, NGC 5694 in Hydra (an object of great nostalgia for me, as it was the most-difficult object I’d seen with my 8″ SCT in Cincinnati, and I was proud of the observation), M5 in Serpens, and M107 in Ophiuchus. I would’ve ended with M13, but it was still thoroughly buried in the light-dome of Eugene (which was worse than usual because of the reflecting haze).

But the transparency continued to dwindle, to the point that even the globulars were visibly diminished. We yielded, as a group, to the failing sky.

I packed up more slowly than usual and was last one out for the tricky drive home.

Yet Another Strange Land

Our first observing session of the April Moon-dark phase happened without me; Robert and Jerry stopped by the Eagle’s Rest “amphitheater” on the 9th to catch a few photons before the clouds rolled in. It was two nights later, on Sunday the 11th, that I was able to come down from the trees and gather up some starlight. Of the rest of the EAS Irregulars (as we dubbed our little group-within-a-group), only Jerry was undeterred by the weather forecast.

I.The Clear Sky Chart forecast called for clear, mostly-transparent skies with poor seeing and 12-16 MPH winds, but that wasn’t quite what we got. Some high clouds drifted through during the early part of the session; this was common at Linslaw, with the ocean less than a half-hour’s crow flight away. The seeing wasn’t great, but wasn’t as terrible as expected, although the transparency wasn’t quite as good as the prediction, either—at least early on. The wind was another matter, though; it rumbled and roared on my audio recordings of the session, and occasionally drowned out my voice. It also made it difficult to work on planetary nebulae, as I had to let go of the scope at times in order to swap out eyepieces and nebula filters, leaving the scope at the mercy of the wind. (You wouldn’t think a 75-pound telescope would be vulnerable to a 20MPH wind, but such a finely-tuned and –balanced instrument is easy to blow off course in an unexpected gust.)

But we prevailed, as we had to in order to glean ancient starlight from the sky we were given.

SEEING: 6, 7
SQM: 21.78 
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to upper 30s; no dew; very windy; high clouds early
All observations: 12.5″f/5 Discovery Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (112x, 0.7˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (225x, 0.36˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

Struve 742 (Tau): Up here at Linslaw with Jerry on what’s turning into a breezy night, looking at a Struve double star I’ve stumbled across between the Crab Nebula and the outer horn of Taurus: the two are not quite equal magnitude; the preceding of the two (they’re roughly P-F) is a little bit fainter. I’m gonna say those are 7th and 7.3 magnitude, separated by about 7” [actually 4”]. 

I don’t normally take notes on double stars, unless they’re on the Astronomical League’s double-star list, and then there’s a sketch involved with the note-taking. But this one was pretty striking, and well worth the effort; I swept over it while looking at the Crab Nebula. And then it was on to planetary nebulae, and one that I’d started back in March only to give up for a better night; tonight wasn’t great, but was better than my previous attempt.

The wind and the cold combined to make the observing rather uncomfortable; I was already stopping to put my gloves on.

Abell 21 (Gem): Abell 21 is the first object on tonight’s agenda here at Linslaw, on a not horrendously cold, but very gusty, windy night so far on the crag. Seeing and transparency are a little bit iffy, or a little bit variable, rather, so things have come and gone a little bit; at the current moment it looks a bit better than it did earlier, so we’re gonna presumptively go ahead and start the notes here. The nebula is a very, very indistinct gossamer glow some 12’ roughly SP-NF, and is definitely weakest on the NP. I unfortunately know a little bit more about this nebula visually than I like to know before I find something, but it is definitely distinctly not a full annulus—rather a crescent—with the opening to the P, especially the NP. The brightest portions of the nebula are those to the F and SP. The F-most (and brightest) portion lies between a 10.5-magnitude star 7’ S very very slightly F the nebula’s center and an 8th-magnitude star 18’ N very very slightly F the center. Those two stars are about 24’ apart. 9’ N of the 10.5 magnitude star (so between the two stars) is an 11.5-magnitude star, and one of the brightest portions of the nebula is 4’ N slightly P that star; it’s a very ill-defined slightly-brighter patch roughly 1.25’ diameter; it’s very very very indistinct and tenuous. Running from that brighter patch and through the 11.5-magnitude star for 8’ is one of the brighter arcs of the nebula, helping to define the nebula’s F edge. 6’ NP the 10.5-magnitude star is the middle of a 6’ long spray of ten 13th/14th-magnitude stars; that spray runs NP-SF. N of the middle of that spray by 3.67’ is another very ill-defined patch of nebulosity; it’s on the nebula’s SP quadrant and due N of the middle of the spray, and is roughly 1.67’ diameter. There’s not really anything that could be identified as the central star; it’s so poorly-defined that it’s hard enough just to identify the center of the nebula. At the moment, the F arc of the nebula is a little bit more apparent, running along through the 11.5-magnitude star.

With the UHC… that’s really impressive! One would expect the glow of the nebula to pop out more, and it really does; the arc on the F side, in particular, takes on a whole new life. The filter almost completes the arc of the whole nebula, from the F side all the way around; the brighter patches I’d noted previously are considerably brighter still. In averted vision, the whole area of the nebula seems filled with nebulosity, as opposed to being a crescent shape; it seems more completely filled-in than it is in reality. The arc to the SP is substantially brighter and runs 3’ x 1’ P slightly N-F slightly S. It’s gained a lot of “bulk”; this is the area the filter improves the most, even more than the F-most. From the 11.5-mag star on the F arc up to the brighter node on the NP is significantly brighter as well—not quite as much as the SP portion, but it makes the whole F arc of the nebula substantially more impressive. Rocking the scope back and forth really brings out the interior of the glow, where the annulus should be. (Got a lot to talk about for something so indistinct and vague.) This is really impressive with the UHC. The NP quadrant, where the nebula’s kind of broken open, almost has a straightish edge across it, that edge of the really faint nebulosity; it’s not razor-straight but generally so from the N edge down to the SP. The O-III really brings the whole nebula into view. Those two brighter chunks are quite obvious now, especially for an Abell planetary. The F (outer) rim of the F arc, between the 10.5- and 11.5-magnitude stars, is a little better defined, a little bit sharper than the rest of it (I didn’t notice this with the UHC). This is not at all an obvious object, but averted vision and rocking the scope make it stand out from the background.

While I was taking notes, Jerry and I also discussed a couple of extragalactic supernovae that were currently visible: one in NGC 3310—which Jerry looked for with his 12” binoscope, but couldn’t find; and the one in IC 3322A, which he did find, and which I would visit later.

And then it was off on an extensive hunt for another planetary rather similar to Abell 21. The wind continued to rage (somewhat mildly, admittedly, but it felt like rage to those of us on the sandstone crag).

JnEr1 (Lyn): After a great deal of searching and having to start over a couple of times during the search, using 27 Lyncis as the “home star,” I have finally—and only through the use of the UHC filter—been able to extract Jones-Emberson 1, the Headphones Nebula, from the background. It’s being very difficult tonight; I’ve seen it before, under slightly worse conditions darkness-wise, and it appeared better than this, but we’re gonna take what we’ve got. The nebula–and I have the UHC in at present–is a glow of approximately 6’ diameter. It has a couple of embedded stars in it: a 13th-magnitude star just outside the N edge of the nebula, and a 13.5-magnitude star to the S that’s somewhat inside the nebula. F slightly N of the nebula by 7.5’ is a 10.5-magnitude star that serves as the F-most vertex of a small isosceles triangle, the N and S sides of which are 2.25’ and the P side of which is 1.67’; the NP vertex is 12.5 magnitude and the SP vertex is 14th. N very slightly P the nebula by about 9’ is an 11th-magnitude star. Due P the nebula by about 6.5’ is an 11.5-magnitude star, and then almost due S of that star is another 11.5-magnitude star which lies 8’ from the middle of the nebula. Every so often the transparency seems to improve a little bit, and in averted vision a hint of annularity to the nebula becomes visible, with brighter portions along the rim to the NP and SF; these are very indistinct though—this nebula’s actually worse than Abell 21 in that regard; the outer edges here are much less distinct than they were in the Medusa. With no filter, I’d be really hard-pressed to tell there’s anything in the field, even in averted vision. [There’s a bright asterism that I’ve used as “home” for the nebula, consisting of an almost-equilateral triangle of 9.5/10th-mag stars, and that is 1.3/1.75’ on a side; S and SP that triangle is an arc of three, the N-most of which is the brightest in the field at 9th magnitude, and then P very very slightly S of that by 4’ is an 11.5-mag star; from that star P somewhat N by 2.67’ is a 10.5-mag star.] With the O-III, the disk of the nebula is visible in direct vision, but there’s not even the sense of annularity there was in the UHC; I’m still getting a little more definition on the NP and SF arcs, where the “headphone cups” must be, although this is in part an averted-vision thing. Even though it doesn’t show a regular annulus, there’s definitely irregularity in the interior brightness, but it’s very indistinct as to discreet details. (Rocking the scope helps.)

Jerry was currently observing one of the many galaxies dubbed “The Needle Galaxy,” this one NGC 4424 in Canes Venatici. I turned my attention to an object I’d attempted to find several times over the years, unsuccessfully, and one not on any of the AL lists I’d been working on. It had been discussed recently online, and that discussion had refueled my determination to find it. With clear(ish) skies and some extra time, I wasn’t going to let it go this time, even with the wind howling in the background.

Frosty Leo (IRAS 09371+1212; Leo): One that’s not on the Astronomical League list, but has been much discussed on CloudyNights this week; this is Frosty Leo, IRAS 09371+1212, and boy, is it a tiny little bastard, but one that’s considerably bright. Even in the 14mm it’s clearly non-stellar: it actually looks extended N very very very slightly P-S very very very slightly F and perhaps 8” x 5”. N slightly F this protoplanetary by 0.75’ is a 12.5-magnitude star, and that star is the S-most vertex of a diamond that consists of two other 12.5-magnitude stars and a 14th-magnitude star: N slightly P that first 12.5-magnitude star by 2.5’ is another of the same magnitude, and then NF the first star by 2.75’ is yet another of magnitude 12.5, and then 3.5’ N slightly F from the first 12.5-magnitude star is the 14th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is N slightly P the nebula by 12’ and is 8th magnitude, and it has 2.5’ N slightly P it an 11.5-magnitude star, and then S of the nebula is a line of four stars that’s about 10’ long and consists of three 12th/13th-magnitude stars (actually two more of magnitude 12.5 and a pair that’s almost due S of the nebula; the pair consists of 13th- and a 14th-magnitude stars, separated SP-NF each other by 10”, with the SP star the brighter), and an 11.5-magnitude star which is at the SP end of that line; the line is actually angled P somewhat S-F somewhat N and the F-most star (one of the 12.5-mags) is F somewhat S of the nebula by 5.75’. This nebula definitely needs the 7mm Nagler, but first… I know it’s a protoplanetary but I’m going to try the UHC anyway, even though I don’t think it’ll do much of anything. And my suspicions are confirmed; the UHC doesn’t really do much of anything to improve the view. It’ll be a function of magnification to make any difference. So because the UHC did nothing, I’m going to skip trying the O-III and just plop the 7mm in here. In the 7mm, every so often the transparency clears, giving the nebula a distinctly bilobed character. It’s clearly elongated NsP-SsF, and big enough that I might’ve given this a second look while sweeping the field. The N lobe looks a little smaller than the S one, and in moments of great clarity, there’s a (possibly illusory?) trace of space between the two lobes.

Jerry had somewhat miraculously tracked down Hoag’s Object—a perfect ring galaxy in Serpens, and a difficult target even in much larger scopes—in his binoscope while I’d been taking notes, but he did stop over to check out Frosty Leo. (It’s called “Frosty Leo,” by the way, because of the amount of water ice that’s been detected within the nebula.)

One character flaw that had been bothering me in my recent observations was my unwillingness to use more of my eyepiece arsenal in observing some of these difficult objects. In addition to the 14mm and 7mm eyepieces (the latter belonging to EAS), I had at my disposal a 6mm Radian, a 4.8mm Nagler, and my prized 10mm Delos… none of which I used with any regularity, and all of which would be useful on these varied planetaries. Why wasn’t I using the 4.8 Nagler on these tiny objects? Why didn’t I use the 10mm Delos on the larger ones like Abell 21, where the 7mm was too much power but where the 158x the Delos offered might be perfect? Part of this was the constant worry of having to clean the prized Delos if it was to get dirty somehow, but that didn’t explain my reluctance to use, say, the 4.8 Nagler, which would be eminently useful in gleaning extra detail from the stellar and barely non-stellar objects I was running across. I made a mental note to do so in the future, as there was no good reason not to.

I spent a fair amount of time searching for Abell planetaries 35 and 36—the former in Hydra, the latter in Virgo. These are huge nebulae, among the biggest in the sky, but devilishly faint and vulnerable to imperfect sky conditions. Neither was able to grant me even the faintest trace of their existence, even using my 24mm Meade SWA eyepiece. Of all of the planetary nebulae on the AL list, these were proving to be beyond the 12.5” scope and my eyes; it wouldn’t be until my sojourns in Cygnus that I would strike out again so thoroughly to find one of these dead star remnants.

Jerry had already observed the bright nova in Cassiopeia, which was remarkably still visible, and had moved on to another extragalactic supernova—this one in NGC 5018. Meanwhile, I was aiming my own scope at the previously-noted IC 3322A, which in addition to currently hosting a supernova was also a member of the Flat Galaxies Catalogue.

IC 3322ASN2021hiz; NGCs 4365, 4370 (Vir): Having struck out with the last couple of planetaries that I needed (Abells 35 and 36), I’m taking a bit of a detour to get a couple of nice flat galaxies in, starting with a really impressive one that is hosting at the moment a very bright supernova. We’re in the head of Virgo, where everything is of course galaxies; this is IC 3322A. The galaxy is 2.67’ long by about 10” wide, and the supernova is very much at the N tip, possibly 8” from the N end of the galaxy on the inside of the galaxy’s halo. The galaxy is elongated 150˚ PA. It has the classic flat-galaxy brightness profile to it: little in the way of nucleus or central bulge; arms fading out at the ends. There’s mottling evident along the galaxy’s length, which isn’t often enough the case with these flat galaxies. The S end is much less distinct than the N, but it could just be the supernova drawing attention to that side; the supernova is as bright as 12th magnitude. This is definitely one of the more impressive extragalactic supernovae I’ve seen. There’s no nucleus, but 1.67’ F the middle of the galaxy is a 14.5-magnitude star; that star has another of the same brightness due P by 0.75’. NP the galaxy by 5.5’ is a 10th-magnitude star, and then P very slightly S of the galaxy by 4’ is a 13th-magnitude star. 20’ P somewhat N of the galaxy is a much larger, brighter galaxy [NGC 4365]; very bright and unmistakable, with a stellar nucleus and brighter core; the core is 0.3’ diameter but gradually arrived at; the halo is 2.75’ x 1.75’ and is elongated P slightly S-F slightly N. That galaxy is bracketed by a 12th-magnitude star to the N slightly P by 3.3’ and an 11th-magnitude star S somewhat F of the galaxy by 5.75’. The larger galaxy doesn’t come to a crisp halo/core distinction and is not well defined; the edges just fade out into the background. NF that galaxy by 10’ (and therefore NP IC 3322A by 18’) is a smaller, much more diffuse galaxy [NGC 4370], with a very poorly-concentrated core, a diffuse poorly-defined halo and no visible nucleus. This galaxy is elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S, 1.67’ x 1.0’. [I could probably go on for hours about all the galaxies up here!] In the 7mm, the large galaxy doesn’t show much more detail. The smaller one is a little irregular in brightness across its halo. IC 3322A is just a really nice edge-on galaxy, although the supernova kind of overshadows the rest of it. At this magnification, the galaxy extends N a little bit beyond the SN. A nice flat galaxy for the 12.5-inch scope!

I had previously observed NGCs 4365 and 4370 before, but had made no mention of IC 3322A; I had either not seen it, or had ignored it because it wasn’t part of my agenda that week. This time, I missed IC 3322 to the due N of IC 3322A, which was also in the field, despite panning around looking for other galaxies. So much for being observant!

Having had a productive observing session, and having had enough of the cold and the wind, we decided to save some energy for the next night (i.e. later that day), which also boasted a clear forecast, albeit with somewhat better seeing… and even more wind. We called it a night, having seen multiple extragalactic supernovae and a few of the larger planetary nebulae that I was already late in getting to.

II. Frank joined Jerry and I later that night at Linslaw. I think we might have bailed on the night—or gone elsewhere—had we anticipated the even stronger winds that awaited us when we got to the crag, although the conditions weren’t enough to deter us from setting up.

I had brought along the 20” Obsession this time, having decided to take a break from planetary nebulae to focus on flat galaxies (and other objects, some just for the hell of it). You might expect the 20” to be more stable in the wind than the 12.5”, but this doesn’t account for the amount of surface facing the wind and the even-greater smoothness of the 20” azimuth bearings. Several times I had to hold onto the scope to avoid it blowing around in circles. Jerry’s binoscope was heavier and less-slick in azimuth; it also didn’t have a wind-catching shroud around it like the Obsession did. Frank’s own binoscope (which he had brought of his myriad scopes) was similarly more solid in the wind, although Frank himself was fairly displeased with the conditions on the crag.

MOON: 1 day (set at 8:41 PM; 1% illuminated)
SQM: 21.58 
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to upper 40s; no dew; very windy; wind eventually drove us off mountain
All observations: 20″f/5 Obsession Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (181x, 0.45˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (363x, 0.21˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

IC 2531 (Ant): We’re back at Linslaw for Round Two and starting off with an obscure one way down low in Antlia, IC 2531. The seeing is pretty crummy down here—it of course has moments where it’s a little bit better; the scope collimation isn’t great, either, as this is the first session since we cleaned the mirror and disassembled the scope. This galaxy is a huge kind-of-a little-brother to NGC 891 in Andromeda. Certainly in the pictures that’s what we’re looking at here; it’s a long thin streak with a noticeable central hub. (I actually “discovered” this one first on photographs and decided that I had to look at it.) But the dust lane that helps make it a clone of 891 is nowhere near visible… or at least obvious; the seeing down that low is no better than a 4, so it’s not the best of conditions, but this may be the best chance I get at it, given how low it is and how briefly it’s visible from this far north. The galaxy is no less than 5’ long; it’s 0.5’ wide at the hub. It looks as though there’s texture to it that should be visible but is just out of reach, because of the seeing and transparency at this altitude; it kind of hints, especially in averted vision, that there’s more detail that’s just below the threshold of visibility right now. It’s situated in a surprisingly active field for being in Antlia, which is always thought to be pretty desolate (Luginbuhl and Skiff refer to it as “the astral Empty Quarter”). The galaxy is pretty close to due P-F in elongation; might be 85° position angle, maybe even 90°. It’s really hard to get a fix on because of the altitude/declination and the poor seeing. There are several notable groupings of stars around the galaxy, starting just off the P end, 3.5’ P very very slightly S of the Galaxy’s center, at a 13.5-magnitude star with another of the same magnitude P very very slightly S of it by 0.67’. NP the central hub by 2.25’ is a 14th-magnitude star with another of the same magnitude N slightly P it by 0.75’. There’s another 14th magnitude star FsS of the hub of the galaxy by 2’, and there’s also, 3.3’ F very very slightly N of the galaxy’s central hub (so just north of the F end of the galaxy from the central hub) a 14.5-magnitude star. 6.5’ due N of the galaxy by is the middle star of a roughly N-S arc of three stars; that star is 12th magnitude and has another of the same magnitude 1.25’ S very slightly F it, and also has an 11.5-magnitude star N very slightly F it by the same distance. The S-most of that bend of three, the second of the 12th-magnitude stars, also has another of equal magnitude F it by 1.5’, and that star has a 13.5-magnitude star 0.67’ N very slightly P it. There’s a bright right triangle of stars that I actually used to help find the galaxy; this is SF the galaxy, with its S-most (and brightest, at 9th magnitude) vertex actually 10’ due SF the galaxy; the right-angle vertex is N somewhat F it by 1.75’, and the third vertex is 1’ NP the right-angle vertex; those two are both 10.5 magnitude. There’s no point in using higher magnification given the lousy seeing down here, but I’m plenty impressed by the view in the 14mm.

Jerry and I both commented on how fine a galaxy IC 2531 was, and how being so far north kept us from winnowing out the fine objects in that part of the sky.

Having extracted the gorgeous galaxy from the reaches of Antlia, I spent the remainder of the evening on the ladder, observing targets in parts of the sky more suited to the conditions, even as being on the ladder was less confortable due to the regular gusts of cold air that billowed around our little “mountaintop.” To say the wind was howling by this point would be underselling it a bit; the noise on my audio was a constant roar. (Perhaps because of the winds, Frank was discussing air shows he’d been involved with, as well as some pretty harrowing tales of his time in Vietnam.)

Hickson 40 (Hya): In the 20”, this couldn’t be more obvious, and considering that it’s a bunch of PGC galaxies, that’s pretty impressive. A great little compact group! It’s located roughly halfway between two 10.5-magnitude stars. There are three distinct objects here: the brightest galaxy [HCG40A] is approximately in the middle [wind blows scope away from my hands]; it has a stellar nucleus (a bright one), a compact little core, and a pretty well-defined 0.3’ x 0.25’ halo elongated N-S. NF that galaxy by 0.75’ is the second brightest [HCG40D], and that one has a brighter core and a PvsS-FvsN halo that spans 12” x 10” and is more diffuse than that of the brightest of the group; it also seems that there’s a threshold star on the F slightly S side of this second galaxy but no visible nucleus. Just S of the largest of these galaxies is a larger indistinct glow that consists of multiple galaxies, including two edge-ons [HCG40C/E] that I’m not able to separate/resolve at this magnification. That glow is very generally NsP-SsF oriented and in very brief moments, it looks separable into its constituent galaxies. At the S end of the group, in moments of better seeing/transparency, there’s an identifiable core and a very very faint substellar nucleus, but the two edge-on galaxies are just a diffuse indistinct glow between that last, S-most one [HCG40B] and the largest one. That third group (the two edge-ons and the S-most discrete object) is 1.25’ x 0.67’ in total. The brightest of the galaxies is almost exactly between the two 10.5-magnitude stars, 10’ from each. The 10.5-magnitude star to the SP is the S-most vertex (and SP vertex) of a right triangle, with its right-angle vertex NF that star by 2.67’; NvsP the right-angle vertex by 2.3’ is the third vertex, which also lies exactly in line with the brightest galaxy in the group and the star to the SP; the right-angle vertex is 12th magnitude and the third is 11.5. Due S of Hickson 40 by 16’ is another 10.5-magnitude star. [I have to let go of the scope for a second to get the 7mm Nagler so I can split the galaxies apart; this is risky in the wind. I’m impressed that I could let the scope go that long and the wind didn’t blow away the galaxies!]  The two N components are very much separated out in the 7mm, with a star on the SsF edge of the N-most; that N-most galaxy has both a threshold star on its NP edge and a stellar nucleus. The glow between the “big” galaxy and the one to the farthest S definitely has a definite shape to it, although it couldn’t be identified as intersecting edge-on galaxies; the more P of the two in that glow has more “presence” to it than the other. I can definitely see three main galaxies, while the fourth and fifth blur together. The third, the one to the far S of the group, has the occasional flash of a very faint substellar nucleus and a tight core that bleeds out into its compact halo. 

I called Jerry over for a look at HCG 40; Frank had already started packing up. 

NGC 3365 (Sex):NGC 3365 is set in one of the most barren fields I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a big flat galaxy with almost nothing within 10’ of it; it’s pretty close to N-S in elongation; it looks to be 170° in PA. It spans 3.5’ x not quite 0.5’. No nucleus is visible, and there’s not much in the way of a central bulge; the illumination is pretty even except at the very ends of the spiral arms. 4.5’ NF from the center of the galaxy is a 15th-magnitude star; SF it by 8’ is an 13.5-magnitude star, and then from that star P somewhat S (so SvsP the galaxy) by about by 10’ is a 14th-magnitude star. This is how much I’m for reaching for field stars here! There are a couple of brighter ones on the periphery, and there’s also a triangle within a triangle outside the N edge of the field, whose N-most vertex is the brightest star in the area at 9th magnitude. I don’t know what’s more intriguing about this: the flat galaxy or the absolutely barren field immediately around it; the emptiness of the field definitely makes the galaxy hard to miss. The galaxy seems to be a little bit more diffuse on the S end than on the N, but the galaxy doesn’t really seem to have any mottling or anything else to it detail-wise; it’s a very smooth brightness gradient.

While I was taking notes on NGC 3365, Jerry was observing M92, the “other” globular cluster in Hercules. We traded views during a lull in the weather.

Just as on the previous night, I struck out on Abell 35, the large planetary in Hydra. Either I was going to need perfect conditions to find it (and Abell 36), or I was probably going to have to head south to view them above the horizon muck and the distant (but prominent) glow from Roseburg. So I wandered around the sky a bit, observing familiar targets with the huge scope, and finally settling on one that I’d never bothered with before.

NGCs 4676A, 4676B (ICs 819, 820; The Mice; Com): We are pretty close to the end of the night here; it’s been a good night despite the wind and the chill. We’re closing out with an interesting sight, The Mice in Coma Berenices, which aren’t on any of my lists except the mental one I keep. (These are pretty close to the meridian, so it’s a long way up the ladder.) These galaxies are both pretty small; they’re actually quite similar in appearance. The more P of the two, which is elongated roughly due N-S, is quite diffuse, reasonably well-defined, and has a somewhat brighter core but no nucleus; the main “body” of the galaxy is 0.3’ long, but the tail (it’s the only visible tail between the two of them) is elongated due N-S, but bends P just a tiny bit at the very N end; the tail is 1.25’ long. The second galaxy is brighter and more concentrated, with a more-obvious core than the first, and is slightly-better defined; the core is reasonably large compared to the halo. The galaxy is elongated 0.3’ x 0.25’ and is elongated SP-NF; it has no tail visible. These two form an almost-right triangle (as the right-angle vertex) with a 10th-magnitude star almost due F (a bit S) by 5.75’ and a 12th-magnitude star 9’ almost due S of the galaxies. The 12th-magnitude star has a 14th-magnitude star NsP it by 2’; the 10th-magnitude star to the F has a pair of 15th-magnitude stars SsF it by 0.5’ and 0.1’, so those are roughly in a line. In the 7mm Nagler, the galaxies blur out badly, but the extra magnification does yield a bit more detail. The more F of the pair may have a tiny very, very faint stellar nucleus that flashes every now and then, and definitely has a better-defined core that the P galaxy; in the P galaxy, the core is smeared into the halo with little definition. There’s about 0.3’ of space separating the two galaxy cores.

Having survived the conditions until after 2 AM, we agreed that it was time for lower elevations and warm drives home. My notes said that “the wind drove us off the mountain,” but considering that we’d been there for more than five hours already, that would’ve been hyperbole.

III. Two nights later—after having thawed out—I joined Dan B back at the crag. The CSC forecast was mixed with regards to sky conditions, but showed little dew and even less wind. With the previous session’s gale still fresh in the memory, Frank and Jerry opted for the amphitheater rather than the darker but more “elemental” observing to be had at Linslaw Point.

So we made it a bit of a competition, texting across the Willamette Valley to compare notes on the observing conditions. Not long after we’d gotten set up, Dan and I knew we’d gotten the better end of the deal; the amphitheater crew was already dealing with partly cloudy skies. We could see those same clouds low in the east from the edge of the crag; it was only a matter of time before they arrived our way.

With the Moon still present early, I turned the giant scope toward it, spending considerable time examining areas along the lunar terminator—specifically the region around Mare Fecunditatis, and especially the chain of three deep, shadow-ridden craters on the N side of the mare. I’m not much of a lunar observer, and am pretty unfamiliar with most of the surface features—I know the Straight Wall, and the Lunar Alps, and the craters Tycho and Copernicus, and that’s about it. Yet another question I should answer: given that the Moon makes deep-sky observing impossible at least two weeks each month, why don’t I spend some time observing the nearest world whose surface we can see?

As the Moon sank toward the horizon, it was evident that the sky crud Jerry and Frank were contending with was having some impact as it spread west, toward where Dan and I were set up. I’d taken some readings with the SQM, only to disagree with them from just eyeballing the sky; it didn’t look as good as the numbers indicated. But we were already set up, and I wasn’t going to abandon the session just because of some high cirrus haze… at least not while we weren’t totally clouded out. So it was time for deep-sky, and making do with what the sky-gods gave us.

MOON: 3 days (set at 10:46 PM; 8% illuminated)
SEEING: 6, 7
SQM: 21.51 
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to upper 50s; no dew; slight breeze, high cirrus haze to the E that became problematic later in the session
All observations: 20″f/5 Obsession Dob, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (181x, 0.45˚ TFOV) or 7mm TeleVue Nagler (363x, 0.21˚ TFOV) unless otherwise noted

NGC 2997 (Ant): I had not intended to take notes on NGC 2997 tonight, but I’m gonna do it anyway—this is too good a look at it to pass up, even as down in the muck as it is; the transparency’s not awful down there, but the seeing is pretty atrocious. This is such a wonderful galaxy in photographs, and this is a really nice look at it here, despite everything working against it. The galaxy is elongated P-F and covers a considerable 8.0’ x 5.0’. It’s difficult to trace the outer halo here; I know it’s face on, obviously, but I didn’t notice a lot of the halo at first so I overlooked it in the eyepiece. It’s very diffuse and poorly-defined, with a 0.5’ core  that is not particularly well defined, and every so often it seems as if there might be a very broad nucleus in there, but I’m not sure that’s true. From the middle of the core, about 2.67’ SP, there’s an 11th-magnitude star that’s inside the edge of the halo there, and halfway between the core and that star there’s a darker gap in the halo that has to be space between the spiral arms; that gap stretches from S of the core counter-clockwise up to the N and is about 3.5’ long—from S of the core it sweeps NP, N, and NF. The halo itself is quite mottled or irregular in brightness.  Due F the core by 3.25’, toward the outer edge of the halo, there’s a very very very faint (14.5 magnitude?) star that doesn’t quite seem totally stellar; this could be just the effect of being inside the halo. That star has SF it by 1.75’ a 14th-magnitude star that is the right angle vertex of a triangle, with the star in that edge of the halo and a 13.5-magnitude star due NF the RA vertex by 2.25’. F somewhat S of the core [??] by about 1’ there’s another glimmer inside the halo that’s hard to define; it also looks non-stellar. I’m losing some of my definition of the galaxy here, probably due to the high cirrus crud that’s over in the west; the moon is still up which is not helping either, although it’s in a much better position than it was when I started. The part of the halo from N of the galaxy’s core and sweeping down toward that star on the F edge is just a tiny bit better defined there; this may be the edge of that spiral arm. (There’s quite a lot of detail to be had here.) Almost due P the galaxy, near the P edge of the field (so 12’) is an 8.5-magnitude star; there’s a 9.5-magnitude star F slightly N of that one by 4’. F slightly S of the galaxy, also by about 12’, is a 7.5-magnitude star that is the right-angle vertex of a very bright triangle of stars; 5’ due S of that one is an 8th-magnitude star, and F the right-angle vertex by 7’ is a 7th-magnitude star. From the 8th-magnitude star, S very slightly F by 4’, is a 10.5-magnitude star. The northern arm of the galaxy that sweeps down to the F side seems to be significantly better defined in moments of better sky, and that dark gap between the core and the star to the P somewhat S edge is quite well defined, especially in averted vision; the arm that the gap is separating from the core is not really that well-defined, and seems to be the weaker of the two arms. 

By this point, some honest-to-Crom clouds had rolled in, although they were fairly confined to portions of the sky I could avoid. (Of course, the clouds one could see usually meant that there was a lot of higher-altitude stuff we couldn’t see.) Jerry had texted Dan: he and Frank were reduced to observing through sucker holes (clear “windows” in the sky that promised some fleeting observing, only to cloud over just as the observer pointed his scope that direction). The wind had also picked up a bit, although it was still bearable and had little impact on the observing.

PGC 36026 (MCG-3-30-3; Crt): I’m here in Crater with the somewhat difficult, diffuse PGC 36026; this flat galaxy has some decent size to it, but no real concentration or internal structure or much of anything anything detail-wise to it at all: no nucleus, no central bulge, just a very evenly illuminated streak (and faint at that, at least in the 14 mm). The galaxy extends 2.0’ x 0.3’ and is pretty much 180° PA, maybe 175° at least. It doesn’t look 100% straight; there’s a little bit of a kink to it on the N end where it bends very slightly F. (Averted vision is your friend with this one, especially as the seeing’s still not good down there.) It has a number of faint stars nearby: 1.67’ due P the galaxy is a 14th-magnitude star that has a 14.5-magnitude star P very veryslightly S by another 1.3’; the first star also has a 15th-magnitude star S slightly F it by 1.3’. 2.5’ SF from the center of the galaxy is another 14.5-magnitude star. N very very slightly P the galaxy by 4.5’ is an 11th-magnitude star; there’s an 11.5-magnitude star NF the galaxy by 7’. 13’ N of the galaxy is a 9.5-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field. With the 7mm Nagler, the extra magnification almost kills the galaxy; the 14mm is a much better view.

I lost the galaxy during the eyepiece switch, while trying to wrestle the 7mm Nagler into the focuser; I ended up pushing too hard and throwing the scope off target. Fortunately, it was a minor matter to get back on target.

And as with the planetary nebulae, I don’t understand my reticence in using the 10mm Delos, which would’ve provided a better view of the galaxy. I need to move past this; the Delos isn’t doing any good just sitting in my eyepiece case.

I took twenty minutes to try to track down the eye-bleedingly faint globular cluster Palomar 3 in the dim constellation Sextans. Try as I might, though, I couldn’t ferret out the cluster from the dark grey background, even though I knew I had the field exactly correct. I suspect the poorer transparency was to blame (at least that’s what I’m going with). I planned to make another attempt on the cluster when I next had the 20” scope out at Linslaw, but we all know what happens to such plans.

I stayed in the borders of Sextans for my next target, but it was harder to track down than I’d anticipated; I’d accidentally left the comet tracking on in Sky Safari, which filled the screen with spurious objects that looked like stars at first glance on the screen.  I also had to swap out my two-step stepladder for the bigger 6’ ladder, which surprisingly felt more stable than the smaller one. (I never thought I’d say that.)

UGC 5708 (Sex): Going for some higher-declination galaxies now, so I can stay out of the murkier reaches of the sky.This guy is UGC 5708 in Sextans, and it took quite a while to figure out where it was. I’m still thinking that the transparency’s going to hell on us here… but the galaxy is another one of those that’s almost due N-S in orientation; it’s pretty much 180° PA. This galaxy’s difficult to observe because it not only has a bright star on the due N, it also has a faint one just P it toward the S end. The galaxy is 2.0’ x 0.25’ and is pretty diffuse but not a difficult find. I noticed it right away, but it’s almost even harder to study it when it’s centered in the field better—the star on the N end just really screws up the observing; it’s about 11.5 magnitude and really makes it hard to get a good read on the galaxy; the star just P the galaxy near the S end is much closer to threshold, probably 15th magnitude. The galaxy doesn’t have a classic flat galaxy profile (no nucleus, no central hub); it’s even a little bit mottled, a little bit irregular in brightness. SF it by 4’ is the F-most star in a P very very slightly S-F very very slightly N elongated diamond of 12th-magnitude stars: from that star 4.25’ P somewhat S is another of 12th magnitude, maybe slightly fainter than the first; from that star 2.75’ P somewhat N is an 11.5-magnitude star; from that star 2.75’ F slightly N is another 11th-magnitude star that has one of 15th magnitude 0.75’ N very very slightly P it; the galaxy lies N very slightly F of the 15th-magnitude star by 2’. With the 7mm Nagler, the galaxy is even more difficult—the extra magnification is not doing the galaxies any favors tonight; I’ve got a lock on the star P the galaxy’s S end, but the galaxy is wiped out by the extra magnification; even in averted vision, it’s hard to see.

Dan had work the next morning and had to leave; he’d packed up while I was observing UGC 5708, apologizing for his departure, then headed off down the tricky gravel road that spiraled down the side of the crag.

UGC 5341UGC 5339 A/BPGC 28676 (Leo): At a really interesting field here near the Sickle of Leo, almost exactly halfway between the end of the Sickle and the star just above Regulus. My primary target is the flat galaxy UGC 5371, and of the ones that I’ve done so far tonight, this is definitely the most difficult; although I’ve often passed on the really-difficult flat galaxies in favor of those that are more “worthy” of taking notes on, I’m doing a note on this one anyway because of the excellent field it’s in. The galaxy is elongated about 45° PA (so due SP-NF), and is just a faint diffuse glow about 2.0’ x 10”, without much of any detail to be seen in it; it’s very, very difficult to pick up anything visually. It’s halfway between and just P the point halfway between two stars of 14.5 and 14th-magnitude, with the fainter to the S very slightly F and the brighter N very slightly F, each by 2.25’.  N somewhat F by 9’ is an 8.5-magnitude star with a 13th-magnitude star 1.3’ NsF it; F slightly S of the galaxy by 8’ is a 9.5-magnitude star. What’s really interesting here aside from the main galaxy—which is really just a phantasm of a galaxy—S very slightly P the galaxy by 10’ is the brighter pair of a trio of galaxies; these two are obviously in contact; these are brighter than the third member of the group and lie S slightly F and N slightly P each other; the one S slightly F [UGC 5339B; MCG+4-24-005] is 0.25’ and has a brighter but more diffuse core and a not particularly well-defined halo; every so often there’s a trace of a stellar nucleus; this galaxy is 0.3’ x 0.25’, elongated P slightly N-F slightly S (position angle was hard to acquire given the faintness and size of the galaxy). The galaxy to the N slightly P [UGC 5339A; MCG+04-24-004] has a little more concentration to its core but no nucleus, and is generally even less defined than the previous. The cores of these two galaxies are separated by 0.3’, center-to-center. 2’ P somewhat N the more N of the pair is another galaxy [PGC 28676] of the same size, this one fainter and even more diffuse, with a slightly-brighter core; this galaxy is much more difficult than the pair. Those three galaxies make up the F edge of a diamond: 2.75’ S of the S-most of the three is a 14th-magnitude star; there’s a 13th-magnitude star 2.5’ P very very slightly S of the S-most of those galaxies; those two stars and the three galaxies make up the diamond. Back to UGC 5341 with the 7mm (even though haven’t had good results with it tonight): UGC 5341 has roughly faded into the background, and is now a very, very difficult catch; the others are somehow still present. The more northern member of the pair is elongated S very slightly P-N very slightly F and has a fainter core than its companion. Every so often, 0.67’ NF the N member of the pair, it looks like there’s another galaxy or a threshold star: very small, brutally faint… I think it’s another galaxy. No, it’s a threshold star. An excellent field!

Having worked through several denizens of the Flat Galaxy Catalogue, I ended the night—and the month, given the current Moon phase—with my second new Hickson group in as many nights.

Hickson 67 (Vir): My last one for the night: this is Hickson 67 in Virgo, a fine little group. It’s only minutes past the meridian, so it’s in good observing position, and the seeing is kind of good right now; at the moment, though, in the 14mm, I’m only seeing two obvious galaxies: there’s an elliptical [NGC 5306;HCG67A] and then 3.5’ NP the elliptical is an edge-on [HCG67B] that’s much bigger and is elongated not quite SP-NF, maybe 20° PA. There’re also some distractive elements here, because due S of the elliptical galaxy by 5.5’ is an annoying 9th-magnitude star, and then NP the elliptical galaxy by about 0.67’ is a 14th-magnitude star, and then P slightly S of thatstar by 1.25’ is a double star or pair, NP-SF to each other, with the brighter one to the SF, and those are separated by about 15”; those are 15th and 14.5 magnitude. The 9th-magnitude star to S is part of a kind of a funky T-shaped asterism that stretches from a 14th-magnitude star P very very slightly S of the elliptical galaxy by 6.5’ and stretches SF, runs through the 9th-magnitude star, and the top of the T is formed by two pairs that are SF and due F the 9th-magnitude star. But the elliptical galaxy is 1.0’ round, with a thin, poorly-defined halo and a somewhat-brighter core that takes up at least a third of the galaxy’s diameter; there’s a fairly smooth transition from halo to core, and there also seems to be a very faint substellar nucleus there. The edge-on galaxy to the NP is 2.25’ x 0.3’ and in keeping with the rest of my flat galaxies tonight (I don’t know if this is considered an official flat galaxy or not; it’s got the right ratio of dimensions [7:1]), it’s pretty evenly illuminated across the way; there’s not a lot in terms of central brightening or anything noteworthy; it’s pretty dim but fairly obvious (especially in averted vision), and when you look toward the elliptical you see the edge-on unmistakably there. I don’t believe I pick up a third or fourth galaxy there (and Hickson groups have at least four members, so they have to be here somewhere). So let’s go ahead and put the 7mm in here… with the 7mm, it’s again hard to focus; the jetstream has parked itself over us, making the seeing really crappy at this magnification. With the 7mm, I’m getting a very difficult third galaxy [HCG67C], N of the elliptical but almost in contact. This one is really, really diffuse; there’s almost nothing to grab onto. It’s only 0.25’ or 0.3’ diameter, with no central brightening; it just looks like an extension of the elliptical. Exceedingly difficult in the poor seeing!  I know there has to be a fourth in there, but I can’t see it. Wait a minute… Got it!  The fourth member [HCG67D] is SP the elliptical by 0.5’, and a little easier than the third, perhaps 0.25’ diameter at best; in averted vision, it looks like it might have a little central concentration; it forms a not-quite-isosceles triangle with the elliptical and the star to the NP the elliptical. This fourth member lies outside the halo of the elliptical, while the third member, the one to the NF, looks like it could be just a contact artifact or a distended streak of the halo pulled N-ward.

Although I’d only managed three nights’ observing for the month, I was pretty pleased with what I’d been able to observe; I’d made headway on three of my projects and had seen some fascinating sights. This—more than checking objects off of a list—is the true reward of observing: being able to explore forgotten corners of the universe, studying objects that had only ever been seen by a relative handful of people, and appreciating them for the magnificent natural structures that they were, from the ghostly shells of dying Sun-like stars to the basic building blocks of the Universe itself (the galaxies) and the smallest structures those building blocks could form (the compact galaxy clusters). And the next month would bring yet other strange lands for observing and contemplating, some hundreds of millions of light-years away, others closer to home.

A Sort of April-Weather Life


With the two Herschel 400 lists finished and my notes submitted to the Astronomical League, I had an array of options ahead of me as far as observing projects go. I also had a plethora of telescopes to use in accomplishing whatever goals I set; given my interest in using all of the scopes in my possession (and the EAS library scopes I’m fostering in my garage), it was useful to come up with an observing plan for the rest of the year.

One of my major goals in life has been to become a writer of astronomy books, and my work on the Herschel 400 and HII programs was a terrific foundation—each set of notes was over 250 pages complete, and that was only the notes taken with the 12.5″ scope (Bob the Dob). I had a number of other common-size scopes that I could take notes with—why not use them, for the purpose of writing a comprehensive, multi-aperture guide to observing the Herschel 400 and Herschel II? I could use my 70mm TV Pronto, my (new to me) 4″ f/15 Unitron refractor, and my 8″ Celestron SCT to take notes on those objects in the two primary Herschel lists for the sake of comparison, so that every time those scopes came out for observing, I had a ready-made agenda. This could potentially yield an ultimate guide to observing the Herschel 400 and HII lists… something worth buying. (As I write this, UPS has just delivered a copy of the Cambridge Atlas of Herschel Objects for use in tracking down “the last 1600+”.)

For Bob the Dob, the agenda would be simpler. The remaining 1600+ objects discovered by William Herschel were mostly galaxies, best visible in spring and autumn, so observing with that scope during those seasons would allow me to continue through Herschel’s remaining discoveries; those objects too faint or difficult for the 12.5″ scope could be swept up with the 20″ Obsession. In the summer and winter, Bob the Dob could be used to continue work on the Astronomical League’s Open Cluster program, which I’d essentially started while plowing through the H400/HII. (Or perhaps once I get my old 13.1″ Coulter better tuned-up, I could use it on the open clusters.)

For the 20″ Obsession, I also had a seasonal agenda—flat galaxies in spring and autumn, the AL’s Planetary Nebula program for summer and winter. I had intended to use the 12.5″ scope to wrangle the planetaries, but with so many “obscure” (i.e. non-NGC) targets on the list—Abells, Minkowskis, Wrays, etc.—the extra aperture of the Obsession would be a great advantage. I’d also be able to use the Obsession to pick up the remaining globular clusters I needed from the Northern Hemisphere: Palomars 1-5 and 13-15, plus all of the Terzans aside from Terzan 7, and whatever remaining non-NGC globulars there were after the Palomars and Terzans I still needed.

I. April brought with it several good observing nights, the first of which was the night of the 13th. Still fresh off of conquering the two AL Herschel programs, and hoping to use one of my less-used scopes, I hauled my 8″ SCT out to Eureka Ridge to work through some of the early spring Herschel 400 objects and start testing my scope and the claims that all of the H400 could be seen in an 8″ scope. (I had no doubt that they could—Jay Reynolds Freeman had seen them all in a 55mm refractor—but I wanted good notes on them, and wanted to observe them in the 8″ with my own eyes for proof.)

April also brought with it the COVID-19 lockdown, and though three of us came out to observe, we more than kept our distance. It was just as well; I started feeling a bit rocky as the evening went on, and packed it in two whole hours before Moonrise. I did manage a productive night, though, taking notes on M48 and NGCs 2811, 2652, 3115, 2775, 3166, 3169, 4027, 4038/39, and 3962, despite having to completely re-learn how to use an equatorial mount (after years of non-stop alt-az mounts).  It was something of a joy to use my first scope on objects in constellations like Crater; my memories of using that telescope are so intertwined with my observing life in Cincinnati that the idea of using it at a dark site (even though we only hit 21.37 on the SQM) had been somewhat unthinkable. I came away from the evening with a new appreciation for the old scope, and for what an 8″ aperture could do when the sky was good enough.

II. I skipped the next couple of nights to watch my health, and to make sure I didn’t have anything that could be passed on to anyone else. But I felt fine the next day and the several after that, so—having monitored temperature and cough and other symptoms—I was ready to go three nights later, still keeping well away from the others on the observing field.

My agenda for the night was nothing less than the Herschel Sprint, which I’d already attempted on a March night in 2016 (see here). It was almost 235 years to the day since William Herschel had had his epic night of discovery, sweeping up 74 previously-undiscovered galaxies in Ursa Major, Leo, Leo Minor, Coma Berenices, Canes Venatici, and Corona Borealis (the latter most appropriate for the current times). Rather than working on his remaining objects—and having several nights of good forecast upcoming—I decided to try the Sprint again, having been foiled by Moonrise back in 2016.

I was about thirty objects in before my feet began to give up the ghost. I was halfway into two months of physical therapy—along with getting a set of custom orthotics (which I didn’t actually get until May) and a high-strength prescription anti-inflammatory—to bring the pain in my feet under control, but that wasn’t enough to alleviate the effects of standing for five straight hours on uneven rocky ground. And standing was necessary; the declination band in which the Sprint targets resided was just high enough that I couldn’t use my observing chair at all. Even with several breaks to sit, I couldn’t plow through it. I ended up with brief notes on about fifty of the 74 objects before dejectedly calling it a night.

III. My feet recovered enough for me to venture out the next night. I was smarter this time; my agenda consisted of working through “The Remaining 1600+” with the 12.5″ scope, and I deliberately chose targets that would allow me to sit down to observe. The majority (if not all ) of these were from T.C. Hoffelder’s informal selection of the Herschel III objects. With only three of us in the small Eureka clearing, there was plenty of room for social distancing, and the weather held until it didn’t.

We were also treated to an impressive display of Elon’s Folly going overhead, starting nearly at the zenith and gradually working west as they arced above us.

MOON: 24 days (rose at 4:37 AM; 27% illuminated)
SQM: 21.4
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to upper 30s; no dew; chilly but tolerable; clouds gradually took over the sky starting 11:00; wind grew increasingly stronger on observing field

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

NGC 2507 (Cnc): This is not a bad little galaxy. It’s round, about 1.0’ diameter, with a fairly diffuse outer halo that’s not particularly well defined, a 0.3’ core that’s not much brighter than the halo and is gradually arrived at, and a faint stellar nucleus. SP the galaxy by 1.3’ is a 12th-magnitude star; that star looks like it has something SP it—probably a faint double (or a small galaxy?); the P-most of the double/pair is holdable in direct vision, but the F-most is at threshold level; the two components are 20” apart [there are many of Elon’s Folly going overhead at the moment; I went to confirm M89/M90 for Loren]. F slightly S of the galaxy by 6’ is a 9th-magnitude star that’s the S-most vertex of a right triangle; 4.25’ F very slightly N of that star is the triangle’s right-angle vertex, which is 10th magnitude; 7’ N from the first vertex is the third vertex, which is 11th magnitude.

NGC 2545 (Cnc): Much more difficult than NGC 2507, this is a faintish N-S streak. It has a very very faint substellar nucleus, but only a slight bit of central concentration along the major axis. The galaxy spans 1.0’ x 0.3’. It looks as if, just outside the N end of the halo, is a threshold (or perhaps 14.5-magnitude) star. The halo is pretty diffuse and not at all well defined. The galaxy is faint enough that it’s hard to get a good reading on its dimensions; in averted, it reaches maybe 1.25’ x 0.5’. Due P the galaxy by 4’ is a 9.5- magnitude star that’s the S-most vertex of a right triangle; the right-angle vertex is NP that star by 3.5’ and is 11.5 magnitude; 3’ due NF the right-angle vertex is another 11.5-magnitude star. 3.75’ N very slightly F the galaxy is a 12.5-magnitude star with a 14th-magnitude star 1’ F very very slightly N. From the galaxy 8’ F slightly N is a 9.5-magnitude star with a 10.5-magnitude star 1.67’ N very very slightly F it. The brightest star in the field is 19’ S somewhat F the galaxy and is 8th magnitude.

The Clear Sky Chart called it right on the money—we’d be getting cirrus crud passing through sporadically, lowering the transparency throughout the evening. The cirrus brought with it increasing winds, making the temperature more uncomfortable than it would’ve been in still ambient air.

NGC 2608 (Cnc): Not a scintillating galaxy but certainly noticeable at first glance in the field (it doesn’t help that there’s transparency crud coming in from the north). The galaxy is elongated roughly P-F and spans 1.0’ x 0.3’. Its halo is quite diffuse and poorly defined; it also has a very, very slightly brighter core and extremely faint stellar nucleus that pops out only infrequently. The galaxy has a couple of 14.5-magnitude/threshold stars around it that interfere with the observation; a couple lie to the N very slightly P and N very slightly F, with one SP the galaxy by 2’, and these are all very faint in the current conditions. P very very slightly S of the galaxy by 9’ is an 8.5-magnitude star.  S of the galaxy by 5’ is a 13th– magnitude star that has 1.25’ P very very slightly N of it an 11.5-magnitude star; due F the galaxy by 5’ is a 13th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is NF the galaxy by 20’ and is 8thmagnitude; it’s the N-most vertex of a flat isosceles triangle that has a 12.5-magnitude star S somewhat P it by 4’ and a 12th-magnitude star 2.5’ P somewhat S of it.

NGC 2672 (Cnc): This little guy is not far from the Beehive Cluster. It’s not a particularly impressive specimen, but it’s fairly obvious in the field. It forms the F-most vertex of an isosceles triangle, and is itself in the middle of a triangle of very faint stars. The galaxy is elongated slightly P very slightly N-F very slightly S, 0.75’ x 0.5’; it has a small brighter core and a substellar nucleus. The core seems a little offset to the P end? This may be partly because of a threshold star just outside the F very very slightly S end of the halo [this is actually a companion galaxy, NGC 2673]. There are two 14th-magnitude stars to the N; one is N very very slightly F by 1.67’ and the other is P somewhat N by 2.5’. The galaxy is the F-most vertex in the isosceles triangle; P the galaxy by 7’ is a 10.5-magnitude star; there’s an 11th-magnitude star 5’ P somewhat S of the galaxy. The brightest star in the field is 9th magnitude and lies NF the galaxy by 17’. The galaxy suddenly looks better; there may be more waves of crud passing through. In the better conditions, the galaxy may be 1.25’ x 0.75’. F somewhat S of the galaxy by 25’ (so outside the field) is a 6.5-magnitude star.

NGC 2718 (Hya): I just happened to land right on this one while searching. It’s a pretty well-defined little galaxy, elongated NP-SF, 0.75’ x 0.3’; there’s no sense that it’s bigger, even in averted vision. It has only a very slight bit of central brightening; I can’t tell if there’s a nucleus (don’t think so). It also has around it, within a 4’ radius, a bunch of very very faint stars: maybe three to due P, NP, N very slightly F, and two S that are very very slightly brighter, especially the one to the S very very slightly F of the galaxy; I can hold the two to the S in direct vision but not the others; these faint stars form a stretched pentagon around the galaxy, but it’s difficult to hold all of them steady at the same time. F the galaxy by 4.75’ is an 11th-magnitude star that has a 13th-magnitude star due N of it by 1.75’; from the brighter of this pair 7’ F somewhat N is the brightest star in the field, which is 8.5 magnitude.

NGC 2967 (Sex): This galaxy is a diffuse, round, very weakly concentrated glow, no more than 1.5’ diameter. It has a very slightly brighter largish core, but no trace of a nucleus… a face-on spiral? It’s impressively large for a HIII galaxy. Due N of the galaxy by 3.5’ is a 12th-magnitude star that has F very very slightly N of it by 3.5’ a 13.5-magnitude star [the wind is roaring in the background!]. From the galaxy N slightly F by 10’ is an 11th-magnitude star. The brightest star in the field is P somewhat N of the galaxy by 12’ and is double: 8.5- and 11th-magnitude stars with the brighter S very slightly F the fainter; the pair has 9’ N very very slightly F it a 10th-magnitude star that has NF of it by 2.75’ a 12.5-magnitude star. It’s a pretty barren field star-wise; the two bright ones to the P (the last group) are part of a larger concentration of bright stars, most of which are outside the field.

NGC 3044 (Sex): This one is not bright but it’s very impressive—a great one! It’s definitely a flat galaxy [wind is a real problem now]. It’s 4.0’ x very very thin, maybe 0.25’? 0.3’? The galaxy is quite ghostly and not particularly well defined, especially on the P end. It’s elongated P very slightly N-F very slightly S. [I’m having to hold on to the scope now because of the wind.] There’s very subtle major axis brightening along the galaxy’s inner 2/3, but nothing definable as a nucleus. I didn’t see it at first in the field because I was looking for something smaller/rounder. N of the P tip of the galaxy, 2.75’ from center, is a 15th-magnitude star. S very very slightly F by 4.75’ is a 13.5-magnitude star that has due N of it by 1.75’ another 13.5-magnitude star. NP the galaxy by 6’ is the brighter of a pair: that star is 12thmagnitude and it has a 13.5-magnitude star S very very slightly P it by 0.5’, and also has an 11.5-magnitude star P slightly S of it by 2.5’. The brightest star in the field is N somewhat F the galaxy by 15’ and is a 10th-magnitude star that has a 14th-magnitude star P very slightly N of it by 0.5’. N somewhat F the galaxy by 5.75’ is a 14th-magnitude star. Must return to this one, possibly often!

3044 being an excellent object to end on, and the clouds and wind conspiring to make the conditions useless for observing, I called it a night. 

IV. April’s observing run ended a night later with the 20″ Obsession and a run into the Flat Galaxies Catalogue.

According to Karachentsev et al (1993), flat galaxies “are defined as having a diameter larger than 40 arc-seconds and a major to minor axis ratio of >= 7” and “there is a tight correlation between their linear diameter and the width of the 21cm line that can be detected.” Flat Galaxies are therefore used “to study large‐scale cosmic streamings and other problems of observational cosmology” because “a) the HI 21 cm and Hα line detection rate of these galaxies is nearly 100%; b) the flat galaxies avoid volumes occupied by groups and clusters so that their structure remains undisturbed and they are not affected by large virial motions.” Objects in the Revised Flat Galaxies Catalogue are considered to be typologically homogenous and are therefore suitable as a uniform group for study.

Visually, of course, flat galaxies are far from uniform, despite being of roughly-similar shape. Surface brightness, core/nucleus visibility, and size are only a few of the variable factors in the visual appearance of these slivers of light; even a photograph can’t provide an adequate guesstimate as to how a flat galaxy will appear in an eyepiece. (Of course, this is true to some extent of all galaxies and even nebulae; only open clusters and some globulars may be truly represented by a photograph.) The only way to know is to actually look. And so look I did.

MOON: 24 days (rose at 4:37 AM; 27% illuminated)
SQM: 21.5
NELM: not checked
WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps to 43F; no dew; temps moderate; high winds beyond treeline

All observations: 20″ f/5 Obsession truss-tube Dobsonian, 14mm ES 82˚ eyepiece (181x, 0.45˚ TFoV) and 7mm Nagler (363x, 12.6’ TFoV) unless otherwise noted

IC 2233 (Lyn): A razor-thin galaxy, elongated N very very slightly P-S very very slightly F [PA 170˚]; it’s currently pretty low in the sky, so it’s not at its best; it’s still fairly obvious, but averted vision does wonders for it. It extends 2.5’ x 0.3’, and has a 13th-magnitude star on its N end that’s very very distracting. There’s some evidence of an actual core (in opposition to the standard major-axis brightening you’d get in an edge-on), especially in averted vision there’s a 0.3’ long core. There’s no nucleus to speak of. The core and the star on the N end form an equilateral triangle with a 10th-magnitude star that’s F the galaxy by 1’; that star has a 14th-magnitude star NF it by 0.25’. P the galaxy by 5’ is another 10th-magnitude star. (The scope needs more cooling; seeing has been good so far, but it’s still not where it needs to be.) The two 10th-magnitude stars P and F the galaxy from a large parallelogram with two others well to the S, including a 9.5-magnitude star that’s 11’ S very slightly F the galaxy; this parallelogram runs roughly parallel to the galaxy (N very slightly P-S very slightly F).

NGC 2537 (Lyn): The Bear Paw Galaxy, as impressive as only a 20” can make it: the galaxy looks almost like a planetary nebula at first glance due to the inner detail/morphology. Much of this detail needs averted vision for a good view, but it’s unmistakable; the arc around the N edge from P-F and the segment from the middle to the S edge are both well evident. It’s a round galaxy, diffuse on the edges, reasonably well defined but with an outer fringe that fades out like a planetary nebula halo. The galaxy is 1.75’ round. On the NsP there’s either a star or a brightish stellaring within the halo along that brighter rim that runs across N half of the galaxy; that part of the internal structure is brighter than the center-S strip (I probably need more magnification for a good view). F slightly S of the galaxy by 2’ is an 11th-magnitude star; F very slightly N of the galaxy by 1.25’ is a 14.5-magnitude star. 7’ P the galaxy is an 8.5-magnitude star. The two stars to the F form an isosceles triangle with the galaxy; the galaxy marks the SP vertex and then 12’ N slightly P the galaxy is a 9.5-magnitude star; 7’ N somewhat P the galaxy is an 11.5-magnitude star, and that star and the 8.5-magnitude star P the galaxy also form an equilateral triangle with the galaxy as the SF vertex.

IC 2461 (Lyn): This flat galaxy is much smaller than IC 2233: 1.5’ x less than 1/8’, with due NP-SF orientation [PA 135˚]. It’s brighter than IC 2233, but also doesn’t have the bright star on the edge complicating things that 2233 has. It’s pretty well defined, and the whole thing visible in direct vision (unlike many flat galaxies); averted only brightens it, rather than making its fainter edges seem larger. There’s no notable core but it has a semi-substellar nucleus. SP the galaxy by 3’ is a 13.5-magnitude star; S slightly P by 4.5’ is a 9.5-magnitude star, and there’s a 10.5-magnitude star S very very slightly P the galaxy by 4.75’. S very very slightly P the galaxy by 14’ is an 8.5-magnitude star that’s the brightest in the field (it’s actually just outside the field); that star is at the F end of a line of three that get gradually fainter as they run P-ward, and this line is 5’ long. I’m changing eyepieces to the 7mm Nagler (363x, 12.6’ TFoV): the nuclear region actually contains a very small, tentative core (?). There seems to be a flash of nucleus too. A 16th-magnitude star lies SP the galaxy by 1’. The extra magnification of the Nagler helps bring the galaxy out of the background.

One of the difficulties of working through the flat galaxy list is that—after spending some considerable time tracking some of the galaxies down—the target may not be worth the time it took to find it (at least as far as notetaking goes). Being able to sit beside the scope and take notes on a marginally-visible object is a lot more comfortable than taking notes on such a barely-there galaxy while standing on a ladder, and some of the galaxies I observed on this particular night simply didn’t offer enough at the eyepiece to justify taking notes on them (given that the Obsession’s secondary mirror was later found to have dewed over entirely, some of those galaxies I passed on might be worth a revisit). While I might normally be thrilled to take notes on an obscure threshold-level object, I’d also rather pick a better subject when one presented itself. All of this is to say that the long gaps between notes here were the result of looking at some extremely-tenuous sliver of vapor in the eyepiece and saying, “Hmmm… maybe another time. Next.”

UGC 5495 (Leo): This is a fairly well-defined little streak, but I had to get the bright star out of the field for a good view. The galaxy is elongated P very very very slightly N-F very very very slightly S [PA 95˚] and spans 1.25’ x 0.125’. It does have a somewhat-brighter nuclear region with perhaps a very tricky stellar nucleus visible in averted vision. N of the galaxy by 9’ is a 13th-magnitude star; N very very slightly F the galaxy by 3.75’ is a 14th-magnitude star, and there are a few other faint ones nearby. S somewhat F by 8’ is an 8.5-magnitude star that has a 10.5-magnitude star S of it by 3’ and from the 8.5-magnitude star NP by 1.25’ is a 12.5-magnitude star. With the 7mm Nagler: there may not be a nucleus but a very small core instead; I’m not getting a sense even in averted vision that there’s a nucleus there. The 8.5-magnitude star SF the galaxy is a nearly-equal double in 7mm that wasn’t splittable in the 14mm (except with great concentration, and only having seen it in the 7mm first).

Dan and Loren both left by this point; only Jerry and I remained to observe. But the skies were still fine, and there were dozens of further targets on my list.

NGC 3279 (Leo): I had a couple of really tough ones after UGC 5495 that I didn’t want to record—marginal sightings at best [due in part to the Obsession’s secondary having completely dewed over by this point, unbeknownst to me). This galaxy is just N of Rho Leonis and is quite excellent. It’s elongated N slightly P-S slightly F [PA 150˚] and not super-bright, certainly not as bright as I expected for an NGC object (even one on the Flat Galaxy list). It subtends 2.25’ x 0.3’, and doesn’t have much central concentration, but it is somewhat mottled or irregularly bright. Every now and then there’s a flash of a nucleus, but it’s impossible to hold steady even in averted vision. Due N of the galaxy by 3.5’ is a 10.5-magnitude star, and there’s a 13.5-magnitude star P very very slightly N of the galaxy by 2.25’; S of that star by 0.3’ is a 15th-magnitude star. F the galaxy by 2.75’ is a 14.5-magnitude star. In the 7mm, the galaxy still appears mottled, but there’s still no sign of a nucleus, or even a core. N of the galaxy by 1.5’ is a 16th-magnitude star.

NGC 3196 (Leo): The only reason I’ve tracked down this otherwise-nondescript little blur is because it’s the lead-off object for the Herschel Sprint, and was not visible in my 12.5” scope on either of my attempts at the Sprint. It took a long lot of starhopping to get to, and finally required the 7mm Nagler (again, though, I wasn’t aware that the secondary mirror was completely fogged). The galaxy lies due P a 15th-magnitude star and can be seen in direct vision, but there’s not much to see: it’s a tiny spot, no bigger than 0.25’ diameter, with either a very small (5”) core or a substellar nucleus.

As usual, we didn’t just look at the listed objects; we also observed some of the major galaxies of spring (M51, M101, NGC 4565 [which is also a flat galaxy], and NGC 4051, one of the ones in Ursa Major that I was impressed with in my last Herschel run]). It was while observing M101 that I discovered that the Obsession’s secondary mirror had fogged over, contributing to the difficulty of some of my galaxy observations—with as wet as the mirror was, it had been fogged for some time. The scope itself wasn’t too wet, which had perhaps fooled me into thinking it wasn’t so dewy at the site.

Jerry and I spent another half hour looking at the showpiece galaxies and the two great early-summer globulars, M13 and M5, before conceding the night—and the end of the Moon-dark phase—to the dew and the wildlife. It was the last clear Moon-dark night until the end of May, and the last time since that I’ve been able to gather starlight and the glow of distant galaxies.


A Dream of Spring

It took a week for the weather and other circumstances to synchronize favorably enough to return to Eagle’s Ridge and continue with the work of delving into the Herschel 400 and Herschel II lists. After a brain-draining half-week of work, it was a much-needed break; my Thursday shift had been canceled, and I looked forward eagerly to the drive up the mountain.

The Eugene weather forecast had indicated a predicted low of 36˚, but I quickly discovered that the extra couple of thousand feet of elevation would (on this night, but not always) make the Eugene forecast worthless. It was already at most 36˚ on the mountain, and would continue to get colder.

Still, I was ready for the cold–at least to an extent. And I had galaxy hunting to keep me occupied. The sky was well clear and the transparency better than predicted by the Clear Sky Chart. We had a bigger crowd at Eagle’s Ridge: Jerry, Bill, Frank S, Wade, and Bill M. In fact, there were enough of us that we couldn’t set up on the spur road that we’d used the previous week, although Bill B had set up his time-lapse camera there. So we set up in the clearing where the roads intersected–not the most-level bit of ground, but okay for Dobsonian purposes.

The forecast also called for dew, but I discovered (to my great concern) that my Kendrick dew-heater controller rattled as I shook it, and that it refused to heat the eyepiece band attached to it. After several minutes of testing, I was left to conclude that the controller was at least temporarily dead. This would turn out to be a major problem; although Jerry had a portable hair dryer for such contingencies, I disliked having to mooch off of my fellow observers for my own lack of a backup plan.




MOON: 2 days (set at 11:05 PM), 8% illumination


TRANSPARENCY: variable, 6-7

SQM: not taken

NELM: about 6.7

WEATHER CONDITIONS: temps in low 30s/upper 20s, dew turning to frost, no wind

Others present: JO, BB, FS, BM, WR



NGCs 3166, 3169, 3165, 3156 (Sex): two very obvious galaxies and a much fainter one—3169: fainter of two bright ones—2.0’ x 1.25’—very obvious nucleus, small bright core—halo definitely larger in averted—just on F edge of halo, about 2.5’ from core to F very slightly S of galaxy is a 12th-mag star—bracketing galaxy, forming a perfect isosceles triangle with 12th-mag star, to SF and NP are two 10th/11th mag stars, 11th to SF, 10th to N (very slightly) P; NP star is about 8’ from galaxy, SF star 10’ from galaxy—8’ almost due P is NGC 3166: larger and slightly brighter than 3169—2.25’, pretty round—not much of bright core but bright stellar nucleus—brightness falls away pretty rapidly from nucleus—definitely less diffuse than 3169—to N and P are 12th/13th-mag stars evenly spaced from galaxy by about 3-3.5’ from galaxy due P and almost due N—halo has pretty abrupt edge, doesn’t fall away into background as with 3169—to SP by 7’ is another 12th-mag star—P and slightly N of galaxy by 10’ is a 10th-mag star—in averted, just P by 1’ the two stars to P/SP of 3166 and almost in middle of those two stars is another galaxy (3165) which is very difficult, only knew it was there from TriAtlas chart—thinner streak about 1.0 x 0.75 with no central concentration—would probably pop more without moonlight—not easy target at all, would’ve passed over it without knowing it was there—just a ghostly image that disappears without averted—SP 3166 by 22’ is N vertex of triangle of 7th/8th-mag stars—triangle is 9’ on F side, 10’ on P side, on N side 7’—with 3166 just on NF side of field, N vertex is centered—P that N vertex is dimmest star in triangle—N of that star by 3’ and slightly P is another galaxy (3156)—1.25’—quite diffuse, pretty round—has slightly brighter core, may have stellar nucleus in averted—N and slightly P galaxy by 5’ is another 13th-mag star—N and slightly F galaxy by 4’ is a 13th-mag star


NGC 2974 (Sex): bright, small fuzzy spot—1.25’, but bright and hard to miss—no nucleus, but small bright core—probably an elliptical [SB]—almost due P galaxy, just on P edge of halo is a 10th-mag star, looks almost like it’s inside galaxy—averted vision really helps core come out—almost due P galaxy, maybe a bit N, by 6’, is a 12th-mag star—brightest star in field is just on SP edge of field, 22’ from galaxy—not the most elaborate field, but interesting


Already, I’d had to wipe the glass screen on my Telrad free of dew several times; my charts were damp, and the top of my equipment table was pretty well wet with dew. But the shroud of my scope was downright crinkly–the dew on it had frozen. Already wearing my heavy coat, I went back into the van for some chemical hand-warmers, finding several which were two years old. They would have to do; the box of new ones I’d gotten at Christmas was sitting at home in the garage. No point but to plow on, especially given the fine (if frosty) conditions.



NGC 3115 (Sex): the biggie—big big big—5.0’ x 1.5’—very bright, unmistakable—seems to have stellar nucleus—core region about half the length & width of galaxy, very prominent—elongated SPP-NFF—to SP of core by 2’ is a 13th/a4th-mag star; from that one by 4’ SP is a 12th-mag star; from 12th-mag star SF by 3’ is a 14th-mag star just flickering in and out of view—SF galaxy is bright pair of stars (one due SF, the other FSF), both 9th mag, separated by 7’—galaxy exceptionally bright


NGC 3672 (Crt): actually a really interesting galaxy—clearly edge-on spiral—very large and diffuse and slightly mottled—4.5’ x 2.0’—elongated mostly N-S—quite diffuse but reasonably bright and obvious—very diffuse brighter core—P by 6’ and just slightly N is a 9th-mag star—F and slightly N by 10’ is a 10th-mag star—between 9th-mag star and galaxy is a 13th-mag star—almost due N of galaxy by 5’ is a pair of 13th-mag stars separated by 1.5’—N of galaxy by 15’ is an 8th-mag star; P that star by 10’ is a little trapezoid of 12th/13th-mag stars—F the galaxy by 20’ is a 7th-mag star—due S of galaxy by 15’ is a 10th-mag star


NGC 3887 (Crt): another big, diffuse, mottled galaxy—inset in a group of 12th/13th-mag stars in kind of a wedge shape—galaxy itself about 3.0’ x 2.75’—elongation vaguely N-S (pretty round)—slightly-brighter core, which is extended a bit more to the N than to the S—no stellar nucleus—core quite large, takes up 3/4 of galaxy, halo slightly dimmer—galaxy pretty obvious—looks a lot like 3672—obviously a spiral—on F edge to N is a 12th-mag star—just off SF edge, separated from edge of galaxy by 1’ is a 13th-mag star—almost due N of galaxy by 4’ is another 12th-mag star—P and slightly N of galaxy is a 13th-mag star 4.5’ from NP corner of galaxy; 3’ P and a bit S of that star is a 13th-mag star—very interesting galaxy


By this point, my 14mm Explore Scientific eyepiece–the workhorse in my stable of optics, and the eyepiece used for 90% of my Herschel observations–was fogged up from the heat of my eye, and was to remain so for the duration. Again, rather than pester Jerry for a temporary fix from his hair dryer, I opted to let the eyepiece matter lie. Although I had done a fair night’s work, and it was still early, I chose to spend the remaining time on the mountain taking peeks through the other observers’ scopes (the shadow transit of Ganymede across Jupiter’s disk was a terrific sight) and chatting as the others chose to gradually depart. I did mooch some incredibly hot tea from Bill, which helped keep me going for the remaining ninety minutes on the mountain.

By 1:30 AM, it was time to go. Bill and I were the only ones left at the site; Bill was planning to stay the night, as he always did when capturing a time-lapse video. Although I’d planned to be there all night if necessary, I couldn’t force myself through it. My table and eyepiece case had a thick layer of crystalline frost on it; the shroud on my scope was frozen stiff. As was I, admittedly. Astronomy can be a surprisingly-calisthenic hobby (hauling heavy equipment, twisting to look through finderscopes, etc.), but it’s still largely sedentary, and the cold sinks in deep without enough means to ward it off.

I let the heat build up in the van before setting out on the road back, but didn’t thaw out until morning.