Category Archives: Galaxies

Observing, 28th September 2011 – shooting fish in a barrel

The subtitle of this post should be ‘Wet, wet, wet’ as the dew last night was epic, I have never seen so much moisture when it isn’t actually raining. Everything was wet, the ground, the scope (by the end of the session the secondary looked like it had no coating on, it was so wet), the inside of the shed and the Telrad dew shield may as well have not been on there – the scope shroud was so wet it was dripping. The moisture got into everything. I think it was because we’re in a sudden warm spell, an Indian Summer, with daytime temps of around 75-80°F and nighttime lows of 63°F, but the ground is still wet after the dismal summer. It was misty but a threatening fog bank did stay out in the English Channel.


Clearest it's been for ages...

Date: 28th September 2011
Conditions: Cloudless but with some mist. 90% humidity resulting in a lot of dew. Light domes more apparent than usual.
Seeing: II (Good to fair)
Transparency: III (would have been good if not for the mist)
NELM: 6.0 to 6.1 at zenith
Equipment: 18 inch f/4.3 Dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (90x), 8mm Panoptic Radian (247x)

Picking off galaxies with the 18 inch is like shooting fish in a barrel, it’s that easy, even under far-from-pristine conditions. I’ve gained a magnitude over the 12 inch and it’s so much easier to see fainter galaxies, of course.

I began with some galaxies in Pegasus.

NGC 7448 – Large, bright galaxy elongated north-south with brighter centre. 247x

NGC 7465 – Round with bright core surrounded by fuzzy halo. 247x

NGC 7463 – Elongated east-west. Fainter than 7465. Some slight brightening towards the centre. 247x

NGC 7464 is very close to 7463, faint. 247x

These galaxies were very faint indeed at 90x. Probably not helped by the dewy conditions.

NGC 7332 – Beautiful bright edge-on spiral elongated NNW-SSE. Very bright and obvious at low power (90x). Brightens to compact core and very bright almost stellar nucleus. 90x, 247x

NGC 7339 – Large and much fainter than NGC 7332. Featureless. Fairly blunt, rather than tapered, ends. 247x

NGC 7177 – Bright round galaxy. Fuzzy edges and a bright non-stellar nucleus.  247x

On to Pisces…

NGC 467 – One of an attractive line of galaxies. Diffuse halo brightens to a compact, but non-stellar, core (MAC 0119 + 0317, next to it, wasn’t seen). 247x

NGC 470 – Slightly larger than 467. Round with bright, compact core surrounded by a diffuse halo. 247x

NGC 474 – This is the same brightness as 470. Slightly oval and elongated WSW-ENE. Brightens to a bright, non-stellar, core. 247x

Then Andromeda…

NGC 214 – Fairly large and moderately bright. Elongated NE-SW. No nucleus. 247x

Eye candy:
Jupiter was excellent, very detailed and took magnification well in moments of good seeing. The four Galilean Moons were strung out either side, with two on each side. The SEB returned a while back and is nicely on show again.
M31, also in the eye candy department, was spectacular. I’d never seen it in anything larger than my 12 inch, and it was very bright and the dust lane was as prominent as ever I have seen it. I’m going to hunt for globular clusters in it one night, when the seeing is better. M32 and M110 were also very bright and prominent: M32 is the brighter and smaller of the two.

By now, the optics were so badly dewed up, it was becoming difficult to see anything so I packed up. I am going to invest in a dew heater once I have flogged off the 12 inch; actually I am going to invest in a dew heater even if I don’t manage to flog off the 12 inch! If the optics get dewed badly too often then a recoat will be necessary in a couple of years, something I’d prefer to avoid if possible. The Telrad, despite shield, was also badly dewed and made it nearly impossible to find anything.

I’d been using the stepladder a fair bit and, because the top lawn is undermined by generations of moles, one side of the ladder would occasionally sink into one of the tunnels. I never once fell off but it made life difficult and annoying. Not only that, the lawn has a very uneven surface but it is going to be hard to level it out and fill in all the mole holes.

Observing, 24th September 2011


The clouds magically cleared earlier in the evening and the sky was predicted to remain clear until around 2200, so I wheeled the Big One out and set it up for its second look at the sky.

The sky wasn’t the best last night, both the seeing and the transparency were poor as fog arrived in the middle of the session and the humidity was 80%. I know that McDonald Observatory close their domes when the humidity gets to something like 7% there, as does my friend Jimi Lowrey with his 48inch, but their West Texas skies are mostly clear, unlike over here in the UK where we have to take what we can get. As the summer was cool and damp, the ground hasn’t had a chance to dry out, so we’re getting lots of fog and mist which hampers observations, especially of faint objects.

As I was setting up I looked at the primary mirror and…’What the f***? Scratches??!’…I knew it couldn’t be scratches, as the mirror was fine the other day, so I got a large rocket blower I use for cleaning my cameras and lenses, used it to blow on the mirror and the ‘scratches’ vanished. They were fibres from the tissue paper and, inexplicably, a dog hair had also found its way in there. ‘Inexplicably’ because the dogs (long-haired dachshunds) have been nowhere near the scope apart from Joe deciding to cock his leg on it the evening I brought it home (fortunately, being a dachshund, albeit a standard one [largeish], his legs are too short to allow any damage to be done!), although a dog hair could have fallen from my jacket or the shroud, as I take that in the house to dry off when it gets wet with dew.

Date: 24th September 2011
Conditions: Cloudless but murky, fog later. 80% humidity – normally inconspicuous light domes were visible
Seeing: IV
Transparency: III (for seeing and transparency scales used, click here)
NELM: Not checked but probably no better than 6.0, if that
Equipment: 18 inch f/4.3 dob with 35mm Televue Panoptic (56x), 22mm Televue Panoptic (90x) and 8mm Televue Radian (247x).

I began with a general look round and decided on a couple of bits of eye candy to look at first. I aimed at the Ring Nebula, M57, and I am sure I detected some colour in it, green with hints of pink. Subtle but I don’t think I was imagining it. The last time I saw colour in M57 was in Texas in 2008 and that was with Jimi’s 48 inch. I decided to try some high magnifications, 395x (5mm Radian) and 658x (3mm Radian) but, thanks to the poor seeing, it was as mushy as hell (especially at 658x) so I put those eyepieces away. Also, the big mirror needs more cooling down time than I’ve given it. It is still fairly warm during the day and, although the mirror is not especially thick at 40mm (1.5 inches), it still needs over an hour, probably more, to cool.

Then I headed over to M27, the Dumbell Nebula, which was very bright and also with a hint of colour, this time green. Although the conditions weren’t good, M27 was incredibly bright and detailed. Knock-your-socks-off bright and detailed, too. 18 inches is the largest aperture I have looked at M27 with, so it’ll be nice to have a look on a much better night.

I was thinking of selling my 35mm Panoptic and, indeed, I’ve advertised it in our astronomy society’s monthly newsletter, mainly because the exit pupil would be too large for use with the 18 inch, thanks to the focal ratio of the scope, and £250 would come in handy at the moment. However, I decided to give it a try in the big scope and, judging by what I saw, I won’t be parting with it after all and I will withdraw it from sale. NGC 7000 and the Milky Way through Cygnus was spectacular. The exit pupil is a tad too big but not by much, so but it actually doesn’t matter. I will definitely need a Paracorr with this one, though.

Using a stepladder takes a bit of getting used to. At one point, I’d forgotten that I was standing on the second step and stepped off, landing on my bad ankle harder than I’d expected.

So much for the messing around with eye candy. I’d brought some galaxy group information out with me (one of the free downloadable guides from my friend Alvin Huey’s website – follow the links to Downloadable Observing Guides) and went for some galaxy groups in Pegasus. The NGC 7436 group was well placed so I went for that. The notes are sparse.

NGC 7436 – Bright and round with very slight brightening towards the centre. NGC 7433 is right next to 7436 and together at lower power the two galaxies look like an elongated glow east-west. 90x, 247x

NGC 7433 – Reasonably bright elongated glow right next to NGC 7436. 247x

NGC 7435 – Fairly bright, oval, brighter middle. 247x

NGC 7431 – Barely seen elongated glow. 247x

By this time, the transparency had got so bad I decided to pack up, go in and watch Match of the Day. Car lights coming down the hill were huge beams and the kitchen light coming on was a dim glow through fog. A look at NGC 7331 confirmed the transparency had deteriorated, although it wasn’t great to begin with and an hour later the clouds were back.

The weather forecasters are predicting an ‘Indian Summer’ for the next week into October, so I am hoping we get a few more clear nights – preferably with no fog. The actual summer was dismal, so an Indian one will be very nice indeed.


The 18 inch gets to see the sky

The 18 inch finally got its first look at the sky, as it cleared just before sunset after a day of thundery showers, some of which were torrential. The forecast called for a clear night so I hoped to get at least an hour in. I put the scope together, which at least is getting easier and waited – impatiently it has to be said! – for darkness. Collimation was a breeze as, despite the scope being loaded into a van, driven along 200 miles of motorway network, carried on a ship across a bumpy Solent, driven across the appalling goat tracks that pass for roads on the Isle of Wight, unloaded from the van and bumped across the cratered and uneven back lawn, it was not that far out and even if it had been, the large bolts make it a joy to do and not a boring chore. It took 30 seconds to line up the secondary and then the primary – it was FAR easier than either my 12 inch or my 8″ scopes.

I did discover a slight Telrad fail – I’ve put the base in the wrong position. It’s not a big problem but I could have done with putting it next to the finder. I’ll move it at some point, and I’d like to screw the base to the UTA, rather than have it fixed by means of the adhesive base, but it’s going to be ‘fun’ getting it off to move it. It’s not a big deal, it just means that I have to walk round the scope to the eyepiece once I have located something.

When it got dark, the Milky Way was as good as I have ever seen it, with the Cygnus rift very striking and the rest iridescent. It was very prominent right down into Sagittarius. I forgot the SQM, but the naked eye limiting magnitude was at least 6.2.
The neighbours’ lights were annoying as usual, and I wish they’d adjust their insecurity light as it blitzes everything. Luckily that only seems to be put on when their dogs are out having their late night piddle. I wish they’d move away and a nice elderly couple who go to bed at 8.30 and who don’t have all the house lights on would move in instead!

Date: 18th September 2011
Conditions: Clear at first, clouds moving in later. Very dewy (88% humidity) and wet underfoot.
Seeing: II
Transparency: II-III; IV later when clouds arrived.
NELM: ~6.2
Equipment: 18″ f/4.3 Dob, with 22mm Televue Panoptic (90x), 8mm Televue Radian (247x)

First up, as it wasn’t dark and I was just itching to look at something, was the Alcor-Mizar system.Very nice at 90x, with the jewels blazing brightly. As this is an f/4.3 mirror it was evident that I need a coma corrector, such as a Paracorr but I can live with it for now.
I didn’t take any notes, beyond writing names down, either; this wasn’t a ‘serious session’, it was more a case of getting used to the scope and to the ladder I needed to use with it, rather than a proper serious observing session.

NGC 7006, globular cluster in Delphinus – I’ve seen this on quite a few occasions but never as good as this, and this was with the sky still dark blue. At 247x, it was resolved and the core was very dense. 90x, 247x

NGC 7331, galaxy in Pegasus – This was the best ever view, the galaxy appeared very large and bright, with a bright tiny core. Elongated north-south. 90x, 247x.

I also viewed NGC 7337, NGC 7335, NGC 7336, NGC 7340 and MCG+6-49-44, the ‘Fleas’ in the Deerlick group. The fainter Fleas were quite hard with my 12″ but are easy in the 18″. NGC 7336 was pretty faint and the faintest of the group. 247x

The scope is a bit stiff to move, although not hugely so and I expect the stiffness will wear off in time. Besides, it’s better for it to be slightly too stiff than too easily moved.

I packed up at 2130 just before the moon rose as the clouds had returned (contrary to the weather forecast!). I took the scope to bits and returned it to the shed, after carefully drying it off. The shroud was wet through and that’s now hanging over the landing rail to dry.

In unrelated news, I have decided to get another car. My Citroen is getting a bit old and I’ve never really liked the thing as it’s too small, feels ‘cheap’ and is easily ‘bullied’ off the road, so I have traded it in for a Renault estate. Hopefully I can pick the new one up on the 24th. It has an added bonus in that the big telescope will fit into it, as I decided on the spur of the moment to change my car, I thought I may as well get a bigger one while I was at it. The only downside is that the tax will cost more and it will also cost more to run.

Supernova SN2011dh in M51

Despite my knee problem, I decided to get the scope out and look at the supernova in M51. I didn’t want to wait until the knee was better (it’s improving all the time) or until the Moon was out of the way as the supernova might have faded by then and I didn’t want to miss it.

Date: 8th June 2011
Conditions: First quarter Moon, all-night astronomical twilight. Milky Way visible. No dew, breezy.
Seeing: II
Transparency: II
Equipment: 12″ f/5 dob. Televue 22mm Panoptic (69x), Televue 8mm Radian (190x), Televue 5mm Radian (304x) and Televue 3mm Radian (507x)

I observed the supernova under less-than-ideal conditions, thanks to first quarter Moon and the all-night astronomical twilight we’re cursed with at this time of year – and I have certainly seen M51 better than this. However, the Milky Way was visible and the transparency and seeing were both good. The supernova was best seen at medium to high magnifications. It wasn’t immediately obvious but after a minute or two with averted vision, popped into view as an extra star. I made the sketch without a photo to guide me and checked it against a photo of the supernova’s position later.
The best views were at 190x and 304x. The view at 507x was terrible, it was just smeared all over the place.

The supernova is arrowed on the sketch.

Mini observing session, 27th May 2011

After a stormy and unpromising day, Friday night cleared nicely. I was out all evening, not getting home until past 11pm although, given the light nights at this time of year, that’s not really a problem. However, I didn’t feel like getting the 12″ out – and the weather forecast indicated that clouds were soon going to roll in, continuing May’s unsettled note (May’s weather quite often is rubbish but I hope this isn’t the start of yet another lousy summer) so instead I brought out the little 70mm refractor, recently released from its dark prison in the depths of a cupboard. It’s imprisonment wasn’t intentional, it’s just that I don’t have a lot of use for such a small scope. Or I didn’t think I had, until I decided I want a travel scope just in case I am able to go anywhere next year. Unfortunately air travel restrictions don’t allow you to take anything much larger than a small refractor or Mak-Cass overseas. People better at woodwork and metalwork than I am have made collapsible 8″ or larger dobs for airline travel, but that’s beyond my limited practical capabilities.
Anyway, with the lack of anything else to write about on here, here’s a short account (I won’t say ‘report’ like a lot of people do on astronomy forums; I don’t like the term when used for descriptions of observing sessions as I think it’s too formal, making it sound compulsory and too much like work) of the Friday night mini-session with the Vixen.

Date: 27th May 2011
Conditions: Cloudless, no dew, chilly, breezy.
Seeing: II
Transparency: II
Equipment: 70mm (2.8″) f/6 Vixen refractor with Televue 25mm (16.8x) and 11mm (38x) Plossl eyepieces. Lumicon 2″ UHC filter.

The summer Milky Way was rising, and Cygnus was beginning to clear the nearby trees, so I aimed the little scope at the various star fields. The beauty of a small rich-field scope is that you don’t need a finder to aim it. Because of the wide field views, it’s easy to find what you’re looking for just by sighting along the tube, something which is all but impossible with a larger, longer focal length instrument.
As well as looking round the rich Milky Way of Cygnus, I looked for individual objects, bright Messiers generally. M29, a coarse and poor open cluster in Cygnus, was easily seen at 16.8x. Despite its sparseness it was an attractive sight at 38x, standing out nicely from the Milky Way. It’s seven brightest stars were all easily seen in the tiny scope.
In Lyra, M57 was easily seen at 16.8x as a non-stellar object in a rich area. Putting up the magnification to 38x showed an oval with a darker middle.
Turning to Hercules, M13 was easily seen in the scope, and was resolved, despite being at a neck-twisting angle. No surprise there, as it’s a naked eye object on a good night. It wasn’t quite naked eye the other night, though, as the sky wasn’t quite dark enough for that. I didn’t bother with M92, because of the awkwardness of the eyepiece angle – one of the areas where a reflector beats a refractor hands down.
M81 and M82 in Ursa Major provided a lovely view at 38x. M81 was oval, with a slight hint of spiral arms while M82 was a bit brighter and showed mottling.
Scorpius was rising so I decided to see what M4 looked like with the 70mm. Despite its low altitude, the view was surprisingly good and the cluster began to resolve at 38x. If it was higher, it wouldn’t be bad at all with the tiny scope.
Meanwhile, Vulpecula had cleared the trees, so I looked for and easily found M27, the Dumbell Nebula, at 16.8x, as a round patch in a rich area. I was expecting to just see M27’s ‘apple core’ shape but, somewhat surprisingly, at 38x, the fainter lobes showed up well.

Back to Cygnus and NGC 7000 and IC 5070/5067, the North America and Pelican Nebulae. NGC 7000 is a pretty easy naked eye object as a shining patch adjacent to Deneb, as by now, it was 0040 and dark enough to see fainter objects. The shape was easy to make out with the help of my Lumicon 2″ UHC filter held to my eye, with the dark ‘Gulf of Mexico’ prominent. IC 5070/5067 was fainter and needed averted vision to see properly. It’s a nice sight through my 8×42 binoculars though.

It was getting cold and it was nearly 1am, so I packed up – which was the work of less than a few seconds, another plus factor of a small scope. Unfortunately small scopes don’t cut it when you want to view faint deep sky objects and, with a rich field scope such as the 70mm, you can’t get enough magnification for detailed views of DSOs or the planets. However, for a ‘grab and go’ scope and a travel scope, it’s ideal. One scope can’t do it all; my 12″ is way too large and cumbersome to be much use as a ‘grab and go scope’ (being a one-piece tube it barely fits in my car) and doesn’t give wide field views. As noted Arizona observer Steve Coe once said, ‘There’s no such thing as an all-purpose telescope’.

The Texas Star Party begins today. Hopefully they’ll have good clear skies. I wish I was there.

Observing, 8th May 2011

After getting back from my trip last Wednesday, the weather had turned nasty with thunderstorms and torrential rain (which, admittedly, was much needed, especially as the UK had forest fires everywhere) but yesterday was largely clear, apart from heavy downpours now and again.
I was hoping that the thunder and rain had cleared the atmosphere a bit and the sky was indeed more transparent than it had been for a while. Unfortunately, as night fell, there were more drifting clouds around than there had been during the evening and the waxing crescent moon, at around 30% of full,  interfered with the observing session, so it was a shorter one than I’d intended.

Date: 8th May 2011
Conditions: Mild, mostly clear although some drifting cloud about, waxing crescent Moon (30% illuminated), heavy dew, soaking wet underfoot because of heavy rain earlier in the evening.
Seeing: III
Transparency: III
Equipment: 12″ f/5 dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x), 8mm Televue Radian (190x).

NGC 4494, galaxy in Coma Berenices – Just SW of an 8th mag star this is bright and oval, elongated NW-SE. Brightens slightly to a non-stellar core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4725, galaxy in Coma Berenices – Bright and oval, elongated SW-NE. Brightens to a very bright but non-stellar core. There’s a hint of spiral arms at 190x but the scattered light from the crescent Moon makes this hard to see properly. I want to have another look at this on a better night – it may have to wait until next spring, as we’re into May and the spring constellations will soon be lost in twilight. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4314, galaxy in Coma Berenices – This is a fairly bright oval with a brighter core. The Moon interfered with this one quite a bit. 69x, 101x, 190x.

NGC 4414, galaxy in Coma Berenices – A bright oval, elongated NNW-SSE. It brightens towards the core and has a stellar nucleus. The view at 190x is not good! 101x is much better. 69x, 101x, 190x.

I packed up at 2330 because the dew was a real nuisance and the Moon, despite being a crescent, was really interfering with observations. It was due to set at 0118 but my patience had run out so I called it a night.


Back last summer, I posted about older observers who have amassed thousands of observations of deep sky objects and other astronomical objects and how I have a long way to go until I am anywhere near their records, as they have 40+ years observing experience as opposed to my 19 years. I thought about this today and it made me dig out old notebooks and sketchbooks and count up the number of DSO’s I have seen.
So far, on going back through these old notebooks and sketchbooks (unfortunately I have two or three missing) I find I have visually observed best part of a thousand NGC/IC objects and non-NGC/IC objects such as anonymous galaxies and galaxy clusters. On top of that, there’s all the planets (including ex-planet Pluto), double and multiple stars, the Moon(!), asteroids, a comet crashing into Jupiter, comets, lunar eclipses, partial solar eclipses with one cloud obstructed total in 1999, a transit of Venus, the Sun, occultations, meteor showers, noctilucent clouds, Mir, the ISS, the Space Shuttle and other satellites…but, sadly, no UFOs! All this with equipment of all sizes ranging from the unaided eye, binoculars and small telescopes right up to 36″ and 48″ dobsonians.
Not too bad, I guess, considering observing opportunites are often limited by weather, Moon and life getting in the way, including a couple of breaks from the hobby in 1999/2000 (7 months) and 2004/5 (16 months) which were the result of life totally interfering with the important stuff!

Observing, 27th April 2011

Yesterday, 27th April, was largely cloudy and grey but the clouds cleared during the afternoon to leave a blue and transparent sky. It remained clear throughout the evening so I set up the scope for some observing. Given the largely hazy conditions just recently, I didn’t hold out much hope for the transparency but, surprisingly, it was very good.

Date: 27th/28th April 2011
Conditions: Cloudless, chilly, no moon, no dew, slight breeze picked up later on, zodiacal light prominent.
Seeing: II
Transparency: II
NELM: 6.2 – 6.5 later
Equipment: 12″ f/5 dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 11mm Televue Plossl (137x), 8mm Televue Radian (190x)

NGC 3631, galaxy in Ursa Major – Round and reasonably bright. Diffuse halo brightens to a compact core and stellar nucleus. 69x, 137x.

NGC 4026, galaxy in Ursa Major – Located just SW of a mag 9 star. Edge-on and very bright. Elongated NW-SE, with a bright elongated core. 69x, 137x.

NGC 3998, galaxy in Ursa Major – Located adjacent to 2 stars (mag 9 and 10) 3998 is very bright and round. It has a very bright stellar nucleus surrounded by a diffuse halo. 69x, 137x, 190x.

NGC 3990, galaxy in Ursa Major – Located just west of 3998, this is much fainter and more oval with a brighter core. Elongated NE-SW. 69x, 137x, 190x.

NGC 3982, galaxy in Ursa Major – Moderately bright oval glow, oriented north-south. Brightens to centre and a non-stellar core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 3898, galaxy in Ursa Major – Bright oval, elongated NW-SE. Fairly faint halo surrounds a much brighter, elongated core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 3888, galaxy in Ursa Major – Lies to the SW of 3898. Much fainter than 3898. Fairly dim oval with a brighter core. There is a distinct row of 3 stars which lie to the NE. 69x, 190x.

A bright meteor went through south western Ursa Major and into Gemini at this point. It was a bright yellow fireball.

NGC 2950, galaxy in Ursa Major – Small, round and very bright. It has a stellar nucleus in the core. 69x, 137x, 190x.

NGC 2768, galaxy in Ursa Major – A bright, flattened oval. Oriented east-west with a bright elongated core. 69x, 137x, 190x.

NGC 5676, galaxy in Bootes – Fairly bright oval with a bright core. Elongated SE-NW. 69xx, 137x.

NGC 5689, galaxy in Bootes – Bright, almost edge-on. Elongated E-W. Brightens to core and has a stellar nucleus. NGC 5682 and 5683 lie just to the SW and NGC 5693 to the SE. 5682/83/93 are all faint and very small. 69x, 190x.

NGC 5248, galaxy in Bootes – Large, oval and bright, oriented east-west. A diffuse halo brightens to the core and a stellar nucleus. At 190x averted vision shows hint of spiral arms. 69x, 190x.
I made a sketch, which is shown at left. Click to enlarge. Excuse the poor quality sketch, by that time my fingers were frozen!

Packed up at 0100 BST. The signs of summer were already there, with Hercules up, Scorpius peeping above the horizon in the south east and Cygnus above the horizon on its side.

Observing, 25th April 2011

The recent high pressure has led to increasingly murky nights and tonight was no exception. It looked ok as dark fell and there were no light domes visible so I set up. Unfortunately, this state of affairs didn’t last, as it got murkier and high clouds moved in, so it ended up being a much shorter session than intended.
I had intended to spend the session in Ursa Major but the combination of the ‘dob hole’ and high clouds prevented it.

Date: 25th April 2011
Conditions: Clear at first, slight breeze picked up later, slight haze, mild (11C, only needed a hoodie and observing vest on). No Moon. Conditions deteriorated badly less than an hour later, cutting the session short.
Seeing: II
Transparency: III to V (started out okay but deteriorated badly)
NELM: started out as 6.0 but got worse thanks to increasing murk and light scatter.
Equipment: 12″ f/5 dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x), 11mm Televue Plossl (137x).

NGC 3726, galaxy in Ursa Major – Large, oval (not quite round) diffuse halo with a stellar core. Oriented north-south, with an 11th mag star on the northern end. 69x, 101x.

NGC 3675, galaxy in Ursa Major – Bright, almost edge-on. Elongated north-south. Brightens to an extended core. A scattering of mag 11/12 stars lies just to the west and a 12th mag star lies on the southern tip. 69x, 101x, 137x.

NGC 5466, globular cluster in Bootes – Faint and large. Dense. With averted vision some stars are resolved with others giving the whole thing a ‘granular’ appearance on a background glow. 69x.

NGC 5466 in Bootes. Image from in accordance with their image use policy (i.e. I haven’t just nicked it!)

NGC 5557, galaxy in Bootes – Fairly bright and round with a bright core. 69x, 137x.

By now, the conditions had deteriorated so much that, after just three quarters of an hour and a meagre four objects, I had to pack it in and call it a night. The sky just got murkier and, in the end, it was impossible to continue with any sensible deep sky observing. It was disappointing as I was hoping for two or three hours, but 45 minutes is better than nothing.

We’ll soon lose our dark skies for the summer as, from late May onwards, astronomical twilight lasts all night with no true darkness until late July/early August. I intend to carry on observing throughout, weather permitting, but I will go back to sketching the brighter stuff, something I have neglected recently as I have preferred to concentrate on seeing as much as possible because sketching is time-consuming so I get through fewer objects.

I’m off on a cruise on Friday, a four day trip on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas from Southampton to Copenhagen via Amsterdam. I am taking my binoculars so, if the sky is clear, I’ll do some binocular observing from any dark spots on the ship’s deck I can find. Unfortunately, cruise ships tend to be lit up from just aft of the bridge to the stern and from the waterline to the wheelhouse roof so I don’t have high expectations – either for darkness or clear skies! Hopefully by the time I get home next week, some thunderstorms and rain will have cleared out the atmosphere a bit.

Observing, 21st April 2011

‘Hunting for galaxies among the dogs’

Now the Moon’s on the wane, it’s time to observe again. We’ve had some glorious weather just recently, with temperatures of 26C/78F, totally unlike April, but this has come at a price with high pressure haze (and smog in the cities). We’re not in a city here, of course, but high pressure haze has been noticeable recently, with blue-white skies during the day and noticeable sky glow above the horizon at night (murk never helps the moonlight situation either, scattering it around).
However, I decided to give it a go anyway, as even hazy skies are better than nothing.

Conditions: No clouds but hazy, some dew, cool (10C/50F). Moon not risen (rises at 0048)
Transparency: III-IV
NELM: 6.0
Equipment: 12″ f/5 dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 15mm Televue Plossl (101x), 11mm Televue Plossl (137x), 8mm Televue Radian (190x)

Canes Venatici. Chart generated with MegaStar5

NGC 4258 = M106, galaxy in Canes Venatici – A nice lollipop, just to get the eye in! Large and bright with a very bright mottled core. Oval, oriented north-south. 69x, 101x

NGC 4248, galaxy in Canes Venatici – Small, faint elongated east-west. 69x, 137x

NGC 4490 = Arp 269 (with NGC 4485), galaxy in Canes Venatici – Bright, irregular galaxy. Broader on southern end than on the northern and has a mottled core. On the northern end, it is much narrower and has a ‘tail’ which bends towards its companion NGC 4485. Flattened on the east side. 69x, 137x, 190x

NGC 4485, galaxy in Canes Venatici – Seen easily at 69x, this is smaller and fainter than NGC 4490. Irregular with no condensation. Together NGCs 4485 and 4490 make a nice pair. 69x, 137x, 190x.

NGC 4618, galaxy in Canes Venatici – Easily located and seen at 69x. An almost round glow, brighter in centre with a stellar nucleus. 69x, 190x.

NGC 5005, galaxy in Canes Venatici – Bright. Oriented WSW-ENE. Halo surrounding a bright core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 5033, galaxy in Canes Venatici – In the same 69x field of view as NGC 5005. 5033 is slightly brighter than 5005 and oriented SSW-NNE. A faint halo surrounds a bright elongated core with a stellar nucleus. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4914, galaxy in Canes Venatici – Located adjacent to a 9th mag star. Faint halo around an elongated core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4244, galaxy in Canes Venatici – This one is a real beaut. It’s a huge, edge-on thin galaxy which cuts SSW-NNE across the field of view. In the 22mm Panoptic, it covers around a third of the diameter of the field of view, and stretches right across the field of view of the 15mm Plossl. It has no nuclear bulge in the middle but brightens slightly towards the core. The galaxy, expecially around the centre, looks mottled. Very nice indeed. It is one of the galaxies I observed at last year’s Texas Star Party for Larry Mitchell’s ‘Super-thin Galaxies’ Advanced Observing Pin. 69x, 101x

As I had to be up for work in the morning and the waning gibbous Moon would soon be rising, I packed up not long after midnight.

Observing, 8th April 2011

It was touch and go whether I’d have an observing session tonight as the antibiotics for a facial infection were making themselves felt in ways other than just clearing up the infection, but it was a reasonable evening so I made myself get the scope out. In the end I was glad I did.
The collimation, for some reason, was miles out, I think it’s because generations of molehills have made the ground uneven and bumpy so the tube does get banged and rattled about in the 20 seconds or so it takes to get from inside the shed to the spot I observe from, I try and position myself so an oak tree the other side of the footpath is between me and an upstairs window of a neighbour’s house so there’s a few feet of bumpy lawn to negotiate. It took ten minutes in the twilight to sort it out but got there in the end, dare I say it but the Moon looked good at 190x and 304x!
I stayed in Virgo, starting in the north and east of the constellation and working my way south and west, in an effort to knock off as many Herschels (400 and 400 II) in there as possible.

Date: 8th April 2011 (into the morning of 9th April)
Conditions: Cloudless but some high pressure haze, waxing crescent Moon 22% illuminated. Some dew but not as bad as the other night.
Seeing: I-II
Transparency: II-III (improved slightly later on)
NELM: I didn’t look at the naked eye limiting magnitude, as I knew it’d be a bit crap thanks to the Moon. The Moon was a crescent but was substantially affecting sky conditions so I would say it was worse than 5.8 at least. It improved later, as the Moon set.
Equipment: 12″ f/5 dob, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 11mm Televue Plossl (137x), 8mm Televue Radian (190x).

MegaStar 5 chart of the main Virgo area, showing Herschel 400 objects. Click to enlarge.

NGC 4754, galaxy in Virgo – In a very pretty field with NGC 4762. 4754 is oval, elongated SW-NE. Moderately bright. The core is brighter than the halo, but not stellar. Very nice indeed. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4762, galaxy in Virgo – This one is very nice indeed. It is edge-on (edge-on galaxies are my favourites) oriented SW-NE. It has an obvious nuclear bulge and there are three bright stars immediately to the west. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4698, galaxy in Virgo – Located between a pair of mag 10 stars. Round, diffuse-looking halo brightens to a non-stellar nucleus. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4866, galaxy in Virgo – Edge on, oriented east-west. Moderately bright, despite competition from moon. There’s a star superimposed on the NW side. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4550, galaxy in Virgo – In the same field as NGC 4551 where they make a nice pair. Elongated east-west. Bright, condenses to bright non-stellar core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4551, galaxy in Virgo – Just east of 4550 this is smaller, rounder and not as bright. Brighter middle. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4900, galaxy in Virgo – Fairly faint diffuse oval glow elongated E-W. Condenses towards centre. Star on southern end. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4666, galaxy in Virgo – Almost edge on, oriented SW-NE. Brightens somewhat towards an elongated core. NGC 4668 in the same field. 69x, 137x, 190x.

NGC 4668, galaxy in Virgo – This is located SE of 4666. It’s a lot smaller and fainter and quite hard to see because of scattered moonlight but appeared as a soft faint glow elongated E-W. Quite small. 69x, 137x, 190x.

NGC 4665, galaxy in Virgo – Bright and round with a bright stellar core. 69x, 137x

NGC 4643, galaxy in Virgo – Small, bright and round with a stellar core. Adjacent to 11th mag star to NE. 69x, 137x.

NGC 4636, galaxy in Virgo – Round halo with bright stellar core. In a nice area. 69x, 137x.

NGC 4179, galaxy in Virgo – Lovely spindle-shaped galaxy oriented N-S. bright non-stellar core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4030, galaxy in Virgo – Bright oval located between and just to the east of two 10th mag stars. Brightens to non-stellar core. Elongated SW-NE. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4303 = M61, galaxy in Virgo – Large and very bright. Oval, elongated N-S with a bright elongated core running N-S. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4273, galaxy in Virgo – A fairly faint oval, elongated N-S. Brightens gradually to core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4281, galaxy in Virgo – Just east of 4273 this is at 90 degrees to it. Oval, elongated E-W. Slightly brighter than 4273. Brightens to core which is not stellar. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4277, galaxy in Virgo – Next to 4273, this is tiny and faint, elongated N-S. 190x.

NGC 4270, galaxy in Virgo – In the same group as 4281, etc. Oval, elongated SW-NE, with some brightening towards the centre. 190x.

NGC 4261, galaxy in Virgo – Bright, round and with a bright core and almost stellar nucleus. 190x.

NGC 4264, galaxy in Virgo – Located NE of 4261 this is much smaller and fainter. The core is brighter than the halo. 190x.

NGC 4546, galaxy in Virgo – Bright oval, elongated E-W. Bright non-stellar core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4697, galaxy in Virgo – Bright, oval elongated E-W. Diffuse halo condenses to core and a bright stellar nucleus. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4958, galaxy in Virgo – Bright edge on galaxy oriented NE-SW. Very bright stellar core. 69x, 190x.

NGC 4995, galaxy in Virgo – Round glow with brighter centre. 69x, 190x.

Packed up at 0130. I didn’t want to but after standing for nearly four hours, my back and feet were beginning to let me know it was time to quit! Because the Moon is now substantially interfereing, this will be my last session until after Full Moon. I was a little surprised at the fact I saw all my targets, all galaxies although none were fainter than 13th magnitude.