Category Archives: Globular Clusters

Small scope session, 24th July 2011

The dark nights are back, if only for a couple of hours each night, and the nights are drawing in at last. Last night, 24th July, was clear although not perfect so I took my small scopes out instead of getting the 12″ out. Another reason for this was that I wanted to see what the little ones could do on the globular clusters of Ophiuchus.

Date: 24th July 2011
Conditions: Clear, 87% humidity (very dewy), 12° C
NELM: 6.0 decreasing to 5.8 later on.
Transparency: III. Clear, some haze visible. Milky Way still visible but not detailed
Seeing: II
Equipment: 2.75″ (70mm) f/6 Vixen refractor; 4″ (102mm) Meade SCT, 8×42 binoculars; 40mm Televue Plossl, 25mm Televue Plossl, 15mm Televue Plossl.

NGC 6218 (= M12), globular cluster in Ophiuchus -Large and bright. Not resolved in little scope but granular with averted vision. The g.c. has a brighter centre and an irregular shape. 2.75″ refractor with 15mm Plossl (28x).












NGC 6254 (=M10), globular cluster in Ophiuchus – Smaller and slightly brighter than M12. Denser than M12 with a brighter denser core. Round. Unresolved. 2.75″ refractor with 15mm Plossl (28x).











NGC 6426, globular cluster in Ophiuchus – Not seen.

NGC 6366, globular cluster in Ophiuchus – Not seen.

NGC 6705 (=M11), open cluster in Scutum – Visible to the unaided eye and as a bright detached nebulous patch in the Scutum Star Cloud through the 8×42 binoculars. In the 4″ SCT it is a bright, rich, fan shaped cluster. With direct vision it just looks nebulous but with averted vision there are many stars, although there is still a nebulous background. There is a bright star on the eastern point of the ‘fan’. 4″ SCT, 25mm TV Plossl (40x).











NGC 6402 (=M14), globular cluster in Ophiuchus – Round, not resolved. Slightly brighter towards the centre. 8×42 bin.

The scopes were dewing up badly as neither have dew caps so, as it was 1am, I packed up. While I’d rather be doing some more ‘serious’ observing (for want of a better expression), just going outside and using tiny scopes and binoculars to see what can be picked up is fun and can be suprisingly productive.


The little Vixen 2.75″ is a nice little rich field scope and it’s easy to find things with. It’s also easy to use on my photo tripods. However, I feel it’s a little *too* small, but it’s fun to poke round the sky with and see what I can pick up.
The 4″ SCT is much heavier, it’s physically a lot larger and is more of a nuisance on the tripods. It’s not really designed for use on a photo tripod, but I have never had a mount for it, as I bought it second-hand a few years ago. It has to be used with a red-dot finder as the field of view is too narrow to use without one, as it’s an f/10 (1000mm focal length). I am not a fan of red-dot finders but it’s better than nothing.
I am going to want a travel scope (as I am planning a trip to the Southern Hemisphere – probably Australia again – in 2013), which necessarily needs to be small because of airline baggage restrictions but I am not yet sure that either of these will fit the bill. Maybe a good compromise will be a rich-field short-tube refractor of around 3.5 inches, such as those made by Skywatcher or Orion.


All being well, my 18″ should be ready any day now, barring any issues with the mirrors. I haven’t heard that there are any problems, so fingers crossed, it will be done soon.


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, 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 4th August 2010

A day of intermittent heavy rain and thunder gave way to clear skies during the evening, for once exactly as the forecast had predicted. The BBC and Metcheck’s forecasts both agreed, which seems to be a rare event in itself, so as it got dark I went and unlocked the observatory (I like the sound of that!) and pulled the scope out.
Earlier in the evening I had been in a pretty awful mood, no reason just a bad day, and felt more like saying ‘sod it’ and going to bed but I am very glad I didn’t as the sky turned out to be magnificent.
All too often when you step outside and look up, what looks promising at first often proves to be pretty average, even poor, but not last night. After getting dark adapted, I checked the naked eye limiting magnitude, using charts of Ursa Minor and Cygnus, and it was better than 6.5! We have pretty dark skies here, but better than 6.5 is fairly rare. Usually we get between 6.0 and 6.5 but last night was as good as 6.7! I would guess that the heavy rain and thunder had cleared the atmosphere of pollutants and dust. During my trips to the TSP, I’ve seen people using ‘iridescence’ in the Milky Way to gauge transparency – the more iridescent the MW, the more transparent the sky. The Milky Way was just like that here last night, iridescent, which we rarely see because of summer haze. Visible to the unaided eye were M13, M31 (later on when clear of the trees) and NGC 7000, the North America Nebula These were truly great summer observing conditions and well worth the long wait for.

Conditions: Clear, quite chilly
Seeing: Very good: Ant II

Transparency: Excellent – I, but a few odd bits of drifting cloud later on
NELM: 6.5-6.7, dropping slightly when the waning crescent Moon rose later on

First was Aquila and a hunt for the few Herschel 400 objects (three) that are here:

NGC 6781, planetary Nebula in Aquila – Set in nice starry field this is large and oval and quite bright. It’s easily seen without a filter but my OIII brings it out nicely. With the OIII, the pn looks slightly rounder with some darkening in the centre, without the filter I can’t see the darkening very well. Very nice object. 69x, 101x + OIII

NGC 6755, open cluster in Aquila – An attractive, small, compressed cluster set in a nice Milky Way field. Stars all white and evenly bright. Found at 69x as a misty knot, detached from MW star field.
101x shows a tiny, vaguely triangular clump of stars, with around a dozen or so on a hazy background and with a fainter patch next to it but at 138x, the cluster looks like a butterfly with the left wing richer than the right one. Very pretty! 69x, 101x, 138x

NGC 6756, open cluster in Aquila – Next to NGC 6755 in the field of view of the 22mm Panoptic (69x). It’s half a dozen stars on a misty background. Not as rich or as compressed as its neighbour. Framed by a bight star at either end. 69x, 101x, 138x

I saw on my star charts that the globular cluster Palomar 11, also in Aquila, was nearby, and given the excellent conditions I decided to have a crack at seeing it. After quite a few false starts I eventually found it. It’s in quite a rich area and nailing it down was a bit hard. It appears as a roundish brightening of the sky. Its low surface brightness and location in quite a rich part of the sky made finding it difficult but I caught it eventually. The observation of the night, I think. 69x, 101x, 138x, 190x

I also decided to see if I could see ICs 59 and 63 in Cassiopeia. Given the great night it would have been a shame not to go for the faint stuff.

IC 59, IC 63, diffuse nebulae in Cassiopeia – These faint little buggers are right next to Gamma Cas, so it’s necessary to put that out of the field of view before attempting to look for them. IC 59 is a faint fan-shaped patch while IC 63 is fainter still – in fact I barely saw 63, just a mere brightening in the area. 69x + UHC filter.

M31, galaxy in Andromeda – this lovely piece of eye candy is one of my favourites to look at and I always drop in to say ‘hi’ when I am observing and M31 is high enough. Last night’s conditions gave me the best telescopic view I have ever had of this galaxy. Under average skies usually only the bright central area is visible but last night, I could see (using my big 35mm Panoptic, at 43x) the galactic disk spreading out across and beyond the field of view, and the dust lanes. It was spectacular, to say the least.

NGC 6229, globular cluster in Hercules – Very bright and easy to find (made a nice change from Pal 11 and the faint nebulae in Cassiopeia!). Small and round with a dense core at 69x.
At 138x, it began to look granular with some stars resolved, especially the outer ones.
At 190x, individual stars can be seen and the halo and core are very bright, still looked granular across the face. 69x, 138x, 190x.

NGC 6207, galaxy in Hercules – bright and easily seen at 69x. It is completely overshadowed by its big and bright famous neighbour, M13. Oval, with a brighter core. Elongated northeast-southwest. 69x, 101x
I also popped over to see the big showy eye candy neighbour, which was absolutely superb as usual and in the same field they make a nice pair, with the galaxy being a hidden treasure.

Before packing in, I dropped in on Jupiter, which was shining like a big searchlight in the eastern sky, as the seeing was so good, and it looked decidedly odd without the South Equatorial Belt, which has totally faded away.

By 0200, the waning crescent Moon was substantially interfering with the sky conditions and there was more drifting cloud around so that, along with the fact my feet were by now very cold (I was wearing thin trainers) made packing up a Very Good Idea. So did the prospect of work in a few hours. So within five minutes, I’d pulled the scope back into the shed, chucked my charts back in their box, gathered up my eyepieces, locked up and headed back to the house.
As mentioned in my previous post, I’d found that the addition of wheels made my scope eyepiece higher off the ground. I knew it would be higher but not *how* higher. Consequently, viewing stuff at the zenith required standing on tiptoes. This was awkward and uncomfortable, as it hurt my calf muscles and toes, so some sort of small stool was a must. I found a little plastic step stool in Tesco this afternoon, for £2.50, which will fit the bill nicely.

First light in the observatory

The new observatory has now been used for the first time. We’re on a run of crap weather, very unsettled with showers, high winds, the odd sunny spell and almost totally cloudy nights, so observing opportunities this summer have been non-existent (typically, the best weather this summer was at the end of June when the summer twilight made serious deep sky observing impossible or, at least, very difficult). However, last night was an exception, although it wasn’t very clear and there was quite a lot of cloud about.
I’d already carried the scope up the garden and installed it in its new home so it was just a case of wheeling it out and then back in at the end of the sessions – it makes life so much easier and I very much doubt if I’d have even bothered last night if I’d have had to carry the scope from the house and set up.

Here’s the inside of the observatory shed, with the 12″ under tarpaulins (these will give it that little bit of extra protection *just in case*), folding chair, box containing star charts, atlases, gloves, hat, torches and sketchbooks, my dog’s basket for her to curl up in as she always comes with me when I observe and some pictures on the wall. I also have a couple of shelves for bits and pieces. However, anything of real value, apart from my cheap reflector which isn’t worth nicking, such as binoculars and eyepieces, are staying inside the house and any potential thief wanting to lug a large and very heavy scope down the garden, past some stranger-loathing dogs and out the gate is an idiot and deserves to be arrested on grounds of stupidity. The photo’s a bit distorted, that’s thanks to the 17mm end of my wideangle lens and not because of my construction abilities!

The day before yesterday, I fixed the casters to the blocks that I was going to use to attach the wheels to the base. I bolted the wheels to the blocks using bolts, unfortunately two of the bolts sheered off rendering them useless but the rest went on ok. I just hope they can stand up to being wheeled over rough ground every clear night, as the top lawn isn’t the smoothest, what with the mole hills and vole holes, etc.
I then fixed the blocks and wheels to the base using ‘No More Nails‘, which is a type of glue which is supposed to be strong – it’s the sort of thing you see the ads for where someone’s used this stuff to put shelves up and the ad shows a man sitting on the shelves to ‘prove’ that it’s strong and won’t come unbonded (in reality, it ain’t *that* good; if it was, the soap dish would stay fixed to the bathroom tiles). I let it set overnight, for the recommended 24 hours. However, as soon as I put the rocker box on top, the wheels promptly fell off it- just like they’d fallen off my clever idea – although, fortunately the scope itself was still sitting in my room and therefore didn’t come to grief. So it was time for a rethink, which didn’t take long as it was a case of having to screw the wheels to the base. We have electric drills but I couldn’t find the drill bits, so I went across the way and borrowed our neighbour and his battery-operated drill and, between us, we got the wheels (hopefully) securely fixed to the base. Quite why I thought ‘No More Nails‘ or any sort of glue was a good idea, especially in light of our laws-of-gravity-proving soap dish, I have no idea! I think I was trying to do it the easy way, or so I thought.

Back to the quick observing session, I wheeled the scope out, collimated it and got going. The beauty of the scope being out in a shed is that cool-down times are very short and, except on hot days/nights, practically non-existent. Because of the lousy conditions I didn’t do a lot, just poked around, looking at NGC 5653 in Bootes, M14 in Ophiuchus and NGC 7006 in Delphinus. I did find, however, that the addition of the wheels and blocks raised the height of the scope by several inches and that I, and I’m not short, have to stand on tiptoe to see anything at the zenith, which is not very comfortable for extended periods of time, making prolonged observations difficult. I need to get a short stepstool for that.
I also didn’t have an observing table for my charts, etc, so I had to use the floor and, with my dodgy knee that wasn’t comfortable. I have ordered a 4ft folding table from Amazon and that should turn up tomorrow. When I observed from the patio I used to use the kitchen extension as an observatory and the top of the small chest freezer as a chart table. That is no longer practical as I am so far from the house, so the folding table should do nicely.

Conditions: Cool, no dew.
Seeing: Very good, Ant II Transparency: poor, with high clouds
NELM: 6.0, falling to 5.8 when the last quarter Moon rose, washing out the sky.
Instrument: 12″ f/5 Dob, 22mm Panoptic and 15mm Plossl

NGC 5653, galaxy in Bootes – a poor view, due to lousy sky conditions. I could just make out a roundish smudge, not a lot brighter than the background sky. Haze was interfering with this quite badly, as was the low altitude of Bootes. 69x, 101x.

M14 (NGC 6402), globular cluster in Ophiuchus – very large and bright. Round. Some condensation towards the centre. Looks smooth when looked at with direct vision, but granular, with a few stars resolved, with averted vision. The scope was effectively reduced to 6″ by the hedge – I’d not set it up in my intended place. 69x, 101x

NGC 7006, globular cluster in Delphinus – small and bright. Round with bright core. 69x, 101x. I want to observe this, likewise NGC 5653 in Bootes, in more favourable conditions.

By this time, the clouds were worse and the rising last quarter Moon was interfering with observations, so I rolled the scope back in, put my charts away and locked it. It took me a fraction of the time it used to take to both set up and put away, before it would take me a good 20 minutes, maybe more to tear down and carry everything, including the scope, inside, now I’m indoors and heading for bed within 5 minutes! This will lead to many more observing sessions and, as I said at the beginning of this post, observing under less-than-favourable conditions and/or when tired will now happen far more often. Not only that, I have far more space inside my bedroom as the Dob occupied too much of the floor.

From the notebooks – Australia 1997

I was going through old observing note books to scan in my sketches for my new website and I came across some from my observing trip to Australia in 1997. Those brought back some exciting and magical memories! I have decided to share some of the best ones here, as well as in their categories on my web site.
Click each image for a larger view.

NGC 5139, the great Omega Centauri. This ‘King of the Globular Clusters’ can be seen from southern Europe and the southern United States but has to be seen from the Southern Hemisphere in order to appreciate it in its full glory.
I looked at this wherever I went during both trips Downunder, from South America and also each time I have gone far enough south in the Northern Hemisphere to see it.
It’s huge, slightly elliptical and has a curious footprint-shaped area of less star density or obscuring dust, just off-centre. Spectacular.

8″ Cassegrain at 72x, Manly, Brisbane, Qld, Australia
August 11th, 1997

NGC 4755, the Jewel Box cluster in Crux.
This is my favourite star cluster, shaped like a capital ‘A’ and made up of blue and white stars of varying brightnesses but with a conspicuous red giant at the centre.

8″ Celestron SCT, Alice Springs, NT, Australia
July 21st, 1997

NGC 6822, galaxy in Sagittarius. This is Barnard’s Galaxy, a faint dwarf galaxy. The galaxy was a faint elliptical glow, quite faint against the background sky. Elongated 2:1 north-south with no central brightening.

20″ Dobsonian at 60x. Lions Camp Duckadang, Linville, Qld, Australia
August 26th 1997

NGC 55, galaxy in Sculptor.
At -39 S, this is too low to be seen from England, even from the IW (our theoretical cut off is -40 but with atmospheric extinction, not a chance). Huge elongated galaxy with a very bright, mottled core. Only just fits into field of view at 120x.

12.5″ Dall-Kirkham Cassegrain
Ellesmere, Qld, Australia
August 3rd 1997

NGC 7293, the Helix Nebula in Aquarius
I made two separate observations of this. One was from a rural site, the other from an urban one. Needless to say, I saw the nebula without an OIII filter more easily from the countryside than I did with a filter from the suburbs of Brisbane, where it was invisible. It was also 1st quarter Moon when I saw it in the suburbs.
Very large, oval ring with a low surface brightness and diffuse outer edges. No central star seen. Drawing made at the suburban site.
8″ Cassegrain at 72x, Manly, Brisbane, Qld, Australia
August 11th, 1997

Observing, March 15th 2010

Skies were looking good the other evening, so I dragged out the 12 inch for a Herschel session. On setting it up, though, I found the alignment was out, way out in fact, which was annoying and a problem that the new collimation springs I’d bought for it was supposed to prevent. However, I put the problem down to the fact that I’d resorted to transporting the heavy and awkward tube into the garden with a sack trolley which must have knocked the mirror and cell.
Once I’d sorted that out, I left it to cool and went inside to help my aunt with some sorting out of stuff she wanted done (the house is being re-arranged and a massive chuck-out is going on), badly slashing my thumb in the process, while trying to take down a burnt-out light fitting, and having to get it bandaged up – with my aunt on crutches after a foot operation the kitchen looked like A&E – but once this was done, the observing began.
Date 15th March 2010
Time: 2045 – 2300 UT
Conditions: chilly (around 1C), misty, no wind
Seeing: I-II
Transparency: III
NELM: 5.8-6.0 (mist causing light scatter)
Equipment: 12 inch f5 Dobsonian, 22mm Televue Panoptic (69x), 11mm Televue Plossl (138x), 8mm Televue Radian (190x) and OIII filter
First up, into Leo where NGCs 3607 and 3608 made a nice pair in the same field of view of the 22mm Panoptic. Also in the f.o.v. was NGC 3599 which is a lot fainter.
NGC 3607, galaxy in Leo – bright, oval suddenly brightens to a very bright nucleus. 69x, 138x.
NGC 3608, galaxy in Leo – slightly fainter than 3607. Also oval with slightly brighter centre. 69x, 138x.

NGC 3955, galaxy in Leo – considerably fainter than the other two, oval. Non-Herschel.  69x, 138x.
NGC 3626, galaxy in Leo – smaller than 3607/8, fainter, elongated north-south. Brightens towards centre to a bright nucleus. 69x, 138x.
NGC 3655, galaxy in Leo – elongated north-south. Brightens gradually to non-stellar core. Fairly bright, small, oval. Well defined against background sky. 69x, 138x
NGC 2903, galaxy in Leo – very bright and easy to find. Elongated north-south, oval. Slight hint of spiral structure. Brightens to very bright, almost stellar, nucleus. Nice! One I want to return to on a better night. 69x, 138x.
NGC 3344, galaxy in Leo Minor – round, almost even glow, brightening slightly towards middle. Two bright foreground stars are in the eastern half of the galaxy. 69x. 138x.
NGC 2859, galaxy in Leo Minor – small, round, with quite faint outer halo. Brightens considerably to very bright core. 69x, 138x.
NGC 2782, galaxy in Lynx – round. Not bright. Brightens gradually towards a compact core. 69x, 138x.
NGC 2371/2, planetary nebulae in Gemini – at 69x looks elongated with a distinctly ‘figure of 8’ look about it, or looking like a peanut. At medium power (138x) the two lobes are very obvious and one lobe (the western one) is much brighter than it’s neighbour. At higher power (190x – highest I could go to on such a crummy night and with my collimation a bit out) the appearance is of two ovals adjacent to each other, each elongated approx. north-south. 69x, 138x, 190x + OIII filter.
NGC 2419, globular cluster in Lynx – round, even glow with no condensation. Nicely marked out by three bright stars in an arc pointing straight at it. Moderately bright, well defined against background sky. No stars resolved. although with averted vision some granulation (hinting at stars) appears.  69x, 138x, 190x.

Reluctantly packed up at 2300 UT; I would have gone on for a lot longer, only I had to be up at 0600 for work the following morning. It was a good session, better than I expected, despite the crummy conditions and my poor throbbing, massacred, thumb. I have now crept up to 11% of Herschels observed in the initial 400 list.

Nebula chasing around Cygnus. And a few other things.

It was again a clear night last night and it turned out to be a pretty good session.

25-26 September 2009. Conditions: Chilly at 8 degrees C (later 6 degrees C), humidity 84%. Seeing Antoniadi scale II-III, transparency II-III. Limiting magnitude 6 to 6.2 later on.
Instruments: 12 inch f/5 Dobsonian and 8×42 binoculars

After the previous night’s hassles I didn’t bother collimating the scope and, as it turned out, it was slightly out (as expected) but otherwise not too bad.

After the requisite time spent getting dark adapted, I went for a bit of an ambitious first target: Pease 1, the planetary nebula in the Pegasus globular cluster M15. After locating the cluster itself, I put an OIII filter onto the eyepiece, the highest power I could get. I have to admit, that I am not sure if I saw Pease 1 or not. The OIII dims the cluster nicely, but the planetary is a teeny little thing and could have been any one of the stars not dimmed too much by the OIII. I am going to print some decent charts off and have another go at it next time (and when my scope is properly collimated – I have sent off for a new laser collimator today, my Revelation one is totally buggered and refuses to work at all now. I think my hurling it across the garden the other evening has completely finished it off!). Even blinking the filter in and out of the eyepiece didn’t really make anything stand out.
M15 itself, as ever was a pleasant sight. Bright condensed core and with many stars resolved. 190x

I gave up on Pease 1 and moved onto brighter things.

NGC 6800 is a nice open cluster in Vulpecula, easy to locate. It is large, loose and irregular. Not bright, stars of uniform brightness. Some of the stars form a circle around the middle of the cluster, but the centre of this circle contains no stars. Nice with the 35mm TV Panoptic (43x). Sketched with the 25mm Plossl (61x).

Next was the Veil Nebula in Cygnus. This is one of my all time favourite objects and tonight I spent over an hour looking at, and sketching, the components NGC 6960, NGC 6992 and NGC 6995 (these last two form a large loop).

NGC 6960 is the western portion of the Veil and is visible without a filter but UHC brings it out nicely. However, OIII gives the best view and the nebulosity looks fatter and more detailed with the OIII. It looks like a witches broom (in fact I think ‘Witches Broom’ is a nickname for it) with a bright star where the handle meets the brush. The northern part of NGC 6960 is brighter than the southern part and reminds me of cigarette smoke as it leaves the cigarette. In the southern end, it widens and gradually fades out. 38x + OIII

NGC 6992 and NGC 6995 form the eastern portion of the Veil. This is huge and does not all fit into the 1 degree field of view of the 40mm TV Plossl (38x). it is very bright and I can see filaments, especially at the southern end. The eastern side is much brighter, while the western side is faintern and fades out. 38x + OIII

NGC 6826, the Blinking Planetary in Cygnus: Very small and bright. Obvious as an out-of-focus star. It’s bright even unfiltered, but an OIII filter makes a big difference. This is visible with direct vision but averted vision makes it look twice as bright and twice as big. Blueish tinge without the filter. 101x + OIII

NGC 7008, planetary nebula in Cygnus: Small, bright pn located within irregularly-shaped dark nebula Le Gentil 3 – itself easily visible to the unaided eye. This is bright and triangular. There is a star at the apex of the triangle. It is brighter on the north eastern side. Only the brighter portions are immediately visible without a filter, but an OIII shows the whole object. 101x + OIII.

Le Gentil 3, dark nebula on border of Cepheus and Cygnus: large, irregular dark nebula. Visible to unaided eye. Also looked at through binoculars.

Sharpless 2-112, nebula in Cygnus: Easy to find. Faint. Small. Roundish. 101x + UHC.

NGC 1907, open cluster in Auriga. Auriga has some nice open clusters. NGC 1907 is one such, although a tad overlooked due to its close proximity to M38. Small, compressed and hazy looking at low powers. Increased magnification shows lots of foreground stars although the background stays nebulous. Rich. 101x.

After a cup of coffee and a general poke around the sky, I packed up at 0330. By then my feet were cold (and the cold was getting into the ankle joints, too; standing on concrete is not good because it’s hard and cold) and it was getting more of a chore looking for stuff.

A good session and made up for the previous night’s aggravations! Although I still didn’t find the Perseus Galaxy Cluster…

Awesome night, 28/29 August 2009

I am back in business with a 12″ scope so last night was its first time out. It took a while to set up as the tube is heavy, although more awkward than actually difficult trying to get it out of the house without knocking the tube. I had planned really to mess around with it, looking at ‘lollipops’ and getting it ‘just so’ but it turned into a full-on serious session.
The session didn’t get off to a great start as firstly, my laser collimator started acting up, only intermittently working and a change of batteries made no difference (it’s just over a year old, so I have emailed Telescope House about it), although I did manage to get the scope collimated very well in the end, and then a grasshopper jumped on my head. I hate bugs and when I felt this seemingly huge creepy crawly on my head and it’s disgusting little legs walking on me I yelled, jumped six feet in the air and ran indoors in a totally girlie display of cowardice. Fortunately my aunt, who hadn’t yet gone to bed, rescued me from this thing – or rescued it from me, depending on your point of view. I am an absolute coward about large insects, spiders and centipedes, etc, so I donned a baseball cap and a hooded top with the hood pulled over my head, to prevent any more unpleasant surprises. Yes, I looked like a complete chav but who cares in the dark? Better to look like a chav than be a convenient perch for various disgusting bugs!

Onto the session:
Conditions: Clear, the odd drifting cloud at first but then completely clear from around 10pm onwards. There was a waxing gibbous Moon at first but that set around midnight, so that did not interfere and it was very low in the sky.
Very breezy, around 20mph, did not die down all night. Humidity 68%; temp 12 degrees C (feels colder; very autumnal, due to the wind).

Seeing steady, transparency good with good contrast in the Milky Way once the waxing gibbous Moon had set. NELM 5.8 at first to 6.5 later on.
Instrument: 12 inch f5 Dobsonian.

NGC 6934, a globular cluster in Delphinus.
This was very bright and condensed. Slightly oval and brightens towards the core. It looks granular with direct vision and with averted vision some stars are resolved. 61x, 138x

NGC 6905, planetary nebula in Delphinus.
This took a bit of searching for but I eventually found it. Its located between Delphinus and the tip of Sagitta. Small, round and very bright. Slight ‘fluffy’ appearance. OIII brings it out well. In my notes I put ‘Very slight hint of’ and didn’t finish the sentence for some reason. ‘Very slight hint of…what’ I wonder? I’ll have to go back to that one I think. 190x

NGC 6207, galaxy in Hercules.
This galaxy is often overlooked as it is right next to the big showy globular M13. It is a nice edge-on galaxy, elongated NE-SW. It’s easy to find, mainly because it is so close to M13 and is easy to see in the 12″. It has a slightly mottled appearance with a brighter middle. I put it out of the field of view to observe it, but when it’s in the same f.o.v. as M13 together they make a pretty sight. 61x, 190x

Hickson 92/Arp 319 – Stephan’s Quintet, galaxy group in Pegasus.
Finally found Stephan’s Quintet with my own scope (I have seen it through other scopes in the past, but not found it myself). I have looked for this in the past, probably over ambitiously, with my 8″ from here and – maybe unsurprisingly – saw nothing, although I have read reports of people getting this group with scopes as small as six inches aperture (but they were under Arizona skies and not humid, particle laden UK ones). It is a short star hop just south west of NGC 7331.
Through the 12″ the group was faint and I saw the five (if NGC 7318A and B are counted as two and not one) members with averted vision, two reasonably ‘bright’ and the others fainter. These were NGC 7317, NGC 7318 A/7318B, NGC 7319, NGC 7320. I put the magnification up to 190x to darken the sky and this paid off with a better view of the group.
The galaxies are interacting here, hence the Arp designation. 61x, 190x, 304x

NGC 7331, NGC 7335 and NGC 7337, galaxies in Pegasus.
NGC 7331 is a very bright, elongated galaxy. The middle is very bright and looks mottled. NGC 7335 and NGC 7337 which are in the same f.o.v. are much, much fainter. Both are oval glows showing no detail. NGC 7337 is smaller than 7335, but both are equally bright (or not!). 61x, 190x

NGC 404, galaxy in Andromeda.
This one is always a piece of cake to find because it is located next to Beta Andromedae. Once B And is out of the field (higher magnification is needed here) 404 is easy to see being quite bright. It’s round with a brighter middle. I used a magnification of 304x which gave a nice view darkening the background and increasing contrast. 61x, 190x, 304x

NGC 278, galaxy in Cassiopeia.
Round glow with brighter middle. easy to see. 61x, 190x, 304x

NGC 672 and IC 1727, galaxies in Triangulum.
After the obligatory look at M31 (fantastic with the dust lane very prominent at 61x), M32, M33 and M110 it was back to the serious stuff. NGC 672 is very faint, nondescript bar of light elongated east to west. It’s evenly bright. IC 1727 which is in the same field of view is an even fainter, more nondescript object, a mere elongated brightening of the back ground sky. 61x, 190x, 304x

By now it was 0320 and by the time I’d packed away my eyepieces, atlases and notes and lugged the scope back indoors I got to bed at 4 o’clock. It was a fantastic session of serious deep sky observing, the first in a long time. I have sketches, but I need to redo them onto another sheet and scan them in, so they’ll appear later.
It was nice to see Orion rising in the east with the promise of long winter nights observing…

I’m very pleased with the 12 inch so far, it performs well at high magnifications and the contrast is good. The stars are pinpoints and the scope is easy to push round the sky.

Observing session 19th August 2009

Another clear night! Sadly it will have to be another short session due to work in the morning (and I’d already overslept this morning as it was!). So, another binocular session.

Clear, but transparency not as good as previous night due to contrails from jets passing overhead. The Isle of Wight sits directly below the approach paths to Heathrow, Gatwick and other major airports plus transAtlantic traffic originating on the Continent (I assume that some Continental European traffic for eastern China and Japan also go over here as these routes often go over the North Pole). Can’t very well complain though as I – wanting to get out of the UK as often as humanly possible! – do a fair bit of flying myself! The contrails do dissapate quite quickly.
Warmer than previous night: 14 degrees C. Humidity 80%. No wind. Steady seeing.
Instrument used: 8×42 Leica binoculars.

Collinder 399: Open cluster (or asterism?) in Vulpecula
The famous Coathanger, and looks exactly like an upside down coat hanger. Through the binoculars I can see 11 stars, all bright ones, with 6 in the bar and another 5 in the hook. The hook contains the brightest stars, two of which are around a magnitude brighter than the others. Observation interfered with by jet trails.

Tried to observe NGC 6934, a globular cluster in Delphinus but a vapour trail was sat right over it. One for later.

NGC 6709: Open cluster in Aquila
Easily found to SW of Zeta and Epsilon Aquilae. Fairly large roundish o.c. hazy with direct vision but some stars resolved with direct vision. Will observe this with scope at some point.

NGC 6934: Globular cluster in Delphinus
Now the contrail has cleared I could have a go at this g.c. It wasn’t that hard to find but not very easy to see. It looks like a round, fuzzy, fat star in the 8x42s.

NGC 6716: Open cluster in Sagittarius
This was easy to find (along with neighbouring Cr 394), despite its low altitude. Large and with some members seen. It would undoubtedly be miles better from a more southerly location, such as southern Europe.

NGC 6520: Open cluster in Sagittarius
Not a chance. Far too low in the murk. Will try earlier tomorrow night if clear.

NGC 6633: Open cluster in Ophiuchus
Very easily found near IC 4756 (itself easy to see and also on the challenge list). Triangular, rich and very bright. Many stars resolved. Nebulous background which means many more should be seen in a scope.

IC 4756: Open cluster in Ophiuchus
Huge o.c. Next to NGC 6633. Irregular. Very large and rich. many stars seen with both averted and direct vision. Impressive. Can’t wait to get sorted with big scope and get that onto it!

IC 4665: Open cluster in Ophiuchus
Very easy to find. Large, splashy o.c. near Beta Ophiuchi (Cebalrai). Irregular. Many bright stars visible with averted vision and even a dozen or so easily seen directly.

The following night (20th) I went out early, as it was getting dark, to try for NGC 6520 which I’d failed to see on the 19th as I’d left it too late in the session and it was too low to be seen, lost in the murk. Well, I did eventually see it, here’s the observation:

NGC 6520: Open cluster in Sagittarius
Only just seen, after a time for my eyes to adjust and it was ridiculously faint due to low altitude and atmospheric pollutants. A small patch barely visible against background sky. No stars resolved. Will have to have another bash at this one next year, earlier in the year when Sagittarius is as high as it gets in the UK sky.
This has to go down as the shortest observing session ever due to tiredness, the need to go to work in the morning and a fair bit of drifting cloud!

These observations over the past evenings take care of the summer set of AL Deep Sky Binocular objects. The rest I will do during the autumn and winter.


Should hopefully be sorted out on the scope front this week…