Tuesday 11th May was my second day at TSP, but I didn’t do any observing at the ranch that night as I got invites from Jimi Lowrey and Alvin Huey (who was staying at Jimi’s) to go and observe with them at the 48″. This was far too good an opportunity to pass up and we had an awesome observing session with good transparency and periods of good seeing.
Obviously, using such a vast scope means that faint stuff becomes fair game and we wanted to view some esoteric objects but, of course we couldn’t resist looking at some eye candy as well as the dim and distant.
Conditions: Clear, cool but not cold
Seeing: around II-IV
Transparency: Excellent, great detail and iridescence in Milky Way when it rose.
Instrument: 48 inch f4 Dobsonian. Eyepieces: Televue Ethos 17mm (287x), Zeiss ZAO-II 10mm (488x), Zeiss ZAO-II 6mm (814x), Zeiss ZAO-II 4mm (1220x).
NGC 3242, planetary nebula in Hydra – We started off with this lovely piece of eye candy. This is, like all eye candies, pretty nice in more modest apertures but is absolutely sensational in the eyepiece of ‘Barbarella’. There are two green rings, the inner ring is more oval than the outer one and is thickened at each end while the outer one has a furry appearance. The central star is bright. Between the rings is ‘gauzy’ looking nebulosity which has a tinge of pink to it and the whole p.n. looks three-dimensional. I try not to write ‘wow’ in observing descriptions but…like, um…wow. As they say. Fabulous! 814x
IC 4277 and IC 4278, galaxies next to NGC 5195 – no description written down.
UGC 9242, galaxy in Bootes – Very flat, edge on. Mottled, with knots visible. Core not bright and the whole thing is fairly evenly bright across. 814x
Arp 84 in Canes Venatici – this is an interacting pair, NGC 5395 and NGC 5394 (the smaller of the two). Nicknamed the ‘Heron’ and it does look like that big water bird, this is very bright and detailed. NGC 5395 is huge in the eyepiece, elongated north-south, with a bright core and spiral arms which are somewhat distorted because of the interaction with 5394.
NGC 5394 is much smaller and is bright, with a slightly brighter centre. A tail of material is trailing from NGC 5394 and a bridge of stars can be seen linking the two galaxies. 814x
Arp 105 and Ambartsumian’s Knot, galaxies in Ursa Major – This is a busy area, with several galaxies and other ‘bits ‘n’ pieces. NGCs 3561 and 3561A are the brightest galaxies in the field, with quite bright MCG+5-27-12 and an anonymous galaxy nearby. A long very, very faint tidal tail stretches off to the north with a very faint knot, VV237f, at the end of it; I could see this some of the time with averted vision and had to look for a long time to be 100% certain it was there (this is on the famous AINTNO list but when we mentioned this to Barbara and Larry the following day at the ranch they were, to say the least, skeptical. Ok, they plain didn’t believe us, which was a shame. 🙁 ).
Ambarsumian’s Knot, VV237b, lies immediately to the south of NGC 3561 and is visible as a faint, slightly elongated smudge of light.
VII Zwicky 466, galaxy in Draco – A ring galaxy, this is small and fairly faint but the ring structure is easily visible. Elongated. Inside the ring, it is evenly bright. The ring is slightly thicker on one side. There are three other galaxies nearby, one of which is edge on. 814x
QSO0957+561 A/B, quasar in Ursa Major – The Double Quasar, visually, isn’t much to look at but knowing what it is, is what makes it exciting to observe. It is a gravitationally-lensed quasar, located 8.7 billion light years away, while the lensing galaxy itself is much closer at 3.7 billion light years.
Both components easily seen, looking like a fuzzy double star, and easily split during moments of good seeing with an obvious gap between them. I could see a hint of fuzziness around the quasar(s) which may, or may not, be the lensing galaxy (this is also on the AINTNO list but, again, we were met with disbelief. 🙁 ) 814x
The three quasars surrounding NGC 3842 in Leo – These are also on the (in)famous AINTNO List and we saw them. Not easily, but they were there. Looking for each in turn they each popped into view during moments of good seeing. Each was a tiny, stellar-looking pinprick of light.
The Jet in M87, in Virgo – Easily seen as a faint ‘pencil’ of light coming from the centre of the galaxy. The orientation of the field of view meant that the jet was located at ‘8 o’clock’ from the nucleus. Another observing ambition realised. 814x
DHW 1-2, planetary nebula in Ophiuchus – Located between two bright stars. Oval, with brightening on one side. Unfiltered, the central star pops into view during moments of good seeing. 488x
NGC 6309, planetary nebula in Ophiuchus – Very bright and blue. Elongated and rectangular. Filaments seen at sides.
Rose 13 (Shakhbazian 19), galaxy group in Coma Berenices – A tight, faint group. Three components seen, one of which was very elongated. A difficult group. 814x.
As well as all the faint stuff, we got blown off the ladder with stunning views of M51, NGC 6543 (the Cat’s Eye Nebula) and M17.
What a fantastic observing session with the giant scope. It’s always a treat to be able to observe with scopes such as this and Larry’s 36 inch, opportunities like this don’t come along often and, when they do, they have to be made the most of and I think we did just that. As much as I love viewing ‘lollipops’ (don’t we all?) I also love looking at faint, difficult objects that few people have ever heard of and even fewer have actually seen visually – that tidal tail from NGC 3561A down to VV237f is a case in point; it would seem that only three people in the whole world have ever visually seen it and that’s myself, Alvin Huey and Jimi Lowrey!
We packed up at dawn and, due to tiredness plus the prospect of walking into the ranch (not a great distance but distinctly unappealing after an all-night sesh), we slept at Jimi’s before returning to the ranch later that morning – and I have to say that Jimi’s sofa is far more comfortable than the Prude bunks!
Finally, a quick note of caution – you have got to be careful when observing at the top of very tall ladders. It is not an experience for those of a nervous disposition and those scared of heights. I am not keen on heights, but I feel it is absolutely worth it for the views you get. However, I am very careful, as it would be easy to drop an eyepiece and hit someone or smash the eyepiece or, worse, to forget where you’re putting your feet and take a tumble. I very nearly did that, when I overbalanced and nearly went ‘a over t’ from the very top of the ladder before just as quickly regaining my balance. A fall would have certainly resulted in broken bones and I very much doubt if my travel insurance would pay out for falling off a ladder while standing at the top of it, on tiptoes, in the dark, looking at a very faint object through a giant telescope.