Observing, 27th November 2011

Finally got some observing in after what seemed like weeks – in fact was weeks – of nothing but thick cloud and mist. It’s felt like the world has had a lid on it. The only glimpse of the sky beyond has been a few bloated stars and the Moon. It was very depressing and not just from the astronomy point of view either; no one likes endless murk. Yesterday was clear so, before it got dark, I got the 18 inch out and set it up, as well as erecting the light screen.

Last night’s session wasn’t the greatest, as the transparency was crap and I ran into a hitherto unforeseen problem – moles. After a hiatus they are back (and have brought all their friends and relations), molehills have sprung up everywhere and the top lawn is totally undermined, as I found out last night when one side of the ladder sank into one of the tunnels and I fell off as I was observing the NGC 1129 galaxy group in Perseus! I need to come up with some sort of solution that is non-lethal to the moles (the damage is now done and I hate killing things) and non-hazardous to me; what I have in mind is a meter-square piece of plywood to go beneath the ladder which will prevent it sinking into tunnels.

I’ll add the object details in later but I observed NGC 7711 and some members of the NGC 1129 group – NGC 1129 itself, NGC 1130, NGC 1131 and MCG+7-7-3 – before I was rudely interrupted by the kitchen light going on and obliterating the fainter members of the group (my aunt had switched it an and forgotten about it so I went down to the house, with my observing eye tightly shut, to turn it off) and, once I’d relocated the galaxies and repositioned the ladder, one side of the ladder then sank into a mole tunnel. Because of this, my notes are sparse and half the cluster went unobserved, so I’ll need to return to that group at some point. I then couldn’t refind the galaxies because the transparency had given out completely, with mist coming in, so I gave up and looked at Jupiter instead. Because the seeing was so good, Jupiter was fabulous at 247x, looking like a yellow-and-brown barcode with plenty of bands on show and the Great Red Spot was very obvious indeed. The Galilean Moons were also good, showing colour (Io) and they were little disks rather than mere points of light. This is almost the best view I have had of Jupiter from just about anywhere – the only better view was through Jimi Lowrey’s 48 inch scope in West Texas in 2008.

Before packing up, I noticed Orion was rising, so I aimed the scope at M42. Despite being so low down in the murk, with the Trapezium looking bloated and twinkling in many colours, the nebula itself was still very bright and obvious. I had to crouch down to look through the eyepiece but I have now said ‘Hello’ to the Great Nebula as I do every winter.

So it wasn’t the best session ever but it was nice to get outside, see some deep sky objects and get those fabulous views of Jupiter. Oh, and I knocked a whole two objects off my Herschel 2500 list. The light screen also worked very well, blocking out the neighbour’s lights as well as affording a little more privacy.