1999 Observing sessions

1999 was a very strange – and unpleasant year – for various reasons. I don’t have many notes from then as I had a long seven month break from astronomy during 1999 and into 2000, because I was on the wrong end of a nasty illness that wouldn’t go away and ended up needing hospital treatment. Not fun!

Here are some galaxy observations from April 1999:

I had been observing some galaxies in and around Leo, and a lot of the observations below were made on the night of 1999 April 18.The site I observe from (Kite Hill) is located on the northern coast of the Isle of Wight (located just off England’s south coast) and has a typical naked eye limiting magnitude of around 5.8 on good nights (further south on the Island it is better, because there is nothing but sea between the Island and the coast of France). The weather at this time has not been good, with April showers, and observing each night was a bit of a gamble, as I did not know what the weather on a given night was going to do – typical United Kingdom conditions. On more than one occasion, I had been totally clouded out, contrary to the evening’s weather forecast, when the night had at first looked promising. When you have to drive to your observing site, this is more than mildly irritating, especially with the horrendous cost of petrol in the UK.

The night of the 18th looked less than ideal as it had just been raining, but I decided to take a gamble on the skies clearing. They did clear, and the seeing was excellent, with good transparency, for once. However, as usual this state of affairs did not last all night and the seeing gradually deteriorated. All observations were made on April 18th 1999, except where stated.

All observations made with the same instrument which is an 8.75-inch f/4.5 equatorial Newtonian. I use a seeing/transparency scale of I-V where I=Excellent and V=Very poor.

I’ll start with the Leo observations (these galaxies are all located between Beta, Delta and Theta Leonis):

NGC 3655 This was found easily at 72x. It is located between NGC 3686 and Theta Leonis. At 120x it appears oval and is small, fairly bright and well defined against the background sky. The nucleus is bright. This observation was made on 13 April 1999 and was interfered with by drifting clouds, so was re-observed on 18 April 1999: At 180x, the nucleus is very bright. The galaxy is elongated roughly NE-SW. A very nice view at this power.

NGC 3596. Because this galaxy is in close proximity to Theta Leonis (it is located 40’ to the SSE), it was easily found at 72x. At 72x the star is out of the field of view. The galaxy is large, faint and ill defined. 120x: Galaxy appears uniformly bright – at least I could not see any hint of a nucleus. (Later consultation with The Night Sky Observer’s Guide Volume 2 [Kepple and Sanner, 1998] states that this galaxy has a very faint stellar nucleus, and that was with a scope in the 12 to 14-inch range at 125x! Maybe it’s not surprising I didn’t see the nucleus).

NGC’s 3605, 3607 and 3608. These are located between Delta and Theta Leonis, and were found while I was searching for NGC 3646. Subsequently very easy to re-find. 72x: Nice. There are at least two galaxies in the field of view with possibly a third to the SW. Both galaxies are very bright, with bright compact nuclei. NGC 3607 is brighter and slightly more elongated than 3608, which is round. 180x: there is definitely something else fuzzy to the south west. This is NGC 3605. It is a faint glow.

NGC 3646: This appears large, faint and ill defined against the background sky. In fact, I had to tap the telescope tube to make sure it was really there. Oval and of uniform brightness. Rendered invisible by the slightest haze and even using my dim red torch meant I had to wait for a few seconds for it to reappear in the eyepiece. Elongated NE-SW.

Coma Berenices:

NGC 4494: Found easily at 72x, located between NGC 4565 and 17 Comae. Slightly elongated SSW-NNE. Compact core.

NGC 4448: Again found easily at 72x, adjacent to Gamma Comae. At 72x, it appears bright and elongated roughly E-W. At 120x it shows a bright, small nucleus.

NGC 4559: 72x:galaxy appears large, though faint. It is a well defined oval, elongated NW-SE, and is of even brightness. However, with averted vision, there is some definite brightening towards the centre. 1999 April 9, seeing II, Transparency III

Ursa Major:

NGC 3613: 180x: Oval, elongated E-W and has a bright nucleus. Quite faint, but well defined. 1999 March 14, seeing/trans both III.

NGC 3992 (M109): 72x: Faint against sky. Oval. Compact nucleus. 1999 March 14.