2005 Observing sessions

It hasn’t been a bad year for observing, although I could have done a lot more. I wasted a lot of clear nights in the summer and early autumn, although I also had some great sessions in early winter. Anyway, for non-astronomy reasons, thank heavens 2005 is over as it wasn’t one of the best years; a lot of personal crap happened and, on a more trivial note, Saints got relegated from the Premier League on May 15th.

26 December 2005: Found and sketched NGC 772 in Aries. The conditions again weren’t great so it was another short session.

24 December 2005: The conditions looked superficially ok, so I set up. I soon quit due to high thin cloud as well as drifting thicker stuff. It’s frustrating when this happens.

19 December 2005: Only had one hour before the moon rose, so I found and sketched NGC 6811 in Cygnus. Not exactly the best time of year to look at anything in that area as it is gettting pretty low. Gave up due to misty conditions and rising moon.

04 December 2005: This session didn’t start that well because, for some reason, I couldn’t find NGC 7662 (the Blue Snowball), a planetary nebula in Andromeda. I gave up on that and looked instead at the M81/M82 group in Ursa Major, which included the faint galaxies NGC 3077 and 2976. I spend an hour in and around that group before turning to the rising Leo. I made a quick observation of NGC 3227 in the ‘sickle’ part. Finally I observed NGC 2438, a planetary nebula on the border of M46 in Puppis. This is quite a sight among the stars of the o.c.

29 November 2005: A nice long session although I began it with a bad headache of the migraine variety – in fact I very nearly didn’t bother but it turned out to be an excellent session. A very cold evening with frost coming down even as I was setting up at 1700. It was 5 degrees below zero, but I was nice and warm due to dressing sensibly, with lots of thin layers and a hat.

I re-observed NGC 7331 and made a much better sketch because I used a higher magnification and I wasn’t bothered by clouds. I also saw one of 7331’s little friends, NGC 7335. This was pretty faint but several minutes of averted vision revealed it nicely. Looked for NGC’s 7332, 7339 and Stephan’s Quintet but couldn’t find them.

I had a go at IC 434 in Orion, but although I suspected seeing it, I couldn’t be sure, due to the glare from Zeta Orionis. Finished up at 2315 with an observation of the planetary nebula NGC 2392 in Gemini.

26 November 2005: Sketched NGC 7331 from backyard. Short session because of clouds.

24 November 2005: This was a quick session at the Vectis AS’ observatory. I used the 12″ Meade SCT to locate and sketch NGC 891 (I got fed up with searching, so resorted to a Goto system!). I also saw Stephan’s Quintet (pretty faint, but nice) and NGC 7331. I managed to sketch NGC 891, but had no time to sketch the others.

22 November 2005: Spent the first part of the session looking for NGC 891 and totally failing to find it, so that was over an hour wasted. I gave up and sketched NGC 1907, a small, faint, round open cluster right next to M38 in Auriga and NGC 2158 a small, faint o.c. in Gemini and which is also next to a showpiece, this time M35. Finished the session with a sketch of M42/M43 (I can never resist these gems!) and NGC 1980. Packed up when moon rose.

21 November 2005: Very clear, slight breeze, cold: 0C to -3C. Sketched M2 in Aquarius, but I’m not too happy with it, so I will sketch it again next year. I also found and drew NGC 404 in Andromeda. This was far easier than I thought it would be because the galaxy is located right next to Beta Andromedae. Putting Beta out of the field of view made seeing NGC 404 much easier – it is a round glow with a brighter middle. Failed to locate NGC 289.

20 November 2005: Clear, no wind, -2C with moon 4 days past full. Sketched NGC 6934 a globular cluster in Delphinus and completed a sketch of M15. By then the moon was rising and the temperature was down to -4C. I also finished a sketch of M36, begun on 6 November.

09/10 November 2005: For once the weather forecast was wrong and instead of clouding over at 2200 it stayed clear almost all night. I set up at 1730 and packed up at 0115, with a couple of breaks in between (one long). The skies were pretty good, if a little milky, with no wind or cloud at all (a rarity at the moment). I sketched both components of the Double Cluster in Perseus, NGC 884 and NGC 869, as well as NGC 1981, M78, NGC 1973-75-77 (surprisingly easy), M42 (with a UHC filter it is an amazing sight) and M43 in Orion, and added M50 in Monoceros to my binocular Messier collection. It was a good session and I packed up at 0115, if a little reluctantly, due to aching back and knees (the biggest disadvantage of doing things the simple way and star hopping is the strain on various bodily parts as one performs contortions to look through a finderscope!).

04 November 2005: As the forecast was actually not very good (not much let up in this run of terrible weather) I knew that this was going to be a quick one. The first half hour was wasted due to a close and very bright firework display (for you non-Brits, it’s the utterly pointless “Guy Fawkes’ Night” on 5th November when pyromania grabs Joe Public, although fireworks can be heard for a couple of weeks either side as people just don’t know when to quit…) but I did manage to get an hour in and sketched NGC 6910, an open cluster in Cygnus and M29, also in Cygnus. I also looked at (“observed” isn’t a strictly accurate term!) NGC 752 in Andromeda. Looked for M76 in Perseus with my binoculars but failed to see it – I will have another go under better conditions. Clouds soon started appearing and within half an hour of packing up it was totally clouded over and raining.

02 November 2005: Conditions were semi clear and so I left the scope indoors and just had a look round with the binoculars and also did some wide angle astrophotography of Cassiopeia and Perseus, as well as Cygnus and the Pleiades (with Mars). The latter was a bit of a disaster due to light pollution over Sandown showing up in the frames and trailing, due to the objects being low in the atmosphere.

26 October 2005: At last the skies have cleared – for a while at least. Showed a family friend Mars and some bright DSOs. Once he had left I could do some observing. Sketched M31 (with M32) just for some practise (I have observed this galaxy many times over the years)

Observed NGC 663 in Cassiopeia and a nearby unidentified cluster (small, sparse, faint triangle of stars with apex pointing SSE). Added M1, M42, M43 and M78 to binocular Messier survey. Packed up just after midnight BST due to bad back and knees, the results of performing contortions to see through the finder.

25 October 2005: After a long spell of unbelievably bad weather with Atlantic front after Atlantic front bringing endless cloudy conditions over the UK and only a couple of even semi-decent nights, I managed to get a quick session in. A partially successful observing session but better than nothing. Set up scope in sheltered part of garden, due to 15mph winds. Found NGCs 133, 145 and King 14 in Cassiopeia but clouds prevented sketches being drawn. Clouded out for an hour, resumed later and looked at M31 and its companions. Located and observed M36, M37 and M38 for binocular survey.

10 October 2005: The conditions were far from ideal, but after a prolonged cloudy spell and an enforced hiatus due to a lung infection, I wanted to do some observing, no matter how cruddy the conditions. The skies were milky and normally invisible light domes from towns were apparent. There was also a stiff breeze blowing, but this was far less of a problem than the general crap in the atmosphere.

I picked up from where I had left off last time, with the open cluster Basel 10 in Perseus. While I was sketching it clouds rolled in and I waited. However the clouds remained so I packed up but as Sod’s Law would have it, the minute I took down my scope the clouds vanished. You don’t get rid of me that easily so I set up again. I carried on sketching Basel 10 (not much to write home about) and NGC 1502 which is an open cluster situated at the southern end of Kemble’s Cascade in Camelopardalis. I also looked for Messiers 36, 37 and 38 in Auriga with my binoculars but this was a dead loss due to the crappy conditions because by this time, the sky was very murky indeed and cloud kept filling the sky, leaving sucker holes (I think I was the sucker as I was getting pretty hacked off by this time!). Also some idiotwith an over bright “security” light had obliterated the south-western horizon (there are houses hidden from here by trees, it was either that or a commercial tomato farm a couple of miles away) and the haze was exacerbating the situation by making this light climb higher into the sky than it otherwise would have done. I’d had enough by now (0040 BST/2340 UT) and decided to call it a night, wishing I was in Arizona or Australia instead of England!

01 October 2005: Clear spells, but a lot of drifting cloud. Chilly.

Due to the beginnings of a heavy cold, this was a short session with the scope. I decided to look for more obscure open clusters (outside the Messier and NGC catalogues). I started in Perseus with Basel 10 (a small knot of stars just NW of the Double Cluster and looking nebulous. detached, but not immediately obvious) and Stock 2 (a very nice object and fills the field of view). I have borrowed back the Televue Panoptic 19mm eyepiece that I had sold to the VAS two years ago when I was strapped for cash (they hardly use it, so I have it back on a semi-permanent loan. On observing nights I just have to take it to the Observatory. I may as well use it as it being stuck in a drawer 99% of the time. The eyepiece, as one would expect, gives stunning wide angle views. On the 8.5″ f4.5 the magnification is 47x).

Saw, through the 8×42’s, M52 (Cassiopeia), M34 (Perseus), M29 and M39 (both in Cygnus). Packed up at midnight (BST).

27/28 September 2005: Clear, slight breeze, chilly. Intermittent patches of cloud. Using 8.5″ Newtonian on alt-az mount and 8×42 binoculars. A good night with a mixture of bright well known objects and some open clusters in Cassiopeia, which is favourably placed at this time of year. Drew Alcor and Mizar system, NGC 457 and the Hyades (naked eye). Also looked at M27, M11, Cr 399 (aka Brocchi’s Cluster or the Coathanger), Double Cluster, M45 and Kemble’s Cascade with adjacent NGC 1502.

I continued looking for Messier objects using my binoculars and found M110, M32 (neither of which were difficult under such excellent skies; the naked eye limiting magnitude was 6.3), M35 (along with NGC 2158, IC 2157, NGC 2129, NGC 2175 and NGC 2169 in the same field of view) and suspected M74 (there was definitely a hint of something fuzzy there, but it was faint in my scope). Packed up at 0200 BST after an excellent four-hour session.

25th September 2005: Observed NGC 957 in Perseus, M31 in Andromeda and M33 in Triangulum.

9th September 2005: Carried on with binocular observing of the Messier objects and saw M31, M33, M15 and M2. The session was cut short by deteriorating seeing and transparency conditions (mist was coming in and, presumably, the weather front that’s forecast). Whinge time: there was also some extremely crap music coming from a pop festival a mile or so away (who says the countryside’s peaceful?!), loud and clear. It put me off totally – I like to observe in peace, or chatting with observing friends, not having to endure some bloody awful music from a pop concert!

5th September 2005: Apart from a few casual binocular sessions, and local astronomy society observatory meetings, I have not done much in the way of astronomy this summer. I did go to the Nightlife event in Portsmouth, where I had the privilege of meeting Dr Carolyn Shoemaker, a real legend in astronomy.

The other night I made a CCD image, using Vectis Astronomical Society’s 12″ Meade SCT, of the Ring Nebula in Lyra. For a first attempt it isn’t bad.

04/05 June 2005: Quick sesh with the binoculars. Again, confined things to a binocular Messier object hunt. Found M10 (easy), M12 (easy), M17 (not as easy as I thought), M21 (not difficult), M22 (easy), M80 (ok) and M101 (suspected but not that convinced I saw it). Halfway through this session, the kitchen light came on and blitzed my night vision (thanks to my younger sister who is visiting). After getting dark adapted again, clouds then appeared on the scene which, along with being investigated by a couple of inquisitive (and over-friendly) rats, prompted me to decide it was time to call it a night.

30 May 2005: Continued with my binocular Messier hunt and looked for, with mixed results, M24 (piece of cake), M51 (quite easy), M81 (yep), M82 (yep, just), M97 (just about), M108 (no chance), M109 (maybe, but I don’t think so), M56 (yep), M27 (no problem) and M71 (hard to see).

Took some more constellation shots with D70 and got a half decent shot of the star clouds along the Milky Way and down into Sagittarius.

Will have to get finder sorted on borrowed 8-inch as it is a pain in the backside to use in its present state.

28/29 May 2005: I have just moved back home to the Isle of Wight from Southampton, thank goodness, and have borrowed an 8″ reflector mounted on an alt-az pillar mount. This scope is the twin of the one I was forced to sell two years ago (still gutted about that, but it had to be done in order to keep a roof over my head at the time. >:-( 🙁 ) . The finder was severely out of alignment and, as a home-made job, was a sod to focus. After twenty minutes of frustration and colourful language I managed to get the thing aligned with the scope, although not that accurately. Still, it was better than nothing and worked surprisingly well, in conjunction with a low-power eyepiece.

I basically stuck to the bright stuff because with a dodgy finder, etc, finding anything fainter would be frustratingly difficult and I wanted to spend time looking at the objects, not for the objects. Jupiter was extremely bright, like a searchlight (and it showed a prominent disc in my 8x binoculars). The seeing was very good, the skies were nice and dark – I didn’t bother checking the visual naked eye limiting magnitude, but the North America (NGC 7000) and Lagoon (M8) nebulae were visible to the naked eye and very prominent in the binoculars – and Jupiter showed the equatorial bands well. Four moons were visible, three in a line and one just above the planet (unless that was a star – it was almost like a grazing occultation).

I didn’t just use the scope, I also looked for bright objects with my binoculars, and I got my digital SLR out and took some constellation shots of Cygnus, Scorpius and the star clouds along the Milky Way in Sagittarius. I am currently looking for all the Messier objects with binoculars, which is something I have never done before. Tonight I saw M8, M20, M57, M4, M81, M82 and M103.

Just as I was thinking of packing up, strange rays appeared from the north. I grabbed the camera, but to be honest I am not sure if it was an aurora display or merely clouds. The photos show that it may have been cloud, as the colour on it looked like the usual insidious light pollution.

08 May 2005: After some lousy weather and also having been busy doing other things as well, I managed to get outside with my binoculars for a brief session. I went to the Keystone of Hercules and had a look at M13 and then up to M92. M13 was easy to find in the 8×42 binoculars, forming a triangle with two stars. It appeared round, fairly bright and evenly bright all over.

M92, to the north of M13 and the Keystone, was much smaller, but again, was easy to find. That appeared brighter in the binoculars, but that could have been due to its smaller size making its apparent brightness seem greater.

The International Space Station flew overhead and was very bright.

07 January 2005: Cloudy and wet ever since. Typical. Looking up at clouds illuminated by orange sodium lamps doesn’t inspire great joy. I had an all too brief glimpse of Betelgeuse through a small gap in the cloud last night. And that was it.

02 January 2005 Southampton, UK. Steady seeing, I on Antoniadi Scale. Transparency not so good.

Good session with the borrowed 70mm refractor. I spent a lot of time looking at Comet Machholz and the brighter objects in Orion including M42. Although I always spend ages with each object and like to sketch each object, I ended up with a bad drawing of the comet and an even worse one of M42 – I am seriously out of practice!

Was wishing for an airgun because of irritating streetlamp in adjacent car park, but wearing a jacket over my head improved the view tremendously. It also made me feel a lot warmer.

Comet Machholz very bright – easily seen in 8×42 binoculars and 6x finderscope of a borrowed 70mm refractor. Funnily enough, the view through my 8×42 binoculars was much better than that through the little scope at 35x. It appears as a wedge of light with a brighter centre – the nucleus is very stellar looking.