2009 Observing sessions

24th May 2009:
In April and May 2009, I visited Australia again. Fortunately this wasn’t an astronomy trip this time – although I was hoping to fit some observing in of course – because the weather was frankly bloody awful! I joined some friends from the Texas Star Party who were visiting Australia for the ‘Deepest South Texas Star Safari’ being held in Coonabarabran. We met up in Sydney and had a nice meal at a restaurant in The Rocks before meeting up again the following morning at Sydney Central railway station. The weather omens were already bad – it rained all day and we drove from Dubbo to Coonabarabran under leaden skies and driving rain.

Unfortunately I could only stay one night because the next day I had to return to Sydney and then travel onto the southern town of Wollongong 80kms south of Sydney, for a pelagic birdwatching trip which was scheduled for the Saturday. This one night was a complete washout, it rained all night, which was pretty disappointing. It became even more annoying when I got to Wollongong and the pelagic was cancelled due to high winds! So infuriating! I could have stayed in Coona and got some observing in a few days later as the weather improved. As it was, my sorely depleted finances wouldn’t allow me to return to Coona and I was flying to Thailand a few days later in any case. In the end, I consoled myself with some binocular observations from light-polluted Sydney. Scant consolation, but at least I got to poke around among what stars were visible.

However, the Americans have a saying: ‘When life hands you lemons, make lemonade’, so, on a rare clear night I did some binocular astronomy from the centre of Sydney two nights before I flew to Thailand. I was staying in a tatty hostel in the King’s Cross/Wooloomooloo area with a tiny courtyard and a limited view of the sky but it was an enjoyable session nonetheless.

Equipment: 8×42 binoculars with a 7.4 degree field of view
Seeing: Excellent, Antoniadi scale I
Transparency II – some drifting clouds interfering.
NELM – pretty bad, 3.5 to 4.0 at best.
Location: King’s Cross/Wooloomooloo area, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Time of observations: 2005 EST to 2100 EST (10 hours ahead of GMT).

NGC 4755, open cluster in Crux: Easy to see, the ‘Jewel Box’ was visible as an ‘A’ shaped group of 5 stars in a sparse field. Crux itself fits perfectly into my binoculars’ 7.4 degree field of view.

NGC 3532, open cluster in Carina: Large, elongated north-west to south-east. There is one bright foreground star, plus four or five more visible with direct vision. With averted vision many more stars are seen.

NGC 5139 (Omega Centauri), globular cluster in Centaurus: Easily seen against the light-polluted sky as a round, almost uniform, glow. Averted vision shows more of the outer area of this but no granulation or individual stars can be seen because of the light pollution.

IC 2602, open cluster in Carina. Also known as the ‘Southern Pleiades’, this is a beautiful cluster. It is a large, loose group of stars split into two parts. The north-western group (nearest the Southern Cross) consists of five stars in a butterfly pattern while the south-eastern group is a bow stretching south-west to north-east, bending in the middle towards the butterfly group. The second star from the bottom of the bow is the brightest member of IC 2602 while the others are a couple of magnitudes fainter but are all of the same brightness. Many more, fainter stars can be seen with averted vision despite the chronic light pollution. Not as good as the real Pleiades though, a rare example of a southern object NOT being as good as a northern one!

NGC 3228, open cluster in Vela: This was surprisingly easy to pick out from the sky glow. It forms a trapezium pattern with 3 stars and appears initially as a bright knot or clump. With averted vision I can pick out four or five stars.

24th July 2009:
This was a very short session due to a migraine I’d acquired during the course of the day, so it was out for a quick sesh with the 8x42s. I am doing the AL Binocular deep Sky program at the moment, but I had lost the charts so decided to pick off a few objects in Cygnus instead. Luckily a couple of them are on the AL list (which – surprisingly – does not have many summer objects on it).

This was the first clear night dark enough to properly observe in ages. I poked around in Sagittarius, Bootes and Cygnus. Cygnus is my favourite area of the summer sky and is incredibly rich, being located in the Milky Way. Here, our sky is quite dark and it was better than mag 6, and the MW is very bright and detailed, with rifts and dark lanes.

The objects:

NGC 5466 – Globular Cluster in Bootes: This is easy to find, being in a direct line from the Bear’s tail (handle of the Dipper) to Arcturus, but not so easy to see in binoculars. It’s a very faint round glow.

NGC 6910 – Open Cluster in Cygnus: Small knot of stars adjacent to Sadr. Telescopically, this is one of my favourite OC’s but in binos it’s not more than a bright knot with a couple of bright stars attached.

NGC 6866 – Open Cluster in Cygnus: A small knot of stars between Sadr and Delta Cygni. A hazy, roundish patch. Hard to keep bins still at this angle and the remnants of the migraine made it impossible to look up at an angle for any length of time.

I love observing with my binoculars, they are the ultimate “grab ‘n’ go” scope, but I will be glad when I have got a serviceable scope again!

11th August 2009:
We FINALLY got a clear night. Well, clearish, as the haze was bad but it was certainly better than the near 100% cloud cover we’ve been getting recently. Because of the murk and the rising waning gibbous Moon, I decided to stick with a few doubles in Bootes, plus some ‘lollipop’ bright objects elsewhere in the sky. It was also a short session as it was gone 11pm and I had to be up for work the next morning.

My observing notes read as follows:

A rare clear night this summer – July and August have been frankly bloody awful with only a couple of clear nights for observing, including tonight. The transparency tonight is not good and I am only using a small refractor (my 12″ is out of action, and likely to remain so for a while or until I get a new one), so concentrating mostly on double stars. After having been out here a while, the sky conditions are not good. It’s milky and there’s very little contrast in the Milky Way with some high thin cloud and the waning gibbous Moon interfereing.

Alcor and Mizar in Ursa Major:

One of my favourite doubles, this well-known system is a lovely white pair, visible to the unaided eye but superb through the small refractor at 37.5x

Albireo (B Cygni):

My favourite double, the bright gold star and it’s slightly fainter, bright blue companion are stunning.

Delta Bootis:

Faintish gold star with faint blue companion. Wide double. Nice.

18th August 2009:
Unfortunately only a short session, due to having to go to work tomorrow. I’ll be glad when the long nights are here and BST is back to as it should be, GMT.

This was a good clear night with steady seeing and decent transparency with good contrast in the Milky Way. The visual limiting mag was 6.5. The temperature was 12C with high humidity of 80% – the price of summer in the UK. Instrument: 8×42 Leica binoculars.

I used my 8×42 binoculars instead of either of my two small scopes, mainly because the refractor can’t be comfortably used at high declinations and the little Meade SCT has no decent tripod (it’s a disaster on a photo tripod because I don’t own a tripod that is up to the job) and also it was a perfect opportunity to make inroads into the AL Deep Sky Binocular certificate I am doing.

My observations are as follows:

NGC 6819: Open cluster in Cygnus

One clump of stars among many in this very rich region. Some stars resolved, around 5 or 6.

NGC 7063: Open cluster in Cygnus

Very easy to find as it is stuck out by the lower (eastern) wing of Cygnus. With direct vision it is an irregularly roundish misty patch easily seen against the background sky. Detached. With averted vision around 8 or 9 stars can be seen. Large.

NGC 7789: Open cluster in Cassiopeia

Huge open cluster just east of Beta Cygni. Large, detached and – while not faint – not overly bright. Roundish and nebulous looking. With averted vision it looks a bit granular, but not resolved fully.

NGC 6940: Open cluster in Vulpecula.

Absolutely huge o.c. looking, through the 8x42s like a detached portion of the Milky Way. It has an oval shape. Nebulous but with some brighter foreground stars.

NGC 6823: Open cluster in Vulpecula

This was much more of a challenge than the previous ones. This is another of ‘one clump among many’ situations you get with binocular observations of Milky Way open clusters, but I eventually found it. It is near the (easily seen) Dumbell Nebula and looks like an irregular clump of stars. A pretty big cluster, although smaller than some of the other targets this evening. Some members resolved.

By then it was gone midnight and I had to get up for work the next morning. A good 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 dissipate 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.

28/29th 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. It’s 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 oval 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. Its 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.

10th September 2009: This was a very quick session, due to having to be at work at the uncivilised hour of 8am the following morning. I intended it to be a Herschel object session, and indeed it was, although it was one of ‘those’ evenings when I actually didn’t find many of the targets I was after. I was after open clusters in Cassiopeia and only observed two or three in the end, plus made a sketch of M103, which I think of as the Northern Hemisphere’s answer to the Jewel Box in Crux, and which I can’t resist.

I had forgotten my circle template for sketches (a plastic thing off individual coffee filters) and used a salmon tin – Tesco own brand salmon tins, at two and a half inches, are just not big enough for sketches and sketches end up squashed.

Another problem was the crap transparency. It had been clear all day and, typically clouds rolled in just as I’d set the big scope up and although they cleared the transparency was crap throughout the session.

Observed NGC 457, an open cluster in Cassiopeia – known popularly as the ET cluster (it does look somewhat like the hideous little alien in that ghastly film), the Johnny 5 cluster (it looks more like that little robot in Short Circuit) or the Owl cluster.

Also observed NGC 663 and then sketched M103, as mentioned above. All in all, a bit of a disappointing session but better than nothing as it looked like being earlier in the session. Packed up and went to bed by 11pm, due to having to get up for work the next day.

12th September 2009: After the previous night’s short session, I was hoping for a clearer night last night and fortunately it was, although very wet (85% humidity and falling dew) and a little murky. There is a music festival underway at the moment, a couple of miles away, and the sounds of dodgy music were floating down the valley so I got the iPod and listened to much better music instead. Not only that, this thing was flooding the north-western and western sky with light pollution – fortunately it’s only one weekend a year.

The dew was a nuisance, completely fogging the Telrad and finderscope meaning I had to keep wiping these off every few minutes. I need to buy a dew heater when I have some more money (unfortunately my car tax is due at the end of the month so I have to save for that).


Cool (11 C), 85% humidity, lots of dew. Limiting magnitude around 6.0 later on, due to rising last quarter Moonlight being scattered around the sky. No wind. Seeing steady but transparency not as good as recently (when clear!).
Instrument: 12 inch f/5 Dobsonian

Made a few sketches, of NGC 404, NGC 7332 and NGC 6910 before getting hacked off with the rubbish dewy conditions, light pollution from both the Moon and the pop festival and a bad arm (I have an infection in my left arm and hand) and packing my stuff away and going to bed at 1 am. I also spent far too much time looking for NGCs 147, 185, 7292, 7459 and 7662 but failed to see them. Given the conditions – constant dewing of Telrad and finderscope and the less-than-great transparency – it was not surprising I failed to see the galaxies (147, 185, 7292 and 7459) but failing to even find 7662, aka the Blue Snowball, a planetary nebula in Andromeda, was surprising.

NGC 7332, a galaxy in Pegasus, was easy to find. It is a bright, edge-on galaxy with a brighter core. 190x

NGC 6910, an open cluster in Cygnus, is a nice object. It is dominated by two bright orange-yellow stars and is shaped like a branch or crooked ‘y’. There are nine or so other stars, which are fainter, white ones plus some even fainter ones. 138x.

It was annoying to make so few observations but, as I had spent (wasted!) a lot of time looking for other stuff and the conditions were a pain it was better than nothing.

16th September 2009:
Another clear night, we’re doing fairly well this past month or so (in the past month, we have had 20 – yes TWENTY! – clear or partially clear nights. Can’t use all of them, unfortunately, but it’s nice to see), so I lugged the scope out onto the patio for a, hopefully lengthy as I have no work on at the moment, observing session.


Cool: 11C, 75% humidity (no dew, thankfully) and a very slight breeze, which picked up now and again and died down at intervals. No Moon. Transparency was not too good at first, quite obvious from the higher-than-usual extent of light domes from nearby towns, picking up at around 0030 BST to 0200 BST, and there were isolated drifting clouds although they weren’t enough to interfere with observing. The naked eye limiting magnitude was not as good as usual, around 6.0 to 6.2.
Instrument: 12 inch f/5 Dobsonian.

Again I spent a little too much time hunting for elusive stuff, mainly faintish galaxies that I should not have bothered with, given the less-than-great transparency. However, I am pleased with what I did observe, and got some good sketches too.

First up was NGC 40, a planetary nebula in Cepheus. Bit of a rough sketch, though – my writing is terrible and it’s not scanned properly! The nebula was bright and obvious, looking like a fat star at low power, and obviously nebulous at higher powers. Its round with a bright middle, appearing fatter when looked at with averted vision. Averted vision also hints at a darker area round the bright middle portion. OIII does not enhance the view or provide more detail.

I also found NGC 7662, the Blue Snowball, in Andromeda, easily enough this time. Heaven knows why I failed to find it the other evening, probably a combination of factors, not least the dew making life awkward. NGC 7662 is strikingly sky blue, and round with slightly fluffy-looking edges. Hint of darker centre. OIII makes little difference to the view, UHC even less so.

I also spent quite a lot of time on M33, the big galaxy in Triangulum. Ok, it’s a Messier lollipop, but I wasn’t looking at the galaxy as a whole, I was looking for HII regions within the galaxy. Using a chart from the net I identified NGC 595 and NGC 604. I thought I saw more, but a larger scope and darker, more transparent skies would be a help. NGC 604 is easy to find, a triangle of stars pointing straight at it helps in locating it, it looked elongated, east to west, and showed a bit of brightening within. NGC 595 was much smaller, a roundish knot of light. It is always interesting to see ‘objects within objects’ particularly within external galaxies (M31 also contains ‘objects within objects, as do the Magellanic Clouds, although these, sadly, are not visible from Europe or the United States).

I attempted the Pegasus 1 galaxy cluster, which at mag 11.1 should be accessible to the 12 inch, but there was nothing doing on this front, due mainly to the fairly murky sky. The same went for the Perseus Cluster, with ranges of magnitudes between 11.6 and 12.5. I’ll have another go at these, on a more transparent night sometime this autumn and, in the case of Perseus, when it rises a bit higher. By the time Pegasus was higher the galaxies were behind the garden shed and the 12 inch is not exactly portable so I didn’t bother to try again.

The last object – or objects – was Stephan’s Quintet (Hickson 92) again. The transparency had improved by this time and the part of the sky where this is located was high. The Quintet was easy to find, located at the end of a chain of stars just SW of the bright galaxy NGC 7331, although not so easy to see. I sketched them, although I couldn’t finish the sketch due to the fact the transparency gave out again and the galaxies vanished like smoke.

The last object of the night was NGC 7000, the North America Nebula in Cygnus. This large nebula is naked eye in the right conditions. I could see it without the aid of scope or binoculars. OIII made it more obvious but UHC was even better, making it very obvious, and I could easily see the ‘Gulf of Mexico’ dark area.

Called it a night at just after 0210 as the transparency was giving out again and the clouds, formerly the odd one or two, were increasing.

24th September 2009:
The forecast was clear for the night, with a run of settled weather and high pressure predicted by the BBC weather website for the next few days, so I lugged out the 12 inch for – hopefully – a good long session.

Unfortunately the session got off to a bad start when my watch broke (the pins that hold the strap in place). Then once I’d set the scope up and had left it to cool for an hour I then discovered that the collimation, for some reason, was miles out. Trying to sort out the collimation made it worse and things weren’t helped when the batteries in the laser collimator died; naturally I didn’t have any spares, so with the most taboo swear words I could think of I hurled the collimator across the garden in the dark. Not a good idea, as I then had to get a torch and hunt for it among the bushes, fortunately I found it after a brief search. Also not a good idea as the near neighbours across the way may well have heard some very strong language!

I got my visual collimator out and tried to use that, but visually collimating the scope requires a second person to look through the eyepiece or twiddle the collimation knobs or one person doing it but needing the reach of a gibbon to do both at the same time. I had neither so I adjusted it as best I could and left it at that. I tried it on the Double Cluster and, fortunately, the view was reasonable, although high powers left a lot to be desired, so I decided to get on with the session. I do need some stiffer collimation springs, so I will send off for some from Bob’s Knobs. These will improve the collimation no end, according to others who use the GSO/Revelation and Lightbridge scopes.

By this time I had wasted two hours sorting the scope out, and therefore the observing session was shortened as a result. But I had all night…

Conditions: Chilly at 8 degrees C. Humidity was 82% so there was a fair bit of dew falling.
No wind. No Moon (waxing crescent had set earlier in evening). Limiting magnitude to the unaided eye was around 6.3 with seeing of II-III on the Antoniadi scale of seeing.
Transparency, on a scale of I (excellent) to V (very poor) was III.
Instrument: 12 inch Dobsonian.

I began in Perseus, looking for the Perseus galaxy group, but failed to see it. This should not have been difficult, but the combination of hazy skies and less-than-perfect collimation probably conspired against me here.

Moving on to Pegasus, a rich galaxy hunting ground, brought some better luck. I quickly found NGC 7479. This galaxy looks, to direct vision, like it is an edge on; however averted vision shows it to be rounder and with the hint of spiral arms. The elongation seen with direct vision is the central bar of the galaxy. 101x

NGC 14, galaxy in Pegasus – small fairly bright. Oval. Elongated north-south. Slightly brighter middle. I thought I’d found NGC 7814, which is what I was looking for, but it looks nothing like it when compared to sketches and photos in books and on the net. It’s definitely NGC 14. 101x

NGC 23, galaxy in Pegasus – small, very bright. Elongated north-south. There is a star superimposed on the northern end of the galaxy. 101x

I had planned an all night session but, just to round off an incredibly annoying and frustrating session, unforecast clouds built up at around 0200 BST. So much for the Mess Office and their forecasts. So I packed up at 0230, after waiting for the clouds to clear. They did eventually, but left in their wake terrible transparency so I called it a night. Not a great session, a paltry three sketches made and not much done.

25/26th September 2009:

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

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 fainter 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…

26/27th September 2009:

The third clear night in a row! So I lugged the scope out to cool down and went back inside to watch Casualty on BBC1 while waiting for the scope to cool and the first quarter Moon to set.

Once Casualty had finished I finished gathering my stuff together and decided to look at Jupiter, as I had not tried out the 12 inch on any Solar System objects before now. I know the blog title says Visual Deep Sky Observing, but once in a while I like looking at shallow sky stuff. Jupiter, despite being at quite a low altitude, gave me one of the best views I have had of it in the Northern Hemisphere. Bands and festoons were obvious and I could see the Red Spot. Even sticking the magnification up to 300x didn’t degrade it too much, although at that magnification the seeing, while pretty good wasn’t perfect, meant the image was a little unsteady.

Jupiter was also handy for aligning the Telrad and 8×50 finder.

Ok, onto the ‘serious stuff’. I planned to knock off some Herschels tonight, so that was to be the main part of the session.


Chilly: 8 degrees Celsius (later 6 degrees C) with 82% humidity – the dew became a nuisance later on. No wind, 1st quarter Moon set late PM.
Seeing II, transparency II-III.
Visual limiting magnitude with the unaided eye was around 6.2 to start with, increasing to 6.4, this is based on how many stars I can see in the Great Square of Pegasus. However skyglow, due to moisture in the atmosphere, was quite pronounced; on drier nights you hardly notice it.
Instrument: 12 inch Dobsonian

NGC 7619 and 7626, galaxies in Pegasus. I had to wait until Pegasus and Pisces were clear of the house roof before looking for these, which are part of the Pegasus 1 galaxy cluster. I saw NGC 7619 and NGC 7626 with no problem, although dew formation on my secondary wiped out the other, fainter, galaxies in the area. Dew is a major problem here in the UK and I am going to have to make a dew shield for both the scope itself and the Telrad (the latter being very prone to dewing up).

Both galaxies are oval, with brighter middles. NGC 7619 is the brighter of the two. Nothing else seen, due to the aforementioned dewing. 61x, 101x

NGC 7742, galaxy in Pegasus. Oval, fairly dim although easy to find and see. Slightly brighter middle. 101x.

NGC 205, galaxy in Andromeda. When I saw this on the Herschel 400 list I looked for it on the chart. I couldn’t find it on the chart, which was odd, but there was a reason for this; that reason is that it is better known as M110, one of the companions of M31. As Homer Simpson would say ‘D’oh!’. Large, oval, fairly bright. Brightens somewhat, gradually towards centre. In a nice starry field. Fainter than M31 although it would be a showpiece in its own right if it wasn’t overshadowed by its bigger, brighter and more famous friend. 61x

Looked for NGC 891. I have observed this galaxy before, with my 8 inch scope, but completely failed to find it this time. 891 is noted as being hard to find, but after 40 minutes of searching I gave up. I think I was in the right place, but the dew was making life awkward and wiping this already quite faint galaxy out.

NGC 752, open cluster in Andromeda. Large, loose cluster which fits neatly into 1 degree field of 40mm Plossl eyepiece, with room to spare. I started a sketch of this (although I hate sketching open clusters!) but didn’t finish it due to the secondary dewing up. 61x

NGC 1664, open cluster in Auriga. Small, triangular o.c. with a chain coming south-east from it, like a tail. In fact it does remind me of a cat, with two brighter stars as eyes. Not rich. Around 30 stars of uniform brightness. 101x

Because of the dewing, a bad back and cold feet, I packed up earlier than intended at 0230 BST. Not a bad session, and I managed to tick off some Herschels, but the dew was a major pain. I am going to have to fashion a dew shield for the OTA and one for the Telrad.

I have sent off to First Light Optics for a new laser collimator, hopefully that should arrive tomorrow, but with the Moon on the rise again and some more unsettled weather this week, I won’t be doing much observing for a while. As a footnote, I woke up this morning to a weird red glow over on the computer desk. Yep, my collimator had come alive; I must have left it switched on. This isn’t going to save it from the bin, though, its unreliability means that its fate is sealed!

3rd December 2009:

After what has seemed like an absolute eternity (in reality it was around two months – but that’s plenty long enough), I finally managed an observing session. Sure it was a very short observing session of one hour, but it was an observing session nonetheless.

The reason for this was that not only has the UK been battered by a succession of Atlantic storms leaving half the country under water, work and illnesses (a succession of nasty abscesses) have also interfered with any hope of getting outside on the rare clear occasions.

It was clear this evening, so I set up my 12 inch Dob, despite the rising Moon which was one day past full so, as you’d expect, it was washing out the sky quite badly, an effect exacerbated by mist and high thin cloud. Despite this I decided to try an experiment. I wanted to see if NGC 404 was visible. This is a galaxy in Andromeda, adjacent to Mirach (it has the nickname The Ghost of Mirach) and it was visible. It’s not that faint anyway, but it’s the sort of thing you’d expect the Moon to kill stone dead. It was, as you’d expect, fainter and harder to see than usual, but otherwise visible.

Cygnus was getting low in the west but I decided to poke round there for a bit partly because it will soon be gone until next summer but also it was in the part of the sky opposite the Moon. Obviously I wasn’t going to be silly and hunt for nebulae that I had no chance of seeing in those conditions but I did seek out some clusters instead, open clusters are pretty immune to light pollution. One of the clusters observed was Collinder 419. To say that this was unspectacular is an understatement. ‘Boring’ is probably a more accurate description. It’s composed of three or four brightish stars and a few more nondescript fainter ones.

The session was short, due to the conditions, only an hour but after two months without, even an hour in crap conditions is better than nothing! Roll on the next clear night that has no Moon in the way!

It was also my scope’s first outing since I made the modifications to the mirror cell, with the new collimation springs from Bob’s Knobs. When I took it outside and set it up the collimation was only slightly out and it took hardly any time at all to get it spot on, a major improvement on before. My new laser collimator also works nicely.

11/12th December 2009:

Sod’s Law was in action tonight as I had a severe cold which prevented a proper observing session with the 12 inch, and it was the clearest and most transparent sky we have had in ages. I had spent most of the day in bed with coughs, sneezes and fever, having been sent home from work at lunchtime, but something compelled me to look out of the window at 2330, I am not sure why I expected it to be clear as most of the day had been cloudy and a bit foggy. I felt a bit better and I hate wasting clear skies so decided on a short session; besides it would have been a bit foolish to have stayed out for any real length of time and get cold.

Obviously I didn’t feel like lugging the big scope out, or even one of its smaller friends, but I put on jeans, jumper and shoes and went out with the 8×42 binoculars instead. I also pulled out my UHC and OIII filters out to see what winter nebulae I could see with the binoculars.

2330 – 0005 GMT/UT
0.5 of a degree above freezing. No wind.
Excellent transparency apart from the odd bit of clouds on the horizon; out of 5, where 1 is bad and 5 excellent, it was 5.
Seeing: Antoniadi II.
Naked eye limiting visual magnitude was 6.5

Of course, I just had to go for M42, the Orion Nebula. It is an irresistible object in any instrument, including binoculars, and is worth looking for even if it is the most observed deep sky object in the sky. I make a point of saying hello to it every year, as I do all my favourites, and I can’t wait to see it in the 12 inch. Huge, very bright, fan shaped, with four stars visible in the Trapezium. Needs no filtration, although UHC brings it out slightly better (OIII not as effective). M43 also visible as a little round patch.

Also looked at NGC 1981 and NGC 1980.

I also had a (over optimistic it has to be said) look for NGC 2024, the Flame Nebula, but I did not see it. I didn’t think I would in binoculars but, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

NGC 2237-8/NGC 2246; the Rosette Nebula in Monoceros.

Large, round and bright with the star cluster NGC 2244 at the centre. The nebula is only just visible without a filter, but the UHC makes it very easy to see. The OIII is also effective but it’s best with the UHC.

Ursa Major was low behind the trees but M81 and M82 were above the trees and easily seen with the 8x42s.

M31 was bright and huge through the binoculars, spanning the entire field of view. The core was bright and the spiral arms extensive. Good view of the dust lanes.

NGC 869 and NGC 884; the Double Cluster

Gorgeous through the binoculars. Very rich and large with the stars easily resolved.

Trumpler 2

Small fuzzy patch just SE of DC. Also NGC 957, another hazy patch.

NGC 1499; the California Nebula. This isn’t quite as easy to see as the Rosette, especially without a filter, but the UHC filter brings it out and you can see a hazy brightening of faint nebulosity extending east-west, immediately north of Menkib.

By then it was 0035 (GMT/UT) and I was getting cold and coughing a lot so I had to reluctantly drag myself away from the sky and head indoors and back to bed.

13th December 2009:

Geminids: Just because I am into deep sky observing doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a good bit of shallow sky action when it’s happening and 13th, 14th and 15th December happen to be when you can see the annual Geminid meteor shower in 2009. It promised to be a good one, with predicted rates of 100-120 meteors an hour. The shower was due to start around 2130 UT although the best time would be after midnight UT when the radiant had risen high enough.

Still having the effects of the bad cold I had caught the previous week I went to bed early and got up at 2330 UT, dressed and carried my folding chair (a useful souvenir of the IW Festival a couple of years ago – a relative of one of my aunt’s work colleagues was one of the clean up crew and there were a lot of discarded items, as-new-only-used-once items at that, afterwards, all free to a good home) outside.

In the course of half an hour I saw many meteors, at least three or four a minute, maybe more. Most of them were quite small ones, but there were also large, spectacular ones too. Something I noticed was that you’d get a short lull of a couple of minutes, then a flurry of several meteors before another short lull of a couple of minutes. It was quite a show and, with the Moon out of the way (waning crescent which rose just before 0700 UT), a big improvement over the much more famous Perseids in August which were washed out by a quarter Moon this year.

After half an hour I was getting cold and having to get up at 0600 meant that I couldn’t stay outside much longer. A pity as it was shaping up to be a nice night, after cloud earlier in the evening, and I would have loved to have brought the 12 inch out for its first proper winter observing run. I got out of the chair – and my knees were so cold I thought they’d snap! – and headed in after a pleasant half an hour gazing at the sky with nothing but my unaided eyes.

Unfortunately, with a grim forecast and a cloudy sky, tonight does not look as if it will follow suit.

20th December 2009:

The first nearly cloudless evening for ages prompted me to carry out the big scope for an evening’s chasing of winter nebulae. I set up the scope and left it to cool while it got dark and I gathered my stuff together. The weather has been very cold of late, with snow last Friday and subsequent days being below zero, with plenty of ice on the ground. Because of the ice, and not wanting to slip over, I didn’t set up in my usual place on the patio, but further up the garden, on a concrete patch I often use as it does afford a better view of the sky (the patio is closer to the house and is more convenient for going in and out of the kitchen extension, which I use as a kind of ‘observatory’, with my eyepieces, charts and other stuff spread out over the work surfaces and the top of the freezer).

Cold: -2C, stiff breeze, 78% humidity.
Some cloud on southern horizon and a waxing crescent Moon, 17% of full.
NELM 6.0 TO 6.5 later.
Some intermittent interference from neighbours’ indoor lights (why do some people not have curtains?).
Seeing Ant II, transparency II-III
Instruments used: 12 inch f5 Dobsonian and 8×42 binoculars

After satisfying myself that the clouds were not about to spread out, they were hugging the southern horizon (‘Don’t even think about it, you sods!’ I found myself saying out loud), I began with an attempt on IC59 and IC63 which are located close to Gamma Cassiopeiae. These are very faint nebulae and, after searching around the area with a medium power eyepiece and UHC filter I can’t say in all honesty that I saw these. I saw a slight brightening in the area but that was it. The waxing 17% of full crescent Moon was a sod, surprisingly bright, and it seemed to take an age to set, if I hadn’t known better I’d have sworn that the damned thing was stuck where it was!

Next was the planetary nebula IC 2003 in Perseus. This was easy to find, being located exactly halfway between Menkib (Xi Persei) and Atik (Zeta Persei) – put the Telrad finder between those two stars and you will find the nebula. It is stellar at low powers and needs an OIII filter to make it stand out and confirm the sighting. At high power it takes on a slightly fuzzy appearance. There is a slight bluish tinge to this (without the filter) and it has a definitely brighter middle to it. 101x + Lumicon UHC

IC 351 in Perseus. Slightly more difficult to find than IC 2003, it took me a search of around ten minutes to locate it, to the east of IC 2003. This is a tiny, very stellar-looking PN which is pretty bright. Definitely needs the OIII filter ‘blinked’ in front of the eyepiece to be certain of sighting. Does not look as fuzzy as IC 2003. 190x + Lumicon UHC

While waiting for Orion to clear the house roof (I wanted a crack at PK 198-6.1, located right next to Mu Orionis as well as to look at NGC 2024 and the other stuff in that area) I got the 8×42 binoculars out and looked at a couple of large open clusters in Taurus:

NGC 1647 in Taurus. Huge open cluster. Irregular, not quite round shape. Quite a lot of stars resolved, although hand-holding the binoculars meant it was almost impossible to count them properly. Impression of some brighter foreground stars and a lot of fainter backgrounds ones. I also looked at this with the scope but the overall impression with the scope was of a large, but not rich cluster. Nice. 8×42 binoculars

NGC 1746 in Taurus. This is even larger than N1647, almost twice its size. Contains brighter stars than N1647 but even less rich. 8×42 binoculars

NGC 1952 (M1) in Taurus. While in the area, I decided to take a look at M1, the famous Crab Nebula, as it is a number of years since I last looked at it. It can safely be said that this thing is not famous for being spectacular, as it is a rather nondescript elongated smudge of light. It is, however, famous for being the first item on Charles Messier’s list of objects to avoid (for the purposes of not getting them confused with comets, which was what CM was really after) and for being observed by the Earl of Rosse at Birr Castle in Ireland, and it got the ‘Crab’ nickname from Lord Rosse, his sketch shows tendrils like a crab’s appendages – but he had a much bigger scope than me! 190x

NGC 1907 in Auriga. Completely overshadowed by its neighbour, the vast open cluster M38, this open cluster is a nice small, rich cluster. Oval, with a number of brighter stars and a hazy background of much fainter ones. 190x.

PK198-6.1 (Abell 12) in Orion. Easy to find, being located right next to Mu Orionis, but easy to see? Not particularly due to the star’s proximity. It is right in the glare from the star and it took high magnification, an OIII filter and a cover over my head to block out stray light for me to see something round, largish and faint next to the star, but I want to have another go at this when Orion is higher and the conditions are better. 190x + Lumicon OIII

NGC 2024 in Orion. Right next to Alnitak (Zeta Orionis, the eastern most belt star), this is slightly overwhelmed by the star’s glare but is not hard to spot. The big dark rift which cuts it in two is the most obvious feature with averted vision bringing out the faint nebulosity either side of it. A UHC filter works quite well on this, while OIII and H-beta kill it. The western half of the nebula, nearest the star, is brighter than the eastern half. 60x + Lumicon UHC

By this time it was 2135 GMT (UT) and the clouds were moving in so I finished the session with the obligatory look at M42, the Great Orion Nebula and the detached portion M43. This, in the 40mm Plossl (38x) with the UHC filter attached, was spectacular with tendrils and nebulosity everywhere. The dark indent next to the Trapezium was very obvious as were other dark areas, giving the brightest portion of it a mottled appearance. 38x + UHC . Packed up as the clouds began to fill the sky.

22nd December 2009:

Cold, -2C, no breeze, icy (treacherous underfoot).
Seeing Ant I (excellent seeing), transparency around II-III (mediocre).
NELM 6.0 to 6.2, waxing crescent Moon (33% of full) just setting
Scope: 12 inch Dobsonian.

As it was a clear evening, I decided to take the scope out in slightly unfavourable conditions (ice underfoot, freezing fog forming) to have another go at Abell 12 (PK 198-6.1). While I saw it briefly the other evening, I didn’t get a good enough view and I used a lower power. This evening I wanted to use a high power on it.

I eventually saw it after a LOT of averted vision staring (I think it would be easier on a better night) at 304x, located just west of Mu Orionis. It is almost right next to the star so a filter is needed to cut down the glare, I used my usual filter for PNs, an OIII. It is round, even, largish and faint. It is utterly invisible without the OIII filter. 304x + OIII

After coming back in I checked it out on the net, via Google, and people talk of it popping into view with an OIII, in various scopes, from 8 inch upwards. This was not my experience. I had to use a hood, high power and an OIII filter plus a fair bit of averted vision looking to see this, and I think the conditions were the reason I didn’t get a good view – this is not a hard object, by all accounts. I definitely want to return to this on a better night.

I also had a crack at the planetary nebula Jonckheere 320, also in Orion, but no joy there. With the icing up of my Telrad and finder, things ‘out in the boondocks’ were not going to be easy to locate!

I did, however, take a high powered trip into the heart of M42, with my 5mm Radian (304x) and OIII filter. To say that this is an awesome sight is not doing it enough justice. It is bright and incredibly detailed, with mottling, dark areas, bright areas, the Trapezium all hitting the back of the eyes in spectacular fashion. I will do a sketch of this before the spring comes. I suppose one could ask ‘why aren’t all deep sky objects as easy to see as this’ – but then, what would be the fun in that, if all DSOs were a piece of cake to find and see?

Now the infernal Moon – as a deep sky observer, it is hard not to loathe and detest the bloody thing – is on the way back up again (currently 33% of Full), there’ll be no more deep sky observing until next month – weather permitting, of course.

The latter half of 2009 was better than the first half for observing – I had a working scope, for starters, and also I had been away for two months from April.