2012 Observing sessions

2012 was a very poor year because during April, the weather took a turn for the worse, with hardly any clear nights, and it remained that way for 11 months. I did no observing between end May 2012 and the start of May 2013, 11 months when my 18″ scope never saw the sky. I am hoping 2013 will be a lot better.


18th February 2012
Conditions: Chilly (2°C/35.6°F), slight breeze, no Moon, dew (torrential rain earlier in the afternoon had cleared away)
Transparency: III
Seeing: I-II
Equipment: 18″ f/4.3 Dob; 22mm Televue Panoptic (90x), 8mm Televue Radian (247x), UHC, OIII filters

NGC 1982 (=M43) – I started off with an easy object, some ‘low-hanging fruit’ to get back into the observing groove. NGC 1982, a.k.a. M43, is on the Herschel list. It’s something I’ve looked at hundreds of times before but it is easily overshadowed by its immediate neighbour, the spectacular M42 which lies to the south. M43 is part of the same nebulous complex as M42 but appears to be separated from it by a dark gulf. It is smaller and fainter than M42 but, if the big nebula wasn’t there M43 would be a showpiece in its own right.
Very bright and fits into the same field of view as M42 at 90x. It is bright, comma-shaped and has a greenish-grey colour. In the centre of the comma’s ‘body’ there is a bright star, with a couple of fainter stars in the rest of the nebula.
247x shows extensive nebulosity with a ‘lumpy’ effect with dark areas in among the bright nebulosity. 90x, 247x + UHC

N.BM42 in the 18″ is nothing short of absolutely spectacular. This was the first time I’d managed to observe it properly this winter, apart from a quick look in November when it was low on the horizon, and without filtration the centre portion, around the Trapezium, is bright green with dark lanes criss-crossing it. Nebulosity extends everywhere and it completely fills the field of view at 90x. I will attempt a sketch of this before the winter is out.

NGC 1762, galaxy in Orion –  Easily found at 90x this is small, round and bright. There is a bright star superimposed on the foreground to the east. A fuzzy halo surrounds a bright stellar core. 90x, 247x

NGC 2023, nebula in Orion – Just S of NGC 2024, this is a bright reflection nebula around a star. 90x.

(Had a go at the IC434/B33 complex – the Horsehead Nebula – not seen as the transparency was not great).

NGC 1977, nebula in Orion –  This is a large, fairly bright reflection nebula surrounding three stars. It is elongated east to west. The view is enhanced with the UHC filter but not by the OIII. 90x.

NGC 1682, galaxy in Orion – Fairly small, round and fairly bright. A diffuse halo surrounds a brighter core. 247x

NGC 1684, galaxy in Orion – Elongated 2:1 NNE-SSW, this is larger and brighter than 1682. It has a fuzzy halo surrounding a bright core. 90x, 247x.

Packed up at 2130. The good thing about this time of year is that you can have a reasonable session and still get indoors in time to watch Casualty and the Football League Show!

The following night, Sunday 19th, was even clearer, but cold, so I put the light screen up (I hadn’t bothered the previous evening) and wheeled the 18″ out for a short session. I had planned to observe H2500 objects in Monoceros but ended up losing my way a little and hopping around nearby constellations. I also spent some considerable time cruising the winter Milky Way and looking at IC434/B33

19th February 2012
Conditions:  Cold (-4°C/24.8°F), no breeze, no Moon. Dry, with slight frost.
Transparency: II
Seeing: II-III
NELM: 6.1
Equipment: 18″ f/4.3 Dob, 2mm Televue Panoptic (90x), 15mm Televue Plossl (132x), 8mm Televue Radian (247x), UHC, OIII and Hß filters.

I began with another piece of low-hanging fruit, the easy to find and bright NGC 2261, Hubble’s Variable Nebula.

NGC 2261 (=Hubble’s Variable Nebula), nebula in Monoceros – Very easy to find, this is bright and fan-shaped, with the variable star R Monocerotis – which is the star associated with the nebula and gives it its variability – at its apex (on the southern end). The nebula is very bright, especially around and to the north of R Mon but fades out at the broadest part. A UHC filter makes no difference at all while OIII, as expected (NGC 2261 is a reflection nebula) kills the view. 90x, 132x + UHC, OIII filters.

NGC 2402, galaxy in Canis Minor – Located at the southern end of a chain of 4 stars, this is small, round and fairly bright. It has a diffuse halo surrounding a bright, stellar core. 90x, 132x, 247x.

NGC 2508, galaxy in Canis Minor – This lies to the east of two stars and is small, round and fairly bright. A diffuse halo brightens to the core and a stellar nucleus. 90x, 132x, 247x

NGC 7513, galaxy in Cancer – Easy to find, just north of NGC 2508. A round, bright, diffuse hal0 surrounds a bright core and stellar nucleus. 90x, 247x.

As the transparency was much improved over the previous evening, I had another go at looking at IC434/B33, the Horsehead nebula area. I did see it this time, although it was very faint, even with the Hß filter. This was only my second view of it, the first having been with Owen Brazell’s 20″ Dob at the Isle of Wight Star Party in 2010.

I packed up after a fairly short session.


25th February 2012
Conditions: Clear, chilly (2°C/35.6°F), very dewy (humidity was 85%), waxing crescent Moon.
Seeing: I-II
Transparency: III-IV (NELM not checked but I suspect it was not as good as 6)
Equipment: 8″ f/4 Newtonian on GEM (undriven), 22mm Televue Panoptic (36x), 8mm Televue Radian (100x)
I decided to have a session with my small 20cm (8 inch) Celestron Newtonian, simply because I’d felt sick all day and didn’t feel like going to the top of the garden and getting the big scope out (although, paradoxically, the 18 inch is easier to get out and use – wheel out of shed, collimate, stick eyepiece in and observe). I am not a massive fan of equatorial mounts but the small Newt can be fun to use, when it isn’t in one of *those* moods and being bloody awkward, and reminds me of my early days in astronomy 20 years ago.
The transparency was pretty dismal, so I stuck to open clusters in and around Monoceros.

NGC 2215, open cluster in Monoceros – Easily found at 36x. A detached, loose group of stars with an irregular shape. There are about 18 10-11th magnitude stars plus many more fainter ones in the background. No dark areas. 36x, 100x.

NGC 2324, open cluster in Monoceros – At 36, this showed an irregular cross shape of brighter stars on a hazy background of fainter stars. The longer axis of the cross points south, where there is a roundish patch of just-resolved stars which gets larger with averted vision. At 100x, the patch is grainy and barely resolved. The stars are all white. 36x, 100x.

NGC 2252, open cluster in Monoceros – Lying just to the north of the Rosette Nebula this detached open cluster is easily found at 36x. It’s a largish, rich open cluster shaped like a rounded ‘Y’ or a wish bone, whose ‘arms’ spread to the SW and SE from the stem, which runs N-S. There are around 12 stars on a grainy background but 100x reveals more of them although many fainters ones stay unresolved. 36x, 100x

NGC 2251, open cluster in Monoceros – A fairly large irregular group of faint stars. A long chain of 11 stars stretches off to the south-east while a short line of 3 stars goes off to the north-west and on the west side is a semi-circle of 5 stars. The overall shape of the cluster reminds me of an ‘Aladdin’s lamp’. There is some nebulosity involved in the southern chain, which is visible even without filters. The cluster is elongated NW-SE. 36x, 100x

NGC 2331, open cluster in Gemini – A large and coast open cluster, made up of around 25 stars. Not bright. 36x.

NGC 2234, open cluster in Gemini – A large, loose cluster of about 30-40 stars. Listed as ‘non-existent’ but it is there… 36x

By this time, as the dew was making life awkward, I packed up. I have to confess that open clusters are not my favourite class of objects to observe; I much prefer galaxies, globular clusters and planetary/diffuse nebulae but it is nice to look at something different from time to time. Also, doing the Herschel 2500 means that I have to observe open clusters as, although most of the H2500 are galaxies, there are a good number of open clusters in there too.

March Observing sessions

Isle of Wight Star Party

April Observing sessions

Mostly the Texas Star Party, which you can read about here  and here.

Date: 12th May 2012

Conditions: Clear, very dewy, no Moon (rises at 0200)
Transparency: II-III; Seeing: II; NE Limiting Mag: 6.0
Equipment: 18″ f/4.3 Dob with 22mm TeleVue Panoptic (90x), 15mm TeleVue Plossl (132x), 12mm TeleVue Nagler (165x) and 9mm TeleVue Nagler (219x).

I began with some eye candy (M53), then went on to some fainter stuff before returning to bright objects. Objects observed were M53, a globular cluster in Coma Berenices, NGC 4147, a globular also in Coma B, an attempted observation of NGC 5053 in Coma B, Abell 1656, the Coma Galaxy Cluster, M5, M56 and M3. The Messiers were objects that I hadn’t looked at in about 17 years so it was nice to catch up with them again, besides I wanted them for my Globular Cluster observing progam mentioned above.

I failed to find NGC 5053, a notoriously hard object to observe because of its low surface brightness (I returned to it on Sunday night with more success).

I identified 14 members of Abell 1656 during the course of an hour and a half, plus I saw many others that’ll have to remain nameless until a better night, as the transparency, while ok, wasn’t as good as it could be. The ones I could put names to were NGC 4889, NGC 4874, NGC 4864, NGC 4869, NGC 4865, NGC 4881, NGC 4860, NGC 4848, NGC 4921, NGC 4911, NGC 4923, NGC 4908, IC 4051 and MGC+5-31-46, the latter object only visible with averted vision. I used my new (second-hand) Naglers on these and was pleased with their performance.

I finished with some more Messier globulars, M5, M56 and M3, before packing up.


Date: 13th May 2012
Conditions: Cool, slight dew, breezy.
Transparency: II-III; Seeing: II, NE Limiting Mag: 5.8 to 6.0 later before deteriorating badly.
Equipment: 18″ f/4.3 Dob with 22mm TeleVue Panoptic (90x), 15mm TeleVue Plossl (132x)

The sky was not that good although the transparency did improve slightly later. I ended up just observing three objects, all globular clusters, NGC 6229 in Hercules (another re-visit to something I’d not seen in years), M92 (the last time I looked at this was in 1999) and I had another crack at NGC 5053, this time successfully, despite the less-than-optimal sky conditions. NGC 5053 was faint, very faint and amounted to nothing more than a roundish glow with stellarings in moments of good seeing and no central condensation whatsoever. As globular clusters go, it is a pretty poor specimen!
I decided to go after some more galaxy clusters but the transparency gave out completely and the sky became extremely milky. When it’s like that, it’s no good for anything, much less faint galaxies which vanish if even the slightest bit of haze appears.

So, it was a couple of good sessions – well, one excellent session and one not-so-hot one. It’s been a mediocre year so far for observing, with not many sessions because ‘life’ has just plain got in the way, although it had been quite clear up until the second week of April when the period of bad weather set in. I’ve done most of my observing at the IoW and Texas SPs.