Back In Action

Observing notes from the evening of Wednesday, September 23, 1998

My last observing session was a month ago. Since then we have had a big moon and clouds in the skies. Finally we got a cold front that cleared out the skies. On top of this, I just had got my 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope back together and it was itching to collect some starlight. Fellow club member Jeff McAdams and I decided to meet at Jordan Lake, North Carolina, at the Farrington Point boat launch.

On the drive over I could see the stars starting to pop out. A thin crescent moon, glowing orange, hung just above the western horizon. I got to the lake about 25 minutes ahead of Jeff. I decided to sit on the boat launch and watch the moon, its light stretched out across the water, dip below the horizon. Not long after that, the Milkyway appeared, looking like a river of stars. I just laid back on the ground and traced the constellations and clumps of stars. The fish were jumping enough to make me wish I had brought a fishing pole. After Jeff arrived we set up near the water. He had his 10" f/5 Dobsonian.

After setting up my telescope I realized I had made a grave error. I forgot to bring my notebook! This notebook contained my polar alignment guide, pencils and paper for taking notes, but most importantly, it contained my Orion DeepSky 600 star chart, which I depend on heavily. I had my Sky Atlas 2000.0 but it gives you no information about the objects you are trying to find. Jeff didn't bring any charts so we made due with our memory, and the Sky Atlas. Actually, it was quite fun using the grid to determine coordinates of objects in the Atlas. But, because of my lack of notes, and poor memory, I have no logical order of the objects we observed. I'll do the best I can.

As I sighted in my finder scope, I gazed upon M8, the Lagoon Nebula in Sagittarius. Although I didn't observe it for long, the "lagoon" portion was readily visible and the surrounding nebulosity quite evident. One of the first scrutinized objects we observed was the globular cluster M15, in Pegasus. This cluster is relatively easy to find and resolved very nicely in both our scopes. At lower powers, the core seemed more like a point, or more stellar. But as I pushed the power up, M15 resolved into a swarm of stars, right to the core.

Another object for the night was the planetary nebula, M27. Located in Vulpecula, this large, bright planetary nebula is usually called the Dumbbell nebula. Glowing greenish-gray, the nebula took on a rectangular shape. After this view, I decided to pull in the Little Dumbbell, M76 in Perseus. I found this one with the help of my setting circles. It is smaller than M27, but easy to see. I think some people call it the Cork nebula. I could see some structure in the middle, almost like some dark spots.

Next up was the Veil nebula, NGC6960, located in Cygnus. This is an object that is very easy to find, but hard to see. Just point your telescope at the star 52 Cygni, with a low power eyepiece. Can you see it? No? Well trust me, it's probably in your eyepiece. The problem with the Veil nebula is that it is quite dim and any light pollution will start to mask it. A narrow band filter is quite helpful in viewing the Veil nebular. I have a Lumicon UHC and it works very well on this object. I could see the nebula, snaking past 52 Cygni. The Veil is actually quite large. I pushed the scope around to follow other portions of it.

Our next target was an open cluster in Vulpecula, that according to the charts, should have had some nebulosity around it. I'm talking about NGC6823. Both Jeff and I think we found the cluster, but I must say that it is one the poorest looking open clusters I've ever seen (if I had the right one). It was very, very sparse, and we didn't see any localized nebulosity.

In looking for NGC6823, we also came across the globular cluster M71. Located in Sagitta, this cluster is easy to find because of nearby stars. It's a small cluster, but easy to resolve. Since we were in the region, we also zoomed in on the globular cluster, M56. Located in Lyra, it is also small and easy to resolve. It is very similar to M71.

Next up was the planetary nebula, NGC6826. Located in Cygnus, this object is also known as the Blinking planetary. I located it with the use of my setting circles. Upon finding this nebula, we immediately noticed a relatively bright star embedded within it. We had no detailed descriptions of it so we weren't sure how it should look. The nebula was a pale blue color and the star was about magnitude 7. It was also off from the center, almost right at the edge. My software, TheSky, describes the nebula as having a central star, but this star wasn't really in the center. Maybe we were not seeing the entire nebula. None the less, it was an interesting sight.

About this time, a car drove through the parking lot, right past us, and up to the edge of the water. It was a couple of teenagers. They got out, walked around and giggled, smooched, then finally approached us to check out the telescopes. We couldn't resist the "sidewalk astronomy" temptation. Jeff started showing them double stars and nebula. I traced out some constellations with my flashlight. Then we wowed them with a view of Jupiter. We could see what looked like the Red Spot just on the western limb of the planet. Io, Europa, and Ganymede were stretched out to the west of the planet and Callisto was the lone moon to the east of the Planet. The cloud belts were prominent. After Jupiter we zoomed in on Saturn for some more wows. The Cassini division was popping in and out due to turbulent air overhead but the rings as a whole looked good. We could see one big equatorial belt. The moons Enceladus, Tethys, and Rhea were stretched out to the west of Saturn and we could see the moons Dione and Titan to the east of Saturn. It was an awesome view. The couple thanked us and left. We shielded our eyes to try and protect some of our night vision.

Another object we observed was the great globular cluster, M13, in Hercules. With a multitude of stars filling the eyepiece, this is the granddaddy of northern hemisphere globular clusters. But we were after fainter prey. About 27 minutes to the northwest of M13 is a tiny, elongated galaxy known as NGC6207. Since I have seen this galaxy before, it didn't take much panning for me to locate it. With a low power eyepiece, and the galaxy centered, M13 is right on the edge of my field of view. Jeff was having trouble seeing it with his scope. I took a look and noted that he actually had the galaxy in his center of view! I told him that the galaxy completes a trapezium shape with three other stars around it and he then found it. It was fun to find such a faint little critter.

Using my setting circles, I then sneaked up on the Saturn nebula, NGC7009, located in Aquarius. At magnitude 8, this nebula is relatively easy to see. I was struck by its strong, blue color. I couldn't see a Saturn shape, but when I zoomed in, it had an elongated appearance, similar to the view of Saturn through binoculars.

Next up was the king of the galaxies for the northern hemisphere, the Andromeda galaxy, M31. We could easily see the galaxy with our unaided eyes so pointing the telescopes was not a problem. The satellite galaxies of M32 and M110 were also readily visible. The dust lane of M31 stood out like a soar thumb. I was very impressed. The large galaxy stretched across the eyepiece. M32 appeared as a fuzzy, round galaxy with a bright core. M110 was a little dimmer, and definitely displayed an oval shape.

I finished out my deep sky tour with M33, the Triangulum galaxy. This large galaxy was easy to see in my 8x50 finder and easy to see in the telescope. The problem is that since it is so big, it's light is spread out over a large area. Jeff nor I could entirely convince ourselves that we could see the spiral structure of this face-on galaxy. There were a couple of times when I thought I saw some arms, but nothing definite.

Despite forgetting my notebook, this observing session turned out pretty well. It felt good to be back in action.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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