Body Armor

Observing notes from the evening of Saturday, January 27, 2001

The running joke in my astronomy club is that if the Raleigh Astronomy Club plans an observing session, it will get clouded out. Although it was clear all day on Friday, that night's observing session was indeed canceled due to clouds rolling in as the sun set. So when Saturday presented clear skies that would last into the night, I jumped at the chance to get under the stars. I arrived at the Big Woods observing site while the sun still shone brightly over the western horizon.

Glancing up at a beautiful crescent moon, I noticed Venus about 12 degrees higher in the sky. This is the first time I've seen Venus while the sun was still up. I used Venus later to help align my finder scope and was struck by the lovely crescent it displayed. After the sun slipped from view, the western horizon glowed deep red, with the colors fading to blue and purple as you climbed higher into the sky. The planet Mercury was blazing above the treetops. Together with the moon and Venus, this celestial display almost took my breath away. The cold air and the sound of the lake made for a very tranquil feeling. Even someone who doesn't study astronomy would be struck the grandeur of such a view.

The continuing cold brought me back to earth from my heavenly gaze. It is also the influence for the title of these notes. My last attempted observing session was shut down hard by cold temperatures. Not only did my laptop computer screen quit working, but the cold gnawed at me until I was miserable. My face and nose were cold, my toes were cold, my hands were cold, my whole body was cold. I spent way too much time dancing around trying to keep warm. To remedy the situation, I figured I needed some protection. In other words, I needed some "body armor" to fit against the cold.

With that in mind, I ordered myself some insulated overalls. And with the temperature falling, I figured this night would be a pretty good test. Despite how lightweight they are, they kept me surprising warm. I had a pair of thermal underwear on my legs, but other than that, I was in my regular clothes. The overalls really kept me from getting cold. I would recommend them to anyone who feels as miserable as I do when cold weather tries to get the best of you. Insulated overalls are great "body armor" in the fight against low temperatures.

Since I was well suited for battle, I ventured out into the universe. It turned out to be a pretty good night for stargazing. I knocked out a few more Hershel objects and observed a few other objects as well. Other than reeling in some old favorites, I also observed the Medusa nebula, Thor's Helmet, and a host of other faint fuzzies. But most of the time was dedicated to working on my Hershel 400 list and of course socializing with my fellow astronomers.  We had a pretty good turnout.  If I remember correctly, present were Jeff McAdams, Michael King, Jeff Cohn, Carl Castellow, Phyllis & Mark Lang, and Bill Webster.

Here's a list of objects I observed, using my 8" SCT:

NGC136. Open cluster in Cassiopeia. Very, very small. Very faint. Kind of compact for it's size. Barely shows up as a faint glow, even when using more power. Might even mistake it for a dim comet. Pretty hard find.

NGC381. Open cluster in Cassiopeia. Shows up pretty well. Fairly large though not very concentrated. Stars aren't that bright. Not quite oval, but maybe oblong in shape.

NGC436. Open cluster in Cassiopeia. Relatively small. Compact. Stars are about medium brightness compared to surrounding stars. Boxy shape.

NGC457. Open cluster in Cassiopeia. Nice and beautiful, big and bright. Sprawling. Very prominent. Two bright stars at the southern edge. The shape to me looks like a jet, maybe an F-14 with the two stars being the engines and the sprawling stars being the wings. After reading some other notes on this cluster I see that it's called the ET cluster, with the two bright stars being the eyes and the sprawling stars being the wings. I guess it's all according to the orientation of the cluster.

NGC559. Open cluster in Cassiopeia. Very small, compact, faint. Not very impressive. Get impression of a tiny glow. Brighter stars off center that may be part of the cluster.

NGC637. Open cluster in Cassiopeia. Not very impressive. Small, tiny. Relatively bright stars. If you connect the stars you get a "T" shape. It looks like little strings of stars forming the cluster.

NGC654. Open cluster in Cassiopeia. Relatively small. Concentrated. Faint members. Brighter star to the south that may not be a member. Pretty uniform in size.

NGC659. Open cluster in Cassiopeia. Pitiful, pitiful excuse for a cluster. Barely shows up as a faint glow of stars. Almost looks like a little ringlet of stars. Almost takes averted vision to pull it out of the field as an association of stars.

NGC663. Open cluster in Cassiopeia. Nice, big cluster. Prominent stars. Pretty uniform. So scattered it's hard to distinguish the boundaries. To the west there may be more stars. Lots of faint members in between the brighter members but it still doesn't leap out at you because of all the other stars in the field of view. Still, an impressive cluster.

NGC1027. Open cluster in Cassiopeia. Big, bright, scattered cluster. Not uniform. All over the place. One bright star in the center, kind of white-yellow, that I don't think is a real member of the cluster. Decent cluster.

NGC7789. Open cluster in Cassiopeia. Nice and large. Lots of stars. Relatively dim members and kind of concentrated to be so large. Very pretty. Few brighter stars, strings of light, that kind of give it a "clumpy" appearance.

NGC7790. Open cluster in Cassiopeia. Relatively small. Faint, dim members. Kind of concentrated. Same field of view as NGC7788 (another cluster).

NGC3729. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Barely can see it. Small oval glow. Maybe involved star toward southern end. Suppose to be in same field of view as another galaxy, NGC3718. Every now and then I think I pick up a glow where NGC3718 is suppose to be, but I'm not entirely sure.

NGC3813. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Pitiful. Barely, barely can detect it. Slight oval shape in east-west direction. Sky glow may be hampering my view.

NGC3877. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Very faint but pretty neat because it's very elongated. Running kind of north-south, but not quite. Thin. Seems to have brighter portions but I'm not sure if it's mottling or faint foreground stars giving that impression.

NGC3893. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Small, dim, oval. Kind of running north-south. Not much detail. Gradually brighter toward the core.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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