Observing notes from the evening of Saturday, February 5, 2000
North Carolina has been hit by several winter storms within the last few weeks. The last one dumped a record breaking snowfall. The schools were out, businesses were closed, and people had a difficult time getting around. In fact, most people didn't get around at all. We all stayed cooped up in our houses or spent most of the time just trying to shovel the snow out of the driveway. While there were a few clear nights, the fact that it was bitterly cold and had about two feet of snow on the ground kept me from venturing outside with my telescope. Needless to say, everyone has been suffering from "Cabin Fever" to some degree. Most of the snow has finally melted away now. So, when Saturday night presented me with clear skies, I couldn't resist setting up my telescope to hunt down some faint celestial wonders.
I spent the day shoveling the remaining snow from my deck and set up my 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope just after nightfall. Although it was quite cold, it felt refreshing to be out under the stars again. Since I'm working on observing the Herschel 400 list of deep sky objects, I always feel I'm wasting any clear night that I'm not outside. With the universe calling my name, I aligned my setting circles and went to work.
My first object of the night was NGC1964. This is a small, very faint galaxy located in the constellation of Lepus. I barely could detect that the galaxy was there. It was basically an oblong fuzzy spot, running north-south. It had either a stellar core or an involved star. Either way, it was prominent in the center.
I then drifted down the river Eridanus until I came upon the galaxy NGC1407. Although the galaxy barely showed up in my eyepiece, it was a nice size. It was almost perfectly round. Every now and then I would see a little sparkle in the center.
The strong current of Eridanus carried me to NGC1400. This faint galaxy is in the same field of view as NGC1407, but it is quite a bit smaller. There wasn't much to it. It too seemed to have a stellar core or a star involved.
I could hear the howl of Orion's hound so I ventured in the region of Canis Major. I searched out the open cluster NGC2204. My first reaction was, "Is this a star cluster?". According to the star charts I was dead center on the cluster but there sure wasn't much to it. It was a very loose gathering of stars, with one prominent star in the eyepiece. The software I was using seemed to suggest that the brighter star wasn't a true member. After boosting the power up a little bit, I could see a dim concentration of stars in the center, but I still seemed to see more stars throughout the view so I don't know how this got labeled as an open star cluster.
The stellar canine gave up another cluster for me to observe. Next up was the open cluster NGC2354. This one looked more like a cluster should look, although it has very scattered members. The stars are relatively uniform in magnitude although there seems to be an underlying layer of dimmer stars. The cluster kind of runs east-west in shape. It was very large in eyepiece, covering about a third of the distance across field of view, although it was still rather sparse.
Next up in the constellation of Canis Major was NGC2360. This grouping of stars was quite a beautiful cluster. It was what I thought an open cluster of stars should look like. It was rather rich and mostly uniform, though I would say the shape of the cluster seemed to favor an east-west orientation. The center was pretty concentrated. Still, some of the members seemed to make up what I would call straggling arms, I guess the suburbs of the cluster. NGC2360 stood out well against the background. There was one prominent star to one side in the field of view.
The last object Canis Major offered was the open cluster NGC2362. Wow! This one is not as big as previous cluster, but it stands out as a spectacular gathering of celestial suns. It's a very nice concentration of stars. What really stands out about this one is there is a mega-bright star, blazing away in the center. I don't know if it's a real member because it is so bright. It's almost like a beacon or marker for this cluster. This marker star is toward the blue end of spectrum and really makes this cluster a sight to behold.
From the hound to the master, I swung my telescope into the Orion region of sky. Within minutes the planetary nebula NGC 2022 slid into view. This nebula is very small, but relatively bright and easy to find. It is tiny, almost stellar. With some power applied, I could see some extension. I could tell it wasn't a star, but couldn't see detail beyond that. My UHC narrow band filter didn't do much to improve the view.
Next in Orion was NGC2186, which I would classify as another pitiful excuse for a cluster. Running east-west, though not much of a cluster, I could see a handful of members that were a little brighter than the other members. It might have been a little more rich to one side, but I would hardly call it a cluster.
A faint glow in the low power eyepiece is what I saw next in Orion. This was the open cluster NGC2194. With some applied power, the faint glow turned into a nice concentration of stars. It was very small, compact, and dim, but still a very pretty gathering of stars.
Monoceros, the Unicorn was the next constellation that I ventured into. The open cluster NGC2215 was the first to greet me. There wasn't much to it, but it does show up as a concentration of stars. It was quite small, sparse, and dim. After some disappointing clusters in the past, I was glad that it did at least show up as a cluster against the background of stars.
NGC2232 was the next open cluster in Monoceros that I gazed upon. It was very scattered, almost not like a cluster except that the members are brighter than the surrounding stars. It's kind of hard to find the boundary since it's so spread out. I did notice a half ringlet asterism or pattern of stars within the cluster.
The next open cluster in Monoceros was one that I have visited before. It was NGC2244 which is also known as the Rosette nebula. The cluster stars are very beautiful and prominent, but scattered. The individual members are quite bright. With the narrow band UHC filter and panning around a bit, I just could pick up the nebulosity. I have seen it much better from other locations, but it was still a joy to see it from my backyard.
NGC2251 was the next open cluster in Monoceros that slid into the field of view of my eyepiece. The stars seemed kind of uniformed and filled the eyepiece so I really couldn't see that boundary that gives a cluster some definition. It almost seemed like strings of stars. It was kind of an oblong cluster and quite scattered. Definitely nothing spectacular about it. There was also another string of stars that appeared along the bottom of my eyepiece but the star chart had them plotted outside of NGC2251. They were probably just an unassociated grouping of stars.
The last open cluster of stars that I observed in Monoceros was NGC2264. Known as the Christmas Tree cluster, this congregation of stars lives up to its description. The shape of the cluster is truly like a Christmas tree. But it is upside down if you consider north as the direction of up. There is a bright prominent star at the base. The cluster is very pretty and fills the eyepiece.
From a mythological creature of ancient lore to a current predator that prowls the African plains, I entered the region of Leo the lion. The galaxy NGC2964 found its way into my eyepiece. It was faint and small, and kind of elongated. I would say that it was basically running east-west. I really needed to use averted vision to see the galaxy and couldn't get much detail. It was an oblong glow.
The next object in Leo that I gazed upon was the galaxy NGC3226. To my surprise, there was another galaxy right beside it, called NGC3227. In the low power eyepiece I could tell there was something unusual. The glow of the "galaxy" seemed to have a void in the middle. I thought it was mottling in a very large galaxy. But then I read a description which described it as a double galaxy. When I boosted the power I could definitely separate them. It was a pretty neat view.
The last object of the night was the galaxy NGC3377, also located in the constellation of Leo. It was pretty bright and showed well, but not much detail could be seen. It had a concentrated core and was kind of oblong or oval in shape.
I'm sure other amateur astronomers in my area have been suffering their own versions of Cabin Fever with all the snow and ice that has been on the ground. My fever was finally cured by this excellent observing session.
Jeffrey L. Polston
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