Crystal Clear Skies

Observing notes from the evening of Thursday, September 4, 1997

With a cold front passing through, and cobalt blue skies all day long, the odds looked good for a decent stargazing session. Five of us gathered at Farrington Point, Lake Jordan, NC, not too long after sunset. I had my 8" f/10 Schmidt-Cassegrain, Donald Major had his 8" f/6 Dobsonian, Michael King has his 8" f/4.5 Newtonian on a German equatorial mount, Jeff McAdams had his 10" f/5 Dobsonian, and potential club member Matt Matthews had his Meade 90mm ETX Maksutov-Cassegrain. With a glorious Milky Way shining over head, we set about observing.

Donald has his telescope equipped with digital setting circles. This neat little tool allowed him to find objects without star hopping. He just selected the object in the computer and it told him where to move the scope. I told him to find M27, the Dumbbell Nebula. I knew he had not observed it before, so it would be a good test. Donald tapped at the computer, moved the scope, glanced in the eyepiece and told me to have a look. There, glowing in the eyepiece was a beautiful nebula. Judging by the way Donald found objects the rest of the night, digital setting circles would be a wonderful addition to any telescope.

The night was spent hopping from one object to the next. We observed Jupiter for while. All four Galilean moons were visible with Callisto casting a dark shadow on the center of Jupiter. We also spied on Saturn for a while. I was able to pick up 5 moons through my scope; Rhea, Dione, Enceladus, Mimas, and Tethys. This was my first observation of Mimas. At magnitude 13, it's really hard to see against the brightness of Saturn.

We observed a lot of Messier objects. M27 was noted above. We also picked up M13, the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules. We compared M13 to M22, another brilliant globular in Sagittarius. I think M13 edges out M22 in size and beauty, but M22 does give it a run for it's money. Donald then ran through a number of the Messier objects in this region of the summer Milky Way. We spied on M25, an open cluster in Sagittarius. We took a gander at M23, a dense open cluster also in Sagittarius. Next came M21, a rich open cluster in, you guessed it, Sagittarius. M21, M23, and M25 are all new observations for me. Also, since we were looking at M24, the dense star cloud just above the "teapot" of Sagittarius, I'll list it here as my first official sighting.

Other objects we observed in this region were M20, the Trifid Nebula in Sagittarius; M18, a bright and scattered open cluster in Sagittarius; M17, the Swan Nebula (also known as the Omega Nebula) in Sagittarius; M18, a bright scattered cluster in Sagittarius; and M16, the Eagle Nebula in Serpens Cauda. With M20, I could just see the "trifid" dust lanes. M17 was its big, bright usual self. With M16, the Eagle Nebula, we could just see a little bit of nebulosity around the cluster of stars.

Donald also dialed in M15, a globular cluster with a bright core in Pegasus. It doesn't really compare to M13 or M22, but it's still bright and beautiful and definitely better than some of the obscure globulars in Sagittarius. We also gazed upon another globular, M14 located in Ophiuchus.

Next up came M40 in Ursa Major. M40 is basically a double star. I don't even think it's a true binary. They are rather ordinary, looking like tiny snake eyes in space. I have no idea why this made it on Messier's list. Mark this as a new observation for me.

A bat decided to join us sometime during the night. Every now and then he would flutter around us, sometimes coming within a couple of feet of my face. On top of this, we kept hearing something moving around in the nearby trees. We jokingly said it was rabid beaver. We had one bite a swimmer a few weeks ago on this very lake. Every now and then a meteor would zip across the skies.

Next up on the observing agenda was M11, an open cluster in Scutum. This dense cluster also goes by the name of Wild Duck Cluster. This cluster looks more like the concentrated clusters of fall and winter than the sparse open clusters of summer. We also gazed up upon the open cluster of M26, since it was also located in Scutum.

The Ring Nebula in Lyra, M57, slid into view next. I'm always amazed at this "smoky" ring among the stars. It is very unique and always an attention grabber. I still haven't seen the central star yet. I then went from planetary nebula to planetary disk. Uranus was an easy find, displaying a pale green disk in my telescope. Although there is no detail to be had, I still like gazing upon this world. There's just something about the color and the knowledge of what it is, that captivates me, and holds me to the eyepiece.

We then swung over to the eastern sky to take a look at M76, the Little Dumbbell Nebula in Perseus. So called, because it resembles the Dumbbell Nebula, it also goes by the name of Cork Nebula. It looks more like a cork than a dumbbell to me anyway.

Next up was the magnificent group of galaxies in Andromeda, M31, M32, and M110. All were easily visible with M31 dominating the view. This large, bright galaxy stretches from one side of the eyepiece to the other. It's dust lane was just visible, off center. M32 appeared a bright fuzzy looking star while M110 displayed as an oval smudge of light.

Jeff McAdams gave us a view of the North American Nebula in Cygnus. Using a narrow band nebula filter, we could easily make out the "Mexico" region. I still have never really got a good look at this nebula. It's so big, it's just hard to take it all in.

We finished out the night with the galaxy M33, located in Triangulum. This large galaxy is easy to overlook since it's light is spread out over such a large area. It appears as a patch of light. I've looked in vain for this galaxy in years past, finally finding it with binoculars from a dark site. It's definitely a galaxy more suited for darker skies.

With the open cluster of the Pleides peeping over the trees, our last views of the night were of the Milky Way with the unaided eye. It was so prominent and bright that it looked kind of "clumpy". If it wasn't for having to go to work the next day, I would have stayed out there all night long.

Jeffrey L. Polston


Listed below are all the objects observed. Objects with an asterisk are new objects for me.

M13 (NGC 6205), globular cluster, Hercules

M22 (NGC 6656), globular cluster, Sagittarius

* M23 (NGC 6494), open cluster, Sagittarius

* M21 (NGC 6531), open cluster, Sagittarius

* M25 (IC 4725), open cluster, Sagittarius

* M24 (NGC 6603), open cluster, Sagittarius

M20 (NGC 6514), Trifid Nebula, Sagittarius

M18 (NGC 6613), open cluster, Sagittarius

M17 (NGC 6618), Swan Nebula, Sagittarius

M16 (NGC 6611), Eagle Nebula, Serpens Cauda

M15 (NGC 7078), globular cluster, Pegasus

M14 (NGC 6402), globular cluster, Ophiuchus

* M40, double star, Ursa Major

M11 (NGC 6705), open cluster, Scutum

M26 (NGC 6694), open cluster, Scutum

M76, Little Dumbbell Nebula, Perseus

M31 (NGC 224), galaxy, Andromeda

M32 (NGC 221), galaxy, Andromeda

M110 (NGC 205), galaxy, Andromeda

NGC7000, North American Nebula, Cygnus

M33 (NGC598), Triangulum Galaxy, Triangulum

M27 (NGC 6853), Dumbbell Nebula, Vulpecula

M57 (NGC 6720), Ring Nebula, Lyra

Jupiter, Capricorn

Saturn, Pisces

Uranus, Capricorn


M45, The Pleiades, Taurus

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