Ol' Deadeye

Observing notes from the evening of Friday, March 23, 2001

My morning commute started with blue, crisp skies. Surely this cannot be good I thought. This particular Friday was an official, scheduled observing session for the Raleigh Astronomy Club. Murphy's law implies it should be cloudy. In case some you've never heard of Murphy, simply stated, his law says that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. And since Murphy likes to rub salt into the wound, a clear sky during the day and clouds in the evening would be the most likely scenario to play out. So, although I enjoyed the glorious sunshine, I tried not to think too much about the scheduled night festivities or what the weather may bring.

By mid-day, my curiosity in the meteorological happenings could no longer be contained. The skies were still blue, the forecast was good, and satellite images showed all clear. It looked like Murphy had taken a vacation. Since it had been a couple of months since I'd done some decent observing, I was really looking forward to getting back under the stars. And it turned out to be a great night for reeling in the faint celestial wonders that we astronomers love to gaze at.

I arrived at the Big Woods observing site (at Lake Jordan, NC) just before sunset. I hurriedly setup my Meade 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (SCT). Although I have a larger 10" reflector, I consider the SCT to be my main workhorse scope. It's easy to use, has a built-in clock drive, and has very effective manual setting circles. My first quarry for the evening was something a wee bit closer to Earth than most objects I go after. I wanted to catch the planet Venus before it slipped below the tree line. It has been putting on a great show for the last few months and this month is the last time to see it before it becomes a morning only object. And of course, the cool thing about Venus is that it goes through phases just like the moon. It's quite amazing to turn your telescope onto this "star" and see a slim crescent displayed in the eyepiece. And what a remarkable crescent it is. On this particular evening, the disk of Venus was only illuminated at 2.4%, although it was still blazing away at -4.2 magnitude. Since Venus is so close to us now, its angular size is quite large at 58 arc-seconds. This means that even the lowest amount of magnification, such as a finder scope or a pair of binoculars, will show its crescent phase. It was absolutely stunning. (Future note: My last observation of Venus on the evening of March 27, 2001, displayed a disk with the phase of only 1.2%. This is so ridiculously thin it's hard to describe. Think of the earliest phase that you've ever seen of the moon. It was probably much thinner than that! This 1.2% phase by the way, is now the record for the smallest phase that I've ever seen Venus display.)

Enough about Venus. I'm sure folks are wondering about the title of my notes, "Ol' Deadeye". If you'll glance below, you'll notice that I observed a lot of Herschel objects. Over thirty. And on top of this I observed a few other objects too. The reason was that time and time again, I was able to easily find the deepsky objects using my manual setting circles with uncanny precision. Hence the name, "Ol' Deadeye". Like a sharpshooter, I was hitting every one of my targets. When the hunt becomes easier, you hunt more and you hung longer. My usual routine is to dial in the coordinates of the object on my setting circles, then use my low power eyepiece to check the star field. Most of the time the object is in there. Every now and then it will not be there, but it will be within about a half a field of view away. After observing with low power, I sometimes then go up to medium power to get a larger view with more contrast. On this particular evening, especially toward the later hours, my pointing accuracy was so good that I was finding objects even when leaving my medium power eyepiece in place! It spurred me on to finish out all of my Herschel objects in the constellations of Puppis and Ursa Major. The only thing that could have been better would have been a larger telescope. And even though I devoted some of my time to the social activity of visiting among the other amateur astronomers on the field with me, I was still able to observe more than my usual number of celestial delights. It was a great night to be under the starry heavens.

Here's a list of objects I observed:

NGC7380. Open cluster in Cepheus. Really low on horizon at this time. Very faint. Sprawling stars.

NGC2421. Open cluster in Puppis. Faint. Rather scattered. Kind of triangular in shape.

NGC2422. Open cluster in Puppis. Big and bright. Can't believe this is a Herschel. Very large, very open. Nice little twin double star near center.. White bright stars.

NGC2423. Open cluster in Puppis. Pretty dim. Scattered, almost a horseshoe shape. To the north of NGC2422.

NGC2438. Planetary nebula in Puppis. Quite remarkable because it is in the big and bright open cluster known as M46. Stands out well. Patch of glowing gray. Relatively bright.

NGC2440. Planetary nebula in Puppis. Tiny and bright. Shows up well. Just can see the central star popping in and out, but it doesn't seem quite centered on the nebula.

NGC2479. Open cluster in Puppis. Nice concentration, but dim. Kind of sparse if you zoom in. Concentration kind of circular or "C" shaped.

NGC2482. Open cluster in Puppis. Not too much to it. Kind of small and faint. Dim little concentration of stars. General shape runs north-south, but more sporadic shape to tell the truth.

NGC2489. Open cluster in Puppis. Small and faint. Very dim members. The concentration shows it as a cluster, but since the stars are so faint, there's not much of this cluster that impresses me.

NGC2509. Open cluster in Puppis. Another small, faint cluster. This one is very tight and compact with faint members. The stars are so faint and compact, that it almost has a glow to it. Kind of pretty.

NGC2527. Open cluster in Puppis. Relatively large and spread out. Sprawling metropolis of stars. Medium brightness members.

NGC2539. Open cluster in Puppis. Big and spread out. Sparse. Lots of faint members. To the southeast of the cluster is a very bright star, kind of a yellowish orange. It has a companion, or nearby star, that is dimmer and is more toward the blue white end of the spectrum. It kind of reminds me of Albireo in Cygnus. It really stands out.

NGC2567. Open cluster in Puppis. Very small. Relatively concentrated, but not that many members. Kind of elongated in the east-west directions.

NGC2571. Open cluster in Puppis. Pitiful excuse for an open cluster. The concentration of stars barely distinguishes itself from the other stars in the field of view. Two prominent stars, but only in comparison to the rest of the faint members of the cluster. Dim little, unimpressive cluster.

NGC2613. Galaxy in Pyxis. Very, very faint. Edge on, or oblong, linear shape. Running northwest-southeast. Very uniform in brightness.

NGC2627. Open cluster in Pyxis. Lousy, lousy cluster. Very faint. Kind of like a diffuse background glow. Members are relatively concentrated, but still sparse.

NGC3898. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Small, bright, oval shape. No structure seen, though it does have a bright core.

NGC3938. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Medium size. Shows up pretty well. Round in shape, gets brighter toward middle, and maybe toward the southern end.

NGC3941. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Small, yet bright. Oval shape. Easy to see. Stellar core, kind of gives it an "eyeball" look.

NGC3945. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Not too much to this one. Basically round. Brighter core. Little star just off the edge of it.

NGC3949. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Kind of small. Maybe some mottling, or variations in brightness. Mostly round, maybe some oval shape to it.

NGC3953. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Large and shaped in the north-south direction. Elongated. Brighter toward the center and south. Couple of involved stars at the edge.

NGC3982. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Small and faint. Round. Basically a round glowing patch with a little brightening toward the center.

NGC3992. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Big and bright. Some mottling, more toward the west. Core is gradually brighter. Looks like a big oval. Also known as M109.

NGC3998. Galaxy in Ursa Major. In same field of view as NGC3982. Small, but bright core. No definition or details beyond this.

NGC4026. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Oval or elongated shape, running north-south. Brighter middle or core, maybe brighter toward the south.

NGC4036. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Bright, oval shape, running east-west.

NGC4041. Galaxy in Ursa Major. In same field of view as NGC4036. Smaller. Not much shape other than round. Dimmer. Brighter center. Maybe some mottling.

NGC4051. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Large. Star involved to the west. In the center I see a star or stellar core. Mottling, or splotchy look. Maybe a spiral arm?

NGC4085. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Barely shows up. Very elongated. Need averted vision to see it. Thin and almost invisible. Runs east-west.

NGC4088. Galaxy in Ursa Major. In same field of view as NGC4085. Brighter and bigger. Elongated too, but more oval shape. Not much detail, gradually the center gets brighter. Shape runs more south-west to north-east.

NGC4102. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Small, relatively bright. Bright core. Involved star on western end. Some shape to it, in the east-west directions.

NGC5322. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Small, round shape. Bright core.

NGC5473. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Small, tiny. Need averted vision to see it. Bright core. Fuzz spot. Same field of view I can see NGC5485, a small oval galaxy in the eastern direction.

NGC5474. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Round, barely visible as a glow with averted vision. M101 to the south.

NGC5631. Galaxy in Ursa Major. Small, round and faint with bright core.

NGC6217. Galaxy in Ursa Minor. Small little faint glow. No detail. Round.

As I packed away my equipment at the end of the session, I noticed Mars above the southeastern horizon. Though it was tempting, I resisted the urge to scope it out because of fatigue and the lateness of the hour. But it will soon be beckoning to astronomers of the world as it gets closer, and bigger, and brighter in the coming months. It won't be long before we are once again surveying Martian landscapes.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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