Deep Sky Patrol

Observing notes from the evening of Tuesday, November 24, 1998

Earlier in the day, fellow club member and friend Jeff McAdams had sent me some email about a possible observing session.  The skies were clear and only a small crescent moon was in the western sky.  With spousal approval, I decided to venture out for some star gazing.  It had been quite a while since my last observing session so I felt a need to patrol for some deep sky objects.  We met at Farrington Point on Lake Jordan , North Carolina not too long after sunset.  Since the summer months have slipped away, there weren't any boaters in our way.  Jeff brought along his 10" f/5 dobsonian telescope.  I didn't feel up to lugging the Schmidt-Cassegrain and since my 10" scope is still in the shop, I brought along my 80mm refractor.  Although I actually did take it out of the car, I never looked through my scope the entire night.  Instead, Jeff and I took turns using his telescope.

Our first object of the evening was the galaxy NGC253 in Sculptor.  Actually known as the Sculptor Galaxy, it is big and bright.  We could easily see it in 10x50 binoculars.  The easiest way to find it was to start at the beta star of Cetus, called Diphda, and pan south about 7 degrees.  Through the telescope, one side of the galaxy appeared to have dust lanes.

The next target of our deep sky patrol was the globular cluster NGC288 in Sculptor.  It was very faint and resembles M4.  It was large and easily resolved to the core.  It presented many, many stars.

Looking at the star charts, we noticed another galaxy even closer to the beta star of Cetus.  With a nudge of the telescope, we centered on the galaxy NGC247 in Cetus.  This one was very, very faint.  It was kind of large and elongated, but barely showed up.  There was a foreground star at the very tip of one end.

After these faint fuzzies, we decided to hunt down some easy open clusters.  Since Auriga was getting up pretty good above the trees, our first target was the open cluster M38.  This is a typical, pretty, open cluster.  It is quite rich.  When gazing at this cluster, we also spied on NGC1907.  This is a tiny, compact open cluster very close to M38.

Next up was the open cluster M37, also in Auriga.  Again, this is a nice, pretty open cluster.  It kind of resembles the open cluster M11 in that it has a orange star present.  But this star is no where near as bright as the one in M11.  Still, it is noticeable and pretty.

Still in the constellation of Auriga, next on the starry scene was the open cluster M36.  This is a pretty cluster but not as impressive and the previous two.  Of all the "30 Something" clusters, this one is the least favorite.  ("30 Something Clusters" is the name I give to the open clusters M35, M36, M37, and M38 since they are all in the same region of sky.)

We decided to try and track down NGC891.  I've seen pictures of this edge on galaxy that are quite impressive.  In panning the area, Jeff came across a bright smudge in Perseus.  After referring to the charts for a while and getting our bearings, we determined that the smudge was the galaxy NGC1023.  This is a tiny but impressive, elongated galaxy.  It is very bright and shows up well.  Good thing it was not a comet or I would have had to knock Jeff on the head and claim the comet as my find.

After a little searching, we finally found NGC891 in Andromeda.  To tell you the truth, I was not impressed.  I was expecting a large galaxy with a very prominent dust lane.  We could tell that it was definitely an edge on galaxy, and kind of large in size, but that was about all the detail we could discern.  I stared at it, blinked my eyes repeatedly, and used averted vision.  I think I could just make out a pencil thin dust lane running the entire length of the galaxy.  It was more suspected than confirmed, and it could have been my imagination.

Since it was getting cold and Gemini was getting up in the sky, we decided to go after the Eskimo nebula.  Just like the last object, we stumbled across another object before we found our target.  We found the open cluster NGC2420.  It was very faint and kind of resembles the big, dim globulars I have observed before.

The Eskimo Nebula, NGC2392, was the next object to slide into view.  This planetary nebula located in Gemini is very easy to see.  It is bright and casts a bluish glow.  We pumped of the magnification but couldn't see any more details.  There was a central star that was easily visible.  Orion's Deepsky 600 map mentions a central star and I guess this is the one we observed.  I don't know if this is the actual one that created the nebula.

Our next object was small planetary nebula between the heads of Gemini.  NGC2371 proved to be very faint and difficult.  Once found, we tried various magnifications to bring out some detail.  Amazingly, we would see two lobes. It is kind of peanut shaped.  Since it was faint and difficult, we were surprised by the amount of detail we could see.  The nebula got a rating of "cool" because of its unique shape and the fact that we could actually see it.

Next up was the object that Messier started it all with.  I'm talking about the Crab Nebula, M1, in Taurus.  It was big, and bright, and easy.  The night was starting to get long so we didn't spend too much time on this fabulous object.

As we started winding down, our next object of the evening was the Flame Nebula in Orion.  I think this is NGC2024.  This nebula is right beside the Zeta star of Orion, which is called Alnitak.  Even with this 2nd magnitude star blazing away in the eyepiece, the Flame Nebula was easily visible.  It is big, and kind of resembles a fire.  Some people call it the Tank Track nebula because of the dust lanes that clearly visible.  I call it the Burning Bush nebula because the dark lanes resemble branches to me.  I was surprised at how easy it was to see.  This is usually a sign that the skies are good and the odds of spotting the Horsehead nebula are greater.  I didn't have any of my star charts indicating the exact position of the Horsehead nebula, but decided to explore the region anyway.  I've looked at the picture so much that I know basically where it is at.  I could make out nebulosity all around the area.  The 8.5 magnitude star SAO 132464 is surrounded by glowing nebula that was easy to see.  I could just make out the nebula that the Horsehead resides in, but not the Horsehead nebula itself.  I think that if I had actually had some darker skies, I probably would have been able to see it on this exceptionally clear night.  This site at Jordan Lake is becoming more and more light polluted.  In fact, I could easily read the chart numbers on my star charts.

The last object of the night was the best.  For the grand finale, we zoomed in on M42, the Orion nebula.  It was big and bright as usual.  The four beacons that make up the Trapezium blazed away like tiny diamonds.  The nebula filled the eyepiece and tendrils went beyond my field of view.  I've heard many names and shapes given to the Orion nebula.  To me, it kind of resembles a big angel fish.

After the Orion nebula, we decided to call it a night.  We were getting cold and the next day was a workday.  It was one of the best observing sessions I've had in a while.  Jeff and I make a good team.  We have about the same level of expertise and drive (although he has more for observing the planets).  Almost all of the NGC objects I observed on this night were new to me.  It's fun to pick an object off of the star chart and then to actually find it in the sky.  I'll have to go on Deep Sky Patrol more often.

Jeffrey L. Polston

* Back to home page *