Dialing for Herschels

Observing notes from the evening of Tuesday, April 13, 1999

With another clear night upon us, and during the dark of the moon, some fellow stargazers and I just had to get out for some more observing.  We finally tracked down a key holder to the Big Woods observing site at Lake Jordan.  I had planned to get there before sun down to setup and prepare for a try at astrophotography.  But the key delay got us in there a little later so I decided to forego the photography and make an official start on observing the Herschel 400 list.  I was joined by Jeff McAdams, Michael King, and Jack Rouse.

Setting up my telescope (8" Schmidt-Cassegrain) did not go as smoothly as I wanted it to.  My finder scope kept slipping and would not hold alignment.  The culprit is the six nylon screws on the finder bracket.  They are very ill fitting and very hard to adjust.  I actually ran out of travel on a couple of them.  I plan to try and replace them with metal screws on my next visit to the hardware store.  After some frustration and the utterance of a few profane syllables, I finally got my telescope somewhat polar aligned.  I actually tried the drift method for a little while and convinced myself it was good enough because I didn't want to risk really getting it out of alignment.

Since I decided to put photography aside (especially since my setup didn't go as smoothly as I wanted), I decided to get started on observing the Hershel 400 list.  I set my setting circles using the brightest star, Sirius, in Canis Major.  I must have done something right because my setting circles were dead on for the whole night.  I looked at my list and dialed in my first object.

With a glance into the eyepiece, I could see NGC2775.  Located in Cancer, this 10.3 magnitude galaxy was easily visible.  It's described as an elongated galaxy, but I found it to be more round or oval.  It had a bright core but was dim overall in comparison.

The next Herschel object I dialed in was NGC2903, located in Leo.  This 8.9 magnitude galaxy is big and bright.  Jeff McAdams commented on it looking more like a galaxy than the previous object.  I found NGC2903 to be elongated and kind of looked dusty in a way.  I guess the overused term to use would be mottled.

Next up on the list was NGC3190, a spiral galaxy also in Leo.  At magnitude 11, I found this galaxy to be very elongated.  It seemed kind of small, but also bright.  Located in the same field of view was the galaxy NGC3193.  This galaxy was smaller and more round.  It is also a magnitude 11 galaxy.  There was a star very near it.  Although it took some searching and some averted vision, I actually located a third galaxy in the field of view.  The galaxy is NGC3185 and is about magnitude 12.2.  It was very faint and I could see no detail.

The next object I found using my setting circles was NGC3607.  Also located in Leo, this bright galaxy was easy to see.  It got noticeably brighter toward the middle.  There is a triangle of dim stars near it which makes it easy to identify.  NGC3607 had kind of an elongated oval shape.  In the same field of view, I also found NGC3608.  The galaxy seemed to be more round in shape.  Its magnitude is listed around 11.

The next object that I spied on was the galaxy NGC3599.  Believe it or not, it was also in the same field of view as NGC3607 and NGC3608.  NGC3599 was small and round.  It seemed brighter toward the middle.  The magnitude is listed at around 11.9.

My setting circles were really doing their job.  Though, I must admit, when you find multiple galaxies in the same field of view, you really aren't taxing the setting circles too much.  The biggest help of all was my laptop computer.  This was the first night that I had used it at the telescope.  It was kind of slow, being an old 486 machine, but it got the job done.  Not only did it give me tons of information about the objects I was hunting, but it also was able to provide me with detailed star charts.  This really comes in handy when you have multiple galaxies in the eyepiece, and you're trying to identify them.  The downside of my particular computer is that it will only run about 3 hours on the battery.  I don't want to put any more money into it, so I'll probably get a power inverted to run it off of the 12volt power of my car.  I did have one sheet of rubylith on the screen to help preserve my night vision.  I actually still found this to be too bright.  After looking at the screen a while, I would notice it would take me about a minute or so to reacquire some of the faint galaxies in the eyepiece.  I plan on adding a second sheet of rubylith.

The next celestial wonder to catch my attention was NGC4027.  This spiral galaxy is located in the constellation of Corvus.  It was very faint and I just could make it out.  As an interesting side note, the Dreyer description in my software package, TheSky by Software Bisque, says that this object is a globular cluster.

My last deepsky object of the night was NGC4725.  This galaxy is located in the constellation of Coma Berenices.  It is elongated and quite bright.  It also had a bright core.

Let's talk about magnitudes for a second.  I have found that published values can vary significantly.  For instance, in my software, if I do a "find" on object NGC2775, it gives me a magnitude of 10.3.  But, if I click on NGC2775 while it is on my screen, I get a magnitude value of 11.2.  And, the my Herschel list that I found on the internet has it listed at a different value.  Which one is correct?  I'm getting to where I don't want to write magnitude values in my notes for fear of them being wrong.

Anyway, my last astronomical object of the night was the planet Mars.  This bright, red beacon is rapidly approaching opposition.  I immediately could see features when I put my eye up to the eyepiece.  Syrtis Major stood out prominently near the center of the planet.  Hellas, in the south, looked like a large polar cap.  I could see a real polar cap to the north, but just barely.  The northern polar cap would pop in and out, and looked like a tiny pearl.  From time to time, I could see some dark features just below Syrtis Major, but I'm not sure what they were.

During the night, I also observed other objects through Michael's and Jeff's telescopes.  I didn't keep track of them so I won't try to list them here in my notes.  It was a very enjoyable observing session although I was very tired the next day.  I'm excited about observing faint new objects and can hardly wait until I'm dialing for Herschels again.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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