Observing notes from the evening of Saturday, November 13, 1999

The blue skies during the day promised clear skies at night. So, after a mad scramble to find someone who could unlock the gates at the Big Woods observing site, I met fellow club members Mark Lang and Michael King just after sunset. The skies were clear but the transparency wasn't all that great. Still it was good to be out under the stars so I set up the 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and prepared to hunt down some Herschel deep sky objects. Mark had his 11" SCT and Michael had his 8" SCT which he setup to do some CCD work.

In past years my main method of finding objects has been via the star hop method. This past year I have really become quite efficient at using the setting circles on my SCT. With a good alignment, and patience at dialing in the coordinates, I can usually get my desired target within my field of view or at least about half a field of view away. Now that I have my declination motor working properly, it's easier to slew my telescope a little in each direction in case I don't quite center my target.

My first object of the night was NGC185, a galaxy in the constellation of Cassiopeia. Although I could see that a galaxy was there, I barely could see that it was there. This was probably due to the sky conditions. The galaxy looked oval in shape, maybe running north-south. There was a tiny star involved toward the northern end. Not too much detail could be seen but it did appear to have a slight brightening toward the center.

Next up was NGC278, another galaxy in Cassiopeia. This is a small, really round galaxy. It was quite bright and concentrated. It could almost be mistaken for a planetary nebula. There seemed to be a star involved, that was a little off center. It showed up as a spark or twinkle, just barely visible.

NGC157 was the next object dialed in with my setting circles. Located in Cetus, NGC157 is a large oval galaxy. It had two stars involved with it with one being more prominent. I also too a look through Mark's 11" SCT. In the 11" telescope, the two stars were easily visible. Also, I could see an arm or something extending out. This was not visible in my 8" telescope. Michael took a CCD image of the galaxy and confirmed my view of one of the arms.

The next galaxy on my observing list was very tough. Instead of seeing it, I'd almost classify the sighting as "sensing" it. The object was NGC247, which is another galaxy in Cetus. This galaxy was detected as a very, very faint glow. Forget averted vision on this object, you need averted imagination. It was seen as a slight brightening, just slightly above the background. I could tell it was oblong, or basically cigar shaped. No more details beyond this could be seen. This is definitely an object for darker skies and bigger scopes.

After the disappointing the view of NGC247, the rest of the objects I tracked down were quite easy to see in comparison. Next up on my list was NGC584, yet another galaxy in Cetus. It was small, but kind of bright. It was round and had a stellar core that could have been an involved star.

The next galaxy in Cetus, NGC596, was smaller and dimmer than NGC584, but still easily seen. And like NGC584, NGC596 presented a similar concentrated core.

Next up on my celestial journey was NGC615, a faint little galaxy in Cetus. I found it quite faint and small and it looked like a little round patch. There looked to be a star involved, right on top, seen as a little sparkle.

NGC720 was the next galaxy that I observed in Cetus. The manual setting circles nailed it dead center. I could tell it had an oval shape but otherwise there wasn't much too it. The center seemed to be kind of brighter than the rest of the galaxy, but not at all like a stellar core. I would say there was more structure toward the center, which was seen as a larger, brighter area.

Time to reveal the meaning to the title of these notes. With my polar alignment quite accurate, I found that I was placing most of the objects in my field of view with my manual setting circles. I was nailing them one after the other. They were falling like dominos. Those that only use GOTO telescopes or digital setting circles probably wouldn't understand the accomplishment of getting an object in the field of view using just the manual setting circles. The problem is that you have to interpolate between the circle markings. If you are off by just a little bit, the object could be out of your field of view and you don't know which way to move the scope. When this happens to me, I use my RA and DEC motors to pan around the immediate area. If that doesn't net me the faint little fuzzy, then I resort to detailed star charts and go into star hopping mode. This night was one of those nights in which my setting circles were performing wonderfully. Like I said, I was finding the objects so easily that they were falling like dominos.

The next galaxy that I scrutinized in Cetus was NGC908. This was a neat galaxy that was long and big. I could see the galaxy going along, then it seemed that it was broken or had a piece missing. Then it continued after this broken portion. It looked like of like a detached portion, maybe a spiral arm. There was a tiny little bit of mottling and a couple of tiny stars involved.

My setting circles next took aim at NGC936. This Cetus galaxy was relatively bright, but kind of small. It had a stellar point at the core. I would classify it as more round than oval. The neat thing about this particular galaxy were the stars around it. The galaxy formed the point at the bottom of a grouping of stars that form a question mark shaped asterism.

The next galaxy in Cetus that I observed was NGC1022. I would describe it as a dim, little, fuzzy spot. That's it.

The next galaxy in Cetus, NGC1068, was pleasantly bright. It is also known as M77. It was very bright and round and had a bright core. There was a bright star right next to it.

In the same field of view, I found NGC1055. This galaxy is kind of oval shaped and makes a point of a triangle with two nearby stars. It actually took me a while to find this galaxy and I used M77 as a hopping off point. NGC1055 had a star involved in the center.

The last deepsky object of the night was NGC1023. This galaxy is in the constellation of Perseus. Yes, you read right! I finally ventured out of Cetus! This galaxy was easy to find, especially with a master of setting circles like me at the helm. I couldn't see much detail or any structure. My best description would be an elongated galaxy with a bright core.

So a night that started out with mad desperate search for a key to the Big Woods observing site gate ended with a satisfying star gazing session. My setting circles were hitting the objects with great accuracy and despite the less than totally transparent skies, I logged quite a few Herschel objects. I just hope my next night under the stars will be as enjoyable.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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