Christmas Gifts

Observing notes from the evening of Monday, February 28, 2000

During the day we had crystal blue skies so I knew that as night fell, the stars would come out to play. I arrived at the Big Woods observing site at Lake Jordan, North Carolina at around 8:00 p.m. and quickly setup my 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. Eric Honeycutt, Jim Anderson, Michael King, and Danny Marbell (a new member) had already arrived. Stepping out of the car I was greeted by the glorious display of a starlit sky. Wildlife chirped and creaked in the surrounding woods. It would be a good night for hunting down Herschel objects.

The first object I gazed upon that evening was NGC1857, an open cluster in the constellation of Auriga. It was very faint and relatively rich, but not very impressive. The stellar members almost seemed to disappear into the background. There was a very pretty, orange, prominent star near the center, that was much brighter than the other stars. It really stood out, almost like a foreground star.

The next object on my observing list was NGC1907, another open cluster in Auriga. The cluster was very small, very tight, and very concentrated. I didn't see many members. The neat thing about this cluster is that the open cluster M38 is also in the same field of view. As many know, M38 is rather big with lots of stars. It's one of the "thirty something" clusters that stretch from Gemini into Auriga. Anyway, NGC1907 was so concentrated that it almost seemed to glow, especially in a low power eyepiece.

The next object to make its way into my field of view was NGC1931. Also located in Auriga, NGC1931 can be described as stars surrounded by nebulosity (or maybe stars within nebulosity). It's a triple star system with the nebulosity being easily visible. If you didn't know what you were looking at, you might would confuse it for a comet at first glance. I really had to bump of the power to see the individual stars, and even then they seemed to wink in and out.

My setting circles nailed the next object in Auriga, NGC2126. This open cluster of stars is very faint and very scattered. It's relatively large with a very prominent star to the northern region of the cluster. It seems like a lot of clusters I've observed have had prominent stars near them. I guess as you sail through the celestial sea, these can be thought of as buoys, markers, or navigational aides for your journey. Boy, does that sound sappy or what?

I then dialed in the coordinates for the open cluster NGC2281, also located in Auriga. I stepped up to the eyepiece and peered in. Wow! I was greeted by a very big and pretty cluster of stars. And this is where I got the title of these observing notes. During my Herschel object hunt, many times I dial in the coordinates and look into the eyepiece, only to be disappointed. I know what I'm looking for, open cluster, nebula, galaxy, etc, but I never know what to expect. A lot of the open clusters have been rather ordinary and boring, sometimes making me wonder why they were labeled as a cluster in the first place. It's like opening a Christmas gift. Sometimes it's just the oversized socks knitted by auntie Ethel and other times it's a cool toy from your brother. Each time I gaze into the eyepiece, I open up a new "gift". This one happened to be one of the better gifts. NGC2281 looks what I think a cluster should look like. This one is a good size. There seemed to be a concentration of stars running east-west. Most stars of the cluster are rather white, but there are a couple of stars that are orange. There's a prominent one to the northwest, and an even brighter one, though a little further away, toward the northeast.

Now it's time to venture into a new region of sky. My next object was NGC1501, a planetary nebula in the multi-syllabic constellation of Camelopardalis. In fact, this name is so strange and long, that every time I tried to say it I would get dizzy and fall down. Here in text, you see its written glory. In my notes, it was simply, "the giraffe". NGC1501 is a very small but bright nebula. It easily shows up, and with some extension. I almost want to say I can see the central star every now and then, but I'm not sure. Probably not. It's a nice little disk, but doesn't offer much detail. I could tell that the central region was brighter than the edges.

Next up was NGC1502, a very pretty open cluster in Camelopardalis. It was very bright, but small. What was neat about it was that it has a prominent pair of stars in center like headlights. Then I could see five sets of other pairings of stars, like a train or string. It was a pretty neat effect.

From the building blocks, to the "buildings" they form, I next went after a galaxy. My next object was NGC1961, a galaxy in Camelopardalis. This galaxy was very faint. I just could see it. It looks like an oval patch running east-west. I had to move the scope around a little, so that the motion would help me detect the galaxy better. It was more like a faint glow, with no structure seen.

The next object was an amazing and remarkable sight. It was NGC2403, another galaxy in Camelopardalis. This galaxy is very bright with lots of structure to be seen. I would see bright knots and a hint of the spiral. Through Eric's 22" scope, the spiral arms really stood out. It was quite beautiful.

The last object in Camelopardalis was the galaxy NGC2655. Though it was quite bright, I couldn't see any structure. It was a rounded, oval shape with a bright core.

Venturing into the constellation of Hydra, the next object I spied on was the open cluster NGC2548. This is a big, honking cluster. It's also known as M48. It easily shows up in my 8x50 viewfinder and it fills my 25mm eyepiece. The cluster is bright and scattered, but there is no mistaking this grouping of stars for anything but a cluster. In fact, you need a very low power eyepiece just so you can see how big this cluster is and where it actually stops. NGC2548 is very pretty.

Next up in Hydra was the galaxy NGC2811. This is a nice, little edge on galaxy. It was very small and had a bright core. My basic description of the galaxy is a fuzzy little spot.

The next object I observed in Hydra, NGC3242, beamed with color. This planetary nebula is also known as Jupiter's Ghost. It's big, bright, and extended. It glows in the eyepiece and there's no mistaking what it is. The nebula had a strong blue color. I zoomed in but really couldn't see much detail or structure.

From Hydra, I climbed into the sky toward Leo. My next object was the galaxy NGC3379. Also known as M105, this galaxy in Leo is big and bright and unmistakable. It had an oval, round shape and a pretty stellar core.

Also found in the same field of view was the galaxy NGC3384. It was a little smaller than NGC3379 but it also had a bright stellar core. It was also a little more oblong in shape.

And, a third galaxy was also in the same field of view. NGC3389 formed a nice triangle with NGC2284 and NGC3379. NGC3389 was even smaller and also dimmer. Unlike the other two, it did not have a stellar core. It had an oval shape.

Next up in Leo was the galaxy NGC3412. It was rather small, with an elongated or oval shape. It had a bright core. There were also two bright stars in field of view with contrasting colors. One was white while the other was orange.

Next up was NGC3489, another galaxy in Leo. I would describe this galaxy as being round and small. It had a very concentrated, bright stellar core.

My next galaxy was really quite a sight. It was NGC3521, also located in Leo. This galaxy is bright and rather large. It had an elongated shape with a bright stellar core. What's remarkable about this galaxy is that I can see some prominent dust lanes to one side. It had lots of structure and mottling.

My last object of the night, located within Leo, was the galaxy NGC3593. I would describe it as a rather small oval galaxy, that was oriented mostly east-west. One side did seem to be a little brighter, but it was barely noticeable.

This turned out to be a great night for hunting down Herschel objects. Each celestial gem was a Christmas gift to be unwrapped. Some got that standard response, "Oh….it's…just what I wanted". Some however, got the, "Wow! This is a cool gift!". That's what's so great about hunting down new objects. You never know what you may get. A good night of astronomy can't be beat.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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