Globulars, Nebula, and Planets, oh my!!!

Observing notes from the evening of Saturday, June 28, 1997

We are now into the hot days of summer here in North Carolina. It was 97 degrees just the other day. The days are hot and humid and we have lots of thunderstorms. We haven't had any really clear days since I don't know when. So imagine my surprise when I step out onto my deck Saturday night and actually see some stars. Despite the fact that three of my neighbors had their spotlights blazing, I had some star gazing to do.

Donning some insect repellent to ward off the gazillion skeeters waiting for me, I set up my Meade 10" Starfinder in dobsonian mode. There was the obvious light pollution glowing in the sky, but I could still see the Milky Way stretching from the southern horizon. Scorpius hung in the sky, with its stinger in striking position. The Teapot of Sagittarius was percolating to the left of the scorpion, and the Summer Triangle of the stars Deneb, Altair, and Vega was way overhead. Since this was an unplanned observing session, I decided to use my new star chart, DeepMap 600 from Orion. It's made so that it folds like a road map and has the 600 best objects seen from the northern hemisphere. This star chart proved to be great tool and one that I will certainly use in all my observing sessions. It's great if you don't have anything planned out and you just want to start finding things.

With the hum of hungry mosquitoes buzzing about my head, I started my observing session right at the heart of Scorpius. My first target of the night was the globular cluster, M4, near the super giant star Antares. This is a large and rather loose looking cluster to me. It almost resembles a dense open cluster. It doesn't appear all that bright, but it fills the eyepiece neatly. On this, and all the other objects I varied the magnification to increase contrast, zoom in, etc. While in the neighborhood of Antares, I also picked up the tiny globular cluster of NGC 6144, glowing faintly at magnitude 9.1.

My next target was the globular cluster M80, also in Scorpius. It appeared very concentrated, with almost a stellar core. Next, I tracked down the globular M107, located in Ophiuchus. This one was very faint. I could barely resolve the cluster into tiny stars.

Next up was the globular M19, also in Ophiuchus. This ball of stars was quite tiny, but still fairly bright for its size. I then jumped to the globular M9, still in the constellation of Ophiuchus. It was a bright little concentration of stars, kind of similar to its neighbors.

I then moved over to the constellation of Sagittarius, where I easily found the globular cluster of M69. I thought it compared to the view of M9. Most of these clusters look very similar to each other. I followed M69 with an observation of the globular M70. It looked a little smaller. I think this is the cluster that Comet Hale-Bopp was beside of when discovered. What a claim to fame. The next target was the globular M54, still within Sagittarius. It seemed a little brighter than the previous cluster, but I never could convince myself that I was able to resolve it, no matter what power I used.

During all of these observations, I keep hearing some rustling in the leaves behind my house. My yard is visited by many rabbits, but these critters just seemed too noisy. My curiously pushed me to sacrifice a little of my night vision. Aiming my mini-mag flashlight, I observed three kittens, frolicking around and having a good time. I guess they are wild and living in the woods somewhere back there. They were cute and fun to watch, but the call of a clear sky brought me back to the telescope.

I moved to the top of the Teapot asterism of Sagittarius to take a look at the globular cluster M22. It was simply glorious!!! This big, bright, ball of stars is why people love to view globulars in the first place. Hundreds of stars filled the eyepiece. When I stared intently at it, I almost felt like I was falling into the eyepiece. The star field took on a 3D look to it. It was simply beautiful. While I was there, I panned around until I found the tiny globular NGC 6642. No wonder Messier didn't record this one when he had objects such as M22 to look at. I then moved the scope to the globular cluster of M28. It appeared as all the previous globulars, kind of back to the mediocre, but still a nice object.

Next up on my deep sky hunt was the nebula M8, known as the Lagoon Nebula. This is a big, bright nebula that takes magnification very well. The lagoon portion of the nebula was seen as a dark division, easy to notice. Some of the stars in the field looked like they were imbedded in the nebula, dimmed by the intervening gas and dust. It gave a neat affect. I then moved the scope up to M20, the Trifid Nebula. It was an easy find. I could just barely see the dark lanes that give the Trifid its name. I decided to pop in my Lumicon UHC filter. Instantly, I could see more of the nebula and I had more contrast. I decided to move back to M8 to have a look with the filter. Beautiful! It's amazing how much more you can see with the UHC filter.

At this point I experience what feels like a pin prick in my ankle. I look down to see a @#$% skeeter, biting though my sock. I can understand the critters going after exposed skin, but this little monster broke the rules by going through clothing. Suffice it to say, that particular skeeter will bite no one else. But, it did prompt me to take a second dose of insect repellent.

On returning to the scope, I moved to M16, the Eagle Nebula in Serpens Cauda. It was easy to find. I could see lots of nebulosity in the eyepiece. I never could make out the eagle that gives the nebula its name. Below M16, I found the nebula M17, just inside the constellation of Sagittarius. Known as the Omega Nebula, it took the words out of my mouth!!! I could not believe I had not observed this big, bright nebula before. It filled the eyepiece. I could see dark blobs here and there, blocking out the distant starlight. With the UHC filter, the nebula leaps out of the sky at you. I looked up a picture of it and it was exactly what I observed. I encourage everyone to check out M17. If you haven't seen it, you don't know what you are missing.

I then just panned the telescope around in the area, cruising up and down the river of the Milky Way. I stopped here and there to observe a cluster or two, not really knowing their identity. It's really quite amazing to see so many stars in the eyepiece at one time. Before leaving this region, I moved over to take a look at the open clusters of M6 and M7 in Scorpius. These are bright and pretty clusters. M6 is known as the Butterfly Cluster and it really does resemble its name.

Up next came the Great Cluster in Hercules, the globular M13. Wow!!! Like M22, this is a magnificent sight. The eyepiece literally glows with a multitude of stars. I pushed the power up and was rewarded with the beautiful sight of stars from one side of the field of view, to the other. It is simply amazing. While in the area, I also was able to locate NGC 6207. It is a faint galaxy of about magnitude 12.2 and is about 27 minutes from M13.

My next target was kind of a challenge. Getting the Ring Nebula, M57, to display in my scope was not that easy of a task. It wasn't because it's hard to find. The problem was that the constellation it resides in, Lyra, was straight overhead. Dobsonians tend to want to stand on their end when they are pointed that high. I had to rotate the scope in azimuth until I finally found M57, then I had to push my scope far to one side, against its bearings for some extra friction. M57 was a wonderful sight. It looks like a ghostly, glowing smoke ring, floating among the stars. Smaller scopes might show it as a patch, but larger instruments really bring out the ring nature.

As I gazed into the eyepiece, flashes of light would briefly illuminate my deck. No, it wasn't the #$%@ neighbor's light, it was lightning bugs. For those of you familiar with the south, you know these creatures that turn the dark, black woods into a view that any Christmas decorator would be proud of. They make all the trees look like they've been strung with lights, flashing at random. Some of them glow feebly, but some are gigantic beacons. These "100 watt" lightning bugs were the ones lighting up my observing area. If you put enough of them in a jar, you can read by their glow.

Next up on my galactic tour was M27, the Dumbbell Nebula. Located in Vulpecula, this big, bright planetary nebula is very easy to find. It is really huge!!! With the UHC filter, you see almost another third of this patch of gas. Located nearby, in the constellation of Cygnus, is the Veil Nebula. I centered the star 52 Cygni in my scope's field of view, but I couldn't see the ancient super nova remnant. Then I attached my UHC filter and the Veil Nebula popped right out. It snaked from one side of my eyepiece to the other. I love the very defined S shape that it has. I'm also amazed at how well the UHC filter works. The difference it makes is astounding.

Another object I gazed upon was the North American Nebula, also located in Cygnus. It also was invisible without the UHC filter. This is one huge nebula!!! Even with my 40mm eyepiece, it was still too large to fit in the field of view. By moving my scope around, I explored the various "coastlines" of the nebula. The "gulf of Mexico" was prominent as a dark area and "Mexico" itself was bright. This must be a remarkable sight with a pair of binoculars from a dark site.

Next up on my target list was the planet Uranus, located in Capricorn (my astrological sign for you nuts out there). I used the triangle of stars, Rho Capricorni, Pi Capricorni, and Omicron Capricorni as a jumping off spot. Uranus was surprisingly bright. It was a light green color and really did shine in the eyepiece. Even my low power eyepiece shows it as a disk when compared to the surrounding stars. I then observed Neptune, just inside the boundary of Sagittarius. This was fitting since I had seen a slide show on Voyager at Neptune just the night before. Glowing at about magnitude 7.9, I found Neptune about 5 degrees from my "triangle of stars". It looked like a fuzzy, bluish world, and it took some magnification to bring out its tiny disk. I could see Neptune shining faintly in my 6x30 finder.

My last object of the night was the king of the planets, Jupiter. Nobody can miss this brilliant beacon in the constellation of Capricorn. The Galilean moons were all lined up, two on each side. The two equatorial belts were very prominent as were festoons and other features within them. I could also see other faint belts crossing the giant planet. In one of the equatorial belts (maybe the northern), I could see two black spots or splotches. I don't know what they were, but they were really dark features. They were almost reminiscent of the comet crash, but nowhere near as big. It just goes to prove that this is a dynamic world. It was a great way to start off my Jupiter observing season.

I finally crawled into bed around 3:00 A.M. I was tired and had a few itchy skeeter bites, but I had some wonder visions of deep sky objects dancing in my head.

Jeffrey L. Polston


After my astronomy club meeting on Friday night, a few of us took a look at Venus, Mars, and the Double-Double star in Lyra. Using 6" dobsonians, we caught Venus above the western horizon. The gibbous phase was quite evident. Mars showed an even more obvious, gibbous phase and a polar cap stood out really well.


Listed below are all the objects observed. Objects with an asterisk are new objects for me.

M4 (NGC 6121), globular cluster, Scorpius

NGC 6144, globular cluster, Scorpius

* M80 (NGC 6093), globular cluster, Scorpius

* M107 (NGC 6171), globular cluster, Ophiuchus

* M19 (NGC 6273), globular cluster, Ophiuchus

* M9 (NGC 6333), globular cluster, Ophiuchus

* M69 (NGC 6637), globular cluster, Sagittarius

* M70 (NGC 6681), globular cluster, Sagittarius

* M54 (NGC 6715), globular cluster, Sagittarius

M22 (NGC 6656), globular cluster, Sagittarius

* NGC 6642, globular cluster, Sagittarius

M28 (NGC 6626), globular cluster, Sagittarius

M8 (NGC 6523), Lagoon Nebula, Sagittarius

M20 (NGC 6514), Trifid Nebula, Sagittarius

* M16 (NGC 6611), Eagle Nebula, Serpens Cauda

* M17 (NGC 6618), Omega Nebula, Sagittarius

M6 (NGC 6405), Butterfly Cluster, open cluster, Scorpius

M7 (NGC 6475), open cluster, Scorpius

M13 (NGC 6205), Great Cluster in Hercules, globular cluster, Hercules

* NGC 6207, elongated galaxy, Hercules

M57 (NGC 6720), Ring Nebula, Lyra

M27 (NGC 6853), Dumbbell Nebula, Vulpecula

NGC 6960, Veil Nebula, Cygnus

NGC 7000, North American Nebula, Cygnus






Double-Double, Epsilon Lyrae, double stars, Lyra

* Back to home page *