Mid Atlantic Star Party

Observing notes from the evenings of Friday & Saturday, October 27-28, 2000

On the last Thursday of October I packed up the telescope (Meade 8" SCT) and the pop-up camper and headed to the Mid Atlantic Star Party.  It's held in the sand hills of North Carolina near the town of Carthage.  This is basically in the middle of no where so the skies can be quite good.  I think this was the sixth annual running of MASP and it gets better and better every year.  There were tons of people there along with tons of telescopes.  The scopes ranged from a gigantic 36" dobsonian down to the smallest of refractors.  The Raleigh Astronomy Club also had a good showing there with many members spread about the field.

The gathering had great vendors and excellent door prizes.  The best door prizes were a Meade ETX127 and a ST237 CCD camera.  The grill ran twenty-four hours a day which meant you could always get a sandwich, burger, coffee, or what ever.  It was great to hang out with fellow astronomy enthusiasts and to see what kind of equipment others are using.

Although Friday night was clear, the transparency wasn't all that great.  There was just too much sky glow.  There were a lot of people observing and imaging, but the skies were not living up to their really dark sky potential.  Saturday night seemed to be worst.  It was clear most of the day only to start clouding up in the late afternoon.  After sunset, we would get sucker holes every now and then, but that's about it.  It would just cloud up completely.  Under complete cloud cover at around 11:30pm, I had pretty much given up.  I decided to go to bed, but told fellow club member Paul Runkle to knock on my camper door if he discovered clear skies later in the night.

Well, the knock came just before 2am.  Stepping outside I was greeted by wonderfully clear skies.  It was so nice, that despite the late hour I immediately began setting up my telescope and observing table.  The skies were just too good to miss.  I'm glad I did because I reeled in a lot of new Herschel 400 objects.  I also enjoyed observing with Paul.  He had an 18" Obsession telescope and it provided excellent images.  I looked at various objects through his scope but was most impressed with the view of the Horsehead nebula and the galaxy M82.  The Horsehead nebula leaped out at me.  I held it with direct vision, easily tracing its unique shape.  The view of M82 was the best I've ever seen.  The detail within the galaxy was unreal.  I could see broad and clearly defined dust lanes, like galactic highways.  It just goes to show that aperture really does matter.

For the rest of the night I tackled one Herschel object after another.  As the morning twilight approached, I was disappointed despite being so tire.  I just didn't want to quit.  I'm hoping next year's Mid Atlantic Star Party will be even better.

The notes below are divided into two parts.  One is the handful of objects I observed on Friday night and the second one is the objects seen on Saturday night.

Here's the list of objects I observed on Friday night:

NGC7062, open cluster in Cygnus. Small concentration of stars. Not too many members. Diamond shaped. Stars on perimeter looked like squashed square. Within it is a smattering of stars, showing up as tiny pinpricks of light.

NGC7086, open cluster in Cygnus. Nice little cluster. Very small, handful of members. Not too concentrated. Two types of stars, dim and relatively bright. In other words, not many transition magnitude stars between the brightest and the dimmest. Barely stands out as a concentration of stars against the background stars.

NGC7128 open cluster in Cygnus. Very tight and small grouping. Appears as cluster in wide fields, but zoomed in it's not too significant. Kind of shaped like a ringlet of stars. Kind of fuzzy of comet like if you zoom out too far.

NGC7009, planetary nebula in Aquarius. Looks like a fuzzy, blue, bright star. You keep trying to focus it to a point, but it never happens, since it has extended size. Bright and easy.

NGC7606, galaxy in Aquarius. Very faint. Oval to elongated. More oval. Runs northwest to southeast in direction. No detail beyond a fuzzy glow.

NGC7723, galaxy in Aquarius. Barely can see it. Elongated glow. Northeast to southwest direction. Almost missed it because it's so faint. Again as with the previous object, no detail beyond a fuzzy glow.

NGC7727, galaxy in Aquarius. Basically round glow. Relatively large. Bright core, almost stellar.

NGC779, galaxy in Cetus. Very, very, very faint. Streak of light, very elongated. Very thin. Need maximum averted vision to see it. Kind of bright core.

NGC246, planetary nebula in Cetus. Barely shows up. Seems to be a small grouping of stars with some haze to it. Used UHC filter, but don't really see much nebulosity.

NGC1052, galaxy in Cetus. Relatively faint. Shows up as a glow, but not much beyond that. Looks like it has a brighter core. The transparency is horrible tonight so I'm thinking it's affecting this object and the others.

NGC129, open cluster in Cassiopeia. Very big and scattered. Blends into the background. Doesn't look too much like a cluster, probably needs a wider field of view. Had to identify it through star charts.

NGC225, open cluster in Cassiopeia. Very scattered. Large. Relatively uniform members. There's a section to the east that looks separated or detached from the rest of the cluster, in the shape of an arc, Like a little shield of four or five stars.


Here's the list of objects I observed on Saturday night:

NGC1535, planetary nebula in Eridanus. Very easy. Not as bluish as some, but rather gray. Relatively bright. Bright star in middle but don't know if it's the central star or a foreground star. Looks like an unfocused star.

NGC2286, open cluster in Monoceros. Pitiful example of a cluster. Found the grouping of stars. If really use averted vision, can see the fainter members. Very spread out. I would probably bypass this one as a cluster.

NGC2301, open cluster in Monoceros. Much better. Open and sprawling. Long string of stars running north-south that are brighter than other members. Fainter string of stars running east-west. Both kind of make an "x", or cross.

NGC2311, open cluster in Monoceros. Shows up as a faint glow of dim stars. Some brighter stars in the field of view, but don't think they are members. Almost a ringlet of stars. Very small. The fact that the stars are fainter than the rest of the stars in the field of view is what makes it stand out.

NGC2324, open cluster in Monoceros. Kind of shows up as a faint background glow. Very faint stars. In fact, the brighter stars in the field of view kind of steal the thunder from this cluster. Averted vision best shows the faint members of the cluster.

NGC2335, open cluster in Monoceros. Dim smattering of stars. Wide field of view needed to show it as a cluster.

NGC2343, open cluster in Monoceros. Brighter, or medium intensity stars. Almost triangular shaped. Compact.

NGC2353, open cluster in Monoceros. Really bright star right in the cluster. Large and scattered. Relatively bright members. The one really bright star is kind of to the south. Other than that, the cluster has pretty good symmetry, though there are some voids in the center. Sprawling stars to the east side.

NGC2506, open cluster in Monoceros. Kind of showed up as a faint glow. Very faint members. Medium size cluster. Looks like it's not very uniform. Hard to see individual stars. Averted vision shows it as patchy glow.

NGC2185, defuse nebula in Monoceros. Description is an 11th magnitude star with four stars nearby with some nebulosity. And this is basically what I see. I can see the faint glow among the four stars. Sometimes you have to be careful because a cluster of stars can seem to glow when there's no nebulosity.

NGC2304, open cluster in Gemini. Very compact, very dense, very faint members. Shows up as a patchy glow, but you do see the individual stars. Nice little cluster.

NGC3079, galaxy in Ursa Major. Very, very nice. Thin streak of light. Runs kind of north-south. Bright and long. One side almost seems like a dust lane, but I think it's just a sharp demarcation of the galaxy where as the other side just kind of fades out. Very beautiful.

NGC3184, galaxy in Ursa Major. Not much to it. Faint and big. Round, faint glow. No structure, but not quite uniform. Involved star, not centered.

NGC3198, galaxy in Ursa Major. Kind of like the classic oval shaped. Kind of elongated, running northeast-southwest. Not too much detail beyond faint glow. Southern portion seems a little brighter or fatter than the northern section. Very faint star near the northern edge.

NGC3310, galaxy in Ursa Major. Relatively small. Bright core. No detail. Looks like a star surrounded by nebula instead of a galaxy.

NGC3556, galaxy in Ursa Major. This one is also known as M108. Very pretty, very bright, very large. Elongated running almost east-west. Involved star near the core.

NGC3610, galaxy in Ursa Major. Very small and concentrated. Very bright center. Gives the fuzzy star look.

NGC3613, galaxy in Ursa Major. Relatively small. Oval shaped or elongated, running east-west. Bright core.

NGC3619, galaxy in Ursa Major. Same field of view as NGC3613. This one is smaller. Tiny, fuzzy, little glow. Bright core.

NGC3631, galaxy in Ursa Major. Not much to it. Round galaxy. Kind of brighter core.

NGC3665, galaxy in Ursa Major. Pitiful excuse for a galaxy. Very small. Kind of round, maybe some elongation in the east-west direction. Bright center or core but not much to it beyond that.

NGC3675, galaxy in Ursa Major. Relatively bright and relatively big. Nice fat oval shape. Elongation running kind of north-south. Saw a satellite whiz through the field of view.

NGC3726, galaxy in Ursa Major. Big, kind of round, but with some oval shape to it. Elongation would be in the north-south direction. Can see a pinprick of an involved star.

As fatigue wore me down, I started observing some of the more familiar objects such as M1, M42, M43, and the Double cluster in Perseus.  I also got out my binoculars and jumped from star cluster to star cluster to galaxy to nebula to what ever else I could find.  When the sky had finally brightened too much for observing, I packed everything away and slid into bed, weary but wearing a smile.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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