Observing notes from the evening of Tuesday, February 4, 2003

I couldn't resist the call of clear skies any longer. I hadn't had an official observing session since the Mid-Atlantic Star Party. The sky was clear and a crescent moon hung low above the western horizon. It was a "fingernail moon", a term my daughter uses to describe the crescent phase, since it looks like a fingernail clipping. I decided to setup my 8" SCT in my Fuquay-Varina, NC backyard. I don't have great skies and my horizons are very limited, but I'll take anything I can get.

After dark, the sky still glowed a wee bit from the moon. Even so, it was a glorious sight. And the night chill set in, I just stood and gazed at the moonbeams as they were broken up by the naked tree limbs behind my house. And although I didn't know it at the time, "moonbeams" would become the perfect name for my observing notes. During the course of the night, I got to see the moonbeams from 12 different moons. The first was earth's own natural satellite, that was rapidly losing its grasp on the darkening sky. That was followed by the four main moons of Jupiter which are Io, Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa. Jupiter actually put on a quite a show itself. The Great Red Spot was clearly visible and I even managed to get a shot of it with my digital camera.

But when it came to moons, Saturn completely stole the show. I managed to track down Titan, Iapetus, Dione, Rhea, Tethys, and Enceladus. I've actually managed to glimpse these six moons before. With a decent astronomy program, it's not too hard to identify which little speck of light is which moon. But tonight I also managed to add a new observation. For the first time I was able to steal a few moonbeams from dim, little Mimas. It was nestled right up against the bright rings, but using averted vision I managed to see it pop in and out. Mimas has eluded me a couple of times before but tonight it was lost no longer. And try as I might, Saturn refused to give up Hyperion. There were a couple times when I thought I saw this dim, distant world, but I never was sure enough to definitely log it.

And of course, I also took advantage of the clear skies to observe a few deepsky objects. I quickly located one that's on my Herschel 400 list before it got too far into the western sky. I spent the rest of the evening on Jupiter, Saturn, and hunting after a few objects on the Herschel 400 II list. Although the next day dragged by because of the lack of sleep, I was comforted by astronomical daydreams.

Here's a list of objects I observed with my 8" SCT from my Fuquay-Varina backyard:

NGC1084. Galaxy in Eridanus. Relatively faint. Shows up okay. Kind of elongated in northeast to southwest direction. Brighter toward center. South of center see a little spark like a field star. Saw a satellite go through the field of view too.

NGC1514. Planetary nebula in Taurus. Very faint. Near the center star of three curving stars.

NGC1587. Galaxy in Taurus. Threshold of detection. Averted vision definitely needed. Faint glow with brighter core.

NGC1750. Open cluster in Taurus. Big, open, bright, scattered. Oblong in east-west direction. Brighter members. Dimmer members in background.

NGC604. Nebula in Triangulum. Star forming region in galaxy M33. Shows up as a fuzzy spot.

NGC1662. Open cluster in Orion. Kind of scattered with a few brighter members. Shaped like a "C" with a diamond head.

NGC1663. Open cluster in Orion. Very, very faint members. Small, concentrated. Barely can pick up the little pinpricks of light from the stars.

NGC1977. Nebula in Orion. Nebulosity around about 6 stars. Pretty, shows up well. Like faint, wispy smoke.

NGC2023. Nebula in Orion. Nebulosity around a single star. I always look for this one when I'm trying to see the Horsehead nebula. Looks like star in fog.

M78. Nebula in Orion. Two stars in nebulosity. Looks like two headlights in fog.

NGC2112. Open cluster in Orion. Faint, small, dim cluster. Brighter members make a prominent "Y" shape.

NGC2331. Open cluster in Gemini. Big, bright scattered. Medium brightness members. Large and spread out. Almost blends into the background.

NGC1778. Open cluster in Auriga. Tight cluster. Small. Oblong in north-south direction.

NGC2192. Open cluster in Auriga. Tiny, small. Looks like a small fuzzy spot in the background. Need averted vision. Medium bright star to the north of cluster.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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