The Last Morsel

Observing notes from the evening of Monday, July 13, 1998

I stepped onto my deck and was greeted by the glittering stars of Scorpius. Usually submerged in the summer horizon haze, I was surprised to see the entire constellation from the head to the tip of the stinger. Although the stars were twinkling, indicating unstable air, the fact that I could see them at all meant that the sky was quite clear. A few lightning bugs flashed on and off, looking for mates. It was almost 11 P.M. and the Moon would soon be rising. Nonetheless, I decided to break out the telescope and go for a few deep sky objects.

I dragged my 10" f/4.5 reflector into the living room and did a quick collimation using my Cheshire tool. With star charts in hand, I was soon on my way to some celestial adventures. My first target of the evening was the star Antares in Scorpius. I mainly used it to make sure my Telrad was aligned properly. No one can mistake the reddish orange color of this super giant star. It dominated my field of view. Since I was in the neighborhood, I pushed the scope a little over a degree to find the globular cluster M4. At around magnitude 5.9, M4 is a great cluster to poke around in. At lower powers, it gave me the impression of having a "bar" of stars across its middle. It was less noticeable when zoomed in. It was great to see this cluster as it is usually dimmed by the horizon murk.

This may sound weird, but when I eat something, be it a ham and cheese sandwich or an ice-cream cone, I ration out my bites. What I really mean to say is that I make sure the last bite is the best. The last bite of the sandwich has to have the right amount of ham, cheese, and mayonnaise. The last swallow of a drink is a good, thirst quenching swallow, not just a few drops. I savor that last bite or swallow like it is an individual morsel in and of itself. I applied the same philosophy to my Messier object hunt. I've been slowly observing the list of Messier objects, working my way up to the last one. For some time now I've had only one object to go for completion. But I didn't want to observe it on just any night. I wanted it to be a night were I could savor it in the eyepiece. Well, that last Messier object was the globular cluster M62 and tonight was the night.

Using the Telrad I positioned the scope where I thought M62 should be, in the constellation of Ophiuchus. With only a few seconds of panning, the globular cluster slid into view. It was a lovely sight. The cluster looked very tight, with almost a stellar core. I boosted up the power but never could absolutely resolve it. I could see a smattering of stars around the core, but it never really did open up like some globulars do. Still, it was a wonderful sight. This was a new object for me and completes my goal of observing all of the Messier objects.

Since the teapot asterism of Sagittarius was quite evident, I decided to go after a few objects in that region of the sky. Up from the spout, I spied M8, the Lagoon nebula. Even in my light polluted skies, I could easily make out the nebula. It is offset from the main cluster of stars. The "lagoon" portion showed as empty space between two nebula clouds. My UHC filter made the Lagoon nebula blossom into a beautiful sight in the eyepiece. It almost took on a photo quality. I then pushed the scope up about a degree and a half to find M20, the Trifid nebula. Without a filter, I could just detect the nebula and its dust lanes. The UHC filter helped to bring out the beauty of this sometimes fleeting nebula.

Next up on my observing run was M17, the Swan nebula. No filter is necessary to see this bright and obvious nebula. I can't believe it took me so many years to discover it. The swan shape is clearly evident and doesn't take any imagination what so ever. Some people also call it the Omega nebula since the shape also looks like the Greek character. While observing M17, a satellite zipped through my field of view. About this time a lightning bug landed on the deck and went into "strobe mode". It just kept flashing and flashing as it crawled all over the deck.

I then crossed over a constellation border into Serpens Cauda to observe M16, the Eagle Nebula. I could easily see the cluster of stars. With the UHC filter, I could easily see the nebulosity accompanying the stars. But I never could actually see an eagle shape to the nebula. I wonder if this is just a big scope object or maybe just a photographic object.

Clouds started coming in from the south and I could see the glow from the rising gibbous Moon on the south eastern horizon. I decided to retreat up the Milky Way and into the constellation of Velpecula. My target was M27, the Dumbbell nebula. This big and bright nebula is very easy to see. With lower powers it looked kind box shaped. With a little more power, I got the telltale dumbbell shape to emerge. I then applied my UHC filter. With that, the outer layers of the nebula became visible. This is truly a wonderful nebula to explore. As I observed M27, another satellite zipped through my field of view. There must really be a lot of stuff up there.

I then pushed on into the constellation of Cygnus the swan. With the help of the UHC filter, I could see a portion of the Veil nebula, snaking past the star 52 Cygni. Moving the scope a little to the north west, I picked up another portion of the Veil nebula. This part has more width, and almost looks like a bird claw to me.

The next object I observed was the cosmic smoke ring known as M57, the Ring nebula in the constellation of Lyra. For any one who has observed this object, you know that smoke ring is the best description of it. I'm amazed at just how bright the Ring nebula is against the background. I experimented with varying powers, enjoying the view.

To end my deep sky viewing, I spied on an object that is definitely a grand finale of objects to observe. I'm talking about the globular cluster M13, in the constellation of Hercules. This object always takes my breath away. I could sit and stare at it all night long. It fills the eyepiece with a multitude of stars. It's absolutely fabulous! As I gazed at the giant ball of stars, I felt as if was about to fall into space. It definitely has a 3D look to it. It looks like a glittering Christmas tree ornament.

I finished out the evening just panning the scope around in the region of the constellation of Lacerta. The sky was really starting to brighten from the Moon, which was now above the tree tops. I just moved the scope back and forth and enjoyed the variety of stars that passed by. Yellow ones, blue ones, red ones. Single stars, double stars, triple star systems. It's quite amazing at how many stars there really are out there. It was an enjoyable observing session and quite nice to be out under the stars again.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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