The Red Sea

Observing notes from the night of Friday, July 9, 1999

And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.  - Exodus 15:21

Friday day seemed to hint that there would be a dismal Friday night, at least from an astronomical point of view. By mid afternoon, the skies were mostly cloudy. I figured that the scheduled observing session for the Raleigh Astronomy Club would turn into an indoor meeting. The official word at 5 PM was that the observing session was a go. I had my doubts. On my way to the Big Woods observing site at Lake Jordan, North Carolina, I saw beautiful sunset. A big, red, bloated sun hung magically above the western horizon. Although an amazing sight, this was not a good sign. It indicated that there was a lot of haze and dust in the air. Wisps of clouds and haze filled the sky.

But, as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon, an event happened that would have made Moses proud. Like the Red Sea, the clouds began to part. Venus shone brilliantly above the horizon, Mars popped into view, and one by one by one, a multitude of stars turned on. By an hour after sunset, the sky was looking quite remarkable. In very little time, I had my 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope setup and began my observing session.

My main intent was to continue with my goal of observing the Herschel 400 list. There was quite a crowd present. I did venture around from time to time to converse with my star loving brethren. Talking about astronomy can sometimes be just as much fun as doing astronomy. Well, since it was like a beacon in the sky, my first target of the night was Venus. Venus was big and bright and displayed an absolutely beautiful crescent phase.

Time for Herschel objects! My first deepsky object of the night was NGC6522. This globular cluster in Sagittarius took some time to find. It wasn't too bright and was quite small. There was a hint of resolution. It had a tight core.

Found in the same field of view was another globular cluster, NGC6528. It looked smaller than the previous object and not quite as resolved. I would say that it looked similar to NGC6522, just a little smaller and dimmer.

Next up was NGC6544 another globular cluster in Sagittarius. This cluster was quite faint and kind of spread out. It had an irregular shape. There appeared to be some mottling with hints at resolution. There were a few faint, little, pretty stars spread around the general area.

As you can tell, I've been favoring globular clusters. When it comes to Herschel objects, for me at least, globular clusters are easier to find. I know I'll probably regret this later, when all that's left on my Herschel list is faint planetaries and galaxies. Anyway, to continue with this trend, my next object was NGC6553, yet another globular cluster in Sagittarius. It actually had a more extended look to it. It almost looked like a planetary nebular. It had a grainy look, which I guess was some resolution coming through. There was a relatively bright star to one side that really stood out. It was probably a foreground star since it was brighter than the rest of the cluster members.

Okay, okay......I'll change it up a little. My next target for the night was NGC6818, which is a planetary nebular in Sagittarius. It was relatively bright but very star like. I had to really boost up the power to make it extended enough to tell it was a planetary. There was not much structure or anything to it. It seemed rather uniform, but the center might be a little bit less bright than the rest I don't know if this was real or just an optical illusion.

My next Herschel object of the night was NGC6712, a globular cluster located in the constellation of Scutum. It was relatively bright and easy to find. I would call it a little bit irregular, by which I mean not exactly round. It looked like it was resolving. The cluster kind of had a cloud look to it.

Time for another change. The next object was NGC6664, an open cluster also located in Scutum. It was pretty scattered (i.e. not too concentrated). It definitely was not symmetrical in shape. If you look at it the right way, it kind of looks like a heart. The cluster kind of fades into the background of stars. There was a relatively bright star nearby, about magnitude six. It kind of had a yellowish, orange tint. It was a nice little gem.

I've always been a Flipper fan, so I moved into Delphinus to find my next Herschel object. The globular cluster NGC6934 slid into view rather easily. It was relatively bright but very small. I would describe it as very compact. I really couldn't say that I could resolve the cluster, but it did hint at some structure or granularity. Like a few of the previous objects, this cluster also had a relatively bright star nearby.

The last object of the night was the globular cluster NGC7006, also located in Delphinus. This is one dim object that barely registers to my eyes. It's just a fuzzy dot. I couldn't detect any structure. I barely could see it above the background glow. Not only was it dim but it also appeared very tiny. Every now and then I thought I could see a little sparkle within it. This might have been a star, maybe a foreground star. It could equally have been an illusion from me straining too hard to see this faint object.

The departure of the clouds on this night was probably not as miraculous as the parting of the Red Sea. Still, I was amazed at how nice it turned out to be. It allowed me to follow my passion for the stars and share in fellowship with others who feel the same.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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