Observing notes from the evening of Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Sirens.  No, I'm not talking about the kind on police cars and fire trucks.  I'm talking about the mythological sirens.  Those alluring women whose irresistible voices would lure sailors to their fate upon the rocks.  Only in my case it wasn't singing women, but rather it was clear skies and bright stars.  My last observing session was over a month into the past.  The last scheduled club outing brought only clouds.  Now, as I stare out my window, I see clear blue skies, fading to dark as the sun slips below the western horizon.  The slight chill in the air signals a great night for observing.  Fellow club members are gathering at the lake, setting up their scopes in anticipation of viewing cosmic wonders.

So what's the problem you ask.  I'm an astronomer and that means I should be observing, right?  If it were as simple as that, there would be no problem.  But it's not that simple.  The observing site at the lake is about a 40 minute drive for me.  Packing up probably takes about 20 minutes.  Consider this, true darkness doesn't start until about 10pm, which is when I would start my observing.  At the point I say I'm done observing, about 60 minutes will pass before I can crawl into bed.  And that's not counting any unpacking I may have to do.  But the main wrench thrown into the machine is that I have to get up at 6am every weekday morning.  Ouch!  In other words, the longer I observe, the more pain and agony I will feel the next day.  Weekday observing during the spring and summer months really take a toll on my well being.

But those stars and their hidden treasures kept calling my name.  Those sirens whispered of undiscovered galaxies, just waiting for my gaze.  On top of that, consider the sheer guilt I feel for being an astronomer and not taking advantage of good observing weather.  So in the end, there was no choice.  There was no resistance to the sirens.  But I was able to make a slight compromise.  Instead of joining my fellow club members at the lake, I decided to observe from my backyard.  I would miss the darker skies and fellowship, but I'd still be able to get some astronomy work done and not be a total basket case the next day.

Here's a list of objects I observed, using my 10" f/4.5 Newtonian from my backyard, Holly Springs, NC site:

NGC4030. Galaxy in Virgo. Pretty bright. Flanked by bright stars toward the north and south. Center portion is very bright. Little bit of mottling, or non-uniform structure. Kind of oval in shape.

NGC4179. Galaxy in Virgo. Edge on galaxy, elongated in the northwest to southeast direction. Relatively bright center. Star nearby, to the northeast.

NGC4216. Galaxy in Virgo. Pretty bright. Extremely elongated, running north to south, maybe a little northeast to southwest. Beautiful "streak of light". Bright core. One side seems to have some mottling, suggesting a dust lane.

NGC4261. Galaxy in Virgo. Big and relatively bright. Round. Stellar core or involved star, a pinprick of light.

NGC4273. Galaxy in Virgo. Oval, elongated in the north-south direction.

NGC4281. Galaxy in Virgo. A little bit larger than previous galaxy, and in the same field of view. Brighter core. Oval shape, running east-west.

Comet Ikeya-Zhang. Comet in Hercules. Big and bright. Huge, huge coma. Pretty uniform in brightness. No stellar core visible. Right beside of one of the "keystone" stars, 44-Eta (SAO 65504). Bigger and brighter than the globular cluster M13, which is in the same field of view when using my 9x63 binoculars. Can't see much of a tail, though one side of the comet does barely seem to flare out a bit.

NGC4365. Galaxy in Virgo. Small as galaxies go. Uniform round brightness seen. Bright, stellar core.

NGC4526. Galaxy in Virgo. Relatively bright and conveniently located between two bright stars, to the east and west. Elongated, kind of in east west direction. Center is bright and brightness falls off abruptly away from center. Tiny star to the south. Core is kind of stellar.

NGC4535. Galaxy in Virgo. Same field of view as NGC4526. Large, round shape. Maybe a little oval shaped in the north-south direction. Extremely faint and uniform in brightness. Basically an oval glow in the eyepiece. Seems to be a tiny star involved in the northern tip.

NGC4570. Galaxy in Virgo. Tiny, but relatively bright. Little streak of light. Elongated in the northwest to southeast direction. Little bit of mottling. Core is pretty bright.

NGC4698. Galaxy in Virgo. Small and dim. Oval shape in north-south direction. Bright but not stellar core. A star on the northern tip and a star on the southern tip.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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