Counterfeit Wipeout

Observing notes from the evening of Friday, September 29, 2000

The partially cloudy day starting giving way to clear skies as the sun raced for the western horizon. What was I doing at the time? I was sitting back, enjoying Caribbean style food, and listening to various tunes on the steel drums. It was a party at my work. I didn't realize the musical notes from the steel drums could be so diverse. They even played the Star Wars theme song and it sounded pretty neat. Every now and then I would glance overhead to see how the sky was doing. The more it cleared, the more I had the urge to get home and pack the star gazing equipment.

But the weather forecast did not look good. It called for fair skies turning into cloudy skies during the night. The satellite image showed a huge cloud bank sitting right at the coast and it looked to be heading our way. The last time I took a chance on the weather I was clouded out. Since it had been so long since my previous observing session, I decided to risk it and headed to the Big Woods observing site on Lake Jordan, NC. A meteor streaked across the northern sky as if to acknowledge my arrival. I was joined a little later by fellow club member Doug Lively. After getting everything set up, I started in on my Herschel 400 hunt. I had logged a couple of objects when I noticed the view through the eyepiece seemed to fuzz out a little. Glancing at the sky, I was very disappointed to see the entire eastern sky obliterated with high clouds! It was a wipeout! As I watched with helpless eyes, the cloud bank slowly covered the sky and the deepsky objects I was hoping to see. If Doug hadn't been there, I would have probably started packing up to head home. But I figured if nothing else, we could sit around and talk about astronomy.

After a little while, I noticed a swan high overhead. For the astronomically impaired, I'm talking about the constellation of Cygnus. Then, one by one, other stars and constellations started appearing. The clouds were clearing! It was a counterfeit wipeout! Before I knew it, the entire sky was clear again. And away I went, back to my Herschel objects. We had one other minor cloud scare during the night. Other than that, it was clear skies and smooth sailing.

But I wish I could have been more enthusiastic about my observing list. The Herschel 400 list contains a lot of interesting objects. Some of them really remind you of why you have a telescope. Others, leave a lot to be desired. That was the case with just about every object I observed on this particular night. The most dismal seemed to be the open clusters. If you are use to nice beautiful clusters like the "thirty somethings" in Gemini and Auriga, you will be very disappointed with a lot of the Herschel 400 open clusters. If it wasn't for detailed computer star charts, I would not have recognize a lot of them as star clusters at all. They didn't stand out an associated group of stars. It was very hard to see the cluster boundaries. But my goal is to observe all of these objects and that means the good along with the bad.

Here's the list of objects I tackled on this fine night of observing:

NGC6229. Globular cluster in Hercules, barely shows up, no resolution even with power. Fuzzy ball with a brighter core. Flanked by a couple of stars that make an equilateral triangle. Not much detail seen.

NGC6834. Open cluster in Cygnus. Vague little collection of stars. Kind of runs east to west. Prominent string of stars across a section of it, very straight. Almost a diamond shape if you just look at the fainter members in the north-south direction. If it wasn't for the star chart, I wouldn't have noticed this one.

NGC6866. Open cluster in Cygnus. Even worst than previous cluster. Not much to it. Small gathering. There's a concentration of stars to the northern part of the field of view that look more like a cluster than the actual cluster itself. There is a dim collection of stars within the cluster that form a little ringlet. Other than that, I wouldn't call this one a cluster at all.

NGC6910. Open cluster in Cygnus. Lot more prominent and brighter than previous cluster. Not too concentrated. Some stars, fainter, form a peace or "Y" sign. Three or four stars are a lot brighter than the others. Not impressive, but at least is has a few stars that stand out.

NGC7217. Galaxy in Pegasus. Not much detail. Kind of round. Core is brighter, but not stellar. Can't see much too it.

NGC7448. Galaxy in Pegasus. Barely shows up. Between two stars which helped me find it. Little elongated. There might be some high haze/clouds affecting the view on this one.

NGC1245. Open cluster in Perseus. I would not recognize this as a cluster. Flanked by a couple of bright stars. Barely shows up as a sprinkling of stars in the background. I boosted the power for more contrast but I still could barely see it. Faint concentration of very dim stars.

NGC1342. Open cluster in Perseus. Relatively bright stars. Very open and scattered. Pretty neat in that it at least shows up as a cluster. Little more scattered than the really pretty clusters I'm use too in the Messier list.

NGC1444. Open cluster in Perseus. Why this is called an open cluster I have no idea. There is a relatively bright star, really, really bright compared to anything else in the field, right in the center. Using averted vision, I see a gathering of much, much fainter stars surrounding the bright star, which I guess, make up the cluster. But, I still see bunches of stars all over the place which are not part of the cluster. There is a tiny "companion" to the brighter star that makes it look like a double star. Pitiful example of a star cluster.

NGC1513. Open cluster in Perseus. Kind of scattered. Few brighter members, but most of them are dim. Has an oblong shape, or elongation. The southern end has a ringlet of stars.

NGC1528. Open cluster in Perseus. Although not spectacular, it does show up nicely as a cluster. Open, sparse, and scattered. Relatively bright members. One side looks like it has more dimmer members. And again, a ringlet asterism of stars can be seen. Actually, I can almost form a question mark shape. Because of the dimmer stars to one side and the brighter stars to the other, the cluster seems oblong or asymmetrical.

NGC1545. Open cluster in Perseus. Some bright members. About 4 or 5 bright stars with the others being dimmer and more scattered about. Center three bright stars for a nice little triangle.

NGC7479. Galaxy in Pegasus. Really faint. Barely can see it even with more power for contrast. Looks like it's elongated, north-south. Every now and then I think I see a pinprick of light in the center which could be a stellar core or a foreground star.

NGC7814. Galaxy in Pegasus. Very, very faint. If it wasn't for the star chart I would have never found it. Oval or oblong. Direction of extension is more east-west. Brighter core.

NGC7000. Nebula in Cygnus. North American nebula. Nebulosity all over place. Overflows the field of view. Popped in my UHC narrow band filter for even more contrast. I could see areas of dark and light and knots and turns. This nebula cries out for a large telescope and a large field of view.

Also scoped out the Veil nebula. Even though the stars are really out tonight, I couldn't see the nebula without the filter. There is some haze in the air, very evident when a passing plane has its landing lights on. Also, being this close to the city, light pollution is still surely stealing away some of the nebula's feeble light. But with the filter, I could see the "skinny" section of the Veil, snaking past the star 52 Cygni.

Finished out the night with views of Saturn and Jupiter. Although the skies were not all that stable, the planets still look good. Saturn's Cassini division could be easily seen, though not as sharp as I would have liked. The moons Tethys, Dione, Rhea, and Titan stood out boldly. Could also see some banding on the face of Saturn. Swung over to Jupiter. Could pick of three moons, Callisto, Ganymede, and Europa. Io was hidden behind the planet. Though I could easily see the two equatorial belts, it just wasn't stable enough for much else. A little detail popped in and out, but nothing to write home about.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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