Christmas in June

Observing notes from the evening of Saturday, June 8, 2002

When does it feel like Christmas to you? Every person associates something with the arrival of the Christmas holidays. For some, it's not Christmas until the weather gets really cold and snow starts to fall. Of course that doesn't hold for us in the more southerly latitudes. For some it feels like Christmas when they start hearing their favorite holiday songs on the radio. Who wouldn't get in the mood with sounds of Jingle Bells or Frosty the Snowman dancing in your head? And what about the holiday sales and Christmas merchandise in the stores? Of course, that seems to come earlier and earlier each year. For some reason I just can't get start thinking about Santa Claus the day after I go trick-or-treating!

For me, the sign that Christmas is on its way is when I start seeing the decorations go up on the houses, specifically the Christmas lights. I love to see houses decorated with strands of colorful Christmas lights. I remember as a kid, my parents use to drive around through the various neighborhoods in town to see how fanciful some people had decorated their house. And it was quite obvious that in some areas the neighbor were competing with each other. I just loved to see all the twinkling lights.

So what does Christmas lights have to do with an observing night in the month of June? Well, on my drive out to the observing site, all the trees on either side of the road were lit up with twinkling lights! Hundreds of lights flashed on and off, from the tops of the trees to the ground beneath. It was Christmas in June! Of course these weren't real Christmas lights decorating the forests, but rather lightning bugs looking for mates. The lightning bug, or firefly, is a beetle that produces light by a bio-chemical reaction. They really are an amazing sight. When I was little, I use to catch them and put them in a jar. Every now and then one would get loose in the house. I would be snug in my bed and watching a floating flashing light make its way around the dark room. Pretty cool! The sight of my first lightning bug of the year always signals the beginning of summer for me. And when the forest is full of them, with thousands of lights flashing on and off, it naturally reminds one of Christmas lights. So in a weird way, the beginning of summer reminds me of Christmas! For those that live in areas that don't have lightning bugs, you owe it to yourself to spend at least one evening in the company of the summer Christmas lights of nature.

And just like the Christmas season, this night's observing session gave me lots of celestial presents. With the almost oppressive heat of a few days ago, with the temperature hovering around the 100 degree mark, it was nice to get some cool weather with crystal clear skies. And the stars were really out on this night. Although the skies weren't all that stable, as evidenced by the twinkling stars, it was quite clear and transparent which makes for great deep sky object hunting. My main targets of this session were the galaxies within the constellation of Virgo. And to demonstrate what a great night it was, I netted over 30 new galaxies.

Most of the night was spent going from one galaxy to the next. I did garner a view of NGC5139 through club member Mark Lang's 4" refractor. It is otherwise known as the Omega Centauri globular cluster. It was just above the treetops and really fills the eyepiece with its glow. In fact, you could see the treetops in the eyepiece and it would have made a lovely picture. At the end of the session, just before I packed away the telescope, I also took a quick gander at a few other objects just for the fun of it. First I spied on the globular cluster M4, near the heart of Scorpius. It was big and bright with hundreds upon hundreds of stars, all packed into a ball. Globular clusters are such neat objects to view. I then swung the scope over to M8, the Lagoon nebula in Sagittarius. I could easily see two sections of the nebula, lying on top of the scattered cluster of stars. I finally finished out the night with a view of M20, the Trifid nebula, also in Sagittarius. Again, the nebula sections showed quite prominently. With averted vision I could see the three dark lanes that give the Trifid its name. What a wonderful sight to end the evening on.

Here's a list of objects I observed, using my 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope at the Big Woods, Lake Jordan, NC site:

NGC4371. Galaxy in Virgo. Relatively small. No much shape besides round. Bright core, pinprick of light in center.

NGC4429. Galaxy in Virgo. Bigger than previous. Move oval shaped, running east to west. Star just to the north, a beacon. Mottling seen in center. Something in center, brighter.

NGC4435. Galaxy in Virgo. Field of many galaxies. Small. Round. Bright stellar core. Just to north of larger galaxy, NGC4438.

NGC4438. Galaxy in Virgo. Same field of view as NGC4435. Bigger. Oval running northeast to southwest. Bright core, or brighter toward center.

NGC4442. Galaxy in Virgo. Relatively faint. Oval shape running east to west. Bright core. Prominent oval shape, medium brightness.

NGC4536. Galaxy in Virgo. Relatively large. Running mainly northwest to southeast oval. Faint. Really faint. Looks like some involved stars, little pinpricks of light scattered about it. Pretty uniform brightness across the galaxy.

NGC4546. Galaxy in Virgo. Tiny and faint. Kind of oval shape running east to west. Bright core.

NGC4550. Galaxy in Virgo. Small and bright. Oval running north to south. Brighter in center

NGC4594. Galaxy in Virgo. Big and bright. Oval shape running east to west. Also known as M104, the Sombrero Galaxy. Shows up nice. Can just make out the dust lane across it.

NGC4596. Galaxy in Virgo. Move oval than elongated. Small and faint. Brighter center. In same field of view I'm picking up NGC4608. This galaxy is small and round and barely shows up. Just a faint glow.

NGC4636. Galaxy in Virgo. Relatively bright. Spread out. Oval shape. Brighter core.

NGC4643. Galaxy in Virgo. Small, round galaxy. Brighter core. Relatively faint.

NGC4654. Galaxy in Virgo. Very faint. Uniform brightness. Oval glow. Sprinkling of stars around it. To the northwest I'm picking up the galaxy NGC4649. Smaller and fainter.

NGC4660. Galaxy in Virgo. Small and faint. Bright core. Same field of view as the galaxy M60.

NGC4665. Galaxy in Virgo. Small, round, faint. Star kind of to the southwest, a marker star. Core looks brighter.

NGC4666. Galaxy in Virgo. Small and faint. More elongated running in the northeast to southwest direction. Kind of brighter toward the center, but not a stellar core.

NGC4697. Galaxy in Virgo. Relatively large oval. Brighter core.

NGC4699. Galaxy in Virgo. Little, round, fuzzy spot. Brighter core. Relatively bright galaxy.

NGC4753. Galaxy in Virgo. Oval shape. Relatively small. Medium brightness. Gradually brighter toward the center.

NGC4754. Galaxy in Virgo. Oval shape running north to south, or maybe a little northeast to southwest. Small and faint. Bright core. Same field of view as the galaxy NGC4762.

NGC4762. Galaxy in Virgo. Same field of view as NGC4754. Nice elongated galaxy running northeast to southwest. Extremely elongated. Brighter core, but not stellar. Three stars arcing around the southwest end of the galaxy. Looks kind of neat. Like it's framing it.

NGC4781. Galaxy in Virgo. Averted vision needed. Oval shape northwest to southeast. Very faint and uniform brightness. Faint glow barely above the background glow. In same field of view is the galaxy NGC4760, with is faint and almost invisible, to the west. Also, to the north is galaxy NGC4790. Even fainter, popping in and out with averted vision.

NGC4845. Galaxy in Virgo. Averted vision needed. Extremely elongated, running in the east to west direction.

NGC4856. Galaxy in Virgo. Faint and small. Stellar core. Small glow.

NGC4866. Galaxy in Virgo. Elongated, running in the east to west direction. Brighter toward the center, almost a stellar core, but not a "stand out" core.

NGC4900. Galaxy in Virgo. Faint little glow. Stellar glow or involved star, but off center which makes me think it's a star (to the southeast).

NGC4958. Galaxy in Virgo. Small little oval running north to south. Bright core. Faint.

NGC4995. Galaxy in Virgo. Faint little glow, to the south of two stars. Circular glow.

NGC5054. Galaxy in Virgo. Faint little oval glow. Averted vision needed.

NGC5363. Galaxy in Virgo. Relatively bright. Bright core. Almost looks like a globular. Star off to the east of it makes it easy to find. In the same field of view is the galaxy NGC5364.

NGC5364. Galaxy in Virgo. Same field of view as NGC5363. Larger. Fainter. Oval shape running north to south.

NGC5566. Galaxy in Virgo. Relatively faint. Elongated oval running northeast to southwest. Bright core. Little star just off the eastern direction.

NGC5576. Galaxy in Virgo. Faint. Small. Brighter core.

NGC5634. Globular cluster in Virgo. Small. Relatively bright. Can't resolve. Bright star to the east or southeast.

NGC5746. Galaxy in Virgo. Pretty. Running north to south, very elongated galaxy. Very bright star to the east. Hint of sparkle, probably foreground stars. Do I see a dust lane? Not sure.

NGC5846. Galaxy in Virgo. Faint little round glow. Gradually brighter toward the center. In the same field of view is NGC5850 toward the east, which is even fainter.

M4. Globular cluster in Scorpius. Big and bright. Easily resolved. Hundreds of stars packed into a "ball".

M8. Lagoon nebula in Sagittarius. Large bright nebula associated with an open cluster. Could see two main sections of the nebula.

M20. Trifid nebula in Sagittarius. Bright nebula. Two sections of the nebula seen, with the larger one being brighter than the other. Three dark lanes are seen in the larger section with averted vision.

NGC5139. Omega Centaurus globular cluster in Centaurus. Seen in 4" refractor. Huge and bright. Lower atmosphere and turbulent skies takes a lot away from it, but it hinted at resolution.

Jeffrey L. Polston

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