Monday, October 21, 2013

Observing highlights 10-21-13

So tonight we had another (mostly) clear night. (Woo hoo! two nights in a row). Additionally there was an extra hour (50 mins) before the moon came up. So I was pretty excited about taking the 10" out again. The goal tonight was to look at some of the more diffuse nebulae. I was happy with how open clusters looked and bright nebulae like the Andromeda Galaxy. But how would some of the dimmer ones fare?

My first stop was M101. M101 is a galaxy in Ursa Major  - which itself was just above the neighborhood rooftops. It took a little bit of star hopping, but I did eventually come to the appropriate spot only to find it completely empty of nebula-matter. Oh well, no matter. Its a hard find, regardless, and it was pointed towards the heart of the city. I was tempted to go after M51 as well, but it was still below the rooftops and I was impatient.

The Northern Cross was almost directly overhead and I figured that would be about as good as conditions would get. I started hopping around nebulae there. First was the North America nebula (NGC7000). Again, I did find the stars in and around this nebula, but not the wispy-cloudy bits. I then gave the Veil Nebula (NGC6992) an unenthusiastic shot, with similar results. Clearly, these low brightness, large surface area nebulae aren't great for the city. Basically, I was re-learning what thousands of observers before me had discovered.

I started to pack up when my fiance's little one wandered out to come look at the stars. So I quickly unpacked and pointed it at the rather dim but dense Ring Nebula (M57). The Ring Nebula rarely disappoints. The ease in which its found combined with its higher unit brightness makes it a 'go to' nebula, despite it's dim apparent magnitude of 8.8. We pulled out a bunch of eyepieces and looked at it through several different magnifications. Something around 150x was the best trade-off between size and clarity.

Buoyed by this easy success, I went on to look at some of the nice binary systems - the double double in epsilon Vega, Alberio in Cygnus as well as several small "binaries" which probably aren't listed as such but look really nice in the Cygnus star field.

The evening ended on a high note when, on a whim, I decided to make a wild stab at picking out M27 - the Dumbbell Nebula. The Dumbbell Nebula is one of those highlights that really isn't near anything. Consequently it requires either a LOT of star hopping or just sweeping an area. I elected to do the latter. And wasn't I surprised and pleased when after only a few minutes it popped out, big as life! Though the Dumbbell Nebula is only Mag 7.5, its a very even brightness across its face. Details weren't that obvious, but I was getting a little cold by then and called it quits.

Overall, it was a good night. Star hopping is great with the scope. The modifications made to the scope over the weekend have worked out wonderfully to this point and the increased familiarity I'm getting with the scope is sure to pay off once Comet ISON shows up in a few weeks.

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