Last updated: 26 September 2004
Subject: Reports for late August and September Sent: Friday, September 24, 2004 13:47:44 From: Mark and Alison Kudlowski (email@example.com) Report 1 of 8 OBSERVATIONAL NOTE SHEET Date :27 Aug 2004Lim. Mag. (zenithal):4.4 (Moon 11 d/o) Time (UT) :2045-2230Lim. Mag. (low south) :3.8 Location : Bury, Lancashire, UK suburbanSeeing (out of 10) :7, with moments up to 8 Weather :Clear spellsInstruments: Meade ETX-125EC Notes: The viewing conditions were far from ideal for deep-sky objects due to the waxing gibbous Moon, so it looked like double star time again, plus a look at Luna. I began with revisiting some doubles in Bootes at 73x, and noting any colours this time. Pi appeared white / blue, and Xi was a yellow / reddish pair. Serpens came next, where Theta was easily split as an all-white pair. I took another look at a pair of IC open clusters. 4756 was better than last time due to improved sky transparency, and 4665 was bright but coarse, better seen at 48x. A short detour to Hercules allowed me to split (at 146x) Struve 2021, and Rho, an attractive yellowish / bluish pair. M13 was impressive, but not quite as good as on the 23rd due to the Moon. In Lyra, Struve 2351 appeared pale yellow / blue-white, whilst the 'other Double-Double' (Struve 2470 / 2474) showed subtle differences. The southerly one (2474) was wider and its stars had a yellowish tinge, whilst the northerly one (2470) was a white pair. Eta was another easy pair, appearing white and lilac(?). On to Aquila, and 15 Aquilae was another pretty yellow / blue pair, but I then decided to try the rather barren constellation of Capricornus for the first time. Alpha1 (Prima Gaedi) was a easy white pair at 73x, but Alpha2 (Secunda Gaedi) did not reveal its 10th mag companion - no doubt due to the Moon. Omicron Capricorni was however an easy whitish / blue pair. I concluded the session (2215 UT) with a final look at the Moon, not very easy as the declination was -28, and there was only a brief 'viewing window' where trees and houses did not block the view. In spite of the low altitude, I was able to use 73x and even 146x to study the terminator region without too much grief. The craters Schickard and Herodotus were particularly sharp and prominent, as was the winding valley near the latter. I was still able to make out Clavius and Ptolemaeus despite their having lost most of their shadow, and the Tycho rays had not yet fully taken over. It is a pity that late summer and autumn are a bad time of year to view the waxing lunar phases in the evenings, with the ecliptic tilted at such a shallow angle to the horizon. Report 2 of 8 OBSERVATIONAL NOTE SHEET Date :30 Aug 2004Lim. Mag. (zenithal):4.4 at start, then 4.0 (Full Moon !) Time (UT) :2015-2300Lim. Mag. (low south) :3.9 at start, then 3.6 Location : Bury, Lancashire, UK suburbanSeeing (out of 10) :6-7, with moments up to 8 Weather :Clear with variable cloudInstruments: Meade ETX-125EC Notes: A clear case of Murphy's Law tonight. This would have been an ideal night for deep-sky objects, but for one fly in the ointment - the Full Moon rising half-an-hour after sunset ! My plan was to look at DSO's as the sky darkened, but before moonlight blotted them out good and proper. This was to be followed by looking at more doubles and the Moon itself. 1945 UT (2045 local) As soon as the sky darkened enough to see Beta Aquilae (mag 3.9), I slewed the ETX to Sagittarius for an attempt at M22 and M28. Both were clearly visible, but I could not see much in M22 at 146x - it was just a blob. (I'm missing the Portuguese night skies of yesteryear, where this area reaches 30 degrees up !). The Swan Nebula still put on a brave show in the nebula filter, as did the Lagoon M8 and its cluster NGC6530. Removing the filter still allowed me to see M23, 24, 25 and 21, but the sky was rapidly brightening from the south-east. Slewing north to Scutum revealed only about 15 stars in M11 - a far cry from the dozens and scores seen on earlier nights. It's doubles from now, I thought. 2015 UT (2115 local) I revisited Cygnus for a fresh look at some of its many doubles, using 73x unless otherwise stated. Omicron1 was a very easy yellow / blue, if not as spectacular as Beta, whilst 61 Cyg was a very easy all-yellow pair. 16 Cyg was wide and all-white, whereas 17 Cyg was a subtle yellowish and lilac. I was unable to split either Upsilon or Gamma, due to Moon and faintness of the companion. Struve 2578 was easy enough and all-white, but O.Struve 394's companion was only visible with difficulty, north of the primary at 146x. Struve 2486 was clear at 146x, but the same power on 52 Cyg only barely revealed the companion at about E of the primary. I then revisited the toughish pairs Struve 2671 and 2762 in Lyra, and 146x resolved them, the latter being yellowish and bluish. Vulpecula's sole SAO double, Struve 2769, was easy at 73x, as were Theta and Zeta Sagittae. Theta was in a pretty L-shaped field. Zeta appeared white and bluish. I rounded off the evening with a tour of Cepheus, which was crossing the zenith by then. I began with the single variable star Mu, Herschel's 'Garnet Star'. This showed up as an orange-red beacon in a sea of white stars. In all fairness, my 20 x 80 binoculars show the colour up even more dramatically. The other famous variable, Delta, is of course the prototype Cepheid. I could see it as an orange and blue pair at 73x, almost equal to Albireo (Beta Cygni). Struve 2840 was all-white and easy, as was S405. Beta was a white / blue pairing, whilst Xi appeared slightly yellowish and lilac. Kappa was a white / blue pair, but needed 146x to show the companion, 4 magnitudes fainter. Omicron was gold and cyan, not unlike a fainter version of Epsilon Bootis, again needing 146x. 2150 UT (2250 local) Band of cloud coming in from the NW - took a break. 2215 UT (2315 local) Cloud clearing from NW - as an experiment, I tried to look at open cluster M52 in Cassiopeia. Only about 10 stars were visible in a washed-out field - we do need to get rid of the Moon to see DSOs ! 2230 UT (2330 local) The Moon was visible past a neighbouring roof, and I decided to give it a brief visit. The image appeared to boil slightly at 146x as on the 27th, despite the higher altitude. This was due to slightly poorer seeing, and heat rays coming off the house. I was able to see some foreshortened craters in shadow on the Crisium limb, particularly Humboldt, and dark-floored ones like Plato, but the scene on the whole was a glaring wash-out, dominated by the Tycho and Copernicus rays. The nebula (!) filters helped a little at 73x. The last object of the night was Uranus, and it showed a disk at 146x, but again the poorer seeing took its toll on the image compared to previous nights Ended 2300 UT (midnight local) Report 3 of 8 OBSERVATIONAL NOTE SHEET Date :31 Aug 2004Lim. Mag. (zenithal):4.5 at start, then 4.1 (Moon !) Time (UT) :2020-2210Lim. Mag. (low south) :4.1 at start, then 3.7 Location : Bury, Lancashire, UK suburbanSeeing (out of 10) :7-8, improving to 9 Weather :Clear with variable cloudInstruments: Meade ETX-125EC Notes: 2020 UT (2120 local) Look at some DSO's as the sky darkened, but before moonlight blotted them out good and proper. The Moon was starting to wane and rising just a little later, so conditions were marginally better than last night. Spent the next 30 minutes looking at the usual favourites. 2050 UT (2150 local) Mopped up two wide but faint-companioned doubles in Hercules. Mu and Gamma both revealed their companions at 73x. 2100 UT (2200 local) Tried the ETX on some more neglected doubles in Ophiuchus. 67 Oph was a pretty cream and lilac pair at 73x. The same power also split 61 Oph and Struve 2276 as all-white pairs. I revisited the yellow and magenta showpiece 70 Oph at 146x, and then tried the same power on Tau, but could not split it. I then tried 253x on it, and was able to see the yellowish primary with a bluish companion at about 9 o'clock of the primary. Tougher still was Lambda, and I suspected a bluish 'bump' on the yellow primary at about a 4 o'clock position. 2130 UT (2230 local) Another attempt at Secunda Gaedi in Capricornus. I could see what looked like a very faint companion to the north of it at 146x, but the 'companion' disappeared at 253x. The 'companion' was seen again in a different position at 146x, so I put it down to a stray 'ghost' reflection in the 26mm EP / barlow combination, and accepted defeat again. Pi Capricorni was resolved successfully, though, at the same power of 146x. Tried to find M30, but a roof was in the way. At the same time I noticed that the seeing had improved substantially over the last few minutes. Was it the weather, or had the optics finally reached thermal equilibrium ? I tried Lambda Ophiuchi again, but it had disappeared behind a house - DAMMIT ! I then went for another faint pair, the optical Gamma Cygni. The Autostar list gave a separation of 41 seconds, similar to that of Beta (Albireo), so I went back to 73x, and saw a field full of faint stars around Gamma, but no companion. The nearest star was a 9th (?) mag one about four Albireo-separations away roughly south. I slewed to Albireo to visualise the separation and then back to Gamma, not knowing what to make of it. 2145 UT (2245 local). While waiting for M30, I had a peek at M15 and M2, a contrasting pair of globulars. The sky in the vicinity was too bright to attempt resolution, but M15 definitely had the brighter core. 2150 UT (2250 local). Positively identified M30 in Capricornus, west of a 5th mag star. Moon nearby, and low altitude, but readily recognisable. 2155 UT (2255 local). A quick peek at NGC 7009, the Saturn Nebula, visible despite the Moon nearby. I could make out the oval shape at 146x, but no sign of the 'rings'. 2200 UT (2300 local). Slewed to Uranus, and the greenish disk was clearly visible and stable. I cannot wait until winter, for Saturn to appear before midnight from our back garden ! 2205 UT (2305 local). The final double star of the night was Zeta Aquarii. I could just split it cleanly at 146x, but 253x gave me a perfect textbook view. The components were both yellowish-white, oriented just off north-south, with sharp Airy disks and first diffraction rings forming a symmetrical figure of eight around the stars. The stars were separated by clear sky as wide as their Airy disks. Ended 2210 UT (2310 local) I then checked the double star measurements in StarList 2000.0 and Norton's Star Atlas (1973) to try and make sense of the night's viewings. Zeta Aquarii was given 2.1 sec separation and a P.A. of 192 in Starlist, so I was accurate there. PASS Tau Ophiuchi was given 1.7 sec and PA of 280, in StarList, so the '9 o'clock' was correct. PASS Lambda Ophiuchi was given 1.3 sec (from orbital diagram in StarList and a P.A. of 035, indicating that the companion should have been at about 1 o'clock of the primary. Was my recording of "4 o'clock" observational error, eye fatigue, or less-than-ideal seeing ? At least it wasn't faulty optics, as Zeta Aquarii showed ! FAIL? Secunda Gaedi was given P.A. 158 and a companion magnitude of 10.6, not 10 as on the Autostar list, so that image I saw north of the primary was almost certainly a 'ghost', as the primary and nearby Moon would have drowned out the companion. FAIL Gamma Cygni was given a separation of 141, not 41, seconds in Norton's, and a P.A. of 196. (The Autostar list entry was a misprint !) . What I described as "The nearest star was a 9th (?) mag one about four Albireo-separations away roughly south", was actually the companion of Gamma Cygni. PASS Report 4 of 8 OBSERVATIONAL NOTE SHEET Date :2 Sep 2004Lim. Mag. (zenithal):Didn't check Time (UT) :0300 - 0330Lim. Mag. (low south) :Didn't check Location : Bury, Lancashire, UK suburbanSeeing (out of 10) :7 Weather :Clear Instruments: Meade ETX-125EC Notes: A SNEAK PREVIEW OF WINTER This was an unplanned session, as a car alarm from several streets away woke me up at the ungodly hour of 3.45 AM and persisted for many minutes. The silver lining was a clear eastern sky, with Venus, Saturn and Gemini all visible through the open box bedroom window. It was just too good a chance to miss, so I spent a few minutes getting my eyes and brain in gear, and carried the ETX upstairs, placed it on the sill, and pointed it skyward. As the targets were so bright, I just loosened the drive locks and aimed the ETX manually without any powered tracking. Venus was first, and the ETX had no difficulty in revealing the phase. It looked like the Moon a day before Last Quarter, at 73x. Higher power with the barlow at 146x of course gave no additional detail, but showed the 'fogginess' of the terminator, implying a very dense atmosphere. It was disconcerting to see how rapidly the image drifted across the field without electric tracking ! Next was Saturn. At 73x, the southern hemisphere of the globe, and the A and B rings were clearly seen, as were about half-a-dozen (!) satellites, with the brightest of them well to the south of the globe, presumably Titan. The other 'satellites' were probably distant background stars in the constellation of Gemini, but I cannot discount some of them being genuine. Apologies for being too tired to draw a sketch ! Adding the barlow at 146x revealed banding on the globe, and the shadow cast by the globe on the rings, but no Cassini Division. Fatigue and viewing from inside the house did not help, but showed some of the ETX's abilities. I was not up to trying 253x tonight without tracking, but roll on December for viewing sessions from the back garden at more convenient times ! The third and last target for the night was Castor, and the ETX did not disappoint. I could just about separate it at 73x, but doubling with the barlow to 146x split it beautifully with clear black space in between. The components were brilliant white, with the fainter component about 3 o'clock of the brighter one - consistent with the PA of 060 at this north-easterly orientation. Several other field stars added to the grandeur of this classic double. Report 5 of 8 OBSERVATIONAL NOTE SHEET Date :2 Sep 2004Lim. Mag. (zenithal):4.4 (Moon) Time (UT) :1940 - 2200Lim. Mag. (low south) :3.9 Location : Bury, Lancashire, UK suburbanSeeing (out of 10) :8, momentarily 9 Weather :Clear spellsInstruments: Meade ETX-125EC, 26mm EP, 7.5mm EP, 2x barlow Notes: TOUGH DOUBLES - AND 'SWANNING' AROUND After the morning's sight of Saturn, and a couple of hours' evening nap, I decided to try some tough doubles that I'd missed in previous sessions, ramping up the power to 253x if necessary. 1940 UT(2040 local) Upsilon Cygni had the faintest companion of the four, but 253x revealed the companion, at about '6-7 o'clock' of the primary. Pi Aquilae was a yellowish / bluish pair, suspectible at 146x, but 253x was able to split it, with dark sky between the components. The companion was about 3-4 o'clock of the primary. Lambda Ophiuchi was again pale yellow and blue, but unlike previous attempts, this one was a positive at 253x, with the fainter almost 12 noon of the brighter. Delta Cygni was again split at 253x, revealing a white / white pair, with the fainter at 8-9 o'clock. The seeing appeared better than last time I split the star. 2010 UT (2110 local) As a change from the double-splitting of the early part, I looked at my SkyMap printouts to start looking for some galactic clusters and nebulae in Cygnus, using 73x throughout. As it happened, I spent the next two hours trying to see the wood for the trees. The Milky Way background was so crowded with stars, I had difficulty in separating the clusters from the richness of the surroundings. NGC 6826 I was able to notch up a success with the Blinking Planetary. Direct vision revealed a faint starlike point, but it changed to a bluish disc with averted vision. 146x showed the effect more clearly. NGC 6866 A rather vague cruciform group, a sort of poor man's M38 in Auriga. Counted about 10 stars. NGC 6819 Although AutoStar referred to it as the 'Foxhead', this description must have been coined by the user of an inverting (South at top) telescope, as I could only make out a tight group of about 15 stars. NGC 6811 Looked like two clusters, a bright loose one to the west and a slightly richer and fainter one to the east. The brighter one was probably a chance star field. NGC 6871 A large and coarse cluster of dozens of stars of different magnitudes. I was able to see two doubles inside it. IC 4996 Could not identify it positively, but I did spot two interesting asterisms in the area. One of them looked like a miniature of Corona Borealis with an added 'handle', and another resembled a mini "upright Hercules" or "Bootes", with a triple star to the top left. NGC 6913 (M29) A rather undistinguished Messier object, I counted some 20 stars in this group. NGC 7027 This planetary was apparently little larger than Uranus-sized and only betrayed itself by its bluish tint, as it formed a right-angled triangle with two field stars below it. NGC 7092 (M39) Filled the field at 73x, but its 30-plus stars still gave the field a pleasant 3D effect. 2210 UT (2310 local) Moonlight increasing and I was getting tired - parked the scope and ended the session. Report 6 of 8 OBSERVATIONAL NOTE SHEET Date :7 Sep 2004Lim. Mag. (zenithal):4.9 (7* in UMi) Time (UT) :2045 - midnightLim. Mag. (low south) :4.4 Location : Bury, Lancashire, UK suburbanSeeing (out of 10) :7 Weather :Clear; Milky Way visible from Perseus to Scutum Instruments: Meade ETX-125EC, 26mm EP, 7.5mm EP, 2x barlow Notes: A DEEP-SKY JACKPOT The best night for DSOs since August 23, with no Moon until midnight local time. 2045 UT(2145 local) Revisited the favourites of M22, M13, M15 and M11. The detail seen was at least equal to the August 23 report, but with rather more scintillation. M22 was only about 10 degrees above the horizon but was clear at 73x - dare I try a higher power ? Surprisingly, averted vision was able to distinguish some outer stars at 146x ! M11 revealed some 60+ stars at 146x, but they 'blinked' in the seeing and were not easy to enumerate. I was able to resolve outer and 'middle-distance' stars of M13, and detected 'streaming' of star groups from the centre, but again, the centre of M15 remained nebulous at 146x. 2115 UT(2215 local) Began the Milky Way tour in Aquila and Scutum at 73x . NGC 6709 was a group of about 30 stars shaped like a curiously skewed Orion. NGC 6755 was more difficult, with only a few stars resolved against a faint glow. NGC 6664, east of Alpha Scuti, was likewise a rather weak trapezium of some 15 stars. I then slewed north to hunt out some open clusters in Vulpecula. NGC 6830 was a small tight V-shaped knot, and NGC 6823 was a 'T' (or 'Y') - shaped grouping of about 10 stars, but NGC 6940 was rather more showy, with about 30 stars resolvable in an area half the size of the Full Moon. 2135 UT(2235 local) Whilst still in Vulpecula, I went for the Dumbbell Nebula M27, and the nebula filter showed a 'bowtie' shape very clearly at both 73x and 146x. The Ring Nebula in Lyra, M57, showed its shape well at 146x during a short spell of better seeing. I then slewed northwest to M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, and could make out a round glow at 73x, confirmed by a slight low-speed slew back and forth. 2150 UT(2250 local) I went for another mini-marathon in Cygnus. The open clusters seen on the 2nd all benefited from the clearer sky and absent Moon. NGC 6819, 6871 and 6811 all showed rather more stars than before, and I was able to identify IC 4996 as a weak clump of about a dozen faint stars. NGC 6834 - an arrowhead of half-a-dozen stars with a background glow. NGC 6910 - about 10 brighter stars in the shape of a written 'lambda' with a further dozen or so stars to the lower right. NGC 7039 - a dim triangular group, hard to pick out from the rich Milky Way background NGC 7062 - a faint glow framed by a diamond-shaped group of faint stars NGC 7063 - a dozen stars shaped like an upside-down standing stick man NGC 7082 - a large and fairly bright grouping in a quadrilateral frame , but again hard to pick out from the rich Milky Way field. NGC 7086 - a disappointing haze with only a couple of points set inside. 2230 UT(2330 local) I then went to take a break from open clusters, and with it being a clear night, I decided to test the ETX on two tough globulars in Delphinus. I was able to see NGC 6934 plainly and NGC 7006 with difficulty, using normal vision. I sensed being on a roll, so I went south again for more globulars, and a Messier 'error'. M30 in Capricornus was clearer than on 31 August - it should have been, with the Moon a bit more out of the way! M2 in Aquarius was bright but unresolved, but my target was M72, a much dimmer globular. Despite the low altitude, I was able to identify it, along with the weak clump of four stars nearby, namely M73. Diverting to the north, I identified the largish but dim globulars NGC 6712 in Scutum (south of an obtuse-angled triangle of stars) and NGC 6760 in Aquila (on the apex of a shallow pentagon). My final faint globular was NGC 6229, the 'runt' of Hercules' litter, but that too was plainly seen in the ETX. 2300 UT(0000 Sept 8 local) I slewed the ETX sharply to the north again, past Cygnus, and into the Milky Way fields of Cepheus and Lacerta. I started with a star cloud, IC 1396 in Cepheus, and spent a few minutes enjoying the rich field. NGC 7160 was smaller and more distinct - a dagger-like group of about 10 stars amid a faint glow. NGC 7380 was loosely cruciform with about two dozen faint stars resolved. From Cepheus, I went to Lacerta, and picked up two more open clusters, NGC 7209 and NGC 7243. The former had 30 stars in a quadrilateral frame, whereas the latter had a similar number of stars arranged in a handwritten 'S' (or 'J'). 2330 UT(0030 Sept 8 local) By this time of night, Cassiopeia was approaching the zenith, and so it was very difficult to slew much in azimuth, also the GOTO software accuracy was tailing off, making positive identification of some targets difficult. The two Messier objects were both easy but nondescript. M52 was a smattering of two dozen faint stars, whereas M103 was small and fan-shaped with about half-a-dozen brighter stars amid a glow of fainter members. NGC 129 was a small kite-shaped group with a glow off-centre. NGC 457 was the best of the bunch, with Phi Cassiopeiae acting as a beacon. It comprised of two bright arcs of stars, and resembled a miniature Aquila, or an upside-down plane with two very bright tail-lights. I missed NGC 7789, as it was difficult to separate from the surrounding field. 2350 UT(0050 Sept 8 local) A quick glance of M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, in the ETX for the first time - it was a large glow several Moon-diameters across, with M32 clearly seen below it. I could not see M110 - I was getting tired. Switched off scope and packed up at midnight UT (0100 local) Report 7 of 8 OBSERVATIONAL NOTE SHEET Date :9 Sep 2004Lim. Mag. (zenithal):Not applicable Time (UT) :0350 - 0500Lim. Mag. (low south) :Not applicable Location : Bury, Lancashire, UK suburbanSeeing (out of 10) :3 (!) - 6 Weather :Clear Instruments: Meade ETX-125EC Notes: PRE-DAWN SATURN AND MERCURY 03.50 UT (04.50 local) I set up the ETX without Autostar to view through an open bedroom window, which did not do much for the seeing, with thermally schizophrenic optics ! My first target was Saturn, and this time I was able to identify Titan in the same field as the planet using 73x, at about north following. Three other 'satellites' were just background stars in Gemini, as confirmed by software on www.cpac.org.uk and skyandtelescope.com/observing/objects/planets. Saturn was high enough in the sky to escape the worst of the seeing, and remained stable enough to see the shadow of the planet on the rings and a few vague bands on the globe at 146x. I'll probably have to wait for a winter evening of good seeing to see Cassini's Division ! 04.20 UT (05.20 local). I was able to see Mercury with the naked eye as the sky was brightening to the east. The bad news was that the planet was directly above a nearby roof and less than 5 degrees above the horizon. The ETX revealed a seething non-starlike pinkish 'blob' at 73x, and 146x only made matters worse, with hideous chromatic aberration, with a blue fringe above and a red fringe below, no doubt due to atmospheric refraction. I had no choice but to keep it manually tracked in the finder until it gained some height. 04.50 UT (05.50 local). Mercury was now getting hard to spot with the naked eye, but it was still bright in the finder. Also in the finder I saw Regulus about a quarter-radius (1 degree) following the planet, just too far away for the planet and star to appear in the same field at 73x. By now, the planet had risen above the worst of the seeing, and I was able to see a bright half-disc at 73x, and doubling the power with the barlow confirmed the phase (about 50 %) but no surface features, despite the still-irritating colour fringes. I had no chance to track the planet any further, as I had to go to work in a little over an hour ! Still, I can say I've observed Mercury in my ETX ! Report 8 of 8 OBSERVATIONAL NOTE SHEET Date :23-24 Sep 2004Lim. Mag. (zenithal):4.7 before moonset; 5.2 after Time (UT) :2145 - 0220Lim. Mag. (low south) :4.0 - 4.7 Location : Bury, Lancashire, UK suburbanSeeing (out of 10) :6 - 7, occasionally 8 Weather :Clear; Moon until 2340 UTInstruments: Meade ETX-125EC Notes: THREE SEASONS IN ONE NIGHT This night was a most welcome break from the rain and wind we'd been having for the last fortnight, and also the last one for DSOs for some time, with Full Moon looming in a few days. I had also received delivery of a TeleVue 11mm Plossl for medium-to-high power work (173x), where 26mm + barlow (146x) is just not quite enough, and the seeing precludes use of the 7.5 mm (253x). Of course, perfect seeing could warrant 345x, with 11mm Plossl and barlow ! 21.40 UT (22.40 local) Some last glances of summer Milky Way delights from previous viewings, together with some missed doubles in Cygnus, Aquila and Delphinus. Struve 2404 in Aquila was a yellow/orange pair split at 173x, and Struve 2628 was yellow, but with a fainter reddish companion. Mu Cygni was a difficult yellowish / reddish split at 173x, but Gamma Delphini was fine as always, and I did spot Struve 2725 (yellowish and lilac ?) in the same field at 73x. Struve 2735 was again yellow at 173x, but the reddish companion did not look cleanly resolved - the seeing was not up to it. 22.10 UT (23.10 local) I bade farewell to the summer constellations, and concentrated on doubles in the faint and rambling groups of Aquarius, just west of south, and Pisces to the northeast of it. AQUARIUS: All except 91 and 94 Aqr were viewed at 173x Struve 2745 was a toughish yellow/blue pair, and 41 Aqr was slightly easier, if rather more affected by seeing, due to its more southerly position. For the same reason I was able to split the yellowish components of Zeta (exactly on celestial equator), but not 53 Aqr (Dec -17, and slightly closer). 29 Aqr was a matched yellow pair fainter but easier than Zeta, as was Struve 2988. Another couple of yellow / blue pairs was Struve 2935 and 3008, the latter being the easier. 107 Aqr was bluish and white. I replaced the eyepiece and viewed the wide orange pair 91 Aqr, and the fine yellow and cyan 94 Aqr. PISCES: Keeping the 73x eyepiece, I observed 35 Psc (yellow/blue), 51 Psc (wide blue/green, faint companion), Psi Psc(evenly-matched, wide, blue) and the white / yellow pair Zeta Psc. Another star of note was 19 or TX Psc; although single, it is very red in colour, and a variable to boot. I then used 173x to observe 38 Psc and 65 Psc, both all-yellow pairs, the latter being the brighter. I ended this tour of doubles with 55 Psc, a fine yellow / blue pair. (Alpha Psc was still hidden past a wall, and probably the seeing would not have allowed the split). 23.30 UT (00.30 local) The sky has darkened in the last few minutes due to neighbours switching off their indoor lights, coupled with the setting Moon. The Andromeda Galaxy complex was making its appearance near the zenith, so I pointed the ETX to it, having put the 73x eyepiece back in. M31 was very bright, and M32 was readily visible below and to the left of the core of the main galaxy after a slight slew. M110 was just visible with direct vision above M32, but slow slewing of the scope and averted vision made it more obvious. I also found that 73x was better than 48x, as the lower power led to a brighter sky background. Clay Sherrod's comments were absolutely right ! My next galaxy was a non-Messier object in Pegasus, NGC 7331, and to my surprise, it was faint but stood out well against the background. Then back to Pisces for arguably one of the toughest of Messier' s objects - the spiral galaxy.M74. Slewing to it, I barely detected a round glow using averted vision, but subsequent attempts to locate it yielded 'no result', so I'll have to put this down as a 'suspected' rather than a 'definite' sighting. 00.15 UT (01.15 local) After this frustrated attempt to detect M74, I went from the frying-pan into the fire in order to aim for another infamous target, M33 in Triangulum. To my surprise, this ill-defined galaxy showed up without too much trouble at 73x, a sighting confirmed by low-speeds slewing. Staying in Triangulum, I slewed to Iota, a very pretty yellow/blue pair, seen well at 173x. Another well-matched white pair was coming into view - Gamma Arietis, and this did not disappoint at 173x. A few minutes later, Gamma Andromedae came into view, and this was a splendid orange / blue pairing best seen at 73x. Another object in the vicinity was the bright but rather loose open cluster NGC 752. It was still impressive at 48x, and I counted some 50 stars in the field. This cluster, however, paled in comparison to NGC 869 and 884, the Double Cluster in Perseus. The view at 48x was a jaw-dropper, with the centres of both clusters just within the field. I could not count the stars in the field - there must have been at least 200 there. Combined with the richness of the Milky Way, this must rank among the finest deep-sky objects in the Northern Hemisphere. After the Double Cluster, I made another detour into much deeper space, this time to the Seyfert galaxy, M77 in Cetus. I was able to make out the bright core at 73x surrounded by a fainter halo. 01.00 UT (02.00 local) Good God, is that the time - I'd just heard a church clock in the distance strike two. I gave my eyes a rest and walked to the other side of the garden, to obtain a good view of the eastern sky. My thoughts wandered to my favourite passage from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, the bit where the Hobbits meet the Elves passing through the Shire on September 24-25, 1418, in the early hours: "Away high in the east swung Remmirath, the Netted Stars, and slowly above the mists, red Borgil rose, glowing like a jewel of fire. Then by some shift of airs all the mist was drawn away like a veil, and there leaned up, as he climbed above the rim of the world, the Swordsman of the Sky, Menelvagor with his shining belt. The Elves all burst into song....." (Three is Company, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) Tolkien's stars were staring right at me in the sky ! Remmirath, the Netted Stars were none other than the Pleiades, Borgil was Aldebaran, and Menelvagor was unmistakeably the mighty hunter Orion, now climbing in the south-east. I could see the Milky Way stretching from Auriga to Cygnus, and the Perseus Double Cluster was visible with the naked eye . 01.30 UT (02.30 local). After enjoying the naked-eye view, I moved the table to the other end of the garden and set up the ETX there. Mindful of the time, I ran the scope in manual mode and only used Autostar for tracking to keep the noise right down, choosing to look only at targets which could be seen in the finder. First was Tolkien's 'Remmirath' - I was able to see seven naked-eye stars, many more in the finder, and over a hundred in the main scope at 48x. It was breathtaking despite the inability to cram the whole cluster into one field. I thought I could see some nebulosity around the cluster stars, but it was more likely condensation on the eyepiece. Auriga was also high in the east, so I manually aimed the ETX south of the star Theta, and picked up the best of the group's three Messier clusters in the finder. In the main scope at 73x, M37 was a lovely oval carpet of about 50 stars of 10th - 11th magnitude amid the glow of fainter suns. Hopping from Auriga to Taurus, I aimed for Zeta Tauri and slewed about a degree to the north-east. There, in the field at 73x, was a faint and ill-defined, bean-shaped glow. This glow was M1, the Crab Nebula, the wreckage of a star which exploded as a supernova five millennia ago, although its light took until AD 1054 to reach the Earth ! From Taurus to Gemini, I took another look at Castor, and again, the ETX performed a clean split at 173x to reveal a brilliant white pair of suns, with a 1-magnitude difference between them. The same TeleVue eyepiece and power revealed Saturn and Titan with good sharpness, despite the planet's rather low altitude. I could see the shadow of the globe on the rings, but no Cassini Division. Still in Gemini, I picked up another of winter's 'must-see' clusters, M35, in the finder. In the main scope, I could count about 60 stars of magnitudes 9 to 11 filling the field, and on its left edge I could make out the faint glow of the unrelated NGC 2158 in the background. 02:00 UT (03:00 local) Most of Orion had finally cleared the neighbours' roof, so I turned the ETX to three double stars. The easiest was Delta (Mintaka), a very easy white / bluish pair at 73x. Then, on to Beta (Rigel), said to be difficult due to the vast magnitude difference between the components. Then, a minor hiccup ! I'd forgotten to cap the 11mm eyepiece whilst waiting for Orion to rise, and it had dewed over ! I thus had to use 146x with the barlow, and coupled with the low altitude, I was expecting a 'fail'. Imagine my surprise when I was able to see the companion during short moments of better seeing, when the primary's diffraction ring arcs stopped darting about. The last double star in Orion was actually a multiple system, and its surroundings were every bit as dramatic as the star itself. That was Theta Orionis, the 'Trapezium', embedded inside the Great Orion Nebula, M42. The four stars were all clearly separated at 73x, and the nebula was the second jaw-dropper of the night - an intricately green cloud like a stellar blowtorch flame. The Trapezium stars were formed out of this very mass of gas. Raising the power to 146x revealed even more detail - the area surrounding the Trapezium was stunning. I could have spent all night revelling in the sky views, but I was beginning to feel a little chilly and too tired to take in any more viewing on such a productive night. 02.25 UT (03.25 local). Packed the scope up - amazingly, although the dew shield was dripping wet, the corrector lens had remained dry throughout the night. FOOTNOTE Tonight's viewing session has been a very valuable lesson in interpretation of magnitudes, particularly for galaxies. In rank of ease of visibility in the ETX, they were as follows: M31, mag 3.5, size 180 x 60 arcmin M32, mag 8.1, size 9 x 7 arcmin M77, mag 8.9, size 7 x 6 arcmin NGC 7331, mag 9.5, size 10 x 4 arcmin M33, mag 5.5, size 70 x 40 arcmin M110, mag 7.9, size 20 x 12 arcmin M 74, mag 9.1, size 10 arcmin A very different order from might have been expected from printed magnitudes! A deep sky object's published magnitude is a measure of how bright it would be if the brightness was concentrated into a stellar point. M32 is ranked slightly fainter than M110, but its smaller apparent size makes it easier to see. M 33 is four published magnitudes brighter than NGC 7331, but is harder to see because of its very large apparent size of about four Full Moons in area and the overall lack of contrast that entails. Relative surface brightness, size and magnitude all play their part in determining the ease of being able to see an object.
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