Astronomy

Observing Log for

Session Details


Northallerton

54.3299, -1.44529

10m

Notes

Throughout the evening I had looked out and amazingly, given the awfulness of the weather during the day, seen the stars. It was still significantly hazy around the horizon, the Moon now at 25% phase being ringed by a glowing halo, but I figured that I hadn't had the 'scope out since June time so why should a little haze put me off. It turned out to be a mixed night with good moments of seeing, particularly close to the zenith, and some less good moments which I'll get to shortly.

Observations

The Moon

After setting up my first and most obvious target was the Moon now low in the west and about to disappear behind a neighbouring roof. The image was crisp along the terminator, craters and mountains picked out in all their glory, but it was evident that the atmosphere was having its fun, with the rest of the lunar surface swimming in the haze. Still it was a nice way to start the evening.

M35

My next target was 35, an open cluster of stars in Gemini. Again this is a winter object and so was fast sinking towards the west. I had some fun with an incorrect triangle of stars, particularly the very red η Gemini, before I finally found the cluster which was significantly more washed out than I was anticipating. The proximity to the horizon was again causing mischief but looking at this fine cluster of stars, filling a reasonable proportion of my 25mm eyepiece's field of view, it was apparent my collimation was also a bit off, with stars only in focus at the very center of the view.

M35

My next target was 35, an open cluster of stars in Gemini. Again this is a winter object and so was fast sinking towards the west. I had some fun with an incorrect triangle of stars, particularly the very red η Gemini, before I finally found the cluster which was significantly more washed out than I was anticipating. The proximity to the horizon was again causing mischief but looking at this fine cluster of stars, filling a reasonable proportion of my 25mm eyepiece's field of view, it was apparent my collimation was also a bit off, with stars only in focus at the very center of the view.

It was around this time that disaster struck. Never once since getting my telescope in 2004 have I checked the finderscope attachment and I paid for this apparent neglect when, as I was rotating the optical tube to better position the eyepiece, the finderscope slid from its mount and tumbled to the ground. It was an awful moment, happening inexorably slowly but with both my hands unable to get anywhere near it in time. Even worse I hadn't set up on the grass due to earlier rain so it fell on hard concrete with a sickening crash. I picked it up and immediately looked at the Moon. Luckily the image was fine with no harm being done to the optics. Unfortunately the adjustment screws fared less well. After reattaching it to the telescope I had to realign it and during this process one of the screws sheared off, a sure sign it had taken a whack during the incident. Now I need to source a new set screw but luckily I don't need to source a whole new finderscope.

Saturn

With the finderscope back in action I quickly turned my attention to Saturn high up in the south with Leo following close behind. I wasn't expecting much with all the haze but in fact around about this time I had the best skies of the night. At x40 the view was crisp with some detail discernible on Saturn itself, however the view was much improved at x100 with cloud bands instantly popping into view, and after several minutes I could easily identify four moons (in order of brightness these were Titan, Rhea, Tethys and Dione) with (and I'm fairly sure now having checked the positions) a fifth (Enceladus) just on the edge of seeing, a faint dot close to Saturn's beautiful rings. I soaked up the view for ten or so minutes before realising I hadn't even tried the barlow. Unfortunately this made me realise I have no idea where my barlow is, so I decided to move on.

M44 and M67 in Cancer

My next two objects were the open clusters 44 and 67 in Cancer. A particularly dim constellation this required a little bit of star hopping to sort out but really wasn't much of a problem. M44 was much bigger than my field of view, a beautiful glittering collection of stars that never fails to impress. M67 is much more subtle, fainter but denser and it responded well to increased magnification, the 10mm eyepiece framing the cluster nicely, but again betraying my poor collimation.

Leo Triplet

After the open clusters I hopped over to Leo to catch some galaxies. 65 and 66, along with a fainter companion 3628 were picked up easily but the haziness washed out much of the details. M66 is being torn apart by its neighbour M65 and both the distorted central bulge and the brighter spiral arm that points towards the other galaxy were visible, although the latter only with averted vision until eventually, after 10 minutes or so, I got it with direct vision. M65 betrayed much less detail, the faint hint of core and little else. Their third companion, NGC 3628, is a larger but dimmer galaxy which showed no detail only a faint but discernible oval shape which was larger than M66 or M65.

During my 10 minutes spent staring at this group of galaxies a visitor arrived in the form of a hedgehog. It spent a few minutes snufflinf around my box of stuff before heading off into darker areas of the garden.

M51

By now ice was forming around the rim of the telescope and on the 10mm eyepiece which had been neglected since looking at M67 earlier on. I decided to go for one final target and chose 51, The Whirlpool Galaxy in Ursa Major. Again this is a fairly simple target to track down and immediately appeared as a fuzzy double star in the finderscope. On inspection through the eyepiece this resolved itself into two distinct galactic patches, one bigger than the other. After giving it some time the large interacting arm was possible to pick out with other fainter details in M51 being picked up with some averted vision.

I now had no feeling left in my hands and the ice was getting thicker so I decided to call it a night. Despite the mishap with the finderscope which annoyed me only because I hadn't anticipated it, it was good to get out with the 'scope again, even if it was only to pick up some of the brighter targets. These are some of my favourite late winter objects so it was good to see them before we lose them over the coming month or two and I'll definitely be out at the next opportunity, possibly diving back into the Coma-Virgo cluster to make some follow up observations after the Messier Marathon.