Sunday, December 2, 2012

2012 Deep South Regional Stargaze

As I hoped, I was able to attend the 2012 Deep South Regional Stargaze in Norwood Louisiana. However, I was only able to attend Friday through Sunday due to work considerations, and thus I had only two nights to observe while there. The weather conditions were very good the first two nights, very wet and dewy Friday night and after a few hours the following night they were cloudy. The transparency was average Friday night and horrible Saturday night before the clouds rolled in. Seeing was below average on both nights, I found the blurred views were most definitely not caused by a warm primary mirror. Since I chose to drive my car there, I only took along the 15-inch this time. While there I was hoping to locate some challenge objects and to sketch them. Things did not work out as I had hoped however. None of the Abell planetary nebulae I looked for were visible, and neither were the Palomar globular clusters I was seeking. I did however find some NGC-objects I have not seen before. The heavy dew soaked my sketch forms, so I just concentrated on observing. I spend most of my time there looking over favorite Messier and NGC-objects such as NGC-7008, also known as the Fetus Nebula in the sketch above. It was a wonderful chance to give the Sky Commanders a real test, on every object that was visible through my telescope under the prevailing skies they unerringly led me to them.
Still, I enjoyed my time there. Among the objects I observed were the Andromeda and Triangulum galaxies, as well as the smaller Local Group members M-32, M-110, NGC-147 and NGC-185. Andromeda filled the field even through my lowest power eyepiece, but the intense star like nucleus was obvious and so were the two main dust lanes. M-33 showed its spiral arms and nuclear region and the star forming region NGC-604 looked like another smaller galaxy in the field of view. M-32 showed in it's oval outline a small intense core while M-110 was much larger and diffuse. It was more teardrop shaped than oval. NGC-185 was dimmer but still easy, while NGC-147 was faint with a weak brightening towards the center. It and NGC-185 are in the same low power field of view, but NGC-147 is a wraith that really requires dark skies to find. It is a challenge for a 10-inch from the light polluted skies outside of my city.
Other galaxies I looked at were the Pegasus galaxies NGC-7731 and it's companions, which together are called the Deerlick Group. The other galaxies are in fact background systems to NGC-7331, a twin to the Andromeda Galaxy but 23 times farther away at 50 million light years. I also observed Stephan's Quintet, a compact group of galaxies that are merging with each other, and the spiral and lenticular galaxy pair NGC-7332 and 7339. These galaxies are at right angles to each other, with NGC-7332 being the brighter of the two. Stephan's Quintet showed three members clearly, and I glimpsed the other two. Altogether, the view belied the chaos of five galaxies crashing together to form a large elliptical galaxy. I also located the trio of galaxies NGC-7463, 7464 and 7465. NGC-7464 is the smallest of the three, and appears as a small oval glow attached to NGC-7463 whereas NGC-7465 is almost hidden by the glare of a foreground star. Another Pegasus galaxy I looked over was the edge on spiral galaxy NGC-7814, which in photos shows a very thin dust lane. I did not see it, but the galaxy was easy for the 15-inch. The dust lane is a challenge even for a 15-inch.
In Aquarius I observed the dim galaxy NGC-7416, a nearly edge on spiral that had a bright core. It was suffering from the less than stellar skies which were worsening as Friday night wore on. In Andromeda I paid a visit to the edge-on spiral galaxy NGC-891. This very flat spiral system showed its signature dust lane for most of its length despite the sky conditions. Also located were the lenticular galaxy NGC-890 and the spiral galaxy NGC-949 in Triangulum. Both showed a bright central core and an oval disk.
Other objects I observed were the globular clusters M-13, M-92, M-56, M-15, and M-2. All of them shattered into countless stars through the 15-inch. Then I ventured into the constellation Cygnus the Swan. The Veil Nebula actually looked like a bridal veil, and through an O-III filter one could see the chaos in this expanding cloud of very hot electrically charged gasses. A neighboring observer's 4-inch refractor showed the entire extent of the Veil Nebula through a 28mm ultra-wide angle eyepiece and an O-III filter. The nearby North American nebula showed portions of its outline clearly when I used my 24mm Explore Scientific eyepiece. Streaks and regions where dark nebulosity blocks the bright nebulosity behind it were also evident. When I turned to the Crescent Nebula I could make out the whole outline of this cloud expelled from a dying star. In a few hundred thousand years, it will explode as a supernova, but I had no trouble seeing details in the cloud of hydrogen that once was the central star's outer envelope. A trip into Cepheus brought me to the rather small, but surprisingly bright emission nebula NGC-7538, which showed patchiness through out and the stars inside it that were causing it to glow.

Along the way I looked at a number of planetary nebulae. NGC-6826 showed it's round disk and bright central star, M-57 displayed it's structure nicely. M-27 show both the Dumbbell shaped inner shell, and the larger outer shell which enclosed the toroidal inner shall in its oval outline. NGC-7009 was very blue in color and the inner ring and hints of the ansae appeared with the central star in the center. NGC-7293, also known as the Helix Nebula resembled at low power a very large, ghostly Christmas wreath that showed the famed helices seen in photos. In the center glimmered the central star that is now a white dwarf whose UV radiation is forcing the surrounding gasses to glow in visible light. The barbell like planetary nebula M-76 in Perseus showed it bipolar structure very plainly at 227X. The bright planetary nebula NGC-7662 in Andromeda was Robin's Egg blue with a darker central zone. In the middle was the central star, and a look at the planetary nebula NGC-40 in Cepheus also showed a central star surrounded by a somewhat oval disk that was uneven in brightness. A look at NGC-7008 in northern Cygnus revealed an oval disk with a fetus like bright region in it, as though it was an egg with a developing tadpole in it. NGC-7027 was intensely bright and resembled a rough cut gemstone with the central star well displaced to one side from the center. NGC-7026 has a darker belt across the disk, and NGC-7048 and 6894 were annual rings. In Aquila NGC-6781 was a large faint disk with an annulus around the rim.

As Friday night wore on, I stopped to examine several nebulae. The Orion Nebula overran the field of view at 83X, dark and bright regions of dust and gas were everywhere. The feature near the central core called the fish mouth was inky black and so were the gap between M-42 and M-43, which looked like an apostrophe with a bright star in the center. I followed streaks of nebulosity far from the central core and the Trapezium separated into six visible stars. Flanking it were two star clusters surrounded by reflection nebulosity, the NGC-1973, 1975 and 1977 region shows vague features of a "running man." I then went to Zeta Orionis and quickly found the location of the Horse Head Nebula. Through a hydrogen beta filter at 142X and 83X, I made it out as a dark void which was not very distinct but it was visible. I glimpsed the horse head like shape, but it mostly looked like a swirling dark cloud in front of the dim emission nebula IC-434. NGC-1999 to the south of M-42 was small, bright and had a very dark v or t-shaped void in the middle. The Crab Nebula or M-1 was also nicely seen, hints of the filaments were visible through the 15-inch and so was the irregular outline.

Before covering the primary mirror and heading to the cabin for the rest of the night, I stopped at the Fornax galaxy NGC-1365 to see if I can spot the supernova SN-2012fr in the central region. I did make out a 12th magnitude pip of light that could only be the white dwarf star that destroyed itself as a type 1A supernova. It will be visible for weeks or months to come about an arc-minute due north of the galaxy's center.

While I did not find the challenge objects I had hoped to, it was still a nice weekend stargaze to attend. I am looking ahead to attending next year, because a comet is now inbound that has the potential to be a very spectacular sight in the evening skies next fall. Comet ISON has the potential to be the great comet of the early 21rst century, and the 2013 DSRSG will be a great place to see it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A pair of planetary nebulae in Aquila

While I was observing the periodic comet 168/P Hergenrother during it's apparently short lived outburst, I also looked at deep sky objects as well. Sky conditions were poor but I still managed to see a good many old standbys as well as a few new objects along the way. Two objects I have observed before with my 10-inch F/4.5 Dob were the Aquila planetary nebulae NGC-6772 and NGC-6778. This time I brought the 15-inch to bear on them to see if there was anything different about these objects through the larger telescope.

NGC-6772 turned out to be more interesting through the 15-inch Dob than when I looked at it the last time with my 10-inch. Unlike the oblong faint patch of light seen through the 10-inch, some visible structure appeared, in the form of a darker central zone and brighter regions along the long sides of the nebula. No central star was evident, evidently its either very faint, hidden by the glow of the surrounding nebula or both. The poor skies that night and the proximity to my city meant it was very faint without a nebula filter, but when an O-III filter was used it became far easier to see. Averted vision definitely helped here. This is a planetary nebula for folks who venture out to dark sites, no doubt it would show up well through an 8 or 10-inch telescope if the skies are very dark given it's overall listed magnitude is about 14. Realistically, I would say it's closer to magnitude 13 with an apparent size of about one arc-minute along its long axis. For users of larger telescopes, it is a very nice planetary nebula.

NGC-6778 is three times smaller in apparent size with a diameter of some 20 arc-seconds, and listed as a full magnitude brighter than NGC-6772. As such it penetrates light pollution and haze much more easily than it's larger and fainter counterpart. As before I experimented with viewing it with and without an O-III filter, and preferred the filtered view. It was still quite obvious among the dense star fields without it. Again no obvious central star was seen, but I did see a roundish, somewhat ill defined and irregular disk. Other than that, it seemed featureless. The high surface brightness actually allowed me to find it from home with my 10-inch, and thus the view I got was similar to what I recall seeing through the smaller telescope.

Among other objects I observed was an intriguing collection of galaxies in Pegasus. I didn't get to make any sketches of them before the heavy dewing started, but I did look them over. Since I am going to the Deep South Regional Stargaze this year, I am going to give them a closer look and make sketches with the 15-inch Dob from skies far darker than anything I can find in my local area. That is assuming of course the weather co-operates, an iffy thing here on the Gulf Coast with hurricanes sometimes striking my area even as late as December. The Sky Commanders I have added to that telescope work magnificently and make observing very faint objects a lot more rewarding. While I can star hop to any thing on a chart, it is nice to have some help looking for those 14th magnitude faint fuzzies, and something that can tell you which one you are looking at.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cometary outburst

Last week, a surprise event occurred that is worth a look by anyone with a small telescope. The periodic comet 168/P Hergenrother has undergone a massive outburst that brightened it to between ninth and tenth magnitude. It was expected to be a 15th magnitude object, which has an orbital period of 6.9 years. Comet Hergenrother was discovered by Carl Hergenrother who used a 16-inch telescope to discover it photographically in 1998. It is now marking its second return since it was first discovered and identified, and at present it's moving north in the Great Square of Pegasus.

The enormous flare up of activity on this comet prompted me to roll out the 15-inch to look for it from the driveway. Once I entered the co-ordinates and slewed to the location of the comet using the Sky Commanders, it immediately appeared at 111X and the view was much better at 227X. It resembled the flame from a welding torch with a bright inner region to the tail, and a fainter outer envelope. There was a bright, star like inner coma apparent. and the whole comet was compact and stood out well against the bright sky background.

Last weekend, I looked at it from a the airstrip and made this drawing. The tail was more definite and longer, and overall the comet was a nice, impressive object through the 15-inch. I was not expecting to catch another outburst on a comet since the incredibly powerful outburst Comet Holmes underwent back in 2007, but this was a pleasant surprise for me. It is a nice preview of the PANSTARS and now ISON comets that are coming in 2013, with the ISON comet having a good chance of becoming the the great comet of the early 21rst century. Below are links to articles about the Hergenrother comet. Since this outburst the comet is now fading so if you wish to catch it in a small telescope, you should look for it now. The moon will also soon drown it out. Good luck, and good hunting!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A few summer objects and the Sky Commanders

Now that I have had the Sky Commanders for a couple of weeks, I have rectified all the shortcomings of the stalk I had made for it, and I also made a lead to connect it to my Dewbuster. In addition to powering and controlling heater strips, it also has 12-volt outlets to connect other devices that require battery power, such as the Sky Commander computer unit. That way I can power it with my 12-volt, 18 Amp-hour battery and doing so will also enable the built in heater to function as well. Even with the heater on, the Sky Commanders use only 130 milliamps of current, far less than any heater strip and hence it places little demand on the battery. That allows it to work in cold temperatures, as low as -25 degrees Celsius, colder than I would normally ever be exposed to here on the Gulf Coast. LCD displays get sluggish in cold temperatures, and therefore there is a heater inside the computer unit that will enable it to function even during cold winter nights. That feature is going to come in handy since winter is the only time of year where I can reasonably expect clear and dark skies. Summers are usually very murky and cloudy in this region of the world.

I also bought some knobs from McMaster-Carr, a company that offers just about any sort of fastener you can imagine. Four of them were used to make custom threaded bolt and knobs to secure the stalk to the rocker box side, and two are used to attach and detach the altitude encoder. When transporting the telescope I can now remove the computer, altitude encoder, encoder arm and the stalk to protect them from damage, then quickly re-attach them for use at a dark site or at home. I store the computer, altitude encoder and arm, and power lead in the case with the upper tube assembly because they are fragile and expensive too to replace.

I am greatly impressed with the performance of the Sky Commanders on my 15-inch truss-tube Dobsonian. I have located very tiny planetary nebulae that are nearly stellar and only identifiable because they have a peculiar blue or greenish color with them. When I entered these objects into the computer and slewed the telescope to the location indicated by the computer, they were either in the field of view or just outside of it, at 227X or even higher. Even at 425X object appeared in the field of view. Unfortunately, my plans to try them out at a darker site than my driveway fell through once again due to the sudden appearance of thunderstorms. I was hoping especially to get a look at the galaxy NGC-5611 in Bootes, which has a type 1A supernova underway in it at this time. It's at about 13th magnitude and visible to an 8-inch telescope, but Bootes and the galaxy are going to soon be lost in the glare of the Sun. The chance to try them out under darker skies that will have to wait until October at the earliest, this year more than half the time weather made driving to the club's site at the airstrip futile because of wind, clouds and rain. Nevertheless I did observe a lot of star clusters and planetary nebulae from home, and the planets Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune.
NGC-6790 in the constellation Aquila was a planetary nebula that eluded me repeatedly, until a recent article in Sky & Telescope by Sue French provided the clue I needed to find it. It is nearly star like but had that telltale blue-green color that enabled me to zero in on it once the Sky Commanders guided me to the right area of a very dense Milky Way star cloud. Boosting the magnification to 425 and 572X showed not only it's nebular character, but revealed it's oval shape and the central star. It's quite bright and is visible from light polluted locations, the trick is finding it but it can be observed in smaller telescope once located. It's apparent size is no greater than the planet Uranus, with dimensions of 2.5 X 4 arc-seconds. The 4.7mm ES eyepiece provided a much more pleasing view than the 3.5mm Orion Stratus, due to the fact the seeing was mediocre at best and the ES eyepiece is more comfortable to use. It lies in a formation of stars that looks like a very gluttonous slice of pie or pizza, with the nebula in the middle of the round edge of the slice.
The larger but still very small planetary nebula IC-5217 resides in the little constellation of Lacerta, the lizard. Like its terrestrial counterparts, Lacerta is almost hidden among the dense star fields of the Milky Way and surrounded by Cygnus, Andromeda, Cepheus, Cassiopeia and Pegasus. But this little constellation does contain a few note worthy star clusters and this planetary nebula, which appears as a tiny round disk at high magnifications. It resembled the planet Uranus but somewhat larger and much fainter of course. Unlike NGC-6790, it was much easier to spot among the dense star fields along this region of the Milky Way, and was a nice object to observe from my driveway. No sign of a central star was evident, even at 425X.
The open cluster NGC-7086 was one of a number of open clusters I observed in Cygnus. Fairly large and rich, it stood out well with a sinous formation of brighter stars, plus another one that forms a long right triangle with two of them. Other objects observed for the first are the open clusters NGC-7031, NGC-7039 and NGC-7082 in Cygnus, NGC-7772 in Pegasus, and NGC-1027 in Cassiopeia. Recently, a pair of amateur astronomers detected an impact on Jupiter's day side. I have been watching the planet recently to see if any sign of an impact scar exits, but so far I have seen no sign of one. It appears whatever it was, it was too small to have left one, but Jupiter is also showing signs of dramatic changes in it's equatorial belts. This planet is worth the effort to observe it, because it's atmosphere changes constantly and spots, storms and ovals come and go. Perhaps someone will spy the scar left behind by another asteroid or comet that dove into the planet that otherwise could have been meant for us.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Digital Setting Circles

After more than a year observing with the 15-inch by star hopping, I just acquired a set of Sky Commander digital setting circles for it. These consist of encoders that record movement along the altitude and azimuth axises and send electronic signals to a small computer unit that contains a database of some 16,000 stars and deep sky objects. The computer calculates which directions and how far to move the telescope and when the display indicates it's aimed at the right spot, the object will appear in the eyepiece. That assumes of course, the computer is set up and initialized properly and the encoders are installed correctly. I had to make mounting hardware to install the encoders because the altitude bearings are hollow arcs and the pivot bolt supplied is 3/8", not 1/2". I found some bronze bearing sleeves that will compensate for this and I made a new lock nut mounting plate for the ground board with a 3/8 all metal lock nut.
After some trial and error, I made a stalk for the computer which attaches to threaded inserts in the rocker side. It also has a stud for the altitude encoder arm and a hole through which I can drop the cables to the encoders to keep them out of the way. I also made a detachable bracket for the altitude encoder so it can too can be removed for transportation.
During the past week for three nights I had a chance to put the Sky Commanders through their paces. In half an hour I learned how to operate the computer and on the first night I had no problem setting it up. When I initialized and tried it out for the first time, it got every object in the field or just outside of it at 142 and 227X, even though I did a hasty alignment. The following two nights it performed better because I took more time on the alignment, and I learned how to resynchronize the computer when pointing accuracy fell off due to the telescope not being on level ground and possibly the telescope not being perfectly orthogonal. The computer copes better with both than my JMI digital setting circles however, and the LCD display is easy on the eyes.
I built the stalk so I can keep the computer in sight while at the eyepiece, but without the glow from the display in my eyes when I am peering into the eyepiece. The computer is secured in place with Velcro, and having it on the stalk also keeps it from affecting the telescope's balance. While the JMI's are good, the Sky Commander is better. If I had to choose between the two, for the price the Sky Commanders are a better deal. One nice thing about them is there is no need to point the tube perfectly vertical when aligning it, and there are more stars to choose from to align it on too. There's more deep sky objects and more memory space for user defined objects, and the unit can hold information on up to 30,000 objects. With a set of these digital setting circles, one can take command of the skies for a mere $500.00 and change. Now I can spend more time looking at objects rather than hunting for them, and do more observing when the moon is up.  I am going to attend the 2012 Deep South Regional Stargaze if at all possible so I can observe more fall and winter galaxies.

Friday, June 22, 2012

NGC galaxies and a supernova

Last weekend after a period of cloudy weather and moonlit nights, it was finally possible to observe my favorite objects, galaxies and nebulae. Wasting no time, I brought both the 10 and 15-inch Dob to the airstrip with the goal of finding the supernova SN2012cg and to draw Virgo and Coma Berenice's galaxies. SN2012cg is underway right now in the Virgo galaxy NGC-4424 and is plainly visible in the nuclear bulge. It is definitely a type 1A event, which can occur anywhere in all galaxies as well as globular clusters. What causes them is matter streaming from a normal star to a nearby white dwarf, a dead and collapsed star that no longer generated internal energy by nuclear fusion. Only electrons mutual aversion to each other supports the star against further collapse, and left to itself a white dwarf can last almost forever. If hydrogen gas rains down onto the dwarf at a high rate, it starts to fuse into helium at a steady rate on the surface instead of building up until it all ignites and gets blasted off the star during a nova outburst. This increases the mass of the white dwarf until mutual repulsion between electrons can no longer oppose the star's own gravity. The star immediately collapses, runaway nuclear fusion of carbon and oxygen starts in the center then rapidly consumes the entire star, which then blows the star completely apart. In the nuclear hellfire of the blast, massive amounts of elements ranging from neon to nickel are generated then hurled into space where they subsequently become incorporated into new stars, planets and presumably, life elsewhere in the Universe. These immensely powerful blasts can be seen for billions of light years, and because they are all more or less equally powerful are useful yardsticks to measure vast distances across the Universe.
Once I located NGC-4424 with the 10-inch, I used higher and higher powered eyepieces until the 4.7mm Explore Scientific 82 degree eyepiece revealed it's presence at 280X. It appeared as a pip of light very close to NGC-4424's inner core the flitted in an out visibility due to the average seeing that night. This supernova had an apparent magnitude of 12 or so, whereas the galaxy itself is small, fairly bright and elongated with an intense inner core. I would rate this galaxy as fairly bright and easy for an 8 or 10-inch telescope, and under good skies in range of smaller telescopes too with an apparent magnitude of 11.5 or so. Once I found and observed NGC-4424 and it's ongoing supernova, I turned my attention next to the galaxies of Coma Berenice's, whose name actually comes from a queen by the same name who lived in what is now Tripoli Libya. She was the wife of Ptolemy III and famous for her beauty, which included long blond hair. When he was off fighting a war, legend has it she sacrificed her hair to the goddess Aphrodite to ensure he would return alive and well. When he did come back, he was very surprised to see his wife sporting the short look, but an astronomer showed the royal couple Coma Berenice's and told them Aphrodite placed her hair in the sky.
Coma Berenice's is dominated by a large open cluster that does resemble a woman's disheveled long hair, but it also harbors huge numbers of galaxies. The first to be observed was the oval, small and bright elliptical galaxy NGC-4494. It rapidly brightens to an intense, and bright inner core at 227X. It's actually a good galaxy for a much smaller telescope than my 15-inch, I've seen it a number of times with my 6-inch.
Nearby is probably the most famous galaxy in Coma Berenice's, NGC-4565. Also known as "Bernice's Hair Clip" this galaxy is quite possibly the best edge-on galaxy in the northern skies for smaller telescopes. In photos it's over 20 arc-minute long, but the rather poor skies limited that to perhaps half that night. Nevertheless, the bright inner core, the dust lane that runs along most of the length of the disk and the thin, fried egg like cross section were at least hinted at if not glaring evident at 227X through the 15-inch. Despite the poor skies, it was still impressive even through the 24mm 82 degree Explore Scientific eyepiece at 83X.
Not far from NGC-4469 and NGC-4565 is the Coma Cluster, a galaxy cluster about 350 million light years away. It's brightest galaxies are NGC-4889 and NGC-4874, surrounded by dozens and dozens of dimmer NGC, UGC and PGC galaxies. At 227 and 298X, indeed there were other galaxies visible though some were very hard to spot in the less than ideal skies. A check of my star chart program shows they are NGC-4898, NGC-4886, NGC-4876, NGC-4869, and NGC-4872, all of which range in magnitude from 13.5 to 15.0, little NGC-4898 being the dimmest and smallest of the lot, although I am not quite sure why I spotted it and others nearby of the same magnitude went undetected. Undoubtedly, from a truly dark site, there would be 20 or 30 dimmer galaxies visible where NGC-4889 and 4874 are located through the 15-inch.
Heading back into Virgo, I visited the pair of galaxies NGC-5363 and 5364. This consists of a tenth magnitude elliptical galaxy and a much fainter 10th magnitude spiral galaxy which is more elongated and spread across a much larger area of sky. In the poor sky conditions I was able only to see the inner region of this nearly face-on spiral. Both made a nice pair at 142X.
Nearby, I stopped by another pair of Virgo galaxies, NGC-5426 and NGC-5426 was bare visible with a weak central brightening, and it was clearly not round like NGC-5427. This pair is worthy of a return visit from a truly dark site where the 15-inch will show both far better than it ever could from the club's light polluted observing site.

Other objects I observed that night included the planets Mercury, Mars and Saturn. All suffered the effects of the rather poor seeing, so I concentrated on galaxies and nebulae. Other objects I visited included the Ursa Minor galaxy NGC-6217, which is an oval glow marked by patches of greater brightness than the surrounding disk, no doubt star forming regions in this galaxy. The nebulae M-57, M-8, M-20 and M-17 were also visited. The dark lanes in M-20 were stunningly apparent, and the dark lanes and bright steaks in M-8 made it look almost three dimensional through the 15-inch. M-17 looked like the chaotic cloud of hot gas it is, with a vast outer halo visible. The Veil Nebula also showed it's striations too, and the structure of the Ring and Dumbbell nebulae were also clearly apparent. M-27 also showed it's central star, whereas the rather poor seeing hid M-57's central star from view. Finally, I looked at Omega Centauri, but the thick haze near the horizon made its stars merge into a fuzzy blob. It was a most rewarding night despite the hazy skies and the passing clouds.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Venus and the Pleiades

Venus is soon to pass through inferior conjunction and transit across the Sun's face on June 5, but before that it has been shining brightly in the western sky after sunset. This spring however the planet made a close approach to the star cluster M-45, also known as the Seven Sisters or the Pleiades. Venus was a fat crescent with the usual yellow-white featureless appearance, passing closest to the star Merope. Normally I look at the Pleiades from a dark location to see the reflection nebulosity that surrounds the entire star cluster, especially Merope whose nebulosity is also designated as NGC-1435.

This time the close passage of Venus to the star cluster made the effort to set up a telescope worthwhile despite the poor seeing and transparency that night. Within 20 minutes after sunset the star cluster was visible through my telescope and I had enough time to sketch out the brighter stars before the sky became too milky to continue farther. Using a 24mm Explore Scientific eyepiece with a huge 82 degree field of view gave an actual field of view nearly 1.5 degrees across, enough to get both objects in the field of view with space to spare. It was a wonderful sight that did not require a trip to a dark site to appreciate. Venus is about to encounter the Pleiades repeatedly in the coming years, with upcoming encounters featuring the planet passing between the seven bright main stars, a sight well worth looking for with a small telescope or even binoculars.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Supernova in M-95

Spring has arrived and with it more rain, clouds, wind and all around bad weather for stargazing. Last weekend was the first one where the weather was co-operative. The previous weekend saw clouds passing though but despite that I went to the airstrip where I looked at mostly winter deep sky objects. Last weekend with the better skies I concentrated on galaxies and planetary nebulae, as well as a comet and a recently discovered supernova. In both cases I loaded the 15-inch telescope into the car and drove out to the airstrip, where the weather was warm enough that I only needed my lightweight battle dress uniform blouse to stay warm. Before I was putting heat packs in my boots to keep my feet from suffering because cold tends to creep in through the soles of your boots when you are on cold ground for hours on end. The good news is with the weather comes a plethora of galaxies, galaxy groups and galaxy clusters even for those who have modest telescopes. Owners of large telescopes have many choices of galaxies to look at, way too many to even keep up with.
After taking a look at the Orion Nebula, the open cluster M-41 and Comet Garrad, I swung the telescope to the first main object of interest that night, the Leo galaxy M-95 and the supernova SN2012aw which appeared scarcely a week before. It's now brighter than 13th magnitude and was easy to spot through the 15-inch as a star on the outer edge of M-95, once I figured out where to look for it. The theta shape was seen with difficulty because the skies at the site are quite badly light polluted and transparency was only average. This core collapse supernova took place in the galaxy's outer ring, apparently having once been a star resembling Antares or Betelgeuse. It must have been spotted after it's maximum because it's now fading. Observers who enjoy looking for supernovae in other galaxies should also look at NGC-4790 in Virgo which has the supernova of it's own underway. SN2012au is now at a magnitude of 13.5 very near the center of the galaxy. The Leo galaxy NGC-3239 is also the site of another supernova, now fading at a magnitude of 14.5. This one is designated SN2012A. For the latest information on supernovae and novae, follow the link below.

Comet Garrad is still fairly bright and well placed for observation, but not for much longer. It's round with a bright core and seemingly still signs of a tail. It's motion is now taking it Ursa Major towards Lynx and Cancer. So if you haven't had many opportunities to see it, you will want to be looking for it over the next few weeks before the fading accelerates. 
While at the site I decided to look over some deep sky objects in the constellations Hydra and Sextans. The first was the planetary nebula NGC-2610, a fairly small object that had a faint ring shaped structure. It was dimly visible without a nebula filter at 227X, but an O-III filter improved the view. No sign of the central star was evident with or without the filter. While nowhere near the showpiece NGC-3242, the Ghost of Jupiter is, NGC-2610 reminded me of a little round smoke ring adrift between the stars.
The fairly bright but small galaxy NGC-2935 appeared readily through the 15-inch, even through my low power wide field eyepiece. It's inner core was a tiny fuzzy oval at 83X, which through my 15-inch using a 24mm ES 82 degree eyepiece gives a field of view one degree across. At 227X the galaxy presented a much better view, with signs of it's nuclear region and it's disk shape. Like our galaxy, NGC-2935 is a barred-spiral galaxy, but it's fairly low altitude in the hazy skies prevented the outer portions of this beautiful galaxy from being seen. This galaxy is not very well placed for observation from the southern U.S., but those in more southerly regions of the globe can see it high overhead. It's spiral arms would be visible to large amateur telescopes from dark sites. This is one objects I'm going to return to at a later date.
NGC-2974 is a very small but bright elliptical galaxy in Sextans, close to the brightest star in Hydra, Alphard the Solitary One. It is the only bright star in the area. After making an attempt to find the large ring shaped planetary nebula Abell 33, I turned my attention to this little galaxy. Shining at about 11th magnitude, it bears magnification well. In photographs a star is superimposed on one end, but I did not see it, probably because the seeing was not very good that night nor did I use extreme magnification. It's definitely in reach of smaller telescope from less than pristine skies.
While most of the objects I search for with telescopes are galaxies and nebulae, sometimes I also look for stars of unusual interest. VY Canis Majoris will explode as a supernova that will be as bright as a quarter moon and visible from just about every inhabited region of the globe. At very high magnifications a tiny disk can be seen around the star, with a bluish white jet sticking out if it. So far, I had the best views of VY Canis Majoris at 425X, doubtlessly folks in more southerly locations can go a lot higher with larger telescopes. The jet has been compared to the Nike "swoosh" logo in fact by users of very large telescopes. The disk is material expelled from the star by stellar winds, and the jet is more material being shed from the star from it's poles. The shedding of mass is VY Canis Majoris' way to try to stabilize itself but it will not prevent the core from collapsing into a neutron star or black hole. When that happens, VY Canis Majoris will certainlybe one of the most powerful supernovae ever to be seen from the Earth,

Other objects I observed but did not sketch included the Ursa Major galaxies M-51 and NGC-5195 as well as M-81 and M-82. The spiral structure was nicely visible and in the case of M-82 the ragged dark bands were also apparent. M-81 shows the faint outer arms surrounding the relatively large and bright nuclear bulge. In Leo I looked at the Leo triplet and the other bright companions to M-95. Other galaxies in Leo I looked at include the bright barred spiral NGC-2903, the NGC-3190 galaxy group, the interacting pair of galaxies NGC-3226 and 3227, and another spiral NGC-3162. In Coma Berenices I looked at NGC-4565 and 4494, both spirals. In the case of NGC-4565, the dust lane looked like a streak of ink along much of it's length. I visited the globular clusters M-3 and M-53, and amazingly I even succeeded in teasing faint NGC-5053 from the sky slow. Like a Cheshire Cat, I was seeing the grin of it's brightest stars dimly glimmering in the eyepiece. Down in Corvus I stopped to visit an old friend, the edge-on, massive spiral galaxy M-104 which does look much like a Sombrero. Before taking down the telescope and heading home, I paid a brief visit to Markarian's Chain and then the great globular cluster, Omega Centauri. Stars were resolved down to the core, the cluster glittered like tiny diamonds on a black bolt of velvet.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A break in the doldrums

During the past month, clouds, rain and wind have left few opportunities to observe, so when a golden opportunity arrived last week, I made use of it to explore the numerous winter open star clusters  visible from my home. Along the winter Milky Way scores of open star clusters exist ranging from huge binoculars only objects down to small faint patches of light that require a large telescope to make out. In places they overlap one another or are connected with emission and or reflection nebulosity. All are in range of a small telescope from darker sites, but I was using my 15-inch at my light polluted driveway to make these drawings. Because I live at latitude 30 degree and 42 minutes North, these objects get high enough in the sky, but for people who live in Canada, Russia and Northern Europe many of these star clusters are going to be a lot harder to see because they will be very near the southern horizon, requiring a darker and clearer night that I would to find them. Low and medium power eyepieces are best for these star clusters, you can see many of them very well at 100X.
NGC-2367 is an open cluster in eastern Canis Major, the large hunting dog, near the double star h3945, also known as the "Winter Albireo" due to it resembling the famous and bright double star, Beta Cygni. This cluster seems to consist of two concentrations of stars, but the central core is a bright Y formation of stars. Fairly small and shining at 8th magnitude, it's fairly inconspicuous among the dense star fields of Canis Major.
NGC-2384 is smaller than NGC-2367 in apparent size, but easier to distinguish from the surrounding star fields thanks to it being an elongated group of stars flanked by two bright double stars. There is also a formation of stars that resembled a golf club or a letter L. Brighter than NGC-2367, NGC-2384 is also flanked by the neighboring open cluster NGC-2383, which I was not quite able to tell apart from the surrounding stars. I plan to return to this object to see if I can get a better look at it.
NGC-2421 is an open cluster about four degrees due east of NGC-2384 in the constellation Puppis. Much larger in apparent size than the two Canis Major objects, it's easier to tell apart from the surrounding star clouds despite it's stars being dimmer. The stars are arranged in a somewhat triangular grouping some 10 arc-minutes across, or a third of the diameter of the full moon. This is a rich and nice open cluster among the many that lie in Puppis and better placed for observation from the northern hemisphere than most of Puppis' deep sky objects.
NGC-2479 is yet another of Puppis' open clusters, which would get more attention from amateurs had the bright Messier open clusters M-46 and M-47 weren't a mere five degrees or so to it's northwest. Quite small and compact, it reminded me of a broken wedding ring, with the brightest star being the diamond. The broken wedding ring appearance persists in photos of this 10th magnitude object. It was surprisingly visible from my home given the heavy light pollution present.
NGC-2482 is a large, rich and bright open cluster, with a elongated shape and near a triangle of bright field stars. It's some three degrees east-southeast of the bright Messier open cluster M-93 and compares favorably to it in brightness, stellar population and standing out well from the surrounding star field. From a dark site it would be visible in larger binoculars and is a fine sight for a 6-inch telescope.
NGC-2509 is yet another open cluster in Puppis, a rich and much brighter than it's apparent magnitude of 9 suggests. It's quite small and responds to magnification well even though it's apparent size is about one quarter that of the full moon. While there are several dozen bright stars visible, it seems there's a background of very dim stars, shimmering like star dust among them. It almost gave the star cluster the appearance of being shaped like the letter Y. This object is a good one for smaller telescopes, it's dense and rich stellar population makes locating it easy from a good site.
NGC-2539 lies about ten degrees to the east-northeast of the bright open cluster M-46 in the northeastern corner of Puppis. A large, rich open cluster, NGC-2539 spans some 22 arc-minutes of sky and shines at magnitude 6.5, making this an easy object for binoculars and small telescopes. At142X, it took up most of the field of view with it's hundreds of stars, though I was only able to see the brighter members from my home. Doubtlessly this cluster would be a very spectacular object even with a small telescope from a dark site. The star cluster is flanked by a convenient bright star which marks its position for easy star hopping, itself a nice double star in it's own right.
While Puppis is host to three Messier and numerous NGC and IC objects, it also is home for a number of other deep sky objects discovered and cataloged after these catalogs were published. Trumpler 7 is one such object, and open cluster discovered by the American astronomer Robert Trumpler in the 1930's. Altogether Trumpler cataloged some 330 open clusters, most of which were previously unknown to astronomers. Trumpler 7 is also listed as CollinderCanis Major and Puppis, two degrees to the east-northeast of the star Tau Canis Majoris, which is surrounded by the magnificent and brilliant open star cluster, NGC-2362.
Abell 12. Ordinarily, a planetary nebula of it's apparent size and brightness would be an easy object for small telescopes, but Abell 12 is nearly hidden in the glare of the fourth magnitude star Mu Orionis. As such, it's a very difficult and maddening object to find. However nebula filters help make searching for it easier, and steady seeing is important for success in finding this planetary nebula that hides in plain sight. Were it not nearly hidden from views, it would certainly be listed in the New General or Index Catalog. This object was finally revealed through the use of a 4.7mm eyepiece that yielded 280X, drawing the nebula far away enough from the star to make it visible as a dim oval nearly lost in the glare.
Other objects I have been observing include some less well known open clusters in Cassiopeia and Perseus, which will soon be lost in the twilight, then will re-appear in the early morning skies. One such object is the huge open cluster, Stock 2. This open cluster like many cataloged by the American astronomer James Stock was missed by earlier surveys of the sky before he discovered it.  This cluster is very large, at least a degree across and therefore really is best for small telescopes with low-power, wide field eyepieces and binoculars. In appearance it resembles an X of seventh through ninth magnitude stars. Some observers call it the "Muscleman Cluster because of it's resemblance to a headless weight lifter. It's easy to find only two degrees north of the Double Cluster and the whole object shines at fourth magnitude.
Stock 23 is not as rich as Stock 2, but it is situated in a rich Milky Way field with other stars scattered across the area. It was easier to see than I expected from the driveway, which combined with it's large apparent size of one degree and total magnitude of 4.4 makes Stock 2 an ideal object for binoculars and small, lower power telescopes.
Smaller than Stock 23, the large and scattered open cluster Trumpler 3 has a curious kite like shape. Shining at seventh magnitude ans some 23 arc-minutes across, the brighter stars readily distinguish it from the Milky Way's star clouds in Cassiopeia. An excellent object for small telescopes, Trumpler 3 lies near the border with the large and faint constellation, Cameleopardalis, the Giraffe.
One of my favorite objects in the entire sky is NGC-3242, also known as the "Ghost of Jupiter," in the constellation Hydra. This planetary nebula is extremely bright and shows up easily though any telescope. The larger and more powerful the telescope and the greater the magnification, the more detail you will see. This time I trained the 15-inch on the nebula, which showed the central star clearly in the center of the nebula surrounded by the eye like inner shell. Around that lies the outer shell, whose ends along the long axis of it's oval shape were much fainter than the rest of it. The whole nebula has a very strong blue-green or turquoise color. At 300X or above through a medium or large aperture telescope, NGC-3242 is a magnificent  deep sky object even from a city.
Last but not least, I observed the nearby white Main Sequence star Sirius, the brightest star in the sky in an effort to locate it's companion, the white dwarf Sirius B. This dead star packs the mass of the Sun into a sphere smaller than the Earth, resulting in a crushing surface gravity 900,000 times greater than at sea level on Earth. The star is very faint, and shines 10,000 times dimmer than the bright star. Despite it's feeble luminosity, the surface is a searing 25,000 degrees Celsius, much hotter than Sirius A whose surface is at 10,000 degrees Celsius. That gives the white dwarf a bluish cast, but it's usually hidden in the glare of Sirius A unless the star is near the far end of it's orbit and the seeing steady. Until 2022, it's going to move farther and farther away from Sirius A making it easier to spot. At present it is some ten arc-seconds due east of the primary star, visible as a tiny blue white pip of light that follows Sirus A as both drift across the field of view. I was seeing it come and go due to turbulence in the atmosphere above me. I have tried many times to see this stellar corpse, but only see it very few times with my 10-inch or larger telescopes. Curiously, while I was able to see the white dwarf through my ES 4.7mm 82 degree eyepiece, it was not visible through a more powerful 3.5mm Orion Stratus. Clearly, the optics and coatings of the ES eyepiece were better than the Orion Stratus, enough to make the difference between seeing Sirius B and missing it. I'm looking forwards to warmer and drier weather so I can begin to observe the galaxies of spring, and re-acquire comet Garrad, which is now about to make it's closest approach to Earth on the way out into deep space.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Winter objects from home

The weather as of late has not been conducive to stargazing, but a few windows did open in the rainy, cloudy and sometimes cold winter weather that is the norm for the Gulf Coast. During these periods I simply roll my telescopes into the driveway and observe what I can, despite the light pollution in my city. While that means most galaxies are impossible to observe, I can see a surprising number of star clusters, planetary nebulae and most of the Messier objects. The moon, planets and double stars do not require dark skies to see well. When the moon is up, I concentrate more on them than on deep sky objects. I was planning to observe from the airstrip last weekend but high winds and generally feeling unwell made going there not worth the effort to brave the cold. However, I did acquire an ultra-wide angle 24mm eyepiece for deep sky objects that have a large apparent size and had the opportunity to try it on some of the sky's most spectacular sights. Then I was in a position to see a rare conjunction of two planets where they approached each other closely enough to see both of them through a medium power eyepiece at the same time. Along the way I observed and sketched objects I've either never seen before nor sketched since the last time I observed them.
Two of my favorite objects are the nebulae M-42 and M-42, both of which are known as the Orion nebula. Even from a light polluted driveway they are wonderful objects, especially when a narrow band or O-III nebula filter is used. They and the star clusters flanking them provided a splendid opportunity to try my new 24mm Explore Scientific 82 degree eyepiece. Through the 10-inch, it gave a magnification of 55X and a true field of view about 1.5 degrees across, which is nearly enough to show the whole Sword of Orion in once view. The bright inner region of M-42 and the multiple star known as the Trapezium were of course prominently displayed but the two "wings" of M-42 were also clearly visible. Much of the rest of the nebula appeared as a faint glow that covered an area larger than the full moon. Through the 15-inch with an 18mm eyepiece and a narrow band nebula filter the nebula filled the field. M-43's comma like shape became apparent, along with the streakyness and patchiness of M-42 itself. The dark region known as the Shark's Mouth looked inky black compared to the emission nebulosity all around it. The open star clusters NGC-1981 and NGC-1980 which flank the nebulae were nice objects in their own right, but unfortunately it was not possible to see the reflection nebulae that pervade the region due to the light pollution.
When I was not looking at M-42 with my new 24mm ultra-wide angle eyepiece, I was trying it out on other large objects such as the Double Cluster, the Andromeda Galaxy, M-81 and M-82 and the Messier open clusters M-35, 36, 37 and 38. In every case stars will pinpoints to the edge, thanks to it's excellent correction and the use of a coma corrector. I cannot look through it without my eyeglasses, but that turned out to be uneccessary since when I look straight into the eyepiece stars turned into pinpoints to the edge. The Double Cluster fit into the field of view through the 15-inch with plenty of space to spare, and through the 10-inch open clusters such as the after mentioned  Messier objects were magnificent. Star colors were clearly apparent and the sky background was almost velvet black, evidently flare is almost non-existent and contrast is very high. When looking at M-38 through the 10-inch, the little open cluster NGC-1907 which lies next to the larger cluster was also clearly visible.
While looking at the Orion Nebula, I paid a visit to open cluster NGC-1981, which is overshadowed by it's neighbor.  This large and scattered open cluster is comprised of relatively few bright, blue-white stars and a lot of fainter ones, while being involved in the outskirts of the reflection and emission nebulae NGC-1973, 1975 and 1977. These are actually fairly easy to see from a good site away from heavy light pollution. This is a nice open cluster for all telescopes.
Aside from the three rich, large and bright Messier open clusters, Auriga also has a number of dimmer but still worthy of a look open clusters such as NGC-2126 in the northern reaches of the constellation. It's conveniently next to a bright field star, without which would make this cluster hard to find because the individual stars are quite faint. It appears as a wedge shaped area with more stars than the surrounding sky from my driveway. Doubtlessly it would be hard to miss from a darker area with a modest telescope given that it is a rich but dim star cluster. Evidently this 10th magnitude open cluster is not related to the 7th magnitude star next to is.
Another open cluster I located was NGC-2396, which is made up of some three dozen stars and shines with a total magnitude of 7.4. Not one of the richer open clusters, it took some effort to distinguish it from the dense star fields of Puppis, which lies along the winter Milky Way. One yellow star was brighter than the rest, and an even brighter field star was a signpost that lead me to this lesser known Puppis open cluster. Puppis
The open cluster NGC-2439 on the other hand was smaller but brighter than NGC-2396 with an apparent magnitude of 6.9, with a bright yellow star in it, almost like a topaz surrounded by diamonds. This cluster was very apparent even at low power, but it's fairly small size benefits from raising the magnification to about 150X. I couldn't make out all the stars, but in photos the cluster's brightest star are arranged in a ring, with the bright star as the diamond. The bright star is also listed as R Puppis, one of Puppis's many variable stars. This object is a good object for small telescopes and people observing from the suburbs.
Trumpler-9 is one of the more than three hundred open clusters listed by the American astronomer Robert Trumpler. Many of them were actual newly discovered objects while the rest were listed in other catalogs. Trumpler 9 despite it's appearing to be an asterism is a true open cluster, albeit one at a great distance from Earth. It was immediately recognized at 120X, and using an 8.8mm Explore Scientific eyepiece to boost the magnification to 149X provided a better view. While known as the "Greater than 1" cluster, my 10-inch brought in other stars that made it resemble the number 12 spelled out in stars. Small in apparent size, it is an object well suited to suburban stargazers.
The weather has been dismal for the most part this month for observing deep sky objects, but a rare event came along that does not require crystal clear skies. On the night of February 9th, Uranus and Venus passed some 20 arc-minutes from each other, making the pair fit nicely into any telescope's field of view. Although I was watching the event despite worsening passing clouds, I was able to make out both planets before it became fully dark. Venus showed it's yellow white color and darkening along the terminator, while Uranus looked like an aquamarine green pea some four times smaller in apparent size.

Among other things I have been observing Jupiter and Mars, which is soon going to reach opposition . Surface features are plainly visible when the seeing is steady enough to see them. I have also been paying more attention to Venus as well, given that faint markings do from time to time appear in it's thick, toxic and deadly clouds of sulfuric acid and molten sulphur droplets. Jupiter has also been displaying activity in it's atmosphere as well, there seems to be whitish regions lagging behind the Great White Spot. I had another opportunity to track down more winter deep sky objects from home this week sketches of which will be posted soon.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wonders of the winter sky

This weekend clouds and rain ruled out driving out to the airstrip today with the telescopes, but the previous weekend was altogether different weather wise. Temperatures were fairly warm and surprisingly enough the dew was not nearly as bad as it usually is, soaking everything within a couple of hours after sunset. Sky conditions were average, good enough for the improvement in the views compared to what I see from home for the drive to the airstrip to be worth while. While there I tested an experimental red LED illuminated clipboard, the purpose of which is to make sketching objects at the telescope easier. Early results were encouraging but it is clear the clipboard should be powered by it's own internal battery instead of being powered by a cord plugged into one of my Dewbuster's accessory ports. The variable brightness feature I incorporated into it is very helpful to reduce the impact on my night vision, and the white LED's are bright enough to serve as illumination for setting up and taking down the telescope. Last weekend I mainly focused on the Eridanus, Lepus and Orion region, given the large number of galaxies and nebulae in this region of the sky.
The constellation Lepus the Hare has only Messier object, the modestly bright globular cluster M-79. Through small telescopes it looks like a comet unless skies are very dark and the magnification high, but from the light polluted skies at the airstrip M-79 readily resolved into stars. at 227X it shows a small but very bright core, with hundreds and hundreds of stars resolved in it's outer reaches. It's a fairly impressive object in medium and large aperture telescopes despite it's modest luminosity and distance of over 50,000 light years from Earth. Through the 15-inch it reminded me of a pinch of salt or sugar on very dark fabric.
The other prominent deep sky object in Lepus is much closer to home, and that is the planetary nebula IC-418. Also known as the Spirograph and Raspberry nebula, this tiny, bright planetary nebula is visible in both small and large telescopes as a small bluish oval disk with the central star prominently shining in the center. It has shown a reddish tint, hence the popular name Raspberry nebula. Despite the quite bad seeing that night, I boosted the magnification to 298X. As before the central star shone brightly in the middle of the nebula and the bluish color was evident. Interestingly the ends along the long axis seemed dimmer than the rest of the nebula. Like many other bright planetary nebulae, IC-418 also "blinks," looking directly at the central star caused the nebula to vanish, looking away brought the nebula back into view.
As the night wore on. I looked at a number of galaxies until moonrise washed them out. The first galaxy I looked at was the Eridanus galaxy NGC-1187, an oval shaped barred spiral galaxy that shines at 11th magnitude. The bright core was prominent, which was surrounded by the disk and spiral arms. I probably would have been able to see hints of the spiral structure at a darker sight on a calmer night, but this galaxy is clearly bright enough for a small telescope to reveal it. The disk steadily brightened towards the center however, and I plan to revisit this galaxy on a better night.
NGC-1232 is a 10th magnitude face on  Eridanus spiral galaxy very much like M-101 in Ursa Major, but almost three times farther way than the Pinwheel Galaxy. The poor seeing and light pollution hid the outer portions of the disk, which I was able to see easily from a much darker site through my 10-inch. The central region was easy to find and given a dark site this galaxy is a good object for medium and large aperture telescopes. There is a small companion galaxy that is perturbing the big spiral galaxy's arms, but I never seen any sign of it from the airstrip so far.
NGC-1309 is  a nearly face on Sc spiral galaxy in Eridanus that resembles the nearby spiral galaxy M-83 with it's oval shape due to it's orientation with respect to our line of sight. Shining at magnitude 11.6 and much smaller than the previous two galaxies in apparent size, it has less trouble getting through my area's sky glow. The bright nucleus is very evident and the galaxy looked a little patch as well at 181X. Bright and easy to locate by star hopping, this object begs a second look on a steadier night from a darker site than the airstrip.
NGC-1421 is an interesting Eridanus galaxy, starting with the fact it's an edge-on system. It is also somewhat irregular in structure. this system is also oriented due north to south as it softly shines at magnitude 11.6. Little structure seemed to appear, it looked like a streak or slash of faint light that at first was not immediately apparent at 181X.
Over in neighboring Eridanus the galaxy hunt continued with the rather small, faint and oval galaxy NGC-1784. Shining at magnitude 11.8, this barred spiral galaxy lies 100 million light years away, over half again as far away as the Virgo cluster of galaxies, and yet it was fairly bright through the 15-inch. It bore magnification quite well but the unsteady air above led to the best view being found at 181X. I saw no sign of the small companion galaxy near it, probably because it is either actually a much more distant background system or it's an intrinsically dim galaxy to begin with.
Another Eridanus galaxy that eluded me until now is NGC-2139, which shines at a magnitude of 11.7. It's small apparent size of just over 2 arc-minutes gives it a fairly high surface brightness and thus makes it visible fairly well amid the local sky glow. This face on Sc type spiral galaxy really does deserve to be also considered a peculiar galaxy. The central core is displaced to one side and photos show the spiral arms to be disheveled as well.
Just before the moon rose and forced an end to observation of deep sky objects, I stopped to visit M-78, a reflection nebula in Orion that is often overshadowed by the Great Orion Nebula. This object is a interesting object in it's own right  from a dark site. It's actually four separate small nebulae in the same region of sky. While M-78 resembled the eyes of some celestial black cat gleaming from within the nebulosity, NGC-2071 was a lopsided fuzzy patch around a star. NGC-2064 and NGC-2067 eluded me since the moon was already lighting up the sky as I made the sketch. Next time I'm going to return to this area and see if I can spot them, they have been seen in small telescopes from dark sites.

In addition to these objects I observed a number of others, which included Venus, Mars and Jupiter, which suffered the least from the night's poor seeing. I also looked at the galaxies M-31, M32, M-110, M-33, where in M-31 and M-33 I spotted the dust lanes and spiral arms respectively. I spent a good deal of time looking at the Orion and Crab nebulae, which shows many details through the 15-inch. Finally I looked at the galaxies M-81 and M-82, which looked incredible until the moon's glare began to hinder even them. It was a pleasant night of stargazing while the darkness lasted.