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.