Friday, June 20, 2014

The Bear and the Lion

The weekend before Memorial Day was the last chance for several weeks to observe objects from a site darker than my driveway, so I drove out to the local club's site and found that I had it all to myself that night. Once it got dark, I went to work on the galaxies of western Ursa Major the Great Bear and Leo Minor, the Little Lion. Some of these objects I have observed before, but did not sketch.
Comet C/2012K1PANSTARRS is still visible as soon as darkness falls, but it's edging towards the Sun and soon will be lost in it's glare. It will however reappear in the morning sky and remain a nice comet for amateur telescopes. Through my 15-inch it showed a very short tail and a strong inner core. The location of the nucleus was marked by a fuzzy star like nucleus, which is of course far larger than the actual nucleus itself. This comet is getting brighter as it approaches the Sun, and well worth the effort to observe with a small telescope or a good pair binoculars.
The galaxy NGC-2985 appeared as a bright and small oval object with a magnitude of 10.5. This Sb spiral galaxy has an apparent size of 5 arc-minutes, it's delicate spiral arms forming a fainter zone around the relatively large and bright nuclear bulge. This galaxy is well within the grasp of uses of small telescopes under good skies.

The galaxies NGC-3065 and 3066 form an interesting pair through the 15-inch at 298X. NGC-3065 is a type SO lenticular galaxy with an total magnitude of 12, it's small apparent size of 2 arc-minutes makes the surface brightness reasonably high and the use of high magnification advantageous. NGC-3066 is noticeably fainter, and looks elongated while NGC-3065 appear round with a weak central brightening. NGC-3066 is a peculiar SBb barred-spiral galaxy, it's central bar and core making it appear elongated when in fact this one arc-minute wide galaxy is nearly round.

The nearly edge on spiral galaxy NGC-3198 was an easy find, with a brighter core and a slightly woolly appearance. This magnitude 10.2 galaxy had an apparent length of over 8 arc-minutes, making it a good object for a 6-inch under good skies. This system is actually very much like M-33 and NGC-2403, a large Sc class spiral galaxy with numerous regions of ongoing star formation.

NGC-3254 in Leo Minor might not be rated high on many observer's to do list, but it's a quite worthwhile galaxy for amateurs interested in galaxies. This edge-on system is quite bright and shows a bright inner core, as well as stand up well to high magnification. One side of the inner core seemed to have a sharper boundary than the other. Shining at magnitude 11.5 and extending some five arc-minutes in length, this system resembles the Andromeda galaxy thanks to it's Hubble classification of Sb. This galaxy unlike Andromeda is closer to edge-on than our nearest large galactic neighbor. The galaxy brightens rapidly towards the center and along the plane of it's disk.
NGC-3348 is a very small, but quite bright galaxy that has no problem penetrating the murkiness of my area's skies. Shining at magnitude 11.2 and an apparent size of 2 arc-minutes, this object is round with a brighter center. In appearance it resembles a comet and responds to high magnifications very well.

NGC-3504 is one of many galaxies to be found in Leo Minor, the little lion.
It's a 11th magnitude barred spiral galaxy that is 2.7 arc-minutes across, with a bright inner region made up by the galaxy's central bar and nucleus. The galaxy brightens towards a bright core, with a faint haze around the central bar where the spiral arms are. This galaxy has a Hubble classification of SBb, and shows twin helices flanking the central bar in long exposure images.

In the same medium power field as NGC-3504 is another galaxy, NGC-3512. Unlike NGC-3504, NGC-3512 is a face-on Sc spiral galaxy that spans 1.6 arc-minutes and shines at a magnitude of 12.4. At 298X, NGC-3512 appears as a round faint patch with weak central brightening. Together both galaxies form a nice pair at 181X. I also observed the Ring Nebula in an unsuccessful effort to find the central star, looked at M-82 and it's fading supernova and perused a number of other galaxies. Last but not least, I spent some time observing Jupiter, Mars and Saturn. As the night wore on, the seeing settled down enough to allow superb views of Saturn at 425X, showing the belts on the planet and it's largest moon Titan as a tiny orange disk.