Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Deep South Regional Stargaze

As I had planned, I attended the 2015 Deep South Regional Stargaze, but once again like the Spring Scrimmage weather showed it's ugly side yet again. The first night was fairly good but incredibly dewy, and by midnight fog worthy of a Hollywood movie set formed and dissipated as the night wore on. The second night began alright, but skies rapidly deteriorated and by 10 p.m. it was clear there was no more observing before rain, wind and thunder moved in the next day. I decided to take down the telescope and pack it up in the car to prevent rain from getting into it. The next day I left for home in the late afternoon two days sooner than I planned, because one storm after another passed through the area. At least I got the chance to observe some objects under darker skies than I normally have access to, and thus the drive out to Norwood La. was still worthwhile despite the change of plans due to the ever worsening weather pattern from an astronomical point of view.
One object I finally bagged was the obscure galaxy NGC-1343 in Cassiopeia, which is a rich hunting ground for objects that are part of the Milky Way, such as open clusters. It's not where one would expect to see galaxies, yet several exist that can be seen with amateur telescope, NGC-1343 being the hardest thus far to see. Shining at a magnitude of 12.3 and stretching 2.8 arc minutes long, this galaxy appeared as a very small elongated oval glow that seemed to have a star embedded in it. A brighter center was obvious and I may have seen hints of the outer disk and spiral arms of this heavily obscured galaxy that is behind dense star clouds in the Cassiopeia Milky Way. It's high declination of +72 degrees ensures it is above the horizon at all times from mid and far northern latitudes.
Also in Cassiopeia is the planetary nebula IC-1747, which appeared as an oval with a darker central zone without a central star visible. Also known as PK 130+1.1, this 12th magnitude object is about 20 arc-seconds long, which results in a fairly high surface brightness. It was obviously visible through the 15-inch among numerous faint stars even without a nebula filter through steadily worsening skies. While not a spectacular find like NGC-6826 or the Dumbbell Nebula, it's is worth a look through modest telescopes under good skies.
There is a fair number of comets now visible to amateur telescopes, and I looked at three of them while at the 2015DSRSG. C/2014S2PANSTARRS was at the time in Perseus and shining at around 12th magnitude. It is now in central Draco due south of the "bowl" of the Little Dipper or Ursa Minor. It looked more like a diffuse galaxy with an elongated brighter zone in the center than a comet.
Another comet I observed was C/2013X1PANSTARRS in Ursa Minor. This comet I had to act fast to catch, it was dropping towards the tree line and it was close to Polaris as well. Unlike the previous comet, this one was obviously a comet with a short stubby tail and a bright inner region with a pseudo nucleus in the center. The actual nucleus is far too small and dark to see through an amateur telescope, and even more so when surrounded by glowing plasma. It's in Pegasus at a magnitude of 10 and still positioned far enough from the Sun to be observable for at least another month. C/2013X1 will reach perihelion this April and then will pass within 0.6 A.U. or 54 million miles of Earth next June on the way out from the Sun. It is expected to reach a magnitude of 7.5 and will have best visibility from equatorial and southern latitudes while among the stars of the constellation Microscopium.
After the DSRSG, I finished rebuilding my 10-inch F/4.5 solid tube into a truss-tube Dob that is lighter and takes up much less space in my car. I took it to one of the sites I use to observe deep sky objects I cannot see at home, and among other objects I tried it on M-1, also known as the Crab Nebula. The skies were for once reasonably clear, which made M-1's patch structure apparent. It was quite bright at 149X without a nebula filter. Numerous other objects, including the galaxies M-31, M-32, M-110, M-33 and M-74 were also observed. The telescope is still adequately rigid and damps out vibration well, and is much more pleasurable to use. Just today I took delivery of a 30mm Explore Scientific 30mm 82 degree eyepiece, which will enable the widest actual field of view possible for this telescope. Now I can get a very good view of large and very faint nebulae such as NGC-1499, the California Nebula and large star clusters such as the Pleiades. I am hoping for better weather trends for 2016, overall the weather was awful year round during 2015. I am planning on going to Oklahoma in 2016 to get away from both light pollution and the never ending monsoons that are as of late year round along the Gulf Coast. Not to mention take the 15-inch out there and stretch it's legs as I had done with the 10-inch when I was there back in 2006.