Friday, 26 December 2014

Christmas Night Observing

Seasons greetings to you all!
I've been determined to get some back yard observing done over this festive period, and then, on Christmas night, I managed to get out for an hour or so.  The weather has been mild and mixed of late, with little opportunity to get under a clear sky in this corner of Herefordshire.  The forecast for yesterday was good though, so with the main festivities complete, and a night of trashy telly beckoning, I opted to stand outside in the developing frost instead.
So, to kick the night off, I opted to first go for M1, the Crab Nebula.  Using my Telrad charts, and managed to locate it quickly.  I would say that it is at the limit for the ability of my 150mm reflector, but I could make out the nebula against the background sky.  However, in terms of detail, well, I couldn't make much of that out at all.  However, happy that at least I could identify it, I thought it a good idea to move on.
Next I visited Auriga, which is a constellation I wanted to revisit since my last observing session with my friend Jim.  I located M36, a cluster with relative ease, and then used the 18mm EP to get a slightly improved image in the EP.  I estimated that I could make out approximately 70 stars or more in this cluster.  The seeing was very good I think because the view I had was particularly clear.  Especially of the stars of higher magnitude.  It was a good challenge to spend time looking at this cluster because of eh abundance of stars of all different magnitudes.
Next, I turned to my Telrad finder chart of Overlooked Objects, and I picked out NGC 2281 as my next target.  In some places, it is also referred to as the Broken Heart Cluster.  In clusters and features such as this, it's nice to try and make out where the feature gets its name from.  I think I could make out half a heart shape in the small, but pretty cluster.  However, I needed a picture to verify what I was seeing was the correct thing.  When I returned indoors, I searched for photos of the cluster online and confirmed what I was looking at was correct.  However, I'm still not entirely convinced on the 'Broken Heart' name though.  Perhaps my imagination just isn't that good!
The next object for the evening was a favourite of mine in the constellation of Cassiopeia.  The Owl Cluster, or NGC 467 was standing out very well against the black background.  The two bright stars that form the eyes of the owl are a great aid to verifying that I was looking in the right place.  One of these stars being Phi Cassiopeiae.  This is one target that I can certainly make out the shape of an owl with its wings slightly out standing on a perch.
As seeing conditions were good, and the atmosphere seemed fairly steady, I decided to got for another target that I knew would challenge the limits of my scope.  So, I went to NGC 7789, another cluster in Cassiopeia.  Now, initially, in the books, it gives the cluster a magnitude of 6.7, which is well within the ability of my scope in the conditions of last night.  However, the description given is of a condensed cluster composed of magnitude 11 to 18 stars.  I struggled to make it out in my scope, and it was only after spending time at the EP and gently moving the Dec knob on my mount that I could make the faint cluster out.  I used both 18 and 25mm EPs to observe the cluster.  However, I had to admit defeat and leave it to the light bucket brigade because I could see nothing more than a very dim view of it.
So, to cap off the evening, I decided to point the scope to the Andromeda galaxy as a nice easy target to finish the evening off.  I didn't spend much time looking at this, but I was able to see the 3 typical galaxies in the 25mm EP.
All in all, a quick but enjoyable session in the backyard.  We now have several days of rain and dare I say, possibly snow in the forecast.  The forecast into next week is looking slightly better with some possible good conditions in the early part of the week.  Fingers crossed for that one!
Until then, cheers!

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