Monday, 23 March 2015

Mission Objective – Just Observe

Good evening everyone.  I’d been looking forward to Sunday evening for quite a few days.  Throughout the latter part of last week, the weather forecast was suggesting that the skies would be clear for a good deal of the afternoon and through into the small hours.  The only issue being, work would get in the way on Monday morning.
So, in plenty of time, I set the scope up outside whilst it was still light, and then came to wait until darkness.  I used that time to get a few more ideas on what I could target for the evening.  Following on from first light for the SBT on the 21st, I decided that I would quite like to get back to the constellation of Leo.  I also decided that Gemini would be a good area to explore.  Armed with my notebook, Telrad chart and pocket atlas, I headed out to the garden and sat in the dark for a while before putting the Telrad on the scope and getting everything lined up.
To Leo.  I wanted to make sure that what I had seen during first light of the scope was true.  I still couldn't quite believe what else was visible through the 12” mirror in comparison to the 6”.  I made a note in my book about the seeing.  Though not brilliant, it was still the clearest sky around here for quite a while.
My first target of note for the evening was NGC 2903 which is a spiral galaxy of magnitude 9.6.  I found the target quite easily using the Telrad.  However, I couldn't really see much structure if any.  A faint fuzzy it certainly was.  Around my observing point, there were various lights being switched on and off by the neighbours as people began to settle down for the evening.  I think without this minor interference, I could have seen a lot more.  The back garden does actually get very dark once people have settled down and gone to bed.  Unfortunately, I didn't have the luxury of a late night so it will be a target to revisit in better conditions.
Next in Leo, I paid a visit to M65 and M66.  They appeared exactly as I remembered them.  Both easily visible in the same FOV through the 32mm EP, but again without too much detail involved.  Then, I thought it would be worth a quick view of a target visited many times before, M44 The Beehive Cluster.  It was pleasing to see it again and is certainly much richer with the aid of the 12” mirror.
Having spent a bit of time looking around Leo, I paid a quick visit to Gemini and the cluster of M25.  A pretty target that really filled the EP.  Not as bright as M44, but still very well defined.
I decided to take a seat for a while, and under red torch light, flicked through the atlas and just gazed around the sky spotting as many stars as possible in the constellations of Leo and Hydra.  Sometimes, I find it just as relaxing and enjoyable and when it comes to finding targets, a bit more knowledge always helps!
Then, it was time to look at the constellation of Ursa Major.  Nice and high in the sky, the pocket atlas shows many targets that I've tried for but not managed to locate in the past.  M63 was on the list, technically in Canes Venatici, but kind of in the right area of the sky.  I’m afraid to say again, probably because of local light pollution and poorly adapted night vision, the target was nothing more than a grey smudge for me.  But, it’s definitely whetted the appetite for a revisit under darker skies.  While in that locality, I nudged the SBT on to M51, the Whirpool Galaxy.  For me, this was probably the best target of the night.  Not really appreciating what it looked like from a photo, I made a note in my book that I could see two distinct light spots very close to each other.  They didn't look like two completely independent objects given the light areas that seemed to join them.  In my mind, I recalled an image I have seen in a magazine of what looked to be a spiral galaxy almost consuming a neighbouring galaxy.  I wondered if this is what I was looking at.  I was really pleased when I verified what I thought I saw when I came back indoors and saw a similar image on stellarium.  What a cracking sight that was.
I felt like I was on a bit of role, so I decided to go for two more targets in Ursa Major before calling it a night.  The first was M109.  In stellarium, it’s referred to as the Vacuum Cleaner Galaxy, a new one on me.  Because of its proximity to the star Phecda, I found it very easy to locate, but quite tricky to distinguish.  I found it easier to nudge the scope a little so Phecda wasn't in the field of view.  This meant that M109 was now towards the edge of the field of view, but it meant that the comparative brightness of the star wasn't detracting from the image of the galaxy.
Finally, a little further nudge towards Merak brought the final target into view, M108, the Surfboard Galaxy.  In the Telrad charts, it was given as a magnitude 10 object.  The first mag 10 object I’d been able to find in my short hobby time as an observer.    In the faint grey colouring of the galaxy, I thought I could make out a very small single pinprick of light that stuck out quite well.  I assumed this to be the core of the galaxy.
So all in all, a very enjoyable and exciting observing session that brought a raft of new objects to my tick list.  Whilst I’m sure the scope is capable of so much more again, especially with some mods including a shroud and possibly flocking, it really is demonstrating its brilliant abilities under my ‘back yard’ conditions.  As you might have noticed, there was no mention of changing EPs during the session.  I made a conscious decision before I started that I would use exclusively the 32mm EP.  There are so many new combinations to now try on so many more targets that have now come within observational reach that I haven’t yet started tinkering with getting the best from each target.  That will come in time.
Thanks for reading.

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