Thursday, 10 March 2016

Observing from my Dark Sky Site

Observing from my Dark Sky Site

Monday 7th March.  A school night for most.  But, fellow amateur astronomers will know, when the weather's good and the sky is clear, you've got to go observe.  I decided to re-visit a location that I spent New Years eve at, but this time, with the SBT instead of the camera.  The evenings are getting lighter now, so I had plenty of tie to load up the car when i got home after work, and then make my way out.
All the kit set up on arrival, collimation check and dew prevention in place, it was time to sit back and wait for the stars to put in appearance.  It wasn't long before I got a glimpse of Jupiter shining brightly quite close the horizon.  Given that it was the brightest object in the sky at the point, and one of the view targets visible, I pushed the SBT around and focused in on it.  The image was poor.  Plenty of atmospheric disturbance, which was hardly surprising given the amount of atmosphere the reflected light from the gaseous super-giant had to pass through before hitting my mirror and eyepiece.
I made the relevant observation notes in my book and looked around.  Even at 7.15, it was barely dark enough to observe anything else of note.
I started using the time waiting for darkness to arrive flicking through a couple of books to find some targets.
As Orion is superbly based this time of year, I decided to check out M78 as the first DSO for the night.  It's a diffuse nebula, very wispy in appearance.  It still wasn't particularly dark, but I was able to resolve 2 stars within the object.  Other than that, on this occasion, it wasn't anything spectacular I'm afraid.
M79 is in the constellation of Lepus.  At magnitude 8.0, it's well within the ability of the SBT.  But, this time of year, it is low to the horizon.  It's a small globular cluster that was hard to pick out through the Earth's atmosphere.  I was unable to resolve any individual stars within the cluster, but it was a new target for me, and another that I could tick off my Messier list.
Whilst allowing my eye to wander overhead, I remembered that M44, the Beehive Cluster is also well placed in the night sky at the moment, so I looked around the constellation of Cancer.  I could see something with the naked eye in the area where M44 should be.  It wasn't quite as bright and apparent as the Pleiades, but I pushed the scope around in its direction.  After a brief line up with the Telrad, I looked through the eyepiece and it was evident that I had gone straight to it.  On such a night, i I had my iOptron and camera with me, it would have made an excellent target for some DSO DSLR photography.  The image was simply bright and stunning!
Back to some less familiar targets, and a constellation that I have not observed before.  M47 is in the constellation of Puppis.  Usually, Puppis is obscured by buildings from my normal observing spot at home, so leaving the garden and venturing out elsewhere definitely has its benefits.  The target is a spare open cluster, but accommodates some very bright stars.  I was observing it using the 32mm 2" Panaview eyepiece, and the cluster filled the field of view quite well.
Just a nudge of the SBT away from M47 is M46.  This is another open cluster, but this time, significantly dimmer than its counterpart.  Even though it is a dimmer cluster, there were many more stars resolved through the eyepiece.  I changed to the 40mm eyepiece, and was almost able to fit most of each of the clusters into the same field of view.
This is when I started to go a bit 'off-piste' shall we say.  In this unfamiliar area of the sky, I gently pushed the SBT around to take in other parts of the constellation.  Eventually, I brought into view another very small cluster of mag 6 to 12 stars.  After cross referencing, I decided that I had located M93.  It showed a great variety of different magnitude stars, all within the same cluster.
By now, it was starting to get a little late, and aware that I had to be up for work in the morning, and I still needed to eat, I had one last look around.  I pushed the SBT back toward M46/47 and in the process, found another cluster in the same vicinity.  At first, I thought it was equidistant between M46 and M47, but after scanning the surrounding area at low power, I was able to plot where the cluster was in relation to the others.  Checking in my Sky Atlas, I determined that the cluster I was looking at was NGC 2414.  A bonus observation, and a great way to finish the evening.
That brought to an end the session at the site.  Now, I just need to keep an eye on the forecast for a return visit.
Thanks for reading,
Clear Skies.