Sunday, 1 May 2016

Fantastic Spring Night

For once, the weather Gods must have been in a cooperative mood.  Recently, there have been several clear nights, but because of the lighter evenings, and work the next day, I must admit that it has been hard to get motivated for late night observing sessions.  During the normal working week, it’s akin to a late night raiding party, seizing the opportunity to get out, set up, get some targets in before de-rigging and heading for bed at a reasonable time.
At last though, the weather, the Moon and a public holiday all came together in a situation where I could spend as much time as I wanted outside under the Spring night sky.  My session didn’t start until around 11.00pm BST.  I wanted to leave it late, giving enough chance for the neighbours to settle down and turn their lights off, but also, for Leo and Virgo to get into prime position.  I had set up the SBT earlier in the afternoon, and the case of EP’s were all out in the shed ready to be used.  Collimation duties performed, everything was ready for me to just turn up and get on with things.
My plan was to have a look around Leo and Virgo, but also to investigate what else was visible in the early hours from my back garden, given that the chance for late night observing in Spring is a rarity.

Jupiter

My first target for the night was a visit (not literally of course), to Jupiter.  It continues its movement, chaperoning the constellation of Leo across the night sky.  I started off observing at 25mm.  With the light gathering power of the 12” mirror in the SBT, and the relatively wide exit pupil of the BST EP, the image was crisp, and extremely bright.  So bright that I found it hard to pick out much detail other than the planet and moons.  I change down to 8mm and then 5mm Eps.  With each change, the image I could see was larger, but so was the amount of detail visible.  For the second time only, I’m really pleased to say that I saw the famous Great Red Spot of Jupiter as it started it came into view.  The seeing conditions must have been very good.  The colours were extremely bold, and I could easily make out, not only the GRS, and the Northern and Southern equatorial belts, but also, a first time for me, the North and South Temperate Belts too.  Other than the first time I saw the GRS, this is certainly the most memorable observation of Jupiter that I have made.

Into Virgo

One of the observing highlights of this time of year, especially with aperture, is the presence of Virgo in the night sky.  Widely known as the realm of the galaxies, navigating around the constellation can be very tricky.  This is one of the very rare occasions, I have thought that a GoTo system would come into its own.  The point being that once you get into the central area of Virgo, there are so many galaxies in close proximity to one another, that it is very hard to distinguish exactly which target you are looking at.
In order to allow as much light as possible into my eye, I change to the 2” 40mm EP.  At one point, I counted up to 6 galaxies in a single field of view, without having to nudge the scope along.  And, there could easily have been more in the same field of view, if conditions were darker still.  All these galaxies were in the vicinity of M80 and M86.  I feel comfortable in saying that I have observed these, even though I couldn’t pin point the exact galaxies, but they simply must have been in the collection that I was looking at.

Wandering out of Virgo

After being thoroughly absorbed in the heart of Virgo, it was time to nudge the SBT into the surrounding areas.  Coma Berenices and Canes Venatici provided me with my next targets.  First, M64.  This is the Black Eye Galaxy, designated NGC 4824.  A spiral galaxy in Coma Berenices, and perhaps one of the more distinctive galaxies in the region.
Around about 10 degrees from M64, M3 is a globular cluster in Canes Venatici.  It’s a very apparent cluster in, by comparison, a relatively sparse small patch of sky.  It’s reasonably easy to find when using Arcturus as a marker to start from.  Though the cluster is apparent, and sticks out, at first, I did think it looked more like a galaxy.  The star field was that rich and that condensed, that it could so easily have been so. 
Heading back into Come Berenices, I wanted to track down the Magnitude 9.1 Elliptical Galaxy designated M85, NGC 4382.  This target took a bit of finding.  It is far enough out from the main cluster of galaxies in Virgo to be able to distinguish it, but when trying to locate it with the Telrad, there was a fair bit of nudging of the scope going on around that area.  When I did track it down, it was quite dim.  I couldn’t see much in the way of detail, but I could see a small star shining near the core.  I compared what I was seeing to a picture, and determined that this star is actually well within the shape of the galaxy, but the seeing and conditions I was observing under must have meant that I was only seeing the brightest part of the object.
Wandering further towards the ‘border’ between Virgo and Come Berenices, my net target was M98.  It’s a spiral galaxy sitting about 5 degree away from Denebola in Leo.  Although listed as a spiral galaxy (which it is), I was expecting a face on galaxy.  What I saw was a very elongated thin diagonal galaxy with a brighter core.  It is given as a magnitude of 10.1, which is just about on the limit of what I was comfortably able to see with the SBT.  I had stuck with the 40mm EP, and just out of the field of view was another object.  It was so dim, that averted vision barely showed it.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t make enough of it out to establish what it was.
In the neighbouring constellation of Serpens Caput.  This is home to M5, NGC 5904, a globular cluster.  It looked a very bright, but compressed cluster with its component stars very hard to distinguish individually.  For this object, I swapped out the 40mm EP in favour of the 32mm.  This proved a good decision as the cluster appeared larger, and finally, I was able to start making out tiny pin pricks of light, the composite stars of the cluster.

Something to come

Finally, at the end of the session, I spent some time just sitting and looking around at the sky.  I looked around, and with my star atlas in hand, tried to pick out some other constellations.  It was then something dawned on me.  Time had moved on through the evening, and Leo had started is journey down towards the horizon, with Virgo on hot pursuit.  This means that something else was coming into view.  What I could see rising into view was the constellation of Cygnus. 
I picked out the bright star of Vega in the neighbouring constellation of Lyra.  It was this constellation that give me my last observation for the evening.  I returned to the favourite, M57, The Ring Nebula.  It was such a pleasing site, and one that I hope to continue observing in the coming weeks during its journey into the Summer night sky.

It was approaching something to 3 in the morning, so, even though a Saturday night, it was time to start packing away.  The evening had been a resounding success with some new ticks in the book, and some good work done around Virgo.  My next blog post should come as a result of AstroCamp next weekend.  The forecast is generally showing the weather warming.  Hopefully, this will bring some clear skies for the star party, but we shall have to wait and see.
Thanks for reading!

2 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. You're welcome John. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. It's very much appreciated. Clear Skies!

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