Monday, 6 May 2019

Back To Basics

Back To Basics - First Time Out...

It looks like my blog posts are a bit like the proverbial busses.  Nothing for ages and then a couple at the same time!  The weather decided to cooperate this weekend, which is a first for a while in these parts.  We've recently moved house, so this was the first opportunity since unpacking all my gear after the move, to get out and see what the sky is like from the new back garden.
To put it bluntly, there's a big improvement.  Gone (so far) are the problems with neighbours security lights, light streaming across the garden from peoples kitchen windows and direct views of an LED street light.  The new garden is consistently in more darkness than the old place.  I've a feeling that future observing and imaging sessions in the new garden are going to be amazing!
So, to test things out and get a better feel for the place after the initial impressions, I set up the SBT (12" Dob) out the back garden, and started putting it through it's paces.
The weather had been very breezy with northerly winds and quite cold during the day, with occasional cloud cover passing through quickly.  As dusk approached, the wind dropped to almost nothing, and all horizons cleared to give uninterrupted views all around.

NGC 4485 and NGC 4490

Rather than start with some old favourites, before moving onto tougher targets, I decided to kick straight off with some new ticks, or, objects that I had not observed before.  This time of year is known by observers as Galaxy Season, because of the number of galaxies that can be observed throughout the night.  My first two are listed as Irregular Galaxies.  NGC 4485 (mag 12) and 4490 (mag 10) are very close to each other with 4490 (aka The Cocoon Galaxy) being the brighter.  They are found in the constellation of Canes Venatici.

Canes Venatici, located between Leo, Bootes and Ursa Major.
Credit: Stellarium  0.19.0
Both galaxies were visible in the same field of view when using the 32mm eyepiece, although the dimmer of the two was harder to make out due to it's size and magnitude.  The snippet below shows the two galaxies, although the image is quite poor.

The galaxies as shown in Stellarium.  Resolving 2 of the brighter stars in NGC 4485 was just about possible.
Credit: Stellarium 0.19.0

NGC 4631

Next on my tick list for the evening was this mag 9.6 galaxy.  Known also as the Whale Galaxy, it can be found in the constellation of Canes Venatici, although it is often mistaken for being in Coma Berenices.  It has neighbouring galaxy called The Hockey Stick, due to the apparent curved shape one side of the galaxy.
The location of The Whale Galaxy - NGC 4631.  Credit: Stellarium 0.19.0

The Whale Galaxy is an edge on spiral galaxy, and using the 32 mm Panaview eyepiece, I found that it easily extended 1/3 - 1/2 way across my field of view in the eyepiece.  I found that the galaxy was comparatively bright compare to some that I had viewed with the SBT, and this also helped bring out the very thin outer edges of the galaxy against the background of the moonless sky.

NGC 4631 - The Whale galaxy, shown in Stellarium next to the Crowbar (aka The Hockeystick) galaxy.  Credit: Stellarium 0.19.0
Note the neighbouring dwarf galaxy, NGC 4627.  I did not notice this galaxy on the night, only finding out about it when I was reading up on my main target the following day.  NGC 4627 is mag 13.0, so is probably on the extreme limit of what I can see using the SBT under my local sky.  However, now I know it is there, next time I observe NGC 4631, I will see if I can locate the dwarf galaxy too.

NGC 2903

It was time for me to move back across the other side of Leo, and onto my next target for the evening.  NGC 2903 can be found just in front of the head of Leo, the Lion.  At mag 9.6, this is a great alternative to hunt down, to the other galaxies around Leo.  It is a spiral galaxy, which apparently under very dark skies, shows some good structure in the arms of the spiral.  I easily found the galaxy, and could make out it's shape, although I was struggling to identify any true structure.
The location of NGC 2903, just at the head of Leo.  Credit: Stellarium 0.19.0

A potential target for imaging during this time of the year.  It's magnitude will mean a good couple of hours total exposure will be needed with my 80mm refractor to get anything close to the image above from Stellarium, but it is worthy of an attempt during a future AP session.  Credit: Stellarium 0.19.0
With the night moving on, and my eyes beginning to tire, it was time to swap out the 32mm panaview eyepiece, in favour of the 40mm.  This eyepiece is the largest on I have, and lets in the most amount of light.  Though the size means things can seem brighter, they also appear smaller because of the reduction in magnification.

M65 and M66

With a different eyepiece in the SBT, it was time to re-visit some familiar targets.  I moved over to the hind quarter of Leo, the home of the Leo Triplet.  These are a collection of galaxies, popular with imagers at this time of year.  Though they only show up as grey smudges of light, it's still nice to be able to revisit them.

M13

Leaving the galaxies alone for the evening, the constellation of Hercules was just coming into view, past a tree on the side of the garden.  Hercules is home to some of the best examples of clusters in the northern hemisphere sky.  It's a really common target for observers to show to people new to astronomy, and it's easy to see why.  The cluster is large and bright, although on the night, I was struggling to resolve individual stars in the cluster.  That might have been due to the atmospheric conditions, or just tired eyes.  Nevertheless, it was nice to be able to try to identify the extent of the cluster.  

M92

Staying in Hercules, and the last target for the evening, M92 is another cluster, which is often missed out.  If M13 is the default, go to cluster for new observers, M92 is the hidden gem.  Although hidden is perhaps a bit poor as a description.  Though not quite as large as it's near neighbour, M92 is every bit deserved of some eyepiece time.
On the night, the cluster seemed to have less bright stars throughout, appearing a little more uniformed in brightness, than M13.  It would be an interesting challenge to photograph these two clusters, but the focus would have to be absolutely spot on to do the image any justice.

It had not long gone midnight, and it was time to start packing up.  Tired eyes made trying to pick out targets an increasing challenge.  My initial objective had been achieved.  Simply to set up in the back garden of our new house, and see what it had to offer.  It hasn't disappointed whatsoever.  Very little local light to worry about, means that there is no more waiting for optimum night vision to return after getting distracted by lights coming on and off.  After what has seemed to be a long time, it has been great to get back out, and use the SBT again.  Visual observing is astronomy in it's purest form, and is never something to take for granted.  I can't wait to do it again.
Thanks for reading.