Cramming in the sessions before the end of the year!

Good morning one and all!
Whilst there are indeed improvements in the ski conditions in France, to the detriment of the 10's of thousands of drivers that appear to be stranded on the valley floor, we in the UK are currently under the influence of a stable air mass meaning that conditions for observing are pretty good at the moment.  However, there is still a fair bit of moisture in the air, and the weather is cold.
I decided on a back yard session, so set my scope up on the pillar and started the first part of the session by around 6pm.  I has compiled a list of objects that I wanted to find, but it quickly became apparent that I had misjudged what would be visible from my position.  Part of that was to do with time, and part to do with obstructions.
Within a few minutes of going outside, frost had already started to for on some surfaces.  In truth, back back garden doesn't see direct sunlight at all during the winter so the frost was still hard from the previous night.  This was to be a telling sign of what was to come, and ultimately dictate the end of the observing session.
So, my first target of the night was M34, a magnitude 5.2 cluster in Perseus.  It's on object I think I have tried to observe before, but hadn't been able to find it.  I saw quite a sparse cluster, but with some nice brighter stars throughout.
Its been nearly a year since I last observed my last pair of targets.  M81 and M82 are a couple of galaxies that appear in the same field of view through my 18mm BST EP.  M81 is classed as a spiral galaxy, and though is reasonably bright, I struggled to make out anything more than the basic circular shape of the galaxy.  M82 is an Irregular galaxy, also known as the Cigar Galaxy.  In recent time, this became well known in the scientific media when a supernova was observed within it.  Both galaxies showed up well and it was pleasing to make out the shapes of the galaxies.  I'm pleased that I took time to re-visit them.
After a bit of a back garden disco courtesy of people switching on their kitchen and bathroom lights, and some animal setting off a neighbours insecurity lights at regular intervals, I decided to head indoors for an hour for a bit of a warm up.
When I returned, Castor and Pollux, the twins in Gemini were just rising above the house next door.  It gave me an opportunity to take a look at M35.  A cluster in Gemini.  It is reported to be a naked eye object, but, not for me in the conditions.  For me at the moment, Gemini rises up from the direction of Ross town, so there is a fair bit of light pollution in that direction.  However, through the scope the cluster was very evident.  Filling the field of view quite nicely.
Next on the list was M52, another large cluster between the constellations of Cephus and Cassiopeia.  Winter is supposed to be optimum time for observing this constellation.  I used my 25mm and 15mm eye pieces for this object.  Usually, I would expect to see a slight decrease in brightness with increasing with magnification, but on this occasion, it was pleasing that I seemed to loose little if any brightness.  It meant that I could resolve more stars using the 15mm, especially when observing with averted vision.
Finally, I took the chance to visit another new object for me.  I tracked down Herschels Garnet Star.  On this occasion, it was a very bright and vivid orange and stood out proudly amongst the white lower magnitude neighbours.  It has been noted over history that the colour of the star does change from orange to a deep red colour.  It can be found on the edge of the constellation Cephus and is set among a large area of nebulosity.  However, I was not able to make this out with my scope.
My session was having to be brought to a close.  For the first time, my scope had started to experience dew on the secondary mirror.  So far I have not needed to use a dew shield, but the cold and the frost I think eventually got the better of the situation.  I'll need to make a trip up into the loft in search of an old camp roll mat I think...
So, a successful session in the end.  Next time, I hope to put my scope on its tripod, and move to a location at the other side of the garden so I will be able to start looking around Orion, and, when it rises, Jupiter.
Thanks for reading!


  1. Hey, that was a good stargazing session. Just found your blog - I need bookmark it. How much do you suffer from light pollution in your backyard? In London it's really terrible I must say. Stan

    1. Hi Stan,
      thanks for reading and posting a comment. It's much appreciated. Feel free to subscribe at the bottom of the page. You'll be kept up to date via email then. In comparison to many observers, I suppose I'm quite lucky as Ross is a small town, and I live on the edge of it so have rural countryside to one side of me. The most I have to deal with is from the town itself which is due SE of my location, but it really doesn't effect me that much. The neighbours external lights are the main problem because not only do they light up their own back yard, but also mine and it seems most other peoples too! But, I don't begrudge it too much. I've got a bespoke temporary construction that I can put up that helps. It's just a question of having the inclination to do so! So, in answer to your question, on a moon free night, I seem to be able to see to mag 8 or 9, but this decreases with local LP and me losing my night vision by accidentally looking into bright lights when they're on. I've spent a little bit of time in London but each time missed the chance to pop to Hyde Park to meet up with the Baker Street Irregulars. Clear skies! Tony


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