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1st Year Thoughts

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#1 Fuzzyguy


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Posted 04 November 2012 - 02:29 AM

It's been almost exactly a year since I dug out the old Celestron G5 and got serious about visual astronomy. I's a C5 OTA on a CG3 mount I've had since the mid 90's, but I'd never really used it much due to work, other interests and living on the Colorado Front Range with all the light pollution of any urban area. I'd get it up into the mountains a couple of times a year, but I really didn't know what I was doing. I could find some of the easier, brighter objects, but most of what I wanted to see, I couldn't find, so I lost interest and hadn't gotten the scope out for probably 10 years.

Life evolves though, and now I find myself spending significant time in a rural area with a blue/green backyard and a gray/black hilltop 10 minutes away. I went out tonight for a couple of hours and was rewarded with very steady and transparent skies before the moon came up. My first target was M34 in Perseus. I didn't hang around long, just a few minutes to enjoy it again.

Next, was a new Messier for me, M76, the Little Dumbbell. It was just visible in the finder scope, but easy to see in my 40mm Plossl. I upped the magnification to 127X and with averted vision, it was clearly a "dumbbell" shape. I decided to try 222X and it really looked nice!

I decided I'd spend some time looking at it, so I closed my eyes to get better dark adapted. As I waited, I started thinking about the year I'd just spent seriously stargazing and all the things I'd seen since last fall. I've looked at 4 comets, (the same number I'd seen in the previous 50 years since I saw my first one) about a dozen nice planetary nebulas including the Ring, the Blue Snowball, the Saturn and Cheeseburger along with the the Dumbbell and Little Dumbbell.

Looking back through the scope, M76 was quite a bit brighter than before. The nebula seemed to be more defined and I looked for the central star, but no joy.

Closing my eyes again, I continued to think about my year of star gazing. I learned to star hop through my EP in Virgo chasing all the galaxies there. Star hopping with the 6x30 finder is becoming second nature using the Pocket Sky Atlas for a lot of the objects and Cartes du Ciel when I need more detailed charts. In March of this year, I upgraded to an 8" SCT and boy what a difference those 3" made! Also, the wedged fork mount is much easier to use and more stable than the under mounted G5 with the CG3 GEM. If I was starting again, I'd have gone with an 8" scope from the beginning.

I looked at the nebula again and it's brighter still with even more detail. The shape is well defined and I'm seeing more background stars as I get better dark adaptation. It's been a little over half an hour now since I started looking at M76. I closed my eyes again.

Visual astronomy has taught me to be patient and spend time looking at things instead of just logging and moving on. I've learned if you look as an object over a time that allows you to become fully dark adapted, you will see things that would be missed otherwise. Things like color, structure and shape.

Back to the Little Dumbbell. It's not as bright as it was the last time, what's wrong? I look away from the scope, and the eastern horizon is glowing with the rising moon. I give it one last look and then I moved over to look at Almach, a double star I hadn't seen before. It was as striking a pair as was advertised! A bright yellow/gold primary with a nice blue/green companion. At least that's what they looked like to me tonight.

I've had the good fortune of having a lot of good viewing nights the past year and some were memorable for the steady skies during the drought this summer. Last winter was mild and provided quite a few nights of great transparency and decent observing. I'd get all dressed up in my insulated coveralls, Sorel's, parka and gloves. A balaclava and hood finish out my cold weather gear.

Seeing was really steady tonight, so I slewed over to Jupiter. Early last summer, I saw Saturn on a night with seeing like tonight and it was almost 3D in the EP. The Cassini division was sharp and the shadow of the rings jumped out on the planet. Tonight, for the first time ever, I saw sharp bands on Jupiter complete with festunes and turbulence. The spot wasn't visible when I was looking, but if it had been, I'm confident I would have seen it easily! That's how sharp it was tonight.

All in all, I think it's been a great first year. Lots of cloudless nights and the time to enjoy them. One positive about the drought, it really knocked back the mosquito population this summer. I've learned a lot, I"ve seen a lot and I don't feel like I've even scratched the surface of seeing everything my scope can offer me. I don't know what the next year has in store for me, but I'm sure I'll have a good time finding out. My number one priority is to finish the Messier list. Including M76 tonight, I'm up to 78. Then I think I'll start the Penseck 500!

I hope all of you get your share of cloudless nights and have time to enjoy them. I'll be out there looking up every chance I get!

#2 Patricko



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Posted 04 November 2012 - 10:53 AM

Hi Larry, thanks for posting about your awesome experience and sharing your thoughts. I really really need to try and get out more.

#3 Starman1


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Posted 05 November 2012 - 06:50 PM

Just remember: though dark adaptation is sufficient after 15 minutes to 20 minutes, there are improvements up to 45 minutes.
Also, observing an object as it crosses the N-S meridian overhead means you look at the object through the least amount of air. This can also make fainter details visible.
Also, a magnification of at least 150X in your 8" scope will not make the object too dim, but will substantially darken the background in the image, yielding a better view, with averted vision, of the fainter parts of the nebula. That's a 13-14mm eyepiece.
In my 8" LX200, I could detect a 2-lobed structure, with a slightly narrower "waist" in between the lobes, and some slight extensions on each end of the 2-lobed structure, kind of like the apple skin on the core of an eaten apple at the ends. There is also a small faint star superimposed on one end.
In the 8", it kind of looked like this pic: M76 only in B&W.

In larger scopes, like my 12.5", it has even more stuff visible, sort of like a beer stein with two side handles. My best view was in a 28" at 550X. It looked like this: M76 WOW! only still in B&W.

Many books refer to this as the faintest Messier object. Maybe. But it's also one of them that rewards you with occasional glimpses of tremendous details if you take the time to look. Glad you did. It's one of the 500 Best DSOs on my 500 Best list.

#4 Jacques



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Posted 06 November 2012 - 04:57 PM

Many books refer to this as the faintest M object. I'm quite sure you tend to disagree with this, Don. Being a PN with relatively high surface brightness it's even visible through moderate light pollution, using high(er) magnification does the trick here, like you say. Unlike M101 or M74 fi which even though they are visible in 6x30 finders at darker skies, they can be completely "washed out" in moderate light pollution.

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