My last post in this thread was March 30th! I made a concerted effort to get more observing in this spring though none of it was under really dark skies. June, July and most of August brought lots of smoke to northeast Ohio as a result of various fires in Alaska, Canada and even Russia! I did get lucky the last week of August with a two night trip to Calhoun County Park in WV to observe under truly dark skies.
Observing highlights are listed below. All observations are using a 22” F/4.16.
I had one driveway session in April and missed out on two nights late in the month where skies cleared just before midnight but I had already turned in for the night. “Waiting for the clearing” is one of the most difficult aspects of weather to predict here.
I logged three nights in May but the first two were somewhat short due to equipment problems.
The last night I logged in the month was the charm.
I spent the night viewing bright Messier and NGC galaxies and came away with some fantastic views.
NGC 4725: I couldn’t detect the pronounced delineation between the core and the spiral arms that appears in photos but I could clearly see a difference between the core and outer arms. The core was smooth while the arms were clearly “rough” in appearance. I feel under darker skies these features will be much more clearly visible.
M81: I could detect the division between the bright core and the outer spiral arms. I was impressed. Seeing anything other than the core from my site is remarkable.
M51 / NGC 5195: WOW! At 334X the galaxy filled the field of view and looked like a photo! The extensive halo surrounding NGC 5195 was clearly visible. This is the best view of this galaxy I have ever had.
I headed out to my local dark sky site for a short session. The night was very warm and humid and the seeing was (surprisingly) horrible.
NGC 6369: The little ghost. I used 127X but didn’t note anything other than its shape. I expect this will look much better, and reveal more detail with better seeing and more magnification.
NGC 6445: The Box nebula looked, well, boxy. I think darker skies as well as better seeing might reveal more detail including a bit of the broke outer halo of nebulosity seen in images.
August is typically one of my least active months. This year I logged three nights, all with excellent transparency.
IC 1311: Located in Cygnus this cluster looked impressive at 206X. It wasn’t fully resolved in the 22” but instead showed a number of stars superimposed over a faint background haze. Regardless of the level of resolution, this cluster just looks really good!
The two factors that never seem to align: clear skies and no commitments, came together this past week to allow me to take a trip to Calhoun County Park, WV. The weather looked very promising with a strong cold front coming through providing at least two mostly clear nights, daytime temps in the 70’s and low (for the east coast) dew points in the upper 50’s.
Unlike my site close to home, Calhoun offers much darker skies that are only a 3-1/2 hour drive away. By 9:25 (20 minutes before the end of AT) I could clearly make out the pipe nebula naked eye!
I spent the early part of this night very low on the southern horizon checking off open clusters in Scorpius. Sadly, given the crappy seeing this low on the horizon, none of the objects looked very good. Targets included NGC 6400, NGC 6404, NGC 6451, TR31, M6 and M7. Even the big Messiers were somewhat lacking though a smaller scope with a wider field would have given a better view.
NGC 6520 / B86: The cluster looked okay but the real show stopper was its pairing with the prominent dark nebula B86. This is a really interesting pair of objects that looks fantastic. After the less impressive views of the objects in southern Scorpius above, coming across this pair perked me up a bit!
Czernik 38: This open cluster in Serpens boasts an impressive number of members (80) in various publications, but its catalog number of CZ38 implies it is not an eye popper in anything other than a really big scope. Using 206X with the 22” revealed a number of stars in the field with a hint of haze in the background. I need to study an image of the cluster and then make another observation to try and determine just how many stars are visible.
IC 4954 / 55: These are two reflection nebula located in Vulpecula. My deep sky field guide to Uranometria doesn’t clarify the location of each catalog number – it only states it is a pair of detached nebulosities aligned NW – SE. I first observed these the night of 08/24 at my local dark sky site but wanted to check them out under darker skies. The northwest component is the fainter of the two but it extends due south around a parallelogram of stars. I did confirm that I saw the brightest portion of each section at my local site but in general more nebulosity was visible under darker skies.
During the course of the night I stopped by and looked at many favorites in between objects on my list.
I started out the night concentrating on object on Uranometria chart 339. At the end of twilight, objects on this chart would be passing through the meridian. There are a number of show piece objects on this chart including M17, M24, M20 and M8 to name just a few.
M8: I placed the Lagoon Nebula in the center of a 31mm eyepiece (86X), which gives a FOV of just under a degree and was amazed to see the faint extremities extend outside of the FOV. The level of detail was amazing! The large dark rift that runs through the center, effectively splitting the object in half was very pronounced. There is a very bright knot of nebulosity on the west side that also stood out. Panning around revealed the extensiveness of the nebulosity.
M20: I moved up to the Trifid nebula for an equally impressive view. Without a filter, both “halves” of the object appeared equal in brightness. I found with the 13mm eyepiece (206X), the entire object fit neatly in the FOV. I spent some time just soaking in the view.
NGC 6546: In spite of this open cluster’s II1r classification, I found it challenging trying to define its extents in a very rich star field. My best view was using 206X.
NGC 6603: I’ve seen this cluster before but the view is always incredible with this object being situated within the boundaries of M24. Talk about stars and more stars!
NGC 6589/90: These two reflection nebula lie due south of NGC 6603. I kept to low power (86X) and found these two nebula to be pretty easy.
IC 1283/84: Using low power and the OIII I was not able to identify this object from the background.
NGC 6559: There are a number of other nebula in this area as well but trying to identify them using the “outline” shown on the uranometria chart is a daunting task. It’s difficult trying to see where one object ends and another begins. I could clearly make out 6559 and some of the “other” objects in the vicinity. Like hunting down faint planetary nebula, an image of the region will help tremendously in identification. None the less, I was pretty satisfied with view I had of the region as a whole and the amount of detail visible.
IC 4684: Lying north of NGC 6559 and separated from the nebulosity of the whole area, I found this reflection nebula easy to identify.
Working my way north along the Milky Way I stopped to view planetary PK24+5.1 (M4-9). Using 206X the planetary looked evenly illuminated to me though the Deep Sky Field Guide lists it as ring structure.
The rest of the night I continued along the Milky Way up into Cygnus viewing a mix of open clusters and planetary nebula. Dew on the eyepieces became a problem after 2 and I packed it in at 2:30. The glorious fall Milky Way stretching through Cassiopeia and Perseus was in full display to the north and gave a preview of what will be better placed for evening viewing later in the season.