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Fabulous night skies in Western Australia

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#1 timokarhula

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Posted 25 August 2019 - 02:58 AM

 Greetings from Geraldton, W.A.!  I´m here on vacation for the 17th time.  The first night out in the bush turned out to be cloudy in spite the forecast of "mostly clear" skies.  I waited in the car for more than two hours hoping for the clouds to dissipate but they did not.

 

The second night (last night) turned out to be wonderfully transparent.  I set up my 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian and waited for the nightfall.  First I split Alpha Centauri with 60x magnification.  The zodiacal light shot straight up like a car´s headlights through Spica and up to Jupiter in the Milky Way.

 

I began to hunt down Herschel-2500 objects south of declination -15º.  The galaxies in Crater were too low so I skipped them.  From there I went up in R.A. from the western horizon to the east.  The objects were NGC5085 (Hya), NGC5592, NGC6647 in Sgr was too high up so I skipped it.  Over to E side of the horizon I observed NGC7165 (Aqr), 7183, 7230, 7246, 7251, 244 (Cet), 887, 922 (For), 1201, 1125 (Eri) and NGC1309.

 

The other night I saw my last planetary nebula in the NGC-catalog, NGC6620 in Sgr.  Now I finished a 41 year quest by observing my last planetary in the IC-catalog as well, IC2501 in Carina.  IC2501 was only at 11º altitude and appeared completely stellar, but bright, mag 10.4 with my estimate.

 

Back in Sweden, I read about a nova in the LMC, AT2019lvm.  Despite LMC being at lower culmination, the nova was spotted immediately.  It was close to the globular cluster NGC2019 (same number as this year :-) ).  I estimated AT2019lvm as magnitude 12.9 according to ASAS-3 magnitudes.  It became my first extragalactic nova.

 

The highlight of the night turned out to be the extreme darkness!  I hardly believed my eyes when I pointed my SQM-L meter towards zenith in Grus (the Crane).  I usually do three measurements.  It was so dark that it took at least 10 seconds before the apparatus showed a value.  The results were:

 

11:13 pm 22.04, 21.97, 22.00
11:15 pm 22.08, 22.07, 22.05
11:40 pm 22.09, 22.10, 22.12 (!!!)
0:08 am  22.07, 22.09, 22.08
1:11 am  22.08, 22.06, 22.04
1:44 am  22.00, 21.97, 21.94 (I call this phenomena for the Moon-dawn when the moon starts to illuminate the sky just before moonrise)
2:19 am  21.69, 21.67, 21.64 (38% illuminated Moon 5º up)

 

These were the darkest (clear) night sky measurements I have ever taken in my life!  Initially, I thought that the high values might have been caused by bad batteries but back at home in Geraldton, from my backyard, I got the normal and expected values of 20.09, 20.09, 20.08 (two magnitudes brighter than in the bush).  Nothing wrong with the SQM-L meter.

 

The entire zodiacal band was shining from horizon to horizon and it was especially bright overhead with a Gegenschein.  "My" Magellanic Ghost was relatively easy to spot as a band of light stretching from the LMC towards Triangulum Australe.  The Airglow was seen beneath the Ghost and was evident around the horizon.

 

I made a quick blindtest of how faint stars I could see.  Above (W of) LMC was a large area seemingly devoid of stars. At 30º altitude, I noticed two stars of V-magnitude 6.98 and 7.39 without prior knowledge of these stars.  Not too bad for 55 year old eyes.

 

Exhausted but euphorical I drove home at 120 km/h on the highway  and I met not a single car for 45 km.

 

/Timo Karhula

 


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#2 Astrojensen

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Posted 25 August 2019 - 03:10 AM

I am almost at tears with envy. I can hardly imagine, what it must be like to observe under such conditions. 

 

 

Clear skies!
Thomas, Denmark


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#3 AnakChan

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Posted 25 August 2019 - 03:12 AM

Timo,

 

Thank you very much for your report. Congrats on completing your planetary bucket list! So your observing site was 45km from Geraldton town itself? Was it off-road dirt track? Careful of roos on the road :D.

 

I've just moved from Tokyo (back to) Perth (originally from here 2 decades back), and still waiting for my gear. I hope to make trips like you've done some time. Did you do this with a group of amateur astronomers or on your own?

 

I think Geraldton gets better weather than Perth, it's a good time to come however Crux does seem to get pretty low early in the evening.

Do share more from your travels.

 

Cheers,

Sean



#4 BradFran

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Posted 25 August 2019 - 11:26 AM

Wow, what a great report from a dream observing session! 22.12 and Gegenschein!



#5 Starman1

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Posted 25 August 2019 - 04:35 PM

 Greetings from Geraldton, W.A.!  I´m here on vacation for the 17th time.  The first night out in the bush turned out to be cloudy in spite the forecast of "mostly clear" skies.  I waited in the car for more than two hours hoping for the clouds to dissipate but they did not.

 

The second night (last night) turned out to be wonderfully transparent.  I set up my 10-inch SkyWatcher Dobsonian and waited for the nightfall.  First I split Alpha Centauri with 60x magnification.  The zodiacal light shot straight up like a car´s headlights through Spica and up to Jupiter in the Milky Way.

 

I began to hunt down Herschel-2500 objects south of declination -15º.  The galaxies in Crater were too low so I skipped them.  From there I went up in R.A. from the western horizon to the east.  The objects were NGC5085 (Hya), NGC5592, NGC6647 in Sgr was too high up so I skipped it.  Over to E side of the horizon I observed NGC7165 (Aqr), 7183, 7230, 7246, 7251, 244 (Cet), 887, 922 (For), 1201, 1125 (Eri) and NGC1309.

 

The other night I saw my last planetary nebula in the NGC-catalog, NGC6620 in Sgr.  Now I finished a 41 year quest by observing my last planetary in the IC-catalog as well, IC2501 in Carina.  IC2501 was only at 11º altitude and appeared completely stellar, but bright, mag 10.4 with my estimate.

 

Back in Sweden, I read about a nova in the LMC, AT2019lvm.  Despite LMC being at lower culmination, the nova was spotted immediately.  It was close to the globular cluster NGC2019 (same number as this year :-) ).  I estimated AT2019lvm as magnitude 12.9 according to ASAS-3 magnitudes.  It became my first extragalactic nova.

 

The highlight of the night turned out to be the extreme darkness!  I hardly believed my eyes when I pointed my SQM-L meter towards zenith in Grus (the Crane).  I usually do three measurements.  It was so dark that it took at least 10 seconds before the apparatus showed a value.  The results were:

 

11:13 pm 22.04, 21.97, 22.00
11:15 pm 22.08, 22.07, 22.05
11:40 pm 22.09, 22.10, 22.12 (!!!)
0:08 am  22.07, 22.09, 22.08
1:11 am  22.08, 22.06, 22.04
1:44 am  22.00, 21.97, 21.94 (I call this phenomena for the Moon-dawn when the moon starts to illuminate the sky just before moonrise)
2:19 am  21.69, 21.67, 21.64 (38% illuminated Moon 5º up)

 

These were the darkest (clear) night sky measurements I have ever taken in my life!  Initially, I thought that the high values might have been caused by bad batteries but back at home in Geraldton, from my backyard, I got the normal and expected values of 20.09, 20.09, 20.08 (two magnitudes brighter than in the bush).  Nothing wrong with the SQM-L meter.

 

The entire zodiacal band was shining from horizon to horizon and it was especially bright overhead with a Gegenschein.  "My" Magellanic Ghost was relatively easy to spot as a band of light stretching from the LMC towards Triangulum Australe.  The Airglow was seen beneath the Ghost and was evident around the horizon.

 

I made a quick blindtest of how faint stars I could see.  Above (W of) LMC was a large area seemingly devoid of stars. At 30º altitude, I noticed two stars of V-magnitude 6.98 and 7.39 without prior knowledge of these stars.  Not too bad for 55 year old eyes.

 

Exhausted but euphorical I drove home at 120 km/h on the highway  and I met not a single car for 45 km.

 

/Timo Karhula

Timo,

Wow!

Just remember, the SQM-L generally reads a couple tenths darker than the SQM unless the Milky Way is overhead or there is LP.  My SQM-L read 22.0 at Kitt Peak when the SQM read 21.45.

The SQM picked up a lot of horizon light from Tucson.

Even then, wow.

Not only dark skies, but southern dark skies!



#6 MEE

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Posted 26 August 2019 - 12:01 AM

Timo-

Does the zodiacal band just above the eastern horizon brighten just before moonrise?

Also perhaps look for the condensation areas in the zodiacal band mentioned in this thread:

https://www.cloudyni...hern-milky-way/

#7 timokarhula

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Posted 26 August 2019 - 03:13 AM

 Last night was very windy and it caused me a damage, more on this below.  Omega Centauri showed a darker region near the centre already with 38x.  Higher magnification showed the "foot-print".  Next to the great globular I found the galaxy NGC5206.  It was unexpectedly bright but lacked a brighter core.

 

I didn´t have to rush with the southern Herschel-2500 tonight until the morning objects from Eridanus and eastward.  NGC2822 is a galaxy just 5´ NE of 1.8 mag Beta Carinae.  I could see the stellar nucleus in NGC2822 despite being blinded by Miaplacidus.  In the beginning of the evening, the Milky Way overhead caused bright SQM-L readings like 21.4.  I knew that when the Milky Way was sinking it would get darker.

 

When I´m here, I can not print comet search charts for a particular night so I have to use Uranometria and try to find the comet among the stars of 9th magnitude and brighter.  I found comet C/2018 A6 (Gibbs) with my 10-inch.  It is a comet not seen by so many amateurs due to its southern location in Volans.  I estimated comet Gibbs to be of magnitude 13.4 and coma-diameter 1´.0.  Another comet that I hunted down was the 14th mag 68P/Klemola in Ophiuchus.  This "Finnish" comet became my 223th observed comet.

 

The darkness of the sky was "only" SQM-L 21.95 when I found the odd globular vdB-Ha 176 in Norma.  With my 10-inch and averted vision I saw a very low surface brightness haze with up to 8 stars in front of it.  Another lesser known star cluster that I observed was the "Swedish" globular Lyngå 7, also in Norma.  It was similar to vdB-Ha 176 but showed only about four stars in front of it.  Without good search-charts I would have never found these two guys.  These are usually regarded as challenge objects for large telescopes.

 

Now back to the accident.  Because it was so windy, I had to constantly watch that my search-charts would not blow away.  In one unattended moment, my glasses fell of my folded picnic-table to the ground.  The second after I heard the crashing sound from glasses that I happened to step on.  Luckily, it was only my reading glasses and not my ordinary / observing / driving glasses.  Accidents happen even under a perfect sky.

 

/Timo Karhula


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#8 timokarhula

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Posted 27 August 2019 - 12:29 AM

 Last night, I started observing the globular cluster Ruprecht 106 in Centaurus.  With my 10-inch and low power I saw a sprinkling of stars that I first mistakenly took for Ru 106.  With higher magnification I saw with averted vision a hazy spot with some faint stars over it.  My photographic search chart confirmed it, this was Ruprecht 106.

 

IC2631 is a nebula in Chamaeleon surrounding a 9th mag star.  The nebula was easy to find even while sweeping.  It is on the N end of the more than one degree long dark nebula Bernes 142.

 

I located anonymous southern planetary nebulae.  I like surprises when some of them show clear disks and not only stellar appearances.  The best example was the 65" wide Kohoutek 1-23 (PK 299+18.1) in Centaurus.  I could not see the typical shape of the Hourglass nebula Henize 2-95 in Musca when it is only 4" wide.  The identification of Henize 2-103 in Circinus was difficult since so many stars were not plotted on my MegaStar charts.  However, the faint and diffuse disk of the planetary helped me to nail it down.  Also Henize 178-15 in Norma revealed itself in that way.

 

The Local Group member, Fornax galaxy, is harder to see than its own globular clusters.  I had seen the brightest one, NGC1049, even with binouculars.  Now I also found the 13-14th magnitude globulars Fornax 2, 4 and 5. Number 1 and 6 could I not see.

 

In the eastern sky I hunted down the most remote object in the NGC-catalog, the galaxy NGC1262 in Eridanus.  This is said to be the most remote galaxy that has been discovered visually, distance almost 1.7 billion light-years.  The V=14.2 NGC1262 appeared faint and small with 10-inch and 150x.

 

NGC1371 in Fornax was one of the brightest galaxies that I had not logged yet.  This V=10.7 galaxy appeared very bright, with a bright stellar nucleus and quite a difference from the other dim, fuzzies I had seen earlier in the night.

 

This was my longest observing session ever here in the bush with 8 1/2 hours effective telescope time.  This was under SQM-L 22.12 skies, and no wind!  It was darker than SQM-L 22.00 from midnight until 3:45 am when I drove home back to civilization.  A pleasant night indeed.

 

/Timo Karhula


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#9 ChristopherBeere

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Posted 28 August 2019 - 05:38 AM

Sounds like you are having an awesome observing run down under Timo.

 

22.12 on the SQM-L and a 7.39 VMag star at 30 degrees is an outstanding night.

 

I cant wait to get on a plane for Namibia.



#10 timokarhula

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Posted 28 August 2019 - 03:13 PM

Hi Chris. Oh Namibia!  I was there during my four week eclipse safari back in June 2001.  Yes, Namibia is on par with my observing site in Western Australia but the extinction is slightly better in Namibia, being at about 1500 meters altitude compared to 250 meters in W.A. The limiting magnitude in zenith is the same.

 

The only other place in the world that I have been to and can compare is the Andes in Peru. This was my first touch with high and dry altitude and the starry skies there became a memory for the rest of my life.

 

The Magellanic Ghost is a "prominent" feature from here in W.A..  Maybe invisible to a newbie but clear to me when I have seen it a dozen times.

 

I hope you all the best observations in Namibia in a few weeks time.

 

/Timo Karhula



#11 timokarhula

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Posted 29 August 2019 - 03:17 AM

The other night I forgot my search charts for Herschel 2500 objects and charts for some challenging southern objects.  So, I had to look at something else.  I happened to have a chart for Pluto so I decided to view the dwarf planet.  I had not seen Pluto since 2011 so it was time now.  Located high in the eastern Sagittarius it was quite easy to starhop to Pluto.  The 14.3 magnitude "star" was where it was supposed to be. Last night I returned to the area and sure, Pluto had moved about one arc-minute westward.  This was my 12th occasion and 8th apparition since 1985 I had seen good old Pluto.

 

I also observed the comets 260P/McNaught and C/2018N2 (ASASSN) in Aries.  They were similar, of 12th magnitude and diffuse.  Since I viewed C/2018 A6 (Gibbs) and 68P/Klemola, it was the first time I hade found four new comets on a trip Down Under.

 

ESO 69-14 is a 13.8 mag galaxy only 20 arc-minutes E of the 1.9 mag Atria (Alpha Triangulum Australe).  It´s appearance was similar to some of the planetary nebulae I had seen this week.  Speaking of objects near bright stars.   The planetary Henize 2-111 resides 46 arc-minutes W of Alpha Centauri.  I immediately found its 32" wide disk among the plethora of stars.  A nice surprise!  The star clusters NGC5617 and Pismis 19 were nearby.

 

It was close to 100% relative humidity so my telescope, and especially the finder scope, suffered from dew.  All my maps were dripping wet so I quit observing already at midnight.

 

Surprisingly, my SQL-meter showed the dark values 22.06, 22.02 and 22.03 in a series.  The sky looked fantastic to the naked eye.  Jupiter and Saturn were located on both sides of the Milky Way but still inside the outer "halo".  The galaxy is about 35 degrees wide as seen from here.

 

/Timo Karhula


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#12 AnakChan

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Posted 29 August 2019 - 04:00 AM

Wonderful reports Timo. It's almost tempting to say "I'm gonna drive up to join you!!".

 

Your post about the Magellanic Ghost prompted me to research about. I've not heard about it till now!



#13 timokarhula

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Posted 29 August 2019 - 10:52 AM

Wonderful reports Timo. It's almost tempting to say "I'm gonna drive up to join you!!".

 

Your post about the Magellanic Ghost prompted me to research about. I've not heard about it till now!

Yes, the mystery of the Magellanic Ghost has been solved by Dana de Zoysa from South Africa and me.  It is a faint band of light stretching from the LMC towards Triangulum Australe.  We solved the mystery before the GAIA mission.  One thought was that the light was composed of very dim stars, but the light is instead composed of reflected light from our own galaxy, an Intergalactic Flux Nebula!  It is the only IFN that is visible naked eye and I usually say that I discovered the largest reflexion nebula in the sky, 40 degrees long. Naked eye!

 

/Timo Karhula


Edited by timokarhula, 29 August 2019 - 11:22 AM.

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#14 timokarhula

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Posted 29 August 2019 - 10:06 PM

Hi MEE,

 

Even when the zodiacal light, -band and Gegenschein are obvious features from my Bortle 1 class site, I can not for sure see any variations in light or time in this feeble light.  Whatever ecliptical background stars there may be can alter the appearance of the ZL. The Gegenschein is now situated in Aquarius and will be easier to see when it moves to the star poorer Pisces in September.

 

I have sometimes joked by saing I know the time of night by just looking at the Gegenschein,  At local midnight it is always situated in the north as seen from here. The counter-glow is a kind of a celestial anti-clock.    smile.gif 

 

/Timo Karhula

 

Timo-

Does the zodiacal band just above the eastern horizon brighten just before moonrise?

Also perhaps look for the condensation areas in the zodiacal band mentioned in this thread:

https://www.cloudyni...hern-milky-way/


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#15 BradFran

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Posted 30 August 2019 - 03:37 AM

Thanks, Timo! I'm really enjoying this thread.



#16 Ivan Maly

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Posted 31 August 2019 - 02:19 PM

Great observing, Timo! I recommend to have an extra pair of glasses when going to a dark site. Coincidentally, the only time I actually needed it (and had it, how about that) was at a "bush" campground in central Australia. I sat down on my first pair that I forgot I had put on the camping chair in the dark, and crushed the thing completely. One does the stupidest things sometimes at 3 AM.


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#17 timokarhula

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Posted 01 September 2019 - 01:14 AM

Ivan, this was my third time I happened to smash my glasses. :-)  The first time happened in Namibia in June 2001.  I had put my glasses on a rock beside of me and I took one step in that direction - crush.  The second time was in 2009 and I had put my glasses in my trousers backpocket and I sat down - crush.  I never learn!

 

These three last nights have not been clear so I will turn in to morning objects the coming week.  Only 5 days left of my vacation! But still I´m happy with the results. 106 new Deep-Sky objects, 4 new comets and Pluto in 43 hours of observing time. In February 2016 I had an amazing run by observing 306 new DS-object (all the Magellanic Cloud NGC/IC-objects) in 99 hours of observing time.  :-) 

 

/Timo Karhula 

Great observing, Timo! I recommend to have an extra pair of glasses when going to a dark site. Coincidentally, the only time I actually needed it (and had it, how about that) was at a "bush" campground in central Australia. I sat down on my first pair that I forgot I had put on the camping chair in the dark, and crushed the thing completely. One does the stupidest things sometimes at 3 AM.


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#18 goodricke1

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Posted 01 September 2019 - 05:52 AM

Yes I think you've succeeded in making us all extremely jealous.... 225 comets? very impressive indeed. I wonder what the record is, I think Alan Hale has logged more than 400. Thanks for the very descriptive reports.

 

Frank.




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