Life and astronomy are full of ups and downs. After two unproductive DSO months in June and July due to smoke, I'm loving the return to normal smoke-free skies.
Wednesday night was quite transparent at my magnitude 6.5+ dark site in rural northeastern Lower Michigan. Thursday featured even better sky conditions, and Friday was decent until some thin clouds showed up at 1 AM. The conditions were also fantastic during the day. I love the crisp 65-degree highs with plentiful sunshine hitting the (slowly) changing leaves.
Each of my nights began around 9:20 PM and lasted until around 2:10 AM, except for Friday when it clouded over early. It was amazing to observe from a good site for three nights in a row. I haven't had this opportunity since last fall!
I made some challenging observations during these three nights. One of my hardest-fought targets was SH2-221, a faint supernova remnant. I knew that I had a chance with an H-Beta thanks to CNer j.gardavsky's observations.
After a minute of careful study, I detected two irregular glows which were quite dim. I had to place these sections near the edge of the fov to confirm my sightings. Their faint glows were more apparent once I framed them with an edge. I've done some of the fainter IC nebulae in Cassiopeia, and this observation was nearly as hard! I used a 6mm exit pupil at 63x to make it happen. An OII filter is high on my list since I would like to chase more supernova remnants.
Since I have many highlight objects to list, I'll separate them by category. During this trip, I tried for some harder targets as usual, but I also wanted to observe some of the bright eye candy bright objects. I often neglect these showpieces from darker skies!
Without further or do, here are my notes from three transparent nights under Bortle 3-2 skies!
- NGC 6239: "Extended east and west, bright and irregular core shows three stellar-like patches. The inner halo fades irregularly and is surrounded by a diffuse glow that extends further to the E and W."
- NGC 185: " Extended glow from the northwest to the southeast. Surface brightness near the core is uneven. A faint halo surrounds the core and tappers rapidly."
- NGC 147: "Elongated, fainter, fairly even surface brightness, but it's slightly brighter in the middle."
- NGC 7479: "What an amazing galaxy! One arm is clearly visible, and it makes a 90-degree hook, Averted vision (AV) shows mottling throughout. Great revisit."
- NGC 6278: "A small stellar core is surrounded by a bright oval-shaped halo. This inner halo is surrounded by a fainter outer halo which grows with AV. Best with 10mm and 8mm."
- NGC 536: Oval-shaped with inner and outer halos that tappers rapidly.
- NGC 542: 15.7 magnitude small and dim halo, slightly brighter in the center.
- NGC 529: Patch that's even in brightness, easy to see.
- NGC 531: Faint elongated glow, even in brightness, tappers gradually.
-NGC 7465: "Small round, brightest in center, tappers rapidly."
-NGC 7463: "Elongated from SE to NW, halo shows subtle hints of detail/ mottling. There is an unevenly bright core, surrounded by a halo of even brightness. The halo tappers gradually."
- M17: "Just fantastic. Mottling across the face, dust lane across the bottom, brighter circular patch at the start of neck."
- M16: "softer glow, best at 147x. The eagle body is seen as a fairly even surface brightness object without a UHC."
- NGC 1499 (California Nebula): " With an H-beta and 63x, a thin and irregular streak of light to the N and S. These patches are very irregular and tapper gradually. With the H-beta held up to my eye, I could see a faint glow in the correct spot. Very cool!"
- IC 1805 (Heart Nebula): "With a UHC and 63x, a faint glow surrounds the core. It is brightest in the center and tappers rapidly. I panned around for several minutes and traced much of the southern extent of this massive complex. This nebula has many faint sections and deserves many revisits to trace them all. I did not try for the Soul nebula due to incoming clouds. I'm just getting started with this complex."
Abell 70: "Very faint circular glow, slightly brighter on one edge where the galaxy is. Detected using 73x and a UHC, but the galaxy was suspected using 250x and no filters. I enjoyed this planetary best at 147x or 250x. Averted vision was crucial to make out the full extent of this planetary."
M76: "Two bright but irregular lobes which are connected. There are several dark lanes throughout these sections. Very nice revisit! I did not see any of the outer dust halo this time, but I only used 147x or more."
NGC 6210: "Bluish-green at low powers, high power reveals a planet-like sphere which is even in brightness. Two faint lobes are suspected to the E and W."
M57: "fantastic as always! No central star visible."
4 Cyg Nebula: "Brightening to the SW of 4 cyg is uneven in surface brightness. It starts off bright and fades gradually. It's very subtle and requires careful examination to reveal. Surrounding mag 4-5 stars do not share this irregular brightening, confirming my sighting. 73x was used."
Barnard 86: "Super dark irregularly shaped patch surrounded by the brilliant multicolored cluster NGC 6520. The cluster stars form a "coast line" to the southeast. Observed very low in the sky, it's probably even more impressive higher up."
Star clusters and cloud:
Palomar 8: "Round, even brightness, tappers rapidly, field stars look great and I suspect member starts to be resolved with 147x."
Palomar 13: "faint, irregular, grainy patch with two field stars visible inside of it. Best at higher powers."
Palomar 10: "Tiny circular glow near a 13th magnitude star. AV and 250x help to pull it out. Uneven glow tappers rapidly."
M56: "Resolved across the face, 250x for best results. 1st look under dark skies. Very nice!"
M24: "Super rich and 3D, just stunning."
Collinder 469: "Circular halo with even brightness, partially resolved at 73x. Seen while panning in M24."
The Ursa Minor Dwarf galaxy was suspected, but I could not confirm it. I also failed on planetary candidate FP J1912 -0331. I (probably) was in the correct spot, but I forgot to use an H-beta instead of the UHC! I also spent some time trying to hunt Andromeda's Parachute, but my Sky Safari map was not very detailed, making it hard to pin down. Next month, I will print a more detailed chart to finally nail this amazing object!
Being at a dark site is very special. I heard packs of coyotes call to each other nearby, mice chewing soybeans next to me, bright meteors, and more. As always, I took several moments each night to simply look up in amazement. This time of year is my favorite for observing. The Milky Way core stands up on the horizon, and you feel like you can simply walk in!
These three nights were incredible. I'm at a unique phase of my life where my employment and much of my school work can be accomplished from anywhere. I'm using these opportunities to soak in as many photons as possible! My dark site is owned by close family members. I'm spending precious time with them as they age, and I won't forget any of these moments for my lifetime.
I'll leave you with this story: On Wednesday around 10 PM, Some lights came down the lightly traveled two-lane road near the field. They were flashing, and I was very annoyed at this. Keeping my observing eye closed, I turned to see an ambulance driving north towards the hospital 25 miles away. It was terrible to know that someone in this rural county was having a bad night. We have to enjoy observing while we still can because tomorrow is never guaranteed. I'm hoping that person has a speedy recovery and can get back to their family/passions.
Edited by Alex Swartzinski, 17 September 2023 - 06:12 PM.