A Binocular Tour

A very clear night, and a half-lit moon. Because it was so low, I hoped it wouldn’t hinder my search for binocular deep-sky objects on the outskirts of Wolverhampton. It did, actually. I did a bit of searching, then decided to get a coffee and wait for the Moon to set. The garage I went o was closed, so no coffee. It wasn’t going great.
Anyway, I got back to my observing spot and found th sky had gotten a lot darker, so I started with Cassiopeia. I’ve been a bit fascinated with Cassiopeia’s clusters since I saw the Binocular Tour map in (I think) April 2018’s Sky at Night magazine.
I first stopped at Messier 103, by the star Ruchbah, (the second star of the ‘w’). It’seasy to make out under dark skies. There are several other clusters to the left of this one, in the area almost between Ruchbah and Segin, but tonight I can only profess to have seen NGC 659, looking like a fainter M103. Obviously, I stopped at the double cluster just down the road in Perseus. Who wouldn’t?
Following the line from Schedar, to Caph, and then just over the same distance again, you get to M52, another bright, unmistakable cluster. Back to Caph, and towards the right, I found a nebulous patch, or so I thought. Checking my star atlas back in the van, I found it was NGC 7789, also called the Ghost Cluster, nd I can see why. It looks nebulous, and not at all like a cluster. It’s not in my Cambridge Deep Sky Album, I was surprised to see. It’s quite bright.
A hazy atch on the horizon caught my attention, so I pointed the Opticroms at it and glory be, the Pleiades! And there’s Capella and Auriga rising. Winter is coming!
For quitea while I’ve been trying to find M33. I’ve told people that I saw this with the naked eye ence, in Wiltshire about 20 years ago but these days I wonder if I was right. I’ve not been able to find it recently. It’s fainter than I remember. Anyway, I saw it tonight, by star-hopping from Triangulum. Obviously M31 was an easy find, and as th sky darkened, it became a naked eye object.
Turning to the area under Cygnus, I found M71 (The Angelfish Cluster) in Saggita. This was cool, because I’ve looked for this before this year, and it’s not been forthcoming. I got the 4″ reflecting telescope out the van to get a ‘closer’ look at this, but found I’d left the red dot finderscope on and the battery was dead (again). And I hadn’t got my wide-field eyepiece anyway. But I did manage to find the Ring Nebula in Lyra with it tonight, so that was okay. Grea part of the sky actually. Saw the Coathanger asterism on my travels too.
What else? ah, Bode’s Galaxy and its companion were found tonight too. Making that four binocular galaxies. Could I see M51? I could tell myself I could, put it that way.
With Auriga rising, I found the ‘Leaping Minnow’ asterism, and one of the clusters. Which one? I don’t know. The brightest I suppose, possibly M37.
I’ve got a picture of the Moon and Saturn from tonight, I’ll upload it tomorrow probably.

Observations 13th September 2018

Here’s an observation report I wrote for the Wolverhampton Astronomical Society’s on-line newsletter.

With Mars at its closest approach since 2003, and the prospect of a clear sky to view it, a last-minute observation session was hastily arranged for Thursday 13th September at our Trysull observation site. I took the society’s 12” dobsonian reflecting telescope (the Tom Collier Telescope), and several other members turned up, all hoping to get a fine display of planets.

The Moon was a waxing crescent in the west as we arrived, lit around 20%. Once the scope was set up, we all enjoyed fine views of the shimmering lunar landscape. I was particularly interested in the small craters in Mare Crisium, which were very noticeable. Crater Picard is 21 miles across, and Pierce is only 12 miles across, we could see them quite clearly. They will soon be washed out with sunlight and not viewable for another month. Quite distinct tonight, on the edge of Mare Crisium, was the distinct dramatic rises of Cape Cape Lavinium and Cape Olivium. 
To the left of the Moon, lower, just heading towards the trees, we saw Jupiter. With the sky not yet dark, the cloud belts were faint, but three of the moons were visible. The brightest, Ganymede, to the telescopic left. Although we could see only three moons, checking later with the Jovian Moon chart in Astronomy Now, all four should have been visible. Dimmer Callisto must have been lost to the twilight sky.

The next planet to appear in the twilight sky was Saturn, in the south-west, which, being higher than Jupiter, afforded us a much steadier viewing image, and it was stunning. Accompanied by its moon Titan towards bottom left in our eye-piece, the rings were easily viewable, as was shading on the rings and the shadow of the planet on the rings. I could see darker surface markings on the disc, which was very large in the field of view, thanks to the Tom Collier’s scope’s long focal length. I did have trouble focussing, which gave me some concern about the optics of the scope.

Mars was our next planetary target, and several of us could discern dark markings towards the centre of the disc. Checking later on Stellarium, (the free Astronomy program), I found these markings were Sydris Major. The exact shape of these markings were hard to make out, and the atmosphere around 8-9pm was very turbulent as the Earth cooled down. But even so, it’s been many years since I’ve had chance to see surface features on Mars. I’ve been watching it through the summer, and dust storms have prevented us from seeing any surface markings earlier in the year. Also visible was the Martian moon, Phobos.
I turned the Tom Collier scope to the double star Altair, to see if I could split it. Unfortunately, the optics showed a very distorted image. We put this down to poor collimation. At a previous Trysull session with the Tom Collier last year, we were rewarded with some spectacular stellar views through this scope, so we vowed to collimate it again at the next Monday Highfields meeting. 

10" Orion Optics Dobsonian (F/4.8 250mm mirror)
Pic 1 – 10″ Orion Optics Dobsonian (F/4.8 250mm mirror)

Luckily, David Wilson had bought along his Orion Optics 10” reflector on a Dobsonian mount (Picture 1). Being a stickler for correctly collimated optics, David’s scope performed admirably, and certainly saved the day, as it was obvious the Tom Collier wasn’t up to any serious deep sky observing this evening.
With Saturn in Sagittarius, it gave us an excellent reference point to explore this constellation, which never rises high in this country, and is only visible during Summer months. We looked at the Lagoon Nebula (M8) and in the same field of view, Hershel 36 (The Hourglass Cluster), or NGC 6530. The nebulosity was faint, and required averted vision to see it, but the cluster, in the same field of view, looked lovely. With the first Messier object under our belt, we then looked at the globular star cluster M22, again in Sagittarius. With averted vision, we could see the many stars that make up this bright cluster. Just to make a comparison, we turned the scope towards the great globular cluster of M13, overhead in Hercules. Although M13 was brighter, we found we could see more individual stars in M22. I suppose this is to be expected, as M22 is a lot closer to us than M13, according to my Cambridge Deep Sky book.

Using my 10×50 Opticrom binoculars, I found Sagittarius a splendid binocular target, with many deep sky object visible, especially the two ‘star clouds’. There are more Messier objects in Sagittarius than any other constellation, and it’s not surprising, seeing as we’re looking towards the galactic center. 
As the sky darkened, we looked at the double cluster in Perseus, NGC 869 and NGC 884, which was most pleasing, and the sky appeared inky black behind the clusters. The 10” mirror was giving us exceptional contrast. I think the Double Cluster can be a bit underwhelming in smaller scopes, but the light-gathering capacity of the 10” mirror meant we could enjoy the cluster to its fullest. 

Our nearest major galaxy, M31 was easily found, and its companion galaxy M32 was also visible as a ‘fuzzy star’ in the same field of view. Being about 2.65 million light-years from Earth, M32 would be the most distant object we’d see tonight, (thanks, Wikki!)
With Cygnus overhead, the double star Alberio was an obvious target. We enjoyed a very crisp view of the large gold star contrasting with the dimmer, blue companion.

The final deep sky object of the evening was probably my favourite – the Wild Duck open cluster in Scutum (M11). This was found by ‘star hopping’ from Altair in Aquila, (it should be noted that all objects we found tonight were located using ‘old school’ methods of maps, memory and star-hopping). M11 has to be one of the finest open clusters in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s so dense and compact, with a distinct shape that is easily recognisable and unique. 

The Trysull observing site is best suited to Mondays and Tuesdays. Tonight, being a Thursday, there was a meeting in the adjoining village hall, and just after nine pm the curtains were flung back and light flooded the site, causing us to grudgingly pack up our instruments.

Mars observation log
Pic 2 – Mars observation log

Later, as we sat in the pub down the road, and I wrote in my observation book (Pictue 2), I noted that we really only had just over an hour’s worth of real observing time, with the air turbulent for much of that time. But despite this, we managed to get fine telescopic views of the Moon’s craters and mountains, three planets, five planetary moons, two globular clusters, four open clusters, two galaxies, a diffuse nebulae and some double stars. This is why it’s always worth making the effort to attend the observing sessions whenever possible, even if you don’t have a telescope or much time to spare. As long as the clouds part, there’s always something cosmic to see!

If you’re interested in attending an observation session, please give a committee member your mobile number and you’ll be put on the text notification list, and will be informed of every upcoming session.

Messier list update 07/09/18


The past month’s sky has been dominates by planets. I’ve been away in my caravan (above), so there’s no new planetary photos, (nowhere to charge batteries, being ‘off the grid’). And deep-sky stuff has been largely revisiting old friends with the 10×50’s and my 4″ Skywatcher ‘travel scope’, as I’ve come to think of it. Anyway, I’ve updated my Messier list. All of these objects in my list I’ve copied from observation notes. An ‘A’ after the object means it’s from a pre-2015 observation book (and therefore needs revisiting), and new additions are marked by a red 2018.

  • M1 Supernova Remnant in Taurus (Crab Nebula) (A)
  • M2 Globular Cluster in Aquarius (A)
  • M3 Globular Cluster in Canes Venatici 2018
  • M5 Globular Cluster in Serpens
  • M8 Diffuse Nebula in Sagittarius
  • M10 Globular Cluster in Ophiuchus
  • M12 Globular Cluster in Ophiuchus
  • M13 Globular Cluster in Hercules (‘the ‘Great Cluster’)
  • M16 Open Cluster in Sagittarius (A)
  • M20 Nebula in Sagitta (Triffid) (A)
  • M22 Globular Cluster in Saggitarius 2018
  • M24 ‘Star Field’ in Sagittarius
  • M27 Dumbell Nebula in Vupecula
  • M31 Galaxy (Andromeda Galaxy)
  • M32 Galaxy (Andromeda ‘companion’)
  • M33 Spiral Galaxy in Triangulum
  • M34 Cluster in Perseus
  • M35 Open Cluster in Gemini
  • M36 Cluster Auriga
  • M37 Cluster Auriga
  • M38 Cluster Auriga
  • M39 Open Star field in Cygnus
  • M41 Open Cluster in Canes Major
  • M42 Orion Nebula
  • M43 Nebula in Orion
  • M44 Beehive Cluster
  • M45 Pleiades Open Cluster
  • M47 Open Cluster Puppis 2018
  • M 51 Galaxy in Canes Venatici (Whirlpool)
  • M52 Open Cluster in Cassiopeia
  • M54 Globular Cluster in Coma Berenices 2018
  • M56 Globular Cluster in Lyra (A)
  • M57 Ring Nebula Lyra
  • M63 Galaxy in Coma Berenecis (Blackeye) (A)
  • M64 Galaxy in Coma Berenicis (A)
  • M65 Galaxy in Leo
  • M66 Galaxy in Leo
  • M67 Open Cluster Cancer
  • M76 Planetary nebula in Perseus (Little Dumbell)
  • M81 Galaxy in Ursa Major (Bode’s)
  • M82 Galaxy in Ursa Major
  • M84 Galaxy in Virgo 2018
  • M86 Galaxy in Virgo 2018
  • M92 Globular Cluster Hercules
  • M95 Galaxy in Leo
  • M96 Galaxy in Leo
  • M103 Cluster in Cassiopeia
  • M104 Galaxy in Virgo 2018
  • M106 Spiral Galaxy in Canes Venatici (A)
  • M108 Barred Spiral Galaxy in Ursa Major (A)
  • M109 Galaxy in Ursa Major (A)