Tonight was my first visit to the observatory since the Covid lockdown. I took my 8″ Skywatcher. Couple of reasons really, I haven’t used my Telrad finder on it yet, and I wanted to try it out. Secondly, I fancied a none-guided evening. I didn’t fancy the faff of setting up the go-to.
So much in the night sky changes in seven weeks, it’s almost like a different sky. The last time I was there, as darkness fell, over to the south was Orion and Taurus, with the Pleiades and Canis Major ready to be explored. Tonight, in their place, was Leo, Virgo and Cancer, followed by Bootes, (which was in the west a couple of months ago).
The change isn’t just the placement of the stars, it’s the time of darkness too. What time did darkness fall mid March? Six pm? I dunno.
Anyway, I got there just after sunset and got some photos of a crescent Venus. Then waited for it to get dark… which was quite a wait. The first two stars I saw were Castor and Pollox, heading west, soon to disappear. I feel a bit cheated that I haven’t had chance to explore Orion and Taurus more this year, I was stuck in Wolverhampton as they were setting.
I decided to try and see as many galaxies in Leo as I could. With astronomical darkness about 11.30pm, I think I was wishing for the impossible. It took me ages to find M65 and M66, and they were very dim indeed. M96, M95 and M105, no luck at all. I spent ages.
Somehow, things didn’t seem very bright tonight, in the daytime, I’ll check my mirror. The Ring Nebula and M13 were there, but lacked contrast. It may have been the dew. When I returned to the two cigar-shaped galaxies M65 and M66, they didn’t look as contrasty as they looked earlier, yet the sky was darker.
The Telrad was performing well, until it started misting over. The temperature had gone down to 2.5, and there was dew everywhere. With Ursa Major overhead, I took in Bode’s Galazy and its companion. They looked nice, with Bode’s noticeably brighter. Easily my favourite galactic pair.
I found globular cluster M53 in Coma Berenices quite easily, and the ‘Black Eye’ Galaxy M64 nearby. Looks like my limiting galactic magnitude was 8th mag then, as M95 is 9th mag and un-findable.
Once again, I’m thinking how few deep sky objects are visible from semi-urban skies. My Messier Album book, by Mallas and Kreimer, describe the Black Eye galaxy as ‘bright’. It’s anything but, under a Bortle 5 sky!
Even the binoculars were misted over, but I got a look at ‘Bernices Hair’, which I think is Melotte 111. Perhaps I should add that to the observatory hit-list?
Even Albereo seemed dim tonight, though the contrasting colours were well seen in this fine double, and there was the Summer Triangle rising in the East.
I saw several meteors and a fireball in the south about – I think – 10.40.
By 1am everything was sopping wet. With no work this morning, I was prepared for a long haul into the early hours, but every time I’d wipe the glass on the Telrad, it misted over again, and when I couldn’t even find the double cluster in Perseus I knew it was time to up sticks.
So a night of slight frustration, if I’m honest.