Ancient Spherical Swarms of Stars

Excellent couple of hours observing tonight. The first clear night since the 29th May. That’s no good,is it?
Things change so much in such a short space of time. Where has Leo gone?
Anyway, got there just after 10pm, it was still very bright. Faffed around with the finderscope for longer than I’d have liked, (this sort of stuff should be done in the daytime, but it’s difficult with a red dot finder). I started the most methodical alignment possible, and still I was off every target by a three second slew on speed five. But at least the distance and direction were pretty much the same the sky over. So I’m going to rattle through these. I may do a proper write-up for the society newsletter, but here’s the ‘fresh in my head’ version, (as fresh as I can get at 2am.
As soon as I’ve done the alignment (I’m still using the society’s 8″ S/c), I go to the brightest Messier object to see how close it is. M13 tonight, and it’s pretty close. So I spend some time with M13 and M92, while it’s still quite light actually, then head off in the opposite direction to check how close the alignment is. Not too bad.
No M56 or Dumbell Nebula yet, the sky too bright, and in the wrong (city) direction.
The Perseus Double Cluster next, looking pin-sharp but on;y the brighter stars seen. The center of the one cluster displaying what I call the ‘Pawprint’, which I tend to use as a confirmation that I have the double in the eyepiece. I can just about fit both in the field of view in the 32mm eyepiece. This scope must have a hell of a focal length – I should know it, shouldn’t I?
The triangle of M103. I love this very distinctive open cluster. Cassiopeia is replete with interesting open clusters, but I’ll wait to re-visit when it’s higher, (and sometime later I took in a very low Andromeda Galaxy for fun, it was faint and large, in comparison to the other more remote galaxies I’ve been seeing lately).
11.30-ish and a planet rises, right in the trees S/W. I’m surprised, I was expecting the giants earlier in the morning. Or later in the morning, should I say. I check in the Helios binoculars, and it’s Jupiter, dancing around because they’re like 70X and I’ve got no tripod.
Anyway, the sky is looking like something near to dark, and I start looking for tonight’s new targets. I specifically wanted to find two galaxies in Canes Venatici. The first is M63. At mag 8.6 it should be brighter than many of the galaxies I saw about three weeks ago in the Coma Cluster, which were quite lower in the sky. But it wasn’t the shortest day of the year then, was it?
But I see it, ‘The Sunflower Galaxy’. Well, it needs averted vision to see any kind of shape at all tonight, but there it is, with two starts in the same field of view making it unmistakable, and as usual it’s the 1984 Newton and Teece Cambridge Deep Sky album that affords me the most faithful likeness to the celestial object I encountered for the first time at the eyepiece tonight. I recommend that book unreservedly to any visual astronomer.
The next target – the second ‘new’ galaxy in Canes Venatici, is a real surprise. M94, the ‘Croc’s Eye galaxy’, (really?). Wow, it’s bright. My O’Meara  Messier book puts it at 8.2, but it seems twice as bright as M63. A very pretty ‘comet like’ face-on spiral galaxy that forms a triangle of sorts with two stars from our own family. The Cambridge Teece book gives it 7.9 mag, and I think I’d concur. It looks like the bright globular cluster M13 through my little 4 inch mirror scope, if that makes sense.
I check in on M5, my third globular cluster of the evening and it’s quite a sight. In Serpens Caput. And I always wonder why I don’t visit it more. But it’s in Serpens Caput, and like Canes Venatici, these aren’t great constellations for urban-bound star-hoppers. To say the least.
I try again for M101, the face-on spiral galaxy in  And again, I can’t see it. It’s like some cosmic joke, this elusive galaxy. I check my eye-site’s not failing by looking checking out the Whirlpool galaxy, (M51), and it’s all there, and I can even see structure using averted vision. And this is down as 8.4, and yet M101 is invisible at 7.9mag? (yea, I know, magnitude and apparent brightness and all that).
Just to check the darkness of the sky, I re-look for the Dumbell nebula, and it’s easily found, and bright amongst the rich backdrop of stars that tells me I’m looking into the summer Milky Way.
I had a new globular cluster on my tick-list too, M19. A quite low cluster in Ophiuchus. I like this constellation quite a lot, I didn’t get to know it till a couple of years ago, star-gazing by the White Lady’s Priory. It’s a massive house-shaped constellation that never rises high in the UK. But it contains some fine globulars, (M10 and M12  being in my observation logs, but there are many more). I like the description of these globulars as ancient spherical swarms of stars which Hubble showed form a halo around our galaxy. On returning home, I see M19 is listed as a very bright cluster, yet it seemed like a mere ghost of the bright clusters like M10 and M12. In retrospect, I may have been looking through some low horizon cloud without knowing it.
Jupiter is hedge-skimming, and I try to take a short film, but the camera weighs down the scope and I lose the alignment. No matter, I still have the red-dot finder-scope,  but Jupiter is very low anyway, and although the image of the great gas giant is large and steady in the eyepiece, only the main two equatorial belts are seen, but the planet is framed beautifully by all four of its largest moons, two each side, almost equidistant in the eyepiece.
It’s been a lovely night and I don’t want to do another alignment, so I just wait for Saturn to creep round the tree, and there is one of the most breathtaking telescopic sights, the remote planet with its magic rings still ‘open’ and to the left (in the eyepiece), a star that might be a moon, but I’ll have to check tomorrow, it’s after 3am now.
I took one quick tripod shot of Jupiter and Saturn as I left the observatory. Jupiter’s the bright one, left of middle, Saturn is the second brightest, to the left of Jupiter.