Mount struggles and some successes

I had quite a healthy list of targets when I set out tonight, but the mount I have for my 8″ reflector – a borrowed Vixen EQ – is just too damn short. And I’ve come to realise, I don’t like equatorial mounts, I’m too impatient, I don’t like anything that takes time to set up. This is why I’m now officially committed to getting my old dobsonian back in action, ease of use is everything. I had this EQ mount tottering on a wooden plinth to gain height so I wasn’t crouching or observing on my knees, and it was ridiculous. And every time I wanted to move it to a new target, I had to grapple round, searching for the two locking levers. When you’ve had dobsonian mounts for so many years, every other mount is a faff, I think.
But I do like the Telrad finder I have attached to the 8″ tube. If I had that finder, alongside a 10X correct image finderscope, I’d waste no time at all. That’s what I need now.
But what did I see tonight? Well, lots of usual suspects, but also some new entries to the observation book. The seeing was quite good under the semi-rural skies about ten miles from the center of the city.
The double star Cor Caroli is famous, and I’ve viewed it before, but not from the observatory site. At 110 light years away, it was the closest object I’d see tonight, (except for Mars). It’s the brightest star under the handle of Ursa Major, and a very nice sight indeed. A golden/ochre coloured star with a smaller similar-coloured neighbour. Realising the insufficient mount was going to curtail my search for fainter deep sky objects, and staying in that general area of Coma Berenices, I visited the pretty open cluster known as  ‘Bernices Hair’, (which by 11.30 tonight was a quite bright naked eye object), and it was superb in the 10×50 Opticrom bins. This loose, open cluster is designated Mellote 111 or Collinder 256. It’s fascinating to study naked eye clusters as you start to learn about the night sky. In early spring, we can enjoy the Pleiades, Hyades, the Beehive, Bernice’s Hair, (and why not add the often overlooked Alpha Persei cluster? – designated  Melotte 20 or Collinder 39 – it’s a naked eye object under dark skies and looked splendid tonight).
I got frustrated once again looking for M1, the Crab Nebula in the 8”. The slow motion controls on the Vixen mount seemed to be taking me in the right direction, but I couldn’t see anything nebulous. Vexed, I got the little 4″ Skywatcher table-top dob out the van and found the supernova remnant easily in less than a minute. Good to see it, though I don’t know why, but it’s been hard to spot recently. Again, the ease of the dobsonian mount had much to do with me finding it.
Taurus, (for we are in Taurus still), has an extra red ‘horn’ at the moment. It’s Mars, and even in a couple of nights it’s moved on considerably from the background stars of NGC 1746 which it was skirting a few nights ago.
With Leo hovering right over the lights of Wolverhampton in the distance, I found two galaxies of the Leo ‘triplet’ quite easily in the 8”, then they disappeared and I struggled to find them again. Once again, I can’t admit to seeing the third galaxy of the triplet (NGC 2628). I’d love to impress everyone with my constant sightings of the Leo Triplet, but I’ve never seen all three. The third galaxy, at 10th mag, just out of my grasp on this evening. (yet I have catalogued 11th mag galaxies from the same sight). 
The two galaxies I could see though, (M65 and M66) were easily recognisable and the shapes distinct and well defined. I always think edge-on spirals are like true islands of stars, but photography reveals they’re not quite as ‘edge on’ as they appear though a scope.
Staying in Leo, asteroid Vesta is still visible in bins, though not as bright as a few weeks ago. It forms a small fan shape with Y-Leo.  
Above Sirius is an open cluster sometimes called the ‘Heart Shaped Cluster’, (M50). Like M48 in Hydra a few nights ago, I haven’t catalogued this in my observation notes at all. Tonight, it was an easy binocular object star-hopping from Sirius, displaying a near-nebulous fuzz, (and an understandable candidate for a false comet). But through the 4″ mirror it was actually quite underwhelming given its brightness in the bins, and with a very busy field of stars around it, quite hard to spot. Around the same elevation was the ‘Great Cluster’ in Gemini, (M35), which I visited straight after, and i have to say, it looked similarly underwhelming. Low elevation, small mirror. No mystery there then. I’d have liked to have used the 8” mirror on these two clusters but with the mount being so ungainly I quite simply couldn’t be bothered.
A binocular scan of the open clusters M36, M37 and M38 revealed them to be very bright around 11pm, and the double cluster in Perseus was also easily seen.
I searched Collinder 65 – a bright large cluster of stars above the head of Orion – for the ‘Ruby Star’ but couldn’t see any discernible difference in colour. Perhaps it needs photography to see this one?
Just as I was packing up due to misty mirrors, I had a lovely surprise. Hercules was rising, following Bootes on his side, and with all my scopes in the back of the van I managed a most welcome binocular sight of the two great summer globular clusters in Hercules (M13 and M92), for the first time this year. Their brightness testament to the crispness of the evening, as the temperature dipped below zero.

M48 in the bag!

It’s not very often these days I get to tick a new Messier object off the list. The older you get, and the more you observe, the less bright objects are left to see for the first time. Tonight I made my first recorded viewing of M48, a bright open cluster in Hydra. It’s quite dense with stars; certainly uncountable, even through the 4″ mirror. And there’s a distinct line of stars in the middle – almost like a tiny coat hanger – and with the usual Plossl 9mm eyepiece I like to use with that scope, it looked bloody lovely, (I only had about 50 minutes of clear sky tonight, but with the little dob’s ten second set-up time, I was observing right from the start). O’Meara puts it at 2,400 light years away.
Mars is still heading north-east. It’s like it’s hanging on, wanting to stay in the sky as all the winter background stars head westward for the summer. It was right next to a pretty cluster of stars tonight which may have a designation somewhere, I need to research. But it would have made a great photographic subject. The disc of Mars is still obvious even in the small 4″ mirror, and the disc is seen easier the dimmer it gets.
Pleiades and Hyades open clusters, all still lovely in the 10X50 Opticrom bins, and I took in the usual run of the four open clusters along Auriga and ending with M35 in Gemini. It’d be rude not to, before they disappear*
Over in Cancer, I spent quite a while with The Beehive (M44) and M67. Both open clusters but quite different telescopic objects. In fact, it was quite easy navigating from M48, to M67 and M44. Note to self – use the V shape ‘smile’ of stars in Cancer to find M67 just above. Cancer is a bit rubbish for recognisable bright stars, but away from the city lights I managed some decent navigation.
And the double star above M44, wow! glorious! Like a smaller Albereo, striking colours of blue and gold with a large seperation of 30″, according to my Webb Deep Sky Society atlas. This double surely has a better name than iota Cancri?
I spent a bit of time also in that ‘westward’ area of Canis Major – soon to disappear. I wanted to see Caroline’s Cluster, but I was having trouble navigating this area tonight. The Little Beehive (M41) is always easy, and a delight, even at low altitude. But the area around M47, in a small scope of bins, looks like a bright open cluster in itself. Yet it houses M47. It’s a nice part of the sky, and I made definite observations of both M47 and M48 last year through the society’s Celestron 8″ S/C.
What else? Ah yes, I remember being amazed that I could see the fourth star of the Trapezium in the Orion Nebula in the 4″ from Chapel Ash, well tonight the Trapezium was crisp and clear as anything. Once again, the optics of the little Skywatcher impressed me (as long as you keep the image in the middle). And the nebula itself was nice and bright and well defined despite the low elevation.
Leo didn’t hit the ‘sweet spot’ of dark sky before the clouds rolled over, so no Leo galaxies tonight. In fact, no galaxies at all, thinking about it. And I’d taken my camera to try and catch the nova in Cassiopeia, but the clouds rolled in before I could do that, or try out my new binocular mounts with the 15X70 Helios bins. Next time, then. You can’t have everything.
* Capella, I only realised two years ago, never sets in the Midlands UK. So Capella is circumpolar? Wow.