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.