First Light at a New Site

From Stargazer’s Lounge Observation Report section. . .
Last night (Sunday 3rd Oct) was my first night observing at a new site in the Shropshire hills, joining an observing weekend organised by Wolverhampton Astronomical Society. The gang had already had excellent skies on the Friday and Saturday, but would Sunday night shape up as splendidly?
When I arrived, the rain was torrential with 100% cloud cover right up till sunset, but the forecast was hopeful for the evening, and even though I felt skeptical, it did indeed clear and the seeing for the first hour or so was simply stunning. I was pleased to finally take the ‘toilet tent’ off my 30 year old Dark Sky 10″ mirrored reflector on a dobsonain mount, (and mostly used a 35mm eyepiece for the deep sky objects). 
I had prepared a hit-list of fainter Caldwell objects, but as soon as I saw the Ring Nebula at dusk, I knew the seeing was so good that I’d better take in the brighter deep sky objects with this rare chance of near-perfect seeing, the rain having bought down so much muck from the atmosphere.
Really, what is the best thing to do when faced with a great sky at a dark-sky site? Look for the fainter objects you’ve never found, so you can tick more objects off your list, or just look at the old favourites and see them at their best, and take in any new details?
I went for the latter, and I’ll first mention two objects I found very impressive tonight. M110, a satellite galaxy to M31, (the great Andromeda galaxy). I’ve never before seen M110 so well defined. Tonight, I’d say M110 was as well defined as M31 appears on an average clear night at the society observatory (seven miles from Wolverhampton). I’ve never seen it so bright.
 The other big ‘”wow” of the evening was the Perseus Double Cluster. I think I probably look at this at every observing session I do, but I can’t remember seeing it so beautiful as it looked tonight. Simply breath-taking, and surely one of the finest deep-sky object in the northern hemisphere in these conditions. This night, the two clusters seemed to burst out the eyepiece.  A myriad of bright stars, and there’s the ‘pawprint’ and ochre coloured star in the left (right) cluster. Glorious!
I visited M71 in Sagitta. Some find this cluster underwhelming but it’s well worth visiting I think. At first view it’s a ghostly smudge, but further viewing reveals a pretty mottling of stars. I spent years looking for this in urban skies, perhaps that’s why I’m always so happy to see it out in the countryside?
The Dumbell Nebula was also easily found just up to the left of the arrow Sagitta, the shape clearly definable.  
I saw quite a few globular clusters this night, but two pretty, sparse open clusters I always enjoy are M103 in Cassiopeia, and M29 in Cygnus. The former has a triangular shape, the latter I allways think of as an anvil shape. Both are very easy targets for star-hopping.
Ursa Major was low, but it was testament to the great seeing conditions that M51 and its companion was easily found, and had observable structure. M101 also evident in the 10” mirror, but ghostly and faint. I spent some time with M81 and M82 (‘Bodes Galaxy’ and the ‘Cigar Galaxy’), and they were also easily observable in Robin’s 15×70 bins. In the bins, it was more apparent that M81 is the brighter of the two, (some books giving it a full mag brighter). These are lovely objects, and I struggled to find them initially in the dob, which I put down to Ursa Major being so low. It looks bigger, and I got a little confused with distances.
We had summer and winter constellations tonight. Hercules was easily visible, and the Milky Way looked magnificent overhead. I took in M13, (wonderfully bright), and M92. The Wild Duck cluster was easily found to the right of the Scutum Star Cloud, and easily completely resolvable. This is getting to be one of my favourite objects, though the 10” mirror does tend to do it justice. We also saw this through Robin’s bins, and it was bright and structured and the contrast was lovely.
With such good conditions, it’s always worth going for M33, the Whirlpool Galaxy. It always surprises me how big it is. It was easily found with my 10x50s, but the best view came from Robin’s bins which were so comfortable to view through on his parallelogram mount. It’s always surprising how big this is.
Under Jupiter, in Capricorn is an 8th mag globular star cluster called M30, which I’d never found before, and seeing as we were in a slight valley, I thought it might be too low to find tonight. But in the bins, from Jupiter down, I was able to star hop down the four star diamond shape to a crescent of stars in Cap. Which kind of point to where the cluster is, and bingo! A quite small globular compared to M13, but it was very pretty and I expect much brighter for people nearer the equator. M30 is approx. 26,000 light years away.
The seeing deteriorated somewhat with a slight mist, and dew on the eyepieces became problematic, but I stuck at it. Saturn showed no shimmering at all, despite its low altitude. This was thanks to the rainfall I assume. I used a 9mm eyepiece to hopefully find some moons. I sketched a triangle of ‘stars’ to the left of the planet around 9pm. These moons were viewable at high power and likely Rhea, Dione, Titan, and Iapetus. But I can’t confirm these because I neglected to note the exact time. So I need to be more exacting on the Saturnian lunar deal.
I never miss the Ring Nebula (M57) during my summer observations, but I hardly ever visit M56, the globular cluster that’s so easy to find between Albereo and the stars of Lyra. It’s quite bright and very easy to find by star-hopping.
Alberieo looked lovely as always, (though oddly I didn’t find the colours as striking as usual).
The great thing about group observation sessions is – you can get other people’s opinions on objects. I love the Cygnus star HIP 99675 and its two ‘line of sight’ neighbors, because of the colours. I see (left to right in the reflector’s eyepiece), silver, gold and blue. Without telling them what I could see, I asked Robin and Duncan what colours they saw..
“Silver on the left, gold then blue”
And Duncan..
“I can see Silver, gold and … blue”.
So it’s not just my imagination! Such a pretty sight.
All through the evening, Capella was shining brighter, and rising. And soon, there were the Pliades, Alderberran, The Hyades and the Twins Castor and Pollux. What a wonderful time to observe October is! The summer constellations of Corona Borealis, Bootes and Hercules can be seen heading westward, and the winter constellations rising in the east. We started with the Summer Triangle overhead, and at 2am Robin was taking pictures of Orion and M42. What a superb evening’s observations, which seemed very unlikely to even happen at 7pm as we were battered by rain, wind and overcast with 100% cloud cover.
As Chuck Berry sang, “it goes to show you never can tell!”