A Frosty February Night

Taken from the observation section of Stargazers Lounge. Note- M78 was correct.

One good thing about winter observing, is I can start early and get home to type up my observation notes. The bad thing about winter observing is it’s so cold that I don’t spend much time making notes or sketching whilst actually observing. So I’m relying on my memory here, (and my recorded ramblings into my phone).
I arrived at the observatory 7.30 and the seeing was good I thought, crescent moon on the way down, earthshine visible. Jupiter had set already.
Used my 10” reflector on a dob mount. I think this may have been the first time I’ve taken it to the observatory. I used the Telrad finder (which I love), though the misty glass problem reared its head about a hour in. I didn’t need the 10X finder tonight. Eyepieces used were 38mm or 32mm.
I started by looking for M78, in Orion and I didn’t find it, but did find what looked like two stars in nebulous haze to the left of where my maps told me M78 should be. I spent quite a bit of time on this and it meant my session with a bit of frustration I’m afraid. I’ve seen M78 before, quite easily, so what was the problem tonight? I think I may have been looking at NGC 2112, and mistaken the cluster for nebulosity. More research needed on this one.
The Orion nebula (M42) looked wonderful tonight. The 10” mirror really brings out so many details of the structure in the gas.  I sometimes think the long exposure photographs are a quite ‘cartoony’ when you’re used to the ghostly blue hues and subtle swathes of gasses that you see in ‘real time’. I’ve sketched the nebula before now, but sketching was certainly out the question tonight, with the temperature just above freezing. I had planned on sketching the nebulosity around the individual stars in the Pleiades, and comparing them with long exposure photographs later, but it was too cold, and I just made observations. Two stars in particular seemed to display nebulosity around them – a project for a slightly warmer night.
Above the Orion Nebula I stopped at Sigma Orionis, the triple star system. Whilst looking, I kept in mind what else was going on in that area I couldn’t see; the Horsehead Nebula, the Flame Nebula. These are observable with larger mirrors, (I’ve read many people with 12” mirror dobs have seen the Flame Nebula). But it’s all about location. No good expecting to see it seven miles from Wolverhampton.
Leaving Orion, I looked at the great cluster in Gemini, M35. Tonight, for the first time, I took trouble to find NGC 2158, an open cluster right next to the Great Cluster. It’s there, seemingly ‘joined’ to the Great Cluster by a string of three or four stars, but like a lot of the NGC clusters, you could be forgiven for thinking of it as merely a star field.
Nipping back to Taurus, I found the open clusters NGC 1617 and NGC 1807, also known as the ‘poor man’s double cluster’. This is only the second time I’ve visited these, and I think one might just be an asterism rather than a true related cluster of stars. But it’s a pleasing sight, with one cluster having a definite star shape, not unlike the Messier clusters in Auriga, though much sparser. I thought of the other, none cross-shaped cluster as looking not unlike the ‘leaping minnow’ asterism, in Auriga. I was pleased to find these, (easily found by imagining a shallow triangle from Aldebaran to Tau123, (the ‘Crab Nebula star’).
I really enjoyed seeing the Crab nebula for the first time this year. So easy to find when you star-hop from the right star, which I often don’t. And it’s ridiculous I keep missing it because M1 is probably one of the most easily located deep sky objects. It looked surprisingly bright tonight – a ghost of a star – always a deep-sky treat.
Two beehives next. And although Praesape (M44) was in the haze of the Wolverhampton sky-glow seven miles away, I could still see its faint haze as a naked-eye object. In the scope, it was lovely. I looked at the ‘Little Beehive’ in Canis Major next, easily findable in bins and scope, under Sirius. I know some people don’t like some of the ‘slang’ names of these clusters, but I think it helps people to remember them.
The Andromeda Galaxy was easily found, and M32. M110 was quite easily found too. M31 looks ‘end up’ tonight, and Andromeda is quite high.  The outer spiral arms of M31 extended almost fully across the 32mm eyepiece tonight, (I didn’t see structure I should add, just the extended mist), and that was a better view than last Thursday, when only the central part of the galaxy was observable.
M110 is an excellent barometer of sky quality I think. Invisible in the city, seen as a faint ghost tonight in rural skies not far from the city, but last October near the Long Mynd in Shropshire, M110 was a bright at M31 was tonight. Amazing skies over there.
By the way, I was struck how high Capella was. Right overhead, making observation in Auriga quite tricky. Yet in the summer it’s hedge-skimming. I love the seasonal changes of the big players. Capella must have the biggest circle of all the bright stars. Almost from horizon to zenith, as seen from the UK.
It almost gets boring keep writing I looked at the Perseus double cluster. But it never gets boring seeing it. Nice and high tonight and superb in contrast against the inky winter sky. A top ten telescopic sight.
Ursa Major was on its tail heading towards the sky-glow of Wolverhampton, but I tried for some objects ‘in’ Ursa Major but could only find M81 and M82 (‘Bodes’ and ‘Cigar’ galaxies). I spent some time with these, using a 32mm and a 38mm eyepiece. I’ve seen more structure in them in the summer, when they’re overhead, but they’re always pleasing, and as usual, Bodes is the first one I see, with its edge-on spiral companion popping into few seconds later.  
Later, I looked for M101 in bins and could almost tell myself I saw it. Had my hands not have been like icicles, I’d have made a sketch to check later of the surrounding stars to corroborate my possible sighting.
Last summer I saw M97 and M108 in the same field of view, (where else can you see a planetary nebula and a galaxy in the same field of view I wonder?). Tonight I didn’t find them, though consulting my maps now I think I may have been looking a little too close to Merak.
It got too cold for comfort by about 8.45, my fingers and toes were numb (despite boots and double-socks), so I packed the scope away and sat in the van with the heater on and a hot drink for a while, (I’d made up a flask), then went out and did a binocular scan with my 10X50 Opticroms.
I took in the chain of Auriga clusters (M36, M37 & M38) which were very bright by then, almost overhead. I looked at M31 (upended), and the Pleiades, Hyades (with Alderberan looking very ruddy in the crisp winter night, a fantastic binocular sight against the Hyades cluster). I re-visited the Beehive cluster (M44) which is better in binoculars, and I saw the Little Beehive again in Canis Major (M41).
The ‘Head of Orion’ (Collinder 69) is a nice binocular object, and one that’s not talked about much, a little like the Alpha Persei Cluster. Well worth a binocular visit in the winter months.
As I was driving home it struck me how high Sirius was. I pulled over and did a binocular scan of Canis Major, a constellation I’ve rarely visited. I was glad I parked up, as I was able to make a quick binocular observation of the open cluster M93, which looked like a ghostly globular through the bins, and took a little finding due to its low altitude.
So a productive couple of hours. Nothing dramatically new to include in my observation book, but then I hadn’t pre-planned for new objects. I’m still a little frustrated about M78, and plan to do a little more research later today.