‘Pop up Astronomy’ Between Downpours.

I’m ashamed to say it’s been five months since my last proper observation session. I’ve had the odd binocular tour, but circumstances regarding work have meant I’ve been getting home at 9pm each evening, so travelling to dark skies isn’t so easy, but last night I was determined to get back on-track.
The forecast wasn’t great for my site in rural Shropshire. ‘Clear spells between showers’ they said, and they were right. Twice I had to put the scope back in the van due to downpours. The plus side was, the rain cleared the air and some of the seeing tonight, though sporadic, was crystal clear.
One day I’m going to time how long it takes from putting the handbrake on the van after pulling up, to when I get to look at my first deep-sky object through the scope. I’m reckoning less than three minutes, (hence my title ‘pop up astronomy’). If you don’t like the faff of a protracted setup time, a dob is definitely the way to go. I’ve used EQ mounts, go-to systems and other set ups, but I think for instant deep-sky gratification, the dob in the back of the van is where it’s at. Pull up, plonk the mount on the grass, stick the scope on top, align the telrad and I’m in business. 
And what a changeable night weather-wise! The strong wind meant a 100% cloudy sky would be completely clear five minutes later. So I made the most of the clear spells by getting re-acquainted with some old deep-sky favourites, and even when there was light cloud cover, the 10” managed to grab enough light for me to see everything I searched for tonight.
I started with the pretty ring nebula (M57) in Lyra, and was pleased to see it was very bright indeed: testament to the clear skies and good seeing. Quite small with my 28mm eyepiece but very well defined. Next stop was Sagitta, and the strange globular cluster M71. I’m a little fascinated by this one, as I’ve read its closeness (only 13,000 light years), is why it appears more like an open cluster. A very pretty deep sky object that I think needs a true dark sky to really enjoy. I’ve been underwhelmed by it before, but tonight it was bright and very pleasing. My Tirion Sky Atlas tells me there’s an open cluster H20 near M71, but it evaded me on this night.
The Dumbbell Nebula (M27) was also bright and easily findable. Again, this can be underwhelming in the town, but it showed structure and nebulosity extending beyond the dumbbell shape tonight.
Continuing with the ‘greatest hits’, I could see M31 with the naked eye, and through the 10” mirror it was a real treat, and both M31 and M110 (one of my favourite galaxies these days) easily found. M110 under a dark sky, is M31 near the town lights, if you know what I mean. I tried for M33 in the scope, but as usual, I had no luck. The lovely 10X50 Opticrom bins found it though, and once again I’m reminded what a test M33 is for telescopes. I have observation notes from the early 90’s saying I saw M33 with the naked eye in rural Wiltshire. I do wonder if this wasn’t a mistaken sighting of nearby open cluster NGC 752.
Keeping with the bins, I’m pretty sure I caught M101 over in Ursa Major, even though the constellation was low and a little caught in the lights of Bishop’s Castle about fifteen miles away. I’ve seen this quite evasive Messier galaxy easily with the 10X50’s when the constellation is higher.
I wonder if anyone at our latitude has ever had a practical observation session without stopping at the Perseus Double Cluster? I know I haven’t. And tonight, they were simply stunning. Perhaps I’d been fortunate to look at them through a pocket of suddenly steady air, but it made me exclaim “wow!”. You know, one of those moments where you think to yourself ‘this is what it’s all about’. I had a similar reaction the last time I saw this through the 10” mirror at our society’s star-camp last April. A true show-piece of the northern sky.
I have unfinished business with emission nebula NGC7023 (Caldwell 4) in Cephus. I thought I’d found it last year but when writing up my notes after, there were discrepancies. So it isn’t ticked off, (I’m such an honest observer!). But tonight wasn’t the night to go chasing fainter emission nebulas, the moon would soon be up, and patches of the sky were disappearing behind clouds, and if I’m honest, I never seem to be able to recognise Cephus easily anyway. It’s like it’s there, then it’s gone again. I toyed with the idea of looking for it, but I should have done more map research earlier in the day. Instead, I went for the easy option and toured open clusters of Cassiopeia. The triangle of M103 being a particular favourite.  
Clouds rolled in again, but with the sky towards the south still clear, I went on a whistle-stop tour of globular clusters. M13, M92 in Hercules, and M15 (which I think of as in Delphinus, but it’s actually in Andromeda). I really enjoyed comparing the three, and I like James O’Meara’s description of M15 ‘suddenly getting brighter’ at the center. It really does. It’s almost like a fried egg, with a small, bright yolk in the centre. Later that evening, I kicked myself for not visiting a fourth globular, M56, en route. Heck, I’d looked at the Ring Nebula, which is virtually next door.
Jupiter was playing hide and seek behind clouds most of the evening, but even through the 28mm eyepiece I could see the north and south equatorial belts easily. All four observable moons could be seen. Had the weather been kinder, I’d have spent time consulting maps to find which star was actually Neptune, to the right of Jupiter. But it was pretty windy and getting cold.
Saturn was less successful, and somehow, I couldn’t quite get a well-defined view of it tonight. It could have been my eyes, which were watering with the wind which was getting sharper.
The Pleiades made an appearance just before the Moon rose, and a very welcome sight it was, especially through the 10×50 Opticroms. I also spent some time with the Perseus open cluster, (Alpha Persei Cluster/Mellote 20) which I’ll always argue is a great overlooked binocular object. Later I also took in the Hyades through the bins, which meant I’d enjoyed a very pleasant trio of close open clusters, (later the Moon was too close to the Beehive (M44) for it to be a desirable bino target). 
It was just after 9pm when the ¾ Moon started rising behind the trees, and the milky way suddenly disappeared. This signalled an end to my deep sky tour of the ‘greatest hits of October’, but I did enjoy seeing the constellations of Taurus, Orion, Gemini, and even Leo for the first time in months, and although my observing time was only about an hour in total, I was really pleased to have re-visited so many old favourites after a shameful five-month fallow period.